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Sunday, 27 August 2017


Those of you who follow me closely (although not too closely please, if you are standing near enough to dip your HobNob in my tea then you probably want to go back a few paces.

And a few more.

I can still see you.

That's better)

will know that it's been a bit of a sad time for me just lately. My lovely mum (although I can't take entire ownership rights, my brother has part shares in her too) died this week.  We knew it was coming, so the end was not as much of a shock as it otherwise would have been, but even though I was prepared, I still didn't account for how 'adrift' one feels when the last parent goes.  My dad died nine years ago, so I've had a little practice though. 

I suddenly realised that there is now nobody who remembers me as a newborn baby (my brother is younger. And anyway has a terrible memory and would probably invent some stuff about me being awful and unmanageable. Or something), or my first steps, or my first word.

And then I think, 'hang on. Why does it matter anyway? I clearly learned to walk and talk, although shutting up is more of a challenge, so why do I need corroborating evidence? And why should her death have to be felt purely as it related to me?' 

Someone is gone who was once here. More lives are impacted than mine, she will be missed by my brother and his wife, who cared for her in her last years. By the nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren, by the step grandchildren and great grandchildren.

So there's now a Betty-shaped hole in the world.  One that she filled for 86 years, so she gave it a good go and, hopefully, achieved a lot of the things she wanted to. She certainly gave a lot of sit-coms a good thrashing, and also enjoyed murder mysteries rather a lot. She could pronounce 'there's been a muurrrrrrderrrrr' with more Glaswegian emphasis than even Taggart managed, despite having been born and brought up in Windsor.
Never knowingly overfaced
She will be well and fondly remembered.

Now I inexplicably want to go and eat a giant dessert...

Sunday, 2 July 2017

How to know what you don't know...

Write what you know.

That's what they say, isn't it? And, as long as you've led a jet-setting life, with frequent space flights interspersed with cattle ranching in the Peruvian uplands and occasional bouts as an angst-ridden rock star, then that's great. You've got enough material, go, write!

But what if you've never been further than Uttoxeter? What if you've never even met a rock star (hard to imagine, I know, but there must be some people out there who've never been hauled aboard a tour bus) and your day job involves pencilling tick boxes on a council form for compost bins?  What then?

(Wanders off to imagine book about Uttoxeter-dwelling council worker...)

OK. So I'm going to tell you how to write about what you don't know.
I don't fancy yours much
Emotions translate. That's all you need to know.  You may never have been widowed, but remember that time your cat died when you were nine? Remember that feeling that you'd never see them again and how hard it was and how you missed them? Hold that feeling...

You may never have decided to up sticks and move to Spain to get over your loss. But remember that school exchange visit to France, when you spent the first three weeks feeling desperately homesick and missing your mum and then you discovered you loved cycling along the lanes in the sunshine? Hold that feeling.

You may never have suffered from a life changing illness. But remember when you had that flu that time? And you couldn't get out of bed for a week even to answer the phone and you felt so awful that you were sort of afraid you'd die? And how it took you six weeks before you could stay up past nine o clock and how you felt as if you were about a hundred years old for ages?  That...

Because we all know so much more than we think we do, but none of us can have lived all the lives we write about (at least, not if you want to write more than one or two books, or recycle the same plot). But emotions translate. Loss is loss, whether it's your husband, father or dog, grief is the same. Its severity and duration vary depending on the relationship, but the sheer gut-pulling, hunched-over-crying, inability to function shock remains the same.  Fear is fear, whether it's your child straying out of your sight on the beach or a noise behind you in a dark forest, your mouth dries the same way, your heart thunders, your body freezes...And love, whether it's a partner, your dog or Aiden Turner, you still feel that warm smile on your face when you think of them (unless you've got a dog like mine, in which case your jaw sort of clenches at the same time).

You know so much more than you think you know.
Except space travel. You're on your own with that one.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Rocky Road to story telling

I've not written much lately.

Not because I haven't got any ideas, but because I've got too many.  What should I write next? Should it be the one with the llamas in? Or the 'quiet man in the caravan' story? Or should I finish that vampire novella that's half done and sitting on my desktop like a big accusatory finger wagging at me whenever I start my machine?
Yes, I'm inclining towards the llamas myself

It's know when you fancy a bar of chocolate?  You just think 'mmmm, I want some chocolate,' so you go to the shop and you stand in front of the 'chocolate' section and... do you want milk, plain or white? Do you want ordinary chocolate, or chocolate with bits in? Posh chocolate, which you tell yourself you will only eat a little bit of because it's so rich, or cheap chocolate where you know you will scoff the whole bar in seconds? Or would you rather have something covered in chocolate, like peanuts or raisins?  Or even a pack of chocolate biscuits, because they are chocolate and you can also dunk them in your tea?
Choose fast, choose wisely
Too much choice, you see?  I sometimes wish the inside of my brain was like Soviet-era Russia, no choice, one item and you have to queue for a fortnight to get it. If I had to work for ideas I wonder if I would value them more and feel more inclined to work on them - rather than discarding them if they seem to have too many nuts in in and not enough toffee.

And then I have the tendency for my ideas to become like Rocky Road - llamas, plus quiet man in caravan, with a few vampires floating around for good measure.
But, whereas nobody ever said 'what that Rocky Road needed was a few less cherries and not quite so many marshmallow pieces', a book CAN have too many elements in it for proper storytelling.  Too much going on and you can't focus on the characters.

I think I'll go and stare at the chocolate section again for a bit. Warning: my next story may contain nuts.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Cake of Disappointment...

I apologise for the sporadicity of my blogging lately.  I used to be hugely regular, but since I started a job where I frequently work weekends, I have found myself with less oomph on the bloggage front.  And, I suppose, there are only so many pictures of my dogs and cats that I can put up to entertain you with...

So, anyway.  On Tuesday, my book 'Can't Buy Me Love' came out in paperback!
You can buy it  at
And I duly celebrated by baking the world's worst cake,  I know, I know!  I should have just gone out and bought myself a fabulous cake from a proper shop, preferably one with 'Congratulations' on it in fat icing (I love icing).  I debated buying fourteen cupcakes and icing a letter on each one, so that I could eat them in a 'GIVE ME A C!  GIVE ME AN O!' flamboyant sort of a way.  But I didn't (mainly because I took the dogs on an 8 mile walk and was too lazy to go out to the shops afterwards. Honestly, my feet hurt).  And I'm generally quite good at cakes and I had a big thing of ready made icing in the cupboard that needed using up so... anyway.  I made a cake.

Well.  Quite clearly I have offended the Gods of Baked Goods.  Because that cake was the worst cake I have ever made (and I once mistook wholemeal bread flour for ordinary self raising and made a cake you could have laid as a foundation stone).

It looked all right when it came out of the oven, all puffy and spongey and like it was supposed to. So I left it to cool, whereupon it listed sharply to starboard and sank sideways.  It looked less like a book celebration cake and more like a Titanic memorial sponge. But there's no such thing as bad cake, right?  So I cut it in half (revealing its patchily soggy middle) and filled it with jam and buttercream, spread icing on the top and prepared for a feast.

It tasted like it looked.  A slightly-sweetened brick, with overtones of raw egg.

I hold that there are few disappointments quite as...well...disappointing, as food disappointment.  You know, when the icing from your bun sticks to the paper bag, or your eclair topping melts, or that yummy jam that you thought was apricot and spread all over the middle of your victoria sponge turns out to be marmalade?  It was like all that.

It wasn't so bad when it was fresh, but after two days, when the icing went hard, it was almost inedible.  But only almost.  I mean, it was a celebration cake - I had to eat it!

Next time it's straight to the Co Op...

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Dear Diary...I have a big, pink ball...

I read back through some old posts on my blog the other day and it struck me that writing a blog is a little bit like writing a diary, only it's a diary that you hope other people are going to read.  Not like the one you wrote when you were fourteen, documenting every exchange, however slight, with that boy you fancied something rotten in 9C. Hopefully you've now looked back and realised that him tripping you up and laughing every time he saw you was not, in fact, a sign of deep love and was because he was an enormous bully.  And you only fancied him because he was the tallest boy in Year 9 and you could always see him in the corridors, six inches about the cloud of viruses that hovered around everyone's heads.

Now diary-writing has been replaced by blogging. We lay ourselves bare (in a manner of speaking, you wouldn't want to see me with my vest off) on the internet instead of between pages of 'narrow feint and margin' and those little photo-booth pictures that used to pepper the pages, where we posed with our BFFs with our tongues poking out and careful hairstyles to conceal the acne, have been replaced by pictures from our phones or plucked from elsewhere on the internet to illustrate our points.

These are my BFFs. I'm not quite sure what point they illustrate, other than that having terriers drives you to madness and/or extreme fitness.

Anyway, dear blog... I have just splashed out and bought myself a ball to sit on.  A big, pink thing it is, designed to help my balance, so I'm sitting on it as I write this.  It's a bit like trying to blog whilst sitting on a small, restless pony, to be honest. It keeps shifting from side to side and it's only the nobbly bits on the top that stop me from sliding off.
The observant among you may notice that it is resting on cushions. This is not because I am concerned for its comfort, nor to give me a softer landing should it shy dramatically to the left and throw me. No. The cushions are there because, in purchasing my ball, I neglected to ensure that when blown up and sat on, it would enable me to reach my keyboard.  I tried without the cushions, which resulted in me typing somewhere at shoulder level, like an infant trying to do the washing up.

However, I am assured that the ball, in conjunction with the terriers, should ensure that I end up with a bottom like two halves of a tennis ball, only less yellow and furry.  Dear Blog, I shall report back...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

When you have a large book family...

Well, that's another book released into the wild.

You know that metaphor about books being like babies?  The 'nine months gestation and worrying that everyone will think it's ugly, and the big 'push' before it's released' and all that?  I've just found another one...
This one. Available here
With your first baby/book, everyone gets terribly excited. You get lots of advice and then, once it's born, lots of sympathy when things don't quite go the way you expected.  People ask how it's doing, make 'ooh' and 'ahh' noises, send flowers and are generally very interested in the whole process.

When book/baby number two comes along, everyone is impressed that you felt you could do it all again, particularly with the fuss you made the first time, and the level of complaining.  But they admire your determination and, whilst they aren't popping round with flowers and home-made rice puddings any more, they enquire politely after your book/offspring, remember its birthday and give you a nice level of reassurance that it will all be all right and the first one won't be jealous.

By the time you get to book/baby number five (I only had five babies, so this possibly continues but I shall NOT be finding out), your announcement is greeted with groans, a level of 'oh, not another one, what do you want to keep doing that for', as though you personally wrote/got pregnant simply to annoy other people.  From number one, where everyone assured you that they would keep an eye out for it/buy it/come round straight away (only two of these apply equally to babies and books, try to work out which one doesn't), you now get a more lack-lustre 'well, if I'm passing and I like the look of it, I might try.'  However...

Little Teashop of Horrors is my eleventh published book and, I am delighted to say, its birth was greeted with just as much excitement as Book Number One.  It seems that the news of the pending arrival is met with less enthusiasm than the actual delivery, whereupon, like with babies, everyone overcomes their initial reluctance and discovers that, really, it doesn't matter whether it's first born or one of many, every single one is an individual with its own little personality. And cover.

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on my new book baby. I'll take those home-made rice puddings now...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yorkshire, Source of inspiration since...I first thought of it.

I live in a lovely part of the world.  Well, I suppose that is relative, if you like lots of shopping opportunities and have a fixation on Harrods, you'd hate it here.  Also if you have a particularly intricate hairstyle this is not the best part of the world to be in, on account of the wind.  And also sometimes the rain..anyway, suffice it to say that North Yorkshire is a generally lovely place if you don't give a tuppeny stuff what you look like and also have a lot of laundry to dry.

Most of the books I write are based here.  Well, not here, because my sofa isn't that interesting and I'd be hard pressed to get more than a paragraph out of my living room, but here as in ...(I'm waving my arm to take in the general scenery here, but you can't see me doing it so I don't know why).  Location adds more to a book than just a place for it to happen in.  Think of Daphne du Maurier's books, 'Jamaica Inn' and 'Frenchman's Creek' - they are so steeped in Cornwall that you can practically smell the cream teas when you open them. 
Oddly enough, a lot of it was filmed in Yorkshire...
And then you've got all those Shetlandic detective thingies that are all rocks and isolation and fish and simply wouldn't work if you tried to transpose the action to Birmingham, not least because there just isn't that much herring in Solihull.

So books are coloured by their backgrounds, and, if you're writing a novel then it's very useful to have the sort of background that can also reflect the action in the book.  York, for example, has a lot of windey (also windy, see above) streets, and wandering through narrow, cobbled streets where the shops all lean against one another is a time-honoured way of having a character reflect on their circumstances, and if they can do this whilst buying a loaf of bread and a cabbage, then so much the better.  Wide open spaces give characters lots of 'walking about' time, and my characters go in for a lot of musing, so it's useful to have them doing it where they won't walk into other people or fall off the edge of the pavement.

Seasons and weather are also bigger in the countryside. In cities rain is just wet, out here it can be horizontal and blinding and hail can knock all your fingers off. All good stuff when you need a 'big moment' in a book...
My locality (not actual size)

Sunday, 26 February 2017

'How long does it take to write a book?' A lifetime and counting...

Everyone (and this is quite literally, everyone, from people who meet me at book signings, to the elusive milkman, who only speaks to me from the other side of the road, while running away) wants to know how long it takes to write a book.   Usually because someone suggested that they take up a hobby, and crochet or macrame seemed to involve too much committment, so they thought writing a book might be a nice way to pass a couple of afternoons when the weather was too wet to go out.
Does anyone else think this just looks like a really inefficient way of catching cod?

So. How long does it take to write a book?  That's a question that's a bit like 'how long is a piece of string?'  I wrote one of my books in six weeks.  Others take around six to nine months. One took over a year.  But that's just the physical writing, you see, the bum-on-chair, fingers-to-keyboard, biscuit-to-mouth stage. The stage where people can see what you are doing.  There is a whole stage previous to that one, which is a stage I call 'cooking the book' (which is not at all like 'cooking the books', which is strictly illegal and, since I cannot reliably count my own fingers and get the same number twice, probably not something I shall ever do).  This is the stage where a writer walks around a lot, talking to themselves, sometimes ejaculating such gems as "if it's purple, it could work!" and also sometimes wearing their pants on their heads.

You see, if you aren't a writer, you won't understand this a writer everything is writing. A writer, upon very reasonably being asked what the hell they are doing when they are standing in a field poking a large tree with a stick, can pefectly honestly answer 'I'm writing'. Because, in their head, they might need the information about what happens when you poke a large tree with a stick (no, I've no idea either, but maybe they are writing Swedish Crime Thrillers, where a lot of tree poking goes on. I understand. I don't read them. Because of the tree poking thing).
This was originally called 'The Girl Who Poked the Oak Tree with Really Quite a Long Stick.'
 Plus, of course, all of life informs a writer's writing. I'm told that life imitates art, but when I tried imitating Venus Rising I just got told to put my clothes back on and to get out of the fishmonger's, so I'm not sure how that works, but life certainly informs art.  You can always tell a writer because, when their house burns down, their husband leaves and their children appear on the front page of The Sun, they will say through their tears, 'It will all go in a book, one day'.

And it will. But it might be twenty years down the line when everyone else has forgotten. But writers Never Forget Anything.  Anything plot related, that is. I can't remember where I put the car keys.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

28th of March. Put it in your diary. Go on...'s when my new book comes out.

Unless anything terrible happens between now and then titlewise, it's called The Little Teashop of Horrors, and I hope very soon to have a cover to show you and a blurb and all those conventional things.  Until then you are just going to have to take my word for it.

It is, of course, set in North Yorkshire, in a stately home called Monkpark Hall (loosely based on this house)...
No, it's not my house. My house has more cats than chimneys.  This is Nunnington Hall.

It's about Amy, who lives with the grandmother who brought her up in a cottage on the estate, and Josh, who gives demonstrations of flying with his birds of prey and lives in a caravan.  So it's not about landed gentry in an Upstairs Downstairs way, it's more about what happens if you live in a tied cottage and need to work on the estate to keep your house, when the person taking over the management of the place threatens your job...

One of the stars of the story is a barn owl called Skrillex, who looks a bit like this
..only scruffier.

It also contains many mentions of tea and scones, considerable amounts of baking, a hidden staircase and a large quantityof brussel sprouts.  There's a ghost-that-isn't-a-ghost, a motorcycle and gratuitous mentions of Whitby Abbey too.

Now. You were going to put 28th of March in your diary, weren't you?  Go on, I'll help.  E-book, out on 28th March, called Little Teashop of Horrors.  By Jane Lovering.

And hopefully I'll soon have a cover to tease you with!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

'To blog - or not to blog? That is the question...'

I was recently involved in a discussion about 'mummy blogs'. Well, when I say 'involved in', I mean I read the discussion and occasionally nodded. 'Mummy Blogs' are where (usually new) mothers blog about their experiences of parenthood and can vary hugely from 'this isn't what I expected, I want to go back to work, the baby's just eaten pooh and the dog's been sick on the carpet', to 'here are my little treasures enjoying an educational game before eating a home-cooked nutritional meal #feelingblessed'.

And it got me thinking... do you read blogs by your favourite authors? Are author blogs less or more interesting than Writing Blogs?

Really well known authors tend less towards blogs (and if they do have a blog, chances are they haven't written it, it's done by their Publicity People, because they have people. Most authors are barely on speaking terms with themselves, let alone people) and more towards newsletters. The 'here's my latest release, out on Tuesday, here's a competition.'  Which tells you a lot about the actual book, but not much about the author behind it.  So, here's my question... do you like reading author blogs? If you do, would you rather read about the author's experience with their grumpy neighbour and how everyone thinks 'working from home' means sitting around drinking coffee all day and running down to the shop in their slippers to buy more biscuits?  And how their hoover is broken and why the cat has that face on?  Or would you rather read purely about the books?

Or, again, would you rather read a Writing Blog, where authors write about the process of writing?
Do you want to read about the person behind the author? (I mean, the actual person, the real one, not someone standing behind the author with a whip and a stern expression muttering something about edits having been promised last week, because that is called a Publisher, and they have their own blogs, thank you).  And I know that reading my blogs is more like reading about the person behind that person, because I've got a lot of people in my head and it seems rude not to give them all a turn.  Or would you rather read about the writing processes of authors?

Or would you rather that we all just shut up and wrote books and didn't bother you with our biscuit preferences and our dog pictures?  Because, if you are going to be like that about it...

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Writing advice - A book doesn't just tell a story!

OK, I'm going to let you in on a little secret here - writing a book isn't just about telling a story.

Are you shocked? Well, don't be, just have a cup of tea and a sit, have a HobNob, it's all right the cat only licked the top one, the rest are fine, and I shall explain what I mean.  By the way, if you write books you will already know this, so please feel free to do some light dusting or clean down the back of the fridge while I explain it to the others, yes, you can take your tea and HobNob with you.  There's some dishcloths in...well, actually I have no idea where the dishcloths live. There might not even be any.  Just sort of waft, it will be fine...

Right. Everyone else. Now.  I know you want to tell your story.  You've got a very good story, say, for example, it's about a woman and a man who meet, and hate each other, then fall in love. Yep, that's a story, but it's not really, is it?

Think about it.  Two people meet and hate each other.  So, why do they ever have anything more to do with one another? I don't hang around with people I hate, it would be uncomfortable, and I only hate people who eat all the biscuits or are unkind to animals, so I wouldn't stay.  So you need an absolutely true and compelling reason for these two people to be together for long enough to fall in love.
Yes, I suppose trying to sabotage a race is a reason...
And then, because your reader wants to believe that their love will last long enough for at least a conversation, if not sex, to take place, then their 'falling in love' has be also be a believable conversion of feelings. One of them can't just see the other being approximately nice to an old lady and think 'oh, he/she's not so bad really, I must be completely and utterly in love with them! Gosh!' These characters must grow and change and become better people during the duration of the story; they must not act like puppets!  And, if at all possible, don't have one of them give up whatever it was that the other person didn't like them for - they both have to compromise (unless it's eating all the biscuits and being unkind to animals. No compromise there. In fact, kill them).

You know I do critiques, don't you?  I mean, in case you didn't know. And if you wanted some more and quite specific writing advice, just bear me in mind, because I've got loads more pictures of Dastardly and Mutley and I'm not afraid to use them...ahem. So. If you've written something and you'd like to have my advice on how to make it not feel like an episode of Wacky Races (I mean, I'm sure it isn't anything like that, but you might think it is and want a second opinion), then drop me an email and I will do my best to help you.

I'll even do the Mutley laugh, if you think it will help.

Right, after that little nugget of advice, I'm going to see if the others have cleaned behind that fridge yet. Keep it real (floats off, making little 'shruggy' motions and carrying a HobNob at a careful angle).

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Writing Guilt. Female phenomenon or general writerly angst?

I was having a discussion recently with a bunch of on-line friends. Yes. I have friends. Okay, so some of them I've never met in real life, but that doesn't stop me calling them friends - and yes, I am very aware of the rules on who I might be allowed to call a friend, believe me, someone with as many injunctions as me is very well aware of that sort of thing.  Anyway. What we were talking about was Writing Guilt.

We were a group of women (this is relevant, honestly) talking about having to get on with writing but our behaving as though writing was our own little 'treat' - something we must do quietly, and only when all housework etc is completed. As though, somehow, our writing was not a valuable contribution to the household earnings and/or our desire to write was something that must be placed lower on the ranking scale than the dog's desire to have a four mile walk and the cat's desire to have a really clean set of pillowcases to sleep on.

I call this Writer's Guilt.  And the topic of discussion with those friends (yes, they really ARE friends. No, not in the same way as Tony Robinson is a friend - see above re injunctions) was whether or not male writers also suffer from Writer's Guilt if they take themselves off to add a chapter to their WIP, or whether they are better able to prioritise their writing lives.  Does this depend on whether the writer is earning a living solely from their writing (ie, is it easier to ignore the hoovering and the dog if your writing is paying for the electricity and the Pedigree Chum, and I can't imagine that Sir Terry Pratchett ever delayed sitting down in front of his keyboard until the bath was clean and he'd completed the Sainsburys order)?   Is it just women who feel somehow guilty about sitting down in front of our keyboards, as though by writing we are neglecting something or someone else in our lives?
And where does this guilt come from? It seems to be felt right across the board, so it's not just an extension of the natural guilt that motherhood thrusts upon you, associated with the feeling of always being in the wrong, lack of sleep and never being able to find a pair of socks that match. Is it ingrained in us from birth? Are there men that also suffer?

Or is it just the way the dog stares at us?
Try not to weaken...