I was incredibly excited to attend (and equally nervous) but I focused on what an amazing opportunity it was. Mum accompanied me as my PA and wheelchair pusher and as we entered the vast, echoing marble corridors I felt humbled and full of awe. For the past six years I’ve worked on my writing and here I was, not just with a toe in the door (or should that be wheel), but the whole of me and part of my story was inside the building.
I read The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald for my book club and I have to admit I expected it to be chick lit. It shows how little I knew about Fitzgerald, who I now know is an English Booker Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist and biographer.
There are so many books out at the moment set in book shops, cafes, shops, that I assumed it was one of those and I was quite happy to read something a little lighter after finishing American Gods and Anatomy of a Soldier in previous months.
I didn't know what to expect and I was in for a story with a vastly shifting tone. It started with a little old lady, Florence Green, taking on the world and I really admired her passion and refusal to be cowed by her neighbours and the nasty Lady of the Manor.
The middle of the novel was my favourite, really laugh out loud funny with brilliant insights into life in a small village. I grew up in a village where anyone who hadn't been there for fifty years was an incomer, so this felt very familiar and Fitzgerald's portrayal of the array of characters you meet was cleverly perceived. I particularly enjoyed Florence's unlikely and often comical friendships.
But the rapper/ghost? Where did that come from? I thought it was a ploy to get Florence out of her shop, I did not expect a supernatural element to the story.
Maybe because I have my own dream of success that I felt so deeply for Florence. I wanted her to do well, to beat the odds, to get her happily ever after. Half way through the book I completely believed it was possible.
Things deteriorated rapidly and my heart broke as her life fell apart. The last line is maybe one of the saddest I've ever read. I won't share it as it gives the whole plot away but even now I feel really sad when I remember it.
By the end I was definitely in need of cake. Florence visited an old recluse and he gave her tea and fruit cake, so it was the perfect excuse to try out a recipe for Christmas.
I decided to try a Chocolate Cherry Christmas Cake from Good Housekeeping since I love chocolate, cherries and cake. The recipe makes a very dark, rich fruit cake, moist. I normally prefer lighter Christmas cakes in general, but this made a good change. I couldn't really taste the chocolate as it blended in but the sharp sour cherries provided a really nice tang. There's lots of fruit (cherries, of course!) and it was delicious with a slice of Wensleydale cheese - my Yorkshire roots showing.
Even better, it's a gluten free cake and as with so many recipes now you wouldn't know it. If you're looking for a good gluten free, rich Christmas Cake I'd definitely recommend it.
When I was little we had a big box of Christmas books we got down from the loft every year but the one I remember most was Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore (1799 - 1863) looking at the pictures and falling in love with the lilting words. I decided to create my own picture version and here it is. I hope it gets you in the festive spirit.
Publisher News: Still nothing and the whole Brexit/Recession/EU Who-ha has me concerned that publishers won't be investing in new writers. At least there are other alternatives and I shall wait and see what the next few months bring.
Writing Progress: I got distracted by my tax return but I've discovered that Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month's little sister) is starting again in July so I am going to use that to spur me on to finishing my next draft. I'm really excited about it. The countdown is on to 50,000 words in 31 days.
Unfortunately the time always comes when you have to declutter, because you just don't have room to live. You can no longer find the great things you own. Editing a novel is just like that.
When you declutter the first items you throw out are the things you definitely won't use. The broken things, the items that you'd be embarrassed if anyone saw. In writing that's the terrible sentences, the ones you're ashamed to have ever written; but any writer knows that you have to get some bad sentences down, so that you can get to the good, then hopefully on to the great .
The next stage is sorting through the items you still kind of like. Not love; but you feel they have potential. You might need them one day. This is more challenging as you edit because you don't want to cut the good stuff. The paragraphs may just need a polish, a few words cut here, some adverbs shaken off there.
Now things are starting to look beautiful, you can see the amazing items you own and are reminded of why you bought them in the first place. Everything feels better, easier and you'd really like to stop. You've done enough, surely? And you're tired too. You want a break.
Deep down though, you know it could be better, you could do a little more to get it just right. This is the part where you start getting rid of unnecessary story arcs, characters and scenes you really want to keep. Kill the Dust Bunnies, take them out into the light and throw them away. Yes it's painful; but for the greater good keep going.
I couldn't believe my luck when I heard Garth Nix was coming to Norwich. His book Sabriel means a lot to me. It was the first book I read after being too ill to read for four years with severe ME.
It was a horrific time, unable to avoid my illness and escape into a book, I was ill and miserable. I had to imagine my own stories in my head; but I missed reading so much.
Despite not being able to read I still bought books, what can I say I just love them so much, the feel, the smell. I was keeping them for when I could read again.
When I bought Sabriel I knew very little about it; but the cover was beautiful, white and gold, I couldn't resist opening it. I read the very first sentence, my brain struggling to take in the words, to understand the sentence. It did and it was fantastic. I was hooked.
I was too ill to read more than a sentence a day at first and it took me nearly two years to read it; but I loved it so much.
Sabriel brought me back to books and the joy of reading and for that I will be forever grateful to Garth. It was an honour to be able to tell him that tonight.
I won the Good Housekeeping Novel Competition. My novel, The Box, is going to be published on 25th July 2019, by Orion