Another Way to Donate

I’m about to start writing a new novel and as always, it’s a daunting prospect to have so many empty pages and 100,000 words waiting to be written (then deleted, rewritten, edited, moved, etc, etc, etc) but this story feels different. Without giving away too much, which I couldn’t do anyway because much of it is still developing in my head, I can tell you it involves organ donation.

It’s a very emotive subject which involves a life-saving gift that comes not only from the donor but their family – after all, they are the ones who will be asked to carry out the donor’s wishes at what must be the single most devastating time of their lives. I already know it’s going to be a tough one to write and maybe this week isn’t the best time to start such a project as I creep ever closer to the anniversary of my son’s death. But then what better time to reflect on the amazing gifts that families like mine have received from strangers which gave our loved ones a fighting chance for life.

I don’t know how many people tried to save my son and that’s not even counting the incredible medical team at Alder Hey Children’s hospital. There were all those people who donated the blood that sometimes had to be ‘blue lighted’ over to the hospital, and then of course there was the unrelated bone marrow donor. I know the donor was male but that’s about all I do know about the faceless hero whose stem cells gave my son his only chance of survival and although Nathan died, at least I know he died cancer free. He beat you, Cancer! He may have lost the war but damn it, he was only three years old and he beat you.

And yet despite his courage and fortitude, this wasn’t a success story, so Nathan will never be a ‘poster boy’ for bone marrow donation, but I wish he was. It would be incredible if just one person reading this post would take time out to register as a bone marrow donor or even just give blood; it would be good to know that Nathan’s still making his mark on the world. And who wouldn’t want to give such an amazing gift when the best part is that you don’t have to wait until you die to do it? You get the chance to feel good about your altruistic self just by giving a little of your time and a unit of healthy cells.

Sorry, I didn’t meant to turn this into a personal campaign so I’ll leave it there…but if you do have a penchant for donating to good causes and your wallet’s taken too many hits of late then here are some other ways to donate:

Bone Marrow Register

Give Blood

Organ Donors

One final indulgence from me is to include a photo of Nathan.  He’s standing in the kitchen next to the cupboard that had his favourite Maryland chocolate chip cookies inside and I know he’s about to say, ‘only one.’ I couldn’t deny him anything. Could you?

Nathan in 2006

Nathan in 2006


Inspiring Writers

I was honoured to be invited along to the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind as part of the Off The Shelf Festival recently and since it was my first ever trip to Sheffield, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

I was met at the station by Julie Smith who gave me a whistle stop tour of the city – I can see now why it’s described as one of, if not the greenest city in England. I love Tudor history so I was particularly interested to see Sheffield Manor Lodge where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned. After the tour we then set off for Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind to join the Mappin Writers Group who shared some of their beautiful, funny, touching, emotive, thought-provoking and incredible writing and poetry.

It was a very special event at SRSB and I felt privileged to be able to talk about my third book Where I Found You and my heroine Maggie who is a visually impaired mum-to-be. I explained how challenging it was for me as an author to describe Maggie’s world in a non-visual way, but then I had to have words with myself… What kind of challenge was that compared to living without sight?! I can only hope that my novel came somewhere close to doing justice to those real-life mum’s, some of whom I met, who haven’t let their disability hold them back. All in all, I’m so glad I got to meet a remarkable group of people and to listen to their experiences coming through in their own writing.

Thank you to Sue Coggin for inviting me, to my fellow writers who made me feel so welcome and a special thanks to Julie Smith for the amazing poem she gave me. I would also like to thank SRSB for the flowers and the elephant – which I have now adopted and have a certificate to prove it. I think I’ve made some lovely friends in Sheffield and will have to go back there soon.

SRSB Elephant

Searching for Inspiration

Where do I get my inspiration for my stories from? It’s a question I’ve been asked many times but one I’ve never really found a satisfactory answer to and I’m not sure any writer could. What we’re all on the constant lookout for is the kind of storyline that will keep us awake at night until the final chapter is written and in turn will keep the reader enthralled until the very last page, but finding that initial idea or premise is more like a stumble in the dark rather than a carefully laid out route map.

Searching for Inspiration

Searching for Inspiration

I’ve recently returned from a lovely cruise along the Norwegian Fjords and the scenery was breath-taking and if I had my way, I would hire a cabin there with a picture window to soak up the view as I spent my days writing, and writing and writing. But while the stunning surroundings could inspire me to sit and write, I don’t think the craggy mountains and glassy lakes would ever help me catch upon the initial premise for that truly amazing story that I want to write. I would need to have my ideas at the ready before I closed the cabin door.

Thinking back to the novels I’ve written so far, those embryonic ideas that would lead to fully developed stories came out of nowhere; an advert on the side of a bus; a news report; jogging past a park bench; or reflecting on my own life and past experiences. The only thing they had in common was that they invariably started with that single thought, followed by enough questions that allowed my imagination to catch the spark of the idea and let it burn. Questions that usually began with ‘What if…’

So if I’m honest, if there was inspiration to be drawn from my holiday it’s not going to be the scenery. I’m more likely to get ideas for new stories from the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had – or just as likely, the people I’ve observed and the conversations I’ve overheard. Those potential stories are stored in my subconscious, waiting for that flash of inspiration that will turn them into stories that my fingers are itching to write. So now I simply have to wait for inspiration to strike…


So the agent likes it but what does the editor think??

If you’ve been following this blog then you’ll know how I’ve been busy writing my first short story.  Forty days ago I had an idea in my head and lots of blank pages.  Even a week or so ago when I thought I’d finished, I still didn’t know if what I’d written would get the approval of my agent and publisher.

Luigi has said he loves it so what did Kim think?  Well, here’s what she said….

‘I’ve read Less Than Perfect this morning and think it’s wonderful. As Luigi says, it’s so emotional! It really does capture those hidden dynamics between couples that go unspoken for a long time even though everyone is aware of the truth…’

Of course I’m not completely off the hook.  Kim has suggested a couple of ‘tiny tweaks’ which I hope will only strengthen the story but they really are minor adjustments, nothing compared the major redrafting and restructuring that can happen with a full length manuscript.

So now as I set to work on the next draft of Less than Perfect I can honestly say it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable journey and one I hope will be out there soon for readers to enjoy too.  I’m off to London next week to catch up with Kim so there might be some more news then, if not about the short story then most definitely about the publication of my second book Another Way to Fall which is due out in September.   Yes, there’s definitely going to be progress to report on that score so watch this space!

What happened next to my short story?  It was published 🙂

The Keeper of Secrets

DAY 33: It’s written and now it’s been read…by someone else

Up until this point, writing my first short story had been completely in my control.  Other than talking through the concept with my editor it’s been up to me how I structured the story, how the characters developed and how it ended.  It’s only now that I’ve shared it with my agent and editor, that it becomes more of a collaboration and in some ways this is the most nerve-wracking time as I wait for feedback and get the first response to the story that I hope to share with my readers one day soon.  The insecure part of me is always asking, is it good enough and more importantly, am I good enough to take onboard any comments, unravel the plot and remake the story if I have to?

The detailed edits will come from Kim Young my editor but right now I’m happy, happy, happy to have a response from my agent Luigi Bonomi who is one of the most respected literary agents in the UK and as people keep telling me, I’m lucky to have him.  He says, and I quote, ‘I’ve just finished Less than Perfect and thought it was gripping – I particularly loved the way you handled Charlie. It struck me as just the kind of story your fans would love.’

It’ll come as no surprise that I have a big cheesy grin as I write this and I can only hope it holds out until I get word back from Kim.

What happened next

DAY 29: Step away from the computer

I’m finally at the point where I can write those magical words, ‘THE END,’ and mean it, for now at least.  I have to be honest, after writing the story and then going through it twice again, all in the space of a month has turned my brain to mush!  As I’m reading it through, I can’t be sure if I’m recognising text because it’s repeated or simply because I’ve read it for the nth time.

That’s not to say that the last run through hasn’t been useful.  One amendment that did make me smile was a character name I’d used.  Elle’s parents are called Ann and Harry but for some reason I’d been calling Elle’s mum Pat in sections of the first draft, so in the second draft I corrected the references and thought no more about it.  It was only in the third draft that I realised I’d also given her parents the surname Summers…yes, Elle’s mum is none other than the famous purveyor of lingerie and ‘toys.’   So it was goodbye Ann Summers and hello Anne O’Brien!

So at the end of it all I’ve produced a short story with a word count of just over 22k and rather than the eight sections I’d started with, I now have 12 chapters.  My last job was a quick spell check which is good for picking up the obvious spelling errors and grammatical gaffs but some of the suggested corrections from Microsoft leave me scratching my head.  No, Mr Gates, I don’t want to change ‘worse for wear,’ for ‘worse for wears,’ and I’m getting a little fed up of seeing ‘fragment (consider revising)’ on nearly every piece of dialogue; and don’t get me started on how many semicolons you want to put into the manuscript!  I’m by no means an expert on grammar (I’m sure someone’s already picking out errors as they read this!!) but as long as I’ve picked out the obvious and it doesn’t distract the reader (i.e. my agent and my editor) then it’s good enough for now.  There are many, many blessings in having a publishing contract and one of them is the amazing support from a team of people including expert copywriters who will go through it with a fine tooth comb later on.

Speaking of my agent and my editor, that’s where the story is heading next.  Once I’ve emailed it to Luigi and Kim then I really will be stepping away from the computer because I won’t touch it again until their comments have come back.  OK, that’s not quite true.  I won’t touch the manuscript but there’s so much else to do on my computer.  I think I have a summer of writing Book 4 to look forward to so it’s goodbye Elle and hello Jo.

What happened next

DAY 24: Rushing to the finish line…again

Phew!  I’ve reread, revised, reordered and in some instances added to the first draft of my first short story which explains why my original 19,300 words has crept up to 21,750.  Increasing the word count in the second draft is quite unusual for me as I’ve normally cut back on the text at this stage.

My usual problem is that I have a habit of writing and explaining absolutely everything in the first drafts.  I like to explain what my characters are thinking about, worrying about, planning to do or not to do but even if I do cut the text at a later date, it’s never wasted effort.  Sometimes the added explanations provide me with a prompt or reminder about what’s going on in my character’s mind so I know how they should be reacting later.  It was my editor who told me not to explain so much – I need to leave some room for readers to draw their own conclusions!

So why my second draft has grown rather than shrunk in this instance, I don’t know.  Maybe it has something to do with it being a short story.  I was aware from the start that I needed to be more efficient in getting the story across in a shorter word count so I was already being economical with my explanations and what I have added in the second draft is a little more depth to some of the descriptive elements.  Hopefully I’m still on track but I’ll have to wait and see what my editor Kim thinks when I’m ready to send it to her.

My latest quandary is whether or not to have a rethink about the title.  The story’s working title has always been ‘Less Than Perfect,’ and as readers and writers all know, it’s often the title and the cover that entice a potential reader to take a closer look as opposed to moving onto the next book on the shelf.  In only a few words, my story has to convey the right message, suggest genre and offer a little intrigue.   But that’s not the only thing worrying me about the title.  Me being me, I can’t help imagining that if I keep with the current title then it’s only a matter of time before someone leaves a review saying, ‘ah, yes, a story that was definitely less than perfect.’

And so to ward off potential critics, the only thing I can do is to get back to the task at hand and start on the third draft and make it as good as it possibly can be.

What happened next

DAY 20: Going around in circles

I’m half way through the second draft now and it’s taking quite a bit of concentration to keep track of the sequencing of events.  I’m finding that because there’s been such a short time between starting the first draft and launching into the second that my mind is playing tricks on me and I keep losing track of where I am in the story.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to go back (or forwards) and find those snippets of the back story that I know are there but have forgotten exactly where.  And then of course I’ve had to make sure that if I’ve moved a scene to a different part of the story, I’ve kept track of any cross-references.   There’s no point having a character complain about whiplash when you haven’t even crashed their car yet!  That was just an example by the way, Elle’s a very careful driver 🙂

At least it’s only a short story and not too complex otherwise I don’t think I’d be able to sleep at all!

What happened next

DAY 16: So you thought I’d finished?

Instead of 80 empty pages, I’m beginning round two of my short story with 72 pages and just over 19k words.  I’m also starting with a list of changes I want to make.   With the first draft, I don’t like to keep going back and rewriting as I go along, partly because it’s too much like taking two steps forward one step back but also because it can be confusing starting a day’s writing two chapters back from where you left off the day before.  Even if I’ve decided on a fundamental change I still won’t go back and change it.  I’ll make a note and then continue writing as if I had made that change and pick it up in the next draft.  So that’s where I am now, picking up those changes as well as coming up with some new ones.  Oh, and pretty much rewriting every word and sentence I’d written in draft one.  What else could I possibly do on a Bank Holdiay Monday?!

What happened next

DAY 15: Knowing when it’s the end

I’ve only gone and done it!  I’ve just finished the first draft of my very first short story and I’m as pleased as punch.  I had a bit of a debate with myself about where to end the story and maybe this is going to be something I’ll pick up with my editor, Kim.  It’s not that I didn’t know how to end it, it’s just a matter of deciding how much of Elle’s story is left for the reader to decide for themselves and how much I describe what I think would have happened next.

As it stands, I’ve included a final chapter which is essentially an epilogue.  Although it doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends, it does point the reader in the right direction.   The question is; does it need to be there?  I could just as easily have left the story at the climax which was when…hmm…so hard to write about my deliberations without giving away too much so I’d better leave it there.  Enough said!

What happened next