Category Archives: Writing

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

I’m writing this blog on the same day that my latest novel has gone out on submission. I always find this part so daunting, although after putting together queries so many times now, I do feel I’m getting better at it. Nonetheless, it’s hard – hard to manage your own expectations, hard to think about (probable) rejection. Hard to hope.

Hope, indeed. As Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul’. I found myself thinking of that poem as I hit ‘submit’. In this line of work, you don’t really want to hope, but you can’t really help it. At least, I can’t.

Also – as an aside – if you haven’t already watched it, I highly recommend watching Dickinson. As well as being entertaining, that show really got me thinking about the nature of creativity, why we write, and who we write for. Also, Hailee Steinfeld is awesome as Emily.

Anyway, while I wait several months to hear back from my submission, I will be writing the second book in my Ailsa Rose Mysteries series. I’m excited to get back into the lives of Ailsa and Angus and those around them, and having done the research and prep work last autumn/winter, I’m ready to go!

I’m shortly going to be running a promotion on The Wax Artist too, so keep an eye out on my social media and on here for details about that.

A Preoccupation with Solitude

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself quite interested in histories relating to solitude, in terms of what being alone has meant down the centuries, and how people have responded to ideas of solitude over time. My interest in this was first sparked by a couple of radio or podcast series, the first being Thomas Dixon’s A Short History of Solitude for the BBC, and the second being the Spaces of Solitude podcast by researchers at Queen Mary University London. I mentioned both previously on a blog post about my favourite podcasts – more here. Thinking back, I don’t think it’s too much of a surprise that this subject resonated me – in the pandemic times, I found myself both isolated from the outside world, but rarely ever alone at home, with all my family ‘locked down’ beside me. Solitude, I came to realise, is something I need in order to create. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

One of the topics within this theme of solitude which really intrigued me was that of religious hermits, anchorites and anchoresses; those who devoted themselves to lives of piety and solitude in the medieval period (although perhaps were not always as alone as we might think, as Thomas Dixon’s series explores). In recent times I’ve become quite an enthusiast for medieval history – something which has come as a surprise, since I was always a devoted early-modernist in my student days. I suppose the two interests, therefore, go hand in hand. With all this in mind, yesterday I stumbled upon a really interesting story…

First, a bit of context. My current work-in-progress has reclusive people at its heart. I’m not sure that was a deliberate choice I made when I began to write; rather, I think it was a subconscious one which developed quickly and which, given my recent preoccupation with solitude, isn’t all that surprising. My two main characters find themselves alone for diverse reasons, some circumstantial, some matters of choice, but both are grappling with their solitude in their different ways. The novel is set in Cumberland (now Cumbria), along the Whitehaven coastline. Yesterday, as I was redrafting, I found myself wandering down a bit of a Google rabbit hole (it happens often). One of the characters mentions the village of St Bees; I went on Google to check a detail and, just like that, I found Saint Bega.

View of the South Head from the golf course at St Bees, Cumbria, by Doug Sim. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Bees_south_head_from_path.jpg

Not far from St Bees is St Bees Head, a headland which reaches out west and is home nowadays to a RSPB reserve and a variety of sea birds. It is also said to be where, in the ninth century, an Irish princess called Saint Bega was shipwrecked after fleeing her homeland and the prospect of a forced marriage to a Viking prince. Bega settled for some time in the area, becoming an anchoress, before eventually fleeing further east into Northumbria as the threat from raiding pirates loomed large. The name of the village is a corruption of its Norse name, Kyrkeby Becok, which translates as ‘church of Bega’. St Bees Priory, which has its own long and interesting history, was also dedicated to her.

Stained glass window at St Bees Priory depicting the arrival of St Bega at St Bees, sometime after 850 AD, by Doug Sim. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Bega_stained_glass.JPG

There is more detailed information about St Bega’s life, the relic and cult of St Bega, and indeed whether or not she ever existed at all over on the St Bees website. However, having unexpectedly discovered this story yesterday, I just had to share it. And now you know, as I do, why St Bees is called St Bees!

Time Marches On

I’ve not been particularly good at keeping my blog up-to-date so far this year. As it’s now May (already!), I thought it would be good to give an update on what I’ve been up to during these past few months.

Firstly, I’ve been very busy writing my next novel, and I’m pleased to say that I have now completed the draft. It has taken me 3 months to do so, which is by far the quickest I’ve ever written a story. Currently I am editing the manuscript, and will then be putting this book out on submission to a publisher. This story is a different genre to any of my previous work as it falls firmly in the ‘romance’ category, although like many of my other books, it is historical fiction too. I’ve really enjoyed writing it and I will update as soon as I have more news about its journey towards publication.

While this manuscript is out on submission, I will be getting to work on the second Ailsa Rose mystery. I completed the research and plotting for this book some time ago, so my next job will be to get reacquainted with that, then start writing! I’m really looking forward to spending some time with Ailsa and Angus again and pursuing their story, as well as giving them a new mystery to solve! Like The Wax Artist, this book will be published independently and I hope to release it later this year.

In February, The Wax Artist also went out on a very successful online book blog tour. That was the first time that any of my books have had a book tour, and I was really heartened by the reviews The Wax Artist received. It was so nice to hear about readers enjoying the story, and appreciating the characters and the setting. The tour was organised by Love Books Tours, who did an amazing job of pulling it all together.

The next few months will continue in much the same vein, with me hard at work as I try to write two novels this year. So far, I am on track. However, I will try to keep my blog updated more regularly!

New Year, New Writing Goals

Happy new year to you all, and I hope you had a restful festive season. My first blog post of the year typically concerns my goals for the year ahead, and this one is no different! So, here we go…

2021 was a productive year in terms of my writing, with the release my first new book in two years, which was also the first in a new series of historical mysteries. One of my goals this year is to write the second Ailsa Rose novel, and I’m very much looking forward to returning to Georgian Edinburgh and continuing Ailsa’s story, as well as giving her a new mystery to solve! I’m pleased to say that the preparatory work for this novel is well underway – indeed, I was already writing this one in my head while I was finishing The Wax Artist!

The biggest challenge for me this year is that I intend to write not one, but two books. This is something I haven’t managed before, and it will definitely be quite tough to achieve. However, there is a story I want to write which is quite different from any of my previous output, and this feels like the right time to do it. More on that as things develop, but right now I’m having a lot of fun creating some new characters and putting a plot together.

Finally, I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of The Wax Artist, and thank you also to those who’ve read it and been in touch to let me know your thoughts. It’s been great to hear how many people have enjoyed it over Christmas! Writers always appreciate ratings and/or reviews so if you have time after reading it, I’d love it if you’d consider leaving one on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever else you would normally post these. Thank you!

The Wax Artist: Release Day

I’m delighted to announce that my sixth novel, The Wax Artist, has now been released for sale. The book is available in ebook and format from a number of retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. More information about the book, including buy links, is available here.

Tonight on Facebook I’ll be holding a virtual launch event between 8pm and 9.30pm GMT. Pop along for videos and chat about the book. After the event I’ll be sharing the video content across my social media platforms, so there will be a chance to catch up if you can’t make it. To join the event, just head here.

Thank you to you all for your support with this book; every like, every share and every book purchase is very much appreciated. It’s been great to hear from all of you who’ve said you’re looking forward to reading it, and I very much hope that you enjoy it.

Book Announcement

A little announcement on a Thursday morning…

I’m very pleased and excited to announce that my next novel, The Wax Artist, will be published before the end of 2021. The hard work is ongoing behind the scenes to get the book ready and looking pretty for publication, and as with all my titles, it will be available as both an e-book and in paperback. I’ll keep my blog and social media feeds updated on progress, so keep an eye out for the release date, cover reveal and blurb reveal – all coming soon!

I’m really looking forward to sharing this story with you. The Wax Artist is the first in my new series of historical mysteries, set in early nineteenth century Edinburgh. This book was very much my pandemic project, and at times a real source of sanity and escapism for me when the going got tough. I sincerely hope you get as much joy from it as I did, and that you enjoy meeting a host of new characters and delving into their world for a little while.

It’s been almost two years since I last published a book, which for me is a long time between releases. I made the announcement about The Wax Artist last night on Twitter and Facebook, and was really heartened by the warm responses and interest I received. I’d just like to say thank you to all my readers for your patience and your support – it really means a lot.

Picking Roses: A Story of Elizabeth Ollive Paine

It’s been a while since I shared any of my own writing on my blog, so today I thought I would do just that. I wrote the story below for a magazine submission slot, the brief for which was to write a short piece of fiction in the voice of a female relation to a famous real or fictional person. My piece was not ultimately selected; nonetheless, I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

The female relative I chose was Elizabeth Ollive, estranged wife of the eighteenth century writer and radical, Thomas Paine. Paine has been a favourite of mine since my university days, when I pored over his political works and relished his involvement in both the American and French revolutions. It’s only in recent years that I have become more interested in his personal life, and have found that the scant information we have raises more questions than it answers. Paine was married twice, firstly to Mary Lambert who died in childbirth, and secondly to Elizabeth Ollive, from whom he ultimately separated for reasons unknown before emigrating to the American colonies in 1774, where his life as a man of fame and influence truly began.

For Elizabeth, this separation must have come at enormous personal cost – not only did she have to bear the shame and stigma of being an abandoned wife, but the wife of a renowned rabble-rouser and eventual outlaw. I wonder how she must have felt each time she heard news of him and his exploits, and how she bore her own lot, forced to leave Lewes for Cranbrook in Kent, where she lived with her brother and carved out a living as a dressmaker. Like so many women of the past, she is silent in the historical record, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine. I’d like to write more about her and about Paine, one day, but for now, I hope you enjoy this short story.

Picking Roses

I almost prick her when she mentions him. Right on the soft skin of her shoulder, where I’m still adjusting that pretty floral cotton she’s chosen, forming a dress from it with folds and pins. I’m not normally so clumsy, but her question is a surprise. Most ladies prefer light conversation, and this one hadn’t seemed any different; running her fingers over the printed roses as though she might like to pick them, telling me that she’ll wear her new dress to such-and-such’s house for afternoon tea. Then she says his name, just like that. Asks me if I’ve heard the news from France.

I’ve heard the news – of course I have. I don’t say anything, though. I just nod and concentrate on pinning. I’m not about to make a mistake. I don’t want to start again.

She’s still admiring those flowers. Her husband told her at breakfast, she says. It’s been in all the papers. She hopes I’m able to bear it. It must be such a troubling reminder of the past.

Troubling – there’s a word for it. I turn my attention to the hem of her skirt, shrinking from the urge to reply. The sooner I finish, the sooner we can both move on. Cranbrook likes reminders, even after all these years. When I first arrived to live with my brother, I hoped to be Miss Ollive the dressmaker, to foster the presumption of my spinsterhood, of my blank and loveless past. But Cranbrook soon gathered up the pieces of my tale, and almost as adeptly as I can sew a gown, the town stitched it all together and found Mrs Paine – shunned wife of a rabble-rouser, a republican, a revolutionary. Cranbrook looked upon my dresses differently after that.

She keeps on talking about him. It seems the French lock up everyone, she says, even those so committed to their cause. I don’t want to think about him in prison; filthy, half-starved, trapped in the shadow of the guillotine. He doesn’t fare well in confinement; I know that better than most. Perhaps he will escape, just like he did before, when we lived together in Lewes and failed to pretend to be happy. Perhaps he will board a ship and sail for America again. I pray he does. He might well write that the world is his country, but it’s America which resists him the least.  

She’s gone quiet, let her remarks fall away like the offcuts of material scattered on the floor. I’m glad. I don’t talk about Tom; I never have, not since we agreed to part ways, agreed to stay silent on all that had passed between us. Now the only words we have are in our letters; infrequent, but sincere and tenderly meant. This lady in her rose dress wouldn’t understand. Cranbrook wouldn’t understand. They’d say I was still his wife, but I haven’t been that for twenty years, if I ever truly was at all.  

Currently Querying

It’s Hump Day once again, and I’m spending today taking stock of where I am with my next book, as well as starting to think about the second one in the series. Before I do any of that, though, I thought I would check in with a quick update on what I’ve been up to.

Holidays…

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? July just flew by for me, as I spent quite a lot of it on holiday in the very lovely Shetland isles. We visited many of its islands, did plenty of walking, and had a fair few picnics on the beach! In short, it was amazing.

Watching the birds at Hermaness Nature Reserve on the Isle of Unst

Writing…

After rounds of editing, my forthcoming novel is now out on submission to literary agents and publishers, and I’m patiently waiting for replies. I know I haven’t said a great deal about this novel (other than dropping a few hints here) but I hope to be able to reveal much more soon. For now, I can say that it’s historical fiction, set in late Georgian Edinburgh, with a mystery at its heart.

Other than my novel, I have put a couple of shorter pieces out on submission to magazine and online publications, and I’m awaiting news on those too. I’m also looking ahead to the second installment of my Georgian mystery series – I have so many ideas and threads to pick up from the first story, but I need to do some work to shape it all into a plot. I feel a trip into Edinburgh coming on, too, to help me ground myself in the story’s setting. That wasn’t possible for the first novel because of lockdown restrictions, so I will really appreciate being able to do that this time.

Reading…

I have been doing so much reading this summer! In fact, last night I stayed up far too late to finish Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister, and it was so, so good. If you love Pride and Prejudice then you will love this – it’s the story of Mary Bennet, the quieter, bookish sister who is always on the periphery of Jane Austen’s novel. Recently I also read Miss Austen by Gill Hornby, which I similarly adored. Told from the point of view of Jane’s sister Cassandra, this is a novel about family stories and who gets to tell them. I was utterly spellbound from start to finish.

I have occasionally left the nineteenth century behind, however, and picked up some more modern reads. On holiday I enjoyed a couple of the very fabulous Tracy Broemmer’s contemporary romances, Hookin’ Up and Gettin’ Hitched from The H Books series.

My recent reads

What’s Next?

In short, a lot of waiting around! It’ll probably be well into the autumn before I know the outcome of my novel submissions. However, I plan to use the time well, working on the next book as well as doing some work on my short stories with a view to pulling together a collection. Oh, and I’m also going to do a lot of reading, and hope I’ll manage to post some reviews here, if time allows.

Hopefully I will have more news about my next book soon, so in the meantime, watch this space…

Studies in Wax

As promised back in February, I have been quietly and steadily working on my new novel. I’m conscious I’ve been silent for some time now, so thought I’d blog a short update on how things are going. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now completed the first draft of the manuscript and have almost completed the first round of editing. There will be more reading and editing work to be done, of course, but I feel as though I’m making some serious progress towards the final, finished novel.

So, today I thought I might say a little more about what this book is about, and where it came from!

The first seeds of this story were sown in my mind back in the autumn of 2019, while working on an assignment for the creative writing course I was taking at the time. I was doing a lot of free-writing for this, and I produced a number of short passages about a psychic who has a vision of a crime which has not yet been committed. As I developed them further, I found myself wandering into the late eighteenth-century, sketching characters and settings which felt sometimes Austen-esque and sometimes far less privileged – a contrast which I enjoyed. I live not far from Edinburgh, a city with a notable Georgian heritage, so I began to feel this might be my story’s setting. At this point I had lots of threads, lots of ideas, but it was only when I started looking more closely at eighteenth-century Edinburgh, that I had a ‘eureka’ moment.

That moment looked something like this:

Madame Tussaud, from Wikimedia Commons.

I discovered that, in 1803, Madame Tussaud opened an exhibition in Edinburgh’s New Town. Travelling from France to London and then on to Edinburgh during the brief peace between Britain and France, her Grand Cabinet of European Figures was the first time the Scottish capital had seen her lifelike waxworks of royalty and revolutionaries – including, of course, the now infamous death masks. This tiny, fascinating piece of information provided the setting for my university assignment, but it was also the spark which got me to realise that the plots, settings and characters whirring around my head needed a novel. The result is a story which is grounded firmly in its period: a new century, an uneasy peace, an ancient city in flux, and an old world still reeling from revolution. It’s also a novel which still has that psychic and that original mystery at its heart: how do you solve a crime which hasn’t happened yet?

I can’t wait for you all to read it.

It’s World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day 2021! Normally this is a day when kids dress up as their favourite book characters and there’s lots of chat (and school work) about reading, about books we’ve enjoyed, about all that wonderful literature out there, both past and present. Of course, like everything else, this year’s looks a bit different. My children are still learning at home, so their World Book Day celebrations are on-screen, but they are enjoying themselves nonetheless. And nothing can stop us appreciating good books and swapping recommendations for great reads!

So, what are you reading? I’m currently reading Plus One by Tracy Broemmer. I just started it yesterday, but I’ve read a few of Tracy’s books now and have always enjoyed them. And it’s set in Californian wine country, which I can totally get on board with! It’s a contemporary romance, which is one of my favourite genres just now. With *everything* that’s currently going on, I find I need happily ever afters. Check out Plus One on Amazon here.

What better way to celebrate World Book Day than with a sale? I’m running a short sale on my debut novel, The Gisburn Witch. It is currently reduced to 99p / 99c for Kindle over on Amazon UK and US. So, if you haven’t read it yet and think you might enjoy some historical fiction, now is a good time to pick it up! Get your copy here.

Have a great World Book Day, everyone!