In which six is the magic number

My publisher, Choc Lit, is six years old today, which is lovely. Well, it’s lovely up to a point. Beyond that, having a publisher who doesn’t want to discuss your edits because they had too much ice cream before they went on the swings and so now they feel sicky is less than ideal. Despite those reservations, a birthday is still a thing to be celebrated, so in the spirit of ‘sixiness’ here are six things I’m thinking about right this second…

1. Turning to crime

Not actual crime. That would be bad. Being bad is generally considered to be one of the defining characteristics of actual crime, but I am thinking about fictional crime. Yesterday I went to see a panel of frankly awesome crime writers talk at the Worcestershire LitFest. The panel was made up of CL Taylor, Sarah Hilary, Clare Mackintosh and Alex Marwood, all of whom are bestsellers and utterly brilliant writers. A couple of things really stood out – both CL Taylor and Alex Marwood started their writing careers writing books that were marketed as chick lit before turning to crime, and Clare Mackintosh actually turned down a potential offer to publish an earlier book before her astounding breakout debut hit, I Let You Go. All of which made me think a lot about writing and publishing as a career and how easy or difficult it is to switch genres or to write in multiple genres and hmmm… well… thoughts.


2. I bloody love teaching

I’ve been properly snowed under with work recently. I’m marking a lot at the moment, promoting one book, trying to finish writing another and I’ve recently joined the committee of the RNA, which is brilliant but also time-consuming. And then on Saturday afternoon I had an afternoon off. Well not actually ‘off’ – I had an afternoon standing at the front of a class with a flipchart talking about plot and character and trying to help five developing authors get to grips with their own works in progress, and it was immense fun, so much fun that, compared with the days and day of bum-on-seat time I’ve had recently, it almost felt like an afternoon off. Brilliant students, an excellent worked example of a character arc interacting with an external plot (courtesy of Terry Pratchett and Guards! Guards!) and a generally all round lovely afternoon.


3. My new book baby is out there in the world

Midsummer Dreams was published on Friday. You probably didn’t know that. I barely bang on about it at all. The early reviews have been lovely and positive though, which is always a huge relief. Until the first reviews appear there’s always a possibility that nobody else on the planet will understand what on earth you were trying to do with a novel, but fortunately at least some people seem to love this one. Happy dances all around! If you’d like to download a copy for yourself this is the place.


4. The Labour leadership contest is getting me down

So it’s fairly well documented that I’m a bit of a lefty, well ok, quite a lot of a lefty, so I should be following the Labour leadership contest with great interest. Unfortunately all I’ve been able to muster so far is great disillusionment. I can’t even bring myself to type a proper rant about how disappointing the candidates all are. That’s how disillusioning the whole thing is. *sigh*


5. Fatness and cake

I’m currently on attempt 728 to get my weight under control. My current system involves good old fashioned bribery as the incentive, as EngineerBoy has been persuaded to sponsor me £1 for every 1lb I lose. So far I’ve made £4. Yeah baby!

The current biggest downside of the weight loss plan is that it really curtails the amount of baking I can justify doing. I love baking – it’s like magic for people who don’t have sufficient attention span to actually learn how to cut a lady in half, or, if you prefer, it’s like science for people who only have eggs, butter and flour to experiment with. Baking is awesome, but it very often leads to cake, and cake, very often, leads to fatitude. Again *sigh*


6. And finally, I am thinking about Christmas

Because my current work-in-progress is the third (and possibly final, but never say never) Christmas Kisses book, so for the third year in a row May and June have been soundtracked by White Christmas and Band Aid. No spoilers about the book other than to say it will be Christmassy and there will probably be some kissing.


So there you go. There are six things that are on my mind right now. What’s everyone else thinking about?

In which it is June and a number of occurrences occur

So the blogging every Friday without fail is going terribly well, don’t you agree? Apart from that today is Monday, but I think we can all agree that Monday is very nearly Friday give or take the odd weekend.

Anyhoo, this particularly Monday is also the 30th June, so I thought I would tell you about a number of things that have occurred this month. Hardcore readers, who’ve been with us since the beginning of blogtime, will recall that I do like a bit of a summer festival, not those loud, modern-musicky festivals that involve camping and reading preparatory Guardian articles about festival fashion, but rather those more safely middle-aged festivals where it’s considered acceptable to stop between events and have a nice warming hot chocolate and possibly a scone. This month I have attended two festivals of the latter sort, and one actual gig in an actual field to which I wore actual wellingtons. I shall relay my thoughts on all three forthwith.

1. Cheltenham Science Festival

The good people of Cheltenham are pretty much prepared to have a festival for anything. Jazz, literature, music, horse racing – they really don’t care – if you can put up a marquee and print a brochure, they’re totally up for it. The first week in June is the annual science festival, at which I took in talks and panels on the genetics of intelligence, animal communication, war and medicine, the maths of The Simpsons, animal senses, quantum mechanics, and saw somebody whacking ping pong balls with a chocolate hammer, all of which was quite interesting. It’s also very jolly to be at events about things I know nothing about, because new knowledge is always exciting. Did you know, for example, that there’s a sort of snake that has infra-red sensor things that mean it can spot a bat flying over head in pitch darkness and grab the aforementioned bat out of the air for its dinner? I did not know that, but now I do. Hurrah for knowing more stuff.


2. Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe

Worcestershire LitFest is in its 4th year, but this was my first time involved with the organisation. I hosted four events – a rather lovely author panel with equally lovely cake, and three novel writing workshops.

Me, Sue Moorcroft, Liz Harris and Christina Courtenay
Me, Sue Moorcroft, Liz Harris and Christina Courtenay

Teaching writing workshops is always fun – it’s pretty much one of my favourite things to do, and I’ve not taught for a while so it was top fun to get back into it with a brand new group of students. Hopefully they enjoyed themselves at least half as much as I did, and weren’t too freaked out by the woman at the front of the room wittering on about Prince Charming and necrophilia. (Yes – they were part of the same conversation, but they were totally related to the point of the lesson. Totally. Sort of. A bit.)

Asides from leading those events I also got to attend a couple of others. My personal highlight was seeing Lou Morgan at 42-Worcester talk about her writing and particularly about writing YA. She was interesting and funny. Yay her!


3. Deacon Blue in a forest to which I wore actual wellingtons, but also took a garden chair to sit on like an old person might.

Now the young whipper snappers amongst you are now furrowing your perfectly wrinkle-free brows and asking ‘Who are Deacon Blue?’ Well they were big in the late 80s and early 90s and, I can now attest, are rather marvellous live. Your lack of knowledge probably means that you’re not even aware that if you ever have sufficient money in your kitty to buy a dinghy the only right and proper thing to call her would be Dig-ni-ty (which you would sing loudly and with gusto.) Trust me young people, your lives are poorer for this lack of knowledge.


So that was June. I trust you all had an equally pleasant month.


And before I go, a quick reminder that Sweet Nothing is currently 99p for kindle. That offer either finishes today or next Monday (I’m not 100% clear on how Amazon monthly deals work!) so if you want it, go get it now. Off you go….  For those of you who are still here, if you think you’d be interested in writing workshops where the tutor witters on about Prince Charming and necrophilia in between dispensing great wisdom then please get in touch and I’ll add you to my mailing list.

In which there is a World Cup and a great and wondrous literary festival

So it’s that time in the four-year cycle of four yearness where my newsfeeds and social life are suddenly dominated by one thing and one thing only – the tiresome, repetitive, inescapable, all-encompassing deluge of people going on and on and on about how uninterested they are in the football, specifically, the World Cup.

Now we’re an inclusive, tolerant sort of corner of the internet. We welcome all-comers, and hold a deep and abiding respect for each and every one of your rights to hold and express whatever opinions you like. However, there are some occasions on which those opinions are simply wrong. I’m aware, for example, that there are some of you out there who don’t like marmitey toast, or who think that Nigel Farage seems like a damn good bloke. Now I wouldn’t be expected to smile benignly while those travesties of opinions were expressed, and this is no different. I understand that some of you don’t like football, but you are, I’m afraid, based on the available evidence, simply and categorically wrong. And by ‘based on the available evidence, simply and categorically wrong,’ I mean that I reckon something different.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing wrong with the state of world football and there isn’t lots that will irritate me over the next few weeks of World Cup jollity. In fact there’s lots of bad in amongst the good. I shall innumerate some of that bad forthwith…

1. Fifa

Corrupt, out of touch, apparently incapable of dealing with racism in a way related even slightly to the 21st Century. Pah.


2. The advertising industry’s World Cup obsession with all things football

Yep – every advert on TV for the next month will feature the beautiful game in some way or another. Some of these adverts will be for sportswear companies – that’s just about ok. Most of them, however, won’t. They’ll be for cars, or supermarkets, or shampoo, or any one of the hundreds of other businesses that have sod all to do with football, and they will be tiresome in the extreme, and they will never convince me that a flake free scalp has significant impact on goalkeeping performance. Ugh.


3. Yes – I’m a girl. Yes – I’m a girl who writes romantic comedies for a living. Yes – I understand the off side rule.

It’s 2014. This really really isn’t news, but at some point over the next month I’m pretty damn sure it will be commented on. Likewise, there are plenty of blokes who couldn’t give a stuff about the World Cup. They’re misguided (as previously explained) but also not noteworthy. Interest in football is not governed by one’s possession of a y-chromosome. That clear? Good.

It’s also not mutually exclusive with having other interests, even interests that some people might (wrongly) describe as a ‘tad girly’. In addition to football, I also quite like books and theatre and cooking programmes and spending too much money on ebay and drinking wine in the garden, and I imagine I’ll manage to squeeze most of those activities into my summer as well. Which brings me onto…


4. The pressure to be a ‘proper’ fan

I’ll be honest- I’m not sure I have the ‘proper’ fandom gene. I’m a casual football fan. I’ll watch the World Cup. Outside of that I probably watch most England matches, a smattering of Champions League and a random sample of Match of the Day. I don’t go and stand on the terraces every weekend. Some ‘proper’ fans will be irrationally offended by that, in the same way that I have friends who will be upset by the fact that I ‘quite like’ Buffy, or generally only own those CDs that everybody owns – the ones put out after bands were famous. It’s good to be a casual fan. It frees up brain-space for more activities, and saves you from ever having to convert your loft into bespoke storage for your Doctor Who figures.


So there are just some of the things that will aggravate me during the World Cup, but actually none of them are anything to do with football. They’re all just part of the kerfuffle surrounding the football.

Football is sometimes referred to as the beautiful game, and it is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity. Football is the game that groups of eleven year olds would invent, given a patch of ground and a round thing. It can be played badly by pretty much anyone, and played brilliantly it can be exhilarating to watch. It can be nail-biting, infuriating, gut-clenching, ecstasy-inducing and pretty much all emotions in between. Football is brilliant. It’s made me hide my face behind a cushion while watching TV more effectively than any dalek. It’s made me yelp for joy in the street when being forced to listen to an England match on the radio on account of ‘having to go to work.’ It’s made me cry in public (Euro ’96 – Gareth Southgate, oh Gareth Southgate).

So, football, yeah. I quite like it.


I do also, however, like other things, and with that in mind, please allow me one brief moment of shameless promotion. Next week, on Saturday 21st June I’m hosting a rather lovely literary event as part of the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe. I’m going to be hosting an afternoon with top writers Christina Courtenay, Sue Moorcroft and Liz Harris who will be talking about books and writing and anything else I, or the audience, choose to ask them about. This may or may not include the World Cup. So anybody who loves books and is around in Worcester on 21st June, please come along. It should be lots of fun, and there will definitely be cake. You can download the full LitFest programme (which also includes 3 novel-writing workshops with yours truly) and book tickets here.