Wagons – and falling off

The Queen smiles as she greets Archbishop of York, John Sentamu as she arrives for Maundy Thursday Service at York Minster Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The Queen smiles as she greets Archbishop of York, John Sentamu as she arrives for Maundy Thursday Service at York Minster Chris Jackson/Getty Images via Daily Telegraph.

This Lent I tried to give up two of my psychological props with rather mixed success. This Maundy Thursday, I’m reflecting on how it’s gone so far. Continue reading

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.


Character Actress

I’d never make a Hollywood leading lady – but I can do character.

This evening I am braving possible thunderstorms and the rumblings of my own trepidation to attend  the annual SCBWI BI Agents Party at Foyles Grand Design of a new bookshop. Choosing what to wear was tricky enough – but archfiend Nick Cook has issued us with a second badge.

We have to select one character from children’s lit we’d like to be. Crumbs. Where to start? All of them is not an acceptable answer. One close to me seems good.

Hermione? Well, I am a bit of know-it-all but she is too recent. If I included all the  children’s characters I have grown to love as an adult, it would be impossible. Also I suspect Hermione will be very popular – as will delightful bookworm Matilda.

Eowyn? I think that’s cheating. OK I read LOTR when I was still a child but she’s not really a children‘s character. So how about Alan Garner’s Susan? Could be – I was utterly convinced that a bracelet of my grandmother’s with blue tear-drop stones was a magical talisman – and I’d get two books to inhabit (three if you count ‘Boneland’).

What about the other Susan – Narnian queen and healer ? Well, putting aside The Problem of Susan for another day, she does get four books to go at – but she is a bit of a bystander. I feel like that with Jane Drew in ‘The Dark is Rising’ books – I don’t really remember her that well.

That goes for many others – and I won’t pick ones I only really know from films or TV. Princess Eilonwy from The Chronicles of Prydain is too pretty, and so too is Princess Irene. Never could  be doing with that. I will admit to fancying a few ‘baddies’ , though. Empress Jadis of Charn – who wouldn’t want to  be remembered this way?

But she was a dem fine woman, sir, a dem fine woman.

That’s grown up me speaking, I suspect. Still, I’m far more fond of Captain Hook than Tinker Bell or Wendy – though I do have soft spot for Tiger Lily. She used bow-and-arrows in my mind – and how marvellous was that?

Of course, I can gender-swap. That gives me Kay Harker and Eustace Scrubb. Yes I know – Eustace is a complete prig – but he gets to be a dragon and learns his lesson. I’ve always loved that. I can identify with the miseries and misfits – Eeyore, Puddleglum, Bard the Bowman [though he gets a bit grand].

Well, time has run out. I have made my choice. If you’re at the Agents Party, you’ll know. If not, I will reveal all tomorrow.

What! You too?

From the words of C.S.Lewis

‘Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”‘

This afternoon I had a visit I had been both looking forward to – and dreading. For some while I knew a fellow writer was going to call. Someone who set out about the same time as I did, who is talented and committed, and who wanted to talk about writing.


By Guaderel Guitarist Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial No Derivative Works 3.0-License.

The gap of time allowed my maungy, sad little twin demons of envy and fear to whisper at me. They blew sleet-cold worries down my neck.

I bet he’ll have been published already.

You’ll have to admit you’ve got nowhere yet.

How will you feel when he gets out a book with his name on?

What exactly have you got to show for over four years’ effort?

It didn’t help that it’s close to my least favourite time of year – Mothering Sunday – when I always feel insecure and vulnerable. Nor that I am waiting to hear if any agents are interested in my Selkie novel. It took some arm twisting from my Chi-SCBWI friends to put it out there again.

My unarmoured head feels so exposed above the ramparts.Close up a battered ancient helmet

He came. And over time and coffee, his honesty dissolved my mask, just as surely as his daughter’s marshmallows disappeared from her little cup in the cafe. I could see the same kind-ness of hard-won understanding in his face. The empathy of time served and mutual frustration.

No need for me to hide. We’re more siblings than rivals.

That broke me open, let the old warmth out and sent the two stony nasties back into their cave. And what rolled the boulder across their threshold was his absolute need to write. The imperative, regardless of sense and logic and all the will-it-make-a-living questions to get the stories down. How the breath of his ideas filled his canvas, blew him onwards.

I hope my friend reads this.

It’s not ‘you will get there‘ I want to engrave on maps of the future, surrounded by mermen and whales. There is no need when you have already left land and certainty.

But we already have successes to share – and there will be more.GoldLaurelWreath_CC

We are both writers.

Last post …of 2013

It’s the time of year to review what happened over the previous twelve months. Part of me wants to just put the past behind me and look forward without reflection – but the history-lover in me recoils. How can you know how far you’ve travelled if you don’t know where you’ve been?

Don't look back. You're not going that way.

So here it is – a collection of events and thoughts about this writing year.

  • January – the launch of the Golden Egg Academy in Bath. Such enthusiasm for the world of writing for young people. Inspiring – and smashing to be in at the beginning.
  • February – first Chi-SCBWI event at the Fountain Inn in Chichester. Reminded me what a talented and kind bunch of writing pals I have locally.
  • March – Book Mapping Weekend at the Golden Egg Academy. So wonderful to have someone professional taking me and my work seriously – and some pretty challenging things to think about.

An antique lamp in Chichester

  • April – Major structural revisions to  my Georgian lamp-lit novel. I found the saggy middle the worst – radical surgery left a lot of bagginess.
  • May – Scoobies’ retreat. Inspired by Lucy Christopher to deepen my story. Encouraged by mad and lovely friends to get even more involved in SCBWI (British Isles).
  • June – up to Newcastle for difficult and very worthwhile pitching workshop courtesy of Mslexia.  (I did get to dance with David Almond’s daughter at the Kathryn Tickell gig the night before. though.)Then speed-date-the-agent event in Foyles. Exhilarating, fun and apparently successful: 5 agents and 1 editor interested in my selkie story. No takers though.

Sad-looking seal on a beach.

  • July – a stay in Devon at Deborah Dooley’s Retreats for You. Partly for my writing, partly for industrial espionage as I want writers to come here to Sussex-by-the-sea. Little details and thoughtfulness can make a big difference.
  • August – Arvon, Lumb Bank. Glorious – it felt like coming home, the other writers were great and I gained a great deal of insight from Steve Voake and N. M. Browne doing a brilliant good cop, bad cop routine. Also the Magical Books exhibition at the Bodleian Library – who knew Alan Garner had such distinctive and beautiful handwriting? And Phillip Pullman and Neil Gaiman in conversation at the Oxford Playhouse. Definitely a great deal of wannabe moments there.

black and white photograph of Neil Gaiman

  • September – brief sojourn in Devon again – but this time with Charlie of Urban Writers’ Retreats. Lovely venue – much to enjoy – but also gained the inevitable realisation that cannot escape yourself. Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard and crack on – the only way that works.
  • October Spain – glories of the Alhambra followed by the shooting star of my writers’ retreat dream plunging into a cold ocean. The house we wanted was sold to someone else. Remind me never to share my hopes far and wide. On the other hand, attended thoughtful and stimulating talk with Susan Cooper, Chris Priestley, Geraldine  McCaughrean and Sally Gardner on Halloween. Resulted in my best/most popular blog post yet.
  • November – NaNoWriMo: 55k of a first draft done. I proved to myself I could do 2k or more every day for 21 days non-stop .  I found sometimes I could outrun the inner critic – and I ended up exhausted with a grubby house. Scwbi-con was fun – met brilliant people and somehow found the chutzpah to read short story out in front of the utterly smart  and encouraging Malorie Blackman.
  • December – so disappointed not be long-listed for Undiscovered Voices. Got back in the saddle and sought editorial help from Golden Egg Academy with new funds (thank you Father Christmas for coming early). Full circle, eh?

Christmas decoration with joy written on it.

So there you go – I hope I didn’t bore you too much. It was a useful exercise for me at least. I now know three things;

  1. I will  carry on writing throughout 2014, published, agented or not .
  2. My fellow writers mean so much to me.
  3. I still haven’t given up on the writers’ retreat idea!

Finally, to quote Peter Sinfield:

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear


I hope to see you in 2014.