Friday 30 December 2022

How I became involved with Writing for a Community Magazine


I’ve admired for some time the work of one of my writing friends who writes a regular column for Chandler’s Ford Today. I’ve known Allison Symes for many years and in fact I also used to live in Eastleigh, the town to which Chandlers Ford belongs.  I’ve sometimes featured in some of Allison’s posts – if you see what I mean:

So, I began looking for something similar locally to where I live.

I found Talking about My Generation when I started working as a volunteer Culture Champion, specifically working with over 50s in the Bury region of Greater Manchester. The idea was to find opportunities for older people to become engaged with culture. One problem was that a lot of the opportunities I came across  appealed to me. And one such invitation was to become a reporter with Talking about My Generation. As soon as I volunteered I was contacted and signed up.

Talking about My Generation is also for the over 50s living in Greater Manchester. All of our reporters are over 50. We are all volunteers.  

I’ve so far written reviews, nostalgia pieces, creative writing lessons, short stories and reports on various events.

Once a week we receive information about what has been published and how our posts are performing. We also discuss topics on a Facebook page and again we get information about how those discussions are faring.

We have monthly meetings, either in person or via Zoom and sometimes these are hybrid sessions.

We are offered training sessions and so far I have attended ones on:

·         Article writing

·         Pod casts

·         Editing videos

·         Taking photos

·         Social media

·         Using Canva

All very useful.

The biggest news of all is that we were granted the Queen’s Award f or voluntary service in June 2022. A very significant year to gain this lovely award.

You can see some of my posts here: If you scroll down you will see our lovely Queen’s Award badge.   

Wednesday 7 December 2022

How I Wrote My First Book - and then what happened

I always wanted to write and I was always good at it - all the way through school.  When I became a teacher I often ended up writing reports for colleagues. I became the secretary for the PTA while we lived abroad and then for the local drama club and wrote monthly newsletter.  Lesson plans and teaching materials were also a form of writing and in fact the first writing for which I was paid royalties was a collection of educational materials.  

In January 1988 we went to live in the Netherlands for a few months.  I became a lady of leisure. My husband had a fantastic salary and tax implications meant it was hardly worth me working, though I did eventually get two very part-time teaching jobs. This was my chance. I would write.

We had an electric typewriter in those days, and I tended to work straight on to that. The trouble was, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to write. It’s not so easy to correct as you go along on the electric typewriter as it is these day on a lap top, table or even a phone.

I tinkered around with a little bit of memoir about our life in the Netherlands as expats. Not a bad idea, really, and maybe someday I will write more about that. But it wasn’t quite working.

Then we went on holiday in Spain and we fell in love with Nerja. (it’s a horrible place. Don’t go there.  You’ll hate it. (;-)

Our children, aged six and eight, ran out of reading materials. We had access to a lot of books written in English from our home in the Netherlands but even so we ran out of bedtime stories.  Then some strange things started happening:

·         Explosions on the hill side

·         Rain in August when it never rains in August

·         The sea going sideways

In addition there were the wonderful caves which seemed to whisper stories.

So, I stared writing a chapter a day of a fantasy story for them.

This grew into a habit of an hour a day / 1000 words a day.  This has evolved into three hours a day / 2000 words.  I moved on to writing for teens and young adults, which makes sense as I was a secondary school teacher for twenty-five years.

Now I’m concentrating on feisty women, historical fiction for women but which still features some young adults.  I’ve also had published academic papers, lots of short stories, some non-fiction – mainly about the craft of writing and children’s literature,  and some educational materials. I maintain several blogs. I’m also dabbling with writing stage plays though they’re not yet ready to be performed.       


Friday 2 December 2022

News 2 December 2022

  Social, Social Network, Icon, Network

Is Twitter on its way out?

I’ve loved Twitter ever since I started using it back in 2009.

I’ve been amazed at the power of the retweet. When someone with a disability was not allowed access to a gallery, her friend, who had just 100 followers, tweeted about this. Her 100 followers retweeted and in next to no time a government official turned up at the site and reprimanded the gallery owner. After the riots in 2011 it was posts on Twitter that motivated people to come and clean up the centre of Manchester. I’ve gained a lot by using and responding to the Writers’ Lifts that have featured recently.    

Sadly, there is a less pleasant side. Like on any other social media platform, trolls bully and harass people.  It can also spread fake news. You need to read critically and develop a thick skin. Yet it’s easy to block or mute someone if they’re proving difficult.  

Now the company has been sold to a wealthy man and many people are fearful. We seem divided on this. Some have rushed away and others who are staying say that the people who have fled are silly. There is a grey area between these two extremes.

The fear and anger seem to be because many people have been made redundant, some objectionable characters that were previously banned are being allowed back and we may be asked to pay for the service in the future.    

Twitter had to be sold because it was in debt. Elon Musk has had to do something to bring it back into credit. Could he have used more advertising or another way of monetizing the platform? But would that commercialisation make it more difficult to for us to be neutral? Would we have to toe a party line?  If he is going to charge, is this the beginning of the end of the free internet?

Does allowing people like Trump back on mean that Musk is enabling free speech? Trump infuriates me most of the time and occasionally makes me laugh. Maybe though it’s good to have opinions such as his out in the open so that we can challenge them and pull them apart.

My biggest worry about Twitter is that so many people will leave that it will no longer be as useful to me as it was.

So, whilst I’m still continuing with Twitter, I’m backing up with Mastodon.  You can find out about my activity there at: Mastadon has many of the same features as Twitter but it is a little different. It’s a bit like when you have a new car, computer or phone; much is familiar but there is a slightly different feel to it.  And you’re allowed more characters.

Maybe I’ll see you there.  


Current writing

I’m continuing with my new Peace Chid book. I still have no title, but the story is now beginning to gel and the writing is starting to flow.

I’ve had three stories accepted for publication this month. Two are still under wraps but here is the link to Perpetual Motion: A scientist has a few problems getting his brilliant new technology accepted.

If you’re interested in my YA SF, there is a new way for you to access Babel, volume 2 of the Peace Child Series, on Ko-fi:   



On My Blog

I have three writers on my blog this month: Peppy Barlow  Sue Cook  and Doug Jacquier. Peppy also discusses the book we have recently published: Invisible on Thursdays  an intriguing memoir.  

I have added an article about how I dared to become a writer: How I overcame the fear and allowed myself to write.

I’ve always been inspired by Charles Dickens. In My Mate Charles Dickens I discuss what I’ve recently learned about his life as a writer but also as a family man by reading his letters. 



The Young Person’s Library

I’ve added just one book this month:   

Pony on the Twelfth Floor by Polly Faber, illustrated by Sarah Jennings This is a fluent reader text and will appeal to the child who is interested in ponies, especially if they live in an urban environment and owning a pony is probably not possible.     


Current reading recommendation

This month I’m recommending The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol. 2, 1857-1870

These letters give a good insight to Dickens as a writer and as a family man.

In some letters he declines dinner dates and invitations to spend holidays with others.  He has too much work to get on with. He relishes anyway a quiet life at home.    

Dickens didn’t have TV, social media or email. Yet he found an equivalent for all of these. He visited the theatre a lot and was quite a critic. Some of his own works were adapted for the stage but he also liked to critique plays written by others. He received many letters and felt obliged to answer them as this was part of his PR and marketing – even those that seem of a more personal nature. In one letter he describes how he finds it hard to muster the energy to answer letters after he has been writing all day.  This reminds me of my attitude to email.  At one point he burns all of the letters other people have sent to him. I do something similar to my email inbox sometimes.  It’s a shame for us though; some of those letters would have made interesting reading. 

He didn’t neglect his family and in many letters it is clear how proud he is of them. Some of the letters are to them. 

The letters of Charles Dickens Volume 2 1857-1870 is a valuable historic document. There are earlier letters in Volume 1.    



Note: these are usually mobi-files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs. This month I’m offering a mobi-file of 140 x140, my second flash fiction collection.

This anthology of women's fiction, this collection of very short stories, some might say a flash collection, is thought-provoking and each story is based upon a tweet. Except that each piece is 140 words long and not 140 characters.

They were collected over three years and edited for another nine months.

RRP £7.00 


Find out more. Grab your copy and lots of other freebies here.

And please, please, please leave a review, perhaps on Amazon, Good Reads and / or Story Graph, when you’ve finished.    

Note: Normally my books and the books supplied by the imprints I manage sell for anything from £0.99 to £10.99.  Most on Kindle are about £2.99 and the average price for paperback is £7.00. Writers have to make a living. But I’m offering these free samples so that you can try before you buy.


The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

Sometimes I also write about what might be useful to other writers.

I’ve added two opinion pieces this month:

The Outsider in the Schellberg Cycle

Are outsiders in fact so common that we all become outsiders?

How we get persuaded into war

Is war inevitable?  


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, Chapeltown 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.


The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my book and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  Visit us 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. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it 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 and some other editors 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 and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    


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.  I also invite other writers to provide prompts and work for critique.     


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


The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.


Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing.


Saturday 26 November 2022

A conversation with Doug Jacquier


What do you write? Why this in particular? 

I used to write mostly poetry, much of that for special occasions for friends and family. Now I concentrate on short stories, flash fiction and microfiction and the occasional creative non-fiction piece.. I don't seem to have ideas that will sustain a novella or a novel but that could simply be me being lazy and/or easily bored.

I also do a bit of stand-up comedy occasionally.




What got you started on writing in the first place?

I've dabbled on and off, starting with the usual dreadful teenage angst stuff, then the social injustice phase of my twenties and thirties. 

It's only since I've retired from paid work that the concentration and energy needed to write regularly and share my work has kicked in.



Do you have a particular routine? 

Not really, although I find I do my best work in the morning. That said, I'm a poor sleeper so many of my ideas are generated at odd times during the night. 


Do you have a dedicated working space?

Yes. My wife and I are empty nesters so I have an office that becomes a spare bedroom when family visits.


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

I do sometimes call myself a lower case writer. I think I'd only change that to an upper case W if my work was picked up by a commercial publishing house and it sold more than 1000 copies to complete strangers.


How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?

My wife, Sue, is my greatest supporter (if not always the biggest fan of some of my darker work). Most of my friends and family don't live in worlds where writing is valued and read. Wishing me the best in doing what makes me happy and Facebook likes are about the limit. To me the sincerest form of both flattery and support is buying someone's book, even if you never read all of it or any of it. Most people don't think of paying little more than the cost of a coffee as a token of their support for your chosen path or they expect a freebie because they know me.

That said, I gain enormous support and learn a lot from followers of two word prompt sites I contribute to regularly: Six Sentence Story GirlieOnTheEdge's Blog – Words of a clarklike female ( and Carrot Ranch's weekly 99-word challenge Challenge Rules « Carrot Ranch Literary Community .


What are you most proud of in your writing?

When a description or a character or a witticism hits the mark with my readers in the way I intended it is always a cause for celebration. 


How do you get on with editing and research?

To my detriment, I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to editing. However research is an addiction and it will often take me down rabbit holes far removed from the original subject, for better or worse. I think if you are setting a story in a real environment (as distinct from fantasy, surreality, sci-fi etc) you owe it to your readers to make it plausible and historically accurate.


Do you have any goals for the future?

Apart from waking up tomorrow, my plans are few and far between, as my peripatetic life testifies. The most planned aspects of my life these days are our veg garden and next week's menu as the chief cook of the household. On the latter, I only have about another 70 years to go to even the balance with the women in my life.

Our youngest grandson bringing in his diggers to help Grandpa with the garden.



Which writers have inspired you?

John Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis, George Orwell, Graham Greene, Joyce Carol Oates, Barbara Kingsolver, John Updike, Peter Goldsworthy*, Gail Jones*, Tim Winton*, Alex Miller*, and The Goons, to name but a few.


I have self-published two collections of stories on Amazon. 

I blog at Six Crooked Highways ( and have about 150 followers, most of whom I like to think are real. I've had around 70 stories and poems published online and in print in 5 countries. You can see them listed in the sidebar on my blog.

Friday 18 November 2022

My Mate Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens, Portrait, Line Art, Man

For my sixtieth birthday I asked my husband for the complete works of Dickens.  I was expecting some nice hardback books that would look elegant in a smart bookcase.

I got a Kindle with all of the writer’s work downloaded from Gutenberg. However, there were three advantages to this: I got a Kindle, I got all of his works, not just the ones we all know and this included many of the letters he wrote.

Almost eleven years on I’m still reading.

I’ve now read or reread all of the major works apart from Bleak House and Barnaby Rudge.  I’ve recently read for the very first time The Pickwick Papers. Some of his shorter works and non-fiction works are fascinating as well. 

I’m delighted to be reading his letters at the moment. This is giving me some great insight into the working life of this writer and making me give some more thought to my own.

Dickens edited two journals – Household Words 1850 -1859 and All The Year Round 1859 -1870. Dickens died in 1870. All the Year Round carried on until 1995. In both journals his novel and those of other people were serialised. In effect, then, he self-published. Once a serial was complete it was published as a normal book.

This affected the quality of the writing in two ways:

He had little time to edit (though he was a very polished writer)

A certain structure had to be imposed on the novel. Does every chapter end with a cliff-hanger? In one letter he rejects a serial that has been offered by another writer. It is a good story. But the chapters don’t break in the right places for the novel to be serialised in his journal. He criticizes the writer’s style. In effect he tells her she is telling rather than showing. 

Dickens did well.  His novels sold in the hundreds of thousands and the circulation of the two journals was also high.     

Dickens eventually settled at his home in Rochester, Kent, Gad’s Hill Place. However he also had a flat in the offices of All the Year Round and he would rent a house in London for the season so that he could give his daughters the social life that young women of their class needed.

He went on many punishing book tours read to sold-out houses. These increased his book sales. As well as extensive tours in the UK he also toured in France and the US. Even if he did these tours with modern transport systems they would be really tiring. He was naturally using 19th century methods. He did take trains but they were not the ones we know today and he was actually involved in a bad railway accident. Boats too were much slower than 21st century ones so crossing the Channel would take several more hours. He describes his transatlantic crossing and it was very poor in comparison with the luxury we would expect today.       

In some letters he declines dinner dates and invitations to spend holidays with others.  He has too much work to get on with. He relishes anyway a quiet life at home.    

Dickens didn’t have TV, social media or email. Yet he found an equivalent for all of these. He visited the theatre a lot and was quite a critic. Some of his own works were adapted for the stage but he also liked to critique plays written by others. He received many letters and felt obliged to answer them as this was part of his PR and marketing – even those that seem of a more personal nature. In one letter he describes how he finds it hard to muster the energy to answer letters after he has been writing all day.  This reminds me of my attitude to email.  At one point he burns all of the letters other people have sent to him. I do something similar to my inbox sometimes.  It’s a shame for us though; some of those letters would have made interesting reading.  

What of life / work balance? Even when in an intense writing phase he would take the time to exercise, sometimes walking ten miles on one day. Alas, it didn’t stop him dying at 58.

When you’re living the dream what do you do for holidays? Do you even take them? His idea of a holiday was to invite people to Gad’s Hill and entertain them there. I also find holidays less colourful than they used to be and I’m always glad to get back home to my comfortable house and writing routines.

He didn’t neglect his family and in many letters it is clear how proud he is of them. Some of the letters are to them. 

I am so glad my husband took my wish for Dickens’ complete works seriously. These letters are precious.               

Saturday 5 November 2022

How I overcame the fear and allowed myself to write


The place that kick-started my writing

I always dreamed of writing and I could always write quite well but the problem was I never knew what I wanted to write.

Then it crystalized when we were on holiday in the south of Spain.  The children aged, eight and six at the time, ran out of material for bed time stories.  Some strange things were happening in the place where we were staying. I stared writing a fantasy story for them based on those oddities. And so it began in earnest.


  • I started writing 1000 words a day. 1988
  • I joined an organisation called Writers’ Register. 1996
  • From Writers’ Register I learnt about the annual writers’ conference in Winchester. 1997
  • I started entering completions and in all of the Winchester ones I was placed but never came first.  1997-2003
  • From that conference I learnt about the MA in Writing for Children. 1998
  • I took the MA.1998-2000
  • I gave up the day job and started free-lancing, still in teaching however.1999
  • Some of my educational materials were accepted for publication by an educational publisher. 2000
  • I joined the Society of Authors on the strength of my educational materials.2000
  • I joined SCBWI and NAWE.2001
  • A full non-fiction book was published by a trade publisher. 2003
  • A short story was accepted in an anthology. 2003
  • I switched to writing YA and started a PhD in Creative and critical Writing 2003-20-07
  • Five novels and another trade non-fiction were published traditionally. 2003-2009
  • After the PhD I secured a post as lecturer in Creative Wring and after a few years became a senior lecturer. This enabled me to spend my time writing, doing writerly things and a few academic ones as well, and get a good salary. 2007-2016
  • I started my own publishing company and also founded CafeLit and the Creative café Project. 2008
  • I have published seven further novels, a collection of short stories, two collections of flash fiction and three non-fiction books on the craft of writing and one on marketing through that company.  (This is under 10% of our output.) 2014- present
  • I retired from the post at the university in 2016 and I now spend what might be described as a working day on writing and writerly activities, which includes marketing.  I’m working on my own texts and those of other people. And still doing a few projects for the university. I’m still writing YA but also historical fiction for women, mainly set in the 1940s and quite a lot of short stories and flash fiction.
  • I work as a volunteer reporter for the on-line news mag Talking About My Generation.  2020- present  
  • I’m comfortably off.  But not rich or famous. Nevertheless I seem to have been given permission to spend my time writing.

The risks I took?

  • Daring to write
  • Daring to send out work
  • Giving up  the day job
  • Setting up the publishing company

The fear

It fuels the exercise. You can’t be brave unless you’re afraid. Holding on to the dream helps.

What’s the dream now?

To write as well as some of the writers I admire.