scribbler extraordinaire

The Lady of Rivers Review

It’s like the Game of Thrones series, with royalty, pageantry and everybody dies – or, to be more precise, we know everyone will die, because this is historical fiction.


The Lady of Rivers by Philippa Gregory is the first episode in a series of novels about the women in the Royal court during the Cousins War (now known as the War of the Roses.) In this book we cover the early adulthood of Jacquetta Woodville, the mother of Elizabeth Rivers who will later marry Henry of Lancaster and become Queen of England. Their marriage was a secret, and split the fragile peace that Henry and Richard Neville (Earl of Warwick and the Kingmaker) had fought to create.

It seems I have learnt quite a lot from reading Philippa’s books. No? I’m not sure if it’s Gregory’s writing which has brought the medieval times alive for me, or the TV series The White Queen based on her books. I’ve watched it numerous times. Either way, having watched the series first, it does help me put faces to names, and there are so very many names to remember.


While watching the series, I really enjoyed the character of Jacquetta. Gregory has written her as an infinately wise person, loving and fiercely loyal to family and friends, even when the two divide her. I never thought I’d say this, but Jacquetta is almost to good. She marries for love, despite her choice being many classes lower than herself. It’s a fairytale, but that part of her life is also true. I doubt that she never had an angry moment, or spoke poorly at an inopportune moment, or actually did go looking for her husband in the battle-ravaged streets of London.

I feel she’s been written too kindly. She had more children than she had fingers on her hands. How was she healthy? Or happy – when she was constantly pulled away from her life to be at the side of her Queen? Gregory gave me details of her clothing, an idea of her life, but the personality she gave Jacquetta made the character feel colourless. It is clear from what she does that she was fierce and passionate – but this was left out of her dialogue and her actions, the ones Philippa ‘wrote in’ at the moments when there are few facts, only results and actions to be decided.

Margaret of Anjou – now there’s a character! She’s much more three dimensional. She’s ambitious, cruel and grief stricken for the way her life is going. Philippa wrote Margaret  with real fire. It’s a shame she’s not the main character in this book, but I believe there’s a book focusing on her later in the series.

The Writing

I feel her books are good for evoking these women’s stories, but I cannot fall in love with these books entirely. Gregory’s writing style is very simple. For me, she is a historian first, and a writer second.

I’d recommend this series to viewers of The White Queen who want to delve deeper into the story, without other historians’ conflicting opinions about the times. For more academic reading, I’d have to suggest going elsewhere – these are books of fiction after all.

It’s been a while

Hello all,

How are you? Long time no see – my fault I’m afraid. To my dismay I haven’t felt much of a writing bug for a while, but have been feeling an itch growing lately. I do hope this is a positive sign. It was National Poetry day last week, and I wanted to share one of my favourite poems ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ by Keates. It might seem like an odd choice for a 22-year old, but there’s something about its sadness, the fantasy and the structure I find pleasing. I discovered it during my university course, and it reminds me of the good times spent on the Jubilee Campus.

I have more news. No longer will I be living and working out in the sticks of Nottingham. As of yesterday, I no longer work at True Story Design Ltd as a ‘Quality Assurance Assistant’, but will be beginning shortly at BYG Systems as a Scriptwriter, writing copy for their educational software. There’s elements of research and copywriting which appeal to me, and I have always wanted to be a writer. The wonderful staff at True Story have been very welcoming, and the year I spent with them has been a good one. Now it’s time to start a new chapter in my life, returning to the streets of Beeston, which I considered my home for two years during my degree.

I have a lot of writerly plans, such as a possible column about my copywriting experiences with NWS, and a publishing idea I’d like to see take flight. Right now a lot of my thoughts are spent on moving and getting better (as I seem to have poisoned myself last week, and am still recovering.) I would also like to partake in NaNoWriMo, as I haven’t ‘won’ since my first attempt at secondary school. Shocking.

Without further ado, La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful – a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said –
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep
And there I dreamed – Ah! woe betide! –
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried – ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Nottingham Festival of Words Blog Hop

What’s your connection with Nottingham and its written and spoken words?

Nottingham became my home for three years, during my university degree ‘Creative and Professional Writing’. I didn’t get to see much of Nottingham, or its beautiful park campus on the day of my interview. I made up for that in September, and the red brick town building, the water-sculpture in the Victoria centre (which has since disappeared, where to, I do not know) and the bookshops. Now I live and work in Nottingham, but I spent most of my three years looking for creative opportunities.

I don’t mean for this blog to become a list or rant, but I have realised that I have met a great many people furthering creative interests in Nottingham, and with this opportunity, I’d like to thank and celebrate them. So, in no particular order:


Mouthy Poets

The brain-child of Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson, this is a spoken word poetry group I have been to twice and now follow their progress. They’re loud and they get results. Many of their members have now published poetry, and they are a jewel in the busy theaters, cafes and performance spaces.

Pewter Rose Press

Anne and her husband run a publishing company, which I was lucky enough to intern with for a short time in addition to my studies. Together, we edited, produced covers and typeset books. I’ve also been to Lowdam festival and enjoyed participating in a book reading.

Angry Robot

Another internship, with the Sci-fi and Fantasy centre of Nottingham’s publishers. I learnt a lot in the days I spent with them, writing blogs, posting books across the word and seeing what it’s really like to work in-house at a book publisher’s. I don’t want to scare anyone, but ‘I’ll be back’.

Left Lion

I have had the privilege of writing for Left Lion, a free culture magazine. Distributed in many coffee/book shops, it’s a lovely excuse to get a cup of tea and enjoy an hour in contented creative reflection. With LL, I’ve done several interviews in Waterstones. How else could I have interviewed David Almond (a hero of mine), and fantasy masters Rachael Caine and Peter V. Brett? Let me know when the next author comes to town! It turns out I seem to be rather good at interviews (if I say so myself.)

Alt Fiction

Who knew that just down the road in Leicester, there is an annual alternative fiction festival? I volunteered along with Elaine Aldred a while ago, and really must attend as a participant. That year was fantastic. Readings, radio sessions, free books, panels, question times… and did I mention a whole group of Dr Who writers?

The final part of this question bleeds into the next, so here it is – What do you love about Nottingham and its creative scene right now?

I’d been encouraged to join Nottingham Writer’s Studio for a while, but my first involvement was in the design of the first Festival of Words’ brochure. Pippa Hennessy and I worked to produce a black and white program with a colour cover. I put mock stitching and lace into the design, celebrating the history of Nottingham’s artisan history.

Then somehow it was suggested that I run a class. As I was already taking a ‘Writing in the Community’ class at university and creating a workshop, I had a whole room of guinea pigs at my disposal. ‘Writing Comics’ has now been taught in Nottingham University, the Festival (held in Nottingham Trent’s town campus) and New College Nottingham.

Now I am a full member of Nottingham Writer’s Studio. I’ve offered my help with this year’s festival, and haven’t (yet) been called upon… hint hint. It’s early days, and in the mean time, I’m going to social writer’s gatherings, and experimenting with my own writing.

How would you describe Nottingham to a visitor coming to the Festival of Words?

A maze. A labyrinthine tangle of tea shops and brilliant nights out. It helps to have a guide, as I did – or to plan out your outings with the help of leaflets and Writing East Midlands’ website, which seems to capture most (but not all, there’s just so much) of what’s going on.

There will be a smiling flood of volunteers (most of which are likely to be poets and writers) who can direct you all over town to the many events. Don’t be afraid to ask. Dive in.


Edit: My hint seems to have been noticed, and I’m in conversation with some of the lovely people organising the festival about this year’s program design. But what next? Here are two nominations for the blog hop to continue- Sue Barsby on and Phil Lowe on who are both involved in Notthingham’s creative scene (in different ways.) Perhaps this is the great thing about the festival of words, and indeed, this blog hop. The creative energy in Nottingham is not only strong, but varied. It proves to me that despite my involvement with NWS, there is much more to see.

Before you press ‘Print’

How to approach a printers and what you need to know

You’d like printed, physical copies of your book, leaflet, postcard or wedding invites… and you know you need to find a printer. But where do you start?

Who are you going to use?

I’d suggest searching for printers in your area. The closer they are to you, the quicker you’ll receive the product and the smaller the postage fee (hopefully.) A small local printer may offer to cast a glance over your work before pressing print. It’s an extra pair of eyes looking out for spelling and grammatical errors – it’s worth it.

Quote me

The next question is ‘how much is this going to cost me?’ and to work this out you need to tell the printers exactly what you want. Quotes are usually free and will be emailed to you. So shop around. Read it through, make sure it’s exactly what you want.

  • What size do you want? Double sided? How many pages? It’s not enough to say ‘A4’, ‘Postcard’ or even ‘standard business card size’ because in the UK, some printers use ‘international’ sizes, ‘UK’ sizes, or ‘American’ standard. Work out what you want to the millimetre, and it will save you disappointment later.
  • Do you want proofs? Proofs are a draft version of your project, made before saying ‘okay’ to 300 copies… and realising there’s a mistake. As this will be a one-off job, you will be charged for proofs. Looking at your project on paper rather than on a screen, feeling the weight of it – this is often an invaluable experience.
  • You will need to give the printers up-to-date contact details, often your phone number and an email address. They may also ask for an organisation name, in case you decide to continue using them. They’ll know they’ve worked for you before.
  • How many do you want? The more you order, the cheaper they will be per copy. For example 200 flyers might cost £150, but 400 may only be £200. In order to make the most out of their paper, printers sometimes only print in certain batches. For example, ‘We only print 40, 80, 100, 150 postcards.’ So if you wanted 85, you’ll need to decide between 80 (and deal with having 5 less) or 100 (and having 15 spare.)
  • What kind of paper do you want? Gloss? Matte? 150 gsm? ‘Gsm’ (grams per square metre) is a measurment of how thick the paper is. A ‘normal’ sheet of A4 printer paper is about 90gsm, card is 350gsm. You may also be offered a choice of recycled paper. Remember to ask what colour the recycled paper is. Cream? Brown? Textured? This will affect your design, especially the appearance of ‘white’ areas.
  • How many colours does your design have? Is it black and white? Full colour? One colour? Full colour involves a design with all of the four colours ‘CMYK’ (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key) or three colour ‘RGB’ (Red, Green and Blue) more than one colour, whereas ‘one colour/monochrome’ is similar to black and white, except that you may be using a series of reds, and ‘blank’ areas which are white. In some cases, your printing may be a little cheaper.
    • Make sure your images have a high pixel resolution known as ‘high res’. It is essential that your images have a high PPI (nothing to do with insurance, but pixels per inch.) It’s generally accepted that images of 300 ppi will print well, but below that, they may be pixelated when printed… ending up looking like this:

      You can see the tiny image of Shakespeare? That is because it is smaller. Images with less than 300 PPI may be okay to use, because they are small.

    • You’ll need to have a deadline in mind, at least two months early (in case they’re busy.) Projects will be booked in advance, even if the document to be printed isn’t finished yet. Book your spot and don’t take ‘It’s okay, June is a quiet month’ as an answer. Make sure you have a ‘print date’.
    • Do you have a design, or only the words you want to become a book/flyer/invitation? Ask your printer if they know any typesetters or graphic designers. Lots of printers have typesetting services, or could recommend someone.
  • Special effects, embossing, etc… There are hundreds of things you can do with printing. Each one will make your book more expensive.

A note on book binding

The two most common bindings are:

Perfect bound – The book is printed, folded and glued together at the spine. This is the cheapest option of binding, commonly known as ‘paperbacks’ as opposed to ‘Hardback’ thick cardboard covered books.

For perfect bound books, you will need a spine allowance for the cover. How deep your spine is depends on how many pages your book has, and which thickness of paper you choose. Often, typesetters and designers will put off designing a cover until they know this measurement, as it may mean fiddling around with their designs.

Spiral bound – A series of holes is punched into the inner margin of all printed pages and threaded together with a column of wire. It is particularly useful for working textbooks, as the covered can be folded back on themselves to allow the reader to hold to book with one hand.

Ready to phone up?

Remember, don’t be nervous. Printers do this all the time, and even if your job feels unique to you, chances are they’ve printed several like it in the past week.

No question is a stupid question. Queries will affect the final product, ask anything you like to make your they are finishing your product as you wanted.

What you need from them:

  • A name and contact details. Make sure you make a note of the name of the person who picks up the phone, and any details they give you. Email address etc. They will probably send you an email with the details of the conversation, just to make sure. Ask for a direct phone number – in case of emergencies.
  • A print deadline – when the product will ‘go to print’, when you need to send them the files and how long you have to introduce amendments. You may decide you want to change spellings or details of design before your project is printed, make sure you have a final deadline.
  • Portal details. The more detailed the design, the larger the file. Printers often have an online ‘portal’ where files can be uploaded, downloaded and edited. Comments and ideas can be exchanged between you and the printer. You may be given a set of personal log in details. Write them down.
  • What do you need to supply? Most printers (I’ve not met one that doesn’t) prefer a ‘print ready pdf’. If you don’t know how to turn image files into a pdf or have software that can do this, the printer may ask for a small fee to convert your files. What makes the pdf print ready, rather than a normal pdf? The pdf format allows images and designs to be printed exactly as they are intended to be. Print ready pdfs also have a ‘bleed’ – a white border around the edge of the design which allows excess ink to ‘bleed’ onto it, which will be removed later. Some printers like a 3mm bleed, others 5mm. Best to ask them what they would prefer.

So, I’ve rung them and asked for a quote, what can I expect to turn up in my inbox? Here’s an example of a quote for a book I had printed. Names and numbers have been removed (except the prices, correct as 2013).

Dear Ms. XXXX

Revised price

Referance number:1234

Anthology XXXX – 4pp+204pp text

We thank you for your enquiry for the above and have pleasure in submitting our quotation as follows:

From pdf supplied submit soft proof.
Print 4pp cover in 4 colour process to 1 side only.
Matt laminate outer cover.
Print 204pp text in 1 colour throughout.
Fold & gather text, draw on cover and perfect bind to finished size
230 x 155 mm.
Pack to suit and deliver to 1 UK address.

Material: Cover 300gsm Condat Digital Silk
Text 100gsm Premium Smooth Offset

300 – £2,120.00

Prices do not include VAT.

Authors corrections will be charged extra. Please note our terms and conditions which are available at: ….XXX…
We hope you will find this quotation acceptable.

Yours sincerely

X Smith

I hope this article has explained this process in a way you can understand. If you still have questions, and you’d like to ask me, feel free to leave a comment in the box below, and I’ll get back to you.

Science Experiments

The Debate for our Future

Fantasy books explore the impossible. Different races, places and magic. Despite the literary worth, and my love of, such books as The Lord of the Rings, it’s science fiction I want to talk about. Sci-fi is the stage of what could be.

It is difficult to dispute that our future will be influenced (if not decided) by scientists. We don’t know what science is capable of. Its limits are only limited by our intelligence and research. There was a time when electricity was a myth. Now it is akin to a human right. Space elevators are no longer an idea, but has become a future building project. Time machines and transporters don’t seem far off, do they?

So, what is Sci-fi?

Sci-fi is not fantasy… but the line between fiction, fact and sci-fi can bend. After all, it’s possible that we just haven’t invented [insert mad computer thingamabob] yet.

Sci-fi offers a debating panel for writers and readers to discuss difficult situations or decisions.

  • What will happen when we run out of coal and oil?

  • What should we do if we do meet other life forms?

  • Without gravity, how would we grow food?

Being a similar genre to fantasy, we suspend our disbelief. I think this is why science fiction is so popular with scientists and academics. Not only because it’s about spaceships and alternative life-forms, but because they are theories, ideas. You have to put aside what your logical mind tells you ‘This is not, cannot be real’, because there is always the glimmer of hope that all this could be. And so, readers are happier to debate about the issues. The problems. The terrible things that can happen in these books without people being hurt, and go on to inform our lives.

When Utopias of the future are just a page-turn away, we dream. Often those utopias turn out to have a seedy underbelly, studded with scheming politicians – reflecting our own dissatisfaction with our representatives. Apocalypse, Dystopias and environmental wastelands are often the fallout of Global warming and how seriously our ancestors took the crisis. It’s a chance for us to consider what we are doing now.

The popularity of Sci-fi is linked to current issues

Different genres of Sci-fi rise and fall depending on what is happening to the reader. Stories set in possible futures are actually stories of today, but with added climates of conflict, different characters, with technology pushed a little further along.

This is the great difficulty with Sci-fi. Authors will find it hard to distance themselves from their present, because it is all they know. This could be dangerous for writers who live in countries where they are not free to write what they like. Sci-fi gives us an excuse for allegory, but how far can you separate yourself from your own memories and opinions?

England is blessed. We have a free press. Theoretically. Lawsuits and public opinion may restrict us… but with the new ‘market place of ideas’ that is the internet (my favourite sci-fi invention made real) countries can merge. But. Should the limits of our freedom be dictated by where we log on? Harder to police, there are plans to limit what we can access on the internet. I have no problem with the suggested search engine algorithms, but rather than stopping internet users from accessing data (which could instead be policed), I would prefer that people were re-directed to help or advice. It’s all a little 1984 for me. (You were expecting me to mention George Orwell, weren’t you? And yes, I’m going to continue.) Combining speculative fiction and horror, Orwell created ‘Govspeak’ which removes words from use, to breed out dangerous concepts and ideas from the population.

Can we breed out pedophilia from a population by removing it from the internet? What is to stop people going out and making more? Harming others? Will we be able understand and control the dark parts of ourselves without safe expression? Here is where sci-fi steps in. It can discuss difficult situations, but because it is not happening on earth, but a planet ‘far, far away’ we are able to have significant distance from it, to discuss it.

In Saga, a (very good, and I’d recommend) sci-fi comic, a freelance assassin visits a brothel planet, and is persuaded by a pimp to view a prostitute. When it turns out that this is a small girl, I was worried. What will he do? Spoiler alert. Disgusted, he tells the girl to close her eyes. He blows out the pimp’s brains. But what if he had slept with her? What if his morals were different? One of the questions I find myself asking when I read is ‘What are we capable of?’

Humans are capable of expressing emotions and using abstract concepts (such as justice) to govern their lives. They are part of society (another abstract concept.) We are taught these things, they are not innate. And stories, no matter what form, help us to express ourselves and learn.

What use is Sci-fi to me?

Are you feeling restricted? Read. Oppressed? Read. Weak? Unheroic? Read, or write, it sounds like you have a story you need to tell. And after that, talk. Acknowledge your fears and desires before we create a culture of shame. Don’t be in the dark.

Having taken a year in Political Philosophy, I cannot help but see the similarities between my coursebooks and sci-fi novels. Rights, racism, civil disobedience and violence were discussed, and the examples in my lessons were much less interesting and poorly written compared to the fiction I devoured later. Philosophy needs sci-fi. Would you stick around for this film?

‘Attack of Democracy over Dictatorship’

Politicians plot to take control in a squabble over shipping routes and taxation.

The monarchy work with a group of rebels, to bomb a trash shoot.

Sound familiar? I don’t think Star Wars could have survived all 6 parts without the added interest of the characters and their unfamiliar world.

Sci-fi means we do not have to talk about ourselves in terms of black and white, without absolutes. Even in racism. Think of Star Wars’ alien species existing together, preying on one another for resources, for political gain. Sci-fi teaches, and offers a bearable way to interest the young in politics, psychology and philosophy. Books aimed at teenage readers don’t just get people reading, they make them question their own lives. The Hunger Games is a sci-fi story of dystopia and rebellion – have you noticed that english speaking countries are dissatisfied with their governments lately? Could that possibly be a reason for its popularity?

Fiction encourages us to think, not mindlessly absorb. To ask questions, join forums. Read classics and new work. There is so much now available. You don’t have to read ‘heavy’ prose if you don’t want to. Sci-fi (or any genre really) is available for all reading strengths. Here’s a list of a few sci-fi novels I would recommend. Stretch your mind. Talk to your friends (and fellow readers) about how the characters react to situations. Question everything.

1984 by George Orwell

More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Time Machine by H G Wells

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

Wool by Hugh Howey

Paper Plates

Writing is meant to be fun. Writing is not a struggle, at least, it didn’t used to be. And I think I’ve worked out why. I’ve become a perfectionist. I want something publishable to come out on the first draft. I don’t want to re-draft, I don’t want to have to check for spelling and I don’t want to rewrite a word. Already I have corrected three spellings in this paragraph because I’m getting used to my keyboard.

Childish or innovative?

I’m not allowing myself to enjoy the creative struggle. And I’m certainly not relaxing. I’ve become guilty, telling myself I should be writing, but feeling worried about it, because I know that what I will write is not going to be great at the first try. The ironic thing? I’m not employed full-time as a proof-reader and editor. I’m a really good editor, really. No modesty needed. And I don’t want to edit my own work.

I read somewhere that there were two artists. One created fine pottery and agonized over the details. He produced very little, and found life painful. The other worked with paper plates, and created often, threw a lot away, made master pieces, had a great portfolio AND THREW A LOT AWAY. He re-learnt what we are allowed to do as children. Resources are put in front of us to use, glitter, funny scissors, card, paper and glue. We are allowed to experiment. We learn to draw.

But… as soon as we get older and use materials of a higher quality, our work is expected to be of a higher quality too. At some point my sister decided that she ‘couldn’t draw’ and over the years, I’ve helped her with several assignments. Because I’m not scared to approach a piece of paper with a crayon or a brush. So why am I worried about approaching a keyboard? When words are free? When I don’t even have to use up paper.

I need to set the words free. And it feels good to get this out, even onto my computer. We writers need to be kind, especially to ourselves. Writing can be lonely, and when we see the successes of others, it is easy to be envious. Forgive your spelling mistakes, angers and little passions. This is a promise to myself. To have fun writing. To swap to another project when I need to. To be kind.

Thank you for reading.

Day 10: Nanowrimo

I am ridiculously behind on my word count, but I still expect to succeed this year’s Nanowrimo challenge. This maybe because I define success differently, but the purpose this year was to get me writing on a daily basis, to shake myself up a bit and get back to writing (even a little) every day.P1050608

I had some fantastic news today, and I’d like to share a project idea with the internet. It is called ‘Ancient Crafts for Modern Times’. It is a book (or rather, an ebook… with a possible print run.) It would be a series of interviews, articles, patterns, a brief bit of history, and ‘how to’s from bloggers, re-enacters, larpers, tailors and wardrobe Mistresses about their crafts, the materials and how we use them today. I am determined that the book would also include patterns and instructions for several craft projects.

I will need to get better at marketing, I know that, but I think the best way to learn is to ‘do’. (And read a large amount of books on the subject.) Well, the bit of news, is that one of the bloggers I have contacted is interested. This may not seem like a large step forward to some, but believe me- it is. I co-managed a student anthology, and creating a project, helping it to ‘live’ and grow in people’s hearts is all important.

I am looking for specialists in ancient crafts. I have contacted several people already. Perhaps I shouldn’t be taking on ‘another’ project, but I think that this one needs to be out in the world. I am certain of it.


Edit:  I forgot to mention, a new independant bookshop has opened in Nottingham. If you live around that area, I’d recommend it. Not only do I know the fine people running it, but I went in this weekend (as it opened its doors.) The Five Leaves bookshop has a variety of books published by small presses (including five leaves) and ‘big’ books such as Neil Gaiman’s latest work ‘Ocean at the End of the Lane’. Such a mix of fantastic books in one place, books I don’t think I could find anywhere else, not even Waterstones. The variety and quality of the books is testament to the various talents of the Five Leaves staff. Here’s their blog:

Happy reading :)


It’s that time of year again, and I’m going to attempt the impossible. Working full-time and completing NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know what it is, Nanowrimo is a writing challenge which encourages writers to produce a 50k manuscript in a month. Their website and forums have more information, and pep-talks to cheer you on ( I’m rebelling a little though (which is completely acceptable within their rules.)

My aim is simply to write the daily 1600 words. Whether this is blogs, articles, short stories, non-fiction or my long-abandoned novel (which I’ve re-planned.) I’ve been neglecting my blog, but there is so much I need to catch up on, and resources I want to share. The first being – it’s a site created to ease writer’s block. It gives you one word and a minute to write anything. At the end of the minute it lets you finish you sentence, and then you can choose to publish your writing, or not. I’m going to try to publish the paragraph every day, so that I’ll have a stack of ‘jumping off’ points for stories. I’m hoping it will add a little oil to the writing cogs in the morning.

I’d like to share a motivational image with you. 944292_10151797343164664_880630120_n Those of you who have experienced the publishing world will know just how good a rejection letter this is. First I did my homework, I found out that this publisher produces highly-illustrated non-fiction books (often on craft subjects) and that they had, in the past, published books on photography. I also found out that they were accepting unsolicited manuscripts.

then I waited for a letter, email or phone call. Eventually, this letter came. I am lucky to have had a letter at all, owing to the amount of work publishers have to do. So that’s lucky thing number one.

Two, they addressed the letter to me directly and clearly wrote this letter to be about my work. They took time to read my proposal and consider it. They know what I’m about.

Three, they offer to look at my work in the future. they clearly didn’t have a problem with my style of writing, or the depth of my proposal. So I know I can write something capable of getting an editor’s attention.

This really is the best ‘no’ I have had from a publishing house. And just to have a little more of a ‘boost’ because it’s November 1stand I have 50k ahead of me, here are some more kind words I received from an online magazine:

Emily, I do believe that I have now become a great fan of yours. Sorry for the delay in response. Although I did not choose this poem for publication, I found your voice very soothing, more specifically, I found the darkness in your poem very comforting. In another life, I bet we are close friends. I hope you submit again in a couple of months.

The first year I attempted Nanowrimo I ‘won’, I got to the end of the 50k and the end of my book. Since then I have tried and failed to do this again. I think my success was due to a highly structured day. I got up early and cleared half my word count before going to school, wrote more at break time and was often finished by lunch, which allowed me to spend time with my friends. Having social time is very important when you are a writer, as it is such a lonely profession.

Thank you for reading,

And good luck with your own Nanowrimo this year,


The Most Important

Last night I wrote a poem while weeping. The poem was about my family, and I could not tell if I was happy or sad. It is the worst poem I have ever written- technically. It is the best poem I have ever written- because I put so much of myself into it. And like tasting the first spoonful of a dessert, I want more, and I do not want it to finish when my plate is empty.

-A comment on facebook after writing.

A few days ago I wrote a poem for my Nan for her birthday. After struggling to write for a while I learnt so much. It is not the best poem I have ever written. It’s a little soppy, and won’t make sense to a lot of people, but as I wrote I could not stop crying. I wasn’t sad, nor happy. I was simply re-living moments that I value very much.

I don’t think enough about my characters and how they feel about others, I don’t give them their own memories or feelings. Most of the time they are hollow aspects of myself. Yet writing that poem I wanted to write more. We don’t notice how we affect others by spending time with them. I need to think on that.

I have also been attempting to write a poem called ‘Since Narnia’ for a long time, about leaving children’s fantasy books behind, but longing for my own adventure. I realised that it wasn’t working, because I was only listing things I remembered, but nothing to relate to, nothing affecting.

I need to write more, considering all this. I would also like to thank the writer of ‘Writing Down the Bones’ Natalie Goldberg, whose book I reach for when I want to write, but do not feel ready. Her advice, kind words of wisdom and relationship with Zen make her book THE MOST IMPORTANT reference book on my shelf. More than an any dictionary, or the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook.

I urge all writers to write about their family, about their teenage years, about what affects them. Natalie suggests writing about your first sexual experiences- which would certainly be a conversation starter- and will definately get a pen moving across a page.

Without further ago, I’d like to share my poem with you. It’s still in a rough form, but it is not meant to be for others. It is for my Nan and I. And it doesn’t matter, we’re a little rough around the edges. It’s soppy- I say that again.


A Birthday Gift


You have opened the envelope,

Smiled at the card,

Slipped your fingers between folded, crisp, white paper.

I have to tell you something.

I struggled to find a gift for you this year.

What does a woman want? What could my grandmother,

with great-grandchildren, a husband and a life-time of adventure-

Possibly want for her birthday?

I have forgone scented soaps and candles,

to give you this poem.

Something only understood by the two of us.

So please sit down, and find a box of tissues.

This page may contain a storm.

I want to give you my memories.

There is no receipt for the hours we have spent together,

No invoice for the next.


The memory of a sweet summer afternoon

on the grass of Corisande, drawing,

of running down to the gooseberry bushes

only to be stung by their bristles,

and have you kiss their prickles away.

Another, in that same sunshine, twisting twisted yarn between my fingers

Which began my skills and a passion

To create, with nothing but ideas and thread,

Gifts to make loved ones smile.

Now I call myself a writer, and my gift to you is this poem.

It doesn’t rhyme, it has no rhythm.

But it comes from where you are,

It comes from my heart.


I remember when I was afraid of the dark,

You found a night-light which made the shadows creep away,

But when my fears were too much, you did not scold me

When I crept downstairs and sat a while,

Curled up in blankets, surrounded by your conversation,

So warm, so very loved

It is my definition of home and comfort.

I always reach for a glass of fruity blackcurrant squash after a long journey,

But it’s not the drink which refreshes me.

It is your smile,

And while I write this I am crying. But I don’t know if I am happy or sad.

Forgive me for not writing this by hand,

I do not think the paper would have survived the flood.


For the many times I have climbed into your embrace,

For the times we have made each other laugh,

For the hours we have spent together, which will never be enough,

I wanted to say ‘I love you’.

Happy birthday.



A Short Story

After a little freewriting this morning, I have a story taking shape, with no idea what’s going to happen next. I welcome suggestions!


A Good Pair of Shoes Cost a Day’s Wages


Victoria Worth was not a woman prone to smiling. Her desk was a battlefield, her troops lined up with military precision, and woe betide anyone who blundered into her office and upset the ‘way things are done here’.

Unfortunately for Miss Worth, she had chosen the vocation ofteacher. While she no longer had a class to take care of, a whole school of pupils was now her responsibility. And there were many blunderers. People who strayed from the path, some who were pushed, and some who jumped off of it laughing. Miss Worth dealt with them all.

A timid knock on the door began Victoria’s day.


The door opened a fraction, ‘Miss Worth, I think you’d better see this.’

Instead of a scared, slightly ruffled student, her normally neat secretary held the door open. From behind her desk, Victoria raised her eyebrows, ‘Now? You know, I’m rather busy-‘

A crash. The windows shook. There were screams.

Victoria felt a pulse of adrenaline flow through her like a lighting bolt. She was running through the hall before she had a moment to reprimand herself for doing so, ‘Where?’

Together, school mistress and secretary marched through the halls. Students clutched one another and nursed their bruises.



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