Monthly Archives: March 2016

What’s in a name?


It’s a sad fact – for me anyway – that most writers don’t make a lot of money, especially when they start out. They need another job to pay the bills (or a pension, or very tolerant parents, or a supportive partner earning a decent wage). Needless to say, even with another job, very few writers have servants, and yet more time gets taken up with shopping, chauffeuring kids, cooking, cleaning, and general household maintenance. Precious writing time gets nibbled away at by the day to day needs of keeping food on the table and clothes on our backs.

Consequently, when they do finally sit down to write, writers will find their own ways to make the best use of their time. One of my time savers is to give my main characters short names, or abbreviations of long names. It is a lot quicker to write Alex, Sam, Nicky, as in And Alex Still Has Acne; or Grace and Courtney (shortened usually to Cor) in Girl Friends, than to have them called, say, Richard, Benjamin, Elizabeth, Georgina etc. Writing all those extra characters really does take up more time, and every second helps!

Here is some completely unscientific research to prove my point.

  • Two of George Eliot’s leading characters were called Dorothea (8 characters) and Gwendoline (10 characters). Each takes quite a time to write, especially using pen and ink, as she did. But then she had help around the house by the time she came to write her novels.
  • Jane Austen’s family had servants too, but they were relatively poor and she was also expected to do some of the work. As a result (?) many of her main characters have short names – Eliza, Jane, Fanny, Anne …
  • JK Rowling is now a rich woman, but she was a hard up single mother when she started writing the Harry Potter. Who knows, but if she had been time-rich then, do you think her boy wizard might have ended up with a name like Montgomery Huffington- Clutterbuck?
  • And Alex -cover

And Alex Still Has Acne

(Girl Friends is to be published shortly)

Girl Friends - cover


Who is my ideal reader?

Who is my ideal reader? I’m tempted to say ‘anyone.’ The more the merrier.

Most writers write because they want to be read. From a commercial point of view, it is better to have a lot of people who buy your books, even if they don’t read them, rather than lots of readers of one purchased copy. However, the knowledge that someone has actually read one of my stories and said they liked it (may, even, have put a five-star review on Amazon about it – it has happened!) makes them very dear to me. Even if they are friends of a friend who bought the book as a present for her son, and wouldn’t dream of buying copies for themselves, the fact that they have stopped me in the street to say how much they enjoyed it, matters more than the  royalties I could have had if they’d bought their own. And I don’t mind either that, for example in regard to my YA novels, they are way past the target age-range.

John Steinbeck suggested that it might help writers to have a particular reader in mind as they write, maybe a friend or an imaginary reader. That might work, but I’m also rather taken by one of Joyce Carol Oates top ten tips for writers:

“Don’t try to anticipate an ideal reader – or any reader. He/she might exist – but is reading somebody else.”

Perhaps they are reading someone else because they’ve never heard of you. Or know your name, but have no idea what sort of thing you right about.

If an author is unfamiliar to them, new readers may be tempted to choose a short story rather than commit themselves to a novel several hundred pages long, which they then find it is not at all to their liking. One of the good things about my main publisher (Solstice) is that they encourage all their novelists to write short stories that can be included in anthologies and also published as separate short stories. That way potential readers can get a taste of a new author before committing to a full length novel.

One of my short stories, Love in Waiting, about a woman’s devotion to her seriously ill husband, is I think, most likely to appeal to a mature female reader.

Another, Journey to the Fair Mountain, is about a young girl who is sent off to marry the man her parents have selected for her, and may be of more interest to younger readers.

So, even if, as Joyce Carol Oates says, my ideal readers are busy reading someone else, maybe – just maybe – they will find time for one of these quick reads!

 Love in Waiting                                                     Journey to the Fair Mountain

 Love in WaitingJourney to the Fair Mountain

Everybody Reads YA

Happy ‘Everybody Reads YA’ Sunday! Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my contemporary, adventure novel for teen boys and girls – And Alex Still Has Acne.

Both Alex and his friend Sam seem to come from ‘normal’ (whatever that is) homes, but Alex is worried about his friend and his adopted sister, both of whom are starting to act strangely. And none of the parents are much help …


Alex sat silently for several minutes. He had never knowingly broken the law before, apart from cycling on the pavement – but then his mother preferred him to do that than run risks on the road. He didn’t like the idea at all. But Sam was his friend, and he didn’t like to abandon him either. Moreover, despite himself, he felt a tingling of excitement at what Sam was proposing. Anyway, he could never knowingly give up an opportunity for more food these days.

“Where?” Sam knew his friend was not enquiring where his house was, and felt a glow of pleasure that Alex was in on this with him. He too felt a tingle of excitement, plus a mixture of guilt and fear – but not enough of either to stop him.


Life for fourteen year old Alex is OK most of the time. He enjoys school, has a best friend Sam, and a pretty and only mildly irritating younger sister, Nicky. But then Sam starts acting strangely, and so does Nicky – and both insist on sharing secrets with him and making him promise not to tell anyone. Then Nicky goes missing and only Alex feels he knows where to find her. But is Sam anywhere around to help?

If you’d like to find out how it all ends, please try the following link:


And Alex Still Has Acne


And Alex Still Has Acne is available as a paperback and as an e-book.

And Alex -cover



Shakespeare’s words: then and now.


2016 is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and there will be a bonanza of books published during the year to celebrate his life and works. I plan to do my bit too.

Many people who don’t think they like Shakespeare, and have never been to any of his plays, are influenced by him none the less. In fact, so many of the phrases he uses have become part of our language, that one lady who went to one of his plays for the first time reportedly came out feeling quite dismissive of his ability as a dramatist. He had, she complained, used ‘cliché after cliché.’ She didn’t realise that he had been the first to coin, or popularise, the phrases she’d heard spoken by the actors.

Some of his phrases still in common use (or at least common understanding) include:

Bated breath – Merchant of Venice

Be all and end all – Macbeth

Brave new world – Tempest

Break the ice – Taming of the Shrew

As luck would have it – Merry Wives of Windsor

Dead as a doornail – Henry VI, part two

Foregone conclusion – Othello

My own contribution to celebrating his work is a series of short stories based on some of his female characters. In these, I speculate on what they were up to either before or after they appeared on stage. One story – Chains of Magic – is about a Desdemona who – far from being an innocent young woman tricked, or worse, into running away with Othello, actually falls for him big time and dreams of how she can seduce and marry him, and get away from her boring old dad.

Chains of Magic is an Amazon best seller and is available as an e-book short story from

Chains of magic


Happy ‘Everybody reads YA Sunday.’

Today I’m sharing an exert from my contemporary -romance – fantasy short story for YA readers – Sleeping Beauty – which you can find at:




“My, isn’t she pretty?” he added, as he pressed my hand over the parcel. Again I felt my fingers tingle.

“Pretty enough to kiss, even if she is asleep,” he went on, bending down and placing his lips firmly against mine before anyone could stop him. I’d never been kissed like that before. I’d certainly never expected to be kissed like that in front of Mum and Dad. I gasped, and opened my eyes.


Dawn has been in a coma for a year and is visited in hospital every day by her devoted father, occasionally by the ghost of her dead mother, and once by her vicious stepmother. Unable to move a muscle she monitors their coming and going and relives the events that lead to her accident. She yearns to wake up and live like a teenager again, but nothing so far has been able to rouse her from her deep, deep sleep. Then, on her fourteenth birthday she is visited by a mysterious delivery boy with a strange package.





Get with the programme or the program?

I live in the UK and studied English language and literature at university. (Whilst studying old and middle English our tutor promised us that we would never know how to spell with confidence again – and he was right!) Now my spelling tribulations have reached a new dimension. My last novel, and another novel coming out soon, are to be published by an American publisher. Should I prepare drafts with American spelling or English? At present I decide by subject matter: as both stories have been set in the Midlands, England, I have used English spelling, but for the short stories I have written, that could be set anywhere, I have used American (gray for grey, color for colour etc.) What do other people do?

Of course, the MEANING of words in the two countries takes us into a whole new realm. Was it Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain who said we were two countries divided by a common language? We wouldn’t talk about a woman’s fanny in polite society on this side of the pond, but I understand it is OK to do so in America as it refers to a far less suggestive part of the anatomy. I tend to carry my purse round in my handbag – what do American women use to put their money and cards in before they put it in their purse?

English readers – how many of these ‘Americanisms’ can you figure out (without looking at the English equivalents in the parentheses below)? *Barf, crosswalk, duplex, overpass, pacifier, realtor, station wagon, yard, trunk*. If you get most of them without thinking twice, then you have probably been watching plenty of American films and TV.

*(Vomit, pedestrian crossing, semi, flyover, dummy, estate agent estate car, garden, boot)

You can find these and more in MOTHER TONGUE, Bill Bryson’s entertaining, and largely accurate, book on our common (and not so common) language..