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.   

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Sue cook talks about her writing


I remember when my husband bought our first computer, thirty years ago now. I was pregnant with our first child, and I wondered what on earth people would do with one. A PC, that is, not a child. Now I’m rarely off the thing.  I have a study with a proper work desk, and my secretary’s chair is the comfiest in the house. I use writing as the perfect excuse for avoiding housework: ‘But I am working!’ The downside of this is a chronic tennis elbow, which currently limits my writing time.


I started writing ‘poems’ in school, mostly about rugby and heavily influenced by Max Boyce, the Welsh comedian. I’ve come a long way since then: an Open University diploma in creative writing, membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer Scheme (to learn my romance-writing trade) and so on. But I found my natural home writing pocket novels for DC Thomson – My Weekly and The People’s Friend – and I love it. I’m an avid crime reader, though prefer to write romance. With pocket novels, you can combine both. I write short stories for these magazines, too, and am currently half-way through a serial for The People’s Friend. It’s set on an art retreat set in Umbria, based on a real trip just after the Grenfell tower disaster when we were staying in a huge forest in the middle of a drought and with an arsonist on the loose! You can imagine how my imagination ran riot with that scenario.


Over the years I have developed a large, supportive network of writing friends. I can’t stress how important this is if you want to take writing seriously. It’s so easy to hide away in your writing place all day, speaking to no one until it’s time to try to find a home for your work. And for an introvert like me, developing this network was really hard. But I learn so much from other writers – in fact I’d never have heard of the Pocket Novels without my women’s magazine writer friends. During lockdown, several writing buddies started meeting on Zoom twice a month to keep sane, and we still do it. And I seem to have zoom meetings with no end of other groups whose members are spread around the country, too.


Apart from the serial, most of my current writing activity involves preparing previously published pocket novels for self-publication as e-books. This is so much work, I’m not sure I’d have started if I’d realised what was involved. But it’s worth it to see your work up there, and the covers produced by my cover designer are amazing. Currently I have only one ebook available, but I’m about to publish book number two – Where There’s a Will. This is a pure romance set at the time of William IV, who came between George IV and Victoria. It was an interesting period, and my romance takes place in the year of The Reform Act which saw Earl Grey’s government finally abolish rotten boroughs. Industrialists were on the rise and landed gentry on the wane. And yet women still often relied on a man to run things, which is why Julia needs to marry the steward to save the family home.


I got the idea from reading about Sir William Paxton, who regenerated the now thriving resort of Tenby and, on his death, provided for his children by selling most of his estate. Julia’s home will be sold for the same reason, although her father, Sir Henry Watson, had ulterior motives, as the reader will find out.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

Notes from Peppy Barlow

 We have recently published Peppy's book Invisible on Thursdays. Today she tell us about her writing life and about the book.  

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

I mainly write plays and film scripts.  Invisible on Thursdays could work very well as a film script.


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

I have always been steeped in stories.  My father was a writer. My mother read to me as a child every night for at least an hour and my father and I went to the cinema twice a week and he was full of stories of his life in India an the war..  So when my grandmother gave me a typewriter when I was about six I knew what it was for.

1.      Do you have a particular routine? 

If I’m working on something I probably write everyday but who knows  how or when the next piece of work will present itself.  I have a great belief that stories know how to arrive and when to end.  


 D    Do you have a dedicated working space?

 I have a study which looks out over the garden.  It is full of paper versions of my plays, film scripts, family history and CDs of music I play when I’m working.  Pete Seeger on at the moment.


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

I have been a writer all my working life.   After I left university I became an educational journalist and worked in London and Dublin.  I started writing plays and film scripts when I was living on top of the Downs in Kent with my two year old son.  It was a way of making sense of my life.  This is where I met Persephone – my companion in Invisible on Thursdays.  This is where we set out from to go to Crete.

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

  None of their business although of course they know what I do and quite often seem to enjoy the results – especially the plays.


    What are you most proud of in your writing?

     Whatever piece I’ve just completed.  Most recently Woven Theatre Company, of which I am a founder member, toured a play called Gainsborough and the Modern Woman which I wrote with Sally Wilden.  We’re both very proud of that.


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

Research is often of my family and relationships or topics drawn from history.  Plays get edited as they are being developed and rehearsed.


Do you have any goals for the future?

 Keep going.


1.      Which writers have inspired you?

That chap Shakespeare was quite good I thought, and Samuel Becket and Yeats and anyone who writes without pretensions.


Invisible on Thursdays

This book is written from life so more about reflection than research.

It is a journey I took with a friend – both esoteric and actual.  I have included extracts from my plays and poems at the top of each chapter  and, along the bottom, the last letter my sister wrote to my mother when she was travelling in the Middle East.  It is a shape rather than a conventional book.

You can buy the book on Amazon and Kindle as well as some bookshops.

There will be a launch and a signing by myself and Nicki Holt who provided the image for the cover, at The Longshed in Woodbridge Suffolk.  Don’t have a date yet.  The Longshed Bookshop will also sell the book as I am a local author.  I already have a connection here as The Longshed houses a full sized replica of the Sutton Hoo Treasure Ship.  As author of the Sutton Hoo Mob produced by Eastern Angles Theatre Company I feel a particular connection.