Category Archives: Blog

Through the darkness

When I’m writing a book, the pages are endless. It’s no hardship, I love being absorbed by the rhythm of the words, the voices of my characters and the satisfaction of a subtle plot twist. It’s good to finish things too, though, and these tiny shorts, fragments, glimmers of a tale are a great way to give myself the utter relief of seeing something completed while I also continue to plough through the new book. So, as I wade through the unknown of my current plot, the darkness of the words, occasionally overwhelmed by it’s enormity, here’s a little something to give me a sense of completion. A short short.

Through the darkness

Through the darkness he came; death and love on his shoulders. Waiting, watching in the shadows, time and darkness creeping around him, a cloak against his betraying heart. Would he knock on the unforgiving door? Would he risk the rejection? He breathed; vital, alive, desiring. He knew he should walk away but roots grew from his feet, tethering him to the pulsing, beating energy of the earth. Love unasked for swamped him like a fever. Walk away, walk away, this path has a shadow side. Walk away, walk away, back to safety. Yet, still he stood, staring, heart thumping as the alchemy of night took hold and starlight gilded his hair.

She was on the other side of the silent, shadowy door. Was she alone? Perhaps sitting in a pool of light, her skin bathed golden, her hair falling in soft folds to her silken shoulders, tickling her with delicate fingers as she thought of him. He shook his head, trying to shift the image. Frost was forming around him as he stared ever harder at the place where she sat, unseen, only imagined.

Was she even real?

His arms ached with the need to hold her but instead of her intense warmth, they felt only the cold swathes of icy moonbeams. Each one freezing him with its beauteous touch, each glimmer a silent jeer of derision. Walk away, walk away, to the familiarity of retreat. Walk away, walk away, to the balm of the known. But his heart would not let him move, instead, he stepped nearer. Could she feel him? His breath through the darkness reaching her in folds of passion or was she wrapped in the oblivion of disinterest. Her smile nothing more than a façade, her words traps and demons rooted in darkness, pebbles skimming the surface, sinking without trace or meaning.

What if she wasn’t alone?

He shuddered, the torturous image of other hands, another mouth, a stranger’s heart and soul commanding her attention. Fear filled him and he felt his legs hurry him forward, wanting to reach her, to beg her, explain, he was here, he was hers until he stood, illuminated, the moon shining her silver radiance on his dreams and fears. His breath coming in gasps, each one keeping him moments from death, pumps of blood, contractions of muscle, a perfectly tuned machine of flight carrying him to his destination and then: he had knocked. Terror, hope, despair, love, fear, happiness, rejection, acceptance. Shaking, he waited, lost, knowing the axe would fall.

The door opened against the night and golden light shimmered forward to engulf the silver of the moon. She stood, watching, startled, her eyes a question. He smiled, a half smile, an apology, a white flag, a promise of love. She shook back her hair, breathed, then nodded, welcoming him into the warmth.

She Dreamed

In my continuing adventures with flash fiction, this is a curious piece. The plan was to write it as a stand alone strand but in the flow of words it became clear it has connections with my previous fragment, The Space Between Breath. They can be read separately or as a whole because just like life, writing is full of unseen, unexpected connections which when noticed can offer surprising incites and rewards.

Hope you enjoy it.

She Dreamed

She dreamed about him again last night. His touch, his feel, the heat of his skin but as their lips met she awoke and only ashes remained. Wrapped in the bleakness of her soul the deepening night grew heavy around her shoulders until she felt she would suffocate in her despair. Her heart beat on, holding her in the pain she could not escape. She stared, unseeing into darkness, waiting for sleep, praying for its oblivion, for the hope the dreams of him would return.

Figures, words, fragments chased their tails around her mind, whirling their clawed fingers along the edges of her sanity, beating back the night to the place where no dreams existed, where time stopped and there was nowhere to think, only to feel. The imprint of his fingers burned into her skin, each touch an echo, criss-crossed with silver scars, layer upon layer of indelible memories clinging to her heart.

She ached for his soul. For the part of her he stole. Slowly stripped away with each disarming smile, each lingering kiss, each broken, whispered promise made with his body. A shadow lost to the music of the stars, now spinning crystal white beyond her reach. The moment when ice replaced warmth, when the sound of his laughter became haunting and he vanished into silence, leaving only his cruel smile on the air. His words snatched away with his body.

Rage, confusion, rejection. Yet hope remained with the remnants of his touch, his thoughts. The yearning to linger in the shadow of his memory. Not yet ready to believe it was done. Her soul still in his pocket, his smile still in her heart. The bond not broken, only fractured.

Fragments of night stole around her, the caressing fingers teasing, soothing, easing rigid limbs into liquid darkness as her furious mind calmed with the rolling waves of night. Each breath slowing as she reached out for release, begged for hope, for peace. Dragged slowly into the folds of her fading imagination she slid once more into his arms and possibility.

The Space Between Breath

Another day, another piece of flash fiction. This is slightly more bleak but it has come at the end of three grey days of rain. Two very lovely and amazing female friends read this for me this afternoon, so thank you both for your time and your wonderful comments. Although, I was quite sad when the Lovely DB said it scared her. It’s, as ever, about emotions, which can be frightening but I hope this doesn’t scare you.

The Space Between Breath

In the space between breaths she saw him and fell. A moment of contact that would leave her with no will, no choice, no hope, only the fraction of time when the world changed. Obscured by the wall of water, she could not be sure of his reaction, only that he was there, real, solid but blurred around the edges. His features obscured, his heart hidden, covered with doubt and driven by fear. Air thick with knowledge unspoken, a glance, a deed, hesitation and retreat. The wall rose between them and they both turned away. Unsure.

She watched, unknowing. She breathed through pain. She walked, head held high as she made new footprints, new stories, trying to ignore the beating of her heart and the tremor of each missing breath. The one that was his, the alternate beat, his and always his, never hers again.

In the space around her heart, the missing beats gathered, each one a tribute, a torture, a moment of peace, a raft of despair. They swirled and they gathered, split apart and reformed. Waves of hope, pits of gloom and always the hollow of the missing beat, the lost part of her soul, now floating, discarded on the edges of his mind.

He barely saw her. His head down, his smile never rising to hers. Yet he knew she was there. The awareness heightened his nerves, swung his moods, flaring his anger. His fury rising each time she passed, irrational and violent. The missing beats floating like death above her head, his eyes flickering to watch her as she moved, each nuance imprinted on his soul as he tried to turn away. He took refuge in silence, hiding confusion, his face set hard but he did not know why.

Her gasp was barely audible when they passed, so close they could feel the heat. He retreated behind indifference and she stumbled from the weight of his bleakness. The space between the breaths grew longer as he walked away, the fraction of time where the world changed fading with her heart. Knowledge unspoken, as the missing beats turned to ice in her soul.

The Spell

After enjoying the last piece of flash fiction so much, here’s another one.

She cast a spell for oak

When she cast the spell, she asked for Oak but Bear appeared instead. He stood behind her and waited for her to turn but she was reluctant. This wasn’t the plan, this was the monster at the edge of the map, this was the temptation. Oak was the answer: immovable, reliable, solid. Bear was from the stars: he was the question. He reached across the divide and she was wary. She had not anticipated it again. This avenue, once embarked upon with trepidatious but bold feet; now broken, she could not stand to take the path again.

‘It was meant to be Oak,’ she repeated.

But still it was Bear who chuckled in the darkness. Walking closer, shadowing her footsteps, his breath warm and the strength of his deadly, glittering claws ever there. A warning? A promise? A punishment? A charm? She could not tell.

‘Oak,’ she repeated doggedly. ‘Oak.’

But up in the stars, Bear twinkled, waiting.

She cast the spell again, asking the air, but the wishes turned to moonbeams, travelling high and fast, creeping through the tangle of words at the edge of light, captured by the stars and Bear gathered them hungrily to his soul. Waiting. She threw her words to the waters and the waves crested, white tips glowing, horses racing ever onwards, but Bear reached casually down and scooped up the white lies with his fearsome claws. Waiting.

The fire ripped through the chants. Furiously devouring the anticipation of their meaning, stoking the heat, licking at Oak, scorching and teasing, pushing Oak away, illuminating the path for Bear to stare down and wonder. Only earth remained but even buried deep in the dark, damp soil the words grew golden and pushed their way to the surface and the light. Mistletoe berries finding Oak at last but wrapping their gleaming white fingers, their rustling green branches around and around until Oak was finally no more.

Bear smiled. Waiting.

She sighed. This was the edge of time. It was meant to be Oak.

Yet, she turned.

Bear smiled. Brown eyes glinting as he flexed his claws and covered her in moonlight, gathering her into his soul.

She closed her eyes and stepped forward, allowing him to pierce her heart.

The Hippocampus and The Tear

It’s been a while since my last entry but until my new book is finished, here’s a piece of flash fiction (or a very short, short story). Hope you enjoy it.

The Hippocampus and The Tear

It was still in the box, wrapped in the tiny handkerchief, the seashells on either side, exactly as she had left it. So many years had passed since that childish whim on that hot summer day. A tear rose, salt water, always salt.

She held out her small hand, offering the coins to the lady in the apron behind the counter. As the purchase took place she could hear the adults whispering high above her head, laughing. Always… Strange child… Oversensitive… As though she wasn’t there, couldn’t hear. She wiped away the tear and smiled as she was given her goods, she knew it wasn’t too late to save him. All she needed was water, salt water, then he would wake up and swim away. Maybe he could take her with him.

White foam, seaweed and shells trickled over her toes, behind her laughter, children playing and adults lounging in the sun, voices drugged by the heat and the sand but she had work to do, a life to save. The seahorse she had bought in the shop, he was dried, sad, yet his eye, it still shone and she had to try to save him. Salt water was all she needed. Scooping wavelets into her pink castle-shaped bucket, she crouched down and carefully unwrapped him, sliding him into the salt water.

“Swim,” she whispered. “You’re safe now.”

The little seahorse floated slowly, sadly, then began to sink downwards until it settled softly on the bottom of the bucket, its gleaming eye up staring up at her through the rippling, sandy brine.

“Swim,” she implored. “Swim and when you’re strong I can put you in the sea, we can go together.”

But the hippocampus stared back at her, dead, hard, with no care for the small drops of water that fell from the little girl’s eyes, adding their salt to his silvery shroud. She took him home, dried him carefully and placed him in a box, nestled on a bed of seaweed, tiny, opalescent sea shells placed on either side lighting his way home and her belief in magic, in dreams and in hope was dented for the first time.

Now she ran her fingers lightly over the box, remembering, wondering. She had not opened it for years, she could not believe it was still in her possession, had not been lost along the way with so many other of life’s simple innocence. With fingers as gentle as a summer breeze she eased it open and the black eye, dulled with dust and age, stared back. She stroked the small, withered creature with a touch as gentle and searching as a lover. It had started here, that day by the shore, the moment when things changed. In a heartbeat of betrayal the sea creature had refused to live and she had felt the first tinge of heartbreak. Now, she felt it again.

She lifted the seahorse from his silent shelter and cradled him. Salt water, she thought, that’s all I need, salt water. Tears welled, heartbreak and despair, how could salt heal wounds that ran so deep? The water trickled from her eyes, her own inner ocean, waves breaking from within and dissolving on the smooth curve of her cheek. One fell, two, three, on to the small brown creature and it quivered against her palm. Another and another splashed across its cratered skin as it coiled and uncoiled, its black eye glistening once more.

Salt water, she thought, hurrying to the water’s edge, salt water was all I needed.

And hope was born once more.

Adventures in ePublishing with The Patron Saint of Married Women

It wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it.

My first book launch, pressing a button and sending the manuscript into the ether, only to see it appear on a world-wide platform 12 hours later. When I was little, my vision of a book launch was a big party with lots of champagne and, as I reached my teens, preferably with Wham!, Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100 in attendance. But after years of near-misses, the Internet finally turned out to be my best option.

Over the years, I’ve been signed with three different agents, all lovely, as is my current one. We’ve battled together through novels, film and TV scripts and each time, just as we thought we’d cracked it, something happened and the deals dissolved. It’s been tough dealing with the rejection but, you know, there are tougher things and we survive.

So, after another round of: “We love it but it isn’t right for us” comments, my red-haired temper came to the fore and I decided enough was enough, I was going to embrace MODERN TECHNOLOGY and do this thing with the help of the website I use the most: Amazon.

Angel or demon? Purveyor of books that would otherwise never find a platform or destroyer of the independent retailer and the integrity of publishing. Hard to say really, I can argue it from both sides depending on my mood.

Mostly on Amazon though, I’ve discovered books I would never have found elsewhere. One particular nugget was Winifred Watson’s, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Simple, elegant and truly wonderful. Another was Rachel Ferguson’s, The Brontes went to Woolworths. Then there was Elizabeth Gaskell’s, Lois the Witch, unavailable in every bookshop I tried but delivered the following day from Amazon.

E L James is, I understand, a big fan too! After all, her trilogy has done quite well! It’s sales peaked in July 2012 when it sold 1.4million copies in one week.

1.4million copies!! One week!!

While I have no pretentions to those levels of sales figures, it shows that things are changing and if the publishing industry wants to avoid the pitfalls that befell the record industry when downloads became the popular choice of consumers, it needs to look at the speed with which electronic reading devices have swept the world this year.

I’ve always commuted and to while away the time I have always read. Whether these were slim paperbacks or weighty, hard-back tomes, I simply adjusted the size of my handbag to accommodate my literature. Then, finally, this year, even I, die-hard, luddite who is only truly happy when surrounded by shelves and shelves of books (preferably with that lovely, musty, leathery smell you get with old editions…) and who turns to books for happiness, companionship and to help me through hard times (I do leave the house occasionally) gave in and got a Kindle.

It felt like a betrayal, at first.

I had gone over to the dark side, but with over £16million worth of eBooks being sold in 2010 and the sales of consumer eBooks increasing 366% in 2011, according to the Publishers Association, I wasn’t the only one. Neither, looking around at my fellow commuters, was this merely statistical hyperbole. I would guess that 80% of people on the London commute have some kind of electronic device which they use for reading, playing games, watching TV, whatever, while they chug between stations.

Even Richard Mollison, chief executive of the Publishers Association admitted: “The story of [2011] is a decline in physical sales almost being compensated for by a strong performance in digital.”

Although he countered it with: “That said, physical books remain the format of choice for the vast majority of British readers, underlining the continued importance of a strong high street sector.”

Something with which, I agree. Despite my defection to the electronic side, publishers actually do rather well out of me as I often buy books in both formats. Hilary Mantel’s, Bring Up The Bodies, was a book I had been eagerly awaiting. I’d enjoyed Wolf Hall and I wanted to own them both. However, rushing out to buy it on the day of release all that was available was a hefty, hard-back edition, so for commuting, I downloaded the Kindle version – cher-ching to the publisher – two copies sold to the lady in the front train carriage.

The same applied to J K Rowling’s, The Casual Vacancy, not to mention all the Harry Potter’s once they were available to download. Kate Mosse’s, Citadel, is another one I’m pondering owning in two formats and, just to add to my eclectic Kindle collection, I also bought, on Kindle, an entire series of Enid Blyton books – The Island, Castle, Valley, Sea, Mountain, Ship, Circus and River of Adventure – which I’ve owned in paperback since I was a child. I suddenly felt the urge to re-read them (there is a reason, I haven’t taken complete leave of my senses just yet, although I might download the Malory Towers series next, especially In the Fifth at Malory Towers, which was my favourite, where main character Darrell Rivers wrote a play… I digress) and having e-copies preserved my crumbling, well-thumbed, childhood paperbacks.

So, despite my disloyal step away from musty books to slick downloads, I realised owning a Kindle didn’t mean I’d never buy another physical book again and that there were definite advantages to the download. When Ben Aaronvitch’s new Peter Grant book, Whispers Underground, was released earlier this year, I downloaded it immediately and had finished it on Kindle before the copy I’d ordered from Amazon arrived. Before going on holiday recently I didn’t have time to do my usual three-hour browse around a bookshop so instead I downloaded Jeanette Winterson’s, The Daylight Gate, and Alison Weir’s, Innocent Traitor, about an hour before I left.

Which is why, after my agent and I had exhausted the few places to sell physical manuscripts and having had no obvious reasons why (apart from budgetary restrictions) no one was buying, I decided to bite the bullet.

Who knows where this will lead?

Maybe nowhere much, but I think I may have sold a few copies, and not all to my mum. At least my book is out there, even if I did have to forego my night of champagne and fun with Eighties popstars.

Although if any of Wham!, Spandau Ballet or Haircut 100 are available for a small launch party, I’m easily persuaded…

● If you’d like to buy my book, The Patron Saint of Married Women, it’s available for download now on Amazon.co.uk or go to my homepage and click on Buy It Here.

The Patron Saint of Married Women and my tribute to women’s magazines

The white van has driven by three times now, I wonder if he’s casing the joint?

Perhaps I should wake the dogs up and remind them of their barking-at-strange-cars duties… Star has opened one eye and rolled it in contempt at the suggestion, Nero has shut his eyes tighter, the dog equivalent of sticking his paws in his ears and singing loudly so he can’t hear me.

Hang on, they’re on their paws, skidding to the back door, barking madly: am I in mortal peril? Are they about to protect me from marauding strangers? Oh no, a leaf moved in the back garden…

It’s been a while since I last blogged. Things have changed since then but seeing as I’ve only had spam in my inbox, I suspect the world has survived quite well without my words being added to the ether of the Internet.

Well, I’m back now and my first book is out next week – woohoo!

You’ve probably guessed from the homepage that it’s called The Patron Saint of Married Women. It’ll be available on Amazon from Wednesday 24 October 2012 (all being well!). It’s also my niece, Harriet’s, birthday, she’ll be six years old.

The Patron Saint of Married Women has been in my life for a while now and it’s lovely to know that Polly Lovelace, the patron saint of the title, is about to be let loose. She wandered into my head one day and within a week an entire story had formed. It took a little while to tame her but once we’d hit our stride, Polly and her story came rushing onto the page extremely quickly.

I’m very proud of Polly even though she forced me to write the one book I swore I’d never write – a book set in the offices of a women’s magazine.

It’s logical though, the first piece of advice anyone gives you when you’re starting out as writer is: write about what you know. Women’s magazines are something I know a great deal about having written, subbed, launched and been involved with them for 20 years.

Polly works for a magazine called Gorgeous and it’s an amalgamation of various places I’ve worked, but if you want a name check, then Chat (Life! Death! Prizes!) must be mentioned, the place I began my magazine career. Also more!, where I was working when I was writing The Patron Saint of Married Women.

Gorgeous is a strange blend of old and new, the best as I see it, of the changing and evolving women’s magazine market.

At Chat, I think I experienced the last of the heady days of publishing when there were endless parties and launches, where companies had huge events and coming back after lunch wasn’t always a requirement, particularly if you were in the pub with the editor. I still work at Chat as a freelancer and when I look around now, I wonder if a lot of the fun has gone. There are fewer people but more is required of them, as magazines compete with the Internet, paper costs continue to rise and the recession bites hard. It’s also a far more crowded market with readers shifting their loyalties depending on their mood. Yet, despite the changes, I still see glimpses of the old spirit – the camaraderie, the gallows humour, the compassion and the free food – and it was this feeling I wanted to capture in the scenes set in the Gorgeous office.

My years freelancing at more! were different again. Chat led with real-life stories, which were always my speciality (I was unofficially know as the murder, rape and incest correspondent), while more! focussed on fashion, celebs and advice, before real-life. Although, it would be an oversight to mention more! without commenting on its notorious Position of the Week. For those who don’t know it, yes, it truly is as it sounds, accompanied by illustrations/pics depending on the era you read it.

So, Gorgeous became a hybrid of, predominantly, these two. There were hints of News International’s, Fabulous, and the now defunct, First, (Emap), thrown in but its heart is Chat and more! In fact, some of the people at more! also willingly leant their names to the book and for that, I thank you all.

In my mind, the offices of Gorgeous, with its fictional publishing company, LGM Publishing, were mostly Chat’s home of IPC. It is part the old King’s Reach Tower, mainly because I have many fond memories of my time there, and also the shiny new building, Blue Fin (the holding shot used in the brilliant BBC series about the Olympics, 2012, whenever they cut to the offices of the PR company, Perfect Curve). However, using the writer’s prerogative of imagination, the Gorgeous offices are cleaner, glossier and better laid out than any of the IPC counterparts. The LGM building is also positioned in a fictionalised version of the current Blue Fin building in Southwark Street, SE1. In my mind, there are more bars, coffee shops, cafes and quirky shops, than currently resides at the base of the real IPC towers.

All my comments about women’s magazines though are from the heart. It may not always be the perfect place to work: there are the usual office politics, upheavals, problems, personality clashes, but there is also a lot of warmth there if you bother to look. Some of my dearest friends are people I’ve met through working as a journalist in the slightly eccentric world of women’s magazines. Although, there are also people who I’d hide from (and have) if I saw them walking along the street towards me!

Gorgeous is my tribute to the people and places I’ve encountered over the years, it is, in short, the magazine I’d like to work for, alas, it exists only in mind.

Mary of Guise has to go…

Writing has been patchy over the last few weeks. I began wondering whether or not to include Mary of Guise (Mary, Queen of Scot’s mother) as another protagonist and wrote a few chapters with this in mind.

Then I ground to a staggering halt.

Over the years I’ve learned that this means my plotting has gone awry somewhere. So, despite a few more attempts to crowbar her in, none of which were successful, I returned to my original premise, and as of this morning, Mary is out. Instead, the plot continues to move backwards and forwards between Isabella and Catherine Howard.

Sadly, I might also have to lose my slightly sinister but vaguely amusing assassins, too. Although they might be able to have a cameo role in this one and a bigger role in the sequel. Not sure though. It would be a shame to lose them as they’re named after my hairdressers and it causes great hilarity whenever I have my hair done.

What always amazes me though, is how in the writing of a story characters seem to come and go of their own volition, taking on their own lives and doing things I never intended. In fact, another character, who was a really minor one in previous drafts, has, in the last few days suddenly developed an extremely detailed life and is now set to become a major player. I’m not sure how or where it’s come from but it’s the missing key I was looking for and now I’ve worked it out, it’s an obvious link. That’s why I love writing so much, even as the author you can never fully guarantee you’re always going to know what happens next.