Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Write Club Band

It can be a lonely game, this writing lark – just you and your computer and that empty cup of tea you’ve been muttering at for the last hour and a half…

apple computer cup desk

Wait, did I say lonely?  I meant desperate, exhilarating, miserable, wonderful, soul-destroying, world-changing… and sometimes (just sometimes) a little bit tedious.  But the good news is, with the right kind of music at your disposal there’s no need to suffer or celebrate in silence.  And the even better news is you don’t have to look very far for the right tracks to see you through the ups and downs of your writing career, because the Fab Four have got it ALL covered, from the ultimate homage to creative procrastination (FIXING A HOLE) to the giddy excitement of meeting your new character / story idea for the first time (I’VE JUST SEEN A FACE).  Yes.  With a song for all occasions you’ll do more than get by with a little help from these friends:


(NB. I haven’t included direct links, I’m afraid, for reasons of copyright cluelessness on my part, but the following tracks are all out there for the listening.)

Need to find some more time in your busy schedule to commit to your WIP?  Look no further, my friend.  Just up your hours to EIGHT DAYS A WEEK and you’re laughing.  Although you might be too exhausted to do much laughing if you’ve reached that point in your project when you can hardly sleep for thinking about it… if so, brew up another pot of tea and stick I’M SO TIRED on repeat.

Struggling with the dreaded self assessment form? Time to hit TAXMAN. Or maybe you’ve just checked your royalty statement, in which case a quick burst of CAN’T BUY ME LOVE might be more what you need.  Because, let’s face it, if you do care too much for money you’re probably in the wrong game.

Speaking of which, why are you in this game?  Yes, for those dark days when you find yourself wondering just that, you’re going to need this beauty, the Daddy of all writing tracks: PAPERBACK WRITER.  And even though we’re all supposed to be writing for the sheer love of wordsmithing, it doesn’t hurt to think about that dream publishing deal now and again, by way of spurring yourself on. A few plays of I WANT YOU should be enough to conjure up the sheer desperation and longing everyone feels at some point in their writing career.

Oh dear.  Staring down the barrel of your seventeenth draft?  Just remember it’s GETTING BETTER all the time. And hopefully you’ve got your critique group on hand if you need some extra HELP.  But once you finally, finally reach THE END, have a quick rock out to that fabulous drum and guitar, before putting your finished MS in the drawer for a few weeks so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.  Yes, that’s right, I’m afraid you’ve GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY.  And then, once it’s been rested, reread, reworked and sent on its merry way, get ready for a long wait. Time enough to count up all four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire and transport them to the Albert Hall. Time to learn all the chords to the Beatles’ cover of CRYING, WAITING, HOPING and ample time to prepare your arsenal of survival tracks ready for when the answers trickle back in:

Bad news? For a full on post-rejection wallow there’s YESTERDAY, of course.  But if you want something a little more upbeat to shake away the blues you might prefer I’M DOWN.

No news at all?  Need to vent over that agent / publisher who never ever got back to you, despite the astounding brilliance of your submission? Try a quick burst of NO REPLY, then send it somewhere else instead.

What’s that?  A full request?  An offer of representation?  Long-awaited book deal?  Hooray!  I recommend SHE LOVES YOU at top volume, a few bursts of GOOD DAY SUNSHINE and maybe some twisting and shouting for good measure.  Enjoy!

Good Day Sunshine

(The fantastic Bootleg Beatles)








Room 101: Writers’ Revenge

ROOM 101

Despite studying George Orwell for A-level, many (many) moons ago, whenever I hear the phrase ‘Room 101’ I tend to think of the BBC comedy series rather than the torture chamber in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  (Yep.  All about the literary culture and class, that’s me…)

The television show has gone through a number of presenters and formats since its first airing, way back in 1994, but the general premise remains the same: celebrity guests must, by the persuasiveness of their argument, convince the host to consign their chosen pet hate to the titular Room 101.

Celebrity or otherwise, I’m sure everyone can think of something they’d like to see the back of…


… but I thought it might be fun to try a writers’ version of the game.  What writing-specific bugbear would you merrily consign to the annals of history?

Here’s a few ideas to start you off…

  • computer updates… computer crashes… computers in general…
  • rejections (say no more)
  • typos that definitely, definitely weren’t there when you pressed ‘Send’
  • spotting your breathtakingly original idea for a novel (the one that’s going to make you a household literary name) in book form, in Waterstones…
  • one star Amazon reviews  
  • waiting.  Oh the endless waiting…

I’ve gone a bit old school with my own choice, mainly because I’m sitting here looking at one of the culprits right now, my blood pressure rising at the very sight of it…

…Yes, it’s pencil rubbers THAT DON’T RUB OUT!!  You know the kind I mean, those hard shiny ones that leave black smears all over your lovely new notebook *grinds teeth* without getting rid of a single mistake.  They’re the mistake, if you ask me.


Why go to all the trouble of adding an eraser to a pencil if it doesn’t actually erase anything?  Why, oh why, oh why?  It’s probably a perfectly good pencil in every other respect – writing and sharpening like a good ‘un – but if it’s got an evil smudger for a rubber then it’s straight into Room 101 with it, as far as I’m concerned.  Harsh but fair, I’m sure you’ll agree…

Any other writerly suggestions out there to keep the poor feller company?

(Update – 28th March: If you’re feeling the Room 101 love (or hate) I’ve just spotted this competition from Brentwood Writers’ Circle who are looking for Room 101 entries of exactly 101 words, closing 30th April.)


World Poetry Day

I thought I might dig out one of my old poems to mark World Poetry Day.  ‘Lunch at the Poet’s House’ was a runner-up in the 2007 Mslexia Poetry Competition, adjudicated by U.A. Fanthorpe and R.V. Bailey.  I can’t believe that was eleven years ago!

Wishing you all a very happy World Poetry Day.


Lunch at the Poet’s House

His fame goes before him,
before us all.

I bring libations –
one white, one red,
wiping my feet of clay
against the bristled brilliance
of his Welcome mat;
“How much meaning,” you sigh,
“poured into a single word –
one almost hears the jaded tramp
of Common Man before his door,
of all who are well come before.”

“You came,” he smiles,
“come in, come in,”
iambs falling from him
like petals.

He helps us from our coats,
stripping away layers
of meaning with a
deft sleight of hand.

He pours us drinks –
I sip and stare,
Petrarchan dust motes
dance on air.

His wife drips thick soup
into waiting bowls,
leek and potato, a flourish of cream;
he talks of Heaney and his
blind-eyed skulls –
spoon becomes spade
in my coarse digger’s hand.

Slow-roast pork
melts in the mouth like music,
a soft lyric of flesh,
a counterpoint in orange and green,
a simple couplet of carrot and bean,
you smiling at his every line
while I look on, imperfect rhyme,
not waving but drowning
in a rich gravy sea.

An epitaph.

A toast now to his latest muse.
You blush, I watch the floor,
he stands and shuts the kitchen door
but through the stillness still we hear
her delicate staccato notes,
his wife – the muse before the muse before –
her rough rondel, its weeping refrain.

His fame goes before him.



Who’s Afraid of the Big Blank Page?

Congratulations, my fine writer friend, you’ve finally, finally finished your book! Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!  You’ve edited your precious bundle of words to within an inch of its life, polished it to a dazzling sheen, and sent it off to seek its fortune in the big wide world.  So now you’re revelling in your new-found freedom, right?  Catching up with long-ignored family and friends, ploughing your way through that teetering To Be Read pile by your bed, joining all the exercise classes, and getting down to every one of those 284 delightful things you vowed you’d make time for once you finished your bloomin’ book bestseller-in-waiting…

teetering books

…But wait a second.  That pile by your bed doesn’t seem to have gone down at all.  You still haven’t signed up for that marathon like you promised yourself, or made it to Beginners’ Yoga, and there’s not a single one of those 284 delightful things ticked off yet.  No, I get it, you’re too busy planning your next writing project instead, aren’t you?  Desperately trying to fill that novel-shaped hole inside, scribbling away at your desk as if you’d never even left… or at least you would be, were it not for the Big Blank Page staring back at you.

Ah yes, the terrible Post-Project Blank Page, truly a creature of nightmare and legend.


Just look at him!  What a brute!  No wonder you’re scared.  How do you even begin to tackle such an indomitable foe?  Well, here’s the thing… appearances can be deceptive.  The Big Blank Page isn’t quite as scary and blank as he’d have despairing writers believe.  It’s true.  If you look closely enough (you might need a powerful magnifying glass for this part) you’ll see he’s actually teeming with hidden germs of ideas, like something out of an advert for bleach bathroom spray:

Idea bacteria

There must be getting on for 30 new story ideas in this small cross-section alone!  But here’s the other thing, these little fellers are every bit as timid and shy as their Blank Page host is terrifying.  That’s why they’re in hiding in the first place.  If you want to capture them, then you’ve got to be clever.  You’ve got to be sly.  The best way to snare them is to feign indifference.  Seriously, pretend you’re not interested.  Pretend you’re too darn busy catching up on real life to give them a second thought.  Step away from the blank page and get to work on that list of yours instead, on those 284 delightful things you’ve been waiting to start.  Read all the books.  Kick off your new fitness campaign… That’s it, lull those idea germs into a false sense of security.  Leave them to swell and multiply behind the scenes.  And then…


Oh frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay!  This next book’s going to be even better than the last one!  Before you know it you’ll be off again, ploughing your way through a brand new literary masterpiece, already counting down the days until you get the bloomin’ thing finished…

‘Twas (almost) the Night Before Christmas…

…and time for a festive poem

Zebra's Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the zoo
A heavy snow fell and the winter wind blew.
Lions and tigers were curled up like kittens
While shivering apes dreamed of blankets and mittens.

The littlest monkeys were cuddled together,
Huddled up safe from the cold winter weather.
Old giant tortoises snored in their shells,
And none of them heard the faint tinkle of bells.

None of them saw the bright sleigh in the sky
That raced through the dark in the blink of an eye –
An old-fashioned sleigh pulled by nine flying deer
And a man dressed in red, bringing warm Christmas cheer.

None of them saw, save for one little chap,
A stripy young foal woken up from his nap.

The zebra foal yawned as he shook out his mane –
Were those bells he just heard?  Was he dreaming again?
And what was that thing he could see in the sky,
Pulled by small antlered horses (if horses could fly)?

He stood in the snow, gazing upwards in wonder,
His little legs shaking, heart drumming like thunder,
But the zebra foal smiled as he watched them descend
Because somehow he knew that the man was a friend.

With a jingle of sleigh bells they came into land,
“Whoah-ho!” cried the man with a wave of his hand,
Then the laden sleigh drew to a halt by the foal
And a warmth filled his head and his heart and his soul.

The gate in his paddock fence melted away
And he trotted across to the magical sleigh.

“Hello little friend,” said the old man in red,
“I thought you’d be tucked up all warm in your bed,
But now that you’re here you can help me, perhaps:
My lead reindeer’s poorly and ready to collapse,

With a cold in his nose and a cough in his chest
Poor Rudolph could do with a bit of a rest.
I wonder, my friend, could you lead us instead?”
The zebra foal nodded his black and white head.

Soon he was harnessed, all eager, all ready,
The man took the reigns and he held the sleigh steady
As up, up, up they soared into the night,
And the zebra’s heart sang as his body took flight.

They soared over paddocks and snowy white grass,
Over cages with icicles gleaming like glass,
The snow stung his face and the winter wind blew
But the foal barely noticed and battled on through.

Then swooping down low over each nest and bed
The man left a gift next to each dreaming head –
Wonderful presents for all birds and beasts,
From woolly trunk warmers to monkey nut feasts.

There were cosy new slippers for sleepy sloth claws
And brushes and toothpaste for crocodile jaws,
With knitted hump hats for the cold camel calf
And an extra wide scarf for the long necked giraffe.

Soon every last creature throughout the whole zoo
Had a special gift waiting, all shiny and new,
Then the proud little foal brought the sleigh into land
And the man stroked his mane with a warm, loving hand.

“Well done there, my brave zebra friend,” the man said,
Ruffling the fur on his black and white head,
“Poor Rudolph seems better for resting a while
And it’s all thanks to you,” he announced with a smile.

“But there’s still one last gift that we mustn’t forget
And I hope you’ll agree it’s the best present yet,”
Then he reached up his hands and he pulled from his head
His own velvet hat, all cosy and red.

“If ever you’re lonely, or teary, or scared
Remember tonight and the magic we shared.”
Then the man tucked his hat over each zebra ear
And the little foal’s heart filled with fresh festive cheer.

“Merry Christmas, my friend, and farewell!” the man said,
As he led the foal back to his warm waiting bed,
Then he re-harnessed Rudolph and took to the skies
And the young zebra foal shut his tired little eyes.



This One Goes Out to all the Lost Words

word count 2


Newsflash: Writers love words.

We love reading other people’s words and we love writing our own.  We love choosing them, playing with them, arranging them on the page, rearranging them on the page, agonising over their precise order, and then deleting them again.  We also love counting them. Words may give us our voice, our music, but often it’s adding them up at the end of every day / session / minute that allows us to measure our progress through the creative process:

Twitter 2        Twitter 1

Nothing beats the sense of smug satisfaction you get from setting out to write 500 words and ending up with 2,000.  True, they might not be the finest 2,000 words in the literary history of mankind, but who’s counting?  (Apart from you.)  On the flipside, spending an entire week squeezing out one measly sentence is probably going to leave you feeling a little deflated.  Even if they are the finest seventeen consecutive words ever to issue forth from a biscuit eater’s writer’s brain.   And what makes it even more frustrating is the fact that you had entire scenes churning round in your head before you sat down to write.  Entire chapters…

head and words Why, you could have penned an entire trilogy in the shower this morning, if there was a way to harness the brilliance bouncing round your brain while you lathered up your shampoo. But, as we all know, something happens to the words between your head and your hand.  Between the vivid film playing in your mind and the blank screen waiting on your desk.  The words disappear.  Trickle away to nothing.  Otherwise our word counts would be through the roof every day.

Twitter 3

But what if there was a gadget to count up all those unwritten words too?  The ones that never quite made it onto paper /screen?  Not a Fitbit, so much as a Writbit?  How much better would those biscuit-eating word-drought days seem then?  I might still be on Chapter One, paragraph one, sentence one, but I THOUGHT of loads of words today.  Exactly.  I spy a gap in the market for an enterprising young inventor… Anyone??  In fact, if you could invent one that automatically transferred those thought words onto the page for us (especially the brilliant ones that run for cover at the merest glimpse of a biro) that would be even better.  Thanks awfully.

Number of words in this post?  405

Number of custard creams eaten? 0



Putting the ‘No’ into ‘Notebook’


At the recent SCBWI conference David Almond treated us to a peek inside his crowded notebooks: every page a fabulous cacophony of ink; of bubbled notes and looping arrows; of doodled diagrams and scribblings out.  That, I thought, is what a proper writer’s notebook should look like.

Now, I can scribble, doodle and cross things out with the best of them. Oh yes.  And I’m a black belt in the art of arrow drawing.  But only in ratty old exercise books rescued from the back of a 1970s office stationery cupboard.  Or on a spare page from last year’s diary.  Or a bunch of old envelopes.  Show me the back of a Christmas card and I’m off, scribbling for Britain. But heaven forbid I mess up my lovely notebook collection with a scruffy bunch of still-fermenting ideas. Oh no.  I’m saving them

Which is why I must have been feeling unusually reckless when I packed my writing bag this morning.  When I threw caution to the bitter North wind and slipped in one of my favourite too-nice-to-actually-use A5 beauties…



These ones even have my name on them – if that’s not permission to scrawl I don’t know what is.


… It was all going so well. I settled into my train seat, pulled down the fold-out table, reached into my bag for my pencil and notebook… and instead pulled out a wodge of scrap paper (one side already printed on) that I’d brought along ‘just in case’. And then I got to work.  Sorry, notebook.  Maybe next time.