Tuesday, 19 January 2016

This week I am...

Reading... Margaret Atwood's 'The Stone Mattress', a collection of 9 short fantastical stories - or 'tales' (the term Atwood prefers for these particular works) about revenge, mortality, ageing and looking back.

Listening... to David Bowie, of course.

Working... as a biographer on a life story project. The book is almost done and will finish around the 45,000 word mark. I'm in an interesting and privileged position to be listening to the stories and experiences of someone I never meet, and turning those spoken stories into something that works on the page. The next few months will bring more life writing projects, some of which I'll be having more creative freedom and space with, actually meeting and speaking with clients, building books in a more collaborative way. An exciting time.

Walking... at speed on a daily basis to try to undo all the food of Christmas and New Year. Might take a while.

Preparing... an application for the role of editor with the journal The A3 Review. I ordered a bundle of issues to read in preparation, and they're wonderful.

Holding... a hot water bottle, pretty much full time.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Why I've been away a while

A week after my last post we lost a close family member. I will hold back a little here in the specifics of what I say because this loss is not just my own, but my partner’s. It was a sudden and intense experience, and the swells of that loss, and those left behind, are still felt now.

November and December were spent collected together with my partner’s family, mostly indoors but sometimes out in open spaces where we tried to breathe, make sense, and feel the person still with us. We lit fireworks and Chinese lanterns. We have become very keen on candles. We’ve dug out old lamps and bought fairy lights and even some of those pretend battery powered candles for when we’re asleep. I’m not sure if there’s something in this seeking of light (it’s not that we’re avoiding the dark) but it seems to bring comfort.

It is hard when faced with such a sudden absence of life to not expect more of it to occur. So in and amongst processing this we hold on to each other a little tighter, and feel gratitude for what we have. We remember and contemplate on the person we knew and loved, and what they brought to us.

Cawthorne Park, Barnsley

Saturday, 24 October 2015

ten thoughts on a Saturday evening

(Inspired by Josephine Corcoran's post 'Ten thoughts on a Friday evening'. The first thought here is a direct reference to Josephine's.)

1. After a day of work, sipping a glass of wine whilst not cooking (beyond warming up some pitta bread) is a great pleasure. But I do like drinking wine and cooking. Tomorrow night I'll have a glass while I make a lentil dhal, which is one of my favourite things to make. But tonight it was nice to warm up some bread, throw some hummus and falafel onto a plate and wonder if I'd get lynched if I went back to the place I grew up for having such a poncey tea.

2. I had some crisps with my wine as a kind of 'starter', which made me feel better about the poncey tea.

3. I watched Corrie as I ate my poncey tea which really helped me to feel more down to earth.

4. I love Corrie. Five times a week (and not restricted to the broadcast times, thank you modern technology) I get a really happy feeling as I sit or lie down for 22 minutes to enjoy an episode. It's funny and well scripted. It's genuinely funny. Mary is my favourite. If you watch it and if you know me well you might understand why I like her so much.

5. Every so often, someone will hear that I watch certain TV programs (I also watch Big Brother) and say something smart like, 'Oh I thought you were better than that!' Of all the judge-y snobby attitudes I dislike, this is in the top 5 worst ones. (I'm not sure what else is in there yet - another blog post? but I know that I'd put grammar snobs in number 1.)  Like what you like! Enjoy what you get pleasure from, for whatever reason. And please don't call the things you like 'guilty pleasures' - doing that just succumbs to and validates the judgements of others.

6. Happy Halloween! I bought these lights just a few hours ago. They're from Sainsbury's, they're battery powered, they cost £3.50 and they are ESSENTIAL. That's my head and eye at the top. Tilt your head to the right or it looks like my fringe is a beard.

7. I have a new job and it is a writing job. It's really nice to be able to say that! I'm working as a ghostwriter (that's even nicer to say) writing people's life stories from interviews they've given. It is really a fantastic job, interesting and rewarding - and hopefully it will lead onto and into other things... I'm doing it for an organisation at the moment, but am hoping, and planning, to be working for myself in the future. I want to help people tell their stories - it makes total sense for me to do that, for a variety of reasons. Maybe that is also another post. If you'd like help writing your story - get in touch - my email is in the 'about' tab up there.

8. I only have one story out being judged at the moment - and it's at the Costa Short Story Award. Six winners are due to be announced in November, which is very close. But 'Winners announced in November' is vague - that could mean the end of November. Which is a whole month away. It probably doesn't mean that, and I'm not saying this to elicit a 'Oh you never know!' response (I actually have that, naturally) but wouldn't it be amazing if writing competitions always kept their Twitter / website / blog up to date with news of how close they are to contacting the winners or shortlisters? They must know we check any kind of news resource daily (hourly) to see if anything has been announced. Just a snippet of news, an indication, would be excellent. And it would be respectful - then we can send our work elsewhere, with confidence, and not in a sneaky way.

9.  In a bit I'll watch another episode of Corrie, then retire to bed to listen to a radio program. This is where I should say something about being boring, or 'this is how I rock a Saturday night!' or something else that I don't really mean. I guess we're back to thought number 5. When possible I try to fill my time with things I love doing, and these are the things I really want to do right now. The radio program, as I'm sure you're eager to know, will be Word of Mouth with Michael Rosen. (Josephine mentioned Michael in her list too, so that's a nice bit of synchronicity.)

10.  This is probably the best video I've ever seen on the internet. (Yeah, even including all the cat ones.) (I KNOW!!!!) Thanks Vanessa Gebbie for sharing this on FB. This lady dancing, and the last line, and the timing of the last line and the song that comes on next... all comprise and make for one joyous, life-grabbing, life-affirming experience.

Be happy! Like what you like! Write your thoughts and share in the comments, or leave a link to your blog in the comments. Happy Saturday. (Or any of the other 6 days in the week when you could be reading this.)

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Excellent surprise

... to find myself on the back of this book. I knew I had a story in this collection, but I didn't know until my copy arrived that a quote from it would be gracing the back cover so beautifully.

Thanks, Hour of Writes.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Announcing the winner

... of the names-in-a-hat style competition to win a signed copy of Emma Pass' latest novel The Fearless.

Thanks to everyone who RT'd to help spread the word about Emma's letter to her teenage self which we posted here a few days ago as part of UKYA Extravaganza.

All of your names were put into hat  lovely porcelain pot (on account of being unable to find my hat this morning).

Here I have captured LIVE the moment of picking the name. Get ready...


SO - congratulations to Helen Grant. If you haven't already, please let me know your address by direct-messaging me on Twitter or email me (see contact tab up there).

Thanks y'all - and to Emma too.

Back soon with good writing news!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Emma Pass writes a letter to herself

Please welcome Emma Pass, award winning YA author, both to the blog and to the series of letters-to-our-younger-selves. 

Emma is here as part of UKYA Extravaganza - a nationwide event celebrating books for young adults and the writers behind them. 

When I volunteered to host a YA author I knew I'd ask my writer to write to their teenage self, and luckily Emma took up the challenge with gusto, penning a terrific letter of advice which speaks not just to herself, but to any aspiring writer.

Emma is also very kindly giving away a signed copy of her latest book 'The Fearless' (nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2015) to UK readers. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is leave a comment on this post by midnight Sunday 4th October, or RT any of the tweets from Emma and myself about this blog and the giveaway. All names will be out into a hat and I'll do a 'taking-a-name-from-a-hat' video post early next week.

Over to Emma-now speaking to Emma-teenager - who desperately wants to be a writer.  


Dear Emma (aged 13), 

So you've decided you want to be a writer. You're sure about that, right? Because it's not going to be easy. At all. There's still time to change your mind if –

OK. OK. I can see I'm not going to be able to convince you to do something sensible with your life. So let me offer you a few pieces of advice:

1.     It's not going to be easy. Yes, I know I already said that. But it's not. You've got this secret hope that the novel you're writing now is going to get published. It's won't. It's going to take you – are you ready for this? – twenty years. Yes, you heard me right. And you're going to doubt yourself over and over again. But there's only one way through it. Keep writing.

2.     Don't get frustrated. You know, deep down, that the stuff you're writing isn't very good, but you can't get better by skipping the crap – you have to work through it. Keep writing.

3.     Don't let other people discourage you. That English teacher who laughed at you for writing a 30 page thriller when he told the class to write stories for homework? Don't listen. He's a frustrated luvvie who's bitter no one's spotted his genius and offered him a part on the West End stage yet. And that careers advisor who, a few years later, will tell you no one ever makes a living doing something creative? Ignore him. He's got a mullet and an earring. Even in the late nineties, that wasn't cool any more. Keep writing.

4.     Learn from other writers. Not just the ones who write stuff that's like the stories you think you want to write, but from all of them, in every genre. When you reach your early twenties, you'll pick up a book which will take you in a surprising – but rewarding – direction. Keep reading.

5.     Don't throw anything away. Those stories you've given up on after ten pages – those half-finished novels that dwindled into nothing – you don't know when you'll come back to them. In a year or so, you'll write a story that will come in very handy in another 18 years. Keep everything.

6.     Don’t think it gets any easier if you do get published. It doesn't. There will be tough times ahead even after you have a book on the shelves. But things have a way of working themselves out. Keep writing.

7.     Write the stories you want to write. When you've fallen in love with something you've written, it will show – and when you haven't, that will show too. So why waste time on stories you don't care about? Keep it real.

8.     Don’t give up. You'll get there. Keep writing.

Lots of love,

Emma (aged 35).


Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and wrote her first novel when she was 13 in maths lessons with her notebook hidden under her work.

Her debut novel, ACID, was published by Random House in 2013.  It won the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award, was shortlisted for the Doncaster Book Award and a Silver Inky Award, longlisted for the 2014 Branford Boase Award and nominated for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal. Her second novel, THE FEARLESS, was published by Random House in 2014, and was also nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

Emma lives in Derbyshire with her artist husband and crazy greyhound G-Dog. She owns far too many books and dreams of having her own library one day. When she's not writing, she runs workshops in schools and community settings and a young writers group for Writing East Midlands. In 2013 she helped found the popular Author Allsorts blog, and she is co-organiser of the UKYA and UKMG Extravaganzas.

For more on Emma:
Visit her website: www.emmapass.com
Stop by her blog: www.emmapass.blogspot.com
Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaPass
Look her up on Instagram: @EmmaPassAuthor
Like her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/EmmaPassAuthor


Thank you so much, Emma. And good on you for showing that English teacher and careers advisor that you can make a living from doing what you love. Oh, the photo you chose to share with us at the top of your letter: perfect.

Now readers - please say hello in the comments and your name will go into the hat to win a signed copy of Emma's latest novel, The Fearless (offer only available for UK readers - sorry international friends. Say hello anyway, though). 

Competition closes midnight Sunday 4th October. Good luck!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Oh hello

- it's been ages since my last post. It was a different season! I can just see myself back then, all full of summer and picnic expectations. I think we managed to have one. Now we're well into September, the days are long enough, the light is beautiful, the air is calm. Feels like breathing out.

So, some things that have happened between July 27th and now:
- As always, I've been writing short stories and sending them out
- Stories submitted: 4
- Stories rejected: 2
- Stories still out there: 2
- Good news! A hit - I found out I was a semi-finalist in CARVE Magazine's Short Story Contest
- I attended two lovely weddings
- I met my best friend's new baby girl
- I worked mostly in my cinema / bar job
- Tried to make cinder toffee, FAILED, something to do with temperatures, really claggy, stuck to everyone's teeth
- Baked choc chip cookies twice, SUCCESS both times, boyfriend's mum said they were better than the ones she gets from Marks and Spencer (high praise)
- I put about half a stone on (cookie / wine / take-away related)
- My fringe isn't what it used to be
- I read some great books: The Good Son by Paul McVeigh, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
- I got into guided meditations - all of which I found with searches on Youtube
- TOOTHACHE (cinder toffee related)
- Corbyn Mania
- Applied for a few writing-related jobs
- Really excited about it
- Will be doing it alongside my other jobs for now
- I'll post about it soon, once I actually start doing it

Just this week I started back at my job at the university, which I love doing, and like I said at the start of the post I really relax into September, it feels more like New Year to me than New Year does.

Hope things are good with you.

Monday, 27 July 2015

that time I got lost in the Austrian Alps

When I was 14 the most ambitious school trip our teachers had ever organised was organised. No more Thwaite Mill! Goodbye Eden Camp! We were off ABROAD. To AUSTRIA. To SKI. If we had a spare £400. 

My family didn't, but you could pay in installments, and my Dad, who I didn't live with, was keen for me to experience new things so he proudly passed £50 a month to me until the trip was paid for. My mum footed the bill for a hired ski suit reminiscent of my early 90s shell suit, but with goggles and a beanie on top. I was kitted out and mega excited.

Thing is, I have no idea why. It was like I'd had a personality transplant. The buzz about 'going to Austria' was phenomenal, I got so wrapped up in it all I didn't stop to think about how utterly rubbish I was at any physical activity and how unsure I was of my body at that age. The social aspect of the trip was far more important. What clothes we'd take for the evening activities. Who was sharing with who. Making mix tapes for the 24 hour coach journey.

So yeah turns out I was a terrible skier. I had been the toddler who took ages to walk, the ten year old who couldn't climb out of the swimming pool without being hoisted, the last person in my year to learn to swim, the champion of the 'sausage roll' in gymnastics class (lay on your side, roll as gracefully as possible along a smelly mat). All this historical evidence! Along with that, all my old body fears resurfaced. I was an overweight child but I'd recently lost my 'puppy fat' from a mix of puberty, five salads a week and an unhealthy interest in going for a poo. But it didn't matter that I was a size 10 now, I couldn't – or wouldn't let myself – ski.  

I could snow plough very well though. For the uninitiated, this involves pointing the front of your skis together and going as slow as a milk float. Really, it's a braking manoeuvre. But it took me three days to master that – before then, on any kind of a gradient, I was zooming past the rest of my group and our instructor Markus (pink ski suit, all the girls fancied him in the way fourteen year old girls fancy anything), hearing their distant cries of "Snow plough, Teresa!" until I'd just give up and throw myself on the ground to stop. 

I was a constant source of worry for Markus. He had to accompany me on the ski lift every time we used it (I'd fallen off several times) but things really got tricky for him around day 4 when I went missing.

Yes, that's right: MISSING. 

We'd all finished skiing for the day (aka best time of the day) and were making our way, on our skis, on snow, back to the Lodge. I was, as always, at the back of the group but I knew the route we were taking, until I fell over (not uncommon), disorientating me a bit and making me miss a turning. Two of my classmates stopped to help me up, which was nice, and I thanked them and confidently pointed ahead to the direction we needed to keep going in.

Turns out I was wrong, and as we skied down on an unfamiliar slope, we couldn't see anyone from our group, nor the pink of Markus' ski suit. We'd been told explicitly that if we ever found ourselves alone without an instructor we had to get off the snow as soon as possible - not for our safety, but for insurance purposes - so we found a road where we could de-ski and walk back up the hill, alongside the slope we'd skied down. 

We knew the name of the place we were staying and managed to ask a passerby for directions. Soon we recognised we were in the right neighbourhood. Phew. It wasn’t long until we were turning the corner of the road where the Lodge was, to see our classmates cheering on the balcony as we came into view (second best moment of the holiday).

We'd probably only been gone an hour - but the nervousness about what the teachers would say was immense. But in fact, on our walk towards our lodge they came out to greet us and almost fell on us with happiness – clearly they were imagining the shock newspaper headlines. There was also a small search party out looking for us, which consisted of Markus and our passports.

Some of my friends actually cried at the end of the trip when our coach revved up to take us home (first best moment of the holiday) but all I can remember is the relief.

If I could go back in time to my fourteen year old self, I'd love to tell her not to worry about any of it and trust herself, and her body, a little more. Something to remind yourself (well myself for sure) at any age, I think.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

End of Lost at Sea

... or at least a pause from it.

I was blogging about my Europe trip to have something good and useful to blog about . When I started it I had a pitch out at Mslexia to write a series of blogs for their website about my teenage diary keeping. I thought if I wrote something relevant here it would maybe go in my favour if they happened to look me up to see if I was worth a punt.

Anyways - it didn't work out - Mslexia didn't go for the blog series I pitched - and also I don't feel that the Lost at Sea blogs are doing much for me or for you - so I'm shelving that for the time being.

I miss blogging so will be back soon, with something - hm - I want to say excellent - it might just be sorta ok - but that's ok - it just won't be about That Europe Trip.

I might pursue the teenage diary idea I had here - alongside usual general (excellent) blogging. Might might might.

- Hope things are well with you -

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Lost at Sea - Part 4

Another video blog about my solo trip to Europe when I was 20 years old, reading from my diary at the time.  Previous instalment here.

It's Day 2, I'm in Amsterdam, will I give in and have a KFC? I  think we know the answer.