Brideshead Revamp


I was sent an email today from the lovely author (and mentor of mine and founder/patron of Words for the Wounded) Margaret Graham, telling me I had a review in the Daily Mail for ‘Bright Stars’. So of course, I Googled and found the review by novelist Wendy Holden who likened it to Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’. (And I dashed out and bought a copy for my mum.)

The comparison, of course, thrilled me as ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is one of my top ten novels and the TV production one of the best ever. I even blogged about campus novels a few months ago and had to include Brideshead. Just because.

So if you were ever a student, if you are a student, if you’d like to be a student, if you remember the 80s, or if you don’t, or if you weren’t even born, you can download Bright Stars for £2.79 and see if the comparison rings true. Is Cameron a modern day Charles Ryder, in a kilt rather than tweeds? Is Tommo anything like Sebastian Flyte, with an electric guitar rather than a teddy bear?


‘…from balls and Bollinger to sweaty discos and the Nelson Mandela Bar.’

Read more:


The Eyes of a Child

I love Christmas but I do confess to getting panicky right now. I feel the pressure building up behind my eyes and my heart beating just a little too fast.

It’s good to remember the true meaning of Christmas. As much as I love the shiny baubles and the Buble’s Christmas CD, I was reminded yesterday that Christmas is about awe and wonder. A baby in a manger. A world of possibility.

Children have it right. Anticipation and excitement. But we as adults need to play our part. We need to cut back on Argos and Tesco, even John Lewis (who do the best adverts by far). We need to focus on the way Christmas brings us together, whatever our beliefs. For me, as a Christian, there is nothing better than the carols by candlelight service at our church, which is always packed and so pretty.

What can we do?

Buy local. Buy Fair-trade. Buy from charity shops and Oxfam online. Buy homemade. Or make something yourself. Buy vintage.

Ask someone over for Christmas day.

Watch telly with your family. Watch Elf. Or Home Alone. Or Mupppet Christmas Carol. Watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Pick up the phone and call a loved one.

Find it in your heart to let go of any hurt and bitterness that lurks there.

Give a book and make an author happy.

This Christmas I’m going to try to cut back on the stress. Which is flipping hard. So When I feel that pressure building, I will watch this scene from Elf, where Buddy shows the excitement of a child. And pop another cherry liqueur.

Here are some links to my favourite online stores right now.

If you have a minute check out Legend Press’s blog where I am talking about Christmas.

Did I mention The Generation Game is on Kindle for 99p this December?

And can you tell I am all over the place? This blog post is an outpouring of thoughts right now. Better out than in, as they say. Maybe.

Have a very happy, peace-filled Christmas.

Writing Competitions

I am a huge fan of writing competitions.


Because they are a little oasis in the overwhelmingly vast world of publishing.

They are scouted by agents and publishers.

They have given me focus as a writer, assurance that my manuscript will be read and considered, and they have given me my breakthroughs.

So now I am trying to give a little back and am involved and connected with exciting and worthwhile competitions. If you are want to enter some writing competitions that could help you on your way then read this post.

I am concentrating on novel competitions as there are still comparatively few. In 2006 I won the novel section of the Yeovil Literary Prize with the opening chapters of The Generation Game judged by Katie Fforde. Now in its tenth year the closing date is May 31st so this one you have to be quick for. The novel prize is judged by Tracey Chevalier. There is also a short story and a poetry competition. I will always remain indebted to this prize and am so glad it is growing in status and reputation with an impressive alumni.

Next up, the Harry Bowling Prize. This competition is for novels by unpublished writers and this year there is a new flash competition. The closing date is September 30th 2013. I was runner-up with This Holey Life in 2008 and had a great time at the awards ceremony at MBA. This was affirming and gave me encouragement that I was on the right track.

So now a very special award, the Luke Bitmead Bursary for Writers. This is an annual award for unpublished writers in memory of Luke Bitmead who was Legend Press’s first novelist back in 2005. The first prize is a generous bursary and a publishing contract. I won the award in 2010 with The Generation Game which was published in August 2011 by Legend. A year later Legend published This Holey Life. Entries opened on the 1st May and the closing date is 2nd August 2013. Unlike the other novel competitions I am flagging up, the manuscript must be finished and the work of an unpublished author. The age limit is 16 and over so this allows a chance for a young person to enter. There is always a shortlist and some of these have also gone on to achieve publication.

And now some very exciting news: the inaugural Exeter Novel Prize run by CreativeWritingMatters and sponsored by Exeter Writers is now open for entries. The closing date is October 31st 2013. Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James and myself will be administering the prize which is for both unpublished and published writers for a novel not currently under contract with a commercial publisher.  The shortlist will be judged by London agent Broo Doherty of Wade and Doherty and the winner will receive £500. There is a launch at Exeter Central Library on 27th June at 7.00pm, free entry plus cake, and a fabulous chance to meet other writers and find out more about the prize.


And one last competition but this time for a short story. I am honoured to be one of the judges for this year’s Hysterectomy Association’s short story competition. The closing date is 31st August 2013. Stories of up to 2000 word on ‘almost any theme related to women’. There are cash prizes but probably  more importantly the first, second and third prize winners plus ten other writers will be published in an anthology.

And I must mention Words for the Wounded, a charity of which I am delighted to be a patron. The competition is closed now and the results will be announced on June 6th.

So I hope this has inspired lots of you to enter these competitions, all worthy and worth it. They really do help writers on the road to publication for which I am evidence…

But I want to finish with one of the best competitions ever. Crackerjack’s Double or Drop.

The Next Big Thing

Thanks to Ruth Dugdall, fellow Legend Press author and Luke Bitmead Bursary winner. She tagged me in the NEXT BIG THING. 

I have to answer ten questions about my writing and then tag other writers who will answer the same ten questions. And on and on…

Here goes:

What is the working title of your book? 

Bright Stars

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
It’s been brewing for a while. I’ve wanted to revisit student days in a Northern town back in the 80s.
What genre does your book fall under? 
Lit-lite, somewhere between literary and commercial fiction. The Generation Game and This Holey Life were about family relationships. This novel still has an element of that, but also has more peer relationships. As with the previous two novels, it also has a dual time frame. Just to make things more tricky for me.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
I have four main characters as students and then as 45 year olds. I’d like Helen Baxendale to play my female lead and obviously David Tennant. Because he’s David Tennant. He could play either of my men.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
Four forty-somethings have a reunion and face the fallout of a tragic night twenty years before when they were students.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
I’m represented by Broo Doherty of Wade and Doherty
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’m halfway through and it’s taken me about nine months to get this far. I have the second half planned out, which is unusual for me…Though I know this could change. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I don’t. But I am writing it word by word which is the only way.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Clare Chambers, ‘Uncertain Terms’, David Nicholls, ‘One Day’
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
That’s hard to answer. The story has just been burning a hole in my brain for a while and this year has been the year to embark on it.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
There’s Ice Wine, Top of the Pops, and a prison on Dartmoor.
I’ve tagged the following writers to answer the same questions on their blogs. In alphabetical order:
Cathie Hartigan is a writer and creative writer teacher living in Exeter. She runs Creative Writing Matters and is a member of the RNA New Writers Scheme. She has winning short stories and flash fiction to her credit. You can follow her (and me, as I am now her partner in crime) at
Michelle Heatley is a writer from Brixham in Devon whose debut novel Fish Soup is published in 2013 by by Sunpenny Publishing. You can follow her at:
Geri Hellery is a writer from Exeter who is also one of the Apocalypse Girls. You can follow her at or check out her blog at
Amanda Saint is a writer who has travelled extensively and has recently settled on Exmoor. She runs day writing retreats in Devon so if you need some time and space for your work, you can look at And you can follow Amanda at
Ruth Dugdall

Sleeping Patterns

In a run-down student residence in South London, Annelie Strandli, a beautiful but confused designer, who is disorientated after leaving her native Finland, finds herself gravitating towards Berry Walker, an insomniac and aspiring writer.

JR Crook is this year’s winner of the Luke Bitmead Bursary with his novel ‘Sleeping Patterns’. It’s a slim volume – with a tactile cover and beautiful smooth paper – so probably more accurately described as a novella. But it is packed tight with layers of textual intrigue for the reader. This is one you can’t sit back and let wash over you. You have to engage with the text. You have to work as a reader to make sense of what is going on. In these days of instant gratification and transient desires, this is an exciting, energising prospect and should be grabbed and grappled with. Questions are asked; some answers are given; some need to be pondered. What is the relationship between reader and writer? Who is narrating? Who should we trust to tell us the story? What is the story? And do we live life chronologically? Or do we live in the past, present and future all at once…?

‘Sleeping Patterns is a puzzle, a shattered narrative that urges the reader to piece it back together. It is a story of love and the complexities of colliding relationships. It slowly releases the narrative segments needed to unravel each character as you go further in. This approach to form may be unusual, but it is a pleasure to become entangled in, creating a compelling atmosphere with a sense of true realism.’ – Unit Number

I think the above quote brilliantly sums up this book. Oh, and did I mention the language? It has some very beautiful language.

‘Sleeping Patterns’ is published by Legend Press.

Yellow is the Colour

It’s been a memorable few days to say the least and yellow has been the joyful colour woven throughout.

Firstly, Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, the first Brit ever to do this. Obviously yellow is always the colour associated with this race.

Then on Thursday I went to London with my family to attend my book launch. On the way there, struggling in a very tight yellow dress to match the bright yellow of my new book cover, we were caught up with the Olympic flame at Hyde Park and came within feet of it. We took cabs, walked, and got propelled along by the crowds and eventually made it to Great Windmill Street to the launch venue, kindly hosted by Red (yes, I know) Consultancy.

I was worried no one would turn up as they would be put off by the Olympic crush but gradually the room filled and I was so grateful to everyone who made the epic journey to come out, including one lovely friend who I hadn’t seen in over twenty years since our PGCE.

Red are based right opposite the Windmill Theatre which was the place where Sir Bruce Forsyth started his long career as a teenager. He was the inspiration for my first novel ‘The Generation Game’ which was launched from the same place almost exactly a year ago. And on the day of the launch of ‘This Holey Life’, Brucie carried the Olympic torch, representing the BBC.

Back in Devon yesterday, we watched the amazing opening ceremony, kicked off by Bradley Wiggins in his yellow jersey and watched on by Michelle Obama in a yellow dress. All these splashes of colour will stay with me for a very long time.

And finally: if you have an unpublished novel lurking about, do think about entering it for this year’s Luke Bitmead Bursary award. But don’t think about it for too long as the closing date is August 3rd. I wouldn’t have got to wear that yellow dress had I not entered two years ago.

The Birth of a Book

It’s been said before: publishing a book is like giving birth. Well, I’ve given birth to three babies and they might be teenagers now, but I still remember the pregnancies, the overdue dates, the labours, the births, the pain … and the end results.

So… I spent a long time writing the books, waking in the night, unable to sleep, plodding along, struggling uphill, and then the persistence of finding a publisher, someone to take care of you when the time came, knowing it would be worth the waiting and the pain to finally have that book in my hand. In my arms. Etcetera.

This time last year I was a first time novelist and the overwhelming emotion when I held The Generation Game for the first time was relief: I’d finally done it, helped along the way by professionals and friends and family. And there was much celebration.

A year on and I have just held my second novel, This Holey Life, in my hand – born a little early, a few weeks before the due date of August 1st.

(OK, so how much longer can I keep this analogy going?)

Having a book published is not as eye-poppingly, skin-splittingly painful as actually pushing out a seven pound something baby but, yes, there is pain. But there is also joy.

And now the long hard slog of nurturing this book has to begin, along with working on that next baby…

I Love Sir Brucie

What a treat of a repeat, seeing Brucie host Have I got News For You again last night on BBC2. What a legend. I love this man.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before on this blog, Sir Bruce Forsyth was the inspiration for my novel The Generation Game. Just as I was writing this post, I had a photo sent to me by my husband, who’s up in Liverpool for the Labour Party Conference. He found time to go into Waterstones and saw my book there, wedged between Daphne Du Maurier and Stella Duffy and close to Ruth Dugdall, a fellow Legend Press novelist. So exciting to see it on the shelves….finally!

A Tale of Two Book Launches

a pile of lovely books
My mum reading my book; my aunt looking serious
Last Thursday saw the London launch of my debut novel The Generation Game. It was an amazing evening, hosted by Red and Legend Press in Great Windmill Street, opposite The Windmill Theatre (where, appropriately, Sir Brucie started out on his long career).
It was really moving to have such special people there: family, university friends, old neighbours. And it was lovely to have Luke Bitmead’s mother there, Elaine, to join in the celebrations; without her son’s legacy I would not be holding a copy of my own book. Thank you, Luke, for caring about us struggling writers.  And how cool that Elaine’s good friend, Philippa (Pip), was there seeing as The Generation Game is all about another Philippa.
Elaine, me, Pip
It was a really friendly atmosphere, people chatting, cameras clicking, wine flowing, retro sweets to eat, 70s cheesy music (remember Manhattan Transfer?). Such fun.
Then it was time to sign some books and I realised I didn’t have a pen… somebody, I can’t remember who, shoved one in my hand – thank you. (You can see more photos on the link below.)
And then there was last night, the Devon launch at Torbay Books in Paignton. It was just as fun with loads of friends and family, fellow writers and book lovers.  I even managed to make a brief speech without notes or too much rambling. Though I forgot to bring a pen again… Thank you to all who came through the holiday traffic on such a scorcher of an evening. And thank you to Matthew and Sarah for being such good hosts.
Photos to follow.