Keeping your head in the right place

There’s lot’s of really fab blog posts about mental health out there. Here’s my small contribution.


We’re all the same, you know. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, it still kicks you in the guts when someone ‘rejects’ your work. If you feel that way now or have felt that way before (or fear you may feel that way in the future!), you’re in ‘good’ company.

Now, I reckon that I’m a pretty positive person. My overall attitude to my writing (in my pursuit of a traditional publishing contract for my middle grade dragon fantasy, ‘Dragonspire’) is that I’m confident that I can write to a publishable standard and I believe that I have a chance of achieving my dream. I don’t say, for one moment, that I will achieve my dream but I reckon (when I’m ready to submit!) that I’ll be in there with a shout along with thousands of others all jostling for position before agents and editors.

I have a chance.

People who know me may look at the fact that I’m a lawyer and might assume that I’m supremely confident and am bound to succeed, etc. Not true. We’re all the same.

When I wasn’t longlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award last year and wasn’t long listed for SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices competition earlier this month, it knocked my confidence, such as it is. I’d turned-in something I thought was pretty darned good! I know it’s not a personal rejection but it’s hard for it not to feel that way. Did I assume that I would win both those competitions? No! At least the rational side of my brain didn’t.

The dreamer inside me thought I might get longlisted though.

Being honest, I couldn’t stop myself I dreaming that I might have been longlisted as an indication (in line with my beliefs as set out above) that I’m ‘in there with a shout’. Not getting anywhere in either, inevitably made me question if I was utterly deluded.

Am I? I hope not! In some sense, I have to think this way. Thinking any other way leads to despair and failure due to giving up. I am not going to give up. I can write and, maybe someday, I’ll approach the right person and the right time with the right story and my dream of being traditionally published will come true! That’s a possibility, right? Of course it is. It doesn’t mean it will happen but that chances of it happening are a whole lot bigger if I try than if I don’t.

It’s important to dream. You should dream. It’s the dream that keeps you going. But, of course, it will likely be dashed far more of than it will be realised. So, we pick our egos up off the floor, give them a quick wipe and shove them back inside our heads and we go again. Them’s the knocks we take in the pursuit of getting our stories into the hands of children (or whatever genre you write in). It’s tough and we need thick skin and if you’re feeling that way reading this just remember, we’re all the same and we’ve all felt this way from time-to-time and we’ve survived and gone on writing.

My writerly friends on line have all been through the same thing and that camaraderie definitely helps. Everyone needs a little pick-me-up sometimes.

Self-doubt, imposter syndrome, the never-ending mountain that is the pursuit of publication, is a rough road. My advice is to find some fellow travellers and try to take in the scenery along the way. Believe in yourself, allow yourself to dream, and keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter the rocks that the mountain tries to thrown down at you. Who knows, one day, you, and your fellow travellers, might just arrive.

Book review – A Darkness of Dragons, by S.A. Patrick

A few words that describe this story are, ‘vibrant’, ‘confused’ and ‘unfinished’.


It’s a fun tale, it moves at good pace. Its set ten years after the Pied Piper has stolen the children from Hamelyn. While that’s a a fab backdrop, the title is baffling. If you’re expecting a story about dragons you’ll be sorely disappointed. Apart from a very brief cameo, the only dragon in the story is a dracogriff (half dragon, half griffin) who talks and acts like a human.

The hero is, Patch, a failed piper who gets himself into trouble and thrown in jail, the same jail as the Hamelyn Piper. Dragons attack and break the jail walls, killing the Hamelyn Piper and allowing Patch to escape. Adventure ensues, danger is faced and overcome and people turn out not to be who we thought they were.

I say that it’s confused because nothing really sits together in any coherent way. Far too much seems to happen by sheer fluke. As the story opens, Patch has no goal at all, certainly nothing that relates to the events at the end of the story (thereby reducing their significance to him). By chance he meets a girl that’s been turned it a rat and, again by chance, meets Barver the dracogriff. Mid way through (for no apparent reason other than perhaps to create some tension…) Patch is thrown a prophesy about someone who will betray him. This sort of kicks in later on, but not fully. The plot thread with the Hamelyn Piper is not resolved nor are the effects of the prophesy. By the end of the story, Patch hasn’t really changed or learned anything and the book finishes with a line about music which, while obliquely relevant to the story, doesn’t really chime with any of its themes. So it’s fun but a bit confused and directionless and with a misleading title. It’s clearly the first in a planned series, so we can expect resolution of plot lines later but I still feel that a more satisfying arc should have been woven into this first outing.

The world building is good though and the tie-in to the Pied Piper does carry the story well. I’m sure children will enjoy it but it could have been made so much more memorable.

Rating out of 5: ♦♦♦

Suggested age: 7-12 years

Book Review – Mold and the Poison Plot by Lorraine Gregory

Okay, I’ll put my hands up! Lorraine is a fellow writer who has come through the same academy that I’m currently working with (Golden Egg) so I might be a little bit eager to say nice things about this book BUT, Lorraine has made that easy with a heart-warming tale of triumph and courage after a rotten start in life.


Mold is a ‘sniffler’ but he doesn’t know it yet. All he knows is that he has a big nose and that he’s different. No one else looks like him. This is how the story begins: –

“When I was a wee babe no bigger an a marrow, Mam put me in the dustbin an left me out fer the binmen. But the binmen didn’t want me neither.”

Now, how can you not root for him right from the start after those opening words!

This fabulous, unique voice flows through the whole story as Mold faces danger to save Aggy, his stepmother who has brought him up and is partial to gin. It’s a fantasy setting so it’s bow and arrow time with swords aplenty as Mold makes his way to the castle where Aggy rots slowly in the dungeon where she’s been put on suspicion of trying to poison the King. Will Mold uncover the true culprit in time to save her? And what of the Boggers? What part do these semi-mythical creatures have to play in events? And what is a ‘sniffler’ anyway?

With battles, unlikely (and very smelly!) friends, sewer travel and intrigue, Mold embarks of a journey of discovery. And, in saving those he loves, he might just end up finding out a bit more about himself along the way.

This is a fabulous ‘feel good’ story ideal for boys and girls from 7-12 years old. Highly recommended.

Rating out of 5: ♦♦♦♦♦

Suggested age: Boys & Girls 7-12 years

Book Review – Creating Character Arcs, KM Weiland


Okay, this isn’t the first time I have given KM Weiland a ‘shout-out’ but she’s definitely due another from me. Her website is simply awesome. It’s a repository of invaluable advice, tips, lists and guides to help writers get where they want to go. Want to know what elements should be present in your first chapter? Want to know the ins and outs of story structure? It’s all there. There’s movie and book reviews looking at the scaffolding inside that really help open your eyes to the previously invisible structure inside every successful story.


While in a second draft of my current work-in-progress, a middle-grade fantasy, Dragonspire, I knew that the middle of the story was too long and needed trimming and that my protagonist seemed to me to have too many motivators, I needed to nail one or two down and focus on those to help refine the theme. But, it’s one thing to know that something not working, it’s quite another to know how to fix it.

Enter ‘Creating Character Arcs’ and the accompanying Workbook.

I actually listened to the book on audio (I love my Audible subscription!) and grabbed the workbook to go with it.

For anyone reading this who knows nothing about story structure and what KM Weiland is all about, in a nutshell, she (like many others you can read) helps to reveal the structure that exists within all good stories. Stories don’t just work by accident. They work because their structure produces a satisfying and logical story that tracks the highs and lows of the protagonists journey.

The inciting event, first plot point, central reversal, second plot point and the climax are but the main tents poles holding up your story. Your protagonists character arc will track these same points, twisting and turning within the plot structure you have created to give your protagonist the hardest time possible in order to generate the biggest pay-off possible at the explosive conclusion.

Following the audio, I was able to track what was happening in my current draft (in terms of my protagonists arc) against the structure that KM Weiland discusses in the book. At various stages, the book poses questions relevant to specific stages of your character’s journey. In answering those questions, I could see where my story was working (where I had answers to the questions and those answers appeared to be solid) and where it wasn’t (where I had no answers or my answers gave me the wrong outcome).  This process exposed flaws in the structure or my story and not only highlighted what was wrong but gave me an idea of what direction I needed to be heading.

Without this book I have no doubt that my current draft would have floundered about like a desperate fish until someone with a hefty club put me out of my misery! Sometimes, as a writer,  you feel that at every stage of a story, your protagonist could race off in any one of a million directions, or at least it seems that way.  This book helped me focus my thoughts on the key questions I needed to be asking myself about my protagonists journey and enabled me to see that, in fact, there wasn’t a million different directions, there was only a few to choose from and sometimes there was no choice at all, the path was clear. So many times as I listened in the car I would shout, “Yes! That’s what he needs to do!” – meaning my protagonist – and I couldn’t wait to get to a keyboard and back onto Scrivener (which is also awesome BTW – more on that another time) to make the necessary changes to make my story better. As a writer, you cannot ask for a more powerful tool than that.

Anyway, BUY THIS BOOK! It is an essential tome for any writers ‘How to…” shelf. I will definitely be using the Workbook when I next come to plan a story from scratch.


2018 – what’s the plan?!

Another year lies ahead and I’m really looking forward to it.


2017 saw me spending time with the Golden Egg Academy. I completed their ‘Foundation Year’ which is an amazing course. (See my other posts on the GEA for more detail). Suffice to say, I feel I have benefitted massively from the tutelage of the fab Emma Greenwood (my editor) and the first draft of my work-in-progress (a middle grade dragon fantasy) is much the better for it.

Having self-published two middle grade books already, I had been through the process of getting a book finished and editing it, etc. Just finishing a book is a huge achievement but it was one that I knew I could overcome. What I needed was to better understand how to structure a story and start to perfect the various techniques involved in knowing how to improve it and make it better in the planning and editing stages. The Foundation Year has ticked all these boxes for me and has exceeded my expectations. It has propelled me forward far better equipped now to write and edit a story into a compelling shape and style.

Of course, there’s still a huge amount to learn (from others and my own efforts and practice) but I now feel like I have all the necessary tools in my writing kit, I just need to practice them and deploy them in a way that others will enjoy (which is easier said than done!). But, I have the tools, and that’s an enormous leap forward from where I was this time last year. Back then, I had a few bad habits (hopefully now gone) and I had a few good ones too – gut reactions as to how a story should be along with a rudimentary understanding of story structure. The difference now is that I have a better understanding of why some of my techniques and approaches worked. I understand story structure far better and no longer have to rely on my gut!

As a plotter (not a pantser), this is the way I like to be.

So, tools in hand, I march into 2018 in the hope that I will be in possession of a pretty decent middle grade dragon fantasy by the end of it; one that might be ready for submission to SCBWI’s ‘Undiscovered Voices’ competition and more.

That’s my goal and I will be spending another year with the GEA on their ‘Work on your novel year’. Seriously… I can’t wait.

All I have to do now is find the time that my book needs from me!

Um… yeah…

Reality check!


So, I attend my third (and last – boohoo!) all-day session of The Golden Egg Foundation Year on 30th September and, once again, it was amazing.

We studied how to improve our work by injecting sensory detail and inner thoughts of our protagonists into our prose. We got closer (in third person) with free indirect speech, exposing the attitudes, prejudices and word choices of our protagonists. We learned how these techniques help bring a story to life. Some of this, I’m sure, all writers do naturally – allowing our characters to rant in their own voices, describing smell, texture, etc – from time-to-time, but adding it to most pages (and, heaven forbid, most paragraphs!) starts to make you realise that crafting a truly immersive story, one that sings and doesn’t just hum a ditty, takes time. A lot of time.

That’s where the reality check comes in…


The award-winning book, The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave took… wait for it… two years to re-write and perfect following a first draft being pick-up by Chicken House Publishing. Full time. The vast majority of aspiring writers have day jobs that keep them afloat. Two years full time may well equate to five or more part-time years of late nights, early mornings and long lunch breaks in order to devote the time needed to craft a tale of similar quality.

Then again, perhaps we are all naturals who can conjure-up a classic without putting in the sweat and the tears and the dreaming time. Yeah, right! Seriously, that’s not going to happen.

It’s pretty sobering to think that my current project (Dragonspire) could take another 2-3 years to tug, prod and cajole into a decent enough shape to pitch, but it’s better to be realistic and to do the work to produce a good story, maybe a great story rather than to settle for an OK or mediocre one. Isn’t it?

I hope so because that’s my plan. Any child who, one day, might read one of our stories, deserves nothing less than the best that we can produce.

Sit your a** down and write!

So goes the writing advice of the amazing, Pat Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind/Wise Man’s Fear) and it’s so true. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s the best writing advice you can ever get!


Currently, in a desire to get my first draft finished by September (which is a tad ambitious!), I am getting up at 5 am three days a week to grab an extra hour or so writing time.

Does it help?

Yes, is does. Okay, today I only managed to re-read what I did last time I sat down to write, tinker with that a bit and add another 250 (approx.) words but that’s still another 750 per week, 3,000 per month which, on top of my normal writing time (at more sensible times of the day!) gives me a better chance of hitting target than not bothering with the early morning push.

Once you get used to it, it’s not all that bad. The alarm goes off and you think, ‘Yes! What can I add this morning?’ and off you go. I also find that it gets my mind working first thing on my story which helps me keep it in mind all day. Thinking time is crucial to allow your mind to consider what’s coming next and to get ready for the next session. I’m a planner but I don’t do detailed scene outlies other than knowing what I need to happen. I don’t know exactly ‘how’ it will happen. So, I spend time thinking about that and then let myself loose when I get time at the keyboard.

Give it a try. If nothing else, it’s quiet.

Perfect Podcasts

I’ve recommended my favourite podcasts to my fellow writing buddies and thought it was about time to posted about it here.

My favourites are ‘Writing Excuses’ ( and ‘Helping Writers become Authors’ by K.M Weiland (



Both are weekly podcasts about writing. Writing Excuses is hosted by fantasy authors, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells. Though it has a fantasy leaning, the topics each week look at issues that touch upon writing in any genre. Some examples of they give of certain aspects of writing are mainly fantasy stories but, otherwise, it’s useful for all aspiring writers.

K.M Weiland started out self-publishing before she got traditionally published. She writes fantasy novels and books on how to structure and outline your novel.

Both are amazingly useful in touching upon topics that get to the heart of the nitty-gritty of putting words on page, editing, revising, structure, starts and endings, characters, conflict, etc, etc.

K.M Weiland is definitely in the ‘plotter’ camp in that she outlines extensively and advocates her approach to writing. I’m firmly in her plotting camp and, not surprisingly, find her mind and approach to writing very much in tune with my own. The guys at Writing Excuses vary on the plotter-pantser scale. They also have guests on each week that vary in genre. There’s is more of discussion, you get multiple points of view on the topic of the week which is fab.

The benefit to me of these podcasts is that I can listen in the car to and from work and soak-up the ideas, tips and advice. Sometimes, it’s just nice to hear that published authors struggle with the same things as I do. Knowing whether or not a happy or sad ending is the right ending; diagnosing the flaws in scenes that appear to lack power, etc They help to flesh out the writing world for me and help me to think through issues that are troubling me now or have troubled me in the past.

Both series are 15-20 minutes long and are incredibly valuable.

If you’ve never tried listening to podcasts to help your writing, give it a try. What reason can there be not to?

So, you’re out of excuses… get listening!

Golden Egg Foundation Year – so far, so great!

The Golden Egg Academy is led by Imogen Cooper, former Head of Fiction for Chicken House Publishing. They have a close relationship with Barry Cunningham (famously, the finder of J.K. Rowling) at Chicken House with whom they have a ‘first look’ agreement.


In my post of 19th Dec 2016, I expressed my delight at being accepted on the inaugural Golden Egg Foundation Year which began in January 2017. I am now in my second term and loving every minute of it!

The Foundation Year was added to precede the Academy programme. It’s designed to help writers finish manuscripts they’ve started or re-draft and improve manuscripts they have already finished. It teaches the nuts-n-bolts of the craft. Academy students all have completed manuscripts that they are perfecting and learning to pitch to agents and publishers. My hope (and, I am sure, the hope of my fellow students) is to finish my work-in-progress before the end of the third term so that I can get a full appraisal of my story and, hopefully, be accepted into the Academy next year.

In the first term we looked closely at identifying the central spine and theme of a story while looking at the current market and what publishers are interested in. This helped everyone take a good look at their work in progress and to consider critically if the spine of their story and theme were clear enough. We all beavered away progressing our stories, re-writing and reporting to each other at the weekly Facebook group meetings. Everyone chats about how they are getting on and we encourage and help one another in our own private Facebook motivation group. Trust me, it’s a REALLY nice place to be! A 1-2-1 with my fab editor, Emma Greenwood at the end of the term really helped me think about my story and how to make it better. Not only did I cut flab from the start of the story to get it moving more quickly, I also re-wrote the first 14,000 words to switch it from first person to third!

Now, in term two, we are looking much more closely at mapping our stories and using the ‘Golden Egg Story Foundation Sheet,’ a mapping tool similar to the well known Blake Snyder ‘beat sheet’. It helps us writers to consider more deeply how our story arcs move and change and the craft that goes into moulding a tale in a way that creates a fantastic ride for the reader. We’ve even been drawing graphs to help us visualise the ups and downs of how stories work! Maths has never been more fun!

I have also been working on making my prose more visceral, and thinking hard about what motivates my protagonist’s actions which, in turn, drive the plot at key points on the beat sheet. All thanks for my new-found (fledgling!) ability to see and address what’s important in a story goes to Emma at Golden Egg for whom my gratitude is boundless.

Before the course started, I had self-published two middle grade humorous adventure stories, both of which have been well received by readers and reviewers. But there’s is no doubt that the Golden Egg Foundation Course has really helped develop my appreciation of what is needed to craft a story of real quality that can draw upon primal themes. I am learning how to take my writing to the next level.

One major benefit of being in the nest is that Golden Egg have contacts and access to people who can say ‘yes!’ The Academy has a strong reputation for producing work of high quality. Anyone emerging from the nest will benefit from that reputation. In a business which is fiercely competitive, the help that the Golden Egg reputation may give an aspiring ‘egg’ is very welcome indeed. The Academy can help get you noticed.

If anyone reading this post truly wants to write for children and to, one day, see their book on a shelf in Waterstones or, better still, in the hands of a young child (rather than an Xbox controller!) then the Golden Egg Foundation Year is an amazing place to start. Unparalleled, professional guidance from people ‘in the know’ who know people.

And, what’s more, you’ll make some fab new friends who may well join you on your writing journey for many years to come.

Book Review – My sister lives on the mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Uplifting, beautiful, brilliant, funny, tender and wonderful are but a few of the words other reviewers have used to describe this book.


We experience the story through the eyes of ten year old Jamie whose elder sister (one of two twin girls) was killed by a Muslim suicide bomber when he was very young. Her death made his father turn to drink, ruined his parents marriage and made his single-parent father despise all Muslims. Told in the first person, Jamie has a very strong voice and is surprisingly nonchalant about his sister’s death to begin with. The story moves with him as he joins a new school while longing to see his estranged mother and befriending a Muslim girl in his class. As you can imagine, trouble awaits when his father finds out about his new friendship.

It touches upon a very important political and social issue currently in terms of extremism leading to prejudice against all Muslims in the minds of some. The story exposes this thought process for what it is though Jamie’s friendship with a Muslim girl which is beautifully written.

While an important and wonderfully written book, I do wonder whether it’s adults enjoying the story more than actual children reading it. Though the protagonist is a boy, I can’t honestly see by two boys (9 and 11) ever reading this. A more thoughtful and emotionally engaged girl of 9-12 might like it but I suspect it’s girls of an older age, say 12-15 (more in the YA range) who might actually read and engage with it properly. My daughter was in that age range when she read and enjoyed it. It’s definitely an upper middle grade novel.

Rating out of 5: ♦♦♦♦

Suggested age: Girls 12+