A “Jolly Good” Christmas Gift


Look what I got for Christmas! A box set of the twenty-one original Famous Five stories by Enid Blyton. I’d like to say that this was an inspired gift from the hubby but, to be honest, I bought it myself, gave it to him, and told him it was a Christmas gift from him to me!

Oh my goodness, what a wonderful regression to childhood. I can’t wait to delve into the jolly good world of friendship, adventure, and ginger beer!

I devoured these books when I was younger. It started when someone bought me ‘Five Go to Kirren Island’ as a birthday present. I confess that I didn’t really get into it at first. I borrowed a different one from the library some months later and was gripped much more quickly by that one, going on to read all of them.

P1060742My favourite was ‘Five Got Into Trouble’. I can’t remember much about it, but I remember being absolutely gripped by the story. I think I’ll therefore read book 1 to remind me where it all started, then move straight onto book 8.

Did you like the Famous Five? Which was your favourite story? Have you read them as an adult? Were they as good as you remembered? We’d love to hear from you.

Jessica xx


This book belongs to…

Buying a brand new book is a treat, one of life’s little pleasures.  But the book itself, well, it’s just a book, isn’t it?  A sterile bundle of paper.  If it’s fiction, you’ve bought yourself a story, and that’s a very special thing.  You may collect all the books that author has written, or know them personally, and that’s special, too.


But root around among the offerings in charity shops and jumble sales, as I like to do, and you’ll find books with stories of their own, aside from those printed on the pages.

I’m not a prolific reader of poetry by any means but I do think a poem belongs inside a proper book, the older the better, and I’m always on the look-out for those.  One of my favourite finds, bought for pence at a jumble sale, is a small red-bound copy of The Albatross Book of Living Verse, published in 1933.  Inside the cover is written in green ink: ‘Bought at Steyning, Sussex, 1949’, and a name I can’t decipher, so even by that time I imagine it had passed through other hands.

Flicking through the tissue-thin pages when I arrived home with my prize, I found there was more to this little book than the inscription.  Several passages had been emphatically underlined with the same green ink.  No casual enjoyment of verses here, then; this was somebody who took their poetry seriously. There’s a note written in the margin of a Rupert Brooke war poem.  It says: ‘Pilot Officer Frank Stanyon  ??, 1940, RAF,’ in the same handwriting as the note in the front.  A nice sense of mystery there – was the book owned by Frank himself, or somebody connected to him?

Inscriptions inside books intrigue me, even if it’s just the owner’s


name. It feels as if I’m being allowed a glimpse into somebody’s life.  Children’s books are a good source.  Who remembers proudly writing inside the cover of a new book: ‘This book belongs to…’?  Do children still do that?  I don’t know; there aren’t any children in our family, but I suspect they do.

When my boys were young I bought them a jolly-looking Enid Blyton story book at the school Christmas fair.  Actually, I think I bought it for me because of the lovely old-fashioned illustrations – I don’t remember the boys taking much interest.  Inside was written in wobbly writing the name of a girl who had been in my class at school some 30 years earlier.  I felt that book had made a round trip, carrying its own story with it.


Sometimes it’s not what’s written inside a book but what is hidden among the pages which tells another story.  Somebody passed on to me an ancient copy of The Good Housekeeping Compendium which belonged to an elderly lady. I won’t be attempting to stuff a hare or hang a pheasant but I’ve kept the book because tucked inside is a yellowing page torn from The Farmer and Stockbreeder, October 20, 1930.  On one side it urges the reader to ‘Practise Making Sweets for Christmas’, with recipes for delights such as Elves’ Fudge and My Cocoanut Candy. Common sense tells me that the recipes were why she kept it, but I prefer the other side of the page which has an article entitled ‘Fashion Inclines to Comfort’.  It’s all about hats, hemlines, corsets and knickers for countrywomen.  Did countrywomen need special knickers?  Maybe they did, to keep out the cold!

As well as being interesting in their own right, it occurred to me that these hidden stories could provide a writer with an idea for a brand new story.  The author Ali Smith certainly thinks so.  She made many discoveries among the books she was sorting for Amnesty International.  In an article on the subject, she talks about intriguing inscriptions, postcards, and photos she found among the pages, and how  some of them inspired and informed her own writing.  One of her finds – a vintage photo of a girl in a bathing suit – set her thinking about the structure of her best-selling novel How to be Both.

‘Who says books don’t beget books?’ she says.  And that’s a good way of putting it, I think.


Wednesday Wondering – All About Genre

Hello and welcome to March’s Wednesday Wondering. Last month, I attended a one-day script writing workshop at a local theatre. We were given some prompt images pasted from the Internet and asked to develop our characters and plot from these images. I found myself selecting an elderly couple and developing a plot that stepped back in time to WWII. I was actually really proud of the plot I developed, but came away with the overriding feeling that it was a novel rather than a play, and that I wanted to develop it further.

bookshelves1This isn’t the first time I’ve outlined a plot that takes me back to WWII. I attended a creative writing workshop several years ago and developed a story of two friends who became nurses during the war who both fell in love with the same man. It arrived in my head as a fully-formed story and it’s begging to be written one day.

The problem is, it’s not what I normally write.

When I started writing, I’d have classed myself as a writer of romcoms. I write female-led romance stories with characters in their late twenties to early thirties. However, as the trilogy developed, I realised that my storylines were a bit deeper than that and, although there are some funny moments, they’re less comedy and more about character development. If I have to put a label on them, I’d probably say contemporary women’s romance.

They’re not history, though. They’re not set in WWII. So why do I keep going back to WWII and setting stories then? It’s an era I have some awareness of from history lessons in school and watching films or TV programmes set at that time but I wouldn’t have ever said I was particularly drawn to that era. Or am I? I’m in my early forties so wasn’t alive during the war, my parents were born in 1944 and 1945 so they don’t have any recall either, and my grandparents on both sides of the family are no longer with us so I’m not surrounded by insights into this time. Yet I can’t stop thinking about it.

Karen cocking2When I was younger, I devoured Catherine Cookson books. My mum is a huge fan so I borrowed them all off her. Maybe this is where the history interest spans from, although most of Catherine’s books were set much earlier than WWII so, again, I don’t know where the pull of that era comes from. All I know is that there is a pull. So, after I’ve written the trilogy and book four, maybe I’ll address it.

My WW this week is therefore all about genre. I asked the Write Romantics:

What genre do you typically write and why?

Have you every ‘dabbled’ in a different genre. What was it? Why? How was the experience?

Would you try writing in a different genre? What and why?

What genre(s) do you mainly read?
Have you tried reading outside genre?

For me personally, contemporary women’s romance is my favoured genre for reading, but I do dabble in history, thrillers, contemporary non-romance and also children’s books. I’ve toyed with writing a thriller and a YA book and may still do so. After the historic ones. Or perhaps number five of the romance ones …

Jessica xx

Helen R says…

I typically write a cross between women’s fiction and romantic fiction. Usually there is a romantic thread in my story but there are other themes too such as family and friendship so a few subplots running at the same time.

I’ve never ‘dabbled’ in a different genre and I’m not sure whether I ever will or not, but if I had to choose another genre it would be teen fiction. I loved Judy Blume books as I was growing up – I couldn’t get enough of them  – and I’d love to be talented enough to write for the same type of audience.

I’ve recently read a couple of books outside my genre, both historical fiction. I enjoyed both although they were definitely more heavy going than what I’m used to. It was refreshing to read something different though and you start to learn a bit about different techniques used in different genres.

Deirdre says…

I find it difficult to say what genre I write in, firstly because there are such widely differing opinions on genre definition, and secondly, I don’t set out to write in a particular genre. I get an idea and run with it, and it will be what it will be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy first novel I labelled as contemporary women’s fiction for the purposes of submitting but when I self-published it, I felt that needed qualifying so it became rom-com, although I wasn’t sure there was enough humour for that. With my next, Remarkable Things, the first to find a publisher, I fought against pinning a label on it and it morphed into something slightly different each time I submitted. The closest I can get is contemporary women’s fiction with a romantic thread. My male reader enjoyed it, though, and said the ending brought a tear to his eye, so maybe it’s not exclusively for the women’s market, who knows?

When I set out to write Dirty Weekend, also to be published, I’d signed up to NaNoWriMo so had write much faster than I normally do. This led me to the fast-moving plot peppered with plenty of comedy. The best I can do with this one is general fiction; I can’t call it contemporary as it’s set in the 1960s and that is now classed as historical by some. It’s strong on romance (actually more sex than romance!) but I don’t feel it fits with the romantic fiction genre as it’s normally understood.

The book I’m writing now, The Promise of Roses, is easier to classify; I’d call it contemporary romance. It has a stronger romantic thread than my previous ones so although there’s a lot else going on besides, including themes of bereavement, guilt and entrapment, I feel more confident of the genre.

I don’t see my genre confusion as a problem. I just want to write good books that people will want to read and don’t rule out any particular types of books for the future. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d like one day to write something that could be classed as literary fiction. There is a slight passing nod to that in Remarkable Things – it has some of the tropes you’d find in lit-fic – but I’m not deluding myself that I could write a full-on lit-fic.

My reading, as you might expect from the meanderings above, is not tied down to particular genres either. I don’t tend to read crime or fantasy but otherwise I’m happy with romance (as long as it’s edgy and has more going besides), sagas, recent historicals, literary fiction and the odd thriller, like Gone Girl and Appletree Yard. At the moment I’m particularly drawn to male authors who write about love and relationships as you get a different perspective. Some of my favourites are William Nicholson, Danny Wallace, David Nicholls and a recent discovery, Douglas Kennedy.

Jo says…

In my writing so far, at least as far as my submissions to the New Writer’s Scheme went, I’ve been a bit of a genre hopper.  I suppose my natural style is contemporary women’s fiction, which is also what I usually read.  That said, there is always a romance, although I can’t write *pure* romance.  I tried once and failed miserably, so really admire those who can do that and do it really well, like our very own Rachael Thomas and others whose books I’ve enjoyed, like Liz Fielding.  My novella and the novel due out in June, are both women’s fiction with emotional themes and a romantic angle.  However, I have also written a YA fantasy, which is awaiting an edit, and I’ve got several ideas for younger children’s books.

I’ve been thinking recently about establishing myself as a writer and getting involved with a really recognisable brand as part of that, which might also help me stand out from the crowd in the competitive short story market.  If I want writing to be my career, I think it’s a route I need to take and I have seen other writers I really admire take that path – having made a name for themselves with an established brand. Lots of writers subsequently settle on one genre, but others also write under other pen names across a range of genres or sub-genres and different lengths of stories, which I suspect is the way to make a living from writing. I had an idea that I thought might work for an established series and sent off three chapters, hearing almost immediately, to my delight, that they wanted to see a full.  I’m now working very hard to get that polished and off to the publisher by next week.  If they like the rest of the story as much as the partial, I’ll also be able to see something I’ve written being sold in shops like WHSmiths, Sainsburys and Tescos.  If it comes off, I’ll be taking selfies everywhere I go! If not, I’ll keep plugging away, writing the stories I want to write, whichever genre or sub-genre they happen to cross into.

As for my reading, like my writing, I love emotional women’s fiction by authors such as Jo Jo Moyes and Julie Cohen, but I also read a lot of children’s fiction too – generally following my son’s latest obsession.  We worked our way through all the Dick King Smith books and we’re now on to Michael Morpurgo.  One genre I’m not madly keen on in adult fiction is pre-war historical, although I love war-time novels like Lena Kennedy’s books and post-war stories like Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs, which inspired Call the Midwife.  I don’t think I’d ever attempt to write a historical novel though  – far too much research required to get it right!

Sharon says…

m878-5l52zcfFb_a7bo5pqwInitially, I thought I wrote romantic comedy, but then my books seemed to have some deeper issues in them, too, and they weren’t really as laugh-out-loud as true romantic comedy should be. There are definitely some very funny moments in them, if I say so myself, but I would hesitate to market them as romcoms. I think I write contemporary women’s fiction with romance and a good sprinkling of humour! Try categorizing that on Amazon!

I’ve never written in another genre as an adult, though as a child and teenager I used to write pony books aimed at my own age group at the time. They were strictly for my eyes only, thank goodness. I still love to read pony books, though. I have a huge collection of them, although I had a horrible “accident” and sent the wrong boxes to a charity shop a couple of years ago and lost loads of my favourite books during a house move.

the chaliceI mainly read the genre I write in, which is romantic fiction with humour. However, I also read the occasional saga — especially the ones written by Catherine Cookson and Valerie Wood — and I often still read children’s and YA books. I still love Enid Blyton and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. I have quite a few historical novels on my bookshelves which I really want to read, and I enjoyed Dan Brown’s books, too. I studied the nineteenth century novel for a course some years ago and I really enjoyed the classics such as Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd, Northanger Abbey and, my favourite book, Jane Eyre. I love Daphne Du Maurier’s books and I’ve read all the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. I love the naughtiness and fun of writers like Jilly Cooper and Fiona Walker, and I am a huge fan of supernatural crime stories. Our own Helen Phifer is very good at writing those! I love Phil Rickman’s books. They’re steeped in mystery, fairly bloody, often have myth and legend interwoven throughout, a strong sense of place, great characters, tight plots, and are terribly scary!

download (3)I love writing the kind of books that I write now, but I do have an idea for a saga, based on my own family history. I don’t know if I’ll ever get round to writing it, though. I would love to have a go at writing romantic suspense with a supernatural twist. I think it would take so much careful plotting and a lot of time and research. Maybe one day I’ll do it, though. I’d never say never!

Helen P says…

bookcaketopperI love to write crime/horror novels because I love to read them myself and I can’t find enough of them to satisfy the ghoul in me.

Yes I had to write a romantic story for the fabulous Write Romantics anthology Winter Tales and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I find it so easy to murder and scare people so being nice was a whole new experience 😉

I love to write. In fact I think I live to write so I’d try anything and any genre although I have no idea if I’d be any good at it. I read horror, crime and ghost stories. I have read a few books outside of my genre, mainly by my fellow Write Romantics. I’ve just finished Helen Rolfe’s The Friendship Tree and loved it.

Jackie says…

I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t revolve around a romance, I just wouldn’t know how to fill all of that white space. I have written short stories that don’t have romance at its core but even then, I think there is a relationship of some sort at the heart of the story. However I have dabbled in different strands of the romantic genre and become clearer over time about what I enjoy the most. I started off writing stories that were very much chic-lit: vast quantities of booze being drunk with shopping and sex and bitchy put-downs (the characters were doing that, not me – much!) But as I’ve mellowed and no longer mix with the type of people who fuelled that particular fire, I don’t feel it’s ‘me’ anymore and consequently my writing has become less frenetic and more deliberate and thoughtful. I am overall relieved that I never tried too hard to get them published as I know I wouldn’t be able to write them today.

I write in a very haphazard way which probably wouldn’t suit many writers, but I find I become bored quite quickly when writing a particular story, so if I swap over to another one, while the last one ‘stews’ for a while, I come back to it with fresh eyes. I currently have five novels in various stages of unreadiness, but two of them are all but finished.

I will read most types of books apart from erotica (read one once to see if I could write it – that’ll be a ’no’ then!) but find I have less patience than I used to have if a story doesn’t grab me immediately. A feel good romance will always win me over. I do love a happy ever after!

Rachael says…

I’ve always loved reading Mills and Boon. As a teenager I would often be in the library getting my latest fix. When I decided to write, aiming at Mills and Boon seemed a natural progression from having spent many years reading them.

Anthology coverBefore I completed my first book, I had written short stories, even submitted them to magazines, but to no avail. I still enjoy writing short stories now, especially Meet Me at Midnight which featured in Winter Tales, our charity anthology.

Another genre I always thought I’d love to write for was for children, particularly boys about eight years of age. I read to both of my daughter and son as they grew up and felt there was definitely a gap in the market for boys of that age. There are of course, only so many hours in the day, but you never know!

As for reading, not only do I still enjoy a good love story, but I am fascinated by history and enjoy a good historical read. I have also been known to scare myself with a good horror story too!

Alys says…

I’ll read pretty much anything with print on it except for horror.  That’s about the only genre I can’t get to grips with.  But I regularly read fantasy, romance, crime, steampunk and very occasionally these days, something more literary too.

As to what I write, well, I call it urban fantasy with a spot of romance but you could just as well describe it as supernatural romantic suspense.  It’s starting to become clear that the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre is a bit of an issue when submitting to publishers. I’ve had rejections that say ‘there’s too much romance in it’ and others which imply that the fantasy bits are getting in the way of the love story. But even if I’d known that when I started it wouldn’t have stopped me (or not for very long anyway).  It’s the book that I wanted to write. And if they’re struggling with this one then just wait until I get round to writing my steampunkesque murder mysteries!

What about you? If you’re a reader, what genres do you read and, if you cross-genre read, tell us more about this. If you’re a writer, do you write in other genres or are you tempted to do so ?

Happy Wednesday 🙂

Jessica xx

Wednesday Wondering – Life Swap with a Fictional Character

Hello there and welcome to the first Wednesday Wondering of the year. Hope the first two weeks of 2015 have been good to you and, if not, there are still 50 to go so plenty of time for improvement.

How many times have you read a book and recognised yourself in the protagonist? Or perhaps one of the characters says or does things that you’d love to do if you were older/younger/prettier/slimmer/taller/more daring/less self-conscious and so on. What if you could swap lives with that protagonist? How exciting would that be?

With this in mind, my question for The Write Romantics this month is:

If you could leap into any book, current or historical, which character would you like to be and why?

P1060112I’ve read hundreds of books in my time and I have definitely related to characters (particularly Bridget Jones) and I’ve definitely been envious of where other characters get their happy ever after (particularly  classics brought to life on the big or small screen like Emma and Pride & Prejudice) but there is only one occasion in my life where I’ve absolutely wanted to be someone else. So much so that I used to actually write her name in books and on other possessions. The name of the character was Darrell Rivers which will probably bring back memories for so many of you as the protagonist of Enid Blyton’s wonderful Malory Towers series.

I loved Darrell right from the start as a rather sullen judgmental character who made quite a few mistakes right through to the mature, popular individual she became at the end. Talk about a major character arc! I would imagine she went on to be incredibly successful with a wonderful partner and perfect children and never had to diet in her life. So who wouldn’t want to be her!

Here’s what the rest of the WRs said …

Alys says …

photo-1When I started thinking about this I realised that although I’d love to say Elizabeth Bennett if I actually had to live her life I wasn’t sure I could handle Regency plumbing. So it had to be someone post-1900 and then the answer was obvious. You’ve all heard me bang on about Dorothy L Sayers and my love of Lord Peter Wimsey. If I was going to live a character’s life then I’d want to be Harriet Vane, the crime novelist that Lord Peter falls in love with. Harriet has an amazing life. She’s a very successful writer, she studied at Oxford, goes on healthy walking holidays in Devon (where obviously she finds a corpse!) and has dates in glamorous nightspots with Lord Peter. There is just one complication which is that she also gets tried for the murder of her former lover. Obviously she’s not guilty as Lord Peter proves but she spends rather a lot of time in prison and the penalty for murder at that time was hanging so I’d really rather avoid all of that. So if I could take over just before the start of Have His Carcase then that’d be great, thanks!

Lynne says …

It wasn’t till I thought about this post that I realised that many of the heroines of books I’ve enjoyed are tragic heroines!

But there is one who is totally not a tragic figure, more a very lucky person indeed, and this is Elizabeth Bennett, heroine of Pride and Prejudice, who learns during the course of the story to ditch her pride and prejudice and take up with the totally dashing and handsome Darcy who comes complete with a huge and very beautiful home.

Anyone who knows me will know that I love ancient buildings and help run the Gloucestershire group of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings which was started by William Morris. I also had a couple of false starts in the relationship department, it took me a while to find someone who was a worthy partner.

Together they make an irresistible package, handsome and kind man with a ready made property ready to fill with babies, what more could any girl ask for? So, without a doubt, Elizabeth Bennett is my choice!

Jo says …

P1060110I thought about trying to come across as intellectual when answering this question, but then I thought “stuff it, I’ll be honest instead!” I think, at times when I need comfort, there isn’t anything better than returning to the books I read and loved as a child – nothing quite gives me that cosy feeling and sense of home. If I had to have one feeling for the rest of my life, it would be that and so it is one of these characters I have to choose. My dad always read Wind in the Willows to me and I wouldn’t mind being Mole. He’s got a close group of friends and he overcomes his fears but ultimately loves nothing better than his home life. Sounds, good to me.

P1060111I loved Paddington and Winnie the Pooh growing up too and, if I became a bear, I could give up the battle to try and lose weight that I’ve tried to fight (mostly unsuccessfully) for my whole adult life. Plus, who doesn’t love the cover-all-qualities of a duffle coat? However, I think it’s Pooh’s friend, Tigger, I’d most like to be. His boundless energy, capacity for bouncing and, as AA Milne put it, “love for everything” has to be a recipe for happiness, so I’ll take that.

Rachael says …

This is a great wondering, but the question is whether to go for a modern character or a historical one?

School_Gate final jpegIf I were to choose a historical character it would have to be Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, a favourite for many I’m sure. Her constant denial of Mr Darcy throughout the story holds you from the beginning to the end. But what did she really think? Stepping into her shoes would be a fascinating experience. Check out this link.

On the other hand, to choose a modern character, I’d like to leap into Kerry Fisher’s The School Gate Survival Guide, a book we reviewed last year in our book group. I so want to be Maia and sort that no-good-for-nothing husband of hers out. You’ll have to read it to find out why!

Deirdre says …

Friends at Thrush GreenI’ve always thought I’d like to be Miss Read.  Miss Read is the pen-name of Dora Saint, and she appears as a character/narrator in many of her own books which are based largely on her own life experiences.

The stories are set deep in the heart of1950s rural Oxfordshire. Miss Read is headmistress of the village school at Fairacre and lives in the adjoining school house with her cat, Tibby. Despite her friends’ attempts at matchmaking, she has never married (although Dora herself did), but she is no lonely spinster. She leads a busy and fulfilling life among the lively inhabitants of Fairacre and the neighbouring village of Thrush Green, and there’s no shortage of children in her life as generations of them have passed through her capable teaching hands.

Fairacre AffairsMiss Read’s life has its moments of high drama but any troubles she encounters always resolve themselves, and then it’s all about jam-making and jumble-sales, tea at the vicarage, and the yearly round that constitutes country life. Post-war Britain was a peaceful yet celebratory time and the villagers needed little excuse to put out the bunting. As the headmistress, Miss Read is a well-loved and respected figure who plays a key part in village life, but at the end of the day she shuts her door, lights the fire and turns to her many books for company. Yes, I’d definitely like a taste of that.

photo-2Helen P says …

If I could be anyone it would be Bella Swan from Breaking Dawn. Who wouldn’t want Edward or Jacob fighting over them. Plus I’d get to be a vampire, I love vampires. I’d also get to drive a really nice Mercedes and sparkle every time I stepped into the sunlight. What more could a girl ask for 😉

Helen R says …

If I could leap into any book I’d like to leap into The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, as any of the children, Jo, Bessie and Fanny! They had such amazing adventures, even just climbing the tree in the first place. What fun it would be to meet Saucepan Man, Moon-Face, and run from Dame Washalot when she pours water down the tree. I’d love to discover new lands at the top of the tree, forever guessing what we would come up against next.

Sharon says …

FollyfootThis is a tricky one. At first I tried to be sophisticated and thought of all those classics – Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca…then I thought, fascinating as those stories are, would I really want to live the life of Jane, Elizabeth or the second Mrs DeWinter? The truth is, I wouldn’t.

So then I tried to think of characters who I thought had fabulous lives and that proved more difficult than I thought, too. The trouble is, of course, that fictional characters have such rollercoaster lives. The very thing that makes them interesting – all the ups and downs and trials and tribulations that they have to endure – is the very thing that makes me think, no thanks. I have quite enough problems to deal with without going through all theirs.

My initial reaction was, I’d like to be Dora from Monica Dickens’ Follyfoot books. Then I thought, but hang on – Dora was ever-so-slightly over-emotional, highly sensitive, suffered the endless angst of worrying about all those poor ill-treated horses, and seemed to spend most of her time in tears. So I scrapped that and tried to think of someone else. But you know what? I kept coming back to Dora, and I think it’s Dora I would choose finally.

Dora and SteveWhen I was a child, she was my absolute heroine, and I thought she had the perfect life. Really, when I look at it I think she did. Okay, she worried endlessly about the fate of all those horses, but we all have to worry about something and I can’t think of a better thing to worry about. Plus – she was surrounded by horses! And she got to rescue so many of them! And she lived at Follyfoot Farm which seemed like pretty much the perfect home to me. She had an uncle who doted on her and friends who shared her compassion and beliefs – even the tearaway, Ron. And she had Steve! I mean, Steve! Even if he did mysteriously change his name from Paul (I suspect something to do with the television series) he was a bit of a sweetheart wasn’t he? And he loved horses, too, while being calm and rational enough to balance and steady Dora who sometimes let her heart rule her head far too much.

So yes, I’d be Dora from Follyfoot. Not the most sophisticated choice, but I think I’d have a jolly nice life!

We’d love to hear from you. Which character would you be and why? What do you think of our choices? Would you go for one of the ones we’ve chosen?

Thanks for reading.

Jessica xx

Wednesday Wondering – Life Before Writing

Hello and welcome to our monthly Wednesday Wondering. The WRs all long to be full-time authors and, with the book deals coming in thick and fast, this could be a reality one day. Soon, please! Being an author certainly wasn’t on my career plans when I was little. I was going to be a nurse. I had a nurse’s dress-up uniform and first aid kit and loved taking care of my dolls and teddies. A lot of little girls want to be nurses then say they get put off by the sight of blood or needles. These don’t really bother me but something else does. Vomit. I have a phobia about it. It’s a real phobia. It has a name! Emetophobia is the fear of being sick or of other people being sick. I’d have quite liked to be a primary school teacher too and I got put off it for exactly the same reason. Ridiculous eh? As I’ve got older, I’ve learned to control it a bit better; I had a child so there’s no choice really!

P1050873So after rejecting nursing and teaching, I got this idea of being a private secretary. I’d taken typewriting as a GCSE at school and liked the idea of being a PA/Secretary who’d jet off all over the world with my boss. I applied to technical college with the intention of studying a secretarial course but the husband of one of my mum’s friends was a lecturer there and suggested that, as I was expecting good grades at school, I might consider a BTEC in Business & Finance instead. I loved the sound of it, enrolled, and it shaped my career. I then wanted to be a bank manager. I became one … sort of … as I became a manager in financial services but in HQ rather than a branch. Much more me.

As for writing, I only started to think of it as a career a decade ago but I’ve always enjoyed writing and the jobs I’ve loved the most are ones that have involved writing. I’ve ended up spending most of my career in Human Resources in training and/or recruitment roles. If I was writing an advert, copy for a website or compiling a training guide, I was at my happiest as it was all about the written word. I’m still in a role where I occasionally get to write but I hope one day that my fiction writing can be full-time. I’d be in heaven then. Returning to the Wednesday Wondering, I suspected a career as a writer wasn’t what most of my WR friends set out to do. My question therefore was:

What job did you want to do when you were younger? Did you do this job and, if not, what stopped you? At what point did you start wanting to be an author instead?

Helen P says … I always loved singing, on my own not in front of anyone though. I would sing away for hours to my favourite songs. So when I was younger I had great visions of being a backing singer for a pop group. Of course I would have actually had to sing in public so it wasn’t looking too good. I’ve always written stories but it wasn’t until my thirties that I realised I could try to make a go of it. It’s only taken till my forties to get it right and I can write safely from my own room 😉

Helen R says … When I was 14 I wanted to be a journalist and my English teacher told me to never give up on that dream…she had. I studied English A level but at the same time I studied business studies and I enjoyed it so much that I turned down my university place and a degree in English and American studies. I secured a place on a business management course but realised after one term that it wasn’t for me. But by that time I was settled and had made friends and was enjoying the Uni life in Bournemouth and so I stuck with the course.

I worked in I.T for 7 years until I finally took a course in journalism and began freelancing for magazines. I have to say that I’ve never looked back! After I had children I studied 4 units of a Masters in Writing and spent time wondering what career in writing I actually wanted. Finally I realised that writing novels was it and so I started to do that in 2010 and now I’ll never stop 🙂

Lynne says … P1050872I was in hospital quite a lot as a child. In those days you used to be admitted for observation, and it was thought that I might have some weird disease. No-one ever got to the bottom of the problem until thirty years later I was diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder.

For me hospital introduced me to a world of order, compassion, peace and sympathy and I loved my stays. To this day I can clearly remember lying my dolls in a row and tucking them up with a blanket just like I had seen in hospital. There was little surprise then, when I announced that I wanted to be a nurse at the age of seven. Although there were times when I saw Princess Grace and wanted to be a princess or a film star, but on the whole my ambition never waivered. I can still remember the agony when I was 16 and 17 and had left school but was too young to work on the wards so I had to work in an office.

When my 18th year arrived I got my wish and started work on the wards. I can still remember the pride with which I donned my uniform and the pleasure it gave me to care for the patients. That was forty years ago now, though it hardly seems it. Because of my nerve condition I retrained in social work, it was easier for me to talk to people rather than dash around the wards. But whatever the job title, I was doing what I wanted to do and helping people.

I loved every minute of both jobs and if my creaky old body would let me now, I’d still be doing them. But I am doing the second best thing and writing about it. I hope that every page oozes with the pleasure I got from helping others. People have funny thoughts about child protection social work, yet it’s the most challenging and rewarding job ever. I want to launch my books when I’ve written three and I’m halfway there. Keep a check on these pages for when I’ve got them online and pop over and see what you think!

Deirdre says … I always wanted to be an author, always. It was what I said when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. The word ‘author’ must have been put into my head by my parents as I would not have known it otherwise but I knew I wanted to write stories, and write them I did, at every opportunity. I even sent a story to a children’s magazine once, and got a lovely letter from the editor  – my first rejection! Unsurprisingly, announcing my literary ambitions in the playground brought a lot of bemused faces and: ‘What’s a norther?’

There was one other career I toyed with – a pharmacist. This also took some explaining to the other kids as mostly they took it to mean ‘farm assist’ but since I didn’t have a clue what it was either – I just liked the sound of the word – my explanations left them none the wiser. Discovering later that to be a pharmacist you had to be good at maths effectively put paid to that and I returned happily to Plan A.

Once I got to grammar school, it was made clear from the start that there were only two career paths open to us girls. You were either destined for university or teacher training college and one of the professions, or you weren’t. I wasn’t. Nobody in my family had been to university and we couldn’t have afforded it anyway but it didn’t matter because I didn’t want to go.

At that time we really didn’t have the knowledge or information to make properly informed career choices and the school was no help. If you weren’t going to follow a profession, and in truth that was only for the middle class girls, all that was left was nursing (viewed then as an extremely poor relation to other medical professions), banking, local government or the civil service. If you went into any of these you weren’t pursuing a career, you were GETTING A JOB. Again, this was fine by me. I still dreamed of being an author but had long since reached the conclusion that you didn’t actually set out to be an author, you just became one, and my dream bore no relation whatsoever to the business of GETTING A JOB.

Another pastime I’d enjoyed as a child was playing offices, which meant banging about on an ancient typewriter and ‘organising’ bits of paper, and so an office was obviously my destiny. I took a secretarial course, ‘chose’ local government purely because that was my parents’ preference, and accepted the first job I was offered, in the Town Planning Department of the local council. That was how it was then.  There were dozens of jobs for every applicant but I didn’t shop around.  I needed to be earning, I’d landed myself a ‘good’ job – good because it was in local government – and that was that.

I can’t say I’ve regretted any of the jobs I’ve had; I’ve enjoyed them all. You make the best of what comes, don’t you? I hadn’t bargained on taking quite so long to achieve that first ambition but at least I’ve put in the research!

Sharon says … The first time I remember even thinking about a future career was when I was thirteen. We were asked to write a mini biography when we started our upper high school so that the English teacher could get to know us a bit better. One of the questions he wanted us to think about was what we’d like to do for a living after leaving school. I still chuckle to myself when I think of the answer I gave. ‘When I leave school I would like to be an author, or a showjumper. And I wouldn’t mind being a vicar’s wife.’ Where all that came from, I have no idea. Thinking about it (and it makes me blush when I imagine how he must have laughed at that!)

I guess I always knew I wanted to write, though only ever in a sort of vague way. I never actually visualised it. I just thought that writing was fabulous, and I kind of wanted to be Enid Blyton but hopefully without the traumatised, neglected children. I loved her and thought she must have a glamorous and rather lovely life. I wanted to be a showjumper because I was reading an awful lot of pony books at the time and thought it would be a great job, despite never having had a riding lesson in my life. The optimism of youth!

As for the vicar’s wife!! It just shows you how things have changed. When I was thirteen, the idea that a woman could actually be a vicar obviously never entered my head. I was quite religious at the time, but I think my main motivation came from a series of books I was reading by Monica Edwards about a girl called Tamzin (and her pony, obviously) who lived in a vicarage on the Sussex coast. The father was a vicar and seemed quite nice and the mother had a jolly good life by the sea with a pony in the paddock and two very lovely kids so I thought, well, there’s a life I wouldn’t mind having.  Our own vicar lived in a lovely house with its own grounds and his wife was our Brown Owl. They held summer garden parties and the kids gave pony rides so, yes, that was the image I had of a vicar’s wife’s life, I suppose. Funnily enough, I’m currently plotting a novel in which the hero is a rather sexy vicar! I’m not obsessed, honestly!

As I reached the age of fourteen/fifteen and reality started to bite, I toyed with the idea of becoming an English teacher for a while, but I never really believed I was clever enough to go to university in spite of my teacher’s encouragement. In the end I was in my forties before I had the nerve to do my degree. I absolutely loved it so I kind of wish I’d done it when I left school but there you go. Better late than never!

Jo says … Aged 7I think I’ve always wanted to be writer, I can remember starting my first ‘novel’ aged seven, around the time this photograph was taken.  I think it was my attempt to rip off ‘What Katy Did’ and I never got beyond the first couple of pages, but it’s where my love of writing began.  Mostly I still love it, but sometimes I don’t (mainly when I’m editing!) – either way, I just can’t stop.

I did have a brief phase of wanting to be an air hostess, as my very glamorous eldest sister was one, but that soon wore off.  I wanted to be a journalist when I left school, but I would never have been pushy enough to get a scoop.  So I fell into teaching and, with a family arriving, writing went on the back burner for a bit.

A couple of years ago I started to focus more seriously on my writing and, since then, I’ve written three novels, a novella and signed with a publisher.  I suppose it proves childhood dreams do sometimes come true. They look a bit different to how I’d imagined in reality, but it feels like I’ve got a foot on the ladder of the career I first decided I wanted 35 years ago!

Jackie says… I don’t remember wanting to do any particular job when I was young, although my two daughters both had great ideas from an early age. Hannah wanted to work in Tesco in St Ives, Cornwall and marry a boy called Jo Rose who was in her year at school and Rosie wanted to have her own ice-cream van. Good plans!

My own careers advice consisted of going to the library in Stone, Staffs and having a Career’s Officer pore over the local paper pointing out jobs. Hmm, not the best guidance. I decided I wanted to be a journalist at some point but was literally shown the door when I sat down for the exam, as I didn’t have a pen or paper on me and they weren’t about to help me by providing one. Stafford Newsletter- you traumatised me!

I never felt that I came up the mark really, as most of my friends went to University while I did the University of life, enjoyable as it was. Thankfully, life is long and I have had some great jobs and some wonderful job related experiences. Now I am a writer and I think I wanted to be a writer for quite some time- I just didn’t know how to go about it.

Watch this space I will be published, even though my dear mother (bless her) says, ‘I should give up on it, Jackie, if I was you. Haven’t you got better things to do with your time?’ Yes mother, I probably do, but I don’t think there is any part of me that can call it a day. I have invested thousands and thousands of words and they keep on coming and when they do, they are an improvement on the last words I wrote and they arrange themselves in a better order than they did five or ten years ago. So this is my career path- late as it may be. I am a writer.

DSCF0015Rachael says … When I was at primary school I discovered the joy of writing a short story. Why not be a writer? No, too unobtainable. I changed tack and decided I really wanted to be a nurse, but due to my eczema, I was told that wasn’t a good. Hairdresser? No, same problem.

So off I headed for secondary school, as it was then called, without a clue as to what I wanted to do. The careers adviser visited and a decision had to be made. Office Practice and Typing were selected as my options, but the reality of working in an office wasn’t for me.

When my path through life took me to Wales I needed a job, any job and I started working in a pharmacy. This was it, what I should have told everyone I wanted to do and soon I qualified as a dispensing technician and loved it.

I then married a dairy farmer and job rolls changed once more. This time to a stay at home mum who also worked on the farm. I was milking cows, feeding calves, keeping accounts – oh, and raising two children. When a local writing group started I thought, why not. Suddenly my dream of being a writer seemed just a little more obtainable. It took a long time to get to my original job choice, but I did – and the typing stood me in good stead!

What about you? What career did you want as a child? Did you pursue it? Was it how you imagined? If you’re a writer, did you always want to be one? We’d love to hear from you. Jessica xx

Take a seat in Karen’s Reading Corner

karencocking faceOur guest on the blog today is Karen, from ‘My Reading Corner’. Karen loved reading from a very young age and over the years this passion has grown, now her idea of bliss is to curl up in a comfy chair with a good book.  Karen runs her book review blog alongside working full-time as a legal secretary and uses some of the commute from Essex to London to read up-to two books a week. In the picture below you can see Karen’s heaving ‘bookwall’, which she keeps in her spare room, but she admits she has overflowing bookcases elsewhere in the house too! So we’re really glad that Karen has been able to find some time to be our guest today and here she tells us all why books and blogging about them are so important to her.

Why is that you love reading so much

I’ve always loved reading, and can remember from a very early age reading the Ladybird books and then progressing to Enid Blyton and then as a teenager turning to Agatha Christie. Other favourite authors of the time were Jeffrey Archer, Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchy. I love to escape into a book and to use my imagination which is why the film adaptations of books rarely work for me as it spoils the image I have in my head. Apart from the occasional biography, I rarely read non-fiction.

What made you decide to turn that passion into a regular book-review blog?

I’ve been adding short reviews to various online book sites for a number of years and although sites like Goodreads are very useful for keeping track of books that I own, the cover pictures change (I like to have a record of the correct book cover too) and there’s no control over the site content. I decided to start my own book blog so that I could keep my reviews in one place and keep my own note of which edition I had read. I also wanted to share books that I had enjoyed and if my review helps someone to choose their next read, then that’s wonderful.

What are the best and worst things about blogging?

It’s always a pleasure to be asked to review a book by a new author and finding a little gem that otherwise might have passed me by – and to be ableKaren cocking2 to tell others about it. Some of my most enjoyable reads this year have been found this way and there are some indie authors that are now on my favourites list. Another is being given the opportunity to read books before they are published. I feel privileged that publishers allow me to access ARCs of their ebooks from sites such as Netgalley and of course it’s always exciting to receive paper books in the post – whenever I receive a book shaped package, I feel like a kid at Christmas!

One of the worst things is feeling under pressure to read and review quickly. I have a huge library of my own of both paper and Kindle books which I am longing to read but struggle to get to because much of my free time is spent trying to keep up with review books. I need to find that balance of being able to read both my own and review books.

What is your favourite genre?

I don’t have a favourite genre. My first love was crime fiction but over the years my tastes have widened. I enjoy reading women’s contemporary fiction just as much as crime and suspense.   I also enjoy reading YA books and some historical fiction, especially dual time novels. The one genre that I am really picky about is ‘chick-lit’ and I tend to stick to the same trusted authors or authors that have been recommended by book friends.

Has there been a book that you’ve been put off reading, perhaps by the cover or blurb, and then have finally read and really loved?

No, although there have been many books which I haven’t enjoyed despite the hype surrounding them. One that immediately comes to mind is The Time Travellers Wife. So many people loved this but I disliked it so much I couldn’t finish it.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I have to be comfortable. I have a reclining armchair in the corner of my lounge (this is why my blog was named ‘My Reading Corner’) which is my favourite place to read, although sitting on the bed propped up with pillows comes a close second!

Have you ever considered being a writer?

Only in my dreams! The reality is that I know my limitations and I would not be good enough. I greatly admire people who can turn their hand to writing but it’s not something that I would consider doing.

How do you promote your blog?

Mainly on Twitter and Facebook. A few months ago I set up a Facebook page for my blog where I post reviews, share competitions and all things bookish. https://www.facebook.com/myreadingcornerblog.

Karen cocking1How many requests for reviews do you get in typical week/month and what’s your criteria for deciding which to review?

It varies, some weeks I can get several – both from authors and publishers. I suppose on average I get about 2 – 3 requests a week.   I always look at the book description to see whether it’s something I would enjoy reading and if it appeals then I say yes. Otherwise I politely decline. It also depends on how I’m asked. If a request is polite and unassuming then I am more inclined to say yes. If I receive an obviously ‘copied & paste’ email request with the book attached on the presumption that I will want to read it then that is an immediate turn-off. My blog has a review policy listing the genres that I read and it is often quite clear that many authors/promoters haven’t even bothered to read it before requesting a review.

Do you give bad reviews or only review books you’ve liked?

I will only review on my blog books that achieve a minimum rating of 3 out of 5 stars – if I really don’t like a book then I won’t include it on the blog. I want my reviews to be an honest opinion but I don’t want to be unkind. It’s extremely rare for me to rate a book as 1* (- it has to be REALLY poor) however very occasionally a book achieves a review rating of 2* and this would only appear on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.   I don’t review every single book I read – if I’m reading one of my own books then sometimes it’s nice to just read for pleasure and not feel obliged to always post a review.

Have you got a top three of your all-time favourite books?

My favourite books change all the time. There are however two that have remained firm favourites over the years – To Kill a Mockingbird and Rebecca.

What sort of interaction do you have with fellow reviewers, authors and readers?

I think Twitter is wonderful for interaction with fellow book lovers and authors – what did we do without it! I love to see authors interacting with readers and it’s still a thrill when an author retweets one of my reviews or replies to a tweet. The downside of sites like Twitter and reading other book blogs is seeing all the new book recommendations which add to my ever increasing wishlist and ‘To be Read’ pile.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Just to say thank you for inviting me onto your blog. Having sent out my own questions for authors to answer, I can now see that it’s quite different being on the other side!

Thanks again for visiting us on the blog, Karen, we’ve loved having you stop by and it’s been great to hear what life is like as a book reviewer. If you want to find out more about Karen and her reviews at ‘My Reading Corner’ please following the links below:



Twitter @karendennise

The Wednesday Wondering: You’re Fired!

If you share my (dubious) tastes in TV programmes you won’t be a stranger to the title of this week’s Wondering.  Yes, that’s right.  The famous phrase comes out of Alan Sugar’s mouth at the end of every episode of The Apprentice.  Whether you find it compulsive or repulsive viewing, you’ll be sure to know what it’s about.  Hard to avoid, isn’t it?

You may remember I was grabbing inspiration for this month’s Wonderings from March itself, in which case you may be thinking I’ve wandered off piste here.  Not so, because next Monday, March 24th, is Lord Sugar’s birthday. (He happens to share the same birth year as me but we won’t go into that if it’s all the same).  A bit obscure as a remarkable event, perhaps?  Well, yes, all right, but at least you’ve gathered a new bit of useless information…

But back to The Apprentice theme before I lose the plot entirely (and none of us wants to do that, do we?).  I asked my fellow Write Romantics this question:

If you could be apprenticed to a well-known writer, have access to their innermost thought processes while they write and have them mentor your own novel, who would you choose? (Time machines permitted)  And what would you hope to learn from them? 

The Write Romantics were spoiled for choice, as you’ll see.


I’d love to be apprenticed, Write Romantics excluded, to Jojo Moyes. I loved ‘Me Before You,’ and am now totally loving ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ recommended by Deirdre. Her stories are so good, yet what I really love is her emotional descriptions. You really feel like you are there with the characters, learning first hand what they’re seeing and thinking. I love tales that are rich in emotion and these you just can’t beat!


It would have to be my hero, the amazing Mr Stephen King. I would love to see how he plots his books, how he comes up with his ideas, where he stores them but most of all I would love to sit behind the desk that he writes at and just soak up the vibes. It would be even better to have his personal input and advice into a story I was writing. The only thing is I fear that if I ever did get to meet him I wouldn’t be able to speak because I’d be so in awe of him or I talk a load of absolute rubbish and bore him to death. I would hope to learn just how to keep on going and producing book after book which was a best seller around the world so that I too could have a writing room just like him.


Can I only pick one? It would be between five people (all women) – Enid Blyton, Virginia Andrews (the original one who passed away), Catherine Cookson, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, so a time machine would be needed for 3 out of 5! All of them have had a lasting impression on me for getting me engrossed in books at different ages with the latter two being about my discovery of romantic comedy. For all, I’d love to explore where their ideas came from, how they develop their characters and how they plot out their books because all of them, in my opinion, have written page-turner after page-turner. What an amazing talent to have!


I’d like to be mentored by Alexandra Sokoloff. She’s an award winning author of thrillers – not my genre and even the book jacket blurbs scare me, but I think she has such a wealth of knowledge about techniques in both film and novels. I attended the online RWAus conference in 2013 where Alexandra Sokoloff hosted a workshop and since then I have read and re-read her book “Writing Love” many times as it helps to plot a new story, prevent it from having a “saggy middle” and give readers what they want. She also advocates watching films to help us master storytelling techniques, and this works really well for me, I’d definitely recommend it.


I’m really glad I can have a time machine for this one because I want to go back to the Thirties and apprentice myself to Dorothy L. Sayers.  For me she is the real queen of Golden Age detective fiction and I’ve loved Lord Peter Wimsey since I was about 17.  Sayers is an amazing crafter of stories.  I’d love to learn the techniques of mystery writing, her knack of producing realistic dialogue and how she makes her characters so real and so complex.  From what I read about her I think she wouldn’t suffer fools or mince her words and so being her apprentice could be a bit daunting.  However, it also seems she had a fine sense of humour as shown by this quote:

“Lord Peter’s large income… I deliberately gave him… After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.”


I’d choose to spend my apprenticeship with Ian Rankin because although I’m not a great lover of crime fiction, I do admire his writing.  It never feels forced or over-written; he never rambles but makes every word count.  That’s the kind of writing I’m aiming for and hopefully something of that would rub off.  I saw a documentary in which Ian agonised over his plot and confessed he had no idea what came next in the book he was writing.  Heartening to note that even the famous ones can be plagued with self-doubt!  It would be fascinating to be with him at those moments and see how he gets around them.  Also I’d get to see Edinburgh which I understand is a beautiful city, and, from what I’ve gathered of Ian’s lifestyle, spend a lot of time in the pub!


This is an easy one for me.  It would definitely have to be Charles Dickens.  I’d want to learn how he created such memorable characters and wrote such a range of stories that could transcend generations and give quite moral messages, yet avoid being cheesy or overly sentimental.  If an apprenticeship with Dickens could give me a cat in hell’s chance of writing something that leaves a legacy as embedded in our culture as say A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist, then it would be well worth risking particle displacement on a trip in a time machine for!


I would quite like Jilly Cooper to mentor me because I know I'll never write literary novels so would be happy with learning how to have a page turning quality. I also think she's be a good laugh as wouldn't like someone who took it all too seriously (although I would love to write like Anita Shreve and have deep understanding of emotions).  Hopefully it would be gin time at four in the afternoon and I would roll home sozzled and happy. 


If I could take any writer, go back to any time I would chose two. Greedy I know, but there you go. Firstly I’d love to be an apprentice to Maeve Binchy. Each time I’ve picked up a book of hers, I’ve been hooked and that is what I’d love to learn from her. How to hook the reader and keep them hooked. Not only that, but how to make your story have such an impact that the reader can still ‘see it’ in their minds many years later. I have two favourite books of hers, Circle of Friends and Tara Road.

Once that was done, I zip back in time to sit with Jane Austen. Now that would be something. I’d just love to be with her as she wrote Pride and Prejudice, I’d love to know what she thought of the characters she was creating and did she ever believe it would be such an everlastingly popular story.

Well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?  Perhaps you’ll find a moment to tell us where your dream apprenticeship would take you.  We’d love to know.


The Wednesday Wondering: World Book Day brings a touch of nostalgia

Hello everyone.  Having been handed the baton I thought I’d look to the month of March itself to inspire the next four weeks’ Wonderings – quite appropriate, I thought, since anyone venturing into the precarious world of writing must be as mad as a March hare…  Writers, of course, are readers too; a love of books and reading is something we all want to hand down to the next generation, which is why I decided that our first port of call should be World Book Day which falls tomorrow, March 6th.

World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators and books, when children of all ages will come together to explore the pleasures of reading.  One of WBD’s aims is to give as many children as possible the opportunity to own a book, something that sadly not all can take for granted, and millions of book tokens will be distributed to schools and groups in the UK to make this happen.  Let’s hope lots of new readers are ‘born’ tomorrow – we wish World Book Day every success!

So, on to this week’s question.  Imagine you have in front of you all the books you read as a child and teenager.  Which one would you choose to pass on to a child or teenager today, and why?  Then, if you want to, tell us more about the books you loved the most.

The Write Romantics had this to say:


My favourite book as a child was ‘Meet Stroller,’ by Marion Coakes as she then was before she married Mr Mould. I loved horses as a child, I still do. Goodness knows how I got to love them living on a densely populated council estate in south London. I used to dream I was out in the country riding horses in the fresh air. But it was a lot more than that. Stroller was small for a top class showjumper and Marion, his owner and rider, was a girl, and a young, small girl at that. That worked to their advantage, because they could take shortcuts in the course and save vital seconds pipping the others to the post. As soon as I was old enough I moved to Bristol to work as a nurse. You could see fields in Bristol and still be in the centre of town, so I could see how it felt living close to the country. It didn’t take me long to decide I loved it, and forty odd years on I still love it and never go to London if I can help it.


As a child, I was inspired by Enid Blyton. I particularly adored The Faraway Tree Series, Famous Five and MaloryTowers. When I started writing, I toyed with writing for children. My copies of these books had all been sold at jumble sales years previously so I bought a fat book that encompassed all the Enchanted Wood/Faraway Tree books in one as well as a MaloryTowers box set with the intention of re-immersing myself in my youth. I never quite got round to it. My daughter is now 7 and has started to dip into the MaloryTowers ones but the Faraway Tree is too fat for her to hold so I keep promising her I’ll read it to her. Really must do something about fulfilling that promise before she becomes a teenager and bypasses the Enid Blyton thing!


I wish I did have all my childhood books in front of me, there were so many amazing stories I read that inspired me to write my own stories when I was a child. I started off reading the wonderful Enid Blyton – Naughty Amelia Jane, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, MalloryTowers. I was hooked and would spend my £1 pocket money on a brand new book every week. The Famous Five were my favourite because of the adventures they managed to get caught up in and each one would have me intrigued and desperate to read more.

I then moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie series which I enjoyed immensely. My love of reading as a child and a teenager meant I could escape my not so exciting life and live in a whole different world for a time. Reading is the most effective way of living someone else’s life without leaving the comfort of your own home and I’m so glad that I was able to read so many wonderful books as a child.


ImageI can’t remember any particular books that I read as a child apart from The Famous Five and Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton. They were hardbacks in Red and I think The Secret Seven were blue. I don’t think I was bought many books, although my dad was an English teacher, as there were five children and not a lot of spare money. I did use the library a lot but can’t remember any particular book standing out, just a fear that they would get lost in our rambling house and I would be in trouble for not returning them! I do still have a precious book that I was given for Christmas, The Swan Princes, illustrated by Raymond Briggs. It’s in fairly bad condition so I think I must have read it a lot. I remember being really pleased that it was JUST FOR ME and I was determined that it would stay mine and not be shared!  


Oh, even though I do love these sorts of questions, they do reveal me to be very low-end in my reading tastes. I wish I could name one of the classics or say that War and Peace changed my life as a teenager, but I’d be lying!  As a child, it would probably be the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  My dad used to read it to me on Sunday mornings and do different voices for all the characters.  He died fourteen years ago, so it’s a memory I’ll always treasure. 

As a teenager, it would have to be The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.  I have mentioned the Adrian Mole series of books on the blog before but, like Adrian, I was a wannabe writer even aged thirteen and three quarters and shared a lot of the same teenage angst that he went through.  I still love the books now and think Sue Townsend is a genius for creating him!  In fact, I think I’ll get my daughter started on the series soon, since she’s only six months off her own thirteenth birthday, and I hope she’ll love them as much as I do.


I don’t have just one book in mind but I would pass on all the Judy Blume books that I read: Blubber, Superfudge, Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret and many others. I think that they’re really honest books and tap into young teens’ psyche in a way that not everyone can. Even though the books were around when I was a teen, they are still popular today – my daughter just read Superfudge at school as a class reader and the kids discussed the issues within the text which made for a good learning experience. 


It’s so hard to choose – but I did set the question so here goes…  For a child I’ve picked ‘The Family from One End Street’, by Eve Garnett. She wrote it in 1937 and won an award for it.  It’s about the Ruggles family who live in a tiny terrace in the East End.  Father is a dustman, Mother a washerwoman and they have seven children – as an only child myself that was a big part of the appeal. Nothing particularly extraordinary or adventurous happens – it’s all about life’s little dramas like catching measles and setting fire to a petticoat – but I remember taking it out of the library time and time again and poring over the exquisite little pencil drawings.  There’s a sequel, too, with the family’s ‘further adventures’.  You can buy them today as Puffin Classics.  I might treat myself.

For a teenager, I’ve chosen ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith.  This was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and I remember being entranced by the romantic setting and sharing the heartache of the heroine’s first love.  It came out as a film a few years ago and I enjoyed it, though not as much as the book.  But perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking…


It would have to be Swallows and Amazons. I was a bit of a tom boy when I was growing up and I adored these stories of adventure and sailing.  Looking back I think I one of the reasons that I loved them was because the girls were really strong characters and didn’t sit quietly in camp waiting for the boys to come home.  I read the copies that my Dad had from the late forties and they’re just lovely with the original (somewhat tattered) dustcovers and the illustrations by Arthur Ransome.  I’m really hoping my nephew grows up to love reading because I’m looking forward to handing them on to him.

The other book that I have a real soft spot for is Anne of Green Gables.  Obviously I had no problem relating to a red headed heroine even though she was a lot more outspoken and got into a lot more trouble than I ever did!


I was given a copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty when I was about seven. I’ve read it and read it and it now lives safely tucked away in my bedroom. Although it’s one of my most treasured books, it is in a somewhat battered condition. It was this book which started my love affair with reading and subsequently, writing.

Obviously I would like to pass that book on to a younger child. The story evokes so much emotion as well as teaching that life can be tough. But first I’d love to be able to give a gift of books to a very young child, to allow them to sample the delights of turning the pages, looking at the pictures and very importantly having quiet time with adults.

Have we inspired you with our choices?  Do stay around and let us know your favourites too – we’d love to hear from you.


Desperately Seeking Inspiration …

A couple of weeks ago, I went on holiday to the Lake District. This is a place I love and have visited on many occasions but this was my first visit to Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey, the first property Beatrix Potter purchased in the Lakes.

I think anyone who has heard of Beatrix Potter would be interested in (and enjoy) visiting this lovely house and garden but, as a writer, I found it particularly fascinating. Beatrix, getting over the untimely death of her fiancé, found inspiration in the house, gardens and surrounding areas, setting many of her subsequent books there. The Tale of Tom Kitten is set in the house and garden, The Tale of Ginger and Pickles is based in the village and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck featured a duck that strayed from Hill Top to pick just three examples.

Wandering around the property, knowledgeable guides were on hand with copies of various books where visitors could match the illustrations to exact pieces of furniture and rooms in the house. My six-year-old daughter loved doing this. And so did I!

At Beatrix’s wishes, Hill Top’s rooms and furnishings “should be kept in their present condition” so that visitors could see where inspiration had come from and I really could see it. Her desk was laid out with letters and books and I must confess to having serious writing-desk envy (lots of drawers and cubby holes!) and could really picture the talented writer and artist at work. I could also see why she’d be inspired living in such a lovely farm in such a pretty part of the world.

Here’s a picture of me standing in the doorway of Hill Top. Please forgive the pasty legs!!!!


All of this got me thinking about inspiration. Two weeks ago Deidre blogged about locations for books and asked whether we like fictional or real settings. Last week, Alex took this a step further and blogged in more detail about the two locations (Glastonbury and Orkney) that have inspired her novels. I’d like to look at inspiration in general. Where does it come from? Does a location inspire a story? Does a story inspire a set of characters? Does an idea for a character inspire the plot? I guess it can happen in many ways.

For me, personally, the inspiration for my first novel didn’t come from a person or a place. It came from something that happened to me. I’d always wanted to write but had no idea what the story would be. When this particular thing happened, I thought, “What a great idea for a story” and once that thought popped into my head, it wouldn’t go away. Suddenly I had my protagonist too because she’s predominantly based on me although how she reacts to “the thing” in my novel isn’t necessarily how I reacted to it because her reaction makes a far more interesting story. The plot unfolded by me constantly asking myself, “What if…?” and “Why…?” which led to new characters, settings and experiences.

Location-wise, my book is set in a fictional North Yorkshire seaside town although it’s based very much on a combination of Scarborough (where I live) and Whitby just up the coast from us. These two settings in turn inspired certain events in the book as there is so much stunning scenery in this area that it would be impossible not to be inspired by it. Scarborough has a castle so I have used that. Both locations have lighthouse piers and I have used that concept but created my own version in my mind for a couple of key events.

To conclude this piece, I thought I’d do a bit of a research on where some very famous writers got their inspiration from. I started with one of the most obvious – JK Rowling – but ploughing through several pages of Google just revealed that she got the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while staring out of a train window on a journey from London to Manchester (or was it Manchester to London?) I read another article saying that she spent the train journey imagining what Hogwarts would be like and that, by the time she got off, she had most of the characters. But this doesn’t really tell me where the initial idea came from. Was she thinking about writing a book set at a boarding school and trying to challenge herself to do something slightly different resulting in lots of “what if…” questions before arriving at Hogwarts? Was she thinking about writing a book for children and had had a conversation with someone about witches and wizards which set her creativity juices flowing? I don’t know. I don’t imagine for one minute that she stared out the window at some fields and suddenly this whole world was created. There must have been some sort of trigger. Mustn’t there?

I found a slightly more satisfying response when I decided to look up Enid Blyton, one of the Write Romantics’ favourites. It would appear that, since childhood, she’d always made up stories and that they flooded into her mind at night a little like mixed-up dreams. In her autobiography, The Story of my Life (1052) she described the process of a story-unfolding like viewing “a private cinema screen inside my head… and what I see, I write down.” I found a fascinating link all about Enid Blyton (see below) but I still don’t know exactly where the inspiration came from. What made her imagine a group of four children and a dog having adventures, or a tree that reached the clouds and had different lands arriving at the top, or a man with big ears and a little boy with a bell on his head? Some of these are slightly shall we say unusual things to just pop into the head or onto a cinema screen or whatever if was that Enid Blyton experienced so surely, again, there was some sort of trigger. For more info, check out: http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/enid-the-writer.php

I checked out a few more writers but it was a similar story i.e. no specific pinpointed moment. And then it struck me that perhaps that’s just how it is with most writers; the ideas just appear with no specific sources. Perhaps that’s what being a writer and being creative is all about? Perhaps I’m unusual in being able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that my idea for Searching for Steven materialized because, not that I come to think about it, I can’t pinpoint where the idea for the sequel came from. It wasn’t from personal experience, that’s for sure. I think just popped into my head … while looking out of a train window … as if on a private cinema screen (or did I read that somewhere else?!)

Over to you. If you’re a writer, where has your inspiration come from? Something you’ve experienced? Something you’ve read? Something you’ve overheard? Or did it just materialize? I’d love to hear more. And if you’re a reader, what do you think might inspire you to write?

Thanks for reading.

Julie xx

The Wednesday Wondering – The One That Got Away!

Welcome to our 2nd posting of The Wednesday Wondering. Can we just start by saying thank you so much to everyone who joined in and commented on or responded to our 1st posting last week.

This week’s question was also posed by Write Romantic Julie:

What is the one published book that you wish you’d written and why (doesn’t matter if it’s a change of genre for you)? 

Ooh, tricky! What will the Write Romantics go for? Will it be their favourite childhood book? Will it be the one that banked millions? Will it be something that inspired them to become a writer? Or simply a story so delicious that they wished they’d thought of it. Let’s find out. I promised Alex I wouldn’t always post them in alphabetical order so she has the constant pressure of being 1st so here are our responses in a completely random order…


When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (Headline Review, 2011): It’s the story of childhood and growing up in the 60’s and 70s, following the narrator, Elly, through to her adult years.  It has the feel of a memoir about it and the relationships she draws between her unconventional family and her friends ring so true that I found myself constantly saying ‘Yes!’ as I read it.  It’s funny and sad and quirky and I so wish I had created this cast of oh-so-real characters.  As a debut novel it’s inspirational as well as an engrossing read.

Going to be fairly obvious and say Harry Potter. Not just because it would allow me to bathe in Champagne, sleep on a bed made from the down of long extinct dodo birds and turn up to the RNA conference in a chaffeur driven Bentley convertible, with George Clooney at the wheel, but also because my kids might actually rate me as cool!
I’d love to be able to write a big fantasy book. The kind set in another world full of heroes, villains, magic and monsters.  However, as I struggle to write about anywhere that I haven’t actually been to, I don’t think my brain is capable of creating an entire fantasy  universe. It feels hugely presumptuous to say this seeing as George R. R. Martin is such a brilliant writer but I would have loved to have written ‘A Game of Thrones’.
Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol. It is one of my favourite novels. I love the way it takes you into the life of Ebezeezer Scrooge, we get to see all of his life, what it has been, and how only he has the power to change his own future. It is all about second chances. We also see the lives of those he deals with on a daily basis, and how he affects their lives, by the decisions that he makes. An amazing story, that I would have loved to pen.
All of them!
I’m going to really cheat here because I have three but for very different reasons and one of them is a huge cheat because it’s actually a series. 1. The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton but, if I had to pick one, it would be Second Form at Malory Towers. I was bought the 1st one as a birthday present from a neighbour and begged my mum to buy me the rest as I was gripped. I loved the ‘nasty girl’ and how the relationships developed between the protagonist and her boarding school friends. 2. Flowers In The Attic by Virginia Andrews which is my favourite book. It made me cry and I could not stop reading it. It’s the first page-turner I ever read and the only book I’ve read more than once (think I’ve read it about 6 times). 3. Bridget Jones’ Diary. It put ‘chick lit’ on the map and opened it up to a whole new reading set. I remember laughing out loud so often and relating (like most women) to so many aspects of it. Well done, Helen Fielding; amazing work!
So, you’ve heard what some of The Write Romantics have to say. What would your answer be. We can’t wait to hear from you!