I've been given a lovely interview on the Catherine Gaskin site. I loved her books when I was a teenager. You can read it here:



Is self-publishing for you?

My first published family saga.

I gave a talk on this subject at the RNA-2013 conference at Sheffield, as I started publishing my back list back in 2010. At that time it was early pioneering days for ebooks, and I went on a steep learning curve to teach myself formatting. I soon realised that having the novels up as ebook was only the start, and set about joining the social network scene. Nothing much happened at first, sales were slow, although moving ever upward in the right direction. Then when Santa Claus delivered the Kindle to customers in the UK at Christmas 2011, sales really took off. I am now selling thousands a month. It has been an amazing journey.

Many more writers are now choosing to self publish. The publishing world is changing fast, and at a rapid pace. Many in order to restore a back list, as I did. Others because it is increasingly difficult to find a publisher in a world where less attention is given to building the mid-list. Often the book has been rejected because it did not fit into an accepted genre. Increasingly, contracts are being declined because they are considered too demanding of rights, lasting the length of copyright, in return for poor royalties. Financial considerations feature strongly in the decision, but for some writers the greatest benefit is that choosing this path gives them more control, both creatively and in how they run their career. This is an exciting new world for writers, offering choices we never had before.

Reached No 1 in historical fiction on Amazon

Self-publishing is not, however, for everyone, nor an easy decision to make. Writers should be aware of the amount of work involved both before and after publication. You have to be a businesswoman as well as a creative writer.

Let’s consider some of the pros and cons involved:
1. There are no advances but royalties are much better. These can, of course, change at a moment’s notice, although you can protect yourself to an extent by making sure you are not dependent upon one etailer alone.

2. A writer can feel rather isolated having to deal with all the decisions such as cover art, editing, proofing, promo, etc., on her own. Many join a support group in order to resolve this and share expertise.

3. One plus is that lead-in times are less. Self-publishing an ebook can bring it to the market much quicker than the traditional route. However, sales take longer to build so you have to think in the long-term.

4. Lack of credibility without a publisher behind them can be a problem for some, but self-publishing is no longer viewed as vanity publishing, rather as a respectable way forward.

5. Publishers are actively exploiting the self-publishing world and offering contracts to authors successful in that field. It can, therefore, prove to be a viable step towards publication with a traditional house, so long as your numbers stack up.

Some people are put off by the amount of work involved. This can appear overwhelming at first but like anything else it does get easier once you know what you are doing and the initial set-up work is done. But if you aren’t particularly techie, or don’t have the time to do it yourself, help is available.

An editor:
One good result of S-P has been the way job opportunities have been created within the industry as authors buy-in services. You can hire an editor to edit and proof your ms, and I would strongly urge you to do that. It may cost, but you really can’t afford not to. Readers on Amazon are fairly unforgiving now of mistakes and howlers. No author, however experienced, can see her own errors. Our obsession with story can make us blind to typos, repetitions of words and ideas, time faults and even characters suddenly changing their name or eye colour. And new authors can struggle with the logic of plot development, with which a good editor can help. A fresh eye is essential as sloppy work will kill not only the book but your career stone dead.

Unless you have an artistic eye, and are skilled in using Photoshop, then hire a graphic artist to design and make you a good cover. It is vitally important to have one that is attractive, that looks good in thumbnail on Amazon, on a large tablet, small mobile phone, and also in black and white on the basic Kindle or Kobo ereader.

Formatting and Distribution, ISBNS and Metadata: 
You can use a company to prepare and format the ebook for you, and even distribute it. (See links below) You will need to buy ISBNs if you wish to sell beyond Amazon. The free one from Smashwords will not be accepted by many etailers. Each title will then need to be registered with Nielsen. You will be expected to provide metadata which is nothing more alarming that creating a blurb and some descriptive categories and tags for your book in a spread sheet.

Once the book is published, a new set of task will arise. You will then have to keep a record of sales, income and expenditure, track and analyse your data using the various methods available with Google analytics, Tweetreach etc., and be organised in every small detail of your business, because that’s what it is.

So how do you drive sales and make those numbers stack up?

Still in the top 20 in family sagas 

in Kindle Store

Promotion is a vitally important part of S-P and you need to be prepared to set aside a month or two after publication to guest blog, chat on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, etc., in order to get the book noticed.

Other ideas might include a newsletter, book trailers, reviews on Goodreads, giveaways and contests, advertising through BookBub or Facebook, free samples and special price offers for short periods in order to get noticed. Discoverability is the in-word these days. But the real secret is to engage with your readers. It’s about conversation, not ‘Buy my book’. With the right kind of effort, authors can really get to know their readers, the fans who will sustain your career.

OK, I can hear you asking but wouldn’t it be easier to have a publisher do all of that for you? In your dreams! It would be naïve to imagine that a traditional publisher would put much money and effort behind a debut, or even a mid-list author who wasn’t a star name. There simply isn’t the budget in today’s world. Even in traditional publishing the author is expected to involve herself in a great deal of promotion.

Some writers choose to be hybrids with a foot in both camps. I am currently one of those, as I also publish biographical historicals with Severn House. But it is increasingly common for entrepreneurial authors, or APEs, as they are cheerfully dubbed, to look at a new contract and reject it in favour of S-P. Is an agent still useful, assuming you can find one? They may well be able to sell other rights for you such as audio and large print, even foreign if you’re lucky. But this shouldn’t cost any more than the usual 15% commission.

Self-publishing is still in its infancy but expanding rapidly. Only you can decide whether or not it’s for you. But if you do decide to go down this route remember that the most important requirement is to produce a good book: a wonderful story, well edited and properly proofed with an attractive cover, if you are to achieve good sales and reviews. Always be professional. You cannot afford not to be.

Some links which may be useful:



Writers' Holiday

Susan Alison, Penny Grubb, April Taylor, Sylvia Broady

Enjoyed a fabulous week at Writers' Holiday in Caerleon. It is always good to meet up with old friends who are as passionate about writing as you.

There are lots of courses to choose from, including painting, talks and evening speakers. We enjoy wonderful meals, and have lots of time to relax and chat about our favourite topic: Writing. And nobody's eyes glaze over.

I greatly enjoyed joining Penny Grubb's course on a Toolkit for novel writing. (Penny is the author of The Doll Makers - Annie Raymond Crime Series) Despite having written 40 novels it's always good to remind oneself of the structure one is aiming for, of what one is trying to achieve. With The Girl From Poor House Lane, for instance, I was so keen to keep Lucy for the sequel, she wasn't properly dealt with at the end, and boy did I get a load of complaints from readers. Thankfully they went on to buy the sequel, but I feel that was a lesson learned. Every villain must have their proper come-uppance, as Penny said in her course. She also recommended scenes to build tension, and then scenes to lower it so that the reader has time to step back and assess the situation. But a strong ending with all loose ends is essential.

One of the joys of this conference has always been the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir. They could not fail to touch your heart with their magnificent voices.

Cwmbach Male Voice Choir

And here they are in the bar afterwards, still singing ...

Gerry and Anne have been running this conference since the 1980s but sadly this was the last. I shall miss it. Here is Gerry about his business, making sure everything is in order in the book room.

I'm grateful for the many happy times I've enjoyed at Caerleon, and wish them every success at their new venue in Fishguard.


Little Moreton Hall

Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire is a perfect example of a timber-framed black and white building. Fairly bare inside, save for a couple of splendid tables, but so very atmospheric. The main building work took place between 1504- 1610, after which the Moretons were obliged to let it out as the Civil War had pretty near bankrupted them.

Note the beautiful stained glass bearing the Heraldic arms of Brereton. Alys Brereton married William Moreton I.

An amazing frieze with painted biblical scenes was found behind some Georgian panelling, probably dating from the late 16th C.


We ended our day watching a wonderful performance of Sheridan's The Rivals performed by Alsager Community Theatre in the courtyard. A perfect summer's evening. The star of the show was undoubtedly Caroline Keen as Mrs Malaprop. Delightfully funny, and the very 'pineapple of politeness'.

 And here's the long gallery where perhaps they danced in Tudor times at Little Moreton Hall.

                                            A lovely day out - next time we'll take a picnic.


The Fleet

The Fleet at Marshalsea, named after the malodorous river that ran beside it, housed as many as three hundred prisoners, many accompanied by their families. Those who were unable to pay would beg for aid through a grille installed in the prison wall on Farringdon Street specifically for that purpose.

It was to this prison that Thomas Robinson was conducted, having failed to settle his debts. As her memoirs declare, Mary went with him, if out of loyalty rather than love.

Extract from the Memoirs of Mary Robinson
‘Now came my hour of trial. He was conveyed to the house of a sheriff’s officer, and in a few days detainers were lodged against him to the amount of twelve hundred pounds, chiefly the arrears of annuities and other demands from Jew creditors… after waiting three weeks in the custody of a sheriff’s officer (during which time I had never left him for a single hour, day or night) obliged to submit to the necessity of becoming a captive…

…For myself I cared but little; all my anxiety was for Mr Robinson’s repose and the health of my child…The apartment which we obtained was in the upper part of the building, overlooking a racket ground. Mr Robinson was expert in all exercises of strength or activity, and he found that amusement daily which I could not partake of. I had other occupations of a more interesting nature – the care of a beloved and still helpless daughter.’

Yet her courage remained strong throughout her ordeal. They were allotted two rooms high on the third floor, or gallery as it was more commonly known. A gallery consisted of a dank, ill-lit passage that ran the length of the prison, with rooms on either side. Their rooms were each about fourteen feet by nine, with the rare benefit of a fireplace and an even more rare tiny barred window overlooking the racquet court. A tattered curtain, in lieu of a door, hung between the two rooms. 

She diligently cleaned their rooms on a daily basis, and the stairs leading from them, also transcribed documents to earn money but considered their situation utterly shaming and humiliating! In Lady of Passion I try to show how she felt about this dreadful situation in which she now found herself. 

Extract from Lady of Passion: 
Here we enjoyed some degree of privacy, if not silence, as there was the constant banging of doors to jangle our nerves; the steady tread of feet shuffling along the passages, sobs and cries echoing in the dark of night beneath the vaulted roof. I confess to being shocked at the first sight of our quarters.
‘Are we expected to sleep in this filthy, flea-infested bed?’ I asked my husband.
The stink of urine and squalor of our surroundings made me retch, and I was thankful that I’d thought to bring our own bed linen, and basic crockery for our needs.
‘Must we sit on these broken chairs each day gazing upon those vulgar words scrawled by previous occupants on the dirty walls?’
Tommy made no answer. My husband had sunk into a state of depression from the moment of his arrest, which was why I considered it my duty, as a faithful wife, to be with him in his hour of need.
‘He is not worthy of such a sacrifice,’ Mama had cried, outraged that I’d spent much of every day with him at the bailiff’s office, let alone intended to incarcerate myself with him in the prison.
‘He is my husband, and I have a duty as his wife!’
‘Yet you say you have never loved him.’
‘I feel great sympathy for him.’
‘Many people die of fever in prison. Duty and pity will not save him.’
‘Do not be too harsh, Mama. Poor Tommy surely deserves some comfort and affection?’
‘Why should he, when he has let you down so badly?’
‘Because it is not his fault that Squire Harris refuses to properly acknowledge him as his son, or that he is being difficult over Tommy having taken me for wife. And I did help spend some of the money, so should share the punishment. My only concern is for his health, and that of our child.’
‘But how will you cope?’ she asked, wringing her hands in anguish.
‘I will cope because I must. Left to deal alone with the rakes pursuing me in town without my husband’s protection does not greatly appeal either.’

Next to the damp and disease, boredom was the killer in the Fleet. Mary filled her spare time with writing poetry. This is an excerpt from one of the most famous one from that period. 

There’s many a breast which Virtue only sways,
In sad Captivity hath pass’d its days…
Each new-born day each flatt’ring hope annoys,
For what is life, depriv’d of Freedom’s joys?…
The greedy Creditor, whose flinty breast
The iron hand of Avarice hath press’d,
Who never own’d Humanity’s soft claim,
Self-interest and Revenge his only aim,...

And when her earlier poems were shown to the Duchess of Devonshire and Georgiana offered to act as patron, Mary could at last begin to hope for a better future. 
Extract from Lady of Passion:
My fourteen-year-old brother must have charmed the famous Georgiana, for the result of this inspired idea was an invitation to meet her in person.
‘I can hardly believe it,’ I said, excitedly showing Tommy the note. ‘The Duchess of Devonshire apparently asked George for every particular about me, read my poems and expressed a wish to meet the author. I am to go to her residence in Piccadilly. What think you of that?’
He kissed me most tenderly on the cheek. ‘I have always known that your cleverness would one day bring you notice.’
I smiled, knowing how difficult it was for him to admit he possessed a bluestocking for a wife. ‘But would it be right for me to go? I have never set foot outside of the prison gate.’
‘But you are perfectly at liberty to do so,’ Tommy reminded me. ‘And since you are so obsessed with poetry, talking about it with another woman might do you good.’
‘That is not the object of my visit. I am hoping the duchess may be able to help get us out of this hellhole.’ I could see by his expression that he was sceptical.
‘I very much doubt she can. Rumour has it she is beset with debts of her own, from her passion for gambling.’
I refused to believe this, determined to at least try. ‘Oh, but what can I wear?’
Now he was laughing as he sauntered away, back to his friends and his games.
Fortunately, I had brought with me a plain brown satin gown, so when the day arrived, I washed myself thoroughly to take away any taint and stink of prison, and dressed with care. Then leaving my darling Maria in the care of her nursemaid, I set forth to visit the Duchess of Devonshire.

Stepping out into the open sunshine after so long a time living in semi-darkness, almost blinded me. The noise of the carriage wheels trundling by, the cries of the street vendors, were really quite nerve-racking. Yet it felt wonderful to hear the birds singing, to feel the cobbles beneath my feet, and breathe in fresh air that smelled of newly baked bread and fresh fish instead of rank decay.

On the 3 August, 1776, after fifteen months incarceration, Tommy was finally discharged from the Fleet. He quickly seemed to shrug off the horror of it, but the effect upon Mary Robinson was to be long-lasting. 

A beautiful and talented actress, poet and fashion icon, Mary Robinson was one of the most famous women of her time. But Mary was destined always to be betrayed by the men she loved: by her father, a prosperous Bristol merchant who abandoned his family for a life of adventure – and another woman; by her husband, a weak and foolish man who bankrupted the family with his inveterate gambling and humiliated his young wife with his numerous affairs; and by the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, who fell in love with Mary when he saw her playing Perdita in A Winter’s Tale. Mary gave up everything for her prince – her career, her husband and her independence – only to be cruelly abandoned when his affections turned elsewhere. 

And then she met the love of her life. Could she hope this time it would be different? Against the turbulent background of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, this is the enthralling story of a remarkable woman: a tale of ambition, passion, scandal and heartbreak. 


Severn House


Guest post from Mary Wood, self published author.

Hello, Everyone,
My name is Mary Wood and I am delighted and honoured to be asked by Freda to guest post on her page and it is lovely to meet you all. As an author of Historical Sagas, it is always nice to engage with readers who enjoy the genre and also to meet other authors writing in that field. For those who are wondering who I am, I am a go-it-alone author of four best-selling kindle novels – ‘The Breckton Trilogy’, with the fourth book being a spin-off novel of the trilogy.

So, me in a Nut Shell? I was born into a family of fifteen children, we were very poor, but rich in love. I had a typical post-war education metered out to those in my class – the four ‘R’s’ – as they were known back then: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Religion – with Domestic science, for the girls (which I soon sussed out as: how to do the chores of a woman’s lot!) and, woodwork for the boys. We were nurtured into our role in life as it definitely wasn’t my nature!

I have a passion for Social History and in particular the plight of women of yesteryear. It matters so much to me what women of the past went through before we were liberated, maybe because I have a foot in each era and can remember when it definitely was ‘a man’s world’! My novels reflect this time – a time when the class system prevailed and the rich rode roughshod over the poor. And a time when it was considered, there was no such thing as rape, and domestic violence was a man’s right to keep his missus in check. But it isn’t just the lives of lower-class that interest me. Many wealthy women suffered too, having to marry for the sake of money and position – practically sold by their fathers in order to secure funds for the family coffers. Not allowed to make decisions or to complain if their husband took a mistress. Therefore, I try to show life from both angles.

You may be wondering what, go-it-alone means, and why I do it? I was born to write, but couldn’t break into the publishing world as rejection after rejection came for my work. I never gave up, but my dream of attracting a publisher never materialised, I either didn’t fit into their list, or my genre was dead in the water, or etc…etc... Then along came kindle!! At last, every writer had a platform for their work. No one to gate-keep and close the door to me - it was up to me. I had done all I could – learned my craft – written my book, now it was time to publish and be damned!

It has been a journey, an exciting one, a rewarding one, but a sometimes gruelling one as I found it wasn’t just about being a writer. I have to work with an editor as she slashes what I think are my best bits! Format my work for publication. Source a cover, publicise myself – this latter I find very difficult and time consuming, but a necessary evil.

At last I have achieved my dream. After a career that was at first changeable as I worked in various jobs to fit in with bringing up my family, I ended my 9 – 5 days, working for the Probation Service. Now I am a full-time writer living in Spain with my husband of 50 years, Roy Wood. How about that? First time lucky and received my gold medal this year. We have four wonderful children who have given us grandchildren and great grandchildren, life is full of love and I am a very lucky lady. Though hasten to add Roy isn’t Roy Wood of the Wizards – mind you, after a couple at Christmas, he has been known to belt out a rendition of ‘I Wished it could be Christmas Every Day!

I am now working on a fifth book, the first of a few in a saga called: ‘The Cotton Mill Saga’. This is the best part of my job, living the lives of my characters, feeling the excitement as their story unfolds, crying when they fall, laughing when they are funny and missing them when they are gone and worrying about them when they are published. That may sound dotty, but that is the process for me. My husband will say, if he catches me crying, ‘Darling, you are being silly, why not just delete that

bit and rewrite so she doesn’t die,’ or whatever it is I am sobbing about – but I can’t. Once I have written a scene, I know it is right, and it isn’t my place to manipulate things to make them go as I want them to.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my post, please feel free to ask questions or make any comments you like. I look forward to hearing from you. Much love to you all, Mary Wood.



Mary Robinson - Lady of Passion

Mary Robinson by Hoppner

I became fascinated by Mary Robinson, or ‘Perdita’, as she’s more commonly known. She was a complex character with flaws of vanity and pride, a predilection for spending but hugely ambitious, and a woman of great courage. Despite these weaknesses I couldn’t help but admire her.

She was married at just fourteen to Thomas Robinson, under family pressure as was often the case at a time when love was not considered essential in a marriage. The alliance resulted in the young couple spending time in The Fleet for debt, leaving Mary with a determination to seek her own financial security.

The Georgian period has always been a favourite of mine as it resonates so well with our own in many ways. It had style and elegance, but was very much an age of extremes, one almost as celebrity driven and equally beset by debt, if largely due to the national passion for gambling.

Mary became close friends with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, the doyenne of fashion and gambling. Mary too became a fashion icon and renowned beauty, her portrait painted by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney and John Hoppner.

Mary by Romney

She enjoyed a brief affair with the future George IV when he was just seventeen, and rather naively expected him to stay true. With her reputation ruined and her career lost, she fought a long political battle for recompense, assisted by Charles James Fox. Unlike many courtesans, she was intelligent, a talented actress and gifted poet who did later achieve the promised potential of her youth, despite many disappointments in life and suffering from a crippling disease from a very young age.

George IV

It is impossible to accurately diagnose the exact nature of the illness which struck her down one fateful night. Very likely it was an acute form of rheumatic fever that possibly affected the nerves, perhaps caused by an infection during her miscarriage. Quite common at that time.

Mary became an early feminist, a writer of Gothic romance in addition to her poetry, largely forgotten today, and despite the considerable pain she suffered, continued writing to her death, becoming known as the English Sappho.

Perdita driving Charles James Fox in her carriage

Mary Robinson died practically penniless in 1800, aged 42, of dropsy, a retention of fluid on the chest which causes heart failure, often linked with rheumatic fever. She asked for a lock of her hair to be sent to the Prince, and one to Tarleton, hero of the American War of Independence and the love of her life. She was buried in a corner of the churchyard at Old Windsor, apparently still wearing the Prince’s miniature

A beautiful and talented actress, poet and fashion icon, Mary Robinson was one of the most famous women of her time. But Mary was destined always to be betrayed by the men she loved: by her father, a prosperous Bristol merchant who abandoned his family for a life of adventure – and another woman; by her husband, a weak and foolish man who bankrupted the family with his inveterate gambling and humiliated his young wife with his numerous affairs; and by the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, who fell in love with Mary when he saw her playing Perdita in A Winter’s Tale

Mary gave up everything for her prince – her career, her husband and her independence – only to be cruelly abandoned when his affections turned elsewhere. And then she met the love of her life. Could she hope this time it would be different? Against the turbulent background of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution, this is the enthralling story of a remarkable woman: a tale of ambition, passion, scandal and heartbreak. 


Published 30 June by Severn House.
Buy from Amazon


Ten Ways to Stimulate your imagination or Solve Writers' Block

1. Cut the stress and stop worrying. You can either solve your problems or block them out. Writing is a sure cure for depression, pain etc. It is a wonderful therapy.

2. Take a break without thinking. Play music, relax, take a bath, lie in the dark or gaze up into a cloudless sky, go for a walk. Relax and do something completely different for a while.

3. Stimulate your creativity by making use of different media, TV, video, film, books, music, newspapers, talking to people, the more variety of sources the better. Jot down any ideas that spring to mind.

4. Release your imagination as you do boring chores such as ironing or gardening, or walk the dog. Develop a hobby which occupies your hands but not your mind. With practise you can learn to operate this ‘day-dreaming’ process at any time of day, and whatever you are doing. Writers learn to live in two worlds.

5. Silence. Hold your mind in perfect quietness. Take a lie down. Close your eyes and hold the character in your head and centre your thoughts on him/her. He/she should gradually come to life, move and speak in your head. Before quite falling asleep go back to your desk and write down what they say. Now consider the character’s motivation which makes them behave the way they do.

6. Write the first thing which comes into your head when you wake in a morning. Then note a time in your diary which you intend to set aside to write. When the time comes write without stopping or criticising your work.

7. Talk yourself through your plot problem before you go to sleep at night. Then close your mind and let your subconscious mind solve it.

8. When the going gets tough, do research. Reading about a subject or period can often bring forth a flow of ideas.

9. Random thoughts. The left side of the brain deals with everyday matters, the right side is the creative unknown area. So forget about why you can’t work out a plot and just jot down random thoughts and practical possibilities. Then think - What If? Each idea can be developed as a flow chart. Remember you can dig deeper as you write.

10. Don’t be too critical. The left side of the brain will argue, reason and shoot down in flames any idea or inspiration from the intuitive right hand side, if you allow it. Don’t! It can have its turn later when it comes to editing.

Finally - give yourself time. Writing a novel is not a process that can be rushed, and you don’t need to know every detail before you start. Plan a little, then free-wheel for a bit and see what happens. Remember: The best ideas come when you are actually writing.


A Baltic cruise on the Queen Victoria

We’ve recently returned from a wonderful Baltic cruise on the Queen Victoria, and what a marvellous trip it was. Dancing into the wee small hours with the sun still shining and sunset blending into dawn is a sight never to be forgotten. Beautiful! Her décor is appropriately Victorian, and the service second to none. Excellent entertainment every evening and plenty of delicious food. The diet starts now. And what a lovely ship she is.

The cruise began with a few days at sea before our first two stops at Stockholme in Sweden, and Helsinki in Finland. Later we visited Tallin in Estonia, Warnemunde in Germany, Copenhagen in Denmark, and Kristiansand in Norway. We enjoyed perfect sunny weather throughout, although not warm enough to persuade me into the pool. Admittedly this picture was taken on the first day so we were more interested in the free champagne.

The Grand Lobby

The highlight of the holiday was undoubtedly a two day stopover at St Petersburg. Once the capital of the Russian Empire, and formerly known as Petrograd, and Leningrad at different times in history, the city demonstrates a marked European influence with many opulent palaces. We viewed many of these from a boat on the River Neva, a splendid way to see any city. But one we actually visited was Catherine’s Palace, known as Tsarskoye Selo. Simply amazing!

Here is the ballroom where the aristocracy would be presented to their Imperial Highnesses before enjoying the ball.

Nearly every room, all magnificently decorated, boasted a delft-tiled stove. It seems the Romonovs liked to keep warm, and who can blame them in a Russian winter.This is the Picture Hall, also resplendent with its built-in stove.


We were even shown the Amber room. Breathtakingly beautiful, although we were not allowed to take photos. This was destroyed, broken up and stolen by the Nazi’s in the Second World War. Years of searching post-war failed to find a piece of it, so it has been painstakingly restored, the task taking 30 years to complete.

We also visited the amber workshop where the work of restoration goes on, and where small special panels are often made for visiting dignitaries. The amber has to be carefully cut and carved with tiny drills and saws, then rubbed and polished, an extraordinarily skilled task. We were all given a small nugget to take away with us. We were escorted by a Russian guide, Natasha, with excellent English, who made this visit a real joy.

Here is the wonderful facade of the Catherine Palace. Hard to imagine the palace itself was left as a burning wreck after the war, but that too has been restored in all its splendour.

On our second day we were shown the prison where the Bolsheviks kept their political prisoners, a stark reminder of what happened during the revolution.

Also the Peter and Paul Fortress, and the Romonov tombs in the Cathedral. Following DNA tests on Nicholas II and his tragic family, there are now wall plaques to honour them, even Anastasia who was found later.

I would love to visit St Petersburg again as there are so many others places we didn’t have time to see, not least the hermitage and the winter palace. Here is an exterior shot of them, taken from the boat, so a bit rocky.


Edit and Polish

Clichés - Banish them completely. Always search your mind for a more effective and unusual way of expressing your meaning.

Pomposity - Never try to be over-clever with language. Never talk down to the reader. Use your thesaurus by all means but not to show off with long words.

Dialogue - Sift out any words or phrases that don’t suit the character who is speaking.

Journalese - Beware of sounding like a journalist trying to fit everything into one sentence.

Dialect - Use with caution. Confine it to one or two key-characters and tone it down.

Slang - Check that any particular word or phrase was used in the period of which you write. Modern slang soon goes out of fashion. Use with care.

Foreign words - Restrict to a few essential ones to give a flavour, like cherries in a cake.

Jargon - If you are writing about a specialised subject, make sure the meaning of any technical words or phrases are made clear.

Clarity - Make sure that this applies to all your writing.

Check spelling, grammar, punctuation, split infinitives, repetitions, clumsy sentences etc. Cut out purple prose, useless adjectives and adverbs and all superfluous material which adds nothing to the story while trying to keep its vitality and freshness.

To help you do this, keep in mind your reader who you should be encouraging to use his/her imagination. Understatement is a powerful tool.

It is your responsibility to edit - not the editors. Send in as clean a copy as you can.



Questions to ask yourself as you revise - not in any particular order.
1. The beginning: Will it hook the reader? The novel needs to start where the problem makes itself most apparent so that a decision will need to be made, preferably coupled with some action. Do not swamp the reader with too much back story in the early pages, or too many minor characters. This will only confuse and slow down the story. You can add these facts later, as and when needed. Make sure you have answered the five W's: Who, what, where, why, when.

2. Check grammar, punctuation, spelling, tense, bad habits, overuse of lazy words. Now is the time to use your thesaurus but don’t overdo it. Repetition: Not just of words but every idea must be fresh. You only need say something once.

3. Theme: must be in sight throughout. Keep to the point. Too many digressions will confuse your readers and distance them from your characters.

4. Character: Are your characters strong? The reader must care about them and be involved with their troubles, in particular the main viewpoint character. Are they credible? Do they have flaws or a saving grace? What is their motivation for every action? Constantly ask yourself why they are behaving in the way they do. Does your hero develop and overcome, or learn to live with a different reality?

5. Dialogue: Needs to have a purpose and it should be clear who is speaking at all times.

6. Time: Make a time chart to check there are no discrepancies. These can slip in when you move a scene. If you use flashbacks, or it is a story taking place in two time periods. Make sure it is clear to the reader where they are at any given time.

7. Structure: Check the inciting incident, complications, crisis or dark moment, climax and resolution. Is the order of the scenes dramatically effective, or would the story be improved by slotting one in a more appropriate place, or leaving it out altogether?

8. Narrative Drive: Does the novel maintain a strong narrative drive throughout? Is it logical and credible? Does everything tie in and make sense? Is the story engrossing or does it sag in the middle? If so, why? Have you lost the plot and digressed too much, padded it with unnecessary description, or simply run out of imagination? Tighten it up and/or make something relevant happen.

9. Pace: This should vary with high dramatic moments and time to draw breath and consolidate the situation in between.

10. Conflict is the stuff of fiction to produce a page-turning story, involving both internal thoughts, problems and emotions, and external between protagonists.

11. Viewpoint: Check that you’ve stayed in it. Use a limited number or you’ll risk distancing the reader from your hero or heroine.

12. Overwriting: Don’t do it. Avoid adjectives, flowery phrases, purple prose, over-explanation, too much emphasis and overstatement.

13. Suspense: There should always be a sense of warning or promise. Chapters should end at a cliff-hanger. Have you withheld a vital clue long enough, or should you milk it a bit more? Are there enough twists and surprises? Clues? Red herrings? Have you led the reader down one path only to hit him with something totally unexpected?

14. Style: Easy, warm, strong, compulsive, rippling with tension, whatever your novel needs, your writer’s voice must shine through. Make sure it suits your chosen genre. Is it commercial and popular, or literary and serious? Fast paced, witty or gentle? Read plenty of books in your chosen genre as a guide, then don’t be afraid to experiment to find your own.

15. Personal: Do not air your opinions in the story, only those of your characters. If you’ve got a hobby-horse write it in a letter to the Times.

16. Emotional involvement: Show, rather than tell. We need to see and feel the physical and emotional effect of your hero or heroine’s fear, his/her reaction to a shocking event, or the passion in the love scene. Right from the first page the reader must live the story and suffer with the character.

17. Transitions: These should flow easily onto the next scene. Don’t clutter the text with trivia, or boring everyday details.

18. Appeal to all five senses. Make each scene evocative, and with a strong sense of place.

19. Length: Check what is normally required for the publisher you’re aiming for in your particular genre. Make sure it fits the market. It’s fashionable now to have shorter chapters, and shorter paragraphs. Punchier and easily accessible.

20. Ending: Tie up all loose ends for a satisfying ending with all problems resolved. Solve the least important first, leaving the original, most important problem till last.

And finally: Check the accuracy – again and again! Facts MUST be correct. Check and double check.


Ten Reasons For Rejection:

1. There isn’t a strong enough hook to draw you straight into the story.
This is vital. The reader will only buy the book if she’s caught up from the very first paragraph. Give an indication of the problem on the first page and make it strong. Don't ever overload your first pages with too much back story. Start the action with a bang and slip in any necessary details and explanations later as and when needed.

2. Unsympathetic, weak characters.
Readers must feel able to identify with the viewpoint characters, and care about them. They must be strong and well-thought-out. The hero must be heroic. The heroine too. But they must also have flaws, be human, fallible, and likeable so that the reader understands the motivation behind all their actions. Make a biography for each and every major character so you don’t make the mistake of changing their eye colour in Chapter Five. You will learn more about them as you write, which you can add to your bio. Decide whose story it is. Whose viewpoint works best for any particular scene.

3. Lacks Spark.
This may have something to do with your prose style. Are you trying too hard? You’ve read all the how-to books and now you’re carefully following the rules. The danger is that it could end up seeming mechanical or wooden. The quality of the prose is vital. Don’t settle for less than your best. Dialogue must be sharp and engaging. Find your voice and make your writing special.

4. Not compulsive.
This may mean that there is a problem with pacing, plot or character. Have you varied the pace or laboured some points, wallowed in a quagmire in the middle? Does the narrative drive have the energy to power the story along? Or have you run out of plot? Problems, tension, conflict and complications. This is the stuff of fiction. Make a list of all the obstacles you could put in the way of your key-character achieving her goal. Give your story pace. Milk the scene, push it to its limits. Make your characters strong, your love scenes sexy, your story exciting.

5. Poor structure.
 Check that your story has a beginning, middle and end. It should build to a climax and finish with a satisfying denouement in which the problem is resolved.

6. Lacks credibility.
Have you fallen into the trap of using coincidence to get your character out a sticky situation? Banish it from your story. Life is full of chance, coincidence and random actions, but fiction must have motivation, logic, order, and a cohesive whole. Character motivation needs to be sufficiently strong to make their actions logical. Have you done sufficient research to help you handle an idea in a realistic fashion? Don’t fudge. Find the answer. Make it real.

7. Not emotionally compelling.
Are you nervous of digging into your own emotions or simply of putting them down on paper? Forget what people you know might think of your book, your mother, your daughter, and write what you feel. Banish all negative thoughts, all those little voices over your shoulder which ask ‘What will my dad think of this!’ Examine the inner conflict of your main characters. How are they are reacting to what is going on around them? How do they feel? Is there sufficient tension between the hero and the heroine? The reader should care about those characters and want to keep turning those pages.

8. Unimaginative.

The editor may not quite put it that way, but it is a common reason for rejection. They’ve seen it all before. It isn’t fresh, the characters don’t come alive, the plot is predictable and lumbers along. True, they’ve seen every plot before, so don’t expect to come up with something unique. But don’t give them time to think about that, keep the pace moving, and never settle for your first idea. Write down every possibility you can think of, and then dig deeper. Eventually you’ll hit on a different angle, a new twist. The best ideas come when you are actually writing. Strong characterisation can guide you through the mire of plotting. They should be able to tell you what is going to happen next. See below for ways to stimulate your imagination.

9. Not commercial.

Is it written for a market? Have you done your market research? It’s vital to know who would want to read your book. The bookseller or etailer, as well as the publisher, will want to know where he is going to put it on his shelves. The reader will wonder if she will like this book? What sort of book is it? If you don’t know, why should they? Publishing is a competitive world. If you are to succeed you must aim to be as good as the best in any given genre.

10. Spelling and grammar issues.
 Don’t think these aren’t important. If you don’t take the trouble to present your manuscript as well as you can, using a dictionary to check every spelling, check every fact at least twice, why should an editor waste time even reading it? Polish, polish, polish.

Most important of all - if you get a rejection - don’t give up. Cry into your coffee, then read the rejection letter again. Listen to their comments, heed any advice which seems appropriate, then send it out again.


What should dialogue do?

1. Reveal and explain character.
a) Who speaks - this must be clear.. b) What they say should be relevant to the story c) How they speak should be distinctive for each character.

2. Advance the action - within each scene and within the novel.

3. It must create conflict. a) Between the protagonists. b) Against a character’s own inner thoughts.

4. Provide information - background detail or motivation.

5. Add pace and suspense through giving pointers, and vary the rhythm of the book.

6. Show viewpoint, emotion and mood.

7. Show inner thoughts alongside or instead of speech - But does it reveal everything, or only a part? What is not told?

8. Weave essential detail and action in with the dialogue. Great blocks of research interrupt the flow of dialogue and readers tend to skip it.

9. Dialect and historical slang. Absolutely no gadzooks type of speech. Aim always for straightforward clarity. Where it is necessary, don’t overuse - Make it fit the speaker and period. It’s safer to use only one character if a particular way of speech is needed to add the right sense of place.

10.Dialogue should add sparkle and life, colour and tone.

An ear for dialogue is important in any story. If you don’t have it, acquire it. Listen and take note verbal patterns, body language, what is left out or not explained, punch lines, how people who know each other well need fewer words. How people interrupt, discuss two subjects at the same time, get at cross-purposes. How people argue and react to confrontation. The gender divide - men and women differ in conversation, in what way? Listen to puns and syntax, dialect twang, regional idioms, favourite sayings and old saws. Notice how class, occupation, age and character are revealed in conversation. Listen also for the effect of emotion: Frustration. Anxiety. Anger etc. Most of all, keep it brisk, clear and to the point. If it doesn’t have a purpose, take it out.

Exercise: If you have trouble writing dialogue, take a piece of your own narrative, the aim of which is get across certain information to the reader, and rewrite it as dialogue which will impart the same information in a more interesting way. Show what the characters are doing while they are speaking, and how they feel about what they are saying.


Fowey Festival of Words and Music (formerly known as the Du Maurier)

Pont Pill

Last week I enjoyed a fabulous week at the Fowey Festival of Words and Music (or the Du Maurier Festival - as it used to be called). Can't think why they would need to change such an important international name. The Festival takes place each year in early May in Fowey, Cornwall, directed by Jonathon Aberdeen, but much of the work done by local volunteers.

It was wonderful to be back in Fowey, where we lived for 13 years, and where I ran a little gift shop on Fore Street. Good to meet up with old friends, and revisit favourite haunts, of which there are many in beautiful Fowey. My slot wasn’t until the end of the week so I could relax and enjoy the many events on offer at the Festival village, specially erected at the top of the town.

The first one of these was Liz Fenwick on Sunday afternoon. Liz gave an interesting talk about her journey to publication, and of her new title The Cornish Affair, which was most interesting. How she fits everything in to her peripatetic life style I cannot imagine.

Another fascinating talk was by Sarah Dunant, talking about her new historical novel on the Borgias: Blood and Beauty. As always, Sarah was bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, and full of fascinating and intriguing facts about this controversial family. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Judith Mackrell talked to Helen Taylor about the Flappers, a biography about six extraordinary women: Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka. For anyone who loves the twenties, this book is a must have.

I also enjoyed Hilary Boyd talking about her unexpected bestseller, Thursdays in the Park. A love story that features a grandmother as the heroine, and is now to be made into a film. I think lots of women are now taking their grandchildren for walks in the park.

Lynne Gould gave a most interesting slide show on the settings for Daphne Du Maurier’s famous books, interspersed with snippets of information about her life and events that inspired incidents in the books. 

Ferryside where Daphne wrote her first books

Polridmouth (Pridmouth) Bay where the wreck took place that features in Rebecca, based on an actual event that took place a few years before she wrote the novel.
The next day we listened to Jane Dunn talking about the Du Maurier sisters: Angela, Daphne and Jeanne. Angela, the eldest, was also a writer, although not as famous as her sister, and Jeanne an artist who settled into the St Ives community. All three were passionate about Cornwall.

Other authors at the festival included: Joanna Harris, Michael Morpurgo, Piers Brendon, Ken Livingstone, Kathy Lette, Fern Britton, Robert Powell and many more.

David enjoyed Wendy Cope reading from her wonderful poems, and Simon Hoggart being witty about MPs. And we also saw two plays: The Little Hut by St Austell Players, and Memory of Water, by Troy Players. Both were of an excellent standard, and the former very funny indeed. And of course there are boat trips (the only way to view Fowey) plus many interesting walks and other events.

Enjoy a Wind in the Willows boat trip

We loved the musical evening with Cantabile, a quartet of singers who sang with harmony and humour. I’ve never seen anything like it, they were great fun, singing Lambeth Walk backwards, and another song like a stuck 78 record. Hilarious!

On the Saturday afternoon I gave my talk on my life as a writer set against the changes in technology. Though I'm not quite old enough to have used a quill pen, I did write my first novels on a sit-up-beg typewriter. I finished by discussing how the revolution in ebooks is changing the landscape for writers.

My talk took place at the town hall and yes, that is a bed behind me, not for me to take a rest but part of the set. It seemed totally weird to be standing on that stage again after all these years. The last time I trod those boards was as a spice girl (or rather old spice) in Sinbad the Sailor, the pantomime 'what I wrote' . Fortunately I only had to produce the basic script as the rest of the Troy Players chipped in with the jokes. Excellent teamwork and great fun.

I also might have made a passing mention to my new book:
My Lady Deceiver, which is set in Cornwall.

1905. Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and put on the next boat back to England, leaving her family behind. But fate gives her a second chance when she befriends Lady Rosalind. Having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that Rosie leave it with another . . . As Rosie arrives in Cornwall as ‘Rosalind’, she finds herself increasingly trapped by her deception and the cruelty of those around her. Her only hope seems to be the enigmatic Bryce Tregowan, with whom the promise of a new life beckons. As she falls deeper into love and lies, can Rosie keep up the act, or will her secrets reveal themselves? And to what consequences? 

Published by Allison & Busby
Available from Amazon

The week ended on a high with a fabulous one-woman show by Ruthie Henshall, international musical star of Crazy for You, She Loves You, and Chicago. What a wonderful voice she has, and a delightful rapport with the audience. A brilliant evening, and a brilliant Festival. Can’t wait for next year. Not only a fun event but the marvellous Fowey River and town to enjoy.

The Voyager cruise ship at anchor in Fowey River


Questions every Writer should ask over the main Character’s Journey

1. Who is your main Point of View character?

2. What is the inciting incident or problem and in what way does it effect her life?

3. What emotional state is she in at the beginning? And at the end?

4. What does she want? What are her aims and goal, and what does that tell us about her?

5. Many obstacles must stand in her way. What is her flaw that prevents her from attaining her goal, and which traits will help her to overcome them in the end?

6. What is at stake? How high are the stakes? What will she lose if she doesn’t achieve her objective?

7. Why should the reader care? They need to be emotionally involved, understand her flaws and be willing her to succeed. Motivation. Motivation. Motivation is the secret.

8. What does she learn along this hazardous journey? How does she confront her demons and develop as a person?

9. The darkest hour will come when it seems as if she has lost everything. This will be followed by the climax when, largely by her own efforts and certainly not luck or a Prince Charming riding to her rescue, she wins through.

10. How does her story end? Redemption and resolution. Major problem finally solved and a satisfying end for the reader.


A Sense of Place

There is no better way of getting the feel of an industry, occupation or area than to talk to the people who have lived it. Ask them about their routine: daily, seasonal, annual. How they got started? How did they acquire their skills? How have things changed? What are the problems and dangers in the work? Where did they ache after a long day?

Oral history tapes and transcripts in local libraries are also a useful resource. These sometimes have to be booked in advance. Most libraries have a catalogue or summary sheets of what is available so you can choose before ordering which you actually need to listen to.

I often interview people when I’m working on a book, and they readily find time to talk to me and share their memories of times past, the work they used to do whether in the mill or munitions, farming or forestry, in war or peace. I like to be able to properly describe some activity for my heroine during a particular scene or while a piece of dialogue is taking place. What special skills, hobbies and interests does she have? Is she being interviewed for a job in a smart London office, learning how to ski, mowing a suburban lawn, operating a machine or building a dry stone wall? Show your character at work. Nothing can give a better feel for the place.

One lady I interviewed was 92 at the time. She started in the mill as a doffer at 14, knocking off the filled bobbins, or cops as they were called, replacing them with empty ones. Her real name was Mary Ann but she was more affectionately known to her family and friends as Dolly because she was so small. ‘

'I were the scrapings up off t’mill floor,’ she told me, chortling with glee. ‘Eeh, it marvellous it were in t’mill.’

 Dolly wore a pinny, or apron, with a long pocket in front in which she carried the tools of her trade: sheers, for cutting the ends off; a piker, which was a long implement with a hooked end used to get the travellers out. She always carried a sharp knife to slip down the bobbin to get to where it was threaded. These were tied on to a string round her waist, or in her pocket, making her look permanently pregnant.

She wore clogs, of course. ‘You could hear them coming a mile off up from the mill. Clattering on the setts,’ she said.

If I’d asked her what she’d had for her dinner she might not have been able to tell me but she recalled her days at the spinning mill vividly. She took me through her day, how the cotton was spun, fleas and all, the heat in the mill, the constant danger of fire. Where and how they had their dinner. And any number of anecdotes about meeting Gracie Fields, singing in a band as Dolores, climbing down a drainpipe with her dance frock over her arm, which her mother made for her, and the tricks they used to play on each other in the mill, one being to roll a spindle on the greasy floor and send you flying.

Dolly told me she learned to be tough because she was put on and bullied for being small and felt the need to prove herself. As a small person myself I can identify with that. And her attitude to the bosses was: ‘I wouldn’t ‘humble meself to ‘em. They were always saying - don’t do this and don’t do that - but we got them round to our way of thinking in the end. We larned em.’

She very generously allowed me to name the character in my book after her, as it seemed so appropriate. It is not her story, but I hope some of this fine lady’s spirit lives on in Dolly Tomkins.

Here she is in Watch For The Talleyman following the incident with the spindle:

Dolly stood at her frame, concentrating on the task of winding yarn from hundreds of spindle bobbins on to the larger cones. She was skilled at her job after two long years but it still required concentration to control the speed and make any necessary adjustments, if breakages were to be kept to a minimum. She was hot and tired and ringing wet, the air full of cotton dust, the atmosphere uncomfortably humid from the steaming water sprayed between the rows of frames to keep the cotton damp and pliable. A constant working temperature of seventy degrees or more was necessary as otherwise the cotton threads would tighten and break, which meant that time, and therefore money, was lost.

For Dolly it had been a long and difficult morning, trying to avoid putting too much pressure on her strained ankle and worrying over the situation at home. Even so, she loved her work and enjoyed a bit of a laugh with her mates. Not that many of them were laughing today, the first day back following the disastrous strike. Tempers were short and morale low, and no one was saying much to anyone, with only the singing of the spinning frames to be heard.

On top of everything, her cotton this morning was of a poor quality, filthy with fleas and, as the yarn twisted and drew out, these were caught up in the slender rope of parallel fibres which was the roving, and wound onto the cones. Later, they would be woven into the fabric and finally dissolved and got rid of in the bleaching process but she hated the feel of them on her fingers. The older women, Dolly had noticed, were adept at feeling the cotton and choosing the best quality for themselves, probably because they were more dependant upon the wages than young girls such as herself.

Except that in Dolly’s case this wasn’t true at all. The Tomkins family needed every penny it could get, since most of it ended up in the bookie’s pocket. Only when they were free of debt to the talleyman would she be happy.

She’d seen Nifty Jack standing at the door deep in conversation with Mam, handing over more money and a new card, indicating that this strike had cost them dear. And poor Ma Liversedge was to be buried on Wednesday, her unexpected death coming so close after Nifty’s last visit it made Dolly shiver.

 He’s after more than your money…

Dolly Tomkins knows what it’s like to live hand to mouth. In the mean streets of 1920s Salford, the only one making a decent living is the talleyman - and Nifty Jack has a moneybag where his heart should be. Dolly’s mam is in hock up to her ears, but when Jack offers to wipe the slate clean in return for Dolly’s favours, she just can’t bring herself to do it.

Instead, she takes him on at his own game, and in the process is in danger of losing the love of her life.

Amazon - currently number 4 in Historical, and in Family sagas.And thanks you to all my readers who helped it get as high as number 2.