The Winners are...

Firstly, the winner of our Guest Blog Competition is…GARY WILSON!
Well done, Gary, for your intriguing idea of writing about “What is Inspiration?” Gary’s post will appear in June when he will receive a signed copy of our very own Rebecca Connell’s Art of Losing.
We would also like to give special mention to Deborah Durbin, Julie P and Deborah Riccio for their thought-provoking entries!

Secondly, the winner of our Rosy Thornton Prize Giveaway, decided under our usual stringent conditions (one of my children drawing a name from a hat) is… GARYFEN!
Well done! Gary seems to be the lucky name this month! Email me your address and we’ll post you the signed copy of Crossed Wires.

And lastly, we Strictly Writers are winners, having managed to persuade two talented writers to join our team! A big welcome to the lovely Fionnuala Kearney and Roderic Vincent who is hoping to inject a bit of testosterone into the proceedings. It’s great to have you both on board and we look forward to reading your opinions.

Have a great Bank Holiday everyone! We’ll be posting again on Tuesday.

Quickfire Questions with...Lynne Hackles

Lynne Hackles is an accomplished author of non-fiction books and adult and children’s novels and a prolific woman’s magazines’writer.

“I was 17 when we got married. Colin (L.S.O.) and I have been married for 41 years now. Kids flown the nest. Dogs died of old age. We’ve got Win though. The motorhome I bought with my Deal Or No Deal win. The three of us go on adventures together.”

My first sale was…
Way back in the early 1980s. A letter in Woman Realm was my first experience of being paid for words. I followed it up by writing some family-humour pieces for My Weekly. Then I started writing stories for My Weekly and Annabel.

My family think my writing is…
Something to keep me out of trouble. The L.S.O. (Long Suffering One, husband Colin) is very supportive. He’s happy to drive me around the country to do talks and workshops, read my work, put cups of tea in front of me, do shopping and cooking. And no, he’s not for hire.

The best/worst thing about writing short stories for magazines is…
They buy my worst and return my favourites.

Long hand first or computer?
I can no longer write in longhand. I clutch the pen so tightly that it becomes painful after a few words.

On completing a story I feel…
Satisfied. I actually forget about it if it’s completely finished. When I wake the next morning it takes an effort to remember what I’d written the day before. But, if the story is not right, it haunts me by day and night.

When I run out of ideas I …
Go back to civilisation for a few days. It’s so quiet here in West Wales. Great for writing but my ideas come from people, and the sheep outnumber them here. I visit my friend Betty (Elizabeth Moulder) who writes for Woman’s Weekly and we fight over who gets what. We have often swapped ideas if they’ve been too close to home for either of us. Or I meet up with Irene Yates and we go shopping in Worcester. She’s great at finding expensive clothes for me that I don’t really need. I come home with new outfits and plenty of story ideas.

Ideas come to me when…
I’m not here. I really need to move soon. Anyone want to move to rural Pembrokeshire?

My biggest tip for new women’s mag writers would be…
To buy Writing From Life by How To Books . There’s lots of information in it on writing fiction and non-fiction, including the secret that many new writers don’t want to know. Who’s the author? That’ll be me.

3 authors – dead or alive I’d like to invite to dinner would be…
Ray Bradbury. No, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to eat if he was there. I’d sit and look stupid, with my mouth open in awe. Robert Holdstock and Bette Howell (Wuthering Depths).

Favourite writing outfit?
I always dress as if I’m going out to work. I need to con myself into it.

Favourite writing snack?
I’ve never eaten between meals but there’s always a pint glass of water on my desk. I leave the room if I’m going to have chocolate but that’s always classed as my pudding. Trouble is I have puddings at lunch and dinner.

Daily Mail or Guardian?
The nearest shop is four miles away so we don’t get newspapers.

Corrie or Eastenders?
Definitely Corrie. It still has humour and the scriptwriters are really clever at interleaving dramatic scenes with funny ones.

Best woman’s magazine story I’ve read during the last three months is…
The Way Through The Woods, (Fiction Feast February 2009) by Teresa Ashby. I wish I’d written it. My kind of story.

Just Post It

Writing a book is one thing. That only takes a few years of dreaming, scribbling, typing, banging your head on the desk and waking up in the middle of the night with the most original idea ever, only to discover in the morning that your bedside notebook is scrawled with stuff like “elephant – maggots – how many?”

Making it fit for anyone to read is quite another thing – more months of editing, editing again, polishing, re-editing, re-polishing. Maybe even giving the manuscript to a friend for their opinion, only to have them say ten weeks later, “Sorry, I've been, like, really busy. I'll read it soon, promise.”

But then comes the difficult bit. If you want your book published (though there's certainly no law forcing you to want that) you have to pluck up the courage to submit it somewhere. OK, so you could spend the rest of your life shifting commas about because you're scared of rejection – that's no skin off anyone else's nose – but if you want to see it in print, you have to send it out.

So... let's say you've written a book, agonised over the synopsis, constructed an elegant covering letter, formatted your first three chapters to perfection and printed them off, because lots of agents still don't take email submissions. Next comes the most important part of the process:
  • Go to your office stationery cupboard when no one is looking and select two good-quality envelopes.
  • Print one of them as an S.A.E. or, better still, write it out with a lucky pen.
  • To be on the safe side, consult a graphology website and ensure your handwriting makes you look artistic, intelligent, a delight to work with, and not insane.
  • Address the other envelope, put your submission into it and seal it up.
  • Unseal it to make sure the S.A.E. is definitely there.
  • Stick it back down with a piece of sellotape, because the glue now doesn't work.
  • Oh, God, what if the agent really hates sellotape? Check their website in case they mention it.
  • Affix postage, go to the postbox and nervously walk up and down for a while, worrying whether you have put the synopsis in the right place. You put it after the letter and before the sample chapters. But what if it should have gone at the end?
  • Approach the postbox. Discover that it was designed before the advent of A4, so you have to bend your pristine envelope in half.
  • Oh God, what if the agent really hates creased envelopes? What if she sees the creases and just slings it straight in the bin?
  • Gormlessly stand there for a while with your hand halfway into the postbox.
  • Will yourself to let go. Think: Just post it. Drop. The. Envelope. Go on, just drop it. Seriously. Drop it. No, seriously. Arrgh! Just POST IT! Just let go! NOW!
  • Wait! The S.A.E. is definitely in there, isn't it?
  • Of course it is. You checked.
  • But what if, when you checked, you actually took it out and forgot to put it back in?
  • Someone behind you coughs impatiently, so let go and listen to the envelope flopping into the darkness, beyond your control. Go pale as you have a sudden flashback to proofreading the submission letter.
  • Rush back to your computer and open up the file. See that it begins “Der Ms Bloggs.”
  • Go very red and start to weep.
  • Correct it and send to the next agent. And the next, and the next, while writing another book.

And if you really, really want to be published, keep sending until you get an acceptance or you die. Whichever comes first.

Quickfire Questions with... Rosy Thornton...+ Prize Giveaway

Rosy Thornton is a talented author of Women's Fiction. Have a chance to win her third novel, Crossed Wires, which has just come out in paperback, by posting a comment! The winner shall be drawn from a hat and announced this coming Friday, 1st May. (Sorry, Strictly Writers are not eligible!)

Who is your literary hero?
Harriet Vane from Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?
Elizabeth Gaskell, Simone de Beauvoir and Maya Angelou – three women who’d really set the world to rights.

What's your favourite writing snack?
I have a fetish for dried mango at the moment – texture like shoe leather but tastes like heaven.

Longhand first or computer?
Computer – but I do jot things down on old shopping receipts sometimes, when waiting at red traffic lights.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal?
Both, please!

Daily Mail or The Times?
Neither. Not really a tabloid girl, and I won’t buy a Murdoch newspaper!

Independent bookshop or Amazon?
Huge guilt trip, this question. I know what the answer ought to be, but Amazon is so easy.

Left on a cliffhanger or told all?
Cliffhanger – or at least a nice, muddy ending.

You really must read…
Anything by Barbara Trapido.

My biggest tip for a fiction writer is…
Don’t be too hidebound by ‘the rules’ – relax and find your own voice.

I am inspired by...
People and their endlessly entertaining foibles.

Writing - a hobby, passion or unhealthy obsession?
A bit of all three.

My proudest writing moment so far has been...
Being compared to Barbara Pym.

My family thinks my writing is...
A bit annoying, because they’d rather I were playing Cluedo.

The worst thing about writing is...
There never being enough time to do it!


Susie’s Monthly Update (April)

Highs: Got a job in a gallery. This will fund a four-day course on Women’s Commercial Fiction in London. Hoorah!
Lows: Agent has turned down full manuscript (culmination of a six-month competition).
The hardest thing is that this process was carrying my hope and now I have to carry it on my own again.
Goals: Edit/rewrite of opening chapters – again.

How about you guys?

The Falmouth Five are communicating across the e-waves, as we do at the end of each month. We’re a diverse bunch of novelists: two women, three men, published and unpublished, writers of thrillers, speculative sci-fi, comedic crime and women’s fiction. We get together several times a year to eat and drink and crit one another’s work, celebrating one another’s successes and commiserating over problems and knock-backs.

As novelists, we’re in it for the long term. We’re the marathon-runners of the writing world. It takes much practice, much motivation, much energy and much downright dogged determination to complete a marathon. As it does to complete a novel. Only difference is, the marathon-runners know that the culmination of all their efforts will be that splendid day when they race through the streets, clapped and cheered and supported all the way. Who supports the loneliness of the long-distance writer?

Writers are expressive beings. We are also solitary. Which makes for an interesting paradox. We sit alone for countless hours, communing with the laptop or the page. Yet the very essence of what we’re trying to achieve is communication with others. We long to express something true, something that will cause someone out there to feel something, think something. We long for a connection, a response.

This is why we pay for reports from literary consultancies. This is why we join online writing communities and real-life writing groups. This is why we blog and twitter. This is why we join mentoring schemes, attend Adult Education writing classes, go to writers’ conferences and workshops. This is why we return from, for instance, an Arvon course as if from a spiritual epiphany.

We do these things because we need to be among other writers, among our own tribe; we need to find others who understand, who know. We flourish when we receive input, inspiration, refreshment, understanding. We glow when we are offered new ideas, witnessing, support, encouragement. We need to engage. We need to receive. We need to be acknowledged. When we are empty from all our expressing, response – good, positive, constructive response – fills us up. We return to our writing buoyed up and glowing from the inside out, like the child in the porridge commercials.

E.M. Forster, in Howard’s End, advises us to only connect. So next time you feel alone and empty, reach out a hand to another writer. You may be reaching out because you need your own hand to be held. You may be reaching out to be reminded that there are others like yourself out there. And you may even be reaching out a hand to help someone else who’s alone and struggling. It’s a beautiful race we are running, for all its trials and pains. And it’s a better race when we do it together.

The winner is...

Under Strictly-controlled conditions (i.e. Sam's son pulling a name out of a hat), the prize draw for a signed copy of Kill-Grief has taken place, and the winner is...


Well done Luisa – please email me at caro_rance (at) with your address, and I'll get the book in the post to you.

A huge thank you to everyone who took part and left such entertaining comments. There are more chances to win coming up soon on Strictly Writing, starting with a prize draw for Rosy Thornton's latest novel, Crossed Wires, on Tuesday 28 April. Then on 1 May we'll be announcing the winner of our Guest Blogger competition, so check back then to find out who has won a copy of Becky's book The Art of Losing , plus their article featured on Strictly Writing.

There'll also be more competitions coming up in May, plus of course the usual entertaining (we hope) words of wisdom from the regulars.

For now, though, I'll take this opportunity to indulge in one last little bit of shameless self-promotion, at risk of being told off by my fellow Strictly Writers. Here's a video trailer I made for my book, which is available here. Thanks for watching, and see you next time.


Quickfire Questions with...Caroline Rance...+ Prize Draw

Our very own Caroline Rance's debut novel, "Kill-Grief" has just been published and we have a signed copy to give away to one lucky reader who comments on this post, below. The winner will be drawn from a hat and their name will be posted up on Sunday. (Sorry, Strictly Writers are not eligible!)
Check out Caroline's website, and her blogs, Writing and all that and The Quack Doctor

Who is your literary hero?
Emily Brontë

Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?
Dorothy Parker, Bill Bryson and Garrison Keillor

What's your favourite writing snack?
Salted peanuts, or cheese and onion crisps. Or Lindor chocolates. Or anything edible, really.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal?
Film deal.
Longhand first or computer?
Computer, because I like to put a password on things that aren't ready to show to anyone. this obsession comes from traumatic memories of people reading my teenage diaries.

Daily Mail or The Times?
The Times, unless for some reason I felt like getting extremely annoyed, in which case the Mail.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?
Anyone who sells my book has my undying gratitude!

Left on a cliffhanger or told all?
Somewhere in between – an ending that resolves the plot but hints that the characters will face more challenges in the future.

You really must read…
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Unless you're squeamish, in which case it might not be for you.

My biggest tip for a historical fiction writer is…
Research what you need to know for the story, rather than using the story to show off your research.

I am inspired by...
Old newspapers, paintings and photographs.

Writing - a hobby, passion or unhealthy obsession?
A passion, I think. No, maybe it's an obsession.

My proudest writing moment so far has been...
Finishing the first draft of my first novel.

My family thinks my writing is...Something that should make millions, whilst taking up no time! They are really proud of me, though.

The worst thing about writing is...
Backache from using a laptop with my feet up. Completely my own fault, but it doesn't half hurt!

Not even the NYPD will stop me... by Gillian

Just as an avid reader will have a favourite book, there will be another bookworm who has a favourite store. For me, it's the branch of Barnes and Noble in the Gramercy/Flatiron district of New York. Nestled in Union Square, the store boasts a relaxed atmosphere and unlike a lot of other bookshops, you can browse (and read!) until you heart's content.

Gleaned from Wikipedia...Barnes and Noble, dating back to 1893, is the largest book retailer in the United States, many of which have a Starbucks instore - yum, smell that coffee. There are 798 shops across the 50 states. And apparently the original bookstore was located at 31 West 15th St, having opened during World War I. This one at Union Square has featured in several movies, including Conspiracy Theory (1997, featuring Mel Gibson).

Having visited in early 2007 and went on the rampage with my credit card (nine books bought in total, including some hard-to-find-in-the-UK Larry McMurtry), nothing would stop me in my quest to re-visit this Barnes and Noble the following Christmas - not even the yellow tape the NYPD uses to seal off crime scenes! Seeing the police tape stretching out in front of me as I meandered down Broadway, my heart pounded. The light canter turned into a fully-fledged run....closer...then closer.....phew....thankfully the tape had just about spared the door of Barnes and Noble (and was attached, I think, to Bath and Body Works, or Sephora instead) so I went in for another visit. Never mind the full-scale alert, I was inside.

The ground floor can be quite crowded and the aisles between the books are narrow, given that there are quite a few (overly large) square presentation tables squeezed in. And from memory, the large thick cream-coloured pillars do nothing to help. Upstairs is much better, with large aisles, making manoevrability easy, and there's a lot more space to put the shopping bags, particularly along the front section near the 'Upstairs at the Square' area. Barnes and Noble also seems to have a policy whereby browsers are welcome to sit down and read for a few hours - I assume that's what the chairs are there for. My only gripe is that it can be very warm in winter as the sun streams in through the large windows - many customers will be suitably attired with heavy coats for the December chill.

You'll probably have heard of the 'Upstairs at the Square' event which pairs musicians and writers for an evening of words and music. Please note, these are available to download as a video podcast and are well worth a viewing on your ipod. Some interesting combos include Ian Rankin and Aidan Moffat, William Gibson and Martha Wainwright, Anne Enright and Camphor, and a few I'm kicking myself I missed - Aimee Mann and Joseph O'Neill, David Lynch and Au Revoir Simone and Nell Freudenberger and Howard Fishman.

Book fans will also be pleased to know that Barnes and Noble is celebrating national 'Turnoff Week,' (April 20 to April 26 in America), with activities offering alternatives to television, the Internet, electronic games and other screen related activities. And this comes during the month it announced it's about to enter the e-book market by providing a rival to the current readers, so it's all go at Barnes and Noble. As a caveat, I must mention the many, many independent and indeed much smaller bookstores in New York, as well as those second-hand shops which time didn't allow to visit. They do a great job, holding their own in an expensive city which is monopolised by the giants. The Argosy, Three Lives and Company and St Mark's are all worth a visit. If you're in New York, do drop by Barnes and Noble, go upstairs and feast your eyes on the lovely quad area where one day you might be reading an excerpt from your novel.

Guest Blog by Roderic Vincent - What's Your Number?

I always wanted to do English, but a small voice said it might not lead to a job - it was the voice of the school careers adviser. He told me you had to do a BSc to have any chance of employment. So I took psychology and it did lead to a job – I ended up as a Chartered Psychologist. Since turning my mind to writing stories, I’ve also come to believe that psychology is a great training for a writer.

Over the last twenty years I’ve assessed the abilities and personality of hundreds of business leaders and coached a good few of them including, topically, the chief executive of a bank. That gives you the chance to ask the questions that most people don’t get to ask. I’ve also done “job analysis” studies ranging from foreign exchange dealers to bus drivers. Ostensibly these were to help design selection methods, but as a by-product you get to spend time with them, watch them work and ask all those questions again. It’s all good raw material. I’ve also used frameworks for human behaviour in my fiction - The Grieving Cycle, for example - to show a character reacting to bad news.

In the limited space here, I’d like to mention one structure I’ve found useful: the enneagram. It’s no substitute for the deep curiosity and insight into humanity we all need as writers, but having a guidebook can help too.

According to the enneagram, there are nine personality types. When you are learning all about a character you’ve created – was she popular at school, why does she hate her brother, when did she first do acid – her type is another aspect you can consider. A proper understanding of the enneagram could suggest how your character will react when her husband crashes the car or when a colleague suggests a quick one after work.

The list below is a taster to give you an idea what I’m talking about. The range of adjectives is supposed to show how each type is in either a healthy or unhealthy emotional state.

Type Can be . . .
One: Principled, perfectionist, crusading, critical. Judging of self and others. Fears being wrong.

Two: Loving, the helper, denying their own needs, can become a martyr and complaining. Fears neediness.

Three: Achiever, ambitious, competitive, status-conscious. Fears failure.

Four: Artistic, creative, individual, sensitive, self-obsessed. Fears ordinariness.

Five: Knowledgeable, expert, skilled, detached, deluded. Fears being useless.

Six: Popular, loyalist, conforming, wants to fit in, insecure.Fears isolation.

Seven: Fun, sociable, enthusiast, open to experience, self-indulgent thrill-seeker. Fears pain (just keeps on running).

Eight: Strong, leader, powerful, bullying. Fears weakness.

Nine: Peacemaker, contented, self-contained, lethargic. Fears conflict.

Before using the enneagram as a character development tool I would recommend studying the various books on the subject. This list does no justice to its complexity. For example, each of us has a wing, as well as a main type, and therein lies some of the subtlety and insight. I only hope it might sharpen your appetite to find out more. One place to start is the work of Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson at They have plenty of resources and a questionnaire to find out your own type. Their website also allows you to look at the compatibility of the different types in relationships.

The enneagram can open a door into the mind of characters that are unlike you, and help avoid the danger that all your characters are really versions of yourself. Knowing how the different types react, when faced with the sort of murder and mayhem authors inflict on our characters, is extremely helpful.

There are lots of other aspects of psychology, beyond personality that I would love to talk about, but Sam gave me a limit of strictly writing not more than 800 words.

Visit Roderic's website, The Whole of Boredom.

Writing on Easy Street

Have you ever thought - I mean really thought – what it must have been like writing, years and years ago? First things first, you wouldn’t have had a computer. Try writing several short stories or a novel in longhand, by candlelight– the ink stains, the strained eyes, the writer’s elbow, bent over a desk, minus a back-friendly, especially designed chair. Even with a typewriter, imagine retyping or crossing out before the dawn of Tippex? Then you’d be faced with sending off your one and only precious copy – or, if the photocopier was invented, stumbling into town and handing your manuscript over, amidst your blushes, explaining to the man who knows everyone in the village that yes, you do fancy yourself as a writer.That’s the great thing about the computer, you see - the anonymity. No one else need know. You can print out your baby, post it and wait for the rejection slip without having told a soul. Previous to that, the best plan for discretion would have been a pseudonym.

Then there’s the matter of finding a publisher - literary agents weren’t always around. You would have had to count on maybe writing to a favourite author for advice, or blindly submitting to a publisher if you could get the address from your local bookseller. Even with Directory Enquiries, how would you know exactly which publishers and editors to target? Sure, The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook has been around for over one hundred years, but would Mr or Mrs Average who fancied a go, have known it existed?

As for research, for the book I am presently subbing, ‘Lunch Date with a Tomb Robber’, I have had to find out about everything from Egyptian underwear to the size of Tutankhamun’s…er…nose! Which I have been able to do at the touch of a button, at the tinkle of the keys on a board… Imagine the many treks to the library, the thumbing through mammoth book that would otherwise have been involved. And that’s if I’d had any free time, in an age before washing machines and convenience foods.

Talking of food, I come to the very important subject of writing sustenance. We’ve got Oreos or Doritos, we’ve got cookies or Kit-Kats, all washed down with a glass of Chardonnay or home-filtered Americano… How did authors used to write without coffee beans! Without chocolate! Without hydrogenated fat!

I reckon us writers from the Noughties are a pretty lucky bunch. All the information we need about writing, subbing and researching is available at our fingertips, in the comfort of our own home. More importantly, we have a support network from writing sites and blogs like this. I think for me that is the killer difference and without it I would have given up long ago.It’s no wonder there are more aspiring novelists out there than ever before. Like doctors and teachers, writers aren’t revered like they once were - everyone thinks they can become one and thousands of people have a go. I suppose that’s the downside to us writing on Easy Street - it makes for one heck of big slushpile! It makes for more competition. Indeed, some might say the good old days really were the best.

Ten things only writers understand

We like to pretend we’re just like anyone else. Nothing strange about us.
Oh no. Trouble is, there are all those odd little foibles and habits…

1. When you hear about terrible tragedies on the news, there’s a tiny and very shameful part of you that’s thinking it would make a great story.
2. You long to have proper time to write, free from the distractions of work and life and family, but when you do finally grab some, you fritter half of it away by looking at websites and chat rooms and, um, blogs like this.
3. Your characters may be strolling around inside your own head, but that doesn’t mean they’re not living, breathing people. And when you have to finish a project, you feel a sense of real loss that you won’t be hanging out with them anymore.
4. The entire world can shrink to the size of your email inbox or your letterbox when you’re waiting for news on a writing project. Even though you’re driving yourself mad with the constant checking, you can’t seem to stop doing it. This has an added layer for the published, who have a condition known as OARCD. This stands for Obsessive Amazon Ranking Checking Disorder. There is currently no cure.
5. There is nothing quite as desirable as a lovely new notebook. Apart from perhaps a really good pen. And there’s the feeling of opening the cellophane on a new pack of index cards. Even if you’ve never quite been able to find a use for them, you will some day.
6. Sometimes a plot issue can tie your brain in knots for ages, causing much wailing, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Just as you become utterly convinced that you will NEVER EVER make it work (WAH!) you realise you’ve had a perfectly good solution all along. It has been sitting patiently in one of the waiting rooms of your brain hoping you’d notice it.
7. Your fingers ache and you can hardly turn your head because your neck's so stiff. But you're still smiling - you've just had an especially good sesh at the keyboard and it's all worth it.
8. Just as you’re dropping off to sleep you think of a brilliant line or plot twist but can’t face turning on the light to write it down. So you convince yourself you’ll remember it in the morning, only to find it has gone the moment you open your eyes.
9. Sometimes when you read certain other authors you admire, you feel so envious of their brilliance that your teeth actually hurt.
10. There's a particular bittersweetness in those words, ‘The End’. On the one hand it’s the culmination of months or years of hard work, but on the other, you’re aware that the really hard work has only just begun.

Any of these sound familiar?

Quickfire Questions with...Lee Weatherly

Lee Weatherly is an award-winning children’s author. Her acclaimed novels for young teenagers include Child X, Missing Abby and Kat Got Your Tongue. For younger readers, Lee is the author of the popular Glitterwings Academy fairy series (writing as Titania Woods), as well as the upcoming series Pocket Cats; she is also the author of two picture books. For adults, Lee is the co-author of Teach Yourself How to Write a Blockbuster, and is a gifted writing coach, teaching workshop courses across the southeast.

Which writer would you be for a day?
I’d have to say myself, just because I’m used to my own quirks and foibles, and wouldn’t want to try to work out someone else’s in only a day! (We’re all mad as snakes, you know.) But if I could be myself in the Bahamas, that would be nice.

Independent bookshop or Amazon?
Amazon, to my shame. I love the convenience of shopping from my computer – though this can be a Bad Thing late at night, after a few glasses of wine.

Left on a cliffhanger or told all?
Left on a cliffhanger at the proper moment in the story, and then told all when it’s time to reveal all. I really loathe being left on a cliffhanger at the end of a book – it just makes me want to throw it across the room.

You really must read…
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It’s not for everyone, but I couldn’t put it down.

The children’s book I wish I’d written most is …
Well, the obvious answer would have to be Harry Potter, for all those lovely royalty payments! However, if we’re talking about which book I most admire, I think I might say The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, which is just an amazing story.

I get most excited by…
A new story idea. I think all writers have this in common!

I know I have my story when…
I feel its different elements click together in a simple, logical way that can then be built on. I can craft a story arc easily enough once I have the characters in place, but I can’t do anything at all until I have that basic concept sorted out.

My biggest tip for a writer is…
Try to have a supportive other half. It makes a huge difference on all sorts of levels.

An author should never…
Take rejection too much to heart. It’s a business, and sometimes your work will click with an editor, and sometimes it won’t. Wallow a bit, and then pick yourself up and try, try again.

Favourite desktop snack
Lindt’s dark chocolate with hazelnuts.

Favourite work outfit
Jeans and a top, with my big comfy cardigan and cosy slippers. (And don’t tell anyone, but I sometimes work in my pyjamas.)

Best thing about my job is…
Doing what I love and getting paid for it. The next best thing is being self-employed and working from home – I love the freedom of deciding my own hours, and still get giddy with delight at the realisation that I’ll never have to work in an office again.

Email or phone?
Email. I can be ridiculously anti-social, and don’t like chatting unless I’m in the mood.

The hardest part of my job is…
Waiting for responses from publishers, particularly when you’re trying to sell new material. Nerve-wracking.

If I wasn’t a writer I’d be…
In real life, probably a teacher, but if we’re talking dream jobs then I’d love to work in film in some capacity – I think I’d be great in the editing room!

Thanks for some great answers, Lee - and for the questions, CarolineG!

The Eve of Publication

Tomorrow is the day. My début novel will be released and I will finally be able to prove to the world that I am not an unemployable waster.

Well, actually, I am, but at least I managed to write a book at the same time.

Publication day has long been a date to focus on; a distant point up to which I can maintain the excitement of Being A Writer without reality kicking in. After tomorrow, will the excitement falter in the face of smirky questions about how many copies I've sold? (Erm... I'm not sure ... I, erm... haven't had any sales figures yet.) Will my Amazon ranking obsession intensify as it plummets into the millions? (Millions? That's an idea - maybe I could tell people it means the number of sales!)

As Becky said when her book came out last month, publication day is no huge explosion. Because, well, what can possibly happen? Crowds of paparazzi at the door? Broadsheets festooned with glowing reviews? Bouquets arriving from secret admirers?

The launch of a book is not so much a sudden event as a process. Like... er... death. Thinking about it, that might not be the ideal comparison, so let's move on... Instead of a fixed date with people queueing up at midnight outside bookshops, the average publication trickles gradually into the world. My book already exists – not just in the sense that it wormed into my imagination ten years ago, or that it took up thousands of hours of writing, re-writing, editing and honing – I mean that now it exists in a physical, aesthetically pleasing form. My author copies are just across the room from me as I type.

When other writers receive their author copies, they stroke them, kiss them, put them under the pillow, even compare the experience to holding their baby for the first time. I don't feel like that at all. I took a quick look at my books and thought “phew, they look great,” then I went about other things. My feelings have constituted quiet satisfaction rather than raucous celebration.

But that quiet satisfaction has been a boost to my confidence. My book looks beautiful, and at last I feel I can really be proud of it.

It looks like a normal book by a proper author. It's no longer a figment of my imagination, but a product. A lump of paper to be sold for cold hard cash. Perhaps for some writers that would be a depressing thought, but for me it's liberating. I can now talk about it at a distance – it's a tangible article that I can promote without feeling self-indulgent, because other people have put such a huge amount of care into editing it, designing it and above all believing in it.

Now it's over to the readers, and whether or not they like it almost feels like none of my business. I'm glad to let my book go and make its own way in the world.

Beating The Block

OK, I admit it. Sitting here at the laptop to write my latest post for Strictly, I'm not exactly overflowing with ideas. Everything I think of seems to have been done already, with great wit, panache or flair, by one of my fellow bloggers. Every concept that comes to me seems weak, uninspiring and barely worth the trouble of putting finger to keypad. My stomach is twisting itself up into knots of frustration, my feet are indulging in some frenzied tapping, I'm muttering to myself like a crazed loon... yep, I've got Writer's Block.

We've all been there. That fateful feeling of wanting to write, but feeling as if we've forgotten how to. Unlike most things in the known universe, writing doesn't seem to be like riding a bike. If you fall off, there's no guarantee that you can hop back on in a few months and pedal away at breakneck speed. In fact, sometimes it can feel alarmingly as if you need to learn your craft, and regain your inspiration, all over again, and the longer you allow the block to set in, the more difficult it becomes to drag yourself out of it. So if all this is resonating with you, what can you do? Here's my five-step plan:

1) Allow yourself to mope. You're a sensitive soul - you're a writer, after all. If shedding tears of pain over your inability to create is your thing, let 'em flow. Let yourself appreciate how important this is to you, and why exactly it is that you want to get the knack back. Why does it matter? If you never wrote another word again, what would change? Once you've established why you want to fix the problem...

2) Forget about it. Get out of the house, go for a long walk, go to the cinema or to the shops - whatever method of active relaxation you choose. If you feel yourself starting to think about your writing, give yourself a mental slap. It's amazing how attractive something becomes when it's forbidden, so place a writing ban on yourself for a day, a week, a fortnight.. and fill your time with as many head-clearing distractions as you can without completely maxing out your credit card.

3) Rediscover your role models. Maybe slightly controversial for some - I know a few fellow writers who say that reading work by their idols simply depresses them. Myself, I see it in the spirit of healthy competition. And yes, I know that it's unlikely that Martin Amis or Maggie O'Farrell are going to be quaking in their boots at the thought of the next Rebecca Connell being unleashed on the market, but all the same... Read the books that made you want to become a writer, and remember why.

4) Set yourself a goal. Start small if you like - 500 words in a day, for instance. Without a bit of structure, and something concrete to aim for, I'm all too likely to lose motivation completely. Those of you who have done Nanowrimo - how many other times have you written 50,000 words in a month? Exactly - and yet ultimately, the only thing spurring you on was yourself.

5) Choose a day when you have little else on. Shut yourself in a room with a computer - or a notebook, if you prefer. I like to lock myself in for extra authenticity. Turn off the internet, unplug the television, and open up that Word file. Think about your work, but do not allow yourself to write anything for half an hour (you'd be surprised how quickly that gets boring, and how appealing the idea of writing becomes in comparison to sitting dumbly in front of a screen in a silent room). Then take a deep breath, and dive in...

Good luck! If anyone wants to add their own tips for overcoming writer's block in the comments section, I'm sure we could all use them. As for me, well, would you look at that? Looks like I don't have to come up with an idea for this post after all...

Guest Blog by Emma Barnes - Why It's Good To Be Rejected

We reject a lot of manuscripts. We’re bound to: we’re a small publisher with an open submissions policy, and we publish far fewer books each year than are submitted. I want to share with you why we make offers on the ones we do, why we reject the others, and why you should be glad to be rejected, some of the time.

First up: even if your book is brilliant, it may not fit with a publisher’s objectives. If you have written a novel which is destined in the future to win the Booker, chances are that we at Snowbooks will reject you. We have an editorial policy driven primarily by our own entirely subjective tastes, combined with a forecast of what we think we can sell. Since we have collectively loathed most winners of the Booker for the last decade it’s unlikely that an excellent example of modern fiction will find a home on our list – regardless of whether other people would appreciate it or how many prizes it has a chance of winning. And if you’ve written something which is breathtaking in its mould-breaking originality, we’re unlikely to go for it, despite its genius. We are interested in books which we can sell – and, without huge budgets to break a new genre into the market, this often means books which are easily defined.

As an author of fiction, you're presenting something which is very much part of your soul to corporations who are, by definition, soulless. That's not to say that people in publishing aren't nice. I'm nice. But I'm running a business whose first priority is to keep trading: we owe it to our present and future authors and to ourselves. We're no use to anyone if we go bust. The need for commerciality, which all publishers share to one degree or another, doesn't often sit happily with an author's need for artistic expression.

The books that we do make offers on tend to be brilliantly written, but they also have to tick boxes. Genre, for instance: the areas where we've historically had success are natural areas of focus for us, but our focus does evolve and authors aren't necessarily to know this. Length: we're not likely to publish anything under 70,000 words or over 180,000. Attitude of the author is also a consideration: we've turned down books in the past which fit our editorial plans perfectly but the author seemed to be the sort of person we'd rather not work with.

If we were to sign up a book which we knew to be outstanding, but it was outside of our sphere of ability or interest, we wouldn’t be doing you a favour. If we don’t have the right contacts at retailers, publications, websites and distributors, or the right touch for cover design, or editorial competence, we’re not going to be able to do your book justice. If your book is within our sphere but we don’t fall in love with it – a state which is highly subjective, impossible to explain and difficult to predict – we’re not going to have the passion to evangelise about it to the degree necessary in an industry where over 100,000 books are created every year.

Many authors think of getting a publishing contract as being the end goal, but soon discover that publishing is just a business. Not all is rosy the other side of the publishing deal and though those rejection slips may sting, sometimes they avoid a lot more disappointment.

In 2003 Emma Barnes, along with Rob Jones, founded Snowbooks. Since then they’ve won the Small Publisher of the Year Nibbie, the Innovation Nibbie and the Trade Publisher of the Year IPA award. They’ve sold nearly a million pounds worth of books, and at a party to celebrate successful business women, Emma met the Queen, at which point all her principles went out the window and she curtseyed.

The Luck Of The Irish

I'm proud of my heritage. Many great writers have emerged from both Northern Ireland and the Republic over the decades, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and Samuel Beckett, many of whom are Nobel prizewinners.
And why are Irish writers so great at what they do?

Some critics jest, saying that it's so cold and wet that people have nothing else to do. Or is it because Irish folk like a good yarn, they ask? Is it because they are so repressed and that this provides the best creative outlet?
Irish writers of yesteryear were fond of penning poetry and prose about wars. From the First World War to the 1916 Easter Rising, from the Spanish Civil War, to the horrors of the Second World War, the poetic voices captured it all, in their guises of soldiers, patriots, protestors, mourners and simple observers. And the themes they touched on included patriotism, hope and regret, anger and most notably compassion.

Turning our attentions to Ulster, out of Northern Ireland come the wonderful C.S. Lewis, Seamus Heaney, Brian Moore, Colin Bateman, Bernard MacLaverty, and Robert McLiam-Wilson.
There has always been plenty of material to write about - Troubles, Troubles, Troubles - so important, it officially has a capital T. But, disillusioned by what the Province had to offer, many of the leading lights of literature upped and left Northern Ireland to locate their careers elsewhere. It didn't stop the exiles writing about home though.

Back in the 90s, the main characters in Ulster literature took the form of balaclava-clad men with menacing rifles whose allies were fellow terrorists. Their enemies were not only the people they were fighting, but also the ordinary person in the street.
Amid all this woe, it didn't stop writers from incorporating humour into their work. John Morrow's novel The Confessions of Proinsias O’Toole heightens the Troubles to the point of absurdity.

One must bear in mind that as far as literature goes, the Troubles are never going to go away, no matter how hard the writer tries. More than a decade after the IRA ceasefire, writers are still using the Troubles as a backdrop (and yes, I too have used them).
In Zane Radcliffe's book 'London Irish' the character Bic says: "If it wasn’t for the Troubles, Northern Irish novelists would have nothing to write about." I don't think that's strictly true, but the ghosts of yesterday have provided so much material, especially human interest stories that readers relish.
After The Troubles ended, there was a push on to establish new ways of writing about Northern Ireland. With the economy booming and an influx of tourists, writers are now dabbling in quirky themes such as town versus country and the restrictiveness of provincial life.

If you visit, you'll find a wealth of writing-related places of interest and you can also enjoy literary walking tours around Belfast. There's the added promise that the people are warm, friendly and welcoming and they love a good chat. They might just want to hear all about that book you're writing!

Chalk dust memories

I’ve been thinking about the role teachers play in the writing process. I don't mean that much-debated chestnut of whether creative writing can be taught. Instead, I mean the influence of school and how key individuals early on may have prompted us to take this exhilarating, frustrating, addictive path of writing.
In the last year of primary school, I had a certain Mr Hyde, a teacher I adored and feared in equal measure. It was pre-National Curriculum, and every week we were given the task of filling the back wall of our classroom with pictures, news and stories. This task was known simply as ‘Magazine’. My contribution was writing melodramatic stories in weekly instalments and I can remember ferociously working out a plot issue on a family walk in the country at the age of ten. It’s scary how little has changed in the [ahem] however many years since then.
He also set us a regular descriptive writing task. We’d be given a concept or even a single word (one week it was just ‘grey’) and then told to write about it in a certain number of words. It was probably something like 150, but at the time the word count seemed epic. He loved a good metaphor, did Mr Hyde, and he also encouraged us to pack our sentences chockfull of as many adjectives and adverbs as we could squeeze in. He didn’t want flat writing, he wanted descriptions that sang, danced and got right in your face. This wordy tendency has been discouraged on just about every writing course I’ve been on as an adult, but even so, I think Mr Hyde taught me a very important lesson. Words weren’t flat, two dimensional entities, but a type of magic that anyone was allowed to dabble in.
I think Mr Hyde would have guessed I might end up writing. But by secondary school, a very run-down comprehensive, I kept it all much closer to my chest. In the third year there, I had a teacher I’ll call Miss Smith. Central Casting couldn’t have been crueller when it came to a middle aged, unmarried teacher. She had bad teeth, a giant mole on her chin, thick glasses, was very overweight and had greasy grey hair pulled back in a limp ponytail. Her job was mainly about crowd control than shaping young minds. One day she announced we would be studying Shakespeare the following year, which prompted much jeering and complaining. I probably added a few 13-year-old eye rolls to the mix too. But this time, Miss Smith didn’t shout to make her point. In a low voice, she just started to quote from (she told us) Romeo and Juliet. Her eyes were closed and she had a rapturous look, as though the words were transporting her somewhere better. The chaos continued all around but I was rooted to the spot, transfixed, and the classroom noises seemed to fall away. The words seemed so powerful and musical, they literally took my breath away.
When she’d finished she met my eyes. I blushed and looked away. But I think she knew she’d made her point. I believe that it was on that wet, Wednesday afternoon, in a room that smelled of teenage hormones and chalk dust, that I properly understood the transformative power of words.
So if you’re a teacher and you sometimes wonder why you bother, don’t despair. You too might have touched someone who’s never said thank you in person.