Blog, Creative Writing

Writing for Pleasure, Profit, and Posterity

Part Ten: Now, What Was The Question?

The art of being a creative writer is to identify a need in your audience, and then fill it. If the weather’s terrible, then some readers will be crying out for escape in the form of a sun-drenched romance. If they are going through a bad patch in their lives, then a novel in which the protagonist triumphs over similar circumstances will help give them hope for the future.

Fancy some five-star holiday fun? Find out more here

Most of us read for pleasure, and to leave everyday life behind for a while. You can show your readers that an improvement in circumstances, character growth and change is possible by the way you design your story. As well as a satisfying read, you’ll also give them a subtle boost to their spirits.

While every writer should aim to satisfy reader expectation, don’t forget that writers have needs, too! Make sure you’re writing what you want to write, but tailor it to your readership. That way both sides will get what they want. You’ll enjoy the experience of writing, and your audience will experience a great read.

Identifying what your audience spends time thinking about is a good way to kick-start your imagination. In Part Nine of Writing for Pleasure, Profit, and Posterity, we saw that conflict is vital within a book . One of the common causes of inner conflict can be summed up in an exchange that everyone in England has several times each week—in fact, it’s often a daily occurence:

Most of us aren’t fine.
Pic by Kleiton Santos, via Pixabay

“Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine. How are you?” “I’m fine, too!”

Many people have turned this ritual into a verbal tic. You ask the question, and respond in approved fashion because that is what is expected. Generations of English people have been brought up to say I’m fine, because it’s easier to repeat that old lie than it is to say I’m having a terrible time out loud.

Armed with the information that everyone is worried and needs help to see they are not the only ones, you then need to decide what is likely to be the most popular way to torture your central characters.

There are several ways to discover themes relevant to readers. The most obvious is to burgle your own life and experiences. The theme of many of my books and short stories get out of a rut by setting a goal and working toward it. I’m keen to promote this idea as it’s worked so well for me in real life. I came from very humble beginnings, left school at sixteen with hardly any qualifications, then had a series of dead-end jobs until I met my husband. He believed in me, encouraged me to follow my dream as a writer, and supported me until my career took off.

Dear Cathy and Claire, I don’t know what to do with myself now that work as Kate Bush’s stunt double has dried up…
Pic by Luxstorm.

If you were born into the life of the idle rich and, unlike me, you’ve led a blameless life since childhood, there are still plenty of places to research popular concerns. The problem pages of magazines and agony aunts in newspapers used to be a rich seam of inspiration, but like the rest of us these have largely migrated online.

Mumsnet and Quora are both great places to look for inspiration, but never forget two golden rules of Creative Writing:  DON’T plagiarise by copying the juicy details word for word, and DON’T use the names of real people. You must also bear in mind that not everything you read online is legal, decent, honest, or truthful, to use the Advertising Standards Authority’s motto. Not everyone tells the truth online. Whether you are research for a book, a good lesson for life is whenever you read anything bear in mind the famous ABC of criminal investigation: Accept nothing, Believe nobody, and Check everything!  

You can also use a general search engine. I googled “what do people worry about?” and this site helpfully lists the top twenty concerns (pre-Covid).

The worries quoted there can be broken down into seven broad groups. Six of these (getting old, money worries, health, work, emotional problems, and family strife) involve individuals worrying about things that affect them directly. Only one of the Top Twenty worries was concerned with the wider world. That was nervousness about the level of crime in the respondents’ local area, and it was right at the bottom of the list.

white and brown wooden tiles
Seeing how fictional characters cope can help readers with their own problems.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

This is why internal conflict is such a powerful force in Creative Writing. If you ever worry about whether you’re projecting the right image to other people, relax—the chances are they are far too busy worrying about what you’re thinking about them. Use your experience of this feeling of uncertainty, which is almost universal, to bring conflicts within your characters to life.

To engage your readers you need to write about characters they can relate to, and give those characters easily recognisable problems. Deciding what to inflict on your fictional cast is part of the fun of creative writing.

Next time, I’ll be using the ten parts of Writing for Pleasure, Profit, and Posterity to illustrate the path from motivation to submission, and eventual publication. Follow this blog to make sure you don’t miss it!

Blog, Creative Writing

Happy Christmas Holidays!

From the moment I started school, Friday became my favourite day of the week. It was the same for twenty years, until I gave up  office life.  I’m now self-employed and working from home at something I love, so pretty much every day is a holiday.

I never set an alarm. That doesn’t matter as I wake at around 5am anyway (it’s all those years of keeping poultry and pigs). As long as Alex gets his regular walks, the day is my own—although 9,999 times out of a thousand I choose to work. That’s because I enjoy writing so much I can’t stop, although I’ll let you into a secret. Sometimes it’s really hard to get down to work! 

For a while I’ll be writing something other than assignments.

This year, I’ve put my publishing career on hold. New projects are keeping me so busy, I’ve rediscovered the joy of looking forward to Friday! My next book, a non-fiction title called Struggle and Suffrage—Women’s Lives in Bristol is going to be released by Pen and Sword Books on 28th February 2019 (you can either order your copy in advance with 20% off by clicking here,  or on the link above), so I’ll be busy with that, but most of my time is taken up with working for my Masters degree at the University of Gloucestershire. You can find out more about that here.

I knew going back to a life of lectures and assignments after so long away from learning would be hard. Studying part-time means I only have to attend university two or three times a week, but it’s amazing how preparation, commuting and background reading eat into my time. Goodness only knows how full-time students manage, especially as most of them do part-time paid jobs to help with their bills.

Today is not only a Friday, it’s the last day of term. One of our lecturers is treating us to mince pies, so that’s another reason to celebrate. While I’ll be very glad to get home tonight, I’m a glutton for commuting punishment. I’ll be driving back to the university tomorrow to pick up Son Number One, who’s at the University of Gloucestershire too but studying on a different campus and living in halls. He’s coming home for Christmas, so it’s a happy time all round.

Whatever you’re doing this weekend, keep warm. It’s freezing here already, and there are rumours of sleet on high ground tomorrow. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! 

May your days be merry and bright…
Blog, Creative Writing

What a weekend!

Wish I’d had as much luck with my ‘do more housework’ resolution!

Sun, blue sky, a big baking session, an extra hour to get out and about now the clocks have gone forward—I thought this weekend couldn’t get any better. Then I opened an email on Sunday evening, and discovered  I’d been awarded second prize in the Plymouth International Writing Competition! It was for my as-yet unpublished short story, The One Thing. Congratulations to Barbara Hudson, who won first prize with The Woman Who Slept With A Monkey. You can find the full results here.

At the end of December, I made a New Year’s Resolution to attack my backlist. I’ve got dozens of files on my computer full of short stories, articles and long form work. It’s all work in waiting, rather than work in progress. Some pieces aren’t finished, others need revising, while some haven’t yet been submitted. During the first weeks of 2018 I entered various pieces from this backlog into writing competitions. Then I got distracted by work on the final draft of Women’s Lives In Bristol. For the past month or so,  my frontlist work has taken precedence over my backlist. I’d forgotten all about those competition entires, so news of a win was a great surprise.


All Capa’s work is, quite rightly, fiercely copyright-protected. Francisco de Goya’s El Tres de Mayo, on the other hand, is on Wikimedia Commons*

The story involved is called The One Thing. It’s about an endless procession of refugees which trails from country to country, and all through history. It picks up more members in each new theatre of war.  The story was partly inspired by my admiration of the work of photographer Robert Capa.  You’d like to think civilisation had woken up from the nightmares he documented in China, Spain, Europe and Vietnam during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Not a chance. Politicians and commentators are the only ones who move “onwards and upwards”. The people from burned villages and bombed cities are left to put their lives back together—if they can. Victims don’t vanish once the cameras move on to the next disaster.

The fate of many boats full of refugees.

The One Thing is proof that you can find inspiration everywhere, and at the most unexpected  times. As part of one of my research trips to Bristol for Women’s Lives In Bristol, I visited the church of St Nicholas of Tolentino, Easton.  The priest there, Father Richard Mckay, ministers to sixty different nationalities. Many are refugees, drawn to a city which makes them welcome, and a congregation that understands. On the wall hangs wood from a vessel full of refugees, which was wrecked off the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. That powerful image was another thing at the back of my mind when I wrote The One Thing.

On a happier note, there are a couple writing tips to pick up from this blog. The first, and possibly most important is never throw away any piece of writing. Everything is copy, said Norah Ephron’s mother. To that, I’d add a paraphrase of the old gardening maxim: right plant, right place.  My version is right info, right place. Make sure every one of your sentences either pushes the plot forward, or tells you something vital about one of your major characters. If it doesn’t, be brave. You don’t need to take the critics’ advice to kill your darlings too literally. Cut and paste them into a separate file, instead.

The second point is, don’t enter a single competition. Enter lots, and spread the word!  You’ll be practising your art, and supporting hard-working event organisers at the same time.  Who knows, they might like your work enough to put you up among the prizewinners.

I include details of writing competitions, along with news of my writing life at Tottering Towers on my Facebook Author Page —like and follow here to keep up with developments!

*At least one commentator has suggested Capa’s Falling Soldier is an homage to El Tres de Mayo. I can’t say whether or not Capa’s famous series of photos was staged, but as William Tecumseh Sherman said, War is Hell.




Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo 2016, Raymond Chandler, Roadblock, Writing your Book

Writing Your Book, Part Six—Beating The Curse Of The Saggy Middle….

This week marks the half-way point for everyone trying to write a novel in a month by taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016. Writing any book at any time is hard work, but around about now momentum slows. Authors hit a roadblock.  We slump against it, and so does our work. The Great British Bake-Off suffers the curse of the soggy bottom.  Writers live in fear of their manuscript having a saggy middle. Here are three ways to beat the block…

Bogart and Bacall in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Blast Your Way Through

Raymond Chandler wrote his best-selling crime fiction at high speed. He was a master of the all-action, snappy story. He said his specific method for beating any block in the type of book he wrote was to have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. I’m not suggesting you take Chandler literally, but throwing something unexpected into your fictional mix can kick-start your writing when you’re stuck. How would your major character react if they lost everything in a fire? Let them swing into action during a local disaster, or a national emergency. Remember, your fictional people aren’t only brought to life by the insights you give readers into their thoughts and actions. The way they interact with others shows us more facets of their characters.

It’s a thought…

Tunnel Underneath

If you’ve read Part Five of Writing Your Book (you can find it here), you’ll know I’m a great believer in the power of dirty drafting. Let your ideas tumble out and capture them in a fast and furious stream of consciousness. There’ll be plenty of time to work on the finer points of your story in later drafts, but when you’re stuck at the mid-point of your story, try burying some treasure among your major characters. Dig down into the core of their being. Give them a phobia, a cause that’s dear to their hearts, an unusual hobby, or a tragic past. Forget about beating your word-count for an hour or so, and give yourself the freedom to have fun planting clues. Your iron-jawed Alpha male may never be blackmailed over his secret love for flower-arranging* in your final draft, but it would explain his appreciation of structural integrity and design.

*like many a samurai general, as your feral hero can explain with relish to his arch-enemy and potential blackmailer…

Go Over, Or Swerve

Warning: This method is an out-and-out cheat, so it’s only to be used in your first draft, when you’re really stuck. 

Abandon your work at the point where you’re flagging, and type the words With one bound (s)he was free in centred, 20-point bold text. Then move straight on to whichever future scene in your story takes your fancy. You’ll be inspired, and the words will flow again. By the time you’ve finished your first draft and started going through your manuscript a second time, your subconscious will have collected your later ideas at the roadblock, ready for some remedial work. 

Whatever you do, don’t sell your readers short by using this third device  or anything like it in your final manuscript. They’ll be burning your book and flaming you alive online before you can say “…and she woke up to find it was all a dream…”!

Creative Writing, The Hot-headed Virgin, The Italian Billionaire's Virgin, Top Tips

Your Escape Route To Romance (and a whole lot more)…
The Collection’s Australian Cover

Ten years ago today I was sitting in a college lecture theatre, staring out at a rain-soaked car park and daydreaming about soaking up the sun somewhere hot and exotic. Today, dreams are my job, not just my hobby, and it all began with a creative writing assignment.

These days I don’t have much time to gaze out of the window (and English rain is as wet and cold as it’s ever been) but my life has changed out of all recognition.

I’ve met amazing people—Kate Walker, and the late, great Penny Jordan to name only two—written a lot of books, and sold nearly three million copies worldwide, in all sorts of languages.

When I began writing I started small, with magazine articles illustrated with photos I took myself. Then I wrote half a dozen historical novels, before signing up for a creative writing course which gave my career the breakthrough it needed.
My Original 2007 Cover

I’d always wanted to write contemporary, feel-good fiction, so this was my chance. I wrote the first two thousand words of what became The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin, which is still available as part of The Hot-Headed Virgin collection. The other students loved my homework project and told me to send it to Harlequin.

The rest, as they say, is history. I submitted The Italian Billionaire’s Virgin, and it was published as a paperback in 2007. The original artwork featured a hero who looked exactly like my OH—how lucky is that?

It’s been a great ten years for me. I think everyone deserves an affordable escape from everyday life. Writing does it for me, every time. It gives me even more pleasure when I hear from readers who enjoy my books. Why don’t you make 2016 the year you start that book you’ve been meaning to write?

To keep you on track, my blogs this year will include the top tips I’ve picked up along the way during my career as a best-selling author. Here are the first ones. To make sure you don’t miss any, follow my blog using the form on the side bar on the right. To keep up with news of offers, competitions and my work in progress, sign up to my mailing list.