Five Things to do with Today’s Extra Hour

2015-10-25 15.54.40

The clocks went back last night in the UK, treating us to an extra hour. But what to do? What to do with it? Here are a few ideas – not including having a lie-in – based on what this procrastinating writer has been getting up to today.

  1. Go for an early walk round the park, kick through the damp leaves and smell the morning dew. (I’m feeling virtuous, can’t you tell?). Say ‘hello’ to everyone you pass and draw no confidence-sapping conclusions from the fact that the only person to totally ignore you is the 30-something, tight-t-shirted hottie, preoccupied by his smartphone.
  2. Read a big chunk of book (radical for a writer, eh?). Finish one book, begin another. Chain-reading, with but the briefest interval to top up the coffee pot.
  3. Catch up with last night’s #Strictly and waste no energy feeling guilty that at the age of, oh, 50-mumble, the one you’ve got your eye on is the ex-boy-band member.
  4. Write a really, really serious blog post about a seriously personal subject and then realise you can’t possibly post it. Gah!
  5. Cook-up a big, blippy pot of autumn yumminess with mince and mushrooms and tomatoes and sweetcorn and a garlic-laden, gloopy gravy (countdown to consumption – 30 mins).

So what did you do with your extra hour?

On a summer reading list – and an unfortunate omission

Bookshop chain Waterstones (no apostrophe these days, harrumph) has announced its Book Club Summer Reads this week. The list is varied and for avid readers, promises a luscious literary experience across the coming months.

Unfortunately, my debut novel, Singled Out, has – I can only presume, in some hideous accidental oversight – been omitted from this list of good and great summer reads of 2015.

I can’t begin to understand how this ghastly blunder could possibly have happened. I am dumbstruck. I can but apologise, because this incomprehensible failure means that instead of a simple ‘click to buy’ from a colourful e-mail landing in your inbox, you’re going to have to embark on a hunt for Singled Out, trailing through the Amazon, all by yourself.

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxIf you’re into sinister tales taking place in delicious settings, your search for Singled Out will reward you with a gripping read. It’s a gritty psychological story about one woman’s struggle to overcome her demons and snare a dangerous stalker. It all takes place on a summer holiday for singles in Turkey, where strangers come together and nobody is quite who they seem.

Yes, you read that right. Summer… summer holiday. Hey, you guys at Waterstones…. summer holiday! Wouldn’t this alone qualify for a place on your Book Club Summer Reads list? Wouldn’t it? No?


I know. It’s hardly selling in its thousands. It won’t make you book-business guys rich – at least, not overnight. But what about when the bidding war breaks out over those options on a movie or a TV mini-series – when world-renowned production companies are fighting over the rights and A-listers are begging for a role? Maybe then? What was that you said? Cloud-cuckoo land? Oh, don’t be mean, guys. Don’t hit me when I’m down.

Fair enough, I can’t deny it; demand has been, well, modest. The truth? Singled Out has yet to attain three figures in the Sales column – but it’s close, it is. Sort of. Close-ish. But just think what a place on that Book Club Summer Reads list would have done for it. And I’m not just saying this out of blatant self-interest either. I think I could safely argue that, with a little display ingenuity, there’s a profit to be had for any bookshop from my modest literary endeavours. What about those magic tables – the ones that everyone, but everyone, makes for when they come through the doors? Imagine for a moment, how appealing that sultry sunset on the cover of Singled Out would look on one of those tables by the entrance – the one that says ‘Hot New Authors’ or better still ‘Sizzling Summer Holiday Reads’ perhaps. Imagine all the book-buying money-spending hands that would reach out for it.

Yes, that would work.

But hey, the list is written, the emails are out and it’s too late for all that business. So all I can do is grumple away under my breath and shake my metaphorical fist at the Book Club selectors. It gets it off my chest a bit at least.

So, friends, followers and readers – an apology: I’m sorry you’ll have to go a-hunting for Singled Out. I’m sorry you won’t ever find it at Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, or even your quirky little independent bookstore. I’m sorry it’s only on Amazon and that – for the time being at least – you’ll have to go further than Amazon’s Top 100 lists to track it down. But if you look, you’ll find it. It’s there for your Kindle (a perfect medium, if ever there was one, to take with you on your… holidays), and for the traditionalists amongst us, it’s there in paperback too.

As for the Waterstones Book Club recommendations, I cannot tell a lie. Notwithstanding that single sloppy omission, it’s a great selection. If you’re an avid reader like me, it’s worth a look – and it’s worth a few of your pennies/cents (only the ones you’ve got left after you’ve picked up Singled Out though).

Meantime, I hope you’ll forgive my shameless opportunism. When I got that Waterstones Book Club email this morning, I just couldn’t resist it.

Just one more thing… of course… Singled Out is available to purchase on these and all other regional Amazon sites:

20 things to do when you don’t have a clue what to write for your next blog post

Winter Pansies 2

  1. Make a cup of coffee
  2. Phone a friend
  3. Compile your To Do list for next week
  4. Check Facebook, even though you hate Facebook and you hate yourself for checking Facebook
  5. Update your current reads on Goodreads
  6. Phone another friend
  7. Pay your bills online
  8. Pull a few unwanted clothes from your wardrobe for the charity shop bag
  9. Make another cup of coffee
  10. Order a replacement carpet protector for under your desk, because you’ve had just about enough of catching your chair on the splintered shreds of the old one
  11. Rate all the products you’ve recently purchased on Amazon
  12. Review your KDP and CreateSpace stats
  13. Clear out an old work folder and retrieve any pages printed on one side only for re-use
  14. Look through all the old pieces of writing you’ve already rejected a dozen times for material, and reject it all again
  15. Wash out the filters on your Dyson vacuum cleaner
  16. Top up your cloakroom soap dispenser
  17. Clean out the squishy vegetables and other time-expired produce from your fridge
  18. Make another cup of coffee
  19. Take a photograph of the winter pansies outside your kitchen window, which have lately appeared, despite the combined onslaughts of urban foxes and neighbourhood felines
  20. Write a list post comprising all the things you’ve been doing for the last three hours because you couldn’t think what to write for your blog.

My Top Ten Valentine’s Tips – for the Boys

angel-427480_1280As a long-time single with an admittedly cynical streak, I have no love for Valentine’s Day, nor Valentine’s Night, nor (because one solitary day just isn’t enough any more for the retailers and restaurateurs) the drawn-out torture of Valentine’s Week.

With its tsunami of slush and lovey-doviness; simpering songs, pitiful poems, oozingly creepy messages from Bunnikins to Big-Boy and more schmaltz than you can shake a dozen overpriced red roses at – the whole Valentine’s thing leaves me stony-cold.

But if you’re paired-off in any meaningful way, it’s tough. The Season of Lurve places a burden on people – especially the men – to deliver on excessive romantic expectations. You, sad souls, are deluded and doomed.

Yes, it’s true. When it comes to meeting outlandish romantic expectations, most men are on a hapless hiding to nothing, condemned to failure before they even start. Their card will be too flippant, not romantic enough or an all-too-obvious last-minute garage purchase; their flowers will be flaccid, their chocolates a cliché; the restaurant will be overcrowded and noisy and the romantic dinner for two a lukewarm letdown. As for any heat in the bedroom (a vain attempt to counteract the chill that will have descended during the day), with the mood so deflated by devotional disaster, only the most dauntless will be able to rise to the occasion.

So, with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek (you realised, right?), I offer a few notes of advice to those hapless guys out there who, despite the promise of almost certain failure, aren’t yet ready to give up before they start.

Here then, are my tips for the boys – how to make your girlfriend/wife/partner’s Valentine’s Day memorable for all the right reasons.

  1. Spend A LOT of money on flowers. Gentlemen, when it comes to florals, size matters. Flowers say, ‘I love you this much’. So get a very big and ostentatious display. Spend more than you imagined spending in your entire lifetime on flowers, in one go. Find the best bouquet of flowers you can afford and then borrow more money from your mates and get a bigger, better one.
  2. Deliver your bouquet in person, preferably to her place of work, so all her friends will see what a lucky, lucky lady she is, to own such a wonderful, thoughtful, generous man.
  3. Buy nothing from a garage or motorway service station. Don’t even think of it.
  4. Get a card. Do it. Get one.  Make it tasteful and arty or quirky, but never dirty. Make sure it says love on it somewhere, or prepare yourself for histrionics. Don’t make the mistake of thinking cards are silly. To women, they’re not in the least silly. They will be pored over; their sentiments will be analysed, and providing they make the grade in appropriate levels of taste and expressions of affection, they will be cherished forever in a shoebox under the bed.
  5. When you encounter a naughty underwear shop, walk on by, particularly if the window is dressed with shiny red and black satin. These vile shreds are for you, not her. They show how selfish and deviant you are and you don’t want this thought in her head on Valentine’s Day.
  6. Forget overpriced eating out; cook a meal for her. She won’t care how caustic or inedible the result, she will love you for the attempt. Make food you know she adores, even if you can’t stand it – in fact, particularly if you can’t stand it, as she will love you all the more for your sacrifice.
  7. Fill her car up with petrol/gasoline. It is the gift of all gifts. There’s nothing a woman hates more than when her hands reek of gasoline. It is within your purview to take this misery away.
  8. Unless the pair of you is already acclimatised to painting the town Fifty Shades of Grey, don’t go there for Valentine’s night. If you catch yourself wondering what she might look like in a studded patent leather basque, or whether she might enjoy being roped to the bedposts, or if Valentine’s night might be the appropriate moment to introduce whips and paddles to the bedroom, slap your own face hard and move your naughty little mind along. If you really want to go there, save it for another night; any night, just not this one. The ONLY acceptable play on Valentine’s night is romantic. Got it?
  9. Make it a movie night. Forget Fifty Shades of Grey and hide those movies away – you know the ones I mean. Acquire two or more of the following, plus a box of properly luxurious Belgian chocolates, for your shared pleasure and a guarantee of cuddles and more besides: Sleepless in Seattle, An Officer and A Gentleman, You’ve Got Mail, Brief Encounter, The Way We Were, An Affair to Remember, When Harry Met Sally, Ghost, The Bridges of Madison County, Before Sunrise, Brokeback Mountain, Gone With The Wind, Titanic, Notting Hill, Pretty Woman or Dirty Dancing. Have tissues on standby. No, not for that; for womantic weepiness.
  10. Give her something small which is loaded with meaning and memory. Guys, this one’s a winner and there’s another upside; this kind of gift usually costs little or nothing in cash money terms and it will balance out your investment in the flowers. It can be as small as a pebble from the beach you first kissed on, a fridge magnet from your first holiday together. Nest your tender, thoughtful objet in a box with tissue paper and tie it with a ribbon, then tell her the story of why you kept it. But… I can hear you thinking, how are you ever going to get hold of a sentimental giftie like that – because you’ll never have kept such a thing from its original magical moment. You know that, and I know that. But hey, don’t be troubled by this minor detail. There are pebbles in your garden and fridge magnets from the four corners of the globe on eBay. She’ll never know (because you won’t ever be dumb enough to tell her, will you?) and you won’t believe the cosmic effect your romantic gesture will have on your relationship.

So that’s it – take the advice of this hoary old cynic and a pathway to romantic bliss awaits. Possibly.

And… Happy V… V… oh, I can’t say it. But if you’re into it, have a magnificently slushy time.  😉

Ten things you should never eat on a first date

oysters-220955_1280 - narrowOrdering any of these foods on a first date is, in my humble opinion, a relationship-limiting move. Doh.

  1. Corn on the cob – no one looks luscious with their face smeared in melted butter. No one.
  2. French Onion soup – the one with the giant indigestible cheesy crouton floater. To say nothing of the gastrointestinal impact of the alliums.
  3. Snails in garlic butter – you might love them (as I do) but for some, the yuk-factor of these gummy little garden critters is insurmountable.
  4. Oysters – yes, really; they’re seriously overburdened with sexual innuendo and have no role to play on a respectable first date.
  5. Spaghetti Bolognaise – or indeed any flicky tomato-based spaghetti dish. It’s just not cool when your shirt looks like it’s been raining tomato sauce.
  6. Anything requiring chopsticks – unless you’re confident you can deploy them dexterously and without making a total ass of yourself.
  7. Anything wrapped in puff pastry – watching as you choke on stray flakes of dry pastry will smother your date’s libido.
  8. ‘Blue’ steak – order this only when you’re certain your partner is also a vampire.
  9. Sweetbreads – some people are inexplicably squeamish about animal glands. Most mistakenly believe them to be testicles. The potential yuk-factor rating amongst the untutored is up in the stratosphere – we’re in ‘I’m a Celebrity’ territory here.
  10. And last, but not least… Spare Ribs – they come with A BIB. Enough said.

Blinded by the Light

Writerly frustrations are many and varied. Some of them have nothing at all to do with actual writing.

2014-10-20 12.39.50My spare bedroom at home long ago became my home-office. Now it’s also my writing zone. It’s a bit cluttered – more than my minimalist tendencies can tolerate, truth be told. But in addition to being my write/work zone, it still holds its status as spare room. That means it’s where spare stuff finds a home (usually a more permanent home than the spare stuff deserves). General clutter, unwanted furniture, guest put-you-up (mustn’t let them get too comfortable), over-purchased soft furnishings (you can have too many cushions – strange, but true), old stereos, 300+ CDs and the like have all ended up here. But this is where I spend my days, and notwithstanding the excess stuff that crowds me, I like it up here.

I live in the suburbs of London, but it’s a quiet cul-de-sac and my window overlooks shrubbery and trees, rather than the fronts of other houses, which is nice. It’s a south-facing window too, which means that in the summer the room is bathed in light all day long as the sun is high overhead.

As the leaves begin to turn, the sun droops in the sky and at this point, things get a bit annoying. Blummin’ annoying, in fact. For several hours of the day as I work, the sun, instead of drifting overhead, is low enough to hit me right between the eyes. That would be alright if it shone consistently and I could simply draw my blind for shade. But it’s autumn, which means there is weather – scudding clouds and patchy showers as well as blips of sunlight – it’s all very changeable.

Today is like many days I can look forward to over the coming months. I’m being strobed by the sun. Bright and fierce one minute, sunk behind clouds the next, then out again, then in, then out…. you get the picture. When it’s out I need the blind closed or my retinas will explode. When it’s behind a cloud, the room is plunged into Stygian gloom. That gets me leaping up to open the blind. I sit again and go back to my work – and the sun comes out. To cut a long story short (and overload a sentence with not one, but two clichés), I’m up and down like a very irritable yo-yo all day long.

I know what you’ll say. Just switch the light on, Julie! But I like my view and I enjoy seeing what little activity goes on outside. I don’t want to sit in a darkened room under electric light when the sun is trying to make its presence felt outside. Venetian blinds are the least-worst solution, but light finds its way through all those little pin-holes by the stringing and the twizzle mechanism is too far away to reach without getting up. Sunglasses might help, but what would the neighbours make of me when they wave at me as they wander past? You’re not a celebrity yet, old girl!

At the moment I’m sitting in gloom, blinds twizzled against the sun, although the sun has gone in. Instead of leaping up to twizzle the stick again, I’m penning this quickie grump for my blog.

What writerly frustrations do you put up with, that have nothing to do with your actual writing?

Too much information

If you have ambitions to be a novelist, you need every shred of advice and information you can possibly lay your sticky mitts on, don’t you?

book-2869_1280When you’re trying to figure out about structure and plotting, or how to write a killer opening paragraph or a compelling protagonist, there are myriad sources to go to for help – on the internet, in paperbacks, pdf’s and e-books and of course, all those training courses and seminars I wrote about here.

Ready to launch your manuscript on an unsuspecting literary world, you might want to know how to hook an agent. If you’re a detail person, like me, you’ll want to know what font-size and margins you should choose for your sample, exactly how many paragraphs your query letter should have, what pushes agents’ buttons and what pips them off. There are seminars, dozens of websites and a gazillion blog posts from writers who have hooked their agent and writers who haven’t, and jaded agents who have tired of their expectations not being met. You’ll need to know how to pen the perfect synopsis too; precisely how many words should it have, what you should leave in and what you must take out – and here again there are courses and seminars and a whole slew of paper and web-based pointers to plough through.

Then, when like me, you finally acknowledge that ‘it could be you’ is a lottery slogan, not a promise of literary recognition and riches, you’ll be ready to learn about self-publishing. And here, the volume of advice and information surges skyward like the Himalayas.

It’s fantastic to have so much help and information to draw from, isn’t it? It’s brilliant!

But then again…

Last weekend, embarking on the latest leg of my writer’s journey, I read no less than three e-books on self-publishing, multiple pages on Amazon’s website and in their downloads about e-publishing on Kindle, and an e-book on turning your writing into a business (I have mixed feelings about this incidentally – for another time).

At the end of my marathon, my bum had created a sink-hole in the sofa and my brain was… fried. I had to go and lie down in a dark room with some wind chimes. And a brandy.

I read once that a person alive in the Middle Ages would, in their entire lifetime, need to process about as much information as is found today in an average daily newspaper. I processed twenty times that amount in one weekend. And I’m dazed and confused.

I went into this writing lark because… I wanted to write. I’ve learned some important skills over recent years and now I want to use what I’ve learned to write some more. But in the meantime, unless I simply want to fill my bottom-drawer with unseen manuscripts, I know I need to get a handle on the business of writing.

Over coming weeks, I’ll go back through what I read with a notepad at my side. I’ll filter what I need, and extract useful take-aways from the glut of information and advice.

I don’t want to be negative, because it’s great that we can so readily access so many remarkable sources of help, enabling us to expand our skillset, get a head-start or avoid pitfalls. The writing community is a particularly encouraging and supportive one and that’s part of the joy of writing. And great deal of advice and learning is coherent, wise and worthwhile. And I want to take it, make use of it and be a better and more successful writer as a result. But sometimes it all just feels like…. too much brain-fodder.

I wonder, does the glut of helpful advice and information make you feel like a kid in a candy factory, or, like me, does it sometimes make you feel just a little bit overwhelmed?

Twelve Questions You Must Never Ask A Writer

  1. What are you up to over there, tapping away on your laptop?
  2. A book? What, like … a book?
  3. What’s it about?
  4. Am I in it?
  5. Are you planning to be the next JK Rowling?
  6. A thing happened today. Are you going to put it in your book?
  7. How’s the book going?
  8. How’s the book going?
  9. How’s the book going?
  10. I’ve got an idea for a story. You could write it for me, couldn’t you?
  11. Heard anything yet [from your 350 submissions]?
  12. Don’t they like it then?
  13. What, not even one?
  14. Got your mega-deal yet?
  15. Still no news, eh?

And one thing you should never say…

I might write a novel one day

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

acorns-57305_1280I thought this Twitter exchange from teatime yesterday might amuse. It just goes to show that (i) as a writer with unrealised ambitions, it’s all too easy to become twisted and cynical about agents and publishers and (ii) plot ideas can pop up anywhere.

(If you’re on a reader, click here to see the full post.)

By the way, if you’re new to my blog and you don’t know Dylan, check out his blog – and his compelling dystopian political thriller Second Chance here.

Twitter Conversation Dylan and Julie 3

We need to talk about… Sex

Note on a tree in a forestBlogging is generally good fun, but with so many blogs seeking an audience it can, even on a good day, be likened to pinning a note to a tree in a forest.  And if that’s the case, then posting on a Friday afternoon is like writing that note in invisible ink. Whatever the world at large was getting up to on Friday afternoon (and the sunny Saturday and Sunday that followed for that matter), you weren’t reading blog posts, were you?

Yes, I committed a social media faux pas when I posted my latest blog last Friday afternoon.  It was the one headed Precision detail in a novel – not just any place but this place about how I used notes and photographs to help me recall places and senses and inject precision detail into my writing.  I’ve been trying different days and times for posting and last week I plumbed the depths – a Friday afternoon ahead of a weekend that teased (the UK at least) with the promise of a little sunshine. Not only that, but I might allow that it wasn’t the most compelling of posts – interesting for some, but hardly challenging, contentious or amusing in the way a properly engaging blog post needs to be.   A double-whammy, for sure. I’m sorry, ok. Mea culpa and all that.

So last Friday afternoon it hit the water with a barely perceptible splash, before sinking without trace over the weekend, with hits in numbingly modest numbers and just one kind soul commenting; a dead body of a post, leaden and dull. Yesterday’s thoughts already half a mile down your blog reader, never to surface.

A few weeks ago, I penned a post on the challenges of writing sex into stories (Marmite Moments: Writing good sex). Strangely (who knew?), it was my most read and commented post of the last year. To be fair, a substantial dose of the credit for that is due to WordPress for offering me a second slot on Freshly Pressed – thanks, Ben! But it did get a few people going and it garnered some great comments and a whole host of new bloggers to connect with – and after all, that’s what makes blogging fun, isn’t it?

So clearly, I need to go back to writing about Marmite.

Or maybe… Sex.

That’s it. Not Marmite. Sex.

So I’ll see what I can do over the next few days, and I’ll be back soon with something to get properly hot around the collar, as it were, about.  Don’t get too excited though – this is still a blog about writing, not a blog about sex. But with the creative juices flowing, I imagine I can find a way to slip in a few sneakily salacious musings.

All in the best possible taste, of course.