A writing list

A writing chum told me has made a 2018 writing list – things he intends to tackle next year… I’ve got some priorities in my head, but as for a list, well, I hadn’t thought of it… so what would be on my list should I make one?

I think it goes without saying that I will continue to write here, sharing my thoughts, ideas, memories and my writing. I must also get back seriously or seriously get back to finishing my next Radwinter novel, which has been marooned three-quarter way through since the beginning of November when I tackled the national Novel Writing challenge of completing 50,000 words in a month. So finish Thomas Radwinter’s next story provisionally entitled ‘Saltpans‘, and I have an idea for another for later on in the year probably called ‘Alone‘. On the Radwinter front, I also want to publish as paperbacks at least two of my e-books, ‘Magick’ and ‘Raddy and Syl‘, and if all goes extremely well, then also ‘Beyond Hope‘.

In January and February I must prepare for a talk and two workshops I’m giving in February; the talk is on writing about family history, as I mentioned yesterday, and the workshops are on the process of writing and blogging.

I also have my unfinished stories – ‘Gus’, ‘Dancing in the Road’, ‘And the River…’, ‘Hamazasb and the Missing Shoe‘, and a couple of other bits of writing I started. There is also the story I began this year for NaNoWriMo, about Milla. Of those, I think there’s only a couple which I might actually tackle, others are very much on the back burner, as well as some I wrote many years ago which would need a total re-write.

I have completed five NaNoWriMo challenges, every year since 2013; they have been a great way to really get to grips with a new story, but they are also a great drain on time… the idea is also quite additive, though, will I be able to resist the challenge? Or maybe should I use it to get to grips with ‘Alone’? That actually is a good idea!!

I mentioned at the start my commitment to writing here; I also share another blog with two writing friends (which is actually open to anyone to contribute to!) From that we published an anthology last year and are hoping to publish a second next year. That is more a case of pulling together already written pieces rather than creating anything new but it still involves work. On our other blog we have challenged ourselves to write about subjects from a list we discovered with seventy-three suggestions of topics. We are doing really well with it, and have had a thought that maybe they could be edited and published – in three volumes!! There would just be too many words for one book!

So that I guess is my writing list… but then of course, something new, a whole new story might bob into my mind!! Inspiration happens in the most unlikely places and with the most unexpected ideas!

So, maybe like my friend I should write a list… should it be a calendar/diary/timetable?

  1. January – finish first draft of ‘Saltpans‘, prepare for family history talk and writing workshops. Begin to edit ‘Magic’ for paperback publication
  2. February – deliver family history talk and writing workshops, work on editing ‘Saltpans‘, also continue to edit ‘Magick‘ as a paperback – this takes much longer than you might think!
  3. March – prepare and publish ‘Saltpans‘, prepare first draft of seventy-three blog anthology, book I.
  4. April – work on ‘seventy-three’ maybe start thinking about next story for me – perhaps ‘Dancing in the Road’, but maybe something new will spring into my mind! Publish ‘Magick’ as a paperback’ and start of paperback editing of ‘Raddy and Syl’.
  5. May – publish ’73’, continue work on whatever new/old thing I’m writing
  6. June – writing, writing, writing, publish ‘Raddy and Syl‘ paperback, start preparing ‘Beyond Hope’ as a paperback
  7. July – more writing, writing, writing, continue with ‘Beyond Hope‘ paperback
  8. August – as for July but publish new paperback
  9. September – complete whatever I started new in April (maybe it will have got to the editing stage by now) Begin to look at second anthology with my two writing friends, to publish November/December
  10. October  – ditto September
  11. November – new Nano challenge, but also some light editing and pulling together of the April book, publish anthology II with friends
  12. December – maybe publish new book? Maybe continue what I started as Nano?

Writing it down like this makes 2018 look a massive challenge – however, a lot of it is editing and working on old things. This year I have felt that creativity has been pushed into the corner by other stuff I’ve been doing; I really want to make sure it isn’t the same in 2018. It’s all about balance.

2017 has been a great year, and I’ll write about in the next few days, but if I have any resolution for next year, it is what I mentioned above – find balance!

Day 12… NaNo update…

I was going to preface my update by saying it’s been such a busy time in my life… well, it seems these days all the time is a busy time! 2016 was the year of throwing things away – not into the rubbish (although some things did go there) but to charity shops, given to others, recycled… I cleared the decks of much clutter and our usually untidy home had some sort of order restored.  As with many families these days, children who fled the nest have, or are in the process of, returning – so suddenly all our lovely space is being filled up with … things! We are delighted to have them home but it just takes a little organising, to cram three households of stuff in together.

On the writing front I and my fellow bloggers on our Moving Dragons blog have been putting an anthology together, which is now published and available (and we would welcome your comments and reviews on Amazon), and I have at last made my reluctant readers books available on Etsy as actual books, and on Amazon as Kindle e-readers.

As well as my blog here, the Moving Dragons blog and the National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, which I shall tell you about in a minute, I am continuing to try to finish my next Radwinter book, in time to be published spring 2018… I am also hoping to produce my second Radwinter book as a paperback.

Oh, and there’s the rest of my life, including the creative writing classes I lead, the writing groups I go to, the French class and the Saxish class I attend… oh and meeting friends, going places… the usual stuff!

So… how has NaNo been going? I’ve mentioned that I intended to write about a long-standing character in search of a story… however he has wandered off, and instead I am writing about Milla who has come to my imaginary town of Easthope. She is a woman with a mystery past, which has not yet been revealed to the reader. Over the twelve days I have been writing about her, her character is gradually developing, especially as she is coming into contact with other people – the other people who live in the house where she’s renting a room, people in a café where she’s been working part-time, other people from around the town.

She has created what amounts a set of runes, which she is ‘reading’ each day, by taking one at random and bearing it in mind as the day progresses. In order to do this I do have a made up set of images which I am randomly picking out – so in a way the writing of the story is guided by chance. I have got to a point now, where I feel as if something has to happen… there has to be some action and movement to keep the reader engaged because otherwise this will just seem like the diary of an uneventful life – and even if there is some strange secret in Milla’s past, by the time it is revealed the reader won’t be reading any more!

Another thing has struck me which I must have a good think about – if I have time to think as I pound away trying to reach my target… Milla’s character. To be sure she is mysterious, but she is gradually changing into a stock female character without an actual character – she has no personality!

So that’s my task for the next few days, to discover her character, and make sure she is interesting and different!

Here is a link to our anthology:

The Moving Dragons Write:


And to my ‘Can read, won’t read series’:





More on the black shuck and an Essex serpent

I’ve been reading ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry for my Sunday book club; as you may guess from the title it is about a mythological beast not an actual serpent as in a snake but as in a sort of monstrous wingless dragon (sometimes also confusingly called a worm, confusingly because we thing of worms as small pink eight inch things who live in the earth) There are references to other mythical creatures, including the black shuck – a dog like hound which appears in legends and modern-day sightings across the country, but has that particular name in Essex and east Anglia. We even have local stories published in the newspapers recently about our own Somerset version, seen on the hills of Banwell a village less than ten miles from here.

Here’s something I wrote a while ago:

I came across an article about travel and tourism which mentioned that an app has been developed by the Bram Stoker International Film Festival so visitors to Whitby can follow a trail which features places the Victorian author of Dracula visited which inspired him.
I used to be a great fan of the Dracula myth, and even for a time was a member of the Dracula society; I recently reread Stoker’s novel with my book club and was pleased that I still enjoyed it and thought it stood the test of time. There are many memorable scenes, of course, but one that I think of whenever I visit Whitby is when the ship The Demeter grounded on the beach and a black dog leapt off and disappeared, Dracula in disguise, of course! I didn’t realise that Stoker saw an actual ship called The Dmitri which had come ashore in a storm.

The article mentioned the word barghest, which is a mythical creature in the form of a big black dog-like animal, said to wander the streets of Whitby and York; although that word is given in Yorkshire to the apparition, ghostly black dogs appear all across Britain, and it is thought they originated way back in ancient pre-Roman times, ,maybe even pre-Celtic, who knows. A fear of big animals with sharp teeth and big claws, creeping invisibly in the darkness must resonate in our deepest folk memories.

I didn’t realise, although I come from East Anglia, that my family home ground also has legends of a black dog, the black shuck – sometimes the shuck only has one eye in the middle of his forehead, sometimes he has no head at all, but stories of his prowlings appear in Peterborough (where my grandparents lived for a while) and Littleport, (where a cousin’s family come from) in Cambridgeshire, Bungay and Blytheburgh in Suffolk, and Dereham in Norfolk.

The only time I have written about anything ghostly or spooky is in ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’, a story I wrote for disaffected young readers, those who can read but don’t want to. The beast I created was wolf-like, but walked and fought like a man… a sort of were-wolf. I don’t think the barghest or the black shuck have a were-nature, they seem to foretell doom and death, but the idea of a huge canine-type creature appears in myths across these islands, and in many other countries too.

wolves on the campus 3I used this photo of sculpted wolves on Surrey University campus to create a cover for my most recent novel…

If you haven’t read it yet, here is a link:

Can read – won’t read?

You would think it would be difficult to concentrate on listening when someone is screaming their head off.
It might be difficult to concentrate when that someone is lying on the floor holding their hand and screaming.
It was Mr King lying on the floor and the reason he was lying on the floor was that he had two broken legs. That was enough to make anyone scream; but Mr King was holding his hand because it had been shot clean through.
I’m not joking now.
Mr King, Head of English at St Finbarr’s High had been shot through the hand. This was after he had his legs broken.

This is the dramatic and violent opening lines to a novel I wrote for young people when I was teaching. I was working with young people who for various reasons were not in school; these young people were in their last year of education and had just that one year to turn themselves round and pass some exams so they could go on and go into further studies, training or get themselves a job.

Many of these young people were totally turned off anything to do with school and schooling for all sorts of different reasons, and yet most of them were bright, articulate, intelligent and literate… I taught them English and I didn’t have to teach them to read and write, they could do that, and they could do that very well… but they didn’t want to! They could read, but wouldn’t!!

One day I walked into the classroom and told them we were going to do a comprehension – they didn’t mind functional, practical tasks, and we read a piece I had written with some questions at the end… however, we finished the reading and they demanded to know what happened next? I told them I had no idea… it was just a comprehension… However, the next lesson I had a further instalment which they fell on with glee… and so it went ion, they were reading, reading because they wanted to know what happened next.

That first story was ‘Run, Blue, Run!‘ and when it was finished my students wanted more! The extract above is the first lines from the next story ‘Screaming King Harry’. These two stories engaged the students, got them back into reading, the characters they could identify with, the cliff-hanger endings – previously they could read, but wouldn’t – now they wanted to read! It began to get them back into the habit of reading, and it led some of them to rediscover the joy of reading… Of course for some of them it just served a purpose, to get them reading for their exams.

I wrote a further book ‘The Story of Rufus Redmayne’ which was similar but it also told the story (about missing people and were-wolves) through different writing styles,  diary entries, newspaper reports, one act plays etc which for the purposes of my students were examples of the sort of writing they might employ for their exams.

I’m delighted that these books are now available – you can buy them on Etsy! I wrote them for students about to sit exam, students in a particular situation, but these stories would engage younger people too!

Here is a link:


Now what…

Lucky Portbraddon is finished! It is done and it is published by KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) on Amazon. I’ve had five days of doing other writing, blogging mostly, but a few bits and pieces of other stuff too, while I consider what next. It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest, to launch this novel, which has been with me for nearly a dozen years, and as I wave it cheerio I remember some of the things I should have put in its luggage – or taken out, and realise that some of its clothes need a little more attention than I gave them… I guess it must always be the way – I’ve heard it said about painting that it’s important to know when to stop. There is the scene in the film ‘Mr Turner’ about the artist, when a work by him is hung in a gallery, and he strides through, between the crowd, paintbrush in hand, and adds a tiny dot of red to the picture – but Turner was a genius!

So what to do next… possible ideas…

  • despite what I just said, should I go back to Lucky Portbraddon and have one more last go at the manuscript while my thoughts of omissions and unnecessary additions are fresh in my head… I can upload the edited version very simply (the great thing about KDP)
  • complete my next Radwinter novel, ‘Earthquake’ which is about 4/5 finished
  • pull together some of the ideas and do some research for the Radwinter novel after that, maybe called ‘The Cunning Man’
  • work on a small book I’ve written called ‘So you want to write‘ – my ideas and observations on starting writing; I wrote this for my students when I was teaching, I’ve used it in my creative writing groups… should I pull it together and publish it?
  • finish the last few chapters of my old novel ‘The Story of Frederico Milan’ and get it off my virtual writing shelf? I began to write it about ten years ago, like Lucky Portbraddon… and it really does need finishing and publishing… it’s about a man whose wife vanished three years before the story starts and his father-in-law is convinced he murdered her…
  • begin to seriously think about how I could tell the story of my great-grandparents; he was a strict Jew from a very wealthy family, she was the daughter of a middle-class basket making factory owner – and not Jewish
  • I have an idea to write my own history – but not as a conventional biography, but through remembered items we had at home, items which no longer exist like the serrated tomato knife with the red handle… maybe I should start this as a series of blogs…
  • I’m not going to think about my ‘Dancing in the Road’ story which is only about 30,000 words so far, or my ‘Hamazasb and the Missing Shoe’ which only has a couple of chapters, or ‘A Strong Hand From Above’ which needs a complete rewrite – i.e. starting all over again and writing it from the beginning…

Hmmm… I’ll do a bit of mulling, and let you know!

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Lucky Portbraddon, here’s a link:


I could dwell among that silent people

A couple of days ago I shared a post from another blogger, titled Imagined Spaces, Forests and the Fairytale World which discussed the role of the forest in ‘fairy’ stories and other myths.

In my writing I have a fictional forest called Camel Wood, and several of my novels have been set there or have things happen there; in my children’s novel The Story of Rufus Redmayne, Camel Wood is a dangerous and frightening place, home to wild beasts and other beings, mythical creatures come alive in the modern world. However, in Night Vision, the forest is a benign place, offering safety and protection, dreams and visions; although still mysterious, it is a place where secrets are uncovered and truths revealed. In The Stalking of Rosa Czekov it is just a location, just a forest where various scenes take place.

Here is a short poem by Richard Monckton Milnes, born in 1809, the 1st Baron Houghton:

I love the Forest;–I could dwell among
That silent people, till my thoughts up–grew
In nobly–ordered form, as to my view
Rose the succession of that lofty throng:–
The mellow footstep on a ground of leaves
Formed by the slow decay of nume’rous years,–
The couch of moss, whose growth alone appears,
Beneath the fir’s inhospitable eaves,–
The chirp and flutter of some single bird,–
The rustle in the brake,–what precious store
Of joys have these on Poets’ hearts conferred?
And then at times to send one’s own voice out,
In the full frolic of one startling shout,
Only to feel the after–stillness more!

Here is a link to the Imagined Spaces post


… and if you haven’t read my novels and don’t yet know what happens in Camel Wood, here is a link:

Creating a sense of place

I have only once written a novel set in a real place as opposed to an imagined setting, and that was Flipside, which was set in Oldham. I worked really hard to makes sure that it was correct (I was living there when I wrote it) and I would time how long it took to get from place to place, describe actual buildings and pubs, make local references, as well as inventing some locations by extending already existing roads, squeezing imaginary pubs into actual streets, building a whole new fictional mill, and adding some new back streets to an area.

However, most of my novels are set in complete fictional location; the main city is Strand which has its own airport named after a Viking, Ingar Silverskin, who supposedly settled the area, a smaller coastle town, and Camel Wood, and ancient forest which once spread the length of the coast, but is now reduced to small pockets of woodland.

In one of my children’s books, The Story of Rufus Redmayne, ther is a guide book entry abotu the forest:

. . . Camel was once rich in minerals including lead, silver, zinc, tin, copper and lupusite[1] and there are many disused mines and shafts in the area. Lead, silver and lupusite were the main ores mined. There was, in earlier times, some zinc, tin and copper mining but the deposits of these metals were poor and not worth excavating. Some of these mines date back to Roman times although most of the older ones have long since collapsed or fallen in or been filled by spoil from other workings.

There was industrial scale quarrying and open cast mining as well as pits in the area, the remains of which can soon be detected once you have learned to read the landscape.

A warning! Although most shafts are capped there are many undiscovered in the area and when walking or exploring one must always be aware that there could be deep and very dangerous shafts uncapped and unmarked. Some of these shafts are many hundreds of feet deep, the deepest recorded one (now capped) is Old John (see map) This was named after John Copthorne who died after falling into the disused mine-shaft; he had worked there as a boy and in his old age returned and fell to his death. His ghost is said to cry for help from the bottom of the shaft.

Still visible are the remains of adits[2] if you know where to look or what to recognize. You may see hollows and depressions, which indicate where the mine shaft may have run-in or collapsed or bumps and uneven ground which may hint at collapsed walls from buildings at the workings.

Ponds and spoil heaps[3] are another good indication that mining was once the main source of local employment. Water was necessary in many industrial processes including washing the galena[4]

Names of geographical features are also a good clue to the historical detective in reading the evidence of the past. Horsetrough (see map), for example, is not named after a watering hole for horses but after the gin circle which was an important feature of shaft mining. It was a horse driven winding mechanism vital in the days before steam power.

Although there are traces of dangerous metals such as antimony[5], cadmium[6] and arsenic, their presence is at such a low level that for the casual rambler there is no danger. However it is not advisable to fill flasks or drink water from streams in the area.

There are, of course, a variety of different legends attached to this area, many much older and with less likelihood of being true than the sorry tale of Old John. There are many tales of hidden treasure; unlike the leprechauns[7] and their gold the local Camel trinxies[8] are said to guard crocks of silver. Romans are supposed to have buried a trove of denary[9] hidden as the barbarians overran Britain, or maybe it was early Christian monks hiding their crosses in the face of the Viking onslaught (823AD Ingar Silverskin[10]) or even the Vikings themselves storing their booty. A mythical warrior, possibly Ingar, or perhaps St Finbarr[11] is supposed to sleep with his silver sword awaiting a call to defend the weak. This however, may merely be a local version of the Arthurian legend.

To start your walk park your car at the Forestry Administration park by Fimbrook. . .

[1] Lupusite: extremely rare grey mineral, a metal only found in this area; said to deter evil spirits esp. werewolves, symbol Lp

[2] adit: opening or passage, esp. into a mine

[3] spoil heaps: waste from mining activities

[4] galena: lead ore, symbol LpS

[5] antimony: brittle bluish-white element, symbol Sb

[6] cadmium: a white metal, symbol Cd

[7] leprechaun: Irish pixie

[8] Trinxies: local name for pixie like beings who dwell only in Camel Wood

[9] denary: silver money used by Romans

[10] Ingar Silverskin: Viking warrior who raided along the coast from Castair to Westope, raising the small port or Easthope (Estop) to the ground in 823AD)

[11] St Finbarr: son of Irish silver smith, patron saint of Cork, said to have visited Strand and Easthope in AD 601, reputed to have expelled a sea monster from a lake near Killarney and a similar beast from Camel Wood

If you are interested in reading Flipside, then you will find a link to my e-book site on Amazon: