Category Archives: Writing

The Immersion Method

Recently I was reading an interview with Hilary Mantel in BBC History Magazine. Mantel, who is currently one of the most famous and celebrated historical fiction writers, was talking about her approach to her research, and referred to the need to ‘absorb’ the period you’re writing about. I found myself nodding along with this, as it’s so true: when you want to write a story set in the past, it is important to not only understand it, but to visualize it as clearly as you see your own world around you. It’s not enough to know its facts on an academic level, although of course, these are important for accuracy. You have to be able to see it, smell it, taste it, hear it. To do that, I think that you have to breathe it in. You have to let it get right under your skin.

From pexels.com.

Depending on the specific period or context you’re writing about, this can be hard to do. When I wrote about the Pendle witches, I was always conscious that the sort of evidence which aids vivid recreations of settings and characters was scant. I had the awe-inspiring presence of Pendle Hill and Lancaster Castle to work with, but key places like Westby Hall and Malkin Tower are long gone. Furthermore, the women accused left no written record of their own – the sole primary sources available were the court records, steeped as they are in bureaucratic officialdom (and no small amount of propaganda). Interestingly, though, it was this sense of the victims’ lack of voice which made me all the more keen to re-imagine their stories, and to tell them from their point of view.

Illustration from William Harrison Ainsworth’s ‘The Lancashire Witches’. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

This summer, I’m researching for my sixth novel, set in late Georgian Edinburgh. Just as I did when preparing to write about the Pendle witches, I am reading widely and exploring the period. In short, I am immersing myself in it. And wow, what a lot there is to be immersed in! Late eighteenth/early nineteenth century Edinburgh, standing at the crossroads where Enlightenment and Romanticism meet, is a richly recorded and well-preserved place. The source materials, the books to read and the places to visit, are quite simply vast.

The ongoing pandemic means that getting out and about to visit key parts of the city hasn’t been possible yet, although I’m fortunate to know Edinburgh pretty well and have visited many of its museums and historic sites in the past. Until I can refresh my memory, however, there is plenty to be looking at in terms of online resources and books. I have made some truly fabulous discoveries, from the late eighteenth century town plans available through the National Library of Scotland, to the autobiography of a lady called Elizabeth Fletcher, a writer who lived in Edinburgh’s New Town at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Edinburgh. Image from pexels.com.

And to keep my mind firmly on the period, I’m busy re-reading some of my favourite Jane Austen novels and listening to Beethoven!

Some of the information I’m gathering will come in useful directly for the novel. A lot of it, though, is important simply because it enriches my understanding of the period, its people, what their lives were like, and how they felt about the world they inhabited. If I’m going to successfully evoke the setting and create some authentic characters, then this knowledge will be really, really important.

Online Events and Writing Time

I’ve not been very good at keeping my blog updated in recent times, so apologies for that. In truth, the competing demands of work and home educating my children placed upon me by lockdown have meant that I’ve had very little time to spend on my writing. However, this week is the last week of term, and the coming holidays hold the promise of some respite and, hopefully, some writing time. So I’m starting as I mean to go on, with a blog update on what I have managed to do recently, and what’s coming next…

Noir at the Bar

Earlier in June I took part in an online author event with Noir at the Bar, Edinburgh. It was great to go along to this and to talk about The House at Kirtlebeck End, and to hear from lots of other authors about their work. If you didn’t catch it on the livestream, you can watch it on YouTube here:

The Long and the Short of it

Given my severely limited writing time, short stories have been the order of the day (or past three months, I suppose). I produced quite a few pieces of work during my Open University course which I’m editing, and along with other pieces I’ve written, I intend to submit to some competitions and anthologies over the summer. It’s been a while since I put anything out on submission, so it’s time to get back into it.

Image from Pexels.

Book Six

Those who watched me on Noir at the Bar will have heard me mention my next project, the as yet untitled book number six. It’s very early days but I have started researching for this book, a historical mystery novel set in late Georgian Edinburgh. The idea for this book was borne out of a short story I wrote for my Open University course, and I’m really excited to get started on it! I will keep you all updated…

Image from Wiki Commons.

Lockdown Life

Happy Easter, folks! It’s a bit of a strange one this year, but life has been pretty strange for several weeks now. I hope you’re all staying well and sane during this unsettling time. I thought I’d check in with a few updates from lockdown life…

The House at Kirtlebeck End Offer

Like a lot of people, I will be getting through this period with the help of good books. More time at home does, after all, mean more reading time – at least, that’s the theory. With this in mind I decided to reduce the Kindle price of my newest release, The House at Kirtlebeck End, to 99p / 99c on Amazon UK and US. Head over here to get your copy.

Writing in Retreat

Over the past few days I’ve seen lots of ads online for virtual writers’ retreats. What a wonderful idea! Sadly I’m finding that this lockdown life does not agree with my creativity. Between homeschooling my kids, managing my own day job and generally adjusting to the bustle of a 24/7 full house, I’m not stringing many sentences together just now. I’ve got my final Creative Writing assignment due at the end of the month, so I am trying very hard to ‘freewrite’ my way to inspiration. Unfortunately, everything I write seems to wind back to this horrible situation we’re in which, frankly, is the last thing I want to write about.

Books, Music & Walks

Fortunately, there are those daily glimmers of light which keep me going. I am reading, and have read, some great books. My last excellent read was The Year without Summer by Guinevere Glasfurd. Set in 1816 during the summer which was blighted by the Mount Tambora volcanic eruption, the novel features the compelling and hard-hitting stories of a handful of characters and how their lives were affected. The scope of the story is impressive, spanning many lives and a number of continents.

I’m now reading Tombland, the latest Shardlake novel by CJ Sansom. Running at over 800 pages it is an absolute tome, so I may or may not finish it before this lockdown ends! Away from novels I’m also making an effort to read more modern poetry, and have recently picked up a copy of the collection Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times. Pretty suitable reading just now, I’d say.

I’m grateful also for some wonderful new music which has arrived in 2020. I have three new albums on rotation just now: Myrkur’s Folksange, Delain’s Apocalypse and Chill, and Nightwish’s Human. :II: Nature. And when I’m not reading or listening to music, I’ve been making the most of the good weather and discovering new walks around my local area with my family. It’s amazing how in the bustle of everyday life we often overlook those things which are right under our noses. If anything good comes from this, it’s that I’ve gained an appreciation of how much nature there is, right there on my doorstep.

Best wishes and Easter blessings to you all. Stay safe!

Somewhere in Between

Today I’m delighted to share my short story, Somewhere in Between, which has been published in issue 1 of Gutter Voices. Gutter Voices is a brand new online literary magazine showcasing some great writing, so please do check it out here!

In Somewhere in Between an elderly woman reflects on a diminished world in this tale about love and the power of memory. I really hope you enjoy it – please feel free to leave a comment below.



A Message from the Former Rulers of Planet Earth

Hi folks! It’s been a busy time, and today I’ve got a couple of things to share with you. The first is the news that one of my short stories will be published in issue one of Gutter Voices, a new literary magazine. The magazine launches on 15th March, and I will share the story with you then!

The second is a poem. Recently I completed the poetry section of my creative writing course, and thought that today I would share a poem I wrote during those weeks of study. I found that a lot of what I wrote revolved around the natural world and, in particular, climate change. I also wrote quite a few poems in the voice of various animals. This poem came to me whilst sitting in traffic one morning, watching some magpies swooping around a nearby field. I hope you enjoy it.

Message from the Former Rulers of Planet Earth

I see you.
Stuck, stationery in your metal box.
Those lights are dazzling
but I see you,
row upon row of you,
and yet you call us flocks.

Did you know, we used to be bigger?
All fearsome faces
and tyranny and teeth.
The earth you line up on
was our dominion
until the fires came.

Now I see you:
your smoke, your flames,
the liminal space you occupy
but are too blinded to see.
I see your metal boxes in the sky
and I wonder when you’ll grow wings.

Perhaps never.
Perhaps you’ll stay tethered
like the biggest of us;
those most ferocious,
now fossils
pressed down into dust. 


Short Pieces and Classic Fiction

Happy Monday to you all. It’s still January, the loooongest month of the year (well, not technically, but you know what I mean). It’s dark outside, and it’s cold, and it keeps threatening to snow (yuck).

But on the bright side, the weather is a perfect reason to stay indoors with a good book, or working on a bit of writing. And, so…

What am I writing?

At the moment, mostly poetry. I’m on to Part 3 of my Open University course now, and it’s all about lines, stanzas and iambic pentameters. I have to admit to being quite nervous about starting this part of the course. It’s been a very long time since I crafted much poetry, and I’ve never felt as confident with it as I do with prose. However, so far, I have surprised myself, and I’m very much enjoying it. With my next assignment due in a few weeks I am knuckling down to a poetry project; something a little bit supernatural, and a little bit Byronic. Loving it.

I’ve spent some time recently having a look over my writing from the past few years. Aside from the novels I have written, I have realised that I have a wealth of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. In fact I have so much that I’m now giving serious consideration to polishing up some of these pieces into a collection of fiction. So, watch this space – there might be a publication from me in 2020, after all.

What am I reading?

Currently I’m reading Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell is one of my favourite nineteenth century novelists, and has been ever since I read North and South. One of my aims this year is to expand my repertoire of classic fiction, as well continuing to read widely across modern genres. As a result, the top of my TBR list is looking pretty eclectic right now, with everything from Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, to CJ Sansom’s Tombland, to The Dead Girl’s Stilettos by Quinn Avery. As they say, variety is the spice of life!

I’d love to hear what you’re all reading, and any recommendations of great books you’ve read over the winter. Please feel free to comment below!

Reviewing the Resolutions

Happy new year to you all! I hope you had a peaceful and enjoyable festive season. I’m mindful that I’ve been very quiet on my blog since the release of The House at Kirtlebeck End at the beginning of December. It’s been a busy few weeks; between the book release, university assignments and Christmas, I’ve barely had a spare moment!

As this is my first post of the new year, I thought I’d review the goals I set myself last year and see how I got on. My goals were:

Goal 1 – Finish writing The House at Kirtlebeck End

Goal 2 – Submit The House at Kirtlebeck End to agents/publishers

Goal 3 – Research my next historical novel

Goal 4 – Keep writing and submitting to magazines/journals

Well, I didn’t do too badly. The House at Kirtlebeck End was finished and published by the end of the year. And I did pitch it to agents/publishers, and although it wasn’t picked up, it was worth going through that process to develop my awareness of the industry (and my query letter writing skills!). I kept working on short stories, although perhaps not at the rate I managed in 2018. Finally, I did begin some research around a couple of historical novel ideas, and I’ve got some pretty detailed notes which I intend to return to at a later stage.

However, as you’ll know if you follow this blog regularly, I started something else last year – something which wasn’t planned, but which was an opportunity I just had to grasp. In 2019 I became a student again, and 2020’s big goal is to make a success of my creative writing course. I’m really enjoying it; I’m learning so much and developing my skills as a writer. And the coursework has generated a couple of novel ideas! So, watch this space.

For me, 2020 will be a year of development. I will be spending the time studying, honing my skills, and broadening my writing horizons. After that, I’m not sure – which is actually quite exciting. Sometimes the best things in life are those which aren’t planned, or expected.

And, of course, I’ll be doing lots and lots of reading!

The Dangers of Dismissal

I’m not going to lie, folks; I’ve been a bit of a whinge on Twitter recently. The thing about being at the querying stage with a book is, all your resilience gets ploughed into keeping your chin up when the inevitable rejections arrive. That’s good – if you’re going to keep writing and keep submitting, you have to learn to rise above rejection, to not take it personally, and to keep on keeping on. However, the result is that your tolerance for other things, like details or phrases, might plummet a little. And of course, Twitter is always on hand for you to vent about your irritation to a nice big audience…

Yeah, sorry about that. Normal positive thinking will resume shortly. Though I do stand by every word. In this business rejection is inevitable, but there are many ways to write ‘no thanks’ and some are far better than others. Phrases like ‘I’ll pass’ are lazy, unprofessional and dismissive of a writer’s creative work. They might not be intended in that way, but that’s how they come across. The fact that apparently some quarters of the publishing industry don’t appreciate the impact that words can have is frankly more than a little ironic.

Anyway, today I thought I would also give an update on how things are progressing with my forthcoming novel, The House at Kirtlebeck End. As indicated before, I’m still at the querying stage and have a few responses from agents/publishers outstanding. In most cases the various deadlines they set themselves are fast approaching, so depending on the outcome of those I will be making a few decisions in the next few weeks about the publication of the book. So, watch this space! I hope to be able to bring you more news at the beginning of November.

Those who follow me on Facebook may also have noticed that I have recently started studying Creative Writing with the Open University. It’s early days but so far I’m enjoying it and looking forward to enhancing my writing skills over the coming months. At the same time I’m also fermenting some ideas for my next novel, and have started to do a bit of research when time allows. In short, there’s a lot going on but generally it’s all good. Onwards and upwards, as they say!

In Remote Parts

It’s been quite some time since I last blogged – far longer than I intended! I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a busy summer with plenty of fun, travels to new places, new experiences, a little bit of sun and the odd ounce of relaxation here and there. Over the past few weeks I’ve quite literally been living in remote parts, soaking up the wonders of the Scottish Western Isles and visiting some of its far-flung treasures. In short, folks, it’s been wonderful.

The Isle of Mingulay in the Outer Hebrides

The holidays are the perfect time to catch up on some reading, and I have read some fabulous fiction over the past couple of months. As ever my reading list was eclectic, with everything from historical fiction, to crime, to horror. My favourite summer reads were Elizabeth Macneal’s The Doll Factory, Kaite Welsh’s The Unquiet Heart, Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy and Campbell Hart’s The Rocking Stone.

I’ve also managed to fit in a fair amount of activity on the writing front. The House at Kirtlebeck End has been edited, polished up and sent off to agents/publishers, so now the wait begins for their replies and I will take things from there as regards my fifth novel’s journey to publication. While I wait, I’ve started researching for my next novel. I’m planning to return to historical fiction for novel no.6, with a story about a very famous and very influential Enlightenment figure, focusing on a lesser-known (and less talked about) aspect of his life. It’s early days, so that I think that’s enough said about that for now…

August 2019 also marked the first anniversary of the release of The Pendle Witch Girl. I can’t believe it’s been a year already since the third installment of my Witches of Pendle series was published. I also can’t believe, and couldn’t be more proud of the success the book has enjoyed. Indeed, the Witches of Pendle trilogy has gone from strength to strength over these past few years, exceeding any expectations I had when I hit the ‘publish’ button on The Gisburn Witch four years ago. Thank you once again to those of you who have read the books, have recommended them to friends, or have rated and/or reviewed them on Goodreads, Amazon, or anywhere else. It really does make a difference.

The Pendle Witch Girl release day advert – happy memories!

Summer is almost over, but I’m looking forward to an Autumn filled with good books, lots of research, an adventure or two, and who knows, maybe an email which will brighten my day!

A Sense of Achievement

Hello folks, happy Thursday! It’s been quite a few weeks since I last posted on my blog, so I thought I’d write a quick post to bring you up to date with what’s been going on. In short – a lot! This time of year is always hectic, with the end of the school term approaching and the kids’ shows, presentation evenings and other events really taking over the family diary for a while. In writing terms it’s also been a busy time – after more than a year of hard work, almost 110,000 words and thirty-something chapters, The House At Kirtlebeck End is complete!

Well, the first draft is complete, and the first read-through/edit is done. Now it’s time to get it sent over to my very lovely, very capable group of draft readers and nervously await their initial feedback. Then, after that, it’s a case of more editing, more reading, more editing, and so on, until I’m happy. But, whilst the book isn’t quite a finished product yet, I’m still relishing the huge sense of achievement which comes with finally having a complete, draft manuscript.

So, what is The House at Kirtlebeck End about?

You might remember back in January I put forward this pitch on Twitter for the Xpo North contest:

Over the past few months I’ve also posted a few teaser excerpts on social media, just to give you all a flavour of what’s going on:

The House at Kirtlebeck End is essentially a mystery, packed with suspense and a more than healthy dose of the paranormal. When the time comes I plan to dedicate it to my kids, as for ages they kept asking me to write a ‘ghost story’, and finally I have. Having said that, it will be some years before I allow them to read it!

I’ve really enjoyed writing this book, and I’m looking forward to polishing it up ready for publication before sharing it with you in the coming months.