Stuck for a Writing Idea? Time to Start Digging

You stare at the blank screen. You hover your pen over the page. You wonder if you close your eyes and wait a bit you’ll start automatically writing a masterpiece. We’ve all been there.

Popular culture would have you believe that inspiration just hits you when you’re out walking or buying a loaf of bread. And sometimes a spark will appear like Harry Potter wandering down a train aisle and into JK Rowlings head. But usually finding an idea to write about involves just that – ‘finding’. Fortunately, you might not have to look very far.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, I’ve no doubt you’ll have collected a bunch of exercise books, scraps of paper, notepads, computer disks and hard drives filled with notes. You may well think they’re well, a bit crap. And they may well be, but they could also be the spark that you need.

I’ve been churning out bits and bobs since I was old enough to hold a pencil and much my early work is typical of what kids and teenagers write and it’s pretty hideous. But when I decided my next book would be an anthology of short stories, into my cave of wonders I went. There I found enough diamonds in the rough to make up a good chunk of the book with a few new ones rustled up for good measure. I’ve had to do some serious re-writes, often completely but the kernal of the idea or even just a character survived for me to work with.

So if you need an idea, start with what you’ve already got first. Oh and be careful what you throw away!

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Notebook Collection – 7# Google

Image of collected notebooks

What would be a good historical reference for a company as defining as Google? The East India Company? Ford? It’s hard to think of an equivalent. And love or loathe them, anyone would be interested in what actually goes on behind the doors. I was given the chance to visit one of their offices through my work.

This notebook was given to us as part of the visit, which was probably more exciting for me than anything else! It came to light recently when I had to raid my collection for a new work notepad and it’s well suited given what I do (online copy-writing).

When I opened it, I realised I’d made notes about my trip to the office. Most were about the tour they took us on, where we experienced all those work perks we’d heard about. Free food and drink were a big thing, with snacks and hot and cold drink always being on tap. Plus free breakfast and lunch (and dinner for engineers). Oh and a massage room with free massage on your birthday.

Of course the whole set up is designed to keep people in the office, they can be working at the drop of a hat. But it’s corporate intervention I could get on board with because…well did I mention the free food? Which actually has some relevance to working on your writing. Prep yourself for writing by having food and drink available. Take breaks and have something to do in your breaks so you keep yourself ‘in the zone’.

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Symbolism and Status – An Enlightening Tour of Highgate Cemetery West

Highgate Cemetery stands on Highgate hill, with a commanding a view over London. Because of that, it became the place to be buried in Victorian times.

Image of Highgate Cemetery WestHighgate is one of seven cemeteries opened in the 1800s to relieve pressure on the horrendously overcrowded inner city church graveyards. They’d been overwhelmed by new inhabitants brought into the capital by the industrial revolution. But the Victorians weren’t high on Government interference. So the new cemeteries were all run by private companies and needed to make a profit.

Grave monument in Highgate Cemetery West

A couple of years ago I visited Highgates’ East Cemetery, so it was only a matter of time before I also made my way to the West. I love a good cemetery. It sounds morbid and part of the appeal is the Gothic nature of them. But I also like history and of course, the hidden story behind each resident. If you’re a writer, they’re good places to find inspiration.

Unlike the Highgate East, where you can wander as you wish, visits to the West are by tour only.

The £12.50 cost is reasonable, especially as the money goes towards the upkeep of the site. It does mean you can’t track down the graves of people you might be interested in, but you do get a boatload of intriguing information from an enthusiastic guide.

The main thing I learnt about is the amount of symbolism in Victorian graves. Urns represent the soul, wreaths mean victory over death, Pelicans are a symbol of piety – nothing on a Victorian burial monument is there just to look pretty. It all means something.

George Wombwell's Lion
George Wombwell’s lion

Our guide also introduced us to some of the cemeteries more interesting inhabitants.

Tomb of Tom Sayers, Highgate Cemetery
Bare-knuckle boxer Tom Sayers and dog, Lion

George Wombwell, a successful menagerist and his sleepy lion, and Tom Sayers, a successful bare-knuckle boxer and his faithful dog, Lion.

And as far as writers go, we did get a glimpse of the tomb of Radclyffe Hall, author of early lesbian novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’.

Radclyffe Hall's Tomb, Highgate
Radclyffe Hall’s tomb

The West side of the cemetery was always the poshest , positioned right at the top of the hill. There were places for the poorest yes, but these were simply a pit you shared with many others and had no gravestone. At the other end of the scale is the most expensive tomb in the place built by Julius Beer for his daughter Ada, at a cost of thousands.

Image of Ada Beer's Tomb

The cemetery still has cache to it. When we visited, there was much ado about where George Micheal would be buried (his mother is interred in a private location in the cemetery). But there’s no mistaking that years of neglect have taken their toll.

Image of Highgate cemetery West

Image of Circle of Lebanon, Highgate Cemetery West
The Circle of Lebanon

Highgate has been restored in parts but it’s still very overgrown. One of the titbits given by our guide was that the graves are leased not owned. Technically it’s the responsibility of the deceaseds relatives to maintain them. If this isn’t done, the grave would be forfit. But this isn’t enforced at the moment and , as you can imagine, many have been forgotten. It does make you wonder if one of your own relatives might be nestled around there somewhere!

Image of the Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery, West
The Egyptian Avenue

For me and many others though, the decrepit nature of the place just adds to the atmosphere. If you’re into Victorian history, graveyards, architecture, London or just after a fascinating tour this could be for you. Quick tip – if you go at the weekends, you don’t have to book but the tours are popular. We went on a cold Sunday morning in February and the tour filled up quickly.

Have you ever visited Highgate? Or another cemetery that’s captured your imagination?

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Review of the Year or What the Hell was That?

I think it’s safe to say most of the reviews this year will be asking ‘WTF?’ Political and world events seemed to just be one cataclysmic event after the other. And on a personal level, I’ve had a couple of ‘WTF’ moments too. I won’t miss this year one bit.

But for me, there have been good moments too. The biggest thing was, of course, the publication of my first e-book. After writing stories for twenty-six odd years, I finally have a full-length piece of my work out there for people to read. No matter what happens next year, I did it and now I have, I intend to keep going. I’m currently editing a bunch of short stories for the next book whilst planning the one after that, another full-length novel. I’m working to finally establish that I am a writer – in my mind if nothing else.

Thanks to everyone I know and everyone who follows this blog or my social media accounts. Thanks for being there, for helping me, for encouraging me when I needed it and for reading my book!

To my fellow writers wherever you are in life or career, keep going. Keep sending those words out. Keep speaking even if you feel silenced. Stories are the lifeblood of us all, whether we’re reading them on the page or being part of them via Virtual Reality goggles.

We are all stories. See you on the flip side.


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The Princess who Loved Words: Farewell Carrie Fisher

When Terry Pratchett died, it affected me because he shaped the person I am today. The same is true of Carrie Fisher, albeit in a different way.

To women of a certain age, especially those in love with fantasy, she was an icon. There weren’t a great deal of notable female characters in the genre at the time, so Princess Leia in Star Wars was a revelation. She was determined, brave, funny and caring. An excellent shot, a true friend and a rebel leader even after her entire family and planet were destroyed(. And she got Han Solo. No question, I wanted to be Leia. Many of the first stories I wrote included Princess Leia type heroines, fighting and shooting with the best of them.

When I got older, I began to appreciate her for the woman she was too. A brilliant writer and script doctor, she was outspoken and bitingly funny. She discussed her addictions and mental illness without shame. Ultimately, she loved words – and that’s my kind of Princess.

I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn’t know. It was something I always did.

Carrie Fisher

Christmas special offer now on – get “Under this Skin” for only 99p! Limited time only!

hiresIt’s Christmas Eve my friends and you know what that means. Time to start eating and reading!

For a limited time only, get “Under this Skin”, my original e-book, for the bargain price of 99p! Snuggle up with this fantastical, five-star tale whilst chowing down on (several) mince pies.

Offer starts 8am today. The price will go up to £1.99 on Dec 27th and be back at its original price of £2.99 on New Years’ Eve.

Take me to the offer!


5 Ways to Promote your E-book

Hand holding ebook

If you want people to read your e-book, you’ll need to do some ‘metaphorical’ legwork. And if, like me, you’re new to all this and aren’t sure where to start, here’s some basic (and free) ways to promote your e-book.

1. Add yourself as an author on Goodreads

Goodreads is like Trip Advisor for books and I’m sure most of you are on their already talking, reviewing and generally loving books. But did you know they have an Author profile? Add your own book to Goodreads and claim it as your own and bingo – you’re a Goodreads Author! You don’t need an ISBN either.

2. Promote your book with Writers Online ‘Subscriber Showcase’

I’ve subscribed to the Writing Magazine for years and as the biggest writing mag in the UK, it has some clout. So when I found that they’ll add your book to their online Subscriber Showcase free for two months if you’re a subscriber, I was all over it. They’ll also add you if you’re not a subscriber but you would need to pay a small fee.

3. Schedule your social media promotion with an app

There are plenty of apps to help you juggle your social media accounts. Basic help is usually free so you can try things out to see what’s right for you.

I use Buffer and thus far it’s provided what I need to manage my Twitter and Facebook. With their basic service I can set up one message about my book to repeat at a regular interval, in my case once a week. It’s also proved useful to queue up a variety of other messages about other things too. Don’t continuously cry ‘BUY MY BOOK!’ because you will put people off.

4. Got Twitter? Try welcome Direct Messages

Okay, I know not everyone is fond of these – but I’ve actually had some nice conversations because of them and I think they’re a good way to highlight what you’ve got going on. Like with other social promotion, keep if short and personal and not just ‘BUY MY BOOK!’

5. Update your social media and blog bios

If you’ve got a blog, update your ‘About’ page with a link to your book and consider a link on your menu or sidebar as well.

Similarly, pop a link into your social media bios linking to your new book. If you’d rather leave your Twitter bio as it is, try pinning a tweet to the top of your time line instead, so it’s the first one people see visiting your feed.

Got a tip that’s helped you with your own work? Please share in the comments below.


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A Visit to Stonehenge

Even though it’s not far from neck of the woods, I’ve only just got round to visiting Stonehenge.

It helps that we’ve joined English Heritage as it’s not cheap to visit the stones. Understandable I suppose, given that it is one of the most famous sites on the planet and they have got a rather good visitors centre. Inside is a 360 display of the stones, plus an exhibition on their history and artefacts found at the site.

There’s been many a story inspired by these great, ancient stones and the burial mound covered landscape that surrounds them. I shall let the pictures speak for themselves.

Who else has been to this magnificent place? What were your thoughts?


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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Words

Gun target

If you’re a writer, you’re going to love words. But part of that love comes from your knowledge of their power. Words are beautiful gifts – with sharp edges. I believe in freedom of speech. But we often act as if words exist in a vacuum. They do not.

Our ability to communicate has given us civilisations, nations; dominance (rightly or wrongly) on this planet. That shows you the power of words. So we should never pretend that because they do not inflict physical change, they can’t be powerful or dangerous. Words can incite, words can enflame. Words can support and justify and embolden. The words we speak and hear, and words you write and read; the power comes from both sides.

The age of internet and global media means we’re overflowing with words. Sometimes we’re close to drowning in them. We struggle under their weight, so we try to sum up, to ‘sound-bite’, this torrent of words in a nice neat bow. But it’s not possible. And when we do so, we erase their context and inadvertently make words even sharper.

I won’t repeat that oft used ‘Uncle-Ben-from-Spiderman’ quote, but it’s foolish not to understand what words can do. And the freedom some of us have to send them into the world comes with a price. We must take responsibility for our words. We must never underestimate how powerful they can be.

Visiting Virginia Woolf – A Trip to Monk’s House

Monk’s House was once the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Today it’s owned by the National Trust and the unassuming 18th century cottage with a beautiful big garden and orchard is a world away from the grand buildings it’s known for.

Virginia’s writing shed can be found in the orchard, and she resides here too, as her ashes were scattered amongst the trees.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf owned this place as a retreat from London. In it they made welcome several notable members of the ‘Bluestockings’ literary and artistic set in the 1930s.

There’s a real sense of simplicity about the place. It’s a home first and foremost – but that’s not to say it isn’t interesting. It’s full of books, colourful rugs, painted furniture and vases of flowers. There’s colour and light and inspiration in every corner. Yet it’s also homely and peaceful. I can definitely see why Virginia loved this place as a place to calm her mind and feed her soul.

If you’re a member of the National Trust and you’re into your authors, it’s definitely worth a look.

The garden is beautiful, full of flowers and ponds and nooks and cranies to escape into. Many visitors were enjoying a picnic on the summer afternoon we visited.

I think you either love Virginia’s work or tend to admire it. I’d say I fall into the latter category. I’ve read a number of her works (my favourite is “The Years”) and I’ve been fascinated by her themes and her use of words – but I’m not as passionate about her writing as some are. Her influence on the literary world and development of Feminism cannot be underestimated. Monks House offers a mere glimpse into a complicated mind – but an interesting glimpse nonetheless.

Anyone else been to Monks House?

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