Blogs as inspiration

I’ve been taking a trip down memory lane recently, and re-visiting some of the old blogs by fundamentalist Christians which I used to read a lot about ten years ago. These blogs fascinated me, as the way of life these bloggers (all women) lived, mostly in rural America, was a world away from my own life as a someone who worked full time and lived independently in London.

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These blogs became the inspiration for the True Way Ministry in my novel The Canal. I didn’t base the True Way on one ministry in particular, but an amalgamation of several, as the ministries and lifestyle those bloggers followed were all so similar.

They believed that men were the head of the church and family, and women’s roles were to be subservient helpmeets. Men were to be the breadwinners and women were generally not permitted to work outside the home. They all claimed to follow every word of the Bible, yet added on numerous rules which were never part of that book.

A couple of things stood out for me. Firstly, the idea of “courtship” as opposed to dating or relationships as most people would understand them in the UK or mainstream America. Secondly the concept of modesty.

Most of the families I read about followed the courtship model. Couples were not supposed to enter into a relationship until they were ready for marriage. The man would generally speak to his father, who would then approach the prospective future-wife’s father, who would then inform her of the man’s intentions. This is the model Cassie and her husband Joseph follow in The Canal. Not only is there no sex before marriage, but no kissing, hand-holding, or even being alone together without a parent present. And these are adults! I recently heard of a couple who were not even allowed to sit next to each other on a sofa until they were married – they were instructed to sit in separate armchairs!

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The rules of modesty were strictly enforced and more than one blog I read had a checklist women should follow before dressing each morning, with the aim of ensuring that their clothes didn’t “tempt “men.

As one might expect, this meant high necklines and covered legs (most advocated skirts-only for women), as well as making sure no underwear was visible. The checklist I saw suggested women wear a double layer of clothing to make sure that the outline of a bra didn’t show through a top. This explains why so many women of this background wear pinafores over blouses, or two polo shirts, one over the other. Again, this was something I referenced in The Canal.

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After immersing myself in these blogs for months on end, inevitably I got tired of the subject and moved on to other things, though I always knew I would write about this subject in some way. My trip down memory lane was interesting as I discovered that many of the bloggers I used to follow had also moved on to other things. Several had left that strict legalistic lifestyle behind altogether, wearing comfortable modern clothes (even jeans!), and working for a living. It was encouraging to see.


Lightbulb moment

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately – too many other things going on. One of them being Book Two which I have been struggling with lately, after a very productive burst over Christmas.

It’s now on the third incarnation and I even though I wrote a lot between Christmas and New Year, and was feeling very pleased with my word count, I’ve had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right and I couldn’t work out what it was.

Then on my way home from work, while almost thinking about nothing at all, the answer came to me. If I was in a cartoon then a lightbulb would have appeared above my head at that very moment. I realised I have been telling the story from the wrong character’s point of view. Or points of view as there are two main characters.

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However, I should really have been telling part of the story from the perspective of a third character. It explains why I’ve felt somewhat disconnected from the plot. I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong though and spent a lot of time trying to develop the characters I had, when really I should probably have been focusing on someone else entirely.

Now I have my answer, I need to work out what to do next. Do I start again from scratch? Do I just add in sections with that other person’s pov? The “new” character is someone very different from me, which makes me wonder, am I the right person to tell his story? Or do I change the plot entirely, to make it fit the characters I’ve already fleshed out?

So many questions and as yet, no answers but I will ponder this some more over the next week. I do feel reassured that I’ve worked out what is wrong, but slightly frustrated that I didn’t realise sooner!

Pinterest for Writers

I recently added my blog posts to my Pinterest account, creating a new board for them. If you’re not familiar with Pinterest it’s a kind of online pin board, and can be very addictive!

Users can create boards for different topics and save pictures and articles (“pins”) to them, as a way of keeping all your ideas on one topic or project in one place. Pins can be from the site itself or you can add them from other websites. You can also follow other users to see what they are pinning, and you have the option to follow all of their boards or just whichever ones appeal.

Before I started writing I had an account where I mostly just collected images of things from my childhood. With my new business account, my childhood and teenage memories boards are still some of my most popular, in terms of the number of pins which other users have shared.

As a writer, there are many ways you can use Pinterest. You could have:

  • A board featuring images and places relating to your current novel.
  • A board featuring articles and images from a particular period in history, which is both useful for research and interesting for readers, if you write historical fiction.
  • A board of portraits of people as character inspiration.
  • A board where you collect images of books you love.
  • A board where you pin great examples of cover designs.

As well as the board of my blog posts, I have a board of images relating to The Canal, a board where I’ve shared articles about writing, and a few boards which are unrelated to writing. These are a way for me to share some of the images I like and things which interest me.

Pinterest also allows you to have secret boards which are not viewable to the public. If you have a work in progress but don’t want to reveal anything about it to the whole world yet, that’s an option for you. I have one where I pin images and historical photos relating to the book I’m working on now.

Sometimes you find when you click on an image, the link to the webpage it came from originally is dead. If you’re just collecting images for fun, then that probably doesn’t matter. It wasn’t something which used to bother me, although it could frustrate others if they want to find out more information about the pin. Now I do double check that there are no broken links or links to dodgy websites before I pin things.

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites and is very easy to use, so if you haven’t done so already, it’s worth checking it out.


Books which don’t “spark joy”

Marie Kondo (who I have blogged about previously) has a new TV show on Netflix and I see it’s causing controversy among some journalists (who don’t seem to fully understand her methods) when it comes to books.

I haven’t seen the show yet but I have followed her methods for decluttering where you sort things by categories, so you tackle clothes first, then books etc.

I’ll admit that before I sorted my books I thought I wouldn’t be getting rid of many, if any. I have always considered myself a booklover and was proud of my shelves, literally warping under the weight of so many books. I have even been told that my first word was “book”. Yet when I piled them all up together, as Marie advises, I realised there were several that did not “spark joy” at all.

Incidentally, I believe people take the phrase “spark joy” more literally then Marie Kondo intended. Things which are practical and frequently used should be kept. They don’t literally have to bring great joy each time you touch them!


I donated at least four bags of books to charity shops the first time I went through the process. I don’t regret getting rid of any of them and struggle to even remember what they were. I know one was a book I had to read as part of my degree which I hated. There were some paperbacks which I enjoyed ten or twenty years ago but had never read since. And then there were out of date guide books along with a copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook from the year 2000 which was no use to me whatsoever.

Books can be wonderful, magical, inspiring, informative and life-changing. However, they can also be boring, disturbing, badly-written, irrelevant and out of date. And if you have a stack of these on your shelves, or on the floor doing nothing but gathering dust and there to be tripped over, then why wouldn’t you get rid of them?


Script writing

Over the weekend I finished working on a screenplay adaptation of part of my novel for a competition. It was the first time I had tried writing a script using the proper format. As well as working out how my story might work as a TV drama instead of a novel, I had to get to grips with all the conventions of a script so it was a steep learning curve!

I had to remember to add the character’s name again with (CONT’D) if their speech was broken up with some scene action, to make sure all my scene headings were correctly formatted and said whether it was day or night; as well as making sure there weren’t any headings or character names hanging at the bottom of the page.  There was also the issue of timing to consider. Correctly formatted, one page of script equals approximately one minute of action.

Adapting the story was fairly instinctive for me to do because when the idea and the characters first came into my head, I thought the storyline would make a good TV drama. And the very first scenes I wrote (in pencil!) were more like a script than a novel.

There are several differences between a TV drama and a novel obviously and I reflected on those as I worked out how to adapt the story. Some of the changes I made were:

  • Reducing the cast of characters, particularly taking out many of the minor characters.
  • Taking out sub-plots and most of the back stories for the main characters.
  • Changing the order of the action in order to condense the storyline.
  • Showing some scenes which the main characters don’t witness in the novel. Those scenes are either imagined or explained later by others.
  • Adding in some dialogue where in the book I had summarised a conversation.

I am not expecting to win anything, especially as this was a first attempt, but it was a fun challenge!

If anyone is interested in writing a TV drama, or simply reading some fantastic scripts – the BBC Script Library has a great selection, including recent programmes like Mrs Wilson, Bodyguard and A Very English Scandal.

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Favourites of 2018

I read 39 complete books in 2018 (the same number as in 2017), as well as a couple I started and gave up on, and a few novellas. The books included novels, both traditionally and self-published; non-fiction titles and some re-reads of old favourites.

Fiction-wise I think things were a bit hit and miss this year for me. My favourite was The Dry by Jane Harper. I’m really looking forward to reading the follow-up Force Of Nature which I have on my Kindle already and her newest, The Lost Man. Another Australian book I enjoyed was Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. It was great to hear her speak at Conway Hall in London. I also loved Tin Man by Sarah Winman. A couple of colleagues had recommended it and I’m glad they did.

My standout favourite non-fiction title was Educated by Tara Westover. I loved hearing her speak at the Wimbledon Book Festival and blogged about it here.

I gained a new perspective on issues of mental health and race from Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and would recommend both of those books, along with Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig.

I didn’t go to the cinema much in 2018 but I loved Crazy Rich Asians. I’d read the book the week before, and unusually I preferred the film. I got a real sense of just how extravagant the  crazy-rich people’s lifestyles were, in a way I couldn’t fully imagine just by reading, plus I loved the humour that came across on screen.

On TV, my favourites are split between Call The Midwife which I always enjoy  (although I don’t think the Christmas special lived up to previous ones), and Unforgotten. I thought that the third series would be the last but I was thrilled to hear that there will be one more. Bodyguard was the series which got everybody talking and I was one of those who was gripped by it. I also enjoyed Mrs Wilson which was a fascinating drama.

Factual programmes I liked included A House Through Time, Back In Time For Tea and Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series which I’d recommend for writers as well as film fans.

I have several books already on my Kindle which I can’t wait to get started on although the book I am most looking forward to in 2019 is Big Sky, the latest Jackson Brodie novel by Kate Atkinson. The first in that series, Case Histories, is one of my favourite books so I am eagerly awaiting the new one!



End of year round-up and a look forward to 2019

It is almost inevitable that as one year draws to a close, we start to reflect on what went well, what could have gone better and what we want to achieve next year.

There were no big developments in my writing this year. However, I have tried on more than one occasion to write a second novel, intending to keep the momentum going after I published The Canal at the end of 2017.

I made good progress with the first draft but then I lost interest around the time I was changing career in the early summer, which was a big personal development for me.

I started afresh for NaNoWriMo, and my aim was to have a first draft completed by the end of this year. We are only a few days away from that point and unfortunately, the first draft will not be finished, although it’s almost there. I have learnt that I should have pushed myself more during November for NaNoWriMo when I had no other commitments, and not to have overestimated how much I would be able to write during the run-up to Christmas when I had so many other plans.

For 2019 I plan to continue with the second book and get it published. I will also spend more time marketing The Canal so that sales, which have tailed away lately, might start to pick up again.

In terms of this blog, I haven’t posted for a while (not sure if anyone is even still reading it!) so one of my new year’s resolutions is to start blogging more regularly, and also to contribute to other blogs. I will also be tweeting and updating Pinterest more frequently too.

I’ve had a good year of reading this year, discovering new authors (including Jane Harper) and reading more by my old favourites (like Liane Moriarty who I was lucky enough to meet). I will do a blog post of my favourite books of 2018 in the next few days.

Next year I want to continue to read more books, but also to take more chances on authors I know nothing about, and also to read more of the classics, something I have never done very much of outside of secondary school and university. One advantage of having a longer commute to my new job is that it gives me more time for reading so I need to make the most of that time!

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