Friday, 15 June 2018


A Fortnight in the life of a Writer/Tutor

My weekly schedule before the end of exams

Since Easter it’s been all go at my Writing HQ, aka the desk in my living room. I’ve been diligently working on the final edits of my upcoming release. Meanwhile I’ve still had to maintain tutoring commitments as well as my obligations to Inkhead. In the midst of all this I attempted to continue my Italian studies via Duolingo.

Around the beginning of May the charity I teach at asked for 6 weeks of detailed lesson planning so they can comply with their application for DFE status. While not difficult to do, as any teacher knows, this is incredibly labour intensive. So glad to say I’ve finally finished that lot. However, as I’m the one and only English tutor it also falls to me to plan next year’s curriculum. My work is not yet done. Onward.

To add to my May and June tutoring load, my less confident GCSE students requested extra tuition sessions as their exams were looming. Thankfully the final English exams are now over and done with so that means I’ll have the odd evening free to indulge in whatever takes my fancy. Having said that though, I was recently approached by a mum who knows my schedule pretty well. This is an approximation of the conversation which ensued:

Mum: So, your after school club sessions are coming to an end.
Me: (chewing my bottom lip) Yes, that’s right.
Mum: So can you slot little Johnny into one of those afternoons to help him get over his writing to a deadline phobia? He loves the club and what you do there but I really think 121 will benefit him more.
Me: (unable to resist a plea hidden inside a compliment) I’ll see what I can do. Email me later this week.

Then, because I clearly didn’t have enough going on, I decided to list my spare room on Airbnb. I forgot how that meant I’d have to spruce up other areas of the house too. It hit me when I got my first request to host and a reminder email from Airbnb to do a spot of tidying before my guest arrives. This instigated running around headless chicken style before I remembered there are some spare evenings and weekends in between to get stuff sorted. Head back on chicken. This resulted in a plan of action and one of the results was this rather fabulous balcony makeover last weekend.

Of course, that's only 1 item ticked off my new To Do List so I've also decided some of my manic schedule had to be chopped. It just so happens that currently involves Italian studies and dancing. Molto triste on that score, especially the dancing. But needs must.

Now my focus is mainly on final edits of Palindrome, sticking to the pre-release schedule I’ve devised & sprucing up the house and garden (thank you my fabulous London BF, neighbour Kathy and your lovely dog Nelson for the assist on that one).

Let’s hope in the coming weeks I can also develop the power to resist any more requests to tutor in my freed up slots. I so want to go back to dancing and possibly even remembering the odd word in Italian.

My weekly schedule post exams

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Friday, 1 June 2018

Monkey On My Back

The release of the prequel to Six Dead Men is looming (a month and a half to go) and my Writing Group has become a screeching monkey on my back. Every time I go to the group they demand even more edits. So just when I think I’m making significant headway and will be ready to send a final copy off to my Advance Reader Team, I’m back to snipping away at the novella. At this rate it’s going to be a narrative poem.

But the truth of the matter is I love this interaction. Earlier this year, when I had to forego my sessions with the group due to family commitments, I went through withdrawal and began to edge towards malaise. And it wasn’t because of the lack of snacks and drinks so kindly provided by the host of the evening. This group is the perfect fit for me. They challenge me.

I’ve been in groups where reviewers have oohed and aahed about my writing. As gratifying as that was, the feeling always lasted for as long as it took me to drive home. Deep down I always knew the work could be tons better. I never stayed in those kinds of groups very long. I’d rather get all beat up and bloody during a critique and go home battered but aiming for superior quality. My ego needs a bruising from time to time otherwise I’d get complacent. I most certainly never want to be that.

My beloved and awe inspiring writing group have made me look at the bark and leaves of the novella alongside the whiff of wild animal dung and decaying corpses in the undergrowth. When you’re in the middle of the forest it’s so important to be able to do that. So while the monkeys screech, holler and hoot, I’ll always be certain I’m aiming for higher because of all that marvellous cacophony.

Dear writing group
I love you and simply cannot do without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For all the requests to delete and brief moments of praise. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For the honesty, the lack of bull and most of all, the continued support. See you in a fortnight for more of the same. I’m packing extra Arnica and possibly a mini bottle of Prosecco to keep my strength up.

Does your writing group drive you crazy? Or are they the best thing to ever happen to you? Tell me about it. I'd love to know. 

Friday, 18 May 2018

Character Channelling

Novella prequel to SIX DEAD MEN
Scheduled for release end of July

As I plug my way through my Palindrome [WIP] edit before its release at the end of July, I’m working hard at channelling my central character. This is not that simple considering he’s a 13 year old boy, highly intelligent and fairly reserved too. He reads books some older people would find challenging, has an antiquated vocabulary and spends far too much time on his own or with adults. Oh, and let’s not forget his parents are Scottish (dad) and Romany (mum) so he’s bound to have a Janus complex. If this isn't already a psychological condition then I think it certainly should be.

I’ve been struggling to establish his voice for some time now and repeatedly write him in too formal a manner. It’s all about striking the right balance to ensure he’s believable and intriguing enough so readers get invested in what happens to him and those he is closest to. I’m having a hard time of it. The delete button is getting a pounding while my mind whirls with a flurry of ideas which seem fantastic at the onset then utterly rubbish once down on the page.

My trusty writing group are never shy of sharing their opinions on this matter. While their criticism can seem harsh at the time, I trust and value their input enormously. On occasion I leave a session feeling as though I’m on bloody stumps (as with the last one a fortnight ago) but they’re very rarely wrong. When I get it right they heap praise on my efforts and then I’m all aglow in their sunshiny beam of approval.

In my bid to find my inner 13 year male self I’ve also taken to watching documentaries attempting to categorise gender such as Channel 4's Genderquake. While I’m learning a whole new set of vocabulary, finally understanding that ‘binary’ is not just a mathematical term I’ve shied away from for years and feeling deeply for the trauma many of the participants in the programme experienced; I don’t think I’ve managed to channel my character effectively as yet.

Things are getting fairly desperate and I’m on the hunt for a teenager I can corner and interrogate. Yes, this is the rock clinging to the hard place I’ve arrived at. If anyone has a spare 13 year old boy with the attributes stated in paragraph 1, I’d appreciate the interaction, sans Gestapo type interrogation methods I promise. Till this opportunity presents itself I’ll have to continue to rely on my trusty writing group and the delete button on my laptop.

 If you have any advice on the subject of character channelling or a 13 year old boy available for loan please feel free to say so in the comments section of this post.

Friday, 4 May 2018

#Indie Intro

#Review: HAGSTONE by Helena Rookwood

A 4 star read

I liked how I was immediately thrown into the action with the central character, Madeleine. The world she and her family inhabit is well described and I was able to picture its various elements very well. This is a bonus for someone like me who has trouble with geography in general. The place descriptions allowed me to create a world picture of where I was and feel that I inhabited this place with the characters.

The main tension is set up by an unusual cast of characters, including Madeleine’s young daughter and her mother-in-law who exhibits witch-like traits. Add to this Madeleine’s secrets about her past and the growing tension between herself and her husband and you get an intriguing set of circumstances.

The book is essential a quest novel. At the beginning we learn that Madeleine’s quest has been curtailed. As her daughter has grown from baby to toddler and nears teen hood, Madeleine’s desire to resume her quest has been quelled. But now it is rekindled and this sets up interesting dynamics in the story.

A very enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more books in the series.

Find out more about The Riverwitch Series on Helena's website

Friday, 27 April 2018

Writing Limitations

Writing With a Long-term Limiting Illness

Finishing the writing of a book is a massive achievement. It’s right up there with home ownership and giving birth in my view. There’s the initial awful draft to complete. Writing time during this phase consists of getting the maximum amount of words onto the page whilst beset with constant doubts that the concept I’ve come up with is good enough. This is even before I begin evaluating if the writing is any good at all. Now, and only now comes the beginning of the editing process. The book will go through 5 or 6 edits, sometimes even 10 if it’s being an irritable monster. My writing group, beta readers and sensational Editor, Emma, will all be giving it the once over. When I think the final edit is the one, I then have to send it off to my magnificent proof-reader, Chantal.

It doesn’t stop after the writing process. In the meanwhile I have to ensure I’m keeping up with contacts, sorting the cover, creating a fabulous look to the interior, arranging a blog tour before the release, maintaining my social media presence etc etc. Oh yes, let me not forget that I have to keep up my tutoring commitments throughout.

This relentless focus on the task along with the need to pay the bills means I have to commit myself to the job in hand. Sometimes this is not all that easy. There are periods when my writing mojo goes off to its secret mojo cave and I’m left mojo-less for several days at a time. This results in writing days full of stilted sentences, much muttering, under the breath, swearing, nails chewed to bloody stumps and repeated abuse of the delete key. Then of course there’s the restriction to my writing time dictated by my teaching schedule. Falling ill is really not an option open to me. But it’s one I face on a daily basis as I suffer from Lupus and Scleroderma. So when I'm ill it takes me at least 3 times longer to get over whatever it is than it takes anyone else.

Along with this there are several symptoms of Lupus which make life a tad more difficult. The ones which affect me the most are prolonged periods of fatigue and pains in my chest when I have to breathe deeply. I also suffer from debilitating migraines when I ignore my body's need to rest. These can knock me out for 3 days at a time. My Scleroderma symptoms are mild in comparison to the Lupus. I really feel the cold, have very cold hands and feet (they sometimes turn blue), some hardened skin on my hands and feet and red spots on my face which intensify when I’m under the weather or tired.

Too many changes in my routine, failure to eat regularly and rest when my body requires it can result in days of lost writing time. So I jealously guard my writing schedule and support my dodgy immune system by taking a daily homeopathic remedy, eating a healthy diet, exercising and resting whenever my body demands.
Of course, life will throw curve balls along the way so I don’t necessarily stick as religiously to this regime as I should. When I slip, I suffer for it and hasten to mend my ways ASAP as it affects my writing considerably if I don’t. I am first and foremost, a slave to what my writing dictates it needs from me. And that means I must ensure as perfect a work-life balance as possible. So far things seem to be going well.

Is there a long-term illness which makes your writing life harder than it needs to be? Tell me about it.

Friday, 20 April 2018

#Indie Intro

#Review: BLAZE by Devyn Jayse

A 4 star read
The main character, Vincent is living in the insalubrious world of the Blights with his younger sister Penny. They are orphans striving to survive in a harsh world. Vincent has his set of friends and a burning anger fuelled by the unfairness of the situation he is forced to live in. Suddenly a series of fires begins to engulf the district. People are afraid and accusations start flying.

This is an engaging read with good characters and well a created setting. I felt I was in the shady world of the Blights with Vincent. The idea of a divide between The Blights and The Town is made very clear to the reader. Vincent’s cohort of friends are interesting and the description of the bond between them is realistic as it also charts the scuffles which can often occur between a friendship group of boys or young men. Further suspense is created by pushing Vincent into a situation where he’s forced to prove his innocence concerning several fires which have been set.

Some minor issues for me: I wanted a clearer idea of how old Vincent is. I kept speculating, he also solves the mystery of who is setting the fires far too easily. This could have been drawn out even more.

Intrigue is introduced by the insertion of new characters. I wanted to know more and will definitely be looking at the rest of this series once my other reading commitments are over. A writer to keep an eye on I’d say.

Grab a copy of Devyn's work today.

Friday, 13 April 2018

#Indie Intro

#Review: RED DESERT by Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli

4 Star reading

I must confess a certain attraction to the inhospitable red planet ever since I saw Total Recall. The Arnie version of course. There simply is no other. As many of you know, I’ve even squeezed a mention of Mars into my very own little eco SciFi number. So I was delighted to come across this translation of Deserto Rosso. It is written in diary format from the perspective of Anna Persson, an astronaut landed on Mars together with several colleagues. Together they are hoping to set up a primary colony.

The opening is dramatic as use of the present tense and the narrator’s situation draws the reader in. The story line switches between events on Mars and flashbacks, in the past tense, in which we learn a great deal of backstory. I found these details and the relationships Anna has with other characters very engaging. I wanted to read on and in fact finished the book in only 4 sittings. Anna's complex character is well rounded and Monticelli details her motivations, actions and feelings to perfection.

Where things were not so great for me was in the large sections of didactic information about Mars itself. I understand it is necessary for these crucial facts to be there as they pinpoint the difficulties the astro-team has waiting for them on this hostile planet. However, these chunks of information felt rather stilted. This may well be due to the fact they are in translation. Writing in English is complicated enough. I can’t even begin to contemplate how difficult translating an entire novel is. But sometimes the very fact of the translation made itself evident in clumsy phrasing, overlong sentence structures and perhaps the odd word or two with questionable context. And there was also the odd proofreading issue.

Despite this I enjoyed the story very much and would certainly read the rest of the series once I’ve finished this crazy Goodreads challenge I’ve set myself. If you like SciFi and stories with great characters then this book is the right one for you.

Other books in this series