Blog, Writing

Talking About Writing and Books…

…was the perfect way to spend my first week at the University of Gloucestershire.

It’s been brilliant. I’ve been lucky with the weather, too. Walking from the car park to my workshops rather than taking the campus bus means I can bracket my lectures with  exercise. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Pic from Pixabay

On my first day I picked up some ripe horse chestnuts and hazelnuts that had fallen from street trees on my route. I’ve planted them at Tottering Towers, as a souvenir.

Later, when I got to the campus, I was able to show a passing Design fresher the way to her tutorial room. She was impressed. I didn’t tell her I’d originally found her room while I was hunting for my own.

When I signed up for this course, I was pleased to hear there were lots of other mature students. I didn’t realise at the time that Further Education is a universe where anyone who has taken a gap year straight after graduating is termed “mature”. There are one or two students here who might be older than me, but in general I stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.  To paraphrase James Goldman’s Lion in Winter, I’ve got a decade [or two] on the tutors!

It’s the work that matters. All the staff are great, and my fellow students are a lot of fun.  We each have to produce a workshop piece within the next 36 hours, to be picked apart at the next session. I’ve got a feeling posts on here might become even more sporadic than usual…

Good luck to everyone who is starting at a new place of learning this month. Here’s a suitable soundtrack.*** In exchange for being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Breslau, Johannes Brahms was asked to compose something suitably grand. He responded by weaving together several student drinking songs  to create his Academic Overture.*** The bit that everybody knows starts at 8:50. It’s the theme used by Marvin Hatley in his music for the Laurel and Hardy film “A Chump at Oxford”****, which was one of my late father’s favourites. I know exactly how he’d paraphrase that title today!


*Goldman, James The Lion in Winter, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Oct 1968. They’re teaching me how to cite and reference, but as always it’s the technology of application that defeats me. Anybody know how to add footnotes in blogs? 😉

** Brahms, Johannes, Academic Overture, Prom 1: First Night of the Proms 15.07.2011, 7.30pm, Royal Albert Hall, posted on YouTube by 2013brb87 on Feb 15th, 2015. [Retrieved 22nd September 2018]

*** John Suchet, 9am-1pm Weekdays, Classic FM, Recently. What do you mean? Of course it’s a reference!

****Hal Roach Studios, A Chump at Oxford, 1939. My referencing definitely needs more work… 🙁

Blog, Writing

If I’d Known Higher Education Was Going To Be Like This…

e51fd-mp900439527…I’d have signed up a long time ago.

Everything I know about popular culture could be written on the back of a Viagogo guarantee, while leaving room for a Game of Thrones synopsis from start to finish of the series. Never have I ever seen an episode of Made in Chelsea, Gogglebox, or I’m A Celebrity (the fact they have to tell their audience they are celebrities puts me right off that last one, for a start). Only last week, I discovered Honey Boo-Boo wasn’t an over-sweetened breakfast cereal. Most of you will have forgotten her, in the time it’s taken me to discover the child.

Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire (Pic: Wikimedia Commons)

Then last Tuesday Dr Martin Randall spoke at an induction evening for the course I’ve enrolled on at the University of Gloucestershire. While choosing my modules I’d steered well away from his Popular Culture course, but his presentation was inspiring. When he played a video from YouTube, I was almost converted to his cause.

Of course I had heard of the singer involved. Years ago, dear old Jackie magazine used to advertise bedding and pillowcases decorated with “Little” Michael Jackson’s face. I even recognised the tune. As a teen, I assumed Billie Jean was some weird offering to a tennis icon, and blanked out the lyrics. Now I know better. 

Dr Randall explained the background to Jackson’s appearance at Tamla Motown’s 25th Anniversary bash, which was fascinating. This film marks the seminal point when Michael Jackson changed popular culture forever, apparently. I can’t comment on that. Learning that Jackson had to be persuaded to perform at this event, and catching occasional glimpses of something behind his eyes, I’m inclined toward an additional view.  Perhaps it’s also the point where Michael Jackson the person became Michael Jackson the product, manipulated by money men. All you who crave celebrity, beware. 

Whatever, Jackson went out on stage that night—and this happened: 

I usually whistle Mozart while walking in the woods with Alex. It frightens the wild boar away (especially that bit from The Magic Flute, ho,ho). After Dr Randall’s presentation on Tuesday evening, the febrile, staccato Billie Jean was an ear-worm which lasted throughout my Wednesday morning. Any whistling was out of the question—but I had a lot more to think about than wild boar that day, anyway.

Blog, Writing

Didn’t We Have A Lovely Time…

WRITING_pencil-918449_1920…at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 2018 Conference? Held at Leeds Trinity University over the weekend of 13th-16th of July, this is a perfect excuse to meet up with like-minded writers.

I’m a poor traveller, easily confused and frequently lost. Luckily the chairman of the local chapter of the RNA came to my rescue. She met me at Leeds station, and we travelled to the university together. Knowing that I was certain to get to the venue (and back to my homeward train after the conference) was a huge weight off my mind. I could sit back and relax.

The Committee and helpers of the RNA do a fantastic job each year, putting together a programme of talks, panels and entertainments that provide something for everyone. The only problem is, there are often two sessions I’d like to attend which are on at the same time. Lots of note-swapping goes on so it’s easy to catch up on handouts, but I really missed out on one session. I thought From Baby-Wipes to Burlesque sounded like a ho-hum talk about a housewife branching out into erotic writing. I left my friend to nod off in that session, while I went off to listen to rags-to-riches self-publishing story.

woman in white dress hanging on pole
Photo by Pixabay on

That was a BIG mistake!  Full of Sunday lunch and in a warm, windowless room, I was the one in danger of nodding off while listening to a cosy talk.  In contrast, the Baby-Wipes to Burlesque session turned out to be practical, rather than theory! My friend and the other delegates tumbled out pink and giggling after  learning how to dance alluringly. Balloons were involved. And glitter. If that wasn’t enough fun for a Sunday afternoon, they had a dressing up box, full of silk scarves and spangly things. I was so disappointed, I tried to get the happy burlesquers to teach me how to floss. I was so bad at it, flossing is something I’ll only do in the privacy of my bathroom from now on…

Blog, work in progress, Writing

Where Has The Time Gone?

suitcase_travel-778338_1920I can’t believe that I’ve been home from the annual Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Conference for almost a week. Six days of unpacking, clothes washing, lugging soapy bathwater out to spray the runner beans, catching up with emails—oh yes, and that little thing called work!—mean I’m all behind. I’ve got three days full of appointments next week, and I’m expecting the next set of proofs for Struggle and Suffrage any day.

Right now I’m playing a waiting game with the short story I’ve written for the Costa Short Story Award. I’ve finished the first draft, and put it away to mature for a few days before I attack the re-writes. While that is simmering at the back of my mind, I’m working on the follow up to Love Lies Bleeding.  It’s got the working title of River Girl, and here’s the opening:

In three hours’ time, I’ll be with Sophia and studying the menu in Purslane.

A Sarah Jarosz soundtrack was DI Josh Miller’s only company as he followed diversion signs along the Ripple valley. He’d shrugged off freezing rain on the way to testify in court earlier, only to watch a second-rate defence brief stare down a novice prosecuting counsel. That had made leaning into sleet on his way back to the office harder to take. Gloucestershire could throw bad weather in your face whichever way you were walking. Josh hadn’t experienced that trick since he’d prowled the canyons of Canary Wharf, but the prospect of dinner with Sophia had insulated him all afternoon. Once she was qualified, she’d show them all at Crown Court how it was done.

At last he was on his way home. The orange lights of a gritting lorry flickered through the dusk. Josh eased off the Skoda’s accelerator. He wasn’t mad enough to overtake in these conditions. Staying well back as the t-junction with the Brackenridge Road drew nearer, he saw the gritter swing out, straight across a motorcyclist. There wasn’t time to wince. In the confusion of horns and brakes, a stone thrown up from the newly-resurfaced road shattered Josh’s windscreen. 


In a house high above the road, Sally woke. She didn’t bother opening her eyes. 

There’s no point.

The bedroom would be as black as her heart, her thoughts and her future.  The Prospect was a long way from any streetlight, but William insisted on blackout curtains in all the upstairs rooms. He said they made it easier for him to sleep. 

William said a lot of things, when he wasn’t working.

He had been away for one whole day.

A cortege of thoughts passed through the snore-free silence while she waited for sleep to return. 

She uncurled her lower leg, pushing it experimentally down between the cotton sheet and the duvet. Relaxing felt wrong, to begin with. After a minute or two, she extended her other leg.

She opened her eyes, searching the dark. Nothing. Her mobile phone was only inches away on the bedside table. She’d know if  William was trying to contact her.

He’d packed a few things and moved into the Brackenridge Travelodge, conveniently close to his CEO’s home. With snow forecast, William was in the perfect place to cadge a lift into work. 

Shrewd, he called it. Very shrewd.

Commuting with William. Why could she remember doing that, when so much of her life since she stopped work at Atkinson Burrell blurred and seeped out of her mind like watercolours?

She grabbed her phone. William was bound to know…

…but then she would have to tell him Consuelo didn’t come back after going to the supermarket yesterday. If William thought lightning was going to strike twice, he would drive straight home to make sure she had company. 

She dropped the phone, then heard his voice inside her head.

I’m good like that.

Yes. He was. Everybody said so, so it must be true. 

She reached for the phone again.

Everybody says so, so it must be true.

She rolled onto her back. Then she eased her way into the middle of the emperor-sized bed.

Nothing bad happened.

Consuelo knew where the spare back door key was hidden. She could let herself in. 

But what if she never came back—

never came back never came back never came back…I never came back for Jake and Mia. So they went looking for me, and….

Sally curled into a foetal ball again.

She closed her eyes. 

But she didn’t sleep.


Josh snapped on his warning lights, shut the car’s vents and punched a big enough hole in the crazed glass to give him a view across the junction. The other vehicles were disappearing into the dusk. His car was the only casualty of the near-miss. Squinting into the icy breeze, he pulled over and parked. 

The temperature inside the car dropped like sterling in a crash. Josh tried his phone. No signal. He got out. The winter air was full of knives. 

This is the actual spot where Sally walks into the river, shown in midsummer.

The little Ripple was a tributary of the Wye, cutting through steep Forest rock to join the bigger river here, near the great horseshoe bend of Symond’s Yat. For most of the year, this was the perfect place for water sports. Uninterrupted by calls or texts it would seem, Josh thought as he paced about, searching for a better signal. 

At the deserted canoe slipway, he found one. Before he could dig out his breakdown membership card, a distant gunshot echoed along the valley. The sound came from the direction of the Kneller’s smallholding, on the other side of the Wye. Noisy rooks catapulted into the sunset. It was legal for farmers to shoot foxes and crows, especially so close to lambing. They had to protect their stock, but the noise sharpened his senses. An owl quavered. He looked up. An apparition was moving through the trees scratched against the slope ahead.

It was a woman. She was moving toward the water. 

Why she was drifting about this Godforsaken place, looking like Kate Bush on YouTube was anybody’s guess. 

Josh went to find out…

There’s a lot of work to be done on River Girl yet (not least, discovering how to disable double line spacing in WordPress!). That means my mind is full of characters and twists when I should be concentrating on doing the watering. I managed to tip half a can of water over myself last night. At any other time, that would have been an unpleasant shock. During the long hot summer of ’18,  it was quite a relief!

Blog, Writing

You Can Write! Part Twelve— Play Fast And Loose

Writers vary in the amount of planning they do before starting to write. Some use software systems such as Snowflake or Scrivener to guide them. Others plunge straight in. Both systems have their good and bad points, so it comes down to personal preferences. 

When you’re first grabbed by an idea, plan as much or as little as you like but don’t get bogged down in too much detail when it comes to working on your first draft. Fiddling with tiny details makes the challenge of writing a whole book seem much harder than it actually is.

person hands woman pen
Photo by on

As long as you’ve done your groundwork on characters and conflicts, try charging straight through your story, writing only the dialogue. Scribble away as fast as you can, getting down on paper or screen all the juiciest exchanges you’ve been dreaming up. Start the beginning, and work right through to the end. You’re not looking to write the whole 60,000 words or whatever at this stage. You’ll probably change a million things about your manuscript before you’re satisfied with your final draft, but right now you’re concentrating on the basics.

What you want at this stage is a sure-fire way to boost your writerly self-esteem. This first, dirty draft will capture all the edge of the seat stuff – the interplay of character and conflicts that first attracted you to your idea.

Once you’ve got the basic scaffolding of your story in place, you can go back at your leisure and create a second, cleaner draft. Refine your work with more description, lots of character development and some crackling conflict. Polish your story until it’s a perfect read!