Monday 29 July 2019

Getting the Most Out of Conferences

I was recently able to attend one day of the Mslexicon Conference in Leeds. This was of course organised by the wonderful Mslexia, my favourite writers’ magazine. 

Now, I’m not going to give you a full report on the sessions I attended.  That wouldn’t be fair to those who have paid a lot of money to be there, myself included, and indeed to the speakers who make part of their livelihood from providing content at such events but I will share with you what I came away with. 

It’s always important when you go on a course or attend a conference that you resolve to act on what you’ve learnt and you put in some mechanism for making sure that it happens. 

So, I’m kind of doing that here. I’m stating in public what I will do next as a result of having attended the event. I expect you to hold me to account. 

I was very pleased to hear Claire Malcolm speak. She is from New Writing North.  Now, I still have a few problems with this organisation. It often seems more like it ought to be named New Writing North East and we need a New Writing North West. Those darn Pennines! But her enthusiasm was very convincing and I’m now resolved to use the site more often.   

She also gave a new template for writing bios which I’ll now consider using. 

A plenary included an interview with Sophie Hannah  My goodness, she is enthusiastic. She has instigated The Dream Author Coaching Programme  and I’ve signed up for that. 

The final session was “Find Your Tribe” which formalised the networking that is always so useful at conferences. I’ve now found another group of local people with whom to share critiques, another group with whom to work on events and I’ve also volunteered to do some editorial work. 

There was a glorious pop-up book shop: I’m keen to use them for some of my own events.  I picked up a fascinating book by Steven Pinker: A Sense of  Style.  I always like Pinker’s work and this seems to address writing particularly. Yes, treating yourself to a book at a conference is absolutely justified. You’ve paid a lot already and you’re probably attending at a weekend between two working weeks. You deserve a treat. 

As always at these events, you get a few interesting freebies.  This time there was a handy clipboard, a pen, the usual useful canvas tote bag, a copy of the mag and one of Shaun Levins Writing Maps How to Write a Story There was also a very useful Do Not Disturb Sign. One side had “I’m thinking” on it and the other “I’m reading”.  I’ve made use of this for our downstairs loo that doesn‘t have a bolt on the door. It also offers a discount for the Literary Gift Company Also in the bag, and also form the Literary Gift Company was a little yellow duck who was reading a book.  Did someone slip that in whilst we were networking? I only discovered him when I got home. Anyway, it looks great in my new bathroom.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Exploring through writing

This is something I discovered when I started writing my Schellberg cycle of novels. I had some superb primary resources and was able to gather other information by repeating some of the experiences that my character had.  

A third trick was to use the writing itself to explore.

This sits alongside “write what you know”. That, of course is a little facile: if we all only ever did that there would be no fantasy, science fiction or historical fiction. Yet it is this very writing about what you know that makes the magic happen. 

There are two types of things that you know: what you’ve found out from research and what you’ve experienced yourself. Add into the mix as well all that work you’ve done on your setting and characters you actually know a lot.     

We’re all familiar with the “what if?” question. Next comes the “What would they do in these circumstances?” You write yourself into the character and become a little like an actor. You may discover some startling things. 

A Masters creative writing student of mine already had a Masters in history.  When he wrote a novel set in the seventeenth century, he found out more about the way of life of the people who lived there than he had done from all the history he’d studied. 

I had a real dilemma in the Schellberg cycle: how could Hans Edler cope with being involved in designing of the V2 flying bomb during World War II when his wife and child were living in England? I got into his head and realised that he went as slowly as he could with this work. I was astounded to read a few weeks later that many engineers working on the project deliberately dragged their feet because they thought it was so awful. 

One member of my U3A creative writing group complains that she has no imagination yet when she writes about what she knows her writing is exquisite. She writes with the senses uncovering experiences for us and confirming them for herself. 

Of course when we write about historical characters who no longer have a voice we must use a little humility; we may not represent them the way they would wish to be represented. We must be clear that this is just our interpretation of who that character is. I suspect however that we are more often right than wrong and this is all because we write what we know in order to find out what we thought we didn’t know.            

Friday 12 July 2019

An Interview with Philippa Rae

I'm very privileged to welcome Philippa Rae to my blog today. We're delighted at Chapeltown to be publishing her enchanting story for children all about a certain Wilma, pictured above.     

1.   What do you write? Why this in particular? 

I have enjoyed writing short stories and poetry. I am an impatient type and get a buzz out of completing something quickly! 

My natural instincts are to write humorous pieces but, in the future, I would love to write a fantasy novel.  This is a challenge to set myself for the next couple of years. I do have two half written longer books in my files, so I must schedule in finishing those. 

For example, I have a complete three act children’s play (written for a school performance for a whole class) which I wrote a few years ago sitting in my files which I am getting workshopped with a school and three fifteen-minute animation scripts, one of which is now honed and ready to be sent out. 

2.   What got you started on writing in the first place? 

When I was in my last year at primary school I used to enjoy writing stories in my lunchtime.  I remember trying to write a Lord of the Rings style piece!   

However, my interest in dancing took over and it wasn’t until I was working in the production team at Cbeebies Radio that I started writing poems and stories in my scripts. Initially it was just one or two, but it developed from there. Since then I have dipped in and out. 

It has been trial and error finding the right format for my style.  Some things come easier than others though obviously practice in anything makes perfect!  Some people find their writer’s voice early in the process.  But initially I wrote for radio for a preschool audience which is a specific craft of words interweaved with sounds. So, in the past I suffered from a tendency to overwrite or be too matter of fact as with radio explaining was the main way of signposting the narrative.  I had to relearn a different way for print production. 

I also learned to let go of pieces and move onto the next project.  It’s very easy to think after I could have done this or that better or keep fiddling with something but sometimes its best to just move on and do something else or hand it over to someone else to look at.

3.   Do you have a routine? 

I often write chunks in long hand and then type it up again on the computer.  I am the sort of writer that likes to write the basic structure first and then keep adding as I hone the work.   

Initially I was fixated on trying to find a totally original idea till I realized that it was the treatment which was the most important.  The pressure of forcing inspiration was creating writer’s block and I found after that things flowed much better.  

If you can find a totally original idea, then wonderful but otherwise most things are often a mish mash of stuff we have picked up. Usually we don’t realize where we have got the idea from!  

I do carry a notebook as inspiration usually strikes when you least expect it.  Story development reminds me of a pickled onion.  It takes a while for things to ferment and then it’s great fun to peel off all the different layers as the story falls into place. 

The hardest thing I found with writing longer pieces is that it is a solitary and disciplined process whereas I come from a background of busy events and media production, so I am used to working in teams with lots of people giving their opinions. Obviously, the publishing team has a big input into the finished product but during the early stages it is mostly a solo job! 

4.   When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact? 

I enjoy being involved in creative projects across a range of mediums.  I would probably describe myself more as a content producer than specifically a writer.  I enjoy media production, creating content for websites and charity events and promotions as well as writing for magazines.

I never set out to be a writer, it was being asked to create pieces for my job that reminded me of my childhood.  Even when I was first published I wasn’t really thinking about writing as a full-time career but an enjoyable sideline.  I like entering competitions and have been quite successful.  But it is other people who place the emphasis on this element though it is actually just one part of what I am interested in. It would be nice though in the future to say that I was a full-time writer! 

Writing has been on the backburner for me for a couple of years because of a bereavement. I lost someone very close to me and then unfortunately six months later I was diagnosed with advanced cancer in three places, so I have just ticked along whilst I was undergoing treatment as I wasn’t able to put in the necessary promotional work needed for books. 

We all react to treatment differently and I found the operation, chemotherapy and radiotherapy very invasive and exhausting.  I take my hat off to all the inspirational individuals who manage to achieve great things however challenging their circumstances, but I am a lousy patient and most definitely not very good as a tortured artist toiling away – I write best and usually mostly when I’m happy! 

Now I am in remission I am very grateful to be given a second chance and so I have been working on the number of half-finished projects I have accumulated and dipping in and out of over the last few years.   

5.   What are you most proud of in your writing? 

I have recently been trying classes that are in genres outside my comfort zone to stretch and stimulate myself into some fresh approaches.  It’s a great way to perk up your brain!   

In the past I attended an excellent picture book class taken by authors Chrisytan and Diane Fox which helped me to pin down the style needed for picture books, after having written so many short stories for radio and magazines, this format was ingrained in me and hard to shake off.   

In fact, Cinderella’s Other Shoe (with wonderful cartoon drawings by Tevin Hansen) was originally written as an exercise set in the class so I was delighted that we won the Purple Dragon Fly Awards for best humour book. 

6.   How do you get on with editing and research? 

I was once told that you learn most in the editing process and this is true!  I do have a bit of a blind spot sometimes no matter how much I read something that I have written with typos escaping through! 

I know that my better pieces are usually ones that I let breathe for a couple of weeks before returning to them.  Then I have allowed some distance between myself and the work and am able to spot any mistakes! 

7.   Which writers have inspired you? 

I enjoy reading work by many different authors but people that spring to mind are the wonderful rhyming books of Jeannie Willis as well as the unique picture book styles of Oliver Jeffers and Emily Gravett. I wish I could illustrate!   

I don’t really like naming favourite authors as it means singling people out which is very hard when there are so many great books. But I have been writing reviews for Kidscene for nearly seven years and two classics that spring to mind are Triangle and Wisp: A Story of Hope.

I also love the animated films.  Two films that stick in my mind are Chicken Run and Gnomeo and Juliet! 

8.   Do you have any goals for the future?

I do have three books scheduled for publication in 2019 and 2020 with three more in in development with publishers.  

In my early career, I really enjoyed teaching children dance and so I am in the process of developing some workshops to take on the road which will be fun!   

It’s great to be working with Bridge House and Gill again. I have contributed to their anthologies in the past. Amongst other things, Gill has developed an expertise in the short story market and producing collections for charity.  The stories that she is publishing with me are short chapter books and I am really looking forwards to the first one – Wilma’s Magic Hat with superb spooky illustrations by Ashley James. 

Tuesday 9 July 2019

News 9 July


The Business of Writing

This was the title of the workshop I delivered on the morning of the Waterloo Festival Writing Competition Celebration event. I was very pleased with it. It ran for three hours and we crammed an awful lot in. It could easily be a six hour workshop. This would give the participants more time to join in. So, very soon I’ll be offering this to readers of this newsletter and of my “imprints” newsletter.  

Personal news

Well, we moved house. We’ve got the kitchen straight and the living room and dining room are almost there. We’re having a new bathroom fitted. I’m currently working on the kitchen table but I’ll start tackling my study next. Work will be a bit slower for a while but will still move ahead slowly.  

News about my writing

My story Locker 13 is out with Persimmon Tree and you can view it here.
I’m plodding along still with my on-going projects:  The House of Clementine and 280 x 70 – the sequel to 140 x 140. This works in a similar way.  Each time I write I look at the first picture I see on my Twitter feed and write a story about it in exactly 280 words.


Catalogue of books for children

This month I’ve added Ottoline and the Purple Fox by Chris Riddell. It was published in 2016.  It is for the fluent reader and is suitable for the whole of Key Stage 2 i.e. upper primary. It is beautifully quirky. 


Current reading recommendation

I’m currently reading the Family from One End  Street books and finished the first one before the end of June, so that is my recommendation for this month. I think I enjoyed it because I remember having it read to me when I was in the second year at junior school. I remember thinking at the time that here at last was a book that had children in it like me. Here was a family a bit more like mine.  Not that my dad was a dustbin man, nor did mum take in washing. The Ruggles have seven children and I was an only child. However, there was always the same struggle to make ends meet and also the same strict moral code.
Is it a little patronising? Three of the Ruggles children are sent to the country-side to recuperate after having had measles. They encounter a completely different way of life there. Is it a working class novel?  Eve Garnett was not working class and would today not be popular in writing about something she has no first-hand experience of.  Yet I can confirm that she presents a pretty accurate picture of what life was like for working families just after World War II.
The measles epidemic was a major threat to life back in those days and the children were sent to the isolation hospital. That, the subsequent trip to the country-side and the convalescent medicines the children have to consume seriously breaks into Mr Ruggles’ pig fund. There was no National Health Service then.
Second daughter Kate wins a scholarship to go to the high school. Will this be her ticket out of the working class life, just as my own attendance of a post-1944 grammar school brought me firmly into the middle class?
Then I think of the school at Basingstoke which served a large council estate. I was head of modern languages there for six years. We tried so hard to get the youngsters their five GCSE grades A to C as their ticket off the estate.
The Ruggles may here issue a caution. They are a perfectly respectable hard-working family. The adults provide necessary services for other people.
I’m thoroughly enjoying the books though I’m not sure how much they’ll appeal to the modern child.  Puffin is still taking a chance on them.   
Find the first one here.


This month I’m giving away Citizens of Nowhere which I edited and published and in which I have a story. It is a collection of commissioned stories about the global citizen. One of our writers suggested that we might rather mean “citizens of now here”.  You can probably work out where this comes from.   
Access it and lots of other freebies here.
The paper back is on permanent free offer: five paperbacks for you to distribute to friends, perhaps even send one to your MP, or use them to sell at an appropriate fundraising event. I can let you have more at a discount as well. Contact me to discuss your needs.     
Note, that normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99, with most on Kindle being about £2.99 and the average price for paperback being £7.00. We have to allow our writers to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.   
Naturally I welcome reviews.
Many of the giveaways come as a mobi-file that you need to download to your Kindle. Just plug your Kindle into your computer and save the mobi-file to your Kindle. Or you can transfer it across later. If you don’t have a Kindle here are some instructions that may help:

Mobi files:

Amazon make a range of apps that emulate a Kindle device on other platforms:
iPad, iPhone, iPod
Android phone
Android tablet
PC (Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10)
Windows phone
(Note: not Linux platforms)
  1. Choose which device you would like to read the .mobi file on. (PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPads are good).
  2. Go to and select the device. Follow the instructions to install the app/software.
  3. If your chosen reading platform is not the one on which you received/saved the .mobi file, transfer the file across. For most combinations of source and target this will simply involve connecting the two together with the appropriate cable, or via a USB memory stick. For example, for a PC to an iPhone or iPad, connect using the uPhone/iPad power cable and transfer using iTunes.
If you only have access to a Linux platform, you will need to use one of the many online ebook converters (Google is your friend here) to convert the .mobi file to an .epub file, then install Calibre to read it.

The Schellberg Project

I’ve continued adding to the Discovery Pack, posting the same material on to the web site / blog. I’ve added another page about Käthe Edler, Renate’s mother. She was quite a feisty woman and I’ve included material here about female scientists and the first women at university.
The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.
You can read the posts here.      


School visits

I’m still promoting my school visits associated with The House on Schellberg Street project. I’ve now developed a whole workshop for this. It starts off with a board game, includes some role play and creative writing and ends with a discussion.
It is now possible to purchase the kit to work on on your own. Find details here.
Costs for my workshops = travel expenses plus £400 for a full day and £200 for a half day. This includes all materials and some freebies. Two schools near to each other might consider splitting the day and halving the travel expenses and fees. This is open to negotiation in any case.       
I also offer a free half day visit, though you pay my travel expenses, if you allow me to promote my books.      
I’m continuously adding materials for schools to the site that are different from the ones I use for the workshops. I’ve recently added in resources and books to do with the topic. See them here:      
Query for a school visit here.
I’m also happy to tailor a visit for your agreed donation. This can be for either a Schellberg Cycle visit or a creative writing workshop. Any monies raised this way will go specifically to a project I have for a non-fiction book about a journey that will follow the footsteps of Clara Lehrs. I’m hoping to do the whole journey by train, including departing via my nearest Metrolink station. It’s important to feel the rails beneath my feet.       
I offer as well standard author visits which include readings from my books, Q & A sessions and creative writing exercises.
Please remember, with these as well, I’m open to negotiation if you can’t afford the full price.


Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapletown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Find it here.   

Opportunities List Remember I keep a full list of vetted opportunities on my writing blog. See them here. New ones are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I go through it and take out all of the out of date ones. At that point I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

CaféLit Stories Find these here

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head.   

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.     

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

Happy reading and writing.