Blue Sky Rain

Today was the third day of rain despite bright sunlight. There is something beautiful and disconcerting about rain falling from a blue sky, a single wisp of cloud loosened over head. The potential for rainbows of course. But again, disconcerting. Out of place. I watched an old lady bent and twisted by her years hobble past. Unable to hold an umbrella. She wore a mismatch of prints. A tartan skirt, patterned tights, a yellow arran jumper. I felt I should help her but didn’t know what to say. She didn’t remind me of my grandmother – my grandmother was large, swollen instead of diminished by age – but the tatty jumper, yellow wool unravelling does make me think of her. Her fingers moving the needles, wool wrapped around her little finger, keeping the tension. She never used fancy wool – too expensive – just nylon yarns that didn’t wash well, but she could make anything. She taught me when I was little but it wasn’t until recently that I started to crotchet again, my hands and fingers echoing hers, they remembered her techniques, her lessons better than I could. Her DNA recalled by more than just my blue eyes and sharp temper. The strands of being are much longer than that.

And tomorrow my next novel is published, and she isn’t here to be proud or pinch my cheek.

GoodReads Giveaway..


Getting Ready to Launch…

Next month my latest novel, So the Doves, is published, there will be press and a party and I’ve bought a new dress… all very exciting. And terrifying of course.
I just read Danuta Kean’s piece on Up-Lit in the Guardian, where she’s describing a new trend in literature that shows ‘an appetite for everyday heroism, human connection and love…’ who can blame us for wanting to be reminded that us beings are capable of empathy and kindness at a time when it seems we are rolling around political and environmental horror like spun coins.
So the Doves has it’s fair share of darkness – it’s a psychological thriller after all, about corruption, lies, the media and government – but when I was writing it, I wanted to get away from abjection, away from the helpless female victim, away from unrelenting poverty and lack of ambition. I wanted, and hope I’ve achieved, a sense of hope, hope that loyalty and friendship will win out, that sometimes the poor kid escapes and that maybe, just a tiny bit of redemption is possible, even if not totally assured or easy.

Writing Crime

Driving home from a research mission yesterday I heard Peter Robinson discuss his new novel, When the Music’s Over with Samira Ahmed on Radio 4’s Front Row. (I haven’t read the book yet) As I’m sure you know, Robinson is a very successful crime writer and clearly puts a lot of thought into his subject and characters. It was interesting to hear him speak about how writing about the issues and subject of his novels, helps him understand them differently. He also discussed how he tries to ‘develop the victim characters’ and give them a voice. This is particularly interesting to me, as in writing a ‘crime’ story I want to subvert the usual conservative function of the crime novel (you can read more on idealogical complicity in crime fiction here).

But he went on to say, that he avoids talking to people about their experiences as victims of crime, preferring to rely on media reports and his imagination. I wonder if it’s possible to give a voice to victims if he hasn’t heard their story? Is it possible for a white, older man to imagine what it’s like to a female victim of violence and sexual crime, or even to imagine how it feels to live your life with the pervasive fear of potential assault informing all your choices and actions. Maybe he can, the imagination is a powerful thing.

Ahmed mentioned the discussions about extreme violence towards women in crime TV and literature, and that she felt uncomfortable about the description of the victim in the opening scene of Robinson’s new book, she asked if he worries about adding to the ‘exploitative treatment of crime’ even when trying to deal with difficult subjects. Robinson said, ‘No, I never do worry about that because I don’t think that on the whole I do it very much….’

Perhaps he should worry, perhaps all writers should. Now I know it’s not a new argument that media and culture shapes our society, our identities and our sense of the possibilities and choices available to us. But I think it’s important to consider if crime novels and TV are reflecting society, and in writing about crimes against women, does this give a ‘voice’ to the victims and create the possibility for  empathy and understanding? Or does it confirm and perpetuate the idea that women are always victims and in danger? That we need to stay inside to be safe? (where we’re actually more at risk…)

Government statistics tell us, ‘Overall, a greater proportion of men were victims of BCS personal crime than women. While men were at increased risk of violence, women were more at risk of experiencing theft from the person and intimate violence’ (BCS 2009/10).

It’s time for change, and novels that unsettle the status quo. Let’s do it.



Thoughts on Editing…

I’m still editing my next novel, So the Doves… of course.

Editing is the writing, all writing is rewriting. Right?

And you think it would be easier than writing the first draft. Shouldn’t it? The material is already there, you aren’t having to create a new world, new characters with complexities and drives and frailties and strengths. You’re not navigating the plot or wondering how to finish.

By now you’re polishing and smoothing, getting rid of excess, honing the language, teasing out the key dynamics of the scenes… aren’t you?

Excimgres-1ept I’m not. I’m tinkering. I’m wrangling sentences till they dry and crumble. I’m beginning to hate my novel. I can’t see it clearly, and I feel lost in all the words. I’m too close. I read other authors and hold their work up as mirror against my own… and the reflection isn’t pretty. At all.

I want to give up.


Talking to other writers, my students and academics, I know I’m not alone here.

So what to do?

  • Take a break from it. Put it away, for at least a month.
  • Read, walk, walk TV, think, laugh. Live.
  • Don’t panic!
  • Share your work with trusted peers (even if you have a wonderful editor, like I have, I still like to get thoughts and constructive feedback from readers I trust and respect)
  • Print it out and read it through from start to finish. Don’t be tempted to start picking at it piecemeal.
  • Does it work as a whole? Any plot/structure problems to work on? Fix those first.
  • Read your feedback from peers/editor. Does it resonate? What will you incorporate into your edit?
  • Now open the doc, and start the edit – start on the big stuff (copy editing comes last)
  • Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s, you’ll feel miserable (or the opposite, cocky, which is worse) and it’s of no use to you now. This is your work, so it should be different.
  • Put it away again. Follow point 2. Let it rest.
  • Re-read..
  • How is it? I’m willing to bet it’s much better than you think…
  • But don’t be disheartened if you need to edit again, and again.
  • Writing is re-writing…

Onwards! Let me know how you get on…



I’m editing So the Doves, listening to next door’s dog bark and I thought I’d share some scenes with you that didn’t make the final edit and rewrites… (it’s a long process!)

First draft beginning… 

‘Quick,’ she said, her voice forcing its way through the phone, straight and as sharp as a beam of light, only heavy and gritty like wet cement. ‘Turn over to BBC1.’

My mother always spoke that way, a retired headmistress who still thought she was the only real grown-up in a world full of lunatic kids and resentful adults.

‘Hello to you too.’

‘Never mind about that, Marcus, have you done it? Can you believe it?’

I switched over, a bunch of people were sat on beige sofas talking at each other.

‘Well? Have you done it?’

‘Yes, mum, now what am I looking for?’ I stretched out my legs onto the coffee table in front of me, pushing an empty coke can out of the way.

‘Not what, but who. There, now. See who’s talking?’


There she was, a face I hadn’t seen for almost ten years. Right there, on TV, talking like the world was an open book and she knew all the words off by heart. Her name rolled across the bottom of the screen preceded by a fancy title.

‘She’s done well, hasn’t she?’

I don’t say anything, I watch her, her slow way of blinking, the slight turn of her head, the way she looks as if she is just outside of time, just beyond the world around her and is only here to observe. She smiles at a question the presenter asks, slowly, as if she’s in on a private and deeply serious joke.

‘She looks good.’

‘Doesn’t she just.’

Deleted scene

‘You never knew me at all. In fact you don’t know anyone do you? You know your problem? You see everything and everyone as flat stock characters. As types you can get the measure off and control. You’re a control freak. You want to be a journalist, but you never bother to really see someone. You project onto them.’ Melanie turned and started shoving clothes into her bag before turning back to Marcus. ‘When have you ever seen me with a bloke? When?’

‘You think you’re so clever, You think you know me, well you don’t and you’re not. You’re a jumped up tart, just like your mother. There now I’ve said it.’ He watched her expression dissolve.


Happy New Year!

Here’s a festive extract from So the Doves for you….


You walked side by side through the still unblemished snow, the only people out and about. Coloured lights flashed in the windows of the houses, and one or two had gone over board and had flashing reindeer and snowmen on their front lawns and giant plastic Santa’s balancing on their roof.

The two of you reached the main road that cut through town and led out to London just before dusk, your breath and voices hung in wisps of vapour before cooling and binding with the air. The chalk cliff – created when they cut through the old hill to build the new High Street and flyover – merged with the snow; the white, soft bones of sea creatures, not yet stone, still damp from being buried under fathoms of the heaving abundant sea and the pale temporary solid water that lay on it now.

The sky was grey and heavy with more snow; the roofs and cars were covered, giving no colourful relief from the soft whiteness. Only the two of you were out on the streets; trudging along, leaving your coupled footprints trailing behind as if the world belonged only to you. The town was placid and still. Even the pubs were shut for a few hours.

You got to Georgie’s not long after four o’clock. The lift wasn’t working – which Mel said was a blessing as it stank of piss and the lights didn’t always work – so by the time you knocked on her 5th floor door you were sweaty and red-faced despite the cold.

‘You’re here!!! Come in, come in.’ Georgie grabbed you both, pulling you close for a hug. ‘I’m so glad to see you! I’ve got presents and a tree and everything!’ You followed her down the hall after shrugging off your coats and boots, past the bathroom into her living room, where a small green plastic tree wound with red and gold tinsel and flashing white lights took pride of place by the TV. A single bed was pushed up under the large window that looked out over the town and the river behind running khaki and devious like an enemy combatant lying low. A row of patchwork cushions lined the bed converting it to a sort-of sofa. A breakfast bar separated the living area from the small kitchen area. The whole place was spotless and smelt of fresh paint and air freshener.

‘Jesus, George this place looks amazing,’ Mel said, pulling out a couple of presents and tucking them under the tree and then handing the bag to Georgie. ‘There’s some chocolates and a bottle of Bacardi from me mum in there for you.’

‘Oh bless her, say thanks for me. D’you really like it? I’m saving up to get carpet, so I’ve just got this for now,’ Georgie wrinkled a round yellow rug with her pointed foot. ‘But I painted all the walls meself, and got the bed linen and everything, and…’ She turned and walked into the kitchen area. ‘See, I’ve got a fridge and a cooker and a washing machine! The social sorted that out and me bed. All brand new an’ all.’ She put the bag on the counter and started opening the kitchen cupboards as if she were a dolly bird displaying prizes on one of those old-fashioned Saturday night TV shows. ‘A fitted kitchen too.’

‘It’s brilliant,’ Mel said and you nodded, unsure what to say.

‘I’ve even got some stools so we can sit and eat proper too.’