Category Archives: Writing

Lancashire Legends 1: Sir Lancelot and Martin Mere

Researching for a new novel, I’ve come across John Roby’s  Traditions of Lancashire, a collection of Lancashire folklore, written in the 1860s.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of the legends, particularly those relevant to West Lancashire, my home area.

Martin Mere was once a huge lake covering six square miles of West Lancashire. It was drained in the 16th century to create farmland but the area has been subject to flooding ever since as the land tries to return to its natural form.

I’ve always associated Sir Lancelot with the knights of the round table, Glastonbury and Somerset but there is a persistent legend that he was stolen as a child by the nymph Vivian who lived at the bottom of Martin Mere and that he was then brought up in the depths of its waters. Released at the age of eighteen, he became known as Lancelot of the Lake, then became part of King Arthur’s court and famed throughout the land for his exploits.

According to Roby’s book, he was ruler of Lancashire and the county is named after him. However all this is debateable, as lanc is an old word for spear and it is equally possible that the county was named for the amount of fighting that seemed to go on there.

I suspect that although there may be some grain of truth in the legend of Lancelot and the Lake, that the same claim has been made of other lakes? Perhaps someone out there knows of similar legends?

There is also a legend that the final resting place of Lancelot’s sword Excalibur was at the bottom of Martin Mere. Log boats and bog oaks have been turned up by local farm tractors over the  years so who knows, maybe one day a local farmer may prove the truth of the legend.


Book launches – are they worth it?

I’ve published several books now, two through small press publishers and three self-published volumes. For each I have had some  kind of book launch and although they were very enjoyable experiences I wonder what the actual value of a book launch is and how useful other writers have found their launches. Put another way, if you don’t have a launch for your new book, does that affect its public impact or is it better to put your energy and cash into other ways of promoting your publication?

If you are self-published money is obviously a concern. For my  self-published books I was able to have launches at my local library, as long as I provided the refreshments and did most of the publicity myself. The most successful of the three was a non-fiction local history book which generated quite a lot of local interest. The two fiction books attracted a reasonable audience but mostly of friends and family and  other local authors. The launches didn’t  have much of an impact on sales but they were FUN.

My first novel, Consider The Lilies won the inaugural Impress Novel Prize and there was an impressive prizegiving at Exeter University which made me feel something of a celebrity. The surrounding publicity resulted in a few bookings for readings back home but I didn’t actually have a local launch.

My second novel, Mere has recently been  published by Thunderpoint Publishing and they very generously footed the bill for a launch at a local art gallery. Again I probably knew most of the people who attended but there was a deal of press interest which further stimulated interest in the book. I did sell quite a lot of books but the best of the evening was seeing all those people who were interested enough to come and hear me read and to meet up with some people who I hadn’t seen for years. It was a great night with a wonderful atmosphere and that wasn’t just because of the wine but because we all enjoyed  ourselves.

I think that is the best thing about book launches. You are networking and creating links just by being in the same room together and you have no way of knowing how news of your book may spread via those people you have collected together, whether they buy a copy or not.

There are a few ways to make sure your book launch goes well, whether you are paying for it yourself or having it laid on by your publisher. If you are organising it yourself go easy on outlay, look round for a free venue, some pubs, coffee shops or galleries may have a quiet area or room they will let you have on the strength of selling drinks etc. If you can afford it invest in laying on at least an introductory drink, usually a few bottles of wine, and some orange juice and water will suffice. Your venue might want to supply this at a charge or they may allow you to bring your own and pay a corkage fee. Even just tea and coffee and biscuits are welcome especially if you have an afternoon launch rather than an evening one. I had a cake with a picture of the book cover on it for my latest launch. ASDA do these, and its very simple, you pick  the special ‘design-a-cake’ off the shelf, use the computer screen to upload your picture and the bakery will do it for you in a few minutes. Everyone at the launch was very impressed with the cake and it all went, thankfully as I am supposed to be on a diet!

You can do wonders with publicity at no cost at all. Use social media and tweet the event for all you are worth. Send a press release with photos of yourself with your book  to your local newspapers and email local radio stations a few days before the event

Make sure the room is suitable and that you will be able to be seen and heard by the audience. Arrange for someone to introduce you and oversee questions from the audience after you have done your reading.  Also make sure your book display is attractive, have a clear price list,  and delegate a couple of friends to man the book table and sell copies, leaving you free to exercise your signing hand. If you can, arrange a couple of little giveaways, either to be raffled off at the end of the night or to be given away with copies, postcards or bookmarks are nice and can be printed up quite cheaply. I had a few mugs done with the book cover on them and had a free raffle at the end for five, keeping the rest to sell at future bookstalls or as giveaways at other events.

The most important thing of course, is your  reading so prepare your excerpts carefully for maximum impact, rather than just starting at the beginning. Select several passages that will give the audience the flavour of the book but intrigue them as to what is going to happen without giving too much away. Whetted appetites definitely result in sales! Mark your selected pages carefully so you can go exactly to the point.

And although you are the star of the show, take time to greet and talk to your  guests. Sometimes nervousness makes you less friendly and approachable than you would normally be  but try to relax, many of them will be your friends anyway and it is a chance to catch up on what others are doing. You may also find you are asked for advice about writing and getting published so try to  make time to help where you can. I always remember being myself in that situation and I’m flattered when people ask for my advice!

Although a lot of work is involved I think book  launches are great, not just as a commercial exercise but as a genuine coming together of author and readers to celebrate the birth of a book  and with a little effort a book launch  can be such an uplifting experience. I’m already looking forward to launching my next one, but I better write the book first!

Book launch for Mere with bookshop proprietor Bob Stone as mine host at Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk, July 2018.



Be of Good Heart, There are Exciting Days Ahead

2017-01-19 12.18.49This blogpost is for everyone and anyone who ever thought their book would never be published. Be of good heart because this is the story of a novel that surfaced from the depths of writing despair to see the light of day as it is to be published on  21st June this year.

My first novel, Consider The Lilies won the inaugural Impress Novel Prize and was subsequently published by Impress Books back in 2007. As you do, I thought this was the beginning of a recognised writing career, especially as I was soon signed by a London agent that I met at a literary event.  Not true, although my agent enthused over the novel I was writing, nothing much happened and, despite several revisions, the novel was eventually relegated to the back burner as I moved on to write other things  and the agent moved on to another agency.

Just over 12 months ago, having dipped my toes into self-publishing I dusted the novel off and did some further revisions, thinking I might self-publish it but seeing some calls for submissions in Writing Magazine  sent samples off to a few of the advertising publishers and was delighted to find Thunderpoint Publishing loved the novel and wanted to publish it.

Thunderpoint editors Huw and Seonaid Francis have been great to work with, I have made some more changes as they requested and feel the novel is improved by them. I love the cover design and although it has seemed a long wait for the publication process, last week I received a small parcel of my printed books all ready to go out into the world.

Okay, so my novel isn’t going to one of the huge publishing houses but to an independent publisher that really gives the personal  touch and enthusiasm that makes you feel your book has found a good home. I’m perfectly happy with that.

Mere will be published on June 21st and is available to pre-order on Amazon.


If there is one word that sums up this story it is  PERSEVERE

Believe in yourself and never give up



What I learned at Writers’ Holiday

I recently returned from the summer Writers’ Holiday 2017 at the Fishguard Bay Hotel in South Wales, sad with the knowledge that this was to be the last of an event I had been attending for many years. The journey home was filled with reflections on what I have gained from being at the summer Writers’ Holiday, first at Caerleon University college and latterly in the beautiful setting of Fishguard Bay.

Writing courses and retreats can seem expensive but I count as good value the writing skills I developed and what is priceless – the friendship and becoming part of an enduring nationwide writing community with all the support that entails.

One of the best things about this event was that it was always fun, never losing sight of the word ‘holiday.’ That was achieved by a relaxed atmosphere, the most helpful, attentive hosts and tutors hand-picked not only for the knowledge of their subject but for the ability to teach and to enable each delegate in the group to feel comfortable and included. In addition to a great variety of courses there were evening talks, pub crawls, open mic poetry nights and quizzes and at Caerleon a half-day trip to  places of local interest was included. I really enjoyed visiting Tredegar House, Hay on Wye and Cardiff’s St. Fagan’s museum.

The first Writers’ Holiday I attended would be about 1997. I was still recovering from severe injuries following a motorbike accident that had cost me my career and my self-confidence having been isolated at home for four years in a wheelchair and on crutches. I remember walking into the welcome meeting at Caerleon and being utterly terrified by the huge buzzing crowd. Everyone seemed to know everyone else and my first instinct was to turn and run. I managed to sit down next to someone who started to talk to me and by the the next day I was part of a small group which not only stuck with me all week but which reformed each year for several years after that.

Between then and now I think I only missed one or two years and the network of WH friends grew and solidified. One of the best friends I have now I first met at Writers’ Holiday, and some friends remain stalwarts from the early days. Some friends from those days are no longer around or simply stopped coming but some remain in touch on social media and others are fondly remembered when a few of us get together. And of course new people come and also become treasured friends over time. I took courses in poetry, short stories, novel writing, crime and romance and travel writing to name just a few.

The courses at Writers’ Holiday were always geared towards commercial markets and publication which provided a counterpoint to the academic writing theory I was by this time studying at my local university. When I first went to Writers’ Holiday I was a fledgling writer and it was the interest sparked on their courses that led me to embark on my MA and later, PhD in creative writing.

For the last few years I have been invited to the summer event as a course leader, a role which I have thoroughly enjoyed  – such talented participants. I was pleased to be surprised and amazed by some of the work produced.

And so I’d come to feel a part of the Writers’ Holiday ‘family.’ I’ve seen the hard work put in by Anne and Gerry Hobbs and come to feel a deep respect and affection for them, their son Richard (whom I watched grow from a teenager to a lovely man) and all their family.

So it is with deep regret that I say goodbye to the summer Writers’ Holiday but that’s not the end of the story. Those of us who have met up year by year keep in touch on Facebook and continue to support each other in our successes and our doldrums. And fortunately Anne and Gerry will still be running their other annual event the winter Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard Bay. I plan to attend the painting course run by Susan Alison with a couple of extra days at each end for writing and this will be a worthwhile trip and the chance to continue meeting up with friends old and new. And to all those no longer able to make that trip, please keep in touch, you were part of something special which I for one will never forget.

Writers’ Holiday will now be held annually in February. The next date is 23-25th February at the delightful Fishguard Bay hotel. Learn more at Writers Holiday


Ghostwriting – is it to die for?

I was first approached in 2014 by a mutual friend to ghostwrite an autobiography for Gary Skyner, one of the first UK thalidomide babies. Gary grew up to be a high-achieving comedian, motivational speaker and tireless campaigner for compensation for thalidomiders. If I’d known what a protracted task it would be I doubt I would have taken it on. I went to the first arranged meeting, thinking ‘what if I don’t like this bloke? I won’t be able to do it.’

However, we got on like a house on fire so provided with some literature and cuttings  on Gary’s life I began researching the thalidomide disaster from the postwar period to the present day. It proved a fascinating journey and I became deeply immersed in the injustices at a personal level but perhaps more importantly in the failure within the national and international context to deal fairly with these people to this day, chiefly through corporate greed and political indifference.

For a year I listened to Gary’s story through a series of recorded interviews. It was a story of breathtaking courage and laughter in the face of terrible adversity but also a tale of heartbreak as the family was torn apart by the tensions of caring for a damaged child. Taking a chronological approach, I wrote up each chapter after each recording, incorporating my historical literature research as I went along. I was writing in the first person, as Gary, and of course the great difficulty was trying to capture Gary’s personality and not letting my own thoughts and ideas invade the text too much. Gary is a great joker so I put in all the funny stories he included in his interviews and I also tried to let his anger show at the way thalidomiders worldwide have been treated by governments and the pharmaceutical firms. In his career Gary has met many famous people, particularly sports celebrities and he has many photos of himself with footballers, boxers and TV personalities, as well as family photos, so these too had to be incorporated into the book. We decided on black and white photos throughout the text and to include a colour plate section at the middle or end of the finished book.

At last it was finished after two years of writing and editing. At the beginning of 2016 we began looking for a publisher. Several showed interest but eventually declined. Keen to see the book in print and confident of selling copies at his gigs and speaking events, Gary decided to publish the book through Troubador/Matador a professional self-publishing package. A tediously long re-editing process ensued . There were difficulties with the photos which had to be sent separately and their position in the text labelled in a separate document. This led to lots of problems of them being put in the wrong place and the captions going missing, partly our fault as Gary moved one of the pictures to another place in the text and that threw all the others out! However, it was so important that everything should be right so meticulous checking and re-checking of proofs could not be avoided. The first cover design we were offered we didn’t like but the final one is wonderful. We also went through several titles before settling on You Can’t, You Won’t: a Life of Unarmed Combat. The book was finally published in June of this year and Gary and I are very proud of the final result. It was a wonderful experience to open the first box of copies and actually hold it in my hands.

Overall the experience has been profound. I made a friend for life and I am honoured to have helped bring this account and the issues involved to the public arena. It’s a personal story but also exposes what happened and is still happening to all those people in a world where mothers-to-be took a remedy they were told was safe only to feel responsible for the injured children to which they gave birth. I think it’s a story that needs to be told. Older people vaguely remember the tragedy but younger generations will likely know nothing of it. Although law and practice on drug trialling changed because of the thalidomide disaster, drug companies are still motivated by profit and the potential for tragic mistakes is ever present.

The downside of the experience was that I virtually ate, breathed and slept this book for over three years with little time or thought left for my own writing. I got emotionally involved with the issues and though that may seem unprofessional  – I mean, if you make a career of ghostwriting can you let yourself be sucked in by every book? – it meant my heart went into the book and I think the book is the better for that.

Since the book was published I’ve had more enquiries about ghostwriting for others but I’ve turned them down. I’m a fiction writer by nature so I want to concentrate on the novel I practically abandoned to write Gary’s book. Would I ghostwrite again? At present the answer is no. It was a hard struggle and the positive outweighed the negative, I wrote a great book and I learned so much about thalidomide, but now it’s time to get back to my own thoughts and ideas, my own voice. If I did consider ghostwriting again, I’d have to get on with the subject and I’d have to be sure that the person’s story was one that addressed issues of value to the wider community. Maybe one day…………..You Can’t You Won’t is available from Amazon and all good bookshops

Coming soon —- my new novel ‘Mere’ a dark ghost story is to be published by Thunderpoint publishing in May 2018.img368



Is publishing short stories online a good idea?

Given the limited market today for short stories in print publications it would seem that online zines offer the short story writer a wealth of opportunities. E-zines pop up like mushrooms in all genres but think twice before posting your  precious work here there and everywhere.

It’s best to be picky about the sites you have your name associated with. There are sites where you can post your stuff without it being evaluated by an editor, or where other writers and/or readers vote for the best work each month  or so. I looked at a few of these but found a lot of my time was taken up reading work that wasn’t of interest to me or was not of publishable standard.

I recommend looking for zines that publish the kind of work you admire and check out the standard of presentation, the artwork and the public presence the site has on social media. Spend a couple of months  observing before attempting a submission.

Good zines will have an editorial process and won’t publish substandard work. A site that accepts anything and everything will hardly encourage good writing and always remember with each piece you publish you are building a public writing persona – a literary reputation that you need to safeguard if you are to be taken seriously.

Two online publishers I can recommend are Holdfast and Close2thebone. Holdfast publishes speculative fiction and accepted one of my stories but asked me to change the ending. I did this and had to agree it improved the story. The editing, presentation and artwork was very professional but I was quite surprised some months after publication to received a modest payment as a share of contributions to the issue. Now that’s the kind of site I like!

The other zine I like a lot, Close2thebone/Near to the Knuckle publishes fairly strong horror but it only posts clever, well-written stories, often with a psychological twist, not just grot and grue. I’ve had three stories published by them and while there is no payment, their presentation and artwork are great and it’s nice to feel that having been accepted more than once, your  style fits the zine and you are  likely to find a home there for other stories in the future.

So when you look for short story markets online, look for quality and excellence and a publisher that treats its contributors with respect. It’s better to hang on than to get published on any old site.

My latest story ‘Murder Me’ is published on Close2thebone. Feel free to check it out and have a look round the rest of the site while you are there.


Who are you writing for?

It’s a question I don’t often consider, except when stressing over some deadline or trying to fit a story line into a specific genre. For the most part an idea fishhooks me and hides in my brain, gathering layers over time like a pearl in an oyster until some trigger catapults it out through my fingers and onto paper. It’s a passion for making, just like crafts – gardening, textile arts, baking bread, making jams, things some might think more useful than the scribbling of words on pages.

So, if I write for myself, it matters not if no one ever sees it or reads it. True or false?

I find a sense of history-making here – a writing of the world as one person sees it, a recording if you like and that accounts for the variety of fiction sprouting from a few basic plots.

And that idea of recording, of writing history posits the presence of a reader, either now or in the future. Is that just an altruistic justification of an endless compulsion to write?

In my own experience as a reader history becomes multi-dimensional and rich through the perspectives of contemporary and present day writers. And writers of today flay the issues of the times and present analyses of geographies unknown to me far more effectively than any overexposed news coverage.

So in some ways I am always writing in hope of a reader but is this desire to put my work before a public just an ego trip? Is my desire more for recognition, approval, or even just to feel that others know I exist? What makes me think I have something valuable to say or even the capacity to entertain and lighten the lives of readers?

All these ideas are probably mixed up in my writing motivation but the ratification of writing is increasingly being pushed by the writing media and writing course designers towards consideration of ‘the market’. Which shelf would your book sit on in a bookshop? Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? How do you propose to assist in the marketing of your book? Do you tweet, blog, facebook? and so on and so on.

Now it seems, genre must dictate the shape of our storytelling. Fiction needs to have a predictable structure that can be neatly packaged and sold just like a bunch of bananas or any other commodity. By conforming to the book industry’s demands, the writer will acquire a loyal readership ready to buy the books the author is known for. That will jingle the pockets of all concerned in creating ‘the  product.’  So will everyone live happily ever after?

It’s perhaps less of a problem for writers than for readers who can become stuck in the groove of a particular genre and miss out on exciting stuff being written in other genres. Major competitions like the Booker may go some way to getting people to read differently. Writers, however, even those writing to formulaic genres, can’t avoid inserting themselves and  the issues that concern them unconsciously into their writing. Perhaps this underlying subtext within a given genre style is more effective than consciously riding a hobby horse about a specific issue which can take on a hectoring note if not carefully handled.

Even in these days of commodification a book remains a magical thing. In it the writer can say or discuss views rarely aired fully in conversation and can delve into issues in depth, hopefully to a wider audience than his/her immediate circle. Writers also unintentionally reveal themselves in a way they would never do in public or in face-to-face interaction. Readers gain vicarious knowledge of other lives, other experiences, both familiar and alien. They are able to learn of the dilemmas of lives quite unlike their own and also to examine their feelings about their own experiences in reading stories of similar lives to their own. Reading multiple works of the same writer can give an interesting oeuvre on that writer’s life, thoughts and motivation.

As writers we must expose ourselves to readers. We cannot know where our books will go, who will read them and what changes, personal and/or social may result from reading them. Storytelling, like other forms of art, seems to be  part of the human condition, a haven for reflection and consideration. As storytellers we write not just for ourselves but for the world, now and in the future.