Tuesday 20 June 2017


Liking these guys' style:

For Tunglið, how you publish is as important as what you publish. Named after the Icelandic word for the moon, the tiny publisher prints its books in batches of 69 on the night of a full moon. So far, so weird. But keen readers must also buy their books that same night, as the publisher burns all unsold copies.

Monday 19 June 2017


Aw, that's nice. Wolfish was longlisted for the Leapfrog Press award 2017. Always nice to get a mention. The longlist consisted of 31 works chosen from 410.

Friday 16 June 2017

Character Perspective

Teaching again tonight, so thought I'd share another little introductory unit on the importance of character perspective when starting your story. I've covered a bit about 1st person v. 3rd person before, but this gives you a bit more info, and there's a quick test at the end.

As with The History of Creative Writing, it's a narrated PowerPoint, so if you're using Mac, you may need Flip4Mac for the audio to play.

Thursday 15 June 2017


And for my next trick...

Just finished my 5,000 for the day. Submitted Red & White (Snow White & Rose Red) to Ghostwoods last night, now cracking on with (Donkey)Skin / Peau d'Âne. Sort of a forerunner of Cinderella, but with more incest and dead animals. Urm... it's not as bad as that sounds.

Feeling cheerful. My writing's been a bit hit and miss this year due to other projects, so it's nice to know I'll have achieved something solid. The three stories together should make a decent-sized collection, and three stand alone stories with interweaving themes for those reading closely.

Unfortunately, it has given me pause for thought over the other novel I was writing, Still Life. I still think it's a good idea, and it's half written already, but I've stumbled upon something else which looks like an even better idea.

Keeping it under my hat for now. I'll see how I feel once Skin is submitted.

It's been interesting writing multiple stories these past few months, but I think one book at a time might be the way to go. It's nice to have another story to write when you're getting annoyed with the one you're looking at, but if you get annoyed with both, that's twice as much reason to goof off.

On with the donkey story!

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Tartaria Tablets

Huh. Just after we crack the meaning of the Voynich Manuscript, a new mystery. Writing may be a few thousand years older than first thought: 

Scientists argue that the Tartaria tablets are evidence of a writing system that predates the one in Ancient Sumer by at least some 2,000 years. They have dubbed it as the Old European Scrip or the Danube Script.

The so-called Tartaria Tablets are three artifacts recovered in 1961 from a Neolithic site in Tartaria, Romania. Since their discovery, the three enigmatic tablets have created confusion and excitement among archaeologists.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

I Dream of Kitty

Traumatic couple of days. One of my three kittens (technically now cats), failed to turn up for breakfast. Occasionally one is a few minutes late, but nothing keeps these guys away from food. More unusual, it was Sophie, who is a complete cuddle lump of a house bunny.

Naturally, I feared the worst. I printed missing posters and canvased the neighbours. I scoured the ditches and bushes along the road. I put up a flyer in the local café.

Before bed last night, I poured myself the ultimate comfort drink. African Tea is basically hot milk with spices. Sometimes people show it a teabag, but so swiftly it's hard to tell. Before bed, I make it like so:

  • Cup of milk
  • Dash of cardamom
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Heaped teaspoon of honey

Stir over heat until warm.

You can add ginger, but I don't before bedtime.

Anyway, I've noticed over the years that this drink is guaranteed to get me a good night's sleep, but also bestows crazy dreams. I used to dream a lot. Multi-colour surround sound. Now, not so much. But add a dash of nutmeg and I'm trippy till the sun comes up.

I had this really powerful dream that all three kittens were with me and I was giving Sophie an extra big cuddle.

When I woke, I assumed it was 'goodbye.'

Opened the back door and all three kittens tumbled in!

I'm currently typing this in my room, where Sophie has been allowed special bedroom privileges (usually reserved for rainy days). She's crawled under my quilt and is fast asleep. The other two are out, but she's staying home tonight with plenty of food and a comfortable couch. The poor love turned up with her eye swollen half shut, her head shaking, a squeak of pain and a flat nose. I'm completely mystified what happened to her. Will get the vet to come check her over. Just extremely glad to have her home.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Coming Up Roses


Just finished Red & White, first draft. Came in just shy of 29,000. That's quite a bit shorter than I was expecting. Maybe I can add a bit in the edit, but as it's one of three and the first is around 50,000 that's okay. Each of the stories stands alone, but there's a running theme throughout.

Will edit this week and see what Ghostwoods says.

I used to love editing, but I'm looking forward to starting the next one more than editing this one. I was listening to Tea & Jeopardy the other day. Emma was interviewing Robin Hobb, who talked about the stories you have yet to tell always being more interesting than the one you're working on. I can relate to that. The next idea is always sparkly, whilst the current one reminds you of the inadequacies of language in manifesting that brilliance. 

Still, it's always better to have more ideas than not enough of them.


Friday 9 June 2017


Watched a lovely sunrise over Kigali this morning as the election results for the UK rolled in. We're an hour ahead here. I made it to 7 a.m. and woke feeling very content. I'm a big Jeremy fan and it's wonderful to see the Labour gains. As one commentator pointed out, many of the Labour MPs who were strongly critical of Corbyn, tonight owe their seats to him. Very proud of all the young people of the UK who turned out to vote. They really did make a huge difference. Whatever happens now it's deeply satisfying to see a strong, hopefully more united, opposition. Politics worth waking up for.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Roses at 20k

Brigette Barrager

2/3 at 20k = 50/50²

Little bit of author algebra.

Novella two of three is at 20,000, which is halfway through the book and halfway through the overall project.

Long story short, the re-adulting of Riding Hood got a nod of approval from Ghostwoods and a request for a second darkling tale. So, I decided to makeover Snow White and Rose Red, but couldn't resist the idea of a trilogy, as the first is at around 50k, but the Roses are only likely to make it to around 40k. So, I've picked Donkeyskin (Peau d'Âne) as the final addition, and the one yet to begin.

The potential here is to release each as an e-book, culminating in a paperback compilation at the end.

It's just an idea at the moment, but a nice one.

The thing is, I haven't done any writing for weeks. I've been so wrapped up in other things, mostly getting my piano project off the ground. 

I finally got back to it yesterday and I'm making up for lost time.

I've put Still Life on hold and committed myself entirely to these three fairytales. In two days I've written 10,000 words. Could never have done that with something that required research. It's such a freeflow - a lot of fun to write.

The working titles are Wolfish, Red & White and Skin. So, if you hear me mentioning those, you'll know what they are.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Split Worlds Concludes

Huge shout out to the lovely Emma Newman who provided the narration for Those Rosy Hours audiobook and runs the wonderfully authory podcast Tea & Jeopardy. Emma writes a series called Split Worlds and the final instalment, All Good Things, was released yesterday. You can find out all about it here.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Treasure Island

I've just returned from a pirate adventure.

I've spoken before about how I tend to do things topsy-turvey and read books after watching films. Like the film tells you whether you like the story, then the book lets you in on all the hidden secrets of what really happened.

Well, this time it was TV. I've been an avid follower of Black Sails. Though I must admit, I found the final run hard to finish. It had the air of a series that knew it'd been cancelled but wanted to make a poignant point about freedom, the will of mankind, the threat of civilisation - all that.

I was a bit annoyed as it took me the first two series to decide that it was brilliant, then one excellent series, then a soggy farewell.

Still, I knew it was a prequel to Treasure Island. I'd had a Ladybird copy on my bookshelves all my childhood but never opened it. Thought now was the time.

Black Sails married together fictional characters from Treasure Island alongside real pirates throughout history, such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, (exceedingly briefly) Mary/Mark Read, Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But the main story revolves around the relationship between Captain Flint and Long John Silver. In Treasure Island, Silver names his parrot Flint after a supposedly notorious dead pirate who everyone else was terrified of, except Silver.

I enjoyed Black Sails for what it was, but there were definitely some departures from the book, in which Israel Hands had originally been a gunner for Flint, Silver's leg was amputated above the knee (possibly theatrically quite hard to imitate), and both Long John and Billy Bones of Treasure Island appear much rougher and altogether seaward than the characters in Black Sails. Which isn't to say Black Sails wasn't good, but if you're a fan of Treasure Island, you might be scratching your head over the casting.

It was nice to know that Silver and Madi remained together, though she wasn't mentioned by name in the book.

I really enjoyed the story. I can definitely see how Long John Silver became such an iconic figure in literary history, and the strong influence the book had on every pirate story written since, with the 'shiver my timbers,' 'pieces of eight,' 'Huzah!', its parrots, black spots and buried treasure.

Apart from a slightly drawn-out voyage in a coracle, it was swashbuckling adventure from beginning to end, with a few plot twists I didn't see coming.

There were some nice lines, including wicked, old, wild sea-songs, eyes gleaming like a crumb of glass, cleansing a blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass, a mast of goodish bigness, and a little cloud of pirates leaping from the woods.

In between Silver's catchphrase of telling everyone they could 'lay to that,' I also learnt that English gypsies carried around little goatskin tents, and that when you felt blue, you 'fell in the blues.' Oh, and perhaps the cutest word of all, a canikin (small can). 

The language is of its time, written by Robert Louis Stevenson (as Captain George North) from 1881-1882 about the mid-1700s, but the adventure remains fresh.

Monday 5 June 2017

Healing Words

Fascinating article on the physical healing and immune-boosting properties of expressive writing: The Puzzling Way That Writing Heals The Body.

Kavita Vedhara from the University of Nottingham and her team in New Zealand took 120 healthy volunteers, and made them write about either a distressing event or how they spent the previous day. They did this either before or after a punch biopsy on their upper arm. The people from the expressive writing group were six times more likely to have a wound that had healed within 10 days than the people in the control group.

You might also be interested in the way fiction bends our brains and that readers live longer.

Sunday 4 June 2017

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Finished! I have been reading this book for a really long time. I picked it up at Kinyarwanda class last November. The chapters in all but one section are extremely short, only a few pages, so I've been reading a couple each night in between other stories.

One thing's for sure - it's anything but brief.

Almost 700 pages.

I have mixed feelings. Marlon James's writing is pure poetry. His use of language is an absolute delight, although this does make for tough going at times and, over multiple characters, it makes it hard to keep track of who's who. Although, the main characters: Alex, Nina, Papa-Lo, Josey Wales and Weeper are fairly easy to tell apart, which is a testament to James's characterisation. But there are a lot of small parts that jump in and out and don't always seem to tie in. There's a long list of characters at the beginning of the book, like the cast for a stage production. 

I fell into the start of the book. There's something really dark and enticing about the play between life and death, and the opening scene is a ghost, Sir Arthur George Jennings, explaining how the dead watch those who killed them. 

I really enjoyed the beginning, but by the end I was looking forward to the last page. As strongly character-driven as it was, each chapter a portrait of a person, there didn't seem to be much plot. Perhaps because all I'd heard about it was 'it's about the shooting of Bob Marley,' and maybe I was expecting a bit more of a whodunnit. Instead, the book goes heavily into the drug wars and gangland of Jamaica, which spills onto US soil. 

Several reviewers have apparently likened James's writing to 'Tarantino on paper,' and I think that's an accurate description. My own imagination walked past Proposition Joe's on a Baltimore corner, and Eubie became indistinguishable from Brother Mouzone in my mind. Perhaps a little taller. 

It really fits the genre, but the thick mash up of history and fiction made me feel an outsider throughout. Not being Jamaican, American or old enough, this part of history isn't on my cultural radar, and because all the main characters, and even the locations in Jamaica, have been given fictional names, I gave up Googling for answers. Alongside the four pages of character names, I would have appreciated a brief overview of the historical context. I started to drift because of that sense of disconnect, but I kept reading because of the language, and because I find it extremely difficult to put a book down once I've started it. There have been a few occasions, but it's rare.

There are screenshots in my head where the descriptive was so vividly painted that it was perfect. Josey in his cell, pacing. The bullet dance on the bridge. The Rasta execution. Papa-Lo's premonition. The crack house massacre. So real you could taste it. But quite a bit in between that felt like filler.

This Guardian review sort of sums it up: a bit stop-start.

Based on that, I think I'll take a look at John Crow’s Devil. 'Darkness and gore' does it for me, and I particularly liked the supernatural elements to this book. 

...if you kill me now right here I'll look you in the eye and stain myself in you head for as long as you live. I swear I'd haunt you like a motherfucker so hard that an exorcist would look at you and say goddamn, my son, there's really no help for you. 

I think my favourite line was probably:

I kick him like thunder and he jump like lightning.

And the juicy scent of:

...the kitchen was all bacon smell, crackle and pop. 

I also learnt the fun fact that (excuse spelling) rasscloth, bombocloth and bloodcloth are all insults apparently meaning sanitary pad.

An epic that makes you feel you've earned an ending. 

Saturday 3 June 2017


Some fabulous pictures of rockers in Botswana. I bring this up because last month saw Rwanda's first ever rock night in Kigali. Another one's been announced for next Friday, which is perfect as it's after I finish teaching fiction, and a few of my writers want to go. A chance to throw myself about like a lunatic and hang out with a bunch of people who sometimes look a bit scary, but are the friendliest mob you'll ever meet. Most of all, a chance to play dress-up. \m/