Bean counting


January joy – I have been attempting the accounts for my writer-friendly B&B:  “Peacehaven”  You can’t blame a person for plugging her day job, can you?

It’s a slog through all the receipts and expenses to see what I have made. Amongst all the spreadsheet terrors, I’ve been thinking about the profit-and-loss of my writing.

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A Story for Samhain

The Crying Valley

Lumb Mill Colden Clough adapted from a photograph by Michael Ely
Lumb Mill Colden Clough adapted from a photograph by Michael Ely

Why did they call it The Crying Valley? The walker skirted a stagnant dam, puzzled.

A derelict mill chimney pinned the bottom of the gorge in shadow. The Pennines hid the sun and the first voice came.

‘I wants my Ma.’

Far from her East End workhouse, a child sobbed.

with thanks to Jill at Lumb Bank

Perks of being a reader

Amongst all the debate about Kathleen Hale’s piece in the Guardian and the Goodreads reviewer allegedly* hit over the head with a bottle by an enraged author, I want to put my emphasis on the positive aspects of reading and reviewing.

*it is under police investigation at present

10 reasons to review - with examples

  1. Finding works and writers you never expected – Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage, China Mieville’s Railsea, Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne Trilogy, Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who …series
  2. Seeing  authors grow and change over time – Frances Hardinge, Chris Priestley, Celia Rees, Jonathan Stroud
  3. Developing relationships within the community – readers, writers, publicists, editors. Chutzpah pays off.  My experience so far has been overwhelmingly good. I love it when I tweet or comment and make someone’s day – or I get hold of a book I really wanted.
  4. Improving your understanding of the book market. I’ve much more idea of age-ranges, the style of different imprints and the likely readership than I had before.
  5. Matching the right book with the right reader. I cannot emphasise this enough. A reviewer’s purpose is to unite the people who like that-sort-of-thing with their preferred reading material. It’s not for me to judge – the thing’s been written. I know what love and care goes into the vast majority of writing for young people that I read – what earthly good could come of me slagging it off?
  6. Investigating good and sometimes great writing. How does it work? What can I steal?  [ Please don’t take that too literally] Even with works that really aren’t my thing, I have learned a lot by thinking about why.
  7. Inspiring me to write. We’re all ‘just adding pebbles to the cairn’ as Maeve Binchy put it so beautifully. Not rivals – fellow creators.
  8. Receiving books for free – how wonderful is that? If I can bear to, I pass appropriate ones to my local library – doubly pleasing.
  9. Occasionally getting books well before they come out. I feel so honoured when that happens. Hint hint publishers!
  10. Pleasure.


I mostly write for Serendipity Reviews and occasionally for Fantasy Book Review. I read the whole book – or I don’t review it. Why not join me?


Coming round to the Dark Side

On Tuesday, I had the rather tremulous pleasure of visiting the British Library exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination‘. Indeed, there was a certain amount of trepidation involved – going up to That London – and not knowing what to expect. Would it be over in a flash and leave me at a loose end? Would it be tacky, or too full of jargon and conceit to enjoy?

I had no need to worry. I shall try to avoid ‘spoilers’ – but if you want surprises, just stop here at the end of this sentence: it’s fascinating and diverse. I wrote over twenty pages of notes – but you won’t get all of them, I promise.

There is a chronological thread; you start with The Castle of Otranto. Don’t miss the curious Czech film – and try imagining what the transparencies would look like backlit with flickering candlelight. I am a bit of a fan, so many of themes were familiar. Still, it was a treat to see exemplars of the Sublime up close, as a for-instance. As long as I can remember certain places – gorges, mountains, waterfalls, ruins, castles… have thrilled me.

Lady Blanche crosses the Ravine… by Nathaniel Grogan

That’s none too weird, you might say. But then some frissons of pleasure I had mingled with concerns about what these said about me. I felt a surge of delight when I re-encountered old friends like Count Dracula and Carmilla. I wished I hadn’t got rid of my LPs, posters and books.

Was this stuff I should enjoy?

When prompted to think about the real Terror in Revolutionary France, I faltered. My vision of Gothic is one of disturbing beauty, of hidden desires. I cheerfully admit that it had much to do with my adolescent sexuality.

But extreme violence – where did that sit in my understanding? I have to say I felt nauseous contemplating the Jack the Ripper letter. Violence against women is not a matter for my entertainment. This was an ethical challenge.

Image by James E. Nicol

As you may know I am fond of dressing up. Perhaps my Gothic side is merely superficial, put on like the Blackpin veil ? But that doesn’t explain why this weird disconnect troubles me so much. There’s deep ambivalence here – I do love and yet I fear I should not.

It is not resolved. I have found some comfort in the thought that expressing the darker side can be, perhaps, cathartic. I believe, for example that Boris Karloff was a perfect gentleman – and I know Chris Priestley (talented artist and cracking writer) is a delight to engage with.

And after all, the Gothic Imagination deals with the two biggies Love and Death – like the best opera. [Lots of similarities there, now I come to think of it.]

Il Commendatore by Anna Chromy

The best resolution I have found to this debate comes in the words of Cornelia Funke, though she is talking about fantasy in general:

 If you cannot imagine another world, you won’t be capable of changing this one. The role of the writer is to ask the questions that others may not get round to asking, to fish for the unspoken truth.


full article here c/o David Almond

I really don’t have an answer – do you?

Gone – but not forgotten [quite]

Apologies if you were waiting to learn which character I chose for the SCBWI Agents’ Party. I went for Tolly.

Inside Tolly’s bedroom at Greeen Knowe

For those of who you have not had the pleasure, I refer to Toseland Oldknow in L.M.Boston’s truly enchanting ‘The Children of Green Knowe‘. He is a lonely boy – who makes friends with the ghosts of children long gone in his great grandmother’s ancient house.

I wanted so much to be like Tolly – and in some ways, I still do. Slipping in and out of time, finding companionship in strange places – that’s my world at its best.

Happily, you can visit Lucy Boston’s fascinating house and garden – and the 60th Anniversary of  the first of the Green Knowe books will be on the 9th November this year. There will be a celebration at Hemingford Grey. Do go if you can.