MY WRITING PROCESS – ruminations on the writing process of a writer mama

First I have to express my gratitude to Tania Pryputniewicz for inviting me to participate in this blogging tour entitled ‘My Writing Process’. I feel very honoured to be part of this illustrious event, and more than a little bemused to find myself claiming the moniker of ‘writer’ as I sit alongside such wonderful and inspirational authors such as Tania herself. To follow the tour backwards as it were, click on the link for Tania’s blog, and follow her nominations as well as the writer, Marilyn Bousquin, who tagged Tania herself. I can promise you a wonderful and stimulating afternoon exploring the writerly stratosphere of online blogging.

Tania Pryputniewicz is a poet, a teacher, managing poetry editor and art editor of The Fertile Source, and co-founder of Mother, Writer, Mentor. She teaches online workshops with the Story Circle Network, covering topics from Transformative Blogging, to writing with the Tarot. She also teaches the Poetry of Motherhood and the Poetry of Fatherhood. She blogs at Feral Mom, Feral Writer, as well as here. Her poetry and prose has been published in various literary journals.

I first became acquainted with Tania when I stumbled across her blog devoted to the concept of Transformational Blogging. Intrigued I followed her postings for a while before finally plucking up the courage to invite her to participate in an interview on my blog. To find out more about Tania’s innovative and inspirational concepts on the transformative effects of blogging, check out her interview here and here.

The desire to be a writer has been running through my veins for my entire life, though it wasn’t until I was older that I recognized it for what it was. So all those years spent reading and dreaming, scribbling stories on scraps of paper, even studying philosophy in university, I was writing, though not realizing at the time, but oh how I wish I had, that it was the actual writing of the essays which thrilled me most, the letting go, the sheer exuberance and joy of letting the ideas spill out upon the page, words and concepts rolling and tumbling, following their own natural course, like a river gathering momentum as it flows down the mountain. I was that river. But I didn’t know it. I forgot to take the time to look upon my reflection in the swirling pools of the rushing waters. But maybe that was just it – the gushing foam and the roaring ripples would hardly have allowed me glimpse the shadows of the self I could not see. Maybe it has taken me all this time to get to know who I am and what I yearn to do. Reflecting on my process of writing enables me to discern patterns of assonance and dissonance, to see what a picture of myself as writer might look like.

1) What am I working on?

Some time ago I walked into my local bookshop and asked my favourite bookseller to recommend a novel which would grab me and refuse to weaken its grip; a book that would infiltrate my dreams and float across the vision of my days, leaving me with the disquieting sense that either I had entered the world of the novel, or it had become part of me; either way, reading it, I would inhabit a kind of half-world, a numinous becoming, a barely sensed intimation that I was living someone else’s life (mine? a shadow self, or alter ego?). I told her that I needed this novel to change me beyond recognition; it had to transform me so that when I closed the final page I would not be the same person who first pulled open its binding. And it had to do all this, work its magic, using language which reverberated with the rhythms of music, whose words were poetry dressed up as prose.

What I didn’t tell her was that it also needed to be a tome which left my fingers and heart itching to pick up a pen and write. This book had to be the very novel which would cause an internal battle within me every time I opened it – read or write? My friend, the bookseller, laughed and told me to go and do that one thing that perhaps every author is ordered to do – write the book you want to read. Tall order indeed! Would that I could, but even if I can’t, I can still try. Albeit slowly, piecemeal, in between a myriad of other things to be done, each one more urgent than the last, the lot of all mothers everywhere. We must live our lives out, give voice to our creative dreams, in the spaces and gaps between what must be done to ensure the orderly running of a full and active household, and what needs to be done to save a mother from growing insane.

My guides are books given place of distinction upon my over-crowded bookshelves, cheap imitations of the floor-to-ceiling shelving system I shall, one day, erect. They include notable titles such as May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and a host of other marvellously inspirational memoirs penned by writing women – each one special, each one a mentor and guide to the possible if I can only keep on believing. Of course often I don’t. I fall into despair and wonder why I bother. I have no way of knowing whether I merely talk only to myself when I write. If I attended classes at least there would be lecturers and tutors to guide me. All I have is my own blinkered seeing. How difficult it is to judge one’s own work, to see as if with another’s eyes. But then I suppose this is true for every writer, for there comes a time when even those lucky enough to have enrolled on such dream courses, even they have to step away from the shore and set sail upon the river on a raft of entirely their own making. So maybe it’s not so very different for me after all.

Have I answered the question, or have I done what I so often tend to do, and dithered only, playing around the edges, refusing to actually jump in and swim? Am I swimming yet? Let me try again. What am I working on right now? I’m researching the background for a novel, but somehow the research has taken on a life of its own. I need to learn how to streamline my method, and to acquire a skill in note taking which so far has eluded me. Still on the upside, I am picking up lots of juicy bits of information which may or may not yet turn out to be useful. I am also writing background sketches for my principle characters, getting to know who they are and where they have come from. Most of this writing is pre-writing, and is unlikely to find its way into my novel. On the other hand, it will form the backstory upon which the novel is built, the foundation if you will, without which the tale would crumble. Plus its ‘safe’ writing for nothing really depends upon it, at least not the words. There is no pressure to this kind of free writing. Open the lap top and fly way. Scrivener is perfect for this too as it helps me keep order on what could, very quickly, develop into an unwieldy mess.

But I also write book reviews and poems. My book reviews are published in Calyx, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women as well as online at Story Circle Network Book Reviews. I love writing reviews, though they tend to take forever. It is a challenge to write about a book without divulging the story line or the conclusion. It is also stimulating to attempt to write a piece which both reflects the author’s intent while allowing a little bit of oneself to flicker through, so that in the end this particular review could only have been penned by me. I am speaking of course about that most elusive of qualities – the writer’s voice, which only emerges in and through the process of writing.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

–I write to understand, both myself and others. I write in an attempt to open myself to the discovery of something new, something worthwhile. I write to find meaning in otherwise meaningless events, which appear to occur haphazardly. Writing helps me find the pattern, even if only for a little while. None of this makes my work different from other writers who follow a similar path. The only element which differentiates one from the other is our unique voice. I cannot write like you any more than you can write like me. Oh yes, I can imitate for a while, and not all imitation is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Studying the masters and mistresses of literature and letters helps me find a doorway through, a portal to the other side. But once I arrive in the landscape of my soul or dreams, then it is time for me to let go of the reins to which I have been clinging , and let myself soar on my own wings. They may not take me far as of yet, but they are mine, and it is entirely up to me whether I choose to use them or not. They will not, however grow strong, unless I exercise them. Perhaps this is the most frightening aspect of all, that it is me and just me who decides where to focus my attention. One can only get so far ‘blaming’ family commitments! Even those eventually ease up leaving pockets of time and solitary spaces in their wake. And then what a to-do, or rather what to do…… What to write – a poem (just like that??], a short story [for what, for whom?], a book review [always safe in the certainty and clear delineations of its accompanying expectations], or heaven forbid, The Novel [ not just ‘a novel’ for I have many of those waiting in the wings to be written, no shortage of stories there], but ‘The Novel’ is the tale I have longed to tell, the one which will tick all my boxes for the perfect read, and which carries such a weight of perfection already even before it has been written, that I baulk at the prospect. What a to-do indeed!

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write book reviews because they force me to slow down and read the book carefully, paying attention to every word, image and metaphor. When reading slowly I prefer to read out loud so that I can hear the rhythm of the language in my mind, feel the lyricism in my body, taste the magic on my tongue. Reading for book reviews is akin to taking a master class with the great writers of yesterday and today, a private mentoring session between their words and mine. Sometimes I simply pick a paragraph and re-write it in my own words, like a student artist sitting with her easel in the gallery painting versions of the great artist’s pictures.

Writing poetry is an entirely different animal, less lean or muscular, soft rather than sinewy, feeling rather than form. At least for the first or second draft, until the revision process comes into play. But even then the approach is not so much analytical, requiring the sharpness of a well-tuned mind, than sensory, calling for a deep listening with the ear of the heart. Unlike book reviews, the aim of which is always to publish and share, my poetry is written primarily for my own satisfaction.

Finally, writing my novel is a gesture of belief, a personal statement that, yes, I will try to trust the process. Sometimes I teeter and fall between the stools of novel or short stories, and even occasionally I play with novelettes. Sometimes I long to indulge in romance, for then my writing helps me escape from the harsher aspects of life.

Have I alighted on one single genre? Not yet, nor am I certain that I wish to. Everything I write plays a part in what is written next, everything is a step upon the way. Where it will end, I cannot say, nor would I wish to know. For now writing poetry and book reviews, side by side with short stories and tinkering with my novel is enough, which dovetails very nicely with my philosophy of life that enough is just perfect.

4) How does my writing process work?

And now at last we reach the heart of the matter, the focus and theme of this particular blog tour. What exactly does my writing process entail? Mmmm, let me see. It involves oodles of procrastination, and huge dollops of dreaming, occasionally interspersed with a flurry of activity when all the words come rushing out all at once so that it is almost impossible to pin them down upon the page. But oh, how good it feels, when they have landed. That moment when the last word has been written, when you know you have said all that had to be said, when the afterglow of cathartic release fills your veins and heart with that deep inner sense of utter contentment and peace, when your head feels heavy with the welcome weight of being, when all is right in the landscape of your soul and what lies beyond seems all of a-piece with what rests within, this moment is what writers pursue, this is the meaning and motivation which drives writers to keep on writing. Everything hangs on this.

So is this the process? Yes and no. Yes, because this is often enough, no need to share it or seek publication. No, because it doesn’t always happen and there’s a bit more involved in writing than simply picking up a pen and beginning, though nothing happens unless this occurs. I suppose the writing process would be better named the pre-writing process, all those elements which together drive the writer to the empty page, soul needs like intention and desire – why am I writing instead of say, sitting at my spinning wheel and creating yarn, what does writing gift that hand crafts don’t? Then there are the more practical questions like what exactly do I want to write? The approach to journaling or free writing is very different from how I tackle a book review, and then again working on my novel is an entirely different beast, requiring not just different tactics but also a very different mind-set, probably the most important element being the need to believe in the story I am telling.

In a nutshell, my writing process is very simple. Decide what I am going to write [this is the most important element] and then start writing. Don’t revise until the first draft is done. Set aside for a day or two, then begin the editing process, cutting and chopping, deleting and replacing, until the piece is as good as I can make it. Then wait a little while again, re-read, re-work if necessary, and finally submit.

So all that remains to be done is to introduce you, my dear readers, to a wonderful trio of intrepid writers, Julie Christine Johnson, Juliet Greenwood, and Autumn Maccarthur, each one a storyteller beyond compare, who will be sharing their writing processes next week, April 28. They are all novelists writing magical stories, spinning tales of mystery and magic, using words and images which sparkle like dew drops falling through the sun drenched mist. Each one of them pens novels which I eagerly and even greedily devour and read. You could not do better than to indulge yourself in a little spoiling by running right now to your local bookshop and picking up a novel or three. [Julie’s novel, ‘Refuge of Doves’, is awaiting publication. As one of her beta readers I can assure you that this is a treat for the heart and soul not to be missed!]

Julie Christine Johnson, Chalk the Sun

About Julie:

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Julie Christine Johnson lives where the Salish Sea meets the Puget Sound. She has called many places home, including France, Chad, Japan, New Zealand, Colorado, Ohio and Illinois, and emerged in 2013 from careers in international higher education and wine buying to embrace the writer’s life full-time.

Julie has been writing fiction and personal essays since 2011 and her work has been featured in the anthologies Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers (2014), Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss (2014), Flash of Fiction (2013), Stories for Sendai (2011) and in the literary journals Cobalt, Granny Smith Magazine, River Poets Journal and Cirque. Her stories have been shortlisted for the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction (2013), the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award for Fiction (2011), and awarded First Place, Romance, by Short Story Competition HQ (2013).

She is revising her first novel, Refuge of Doves–set in contemporary and thirteenth century southwest France–and wrestling Draft One of her Ireland-based second novel, The Crows of Beara, into submission. Visit her blog to say hello and read the latest of her writer’s journey.

Juliet Greenwood,

About Juliet :

For the past twenty years, Juliet has lived in a traditional Welsh quarryman’s cottage between the mountains of Snowdonia and the romantic island of Anglesey. She has a large garden that would have been used by original inhabitants to grow vegetables and fruit to supplement their wages. Juliet tries to follow in their footsteps with the aid of a polytunnel and plenty of experimenting with the results.
After studying English at Lancaster University and King’s College, London, Juliet worked in a variety of jobs, from running her own craft stall at Covent Garden Market to running puppet and storytelling workshops in North Wales.
A severe viral illness over 15 years ago led to years of debilitating M.E. As she fought her way back to health, the experience inspired her to pursue her life-long passion and finally fulfil her ambition to become a published author. Her first novel for Honno Press, Eden’s Garden, became a Kindle bestseller and is now a finalist in ‘The People’s Book Prize’, with the results to be decided in May 2014.
As well as novels under her own name, Juliet writes serials and short stories for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’.

Autumn Maccarthur, Faith, Hope and Heartwarming

About Autumn:

Autumn Macarthur is an Australian writer of inspirational romance
living near London with her very English husband, three spoiled cats,
and a guinea pig with a dandelion addiction. She loves reading,
cooking, gardening, and writing deeply emotional stories to make you
smile and remind you how big and wide and deep God’s love and
forgiveness can be. When she’s not talking to her strawberry plants or
cherry blossoms, she can be found occasionally blogging at, on Facebook as Autumn Macarthur, and on
Twitter as @autumnmacarthur.

Take it away girls!Smile

April’s Charms, or writing and reading poetry in April


Since this is the month when all things poetical are marked and celebrated, I thought it would be a good time to introduce you to a few exciting poetry resources.

The first of these has to be, of course, NaPoWriMo  where you will find daily writing prompts along with reviews of poetry resources, including poetry related podcasts. There are simply too many offerings listed throughout the site to be able to share them all here. Far better that you click on the link yourself and explore all that is on offer. Don’t forget to keep scrolling down through the page to avoid missing any of the wonderful suggestions shared.

The second is the web site and blog Tweetspeak, where the facilitators have issued a ‘Poetry Dare’ for the month of April. Rather than focus on writing poetry, they have instead chosen to highlight reading poetry. Their premise is simple – read a poem a day and your writing, whether poetry or prose, will improve. Taking this idea even further, the author recommends that you choose a single poet to focus upon. Read the poem carefully, before copying it out on to a page. Feel the poem kinaesthetically through your fingers; feel the connection between your writing hand and your heart-soul; breathe, live the poem through your body.

Then read the story in ‘How to Write a Poem (or a hundred)’about how one poet adopted the practice of reading a poem, or multiple poems, every day, and her book of poetry which evolved and grew from this daily practice.

For daily writing prompts throughout the month of April, truck on over to Mslexia, where every week day between now and April 30 a new poetry prompt will be posted. And while you’re there, why not explore the site of this brilliant resource for women writers. Then check out the subscriptions or single issues available of their not-to-be-missed magazine. I’ve been reading their mag for years now and it is definitely one of the few I buy which I never throw out. Plus every year they host a series of writing competitions, from short stories and novels to poetry and memoirs. Every issue of Mslexia runs an interview with a working poet analysing the inspiration and steps involved in creating her poem. Here’s a link to one of the articles based on a poem by Polly Clark.

Scroll through the archives for more workshops on writing poetry.

These are just three resources which will help grow within you a love affair with poetry, feed the soil of your soul, until the words bloom like buds opening in springtime, before falling, like apple blossom in images of mystery and beauty, upon the virginal page of your being. Click on any one of the links above and you will discover an amazing wealth of diverse riches, any one of which will serve as an immediate inspiration and prompt. Enjoy the poetic month of April!

[The title ‘April’s Charms’ comes from a poem by William Henry Davis.]

NaPoWriMo 2014


Today is the first day of NaPoWriMo 2014. Each year April is devoted to the practice of penning poetry for an entire month – a poem a day. The aim is not to produce a polished poem every day, for such an expectation would be impossible to fulfil. Rather the intention is to generate one new poem every single day for 30 consecutive days. See if you can do this without being changed utterly from within!

Nothing more than a desire to write poetry is required, except perhaps a pen and paper, or a lap top if that is your preferred mode of expression. Personally I write with whatever happens to be nearest at hand. I try to be organized, but after years and years of failed attempts at becoming something I’m not, I have finally had to admit that I am, at best, an ad hoc performer. Still all that matters is that the deed be done, and this I can do. More than this, it is what I have to do.

Fooling around with word play is food for my soul. Whether the poem arrives fully formed, or merely gifts me with a word or image to explore in the next draft, matters little. Without fail, each time I sit down with the intention of writing a poem, I always rise up afterwards sighing contentedly. The world has been restored to rights, meaning has been re-assigned to the chaos which constitutes my life. I am whole again. At least until the next day when I pull the poem back out from its hidey-hole where the scrap of paper was unceremoniously stuffed. Most often then I simply cringe and wonder how on earth I ever believed this drivel deserved to be called a poem! No matter. The suspicious device touting its ill-fitting garb is merely consigned to the back of a notebook or drawer, with a vague promise to be worked on again, before I head off into the wild yonder with a new vision, new hope in my eyes and pen.

For writing poetry is FUN. Anyone can do it. Why not give it a go for the month of April? And if you do, let me know how you get on. Tell me what you learned from the daily practice of mindful writing.

In the meantime check out for more information about the venture as well as prompts and related articles.

How Emma Darwin scratches “this itch of writing” *

[*phrase courtesy of John Donne, 16th Century English Metaphysical poet]

Yesterday I posted a review of Emma’s debut novel The Mathematics of Love here on my blog. (It was originally posted on Story Circle Book Reviews web site.) Today it is my greatest pleasure to introduce you to the author herself.

Welcome Emma, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. It is such a pleasure to have you here!

My Photo

1) You have been blogging for five years now, initially setting up your blog as a means of scratching “this itch of writing” while you were heavily engaged with the act of writing your novels and other works. Perhaps you would care to expound more fully on this never-ending, impossible to satisfy, desire to write and then, write some more?

Goodness knows where the desire to write comes from – it can’t just be to tell stories, or I wouldn’t enjoy writing analytically and journalistically. I think it’s about exploring things – stories, ideas, connections. It’s only by trying to put something into words that I really begin to understand it – whether that understanding is an idea about Showing and Telling, or about how human relationships work, or what a sunset makes you feel.

2) Indeed why did you choose, all those years ago, to write on such a public platform? What inspires and motivates you to keep blogging? Do you write on or for any other public forums?

I keep blogging because I go on wanting to explore writing in that way – how it works, from grammar to inspiration – and because people seem to find it useful. It’s also useful for teaching, both to help me work out how to explain something, and to send students. It’s also more immediate than a book; I can respond to what I encounter in talking to other writers, and they can respond to my posts. I have contributed to other blogs, including The History Girls and Writing Historical Novels, but it’s quite a commitment, and my own blog does have to come first.

3) Would you mind telling us a little about your experience studying for the M. Phil in Creative Writing followed by your Ph.D. , from your initial decision to sign up for the courses to the benefits you gained from participating in them?

I signed up for the MPhil at the University of Glamorgan because I’d taught myself to write a decent novel, over several years and several novels, but I just couldn’t get over the bar into getting published, and I didn’t know what else was missing. At the time, the MPhil was the only Masters which was built round a book-length project, and that was exactly what I needed: support to make the novel I’d be writing anyway even better. That was the novel that became The Mathematics of Love. I don’t know if it would have been published without that extra help, but it certainly, certainly wouldn’t have made the impact it did, or been shortlisted for prizes.

I’d decided I didn’t want a conventional MA where you try most forms before settling for one, but when I came to teach Creative Writing for the Open University and had to teach a poetry module, I was profoundly grateful for having been in the MPhil workshops: it was a privilege and a huge education to hear the likes of Gillian Clarke and Sheenagh Pugh workshopping my poet peers. So I always say, even if you’re convinced you’re hard-wired for a particular form, as I am for novels, don’t neglect the chance to learn about how other forms work.

The PhD was a bit different, as it was just me and a supervisor. It was fascinating to connect my process in writing it with some of the great contemporary writers of historical fiction, and fantastic to find myself in the creative hothouse that is Goldsmiths. And it was support for writing A Secret Alchemy, which was under contract, in among the hullabaloo of The Mathematics of Love being published.

4) Doubtless it would always be better to sign up for a post-graduate university level degree course in creative writing, but in these economically difficult days, do you have any suggestions for an aspiring author who needs to create her own DIY Creative Writing course?

The best DIY course I know is the textbook for the Open University A215 course I teach, Linda Anderson and Derek Neale’s Creative Writing: A Workbook With Readings. You can buy it anywhere – you don’t have to do the course . Unlike most how-to-write books it’s structured week-by-week, because it’s designed for people working at home on their own, and it contains all the readings and texts that it talks about, for the same reason. It’s absolutely brilliant and I raid it all the time for the rest of my teaching. But it’s worth looking around for shorter courses and online courses too.

Other than that, I’d say, learn to read like a writer:- Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer, and David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction are two of the best guides to that. Then try to find an online forum or a writer’s circle or both that suits you: one that’s the right mixture of supportiveness and ambition. Don’t be afraid to try a few, and walk out of a few, till you find the right one for you.

5) While preparing for this interview I read, and loved, your first novel ‘The Mathematics of Love’, [see my review here]an historical novel set in two time periods, post-Napoleanic Europe and England, and 1970’s England.

Writing historical fiction is about more than simply identifying your characters, doing a little research on the period and inserting your protagonists into a period setting.

The following are a list of questions which occurred to me as I devoured your novel, wondering “how did she do this?”

· How do you go about researching material for your novels?

I read around a lot, before I start, for flavour and atmosphere and to get a feel for things. I try to research the basics that will cause chaos if I find I was wrong, but I prefer to leave a lot of research till later. Otherwise I get bogged down in it, and writing the novel becomes an exercise in using data, which is disastrous. Then the first draft throws up a whole lot more I need to know – and I’ll do that later, if possible.

· Which comes first – the time period or your characters?

It depends – sometimes I have a story, and go “location hunting” to find a period which will mean it can flower with maximum drama. Sometimes I’ll have characters, and look for a story and a period that will give them a real work out. But periods have characters as strong for me as if they were people, so sometimes I want to work with a particular zeitgeist, and then I’ll start trying to dream up a story that will flower and be exciting in that period, and find characters that will work in it.

· Do you have any tips for carrying out research, any particular methods which might be considered ‘best practice’?

I never write worse than when I’ve got my research in the other hand. As Rose Tremain puts it,

“…all the research done for a novel … must rise into the orbit of the anarchic, gift-conjuring, unknowing part of the novelist’s mind before it can acquire its own truth for the work in question… “Reimagining implies some measure of forgetting. … Data transferred straight from the research area to the book will simply remain data. It will be imaginatively inert.”

In other words, you have to leave the research behind – let yourself forget it – and then let the needs of the story draw on the researched material just like any other material, and shape it to the story.

· How do you balance the needs for historical accuracy with the requirements of excellence in fiction writing, a balance you have personally achieved?

Thank you for thinking I’ve achieved it! My job as a writer of any kind of fiction is to persuade the reader to agree to forget that none of this actually happened, by evoking a world which feels authentic. Historical accuracy is important because if readers don’t feel that it’s authentic, then the contract between me and them is broken – so I must be accurate where it matters for them. And I can be as right as right, but if they don’t believe me, then the novel doesn’t work: I have to persuade them to believe me. And, of course, readers do partly read for the “non-fiction pleasures” of finding out about times and places. But if they want History, they should go and read a history book. I’m writing fiction, and the needs of storytelling trump everything else.

· What are the difficulties in writing historical fiction as a contemporary genre?

I don’t think there are many – we’re in a bit of a golden age for historical fiction, and it’s easier to research than ever, now you can see original documents and places without stirring from your computer. There will always be readers who don’t understand why anyone would write about any time except 2013, but that’s their loss.

· Are there any special resources which you would particularly recommend to a wannabe writer of historical fiction? Where to start? Would you recommend reading a number of novels set in the time period one wishes to use as the setting? Or might one be better served by starting with the actual historical research?

I myself avoid novels set in a period I want to write about like the plague, thought I know other writers who read loads of them. I need my history first-hand, not second-hand: other historical fiction has pre-sifted the history, and their needs and interests for their story are different from mine. I absolutely do read the fiction and plays written in the period, though: that’s immensely important for the voice, as well as for the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Letters and diaries of the time are fantastic resources too. After that I would always start with the big outline – a general social history of the time, say, and books about your characters’ professions and interests.

· How much time did you devote to research when writing both your novels?

Oh, I don’t know. I’m always brewing the next novel, so perhaps a year or more “reading round” while I’m finishing the previous one? Then a bout of some weeks hard reading, and another bout once the first draft’s finished and I know what else I need. Though it always depends on when I can fit in the travelling, or the libraries, or whatever else.

· Any special tips for blending fact and fiction?

What I said further up, really: let go of the facts as facts: don’t let them have more priority or importance than the rest of your material. Having said that, if your imagination has led you down a particular road – especially with real historical characters – you may have to go and check whether you can get away with it. Brace yourself, though: what will you do if you find your research contradicts what you imagined? Can you compromise? Find a work-around? Or will you have to choose between good storytelling and good history

· Did you take copious notes? How do you organize all the material you must amass and gather?

I do take notes, but mostly as a way of getting stuff into my head – into Tremain’s “anarchic, gift-conjuring, unknowing” sphere of the mind. I try to ignore them when I’m actually writing, for the reasons I’ve talked about, except when I really need to check something. I buy books as much as I can, because then I can mark the margins (in pencil!) with headings, so I don’t have to take swarms of notes, but I can thumb straight through a book later and find what was useful to me ready-indexed. I also have a folder of Favourites in my browser, and of documents and images on the desktop, and magazine-files of stuff on my physical desk. I often forget they’re there, though!

6) The structure of your novel is somewhat different from that of other historical novels which shift and alternate between different time periods. Where they often allow a chapter per period you chose instead to move between periods almost without warning, thus setting up a series of connections which both develop and add layering to your novel as it moves towards the end. What considerations led you to structure your novel in this way? Did you plot your novel first laying down the various plot points with an outline of where your tale would go, or did you instead write your story first and only then try and organize it into a coherent whole? If you plan your novels would you mind sharing your plotting methods please?

I had a Waterloo veteran and I wanted to write about voyeurism and war and photography, but it was too early for photography. So I developed this parallel story from the last, pre-digital generation of photojournalists. It was for The Mathematics of Love that I developed my Novel Planning Grid, which seems to be helpful for lots of people. It’s a way of seeing how each strand works in itself, while also how it relates to the other strands. I always write novels in the order that the reader will read them, otherwise I get in a horrible muddle. But the beauty of the grid is that you only have to fill in what you know so far: blank squares just sit there reminding you that they still need working out. And I could track the interrelation between the two strands – things like themes, and nightmares in one strand which are reflected in the other.

On the moves between the two, the reader does get an asterisk, and the name of the new narrator. But I also had a rule that the first sentence after the switch needed to have at least two things to help anchor the reader quickly: a name or an object, and a very characteristic sentence which the other narrator couldn’t possibly have said.

7) In your blog post here you mentioned that part of your post-graduate studies involved writing a lengthy commentary about your work. Anything you’d care to share from your reflections on your own writing?

The commentary did have to be academic, and discuss my own writing in the context of past and contemporary historical fiction and theory. But I meant what I said at the beginning:

“The central theme of my novel A Secret Alchemy is storytelling, and this commentary itself is also an act of storytelling. It extrapolates backwards from the finished novel, and attempts a coherent account of what is an often incoherent and mysterious process of creation. Although that creative process may be put to the service of an artistic purpose which can be discussed and analysed, how the process served that purpose is only partly accessible to the creator.”

That was partly covering my back with the examiners – “trust me, I’m telling you stories” – but it’s also true, and it’s what most of “This Itch of Writing” is all about: how at the core of any creative act is something profoundly mysterious, and yet we have to try to understand and handle that mystery consciously and coherently.


There are probably far too many tools and suggestions sprinkled all over the landscape of your blogging world, for anyone to attempt to pick out any over and above the others. Yet even allowing for the sheer diversity and richness of content to be found within the archives of your blog, the following are the links I continuously return to, over and over again. I am listing them here for any readers of my blog who might care to check these out for themselves. Indeed, dear Reader, do yourself a favour and sign up to receive updates from Emma’s blog by e-mail!

· Books on Emma’s bedside table

· Emma’s favourite books about writing

· Blog posts and resources from Emma’s archives, covering the gamut of writerly concerns from the difference between showing and telling to learning how not to be afraid of long sentences, and much more besides.

·  Where Emma places a paragraph taken from Elizabeth Bowen’s novel ‘The Heat of the Day’ under the microscope of her literary detective eye; and teaches her readers how to study and learn from a mistress of the literary world.

· Where Emma recommends and reviews the incomparably excellent book How to Read Like a Writer by Francine Prose, a book which opened my eyes about how much wealth awaits the aspiring writer between the covers of some of our best literary masterpieces.

A heartfelt thank you to Emma Darwin for agreeing to this interview, though it might be more apt to call it an inquisition! Smile

The Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin


The Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin is an enthralling tale of passionate
love set in the aftermath of two turbulent wars in two different centuries,
a story whose underlying theme encompasses the illusive and chimerical
nature of vision, examining through its many portholes what it might mean to
perceive, both what is real and insubstantial. Darwin attempts to achieve
precisely what she quotes on the frontispiece of her novel:

to make solid the unreachable ghost which fades as soon as seen, without
leaving a shadow in the looking-glass, a shiver in the water of the
–Nadar: Quand j’etais photographe, 1899

Reading Emma Darwin’s novel, we are constantly exposed to underlying
intimations of something else going on, though to pinpoint it would be
impossible. But like any superb mystery, once we reach the last sentence,
everything becomes clear and we wonder how it was we never knew.
Right up to the final pages there is no way of knowing whether this story
will end well, or–otherwise. In this it ranks with the best of literary
endeavours, a novel whose ending is absolutely perfect. It is not often when
a story causes my heart to tremble. Does my praise read like hyperbole? I
hope not.

But in case you think I am lavishing too high a praise on this debut novel,
let me point out that the writer in question has gone on to produce another
novel, A Secret Alchemy, yet another historical, while at the same time teaching in a creative writing programme herself, as well as writing a highly recommended blog, This Itch of Writing. Darwin’s illustrious beginning has stood the test of time, her sparkling debut followed by equally noteworthy offerings.

Darwin’s novel is quite different in tone and structure from other
historicals which I have enjoyed. Though this is a story which moves
backward and forward between two different time periods, the reader is never
quite prepared for any coming change in setting. Instead the author seems to
delight in making full use of the element of surprise, throwing her reader
suddenly from the early 19th century straight into the mid-20th century,
leaving the reader somewhat bemused and disorientated, with a strong sense
of having being cast out, wondering why here, why now. The switch is abrupt
and occurs without warning. The experience for this reader at least, was
often one of shock. The first time it happened I floundered, uncertain and
unable to make sense of the words I was reading. It was only then that I
realised I was reading a novel set in different time periods. But it wasn’t
long before I began to discern that there was a kind of concurrence running
between the two eras, with hints from one reflecting upon the other, though
again, it would most likely be some time later before suggestions and
intimations became clearer.

Emma Darwin is a master storyteller, a weaver of words capturing nuanced
portrayals of unpredictable emotions with a skill equal to any poet worth
her weight in images. For language is her gold, and Darwin has a firm grasp
of its worth and power. It is precisely in this ability of hers where she
wields her magic through the entire novel, gradually bringing her tale to a
crescendo in the final pages. In many ways, her novel reminds me of one of
Charlotte Bronte’s lesser known novels, Villette, a tale I have always felt
compelled to compare to an opera of tragic proportions. I will not divulge
here how Emma ends her story, but I will say this that not all stories end
in happy ever after, nor indeed do all literary novels require tragedy. But
to understand what I mean you will have to read this novel for yourself.

Emma Darwin is a novelist, short story writer and creative
writing tutor living in London. The Mathematics of Love was her debut novel,
and both short- and long-listed in a number of literary awards.

[This review was first posted on Story Circle Book Reviews ]

Meg Waite Clayton, Champion Supreme for New Novelists


meg waite clayton

Hi Meg, welcome to my room. As a lover of your novels, and an admirer of your writer’s voice and vision, it is particularly wonderful to be able to chat with you here.

Just in case there is someone reading this interview who hasn’t yet made your acquaintance, allow me to introduce author and mentor for new writers, Meg Waite Clayton. Meg has written four novels and writes regularly on her blog First Books: Reading and Writing with Friends and web site, both of which I strongly recommend checking out for her inspirational and informative content.

Meg’ novels in order of publication:

The Language of Light, Meg’s first novel and a Finalist for the Bellwether Prize, Ballantine Books, 2003

The Wednesday Sisters, Ballantine Books, 2008

The Four Ms Bradwells, Ballantine Books, 2011

The Wednesday Daughters, Ballantine Books, forthcoming, 16 July 2013

Clicking on any of the links above will take you to the page for that novel where you will discover not just information about the book as well as reviews and awards, but also access to some of the background research which Meg discovered while researching her novel. My favourite is her piece on Poetry and Miniature Books.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat,
a sense of wrong, a homesickness,
a lovesickness
–Robert Frost

1)      Meg, you run the amazing blog First Books: Reading and Writing with Friends, a place where you introduce and showcase the novels of women writers, with a focus on the author’s experiences with writing and publishing their first novels. Can you tell us a little about your philosophy behind this inspiring web space?

I really enjoy the blog as much as anyone. I find stories of how writers get the work done and what they’ve done to get published inspiring. I hope the blog readers do as well. But I do host male writers too!

The Language of Light

2)     You also host a group over on the writing forum She Writes called Novelists (Struggling or not). Can you tell us a little about that please? In what ways are your blog and this group similar and dissimilar? What can one do that the other cannot? How do they support one another’s online presence?

She Writes is a bit more social, more of a place to come share and chat on a less formal basis. They serve the same purpose in some ways – helping writers keep writing. But 1st is better for longer, more in depth exploration of how one becomes a writer. She Writes is better for just having a conversation among friends.

3)     Your blog is one of my go-to sources for books I want to read. What are your criteria for choosing the authors you present?

The only real requirements I have are

1. that guest authors have to be published through traditional publishing channels. At some point I’ll have to rethink that as this world changes, but at the moment it helps me limit the possibilities, if nothing else. And it’s time consuming for me, so that’s important.

2. That the author him or herself approach me. I often get inquiries from publicists, and my response to them is that I’m happy to have their author email me about a guest spot. I love my publicist at Random House, so I have no excuse for this except that I like to connect more directly with fellow authors.

4)      Recently there’s been a lot of talk about women’s fiction as a genre in its own right. Personally I love women’s fiction and for me it means something quite unique, a beautifully crafted and lyrically penned novel focusing on a woman’s journey of transformation. But not everyone is happy with this kind of naming, interpreting it as a barrier between women’s literature and ‘literary’ novels. What are your feelings about this?

My problem with calling something “women’s fiction” is that it suggests male readers shouldn’t be interested. There is no “male fiction” category because it’s presumed women will read about men’s lives, and not vice versa. So that’s my issue with the term. I much prefer the term “upmarket fiction,” which carries no gender presumptions with it.

The Wednesday Sisters

5)      Your own novels typify for me the best of women’s fiction. I have read and enjoyed all of your novels so far and am eagerly anticipating the publication of your newest novel. Can you entice the readers here with a little taste of The Wednesday Daughters and set it in the context of your previous novel The Wednesday Sisters, which I hasten to add everyone reading this blog will love by virtue alone of its subject matter and theme – a woman’s writing group.

I’m really dreadful at describing my novels, but I will say that much like The Wednesday Sisters, The Wednesday Daughters also has a writing angle. I certainly learned a lot about writing from the writing of it, too, in no small part due to the Beatrix Potter angle.

The Ballantine folks are quite good, and their description of The Wednesday Daughters (a few paragraphs) can be found in a lot of places, eg here. I think the best short description of the book I’ve seen comes from Paris Wife author Paula McLain, who said about it:

The present and the past intertwine beautifully and inevitably in Meg Waite Clayton’s winning follow-up to The Wednesday Sisters. From the beguiling Lake District setting, to a completely charming (and spot-on) portrayal of Beatrix Potter, to the way The Wednesday Daughters strive to unpuzzle both their own choices and their mothers’ legacies, every layer of the novel delivers. Utterly rich and satisfying.”

6)     Your novel The Wednesday Sisters could be seen as a hymn and testament to the inspiration and support which writer’s groups can offer. You are a long-time member of a writing group. Can you tell us a little about how it all began and the reactions when the first novel in the group was published? Do you still meet? Do you think that online writing groups can ever hope to serve as a substitute for real-time support groups?

Thank you! My writing group grew out of a larger group that met at a local library in Nashville, TN (USA), where I used to live. There were four of us in the final iteration of the group, and although we started out all unpublished except one obscure travel piece one of us had published, we now count nine books published or being written under contract among us, and we all have short pieces in print. It wasn’t anything in the water of the coffee shop we met in (at a local bookstore, now sadly closed). It was the friendship and support and honest critique we gave each other. And they remain my go-to readers. I love online groups, but I don’t think there is anything quite like in person friendship.

The Four Ms. Bradwells

7)      Would you mind telling us a little about your own experiences of writing your first novel? When I first ‘discovered’ you and your books I decided to read your work in sequence. Personally I find that to be a marvellous way to track the development of an author. Can you tell us a little about how your writing has developed and matured with each of your novels, for example the writer’s voice in your most recently published novel The Four Ms Bradwells, is quite different from your voice in your first novel The Language of Light. I love all your books, but for different reasons. The Language of Light seems to me to be a more poetic novel created and built upon a sense of subdued mystery, as if a veil of mist has somehow settled upon the story, muting some parts while exposing others when the sun breaks through in places. Your later novels seem to me to have become increasingly  focused upon the characters and their lives and interactions with one another. While I love and admire your mastery of the craft I do hope that someday you will return to your beginnings and pen another poetic and lyrical novel. I would love you to comment on this!

The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton

The short answer is a long one: 10 years. That’s the time it took me to get that first novel on bookstore shelves. I also love the poeticism of that novel, although I think less patient readers are less enthusiastic. But I think you will see something closer to it in The Wednesday Daughters. For me, that comes in part from using place, and the English Lake District is more like the Maryland countryside of The Language of Light than the settings of the intervening novels.

8)      What resources,eg books, web sites, etc would you recommend for aspiring authors and novelists? Any tips based on your own experience?

I keep a list on the writers page of my website, which I try to remember to update as I find good resources.

Meg, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview and for taking the time out from your very bust schedule to visit my room. Best of luck with your new novel. I can’t wait to read it!

A. M. Homes wins 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Women's Prize for Fiction

The winner of the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced – A. M. Homes, American author with her sixth novel, May We Be Forgiven.

May We Be Forgiven was ultimately chosen from the following shortlist:

Womens Prize Shortlist - News Item (2)

The prize is a cheque for £30,000 and a bronze statue known as ‘Bessie’. Bessie was created by the artist Grizel Niven.

The Bessie

Described by the Chair of Judges, Miranda Richardson as “a dazzling, original, viscerally funny black comedy – a subversion of the American dream.” She added that “This is a book we want to read again and give to our friends.” Reason enough for me to rush out and buy a copy right now!

More breaking news: This week, the Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction, has announced a new partnership with Bailey’s. From 2014 the Women’s Prize for Fiction will be known as the ‘Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction’.

Living the Dream – Liz Fenwick and her Cornish dreamscapes

Today I’d like to introduce you all to wonderful writer, expat expert, wife, mother of three, dreamer turned doer…….I refer, of course, to Liz Fenwick, author of the novels The Cornish House and the just published A Cornish Affair. Having read and loved Liz’s debut novel, The Cornish House, I was eager to learn something about her writing process and how she found her way into the world of words. Liz very graciously agreed to humour me!

1) Can you tell us a little about how you found your way into writing? When did you finally decide to become a full-time writer?

Back on New Year’s Eve 2003, I declared my resolution to write more. I didn’t say that it was actually to write fiction again. I kept that bit to myself but in 2004 despite a move from Dubai to London I wrote a complete romance novel of 50,000. The key word in that last sentence for me was complete. Back when I was doing my degree in English Literature I wrote ¾ of novel for my senior thesis but never finished it. And all those years in between I really wondered if I had the ability to finish. The book written in 2004 proved I could do it. I then sent if out to Mills & Boon and it was duly rejected as it deserved to be. Thanks to that rejection I found the Romantic Novelist Association and I joined their New Writers’ Scheme. That dire book went through the scheme and the reader (a publishered author) said that I could write but maybe Mills & Boon wasn’t the right place for me. For this thank I thank that unknown reader. She set me on a journey to discover my voice as a writer, not just what I thought was manageable (50,000 words). It was this point that I realized again that this was what I truly wanted to do. I then looked on writing as my job and treated it seriously and demanded that my family did as well. I took courses and read books and I networked like mad.

2) Tell us a little bit about your writing process – are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? Do you have a routine? Pen and paper or lap top? Anything else you’d care to share about your process?

In the past I was a total panster. I would know my title, my heroine’s name, the location and roughly the ending and write into the wind. Now with a looming deadline I am learning to plot in broad strokes…I haven’t got the time to write myself in and out of plot holes. It also helps that I have an editor who likes to brain storm and who can see problems that I wouldn’t until I got to that point. So my process is changing. I am also trying Scrivener. I am hopeless with notecards because I lose or they are never in the right country. I can’t live without my notebooks. I jot down ideas, I do mind maps, I keep track of eyes, colours etc in the notebook. The only problem is that it’s not easy to search the notebook to find the info as I put the stuff in there as it happens….I’ll let you know when I’ve finished A Cornish Stranger if this new method has worked for me!

3) Can you describe a typical working/writing day for us? How much time do you devote to daily writing? Do you divide your time between new writing and revising?

I have no typical day. My life is mad. It is divided between Dubai and the UK. I write when I can and spend far more time editing…especially as I write very dirty drafts. In an ideal word I have breakfast with my husband then read emails, check Amazon stats, FB, Twitter and then settle to write. I will then change out of my PJs just before he comes home and wonder what we are going to eat for dinner. That is my ideal writing day!

4) If you were mentoring a new writer what advice would you give her? Any special book recommendations?

You need to write your own book, the book of your heart and not chase the fads. It truly has to be the story you want to tell, it needs that fire, your fire in it. Then enjoy the time pre-publication. It is time to learn all you can about your craft and the industry. It isn’t a race. Finally listen to your work. I have text to voice software that reads the books to me. Listening I can hear things that I would miss on the page. Clunky sentence leap out…

There are so many good writing books out there and I have been lucky enough to find the ones I needed at the right time in my writing. But a short list would include:

Sol Stein’s Solutions for Writers

Donald Maass Writing Breakout Fiction …actually all his books

Save the Cat

Scarlett Thomas Monkeys With Typewriters

5) How long does it take you to write a novel from first idea to last revision?

This is something that is changing. Well it has to because of being published. In the past I would write a dirty draft in three months then put it aside for a long while (months) then rewrite. Now I have got the luxury of time. I have a book due by the end of September so my process is changing. Whereas in the past I used to write a dirty draft I am now writing each scene on the computer, then rewriting it by hand then typing it back into the computer. Fingers crossed that this will cut the time needed to put together a polished novel! I’ll know by the 30th of September!

6) Where do you get your ideas from? How do you organize them?

My ideas come from life and research. A Cornish Affair began with a title…not that one but August Rock, which is a submerged reef just off the mouth of the Helford River. The Cornish House came from a house I did actually fall in love with and A Cornish Stranger began with a Cornish saying I found when research…Save a stranger from the sea and he’ll turn your enemy.

As I mentioned above I am never without a notebook. I jot ideas and snippets down all the time. If I write something down by hand I can ‘hold’ on to it longer if that makes sense. There is something in the process with brain and hand and pen and paper that works for me. I also mind map in my note books. I’m dyslexic and the process of mind mapping works for me.

7) Tell us about your journey from first novel to publication – the journey from actually sitting down to write your very first novel and how long it took to eventually reach publication! Smile

Well, I wrote my very first novel in high school but never finished it, and the same with The Irish Woman (the one I wrote in university). So when I completed First Love Second Chance in 2004 that was a break through. But as I mentioned above it wasn’t right for me as a writer. So in 2005 I wrote August Rock which is now A Cornish Affair. I was then on my journey to find my voice. After a rewrite I then wrote The Cornish House in 2006 and then went back and rewrote August Rock again then The Cornish House again then wrote another book in 2007. Can you see the pattern beginning? So each year each I would write a new novel and revise an old one. And finally in 2011 I got my agent with The Cornish House and it sold to Orion and also in Holland, Germany, Portugal and Norway.

9) Do you write short stories? I was once given advice to start with short stories for women’s weekly magazines, then progress to writing pocket novels and finally attempt The Novel. Would you recommend this particular course of action?

I don’t often do short stories. In fact the first one I wrote since university was done last year for the Sunday Express. I find them much harder than writing a novel. I think every writer’s journey to publication is unique and I know for me short stories require a completely different set of skills.

10) Do you teach the craft of writing? What is your opinion of writing retreats? Do you ever attend any, either as teacher or student?

I haven’t taught writing courses but have done social media workshops. I’m not sure that with only two published books under my belt I’m truly qualified yet.  I do think there are many things about writing that can be taught through courses and books. But what can’t be taught is being an actual story teller. I know I can learn how to tell the story better by learning structure and other skills but if the gift isn’t there in the first place then it isn’t going to happen. Every year I attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference and I try and attend the workshops held at Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. I also find I learn from listening to other authors when they speak at festivals. I would love to do a writing retreat.

Thank you so very much Liz for agreeing to do this interview. It was lovely to have you here, and I have learned so much from your wonderful answers. What a treat it is to be gifted with a glimpse into the mind of a wonderfully warm writer such as yourself.


Web site:

The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick

'A heart-tugging story of loss and recovery.' Woman & Home

When artist Maddie inherits a house in Cornwall shortly after the death of her husband, she hopes it will be the fresh start she and her step-daughter Hannah desperately need.

Trevenen is beautiful but neglected, a rambling house steeped in history. Maddie is enchanted by it and determined to learn as much as she can about its past. As she discovers the stories of generations of women who’ve lived there before, Maddie begins to feel her life is somehow intertwined within its walls.

But Maddie’s dream of a calm life in the countryside is far from the reality she faces. Still struggling with her grief and battling with Hannah, Maddie is unable to find inspiration for her painting and realises she may face the prospect of having to sell Trevenen, just as she is coming to love it.

And as Maddie and Hannah pull at the seams of Trevenen’s past, the house reveals secrets that have lain hidden for generations.

This gorgeously sweeping debut from Liz Fenwick is touched with romance and mystery, a perfect summer read.

A Cornish Affair by Liz Fenwick

A Cornish Affair

Running out on your wedding day never goes down well. When the pressure of her forthcoming marriage becomes too much, Jude bolts from the church, leaving a good man at the altar, her mother in a fury, and the guests with enough gossip to last a year.

Guilty and ashamed, Jude flees to Pengarrock, a crumbling cliff-top mansion in Cornwall, where she takes a job cataloguing the Trevillion family’s extensive library. The house is a welcome escape for Jude, full of history and secrets, but when its new owner arrives, it’s clear that Pengarrock is not beloved by everyone.

As Jude falls under the spell of the house, she learns of a family riddle stemming from a terrible tragedy centuries before, hinting at a lost treasure. And when Pengarrock is put up for sale, it seems that time is running out for the house and for Jude.

Following on from her bestselling debut, THE CORNISH HOUSE, Liz Fenwick’s A CORNISH AFFAIR is touched with intrigue and romance, a bewitching, escapist read that is certain to delight readers.

What I live for

- – Today I’m taking part in ‘What I Live For’, an online event organised by author Satya Robyn. People like me all over the world will be sharing what gives their lives meaning. In Satya Robyn’s novel ‘Thaw’, Ruth gives herself three months to decide whether she can find a reason to carry on living. There’s 75% off the kindle version today (99p / $1.49) – read more here: – -

There’s a list of people taking part – email if you want to be included (and your blog if you have one). The list is here.

Do invite your friends along – Satya has a Facebook invite here (where you can also share your piece) or forward them the link to this blog: I’m looking forward to reading them all!

I could have written about my precious loved ones, my family, but I chose to keep them and their secrets to myself. Instead I have written about my favourite place on earth, a spot I regularly return to just to remind myself what it is I live for, why I continue to believe. The photograph at the top of my blog was taken in Glendalough some months ago.

There is one sacred place which alone I call the ‘landscape of my soul’, Glendalough – ‘An Gleann Dhá Locha’ [Irish] – the valley of the two lakes. The earth here holds in safe keeping the memory of its distant past in the steep slopes, deep lakes, and dead trees dotting the scrub hill side. A kind of purified expansiveness seems to swirl in the air I breathe in this valley, as if the Spirit still moves through, drifting between the heavenly and earthly realms, promising that I too can be at one with what is.

Returning here always feels like coming home, as if this is where I truly belong, as if I too once walked around and through this ancient monastic site, this place where monks lived and moved and had their being, where they prayed in the night and again at dawn, in the ‘big hours’ and the ‘little hours’ too, shivering in the ever present damp and cold which seeps up from the sodden earth below. They must have stood by the edge of the lake and stared out over the still darkness, reflecting the sky and clouds above, just as I do when I return there, sometimes, but not often enough. Their robes would have blown in the wind which always sweeps down from the gap between the mountains, the valley left behind when the glaciers moved through, sculpting the land aeons ago.

This numinous space, this sacred earth, is part of my blood, its airy molecules flowing through my veins. This land is my land, this land is free. I come here when I need to escape, when the desire to gain perspective arises within, that intuitive call from my soul which impels me to let go, to remember that there is more to life than this and this and this, to find again my way back home.

For ‘home’ is not constant, it shifts and moves in accordance with perceptions and moods, so that where one moment I am at ease, perhaps the next my equanimity has been ruffled and disturbed. Sometimes the home, the house I live in coincides with my inner sense of ‘home’, sometimes not. Sometimes I need to get away from home, to find my way back there.

Then the spare, stark trees, stripped of their bark by the biting east wind, standing like mummified centurions, watch over me and the graves of the monks long gone and the ancient ruins, former cells and chapels, stones still carrying traces of the voices chanting psalms long ago – not even the ravens caw can drown out the memory of what went before.

Perhaps they still remember what it is we live for; perhaps I do too.

Writing Ghost Stories

Though I have yet to write one, ghost stories have long been one of my favourite genres to read. Who doesn’t want to be scared out of their wits?! Smile

My love affair with them began when I was a child, losing myself in the terrifying worlds encapsulated in the Armada series of ghost stories. Do you remember them? That was when I learned the meaning of the term “spine-tingling” and how nightmares could invade your waking hours. Aaahhhh!”

Nowadays when I fancy a little shiver and chill, I turn to authors like Sarah Waters, who penned the incredibly creepy novel The Little Stranger, a story which had me glued to the page until the very last sentence. Highly recommended! All I shall tell you here is that nothing much happens in any given chapter and yet the tension and fear mounts as the story rolls on relentlessly, ones fear growing in tandem with the author’s words, her mastery of the medium evident in every move, every change of scene. Marvellously terrifying! I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks after reading it! SmileWhat better recommendation can one get for a ghost story?!


And, of course, can we mention ghost stories without referring to the contemporary author who has carried the frisson and eery atmospherics of ghost writing to a whole new generation, who else but Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black, The Small Hand and most recently Dolly.

Ghost Stories and How to Write Them

Which brings me to the point of this post! Recently I interviewed the wonderful Kath, blogger supreme over on Womag Writers. [You can read the interview here.] You may remember that Kath has just published her latest book in e-form, Ghost Stories and How to Write Them which is available from Amazon. This lovely book contains ten of Kath’s own spooky ghost stories along with her writerly advice on how to pen one of your own. If you want to learn how to do it right, pick up a copy of Kath’s book!

Ghost story competition

Then, when you’ve terrified yourself with your own dastardly imagination, enter the following competition The Fiction Desk Ghost Story Competition 2013. Entries should be between 2,000 and 5,000 words. Closing date is 31 May 2013, and there are even prozes for the winning entries – £500 for Fist Prize and £100 for Second. Entry fee is £6 for one story or £9 for two. To find out more, click here.

Happy ghost hunting!


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