Saturday, 28 December 2013

My Favourite 16 books of 2013

In 2013 I read a steady 2.73 books a month, which seems miraculous given the little time I give myself for reading. I rate the books I read - out of 5 for writing and 5 for plot - then I add them together and come up with a score. This year the books I awarded 8 stars and above were:-

Pamela's War by Cheryl Vines (8 stars)

One Day For Me (short stories) by Sally Jenkins (9 stars)

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (10 stars)

Old Friends 13 Coffee Break Stories by Sally Jenkins (8 stars)

Move Over Darling by Christine Stovell (8 stars)

Knowing Me Knowing You by Mandy Baggott (8 stars)

To Turn Full Circle by Linda Mitchelmore (8 stars)

Hubble Bubble by Jane Lovering (9 stars)

The Class Ceiling by Kerry Fisher (9 stars)

Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes (10 stars)

Security by Mandy Baggott (8 stars)

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriaty (9 stars)

Woman Walks Into a Bar by Rowan Coleman (8 stars)

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard (8 stars)

Is This Love by Sue Moorcroft (9 stars)

Tangled Lives by Hilary Boyd (10 stars)

Looking forward to a whole lot more reading (and writing) in 2014.

Please share your favourite reads of the Year below.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Memory Trees

I always find dressing the Christmas trees rather poignant and can often shed a few tears at the memories that surface. There are wonky silver bells which big son, now 25, bought home from nursery and similar foam ornaments made by little son, now 10.

As I hang the fragile glass ornaments, I remember the story of how my granddad bought them home during World War 2. There are ornaments from all around the world, like the Santa koala on a surf board, which my mom and late step-dad (nearly one year since we lost him) bought back from their many trips. Childhood tree baubles remind me of my late father and nana.

The second tree has many ornaments chosen by my husband’s first wife who died when she was 38. I never knew her, but always spare a thought for her buying these lovely things. Each year I try to buy or make a new ornament, so that one day my sons can have similar memories.

Phew, got a bit tearful again then. The house is lovely and bright with the tree lights. I’m celebrating. I did it! I completed NaNoWriMo, the November writing challenge. I wrote 50,106 words during the month of November. This is the fourth year I have taken part and completed the challenge, but boy do I know it now, I have to catch up on housework, paperwork and Christmas! Aghh.

I went out to lunch with the lovely Sue Watson a couple of weeks ago. As always, we were not short of conversation and had great fun discussing alternative endings to her wip, book number three. Her first book Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes has recently topped book charts in Italy. Younger, Thinner, Blonder, her second book is now available.

A shout out for two other friends, whose books have just been released – Laura James’ Truth or Dare and Alison May’s Much Ado About Sweet Nothing.

Please let me know below about your favourite Christmas tree decoration.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Exciting Times

I went to the Festival of Romance in Bedford at the weekend. It was all arranged in a last minute rush when I discovered that I had been shortlisted for the festival’s new talent award. The shortlisting was for the first chapter of a novel and it just happened to be 'Rock, Paper, Scissors', the one with the chainsaw wood carver in it!

Thanks to Bella Osborne for being my festival buddy and congratulations for her for being runner up for the award. The lovely trophy was won by Lucie Wheeler.

Sunday morning in Bedford 

We had a great time, apart from a few hiccups with the hotel. I went on an Irresistible Heroes workshop run by Christina Courtenay (The Gilded Fan) and Sue Moorcroft (Is This Love). Miranda Dickinson (Take a Look at Me Now) then shared her road to publication with us.

The Sunday conference was full of useful advice and lots of editors telling us what sort of books they are hoping to acquire for publication. Thank you to the organisers of the Festival of Romance, without whose tireless efforts, events like this would not exist.

In other news, my writing friend Jan Preston has just signed with Mills and Boon for two Regency romances and another friend Heather King has just released her debut novel A Sense of the Ridiculous, again a Regency romance, with Musa Publishing.

Those of you who are in the depths of the November NaNoWriMo writing challenge will no doubt be writing away. I hope you are finding it enjoyable. With mine, I am submerged in the depths of the home front of WW1 with my character Millie in the Black Country.

What are you writing at the moment?

Monday, 28 October 2013

That Time of Year Again

Where has this year gone?

It will be the eleventh anniversary of our move to this house on Halloween. I was five months pregnant and didn’t feel well at all. I remember the removal men arriving and I told them I felt ill. They made me sit on a box in the middle of the lounge and direct operations from there!

I can’t believe that Friday is 1 November and the start of NaNoWrimo, or the November 50,000 word writing challenge. This will be my fourth year. I shall be drafting a novel set in the Blackcountry in World War One and featuring a heroine called Millie. The working title is Millie’s War. If you are doing Nano this year please look me up and add me as a buddy.

I mentioned in my last blog post that I’d made three submissions of my writing work. The first two came to nothing and as I’d heard that the shortlist for the third had been announced, I thought it was three down. Imagine my surprise to look at the shortlist for the Festival of Romance New Talent Award for the first chapter of a novel and finding my entry, as Jayne Hall, “Rock, Paper, Scissors” listed! Squeeee.

I’m all booked into the festival so that I can attend the reception for those shortlisted. It is lovely to know so many on the list. A shout out to Elizabeth Lamb, Catherine Miller, Bella Osborne and Lucie Wheeler. Good luck to us all!

If you’ve had a recent success please share below.

Monday, 14 October 2013


Have you seen my new wonderful cover picture on Facebook. This was taken by my talented sister and it gives me a thrill every time I look at it.

I thought I’d start this blog by recommending a couple of blogs which I regularly find of interest. 
Helen Yendall’s excellent and Sally Jenkins’, both are worth looking at and both feature competitions on a regular basis.

I’m in a strange phase with two of my novels which have both been through the RNA New Writer’s Scheme critique. I think they are percolating! They seem to be running on continuous tape in the background of my mind and every now and then a scene or a new way for part of the plot comes to the surface and I scribble it down before it disappears. I think this is a good thing!?!

Both novels feel as if they will emerge stronger from this process. Have you ever had this experience?

Meanwhile, I'm gearing up for this year's NaNoWriMo. I've decided the novel I'm going to write, working title "Millie's War", written a loose plot and the opening scenes. It's set in the Blackcountry and being as I am a blackcountry lass, I'm already enjoying myself.

I spent Sunday afternoon forcing myself to label all of my completed notebooks. I’ve put sticky labels on the pages to indicate poems, short stories, ideas and parts of novels. Not sure if I feel better or not. I now need to transcribe them all. If you could see the pile, you would know what I am up against!

During the last few weeks, I’ve purposely been exposing myself to new situations and places. This has resulted in many poems and stories. I just wish I was braver at sending them out into the world. I did make a pledge with some fellow writers at the RNA conference in Sheffield to send out at least five writing projects. I’ve managed three so far.

See if you can give me encouragement in the comments below to send out more.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Where Have You Been?

I imagine this is the question some of you might be asking, or maybe you haven’t noticed that I’ve been gone :-(.

Sunset at Llandanawg Beach, North Wales
When my mother broke her hip in April, I didn’t realise the impact it would have on me. I don’t necessarily mean in time, but the impact it would have on me mentally. It added another layer of things to worry about and somehow meant that I had to stop doing some things to cope. Blogging was one of the casualties.

Many weeks on and Mom has had another fall, this time she wasn’t hospitalised, but broke some ribs. She is in dreadful pain and we still don’t know why she is blacking out. She lives alone and it is a constant niggle at the back of my mind whether she is safe.

However, this morning I woke up and wanted to blog!

Writing wise I have continued to write lots. I finished my 2013 RNA New Writers’ Scheme novel and sent it off. My critique raised a lot of valid points and a re-write will be necessary.

Perhaps the highlight of the summer was the RNA conference in Sheffield and the fact I came second in the Elizabeth Goudge competition for the first chapter of a novel with the subject of “ice”. This was even more pleasing as the winner was a many times published author, Kate Johnson. The RNA issued publicity about the competition and I ended up with a short radio slot on BBC Hereford and Worcester. The presenter, Tammy Gooding, even interviewed my ten year old son, who is to this day mortified that under the spotlight he said his favourite subject was history!

We have had a lovely summer and managed time away in County Durham and North Wales.

Let me know about the highlight of your summer by commenting below. I hope you will forgive me for being away so long.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Time Moves On

The Easter holidays came and went. My editing stalled, but my new writing output increased.

We had a fantastic few days in Wales with Ellie Swoop (hubbie was working). It was cold, but sunny. For the rest of the holiday I spent a fair amount of time transporting my now 10 year old to see various friends. Actually I’m quite proud of him, as he only joined his school in September and already has some good friends. The bonus is that these friends have lovely Mums.

My Mom continues her bereavement process (step dad died at the beginning of December) and I am having to resist checking up on her all of the time. She needs to rebuild her life, but it is hard at the moment as she is so lonely. Has anyone any tips for dealing with this situation?

Someone told me years ago that if you are having difficulty with something you should ask for an angel to help. I remembered this yesterday when the manuscript I am editing for the RNA New Writers Scheme wasn’t coming together. In my head I asked for an angel to help with the book and would you believe it a plot fix leapt immediately into my head. (I shall try this again!)

With spring arriving at last and blossom on my fruit trees, I wish you a happy writing spring.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

My Workspace

I thought I’d show you a picture of my chaotic workspace today. This is where I sit for hours pondering manuscripts.

The button editing is going well. If you look closely you can see my two jars – one for half hours completed and one for half hours to be completed. No prizes for guessing which is which - but I am getting there!

As you can see my wall is plastered with author postcards, my family trees, Nanowrimo completed certificates and a picture I painted at a goddess painting workshop.

There is a tottering pile of notebooks behind my laptop. Many of them are full of writing yet to be transcribed.

You may also notice my Writers’ Forum Achievement Chart on the desk. This is a new insert in Writers’ Forum to help you plan your writing month and I have to say it is helping.

If you look closely, you may see a Choclit ribbon, my badge from the last RNA conference and a duster I keep meaning to use.

What is your workspace like?

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Writing up to the End

I’ve always been good at starting stories, but not so hot at finishing them. I have files full of starts just waiting for an ending.

Having wailed my dissatisfaction with myself to my writing tutor, Sue Johnson, she came up with a ridiculously simple way of solving the problem. Her suggestion was to write the first and last lines of a story before you write anything else.

Using this technique you always know where you are heading. Drumroll please… works! I’m actually finishing stories.

 A personal happy ending.

Sue Johnson has just had a new book published Surfing the Rainbow - details here. This book is for anyone who has tried and failed to create the novel of their dreams. It aims to help writers with visualisation and chakra balancing.

Surfing the Rainbow book 

I think Sue deserves the advertisement for getting me on track with finishing my stories.

Please share below any writing gems which have helped you.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Don’t Laugh – Button Productivity

I love writing. I hate editing.

In an attempt to increase my editing productivity, I am trying a new system – the button productivity method.

My estimate for a first pass at editing my RNA New Writers’ Scheme novel is one hundred hours work. I have painstakingly counted out two hundred buttons into a jar. The idea is that I will put one button into a jar labelled completed for every half hour of editing I do.

I’m not sure if this will work yet, but at least I should be doing more editing than I am now. It is all too easy to write fresh material or to engage in displacement activities instead of getting on with the edits. The NWS manuscript needs to be sent off for critique before the end of August, but that will be here very quickly. Wish me luck. If nothing else I get to look at my lovely button collection.

What methods do you employ to keep your nose at the grind stone?

Monday, 4 February 2013


Those of you who follow my blog will know that my step-father died recently. I can’t believe that it is only two months this week since he passed on – in a lot of ways it feels longer.

My own father died from complications due to his multiple sclerosis at 58. Multiple sclerosis is the link between my family and that of my step-father. My dad had it and so did my step-dad’s late wife. Indeed in a plot twist most writers wouldn’t think up, the romance between my mum and step-father blossomed after a meeting to discuss how my late father’s wheelchair could be used by another MS sufferer.

My step-father worked for the local MS branch, including being president, for many years. It is fitting that the collection at his funeral raised £2518.57 for the MS branch! There were 120 ‘with sympathy’ cards. What a fitting tribute for such a lovely man.

Have you a real life plot twist in your family that no writer could have imagined?

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Going with the Flow

You know those mornings when you are rushing to get out and have every minute planned? I got the car out of the garage today and came in to find a little boy in tears at the bottom of the stairs. ‘My head hurts.’

You go through the usual scenarios. Is there something he doesn’t want to do at school? Has he a temperature? Today it was 101! Administer Calpol, get him back to bed, put car away and replan day.

I’m much better these days at going with the flow. In my younger days I would get very het up, these days I ask the question – ‘what am I meant to be doing today instead?’

So far I’ve succeeded in the displacement activities of cleaning football boots and dusting downstairs. Little one (now up and feeling better!) has just taken my collection of crystals out of their bowl so that I can clean it. I’ve installed my laptop in the lounge, little one on the settee with a blanket, so will I be writing? What do you think?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

An Interview about Reading Habits with my Mother!

My Mom is nearly 80. She always has a book on the go and so I decided to so some research and ask her a few questions about her reading habits.

 Mom in her late teens.

 Were you encouraged to read as a child?

When I was at school and the air raid siren went off, we all trouped out to the playground and filed into the air raid shelter. It was on these occasions that I remember learning my alphabet. I must have been five or six and we chanted the letters to pass the time.

My father and grandmother were avid readers. It was my job to fetch their books from the library. I can remember going down the road to the private library, first on my scooter and then on my precious bike (they were difficult to come by in the war). I had to get Biggles books for my father. My Grandma always insisted that I read the last few pages of books I selected for her. I could only bring them home if they had a happy ending. My library habit was established and I am a staunch supporter of my local library which I visit every week.

What sort of books do you read?

These days I get through at least two books a week. I always used to stick to authors I knew, such as Audrey Howard and Dick Francis. I think I’ve read more books by Dick Francis than he’s written!

Since Morton has been writing and, consequently, reading widely, I have been reading all sorts of books which she passes on to me. This has made me much more adventurous and now I look for new authors in all sorts of genres.

What makes a good book?

I like books with a puzzle, such as detective stories. They have to have a good story and keep me guessing. The first few pages have to intrigue me and not give away the plot.

Thank you Mom.

Mom is likely to be published before me as she has written a large proportion of her memoirs. Following the recent death of my stepfather, she is about to begin the story of the last twenty years she shared with him.

She has promised to proof read my novels, but I will admit to being a bit daunted in the face of her experienced eye!

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