The month that was: January 2017 (And resolutions!)

What happened:
Happy New Year! We started 2017 by taking down the tree... and I'm *still* spotting stray pine needles around the house. I eased myself into January, before job hunting, job hunting, job hunting! Things are changing, but this means that, hopefully, in a few years, we might be able to swap renting a flat to owning our very own London shoebox. Unfortunately, for you, this means I have no idea when you'll get book six since I no longer have the luxury of having long chunks of free time.

When I *do* have a book that's in good shape, I won't be publishing it myself either: I'm going to be at the mercy of finding an agent/publishing contract. It's something I meant to do after publishing Kept and Geli Voyante's Hot or Not, but then I decided to continue the Arielle Lockley series and realised no one would want to take on the series mid-point. After completing that, now feels like the right time to get my future books into the hands of many readers as possible.

OK, that explained, January involved the aforementioned job hunting. I've had several interviews, but the jobs/companies haven't felt quite right, so I'm still searching for a permanent position. I am, however, freelancing for the next few months whilst I do this, so that's good for my bank balance!

Our new nephew made his way into the world this month - welcome Alfred George - plus we celebrated our niece's first birthday. We've booked a trip to Yorkshire to visit my family, and flights to Italy for my best friend's wedding in Lake Como. (Como pictured below when we visited one chilly March; can't wait to see it in summer!) All exciting things, right?

Finally, I went to see Aladdin on the West End: Trevor Dean Nicholas, who plays Genie, MADE THE SHOW. Friend Like Me was the BEST song - purely because of the nods to other Disney films - and although it wouldn't make my top ten musicals list, I did enjoy it. Speaking of Disney, I've been playing Disney Magic Kingdoms on my phone this month (addicted), plus Stardew Valley on the PS4.

What I ate:
I caught up with a friend at Pho - I eat there far too often, I know, but it's super cheap and super tasty (what I'm all about these days) - and enjoyed a pre-theatre dinner at Byron. The burgers were even sweeter as they'd sent me a BOGOF email. (Byron Burger Club FTW!) We also met friends for brunch at Blighty Coffee (typical breakfast fare), and I had a mid-week lunchtime burrito date with Olly at Chilango (nom).

New dishes recipe-wise, I made jerk chicken with rice and peas (awesome flavours to the chicken, wasn't so keen on the rice and peas), spiced chicken, spinach and sweet potato stew (nice enough), chicken jalfrezi (awesome) and jerk sweet potato and black bean curry (good for a veggie dish, though I'm still not convinced by jerk food). My food goal this year is, as always, to try out more new recipes - especially tasty and quick ones for weekday evening meals. Share if you have any!

What I watched:
TV-wise, I watched a BBC documentary on Walt Disney. I'm a massive Disney fan, so this was really interesting to find our a little more about the man behind the mouse. Boxset-wise, I blasted through Designated Survivor, a series on Netflix starring Kiefer Sutherland (was hard at first not to have the 24 beeps playing in my head!). It ended on a cliffhanger, and had some flaws, but I'll definitely watch the rest of it when it airs in March. I also watched The OA on Netflix, which was confusing and strange at first... then remained confusing. Definitely the oddest thing I've seen in a long time.

A film-based resolution I have this year is to try and tick off as many of the IMDB Top 50 movies as I can. (The list is actually 250 films long.) It's a good way to tick off some of those films that *everyone* raves about, though I have seen a fair few already. This month I ticked off Interstellar (33)(seen before), Whiplash (46) and La La Land (23). Other films watched: The Revenant, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Now You See Me 2, The Other Woman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Martian, The Girl with All the Gifts, Avatar and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

At the cinema I saw Assassin's Creed in 4DX. It didn't look like my cup of tea - it wasn't - but I was curious to see a film in 4DX. There was motion, bubbles, fog and fragrance, to name a few of the sensations. It's sort of like being on a ride at a theme park, but less intense! Not something I'd do for every film, but fun every once in a while. I also saw La La Land, which I'm not convinced will become a classic. Saying that though, a few days later City of Stars was *still* in my head... maybe it will! Finally, I saw Jackie - Natalie Portman was brilliant in it.

What I read:
In January I read 18 books and abandoned reading four books. No 5* reads for me this month, but I enjoyed Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, Blood Lines by Angela Marsons, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton, Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Goal-wise, unless a book is free on Kindle (Kept is still free by the way in all Amazon markets worldwide, as well as on Kobo) or I borrow it from the library, I'm not going to buy any books this year in an effort to clear my massive TBR pile! I may allow myself to use Kindle Unlimited when I'm on holiday, but that's it. (Apart from buying the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And some audiobooks on Audible for my commute. Oh, and the new Sarah J. Maas books!)

How was your month? Did you make any resolutions or set any goals for this year? x

Writer Wednesday: Sarah Vincent

Sarah was born and grew up in north London, and spent most of her childhood scribbling stories. A wayward teenager, she ran out on A Levels to become an au pair in Rome. Back in London she worked for a spell at the London Library, before having a family. For the next twenty years or she wrote a novel a year, most of which went in the famous drawer.

Writing under her real name Susan Davis, her Y/A trilogy ‘The Henry Game’ was published by Random House back in the noughties. 

Around that time she began working as an editorial adviser with Cornerstones Consultancy. She is now an editor with The Writers Workshop, having also devised and tutored their Creative Writing Course for three years.

Writing under the pseudonym Sarah Vincent, she published ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne’ with Three Hares Publishing in 2014. Last year also saw the publication of one of her short story collections, ‘The Gingerbread Wife.’

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I never thought of becoming a writer, I just sort of was one. I loved reading, so whenever I ran out of the weekly haul of library books, I wrote a story. Also, as an only child growing up in a tiny flat with no other kids around, the characters in my stories took the place of playmates.

I wrote my first little book aged seven. It was called Curious Connie and Fanny Fanakapan. I still have it on my shelf, lovingly bound with red knitting wool. After that I got the bug and couldn’t stop writing. When I hit adolescence I realised that hang on – if you want to write for readers and not just for yourself, you need to get published. This came as a crushing blow. It seemed to me that you had to be brilliant, well connected and grow up in a posh, bookish family.

The problem was, I didn’t want a ‘proper’ career. I only wanted to write. So I ditched my A Levels, ran off to Rome to be an au pair, and a year later I was back in London expecting my first child. As a young mum in my twenties I bashed out novels on my old Remington typewriter. Getting published at this point seemed an impossible dream. The manuscripts all went in the drawer and this continued into my thirties. I didn’t start sending out stories until my forties, and was greatly surprised when they won some prizes and were published in magazines. That was a turning point, and a real confidence boost.

2. What’s the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Deciding which of my ideas I should commit to. Often I’ll have two or three works in progress on the go. I’ll play around with one, get bored and go back to the other until I’m thoroughly confused. There’s a lot of fear and anxiety attached to a first draft. The novelist Anne Tyler put it so well when she talked about ‘marching her characters like foot soldiers through the plot.’ You can only pray that at some point the magic will happen and they’ll all spring to life. I used to love first drafts, that feeling of being totally absorbed and carried away by your characters. Nowadays I prefer the editing process. 

3. What’s the most enjoyable part of writing?
When something happens you weren’t expecting and you just run with it. Then you read it back and wonder where the heck it came from. The fun bit for me is reading aloud those final drafts. I love doing the voices, although it’s best to make sure you’re alone in the house.

4. Which book do you wish you had written and why?
Can I be greedy and have two? I was going to say Sarah Water’s wonderfully eerie ‘The Little Stranger.’ However, I’m opting for a more recent read, which I stumbled upon last year: The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood. I’ve chosen it because the actual process of writing this book must have been sheer joy! There is a strong sense of place, and Alison creates a spell-binding atmosphere which made me feel I was right there in this sinister village where summer never ends. There is no faking such magic. I don’t know Alison, but suspect that the story and characters just took hold of her and the outside world disappeared. She was in the zone. There’s nothing quite like that feeling for a writer. That’s all about the art of writing, not the industry.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
I’d save Annie in my short story ‘The Centipede’ from my collection, ‘The Gingerbread Wife.’ I can’t tell you what happens to her but it isn’t pretty! A lot of the characters in my short fiction come to a sticky end one way or another. 

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character who would you spend it with and why? 
I’d spend it with Mrs. Palfrey from the impeccable Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.’ Mrs. Palfrey is a heartbreakingly lonely character. Virtually estranged from her only daughter, she spends her final years in a hotel, where the other elderly residents bitch and boast about their families. When she takes a fall in the street one day, the young man who comes to her aid becomes a friend. Mrs. P, to save her growing humiliation introduces him as her grandson.

Despite her frailty Mrs. P is spirited, funny and has a kind heart so she’d make a great companion. I’d take her out to buy a pretty new scarf she could show off to the residents. We’d go back to her hotel, where I’d pretend to be her ever-loving niece and make a huge fuss of her in front of everyone.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I’m working on another psychological thriller – working title is ‘The Good Listener’.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
To look after my back, and not sit scribbling for hours until my joints froze! After decades of sitting hunched at a computer I now have to write standing up. I’d warn new writers to remember they also have a body, not just a brain. Be aware of your posture, take long walks, and do frequent back stretches. Pilates is good.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
I’m not one of those people who staggers straight from bed to the computer. A bit of mundane activity, housework, walking the dog and so on is good for waking the brain up and planning. I tend to smile when I hear writers say they never do housework. Fine if you have an army of staff to take care of the motley. At some point you have to roll up your sleeves and scrub the loo! The mid-morning coffee break is an essential part of my routine though. Two cups, probably a bit of my homemade cake, then guilt will drive me to my desk where I’ll probably answer emails, check Twitter etc, before getting stuck in.

I’m also a Book Doctor for the Writers Workshop. If I’m working on a report for a client, I’m a lot more disciplined and stick to more usual office hours. I never work in the evenings, unless you count reading work.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just finished Eileen by Ottessa Mottfegh. It’s not a comfortable read, but I romped through it in just three sittings. It’s a brilliant warts n’all character study of a damaged young woman drawn into a strange friendship which will affect the rest of her life.


A lonely novelist
A devoted fan
A journal that speaks of unspeakable things

 Author Vida Tremayne lies silent in a hospital bed. The forces which brought about her terrifying decline are shrouded in mystery. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Dory is forced to abandon her fast paced city life to be by her mother’s bedside. Dory is resentful. She hates the country and she and her mother were never exactly close. Luckily Vida already has a carer, the enigmatic Rhiannon Townsend. A long- standing fan of Vida’s, Rhiannon is happy to take care of the bedside vigil. Dory is free to resume her life. Or is she? Then she discovers her mother’s journal. Vida’s chilling testament reveals the trigger for her spiralling into madness. It also reveals the danger that still lurks close by. A danger that will call on Dory’s every reserve of courage if she’s to free her mother, and maybe in doing so, to free herself.

Follow Sarah on Twitter | Buy The Testament of Vida Tremayne on Amazon |
Visit her website

Writer Wednesday: Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson is an ex-soldier and cop from the UK. He is the author of the 2016 John Creasey CWA Dagger listed novel Wicked Game which was listed by Amazon UK as the highest-rated rising star novel of 2016 and topped the best seller lists for both the Kindle and Kobo e-readers. Originally a self-published work, in 2015, the rights to Wicked Game were acquired by London based publishers Orenda Books.

Matt served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for twenty-five years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent's Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People's Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whilst undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism.

One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. He has used his detailed knowledge and memory to create what has been described by many readers as a fast paced, exciting and authentic tale of modern day policing. Matt Johnson is living proof that PTSD is a condition that can be controlled and overcome with the right help and support. He has been described by many fans as an inspiration to fellow sufferers.

A keen biker, Matt rides a '99 Harley Davidson Fatboy and is patron to the UK based 'Armed Forces Bikers' charity. He is also patron to a newly-formed charity, 'Shoeboxes for our Heroes'. In his spare time Matt keeps honey bees and produces his own honey. He scuba dives, collects unusual hats and enjoys hill-walking with his three dogs at his home in Wales near the Brecon Beacons.

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I describe myself as an accidental writer in that I came into this new world quite by chance. I started writing as part of a programme of treatment for PTSD and only discovered an ability when my counsellor commented on how much she enjoyed reading the material I had produced. Once I had made the decision to write, I was then on a mission. I wanted to use fiction to attempt to explain to people exactly how PTSD affects people, their families and friends. I realised that a non-fiction book would end up gathering dust on a shelf but fiction has the power to inform through entertainment. The incredible way my debut novel Wicked Game has been received has, to my mind, endorsed that decision.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?

The editing re-write. Going back to the story, changing and developing. That said, the hard work is always worthwhile and editors are very professional and don't suggest changes without justification. And, I have to admit, the results are worth the effort.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
I love writing, but I particularly enjoy having written. After that, getting out and meeting readers is very rewarding. There's no better motivation to facing having to shut yourself away again and get going with the next one.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Well, that's a tough one. I don't read a large number of books and I tend to prefer non-fiction. That said, there are some that have had a lasting effect on me. I loved Seb Faulks - Birdsong, but if there were one book I would always remember it would be Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist, just brilliant.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
My main protagonist, Robert Finlay, is a former army officer, now in the Met Police. His sidekick, Kevin Jones is a rough diamond, a tough Welshman who, I suspect, is going to find himself in deep trouble sooner or later. I like Kevin, and so do readers, so I think that whatever calamity he faces, he will need to overcome it.

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?

I don't really have a favourite fictional character but one thing I might like to do is to take Jack Reacher out onto the Welsh hills and show him that there is more to life than getting into life-threatening scrapes!

7. What can we expect next from you?
The sequel to my debut will be published by Orenda Books in e-book format at the end of January 2017 and will hit the bookshop shelves in March. It's called Deadly Game and is about slave trafficking and the sex trade.

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
To someone starting out I would say 'do your research'. Not just with regards to your writing, but on the ways to securing that elusive publishing deal. There are many more routes to achieving success nowadays than there were a few years ago,

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
First things first, a brew. I always start my day with tea. Then, out onto the hills with the dogs. I have three and we tend to walk a lot. I take a dictafone with me to record ideas and thoughts and, if I'm stuck then I always walk to clear my thoughts. It's amazing what comes to you when you relax. I start at my desk at about 10am, do emails, social-media etc and then try to write about 1000 words per working day. I don't work at weekends but, if I have things to do in the day - yes, including the washing - I may write into the evening. Some days I do no work at all, others I have been known to write 5000 words and work late into the night following an exciting thread. I like the variety but have come to realise that this is no life if you lack self-discipline.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I recently went to a funeral of a mate who had written a book about his time in the army. His name is Pete Scholey and the book is called The Joker. I'd never read Pete's book and, at the moment, I'm putting that omission right. It's a damn good read, I wish I'd had the chance to tell him that before it was too late.

Reeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed. Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered, Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK. On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all...

Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy... and a shocking fate. 

Follow Matt on Twitter | Buy Deadly Game on Amazon |
Like him on Facebook | Visit his website

Writer Wednesday: Toni Jenkins

Toni Jenkins was born in New Zealand in 1970. After graduating with a BA Honours degree in Education, she bought a one-way ticket to the UK and so began her love affair with the northern hemisphere. She has been writing all her life, beginning with poetry, short stories and quotes and later moving into novels. Toni wrote her first novel in her early thirties, with her second being penned in an Italian village during her ‘mature gap year’. The Sender is her third and the first to be published. She is currently working on two further novels – The Gift is at editing stage and Benevolence is under development.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
It’s been part of my life since I was in single figures. I’ve always written – poetry, short stories and quotes. I love playing around with language. In my dreams I’m a novelist producing a book every other year. When I turned 30 I decided it was time to see if I could actually write a novel. That first book took me 3 years to write and will never see the light of day but it was a great training ground. The second and third books were written over a matter of months. I am as much in love with the writing process as with the finished product. There’s nothing better than immersing yourself in a world of your own making for hours at a time and making sure the good guy wins!

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Finding the time to write when working full-time and marketing my published novel. There are only so many hours in the day and being creative requires the right frame of mind, good energy levels and total focus. I sometimes find it hard to squeeze it all in but I usually devote my Sundays to writing where I can. A lot of my annual leave is devoted to writing the next book.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Total immersion in an imaginary world. It sounds like I write fantasy – I don’t. I mean that writing fiction allows you to create new characters and situations with outcomes that you can control (if the characters don’t do it for you!). There is something really magical about the whole writing process. Sometimes a character will appear out of nowhere and become critical to the story. Their presence isn’t planned but they jump out onto the page and inhabit it. It’s as if your subconscious mind has forced them into the story because your conscious mind hasn’t got there yet. I find that fascinating. Steven, a crucial character in The Sender, just appeared on my laptop screen and he is such an important element in the story. I adore him and the book wouldn’t be the same without him.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. That book came to me at just the right time in my life and it had an empowering effect on the decisions I made shortly after reading it. Plus, look at how that book propelled her to the huge success she now has as a writer! I love the impetus behind it – taking control of your life and turning negatives into positives. Her writing always inspires me and also makes me laugh out loud. 

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?  
Patti Jarvis from my novel, The Sender. I have a real soft spot for her. Life has dealt her a hard blow but she is such a determined person and forging ahead despite her heartache. She lost her brother in tragic circumstances and her parents coped by turning to their own vices, neglecting her in the process. Things are definitely looking up when we leave her in The Sender but I’m contemplating a sequel so I can find out what happens to her! 

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Elly from When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman. This book remains as one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read. Elly is one of those people who has bad things happen to her despite the fact she’s a good person. Of course, this is what happens in the real world but I’d like to become Elly’s friend and let her know that she’s loved, as is her quirkiness. Her unusual view of the world is endearing.

7. What can we expect next from you?
I’m currently wearing two hats for my upcoming novels - an editing hat for The Gift and a research hat for Benevolence. The Gift was written in 2009 and needs a fairly extensive re-write. It’s a story about the revelation of a long-held secret that creates a major fallout for two families on opposite sides of the world. It’s about how the only person we ever truly know is ourselves. Benevolence is about the gift of life and has a unique concept that I need to craft very carefully to convince the reader to believe in it. There’s a lot of research to do before writing this one!

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself as a writer. It’s very easy to look around and feel like plankton in the writing pool. But every writer starts at the bottom rung of the ladder and has a unique voice with a right to be heard. Confidence can be hard to capture, let alone sustain, but making friends with other writers is essential for support, feedback and encouragement. And always, always call yourself a writer as soon as you’ve written. In moments of doubt, telling yourself you’re a writer is hugely inspiring.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
I treat it like a day in the office. My alarm goes early, I get a good breakfast under my belt, and the entire day is spent drinking copious amounts of green tea. I’m at my desk for around 8 hours with my resources spread out around me. Unfortunately, I need silence to write (I wish I was one of those writers who could do it in a busy cafĂ© but I’m not) so if I need to use earplugs, I do. I have an hour for lunch, sitting outside if possible (I don’t want to get rickets!). Then it’s back to it. There’s nothing better than feeling mentally exhausted after a day writing your novel. I usually write between 5000-8000 words over 8 hours which, of course, needs editing later. 

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I’ve just started A Fine House in Trinity by Lesley Kelly. It’s very early on in the book but she has a unique voice and the black humour is hilarious. I have no idea what’s going to happen but I’m excited to find out. I’ve also just finished the most beautiful memoir from Rosalind Gibb called Show Me Colour which is a touching account of the loss of a loved one. Somehow she has managed to write in a way that is both heart wrenching and uplifting. I’m continually grateful for the enormous amount of incredible books we as readers have at our fingertips.


The Sender follows the journey of a mysterious and inspiring unsigned card, linking the lives of four women from different backgrounds and cities who are all facing unique adversities. The card instructs each woman to hold it in their possession for six months before choosing another woman in need of its empowering quality to send it to, and invites them all to meet in Edinburgh two years from the date of its inception. The card seems to hold an extraordinary quality that helps the women face their challenges head-on, though none of them can imagine who the anonymous sender is or why they were the chosen ones.

Follow Toni on Twitter | Buy The Sender on Amazon |
Like her on Facebook | Visit her website

Writer Wednesday: Clare Harvey

Clare Harvey spent a childhood in Mauritius, Surrey and Devon. She studied Law at the University of Leicester, and has had an itinerant adulthood, travelling throughout sub-saharan Africa and working as a freelance journalist and English tutor in Nepal, Germany and Northern Ireland, as well as various parts of England. She has three children and has now settled with her family in Nottingham.

Her second book, The English Agent, follows the intertwining stories of Yvette, a secret operations executive (SOE) agent in wartime Paris, and her London-based handler, Vera. It's a book about loyalty, love and danger, set at the height of World War Two, and is out now in hardback.

Her debut novel The Gunner Girl (winner of the 2016 Joan Hessayon Award) was inspired by her mother-in-law, who saw action as a teenage soldier on the anti-aircraft units in London in WW2. Clare began writing The Gunner Girl as a welcome distraction from worrying about her husband, who was away on a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan with the British Army at the time.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
Like all writers I loved reading as a child, but I didn't realised I could become a writer until well into adulthood, because I didn't know any writers, and it seemed to be the sort of glamorous out-of-reach thing that only other people did, a bit like being a TV presenter or an explorer. Then, in my twenties, I briefly worked as a nanny for a 'real' writer - her name is Betsy Tobin, and as well as being an author she now also runs a wonderful bookshop in London called ink@84 - and I think that seeded the thought that it was something I could do, too, although I didn't start writing seriously until I was a mother myself.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
There is always the challenge of walking that tightrope between wild over confidence and crippling self-doubt! I also find it tricky moving from the synopsis into the meat of the story. You know, you have what you think is a wonderful idea, but it's all a bit big-hands-small-map at the outset, and seems to take an awful lot of head-scratching, staring into the middle distance, and writing things in different coloured pen on scrap paper, until you can get to the point where you have a well-structured plot.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
I love, love, love it all, from wondering round in a daydream scouting locations, scouring the internet for random facts, reading out-of-print memoirs and biographies, and waking up early in the morning to get a scene written before the school run too the last minute late-night-caffeine-fueled rush to get it all ready for the deadline.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
I think it has to be To Kill A Mockingbird. It was the first grown-up book I read. Older children identify with the point-of-view, teenagers with the message. And as adults, shouldn't we all aspire to be Atticus Finch? What writer wouldn't want to create something as evocative, provocative and inspirational as that?

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
I would have to save Bea, from The Gunner Girl, my debut novel. I can't tell you what happens to her, as it would be a spoiler if you haven't read it. However, I have had so many comments from readers along the lines of 'Nooo! Why Bea? How could you let that happen to her?' that it would be nice to save her, if only to stop people getting upset with me!

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?
I'd like to hang out with Lizzie Bennet (Pride & Prejudice), perhaps on the set of This Morning on a Friday. I imagine she'd be partial to a gin & tonic in the green room, and proffer the odd wry comment on current celebs, whilst we were being thoroughly glammed up by the hair and make up people. Once we were on air with Eamon & Ruth, she'd big up my writing and my current book - thanks Lizzie, what a mate - and make us all laugh a right old lot. Afterwards we'd have a jolly nice lunch at somewhere like The Lady Ottoline in Bloomsbury, have a mooch in Persephone Books and then perhaps head on to the National Portrait Gallery. We might go shopping, but more likely hit the pub. Mr Darcy would turn up in a vintage F-type jag to whisk us home at the end of the night.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
My second book, The English Agent, is just about to be published in paperback and will be available in supermarkets, WH Smith and Waterstones, and you can pre-order it on Amazon. It's a spin-off from The Gunner Girl, taking one of the characters from my debut novel into a suspensful storyline in wartime Paris. 

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
If you want to be a writer, you should make writing a daily habit. I'm sure most people brush their teeth and read a few pages of a book before they go to sleep at night. Add writing to that discipline. To paraphrase Picasso, the muse only strikes when you're working, so make sure you keep writing - and the stories will find you.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I set my alarm for 6am, and aim to start writing by 6.15 on a scene which I will have prepped the night before. I write in bed for about 45 minutes and then try to remember to do a ten-minute mindfulness exercise from an app on my phone (this doesn't always happen, because I might be so engrossed in my scene that I don't leave myself enough time). I get up at 7.15ish, do the school run, walk the dog and aim to be back at work by 9.30ish (although it's often a bit later), with a cup of real coffee and a plan. I will write until mid-afternoon (with a short break for a power nap because I usually hit a wall at about 1pm, but I know if I have a 15-20 minute kip and another coffee, then I'll be good to go again) when I break to take the dog for a run, do the school run, make tea, do random chores, take people to clubs, etc. In the evening at around 9.30ish I'll go to bed and write another scene, as well as prepping one to write first thing in the morning. I'll read a short story before going to sleep at about 11.30pm.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading Dimanche and other stories, by Irene Nevirmosky (who wrote Suite Francaise) - I find it easier to read short stories when I'm in the middle of the writing process, as I am just now.


How far will two women go to survive a war? 

Having suffered a traumatic experience in the Blitz, Edie feels utterly disillusioned with life in wartime London. The chance to work with the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) helping the resistance in Paris offers a fresh start. Codenamed ‘Yvette’, she’s parachuted into France and met by the two other members of her SOE cell. Who can she trust?

Back in London, Vera desperately needs to be made a UK citizen to erase the secrets of her past. Working at the foreign office in charge of agents presents an opportunity for blackmail. But when she loses contact with one agent in the field, codenamed Yvette, her loyalties are torn.

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The month that was: December 2016

What happened:
Another quiet month for me, though the highlight was, naturally, putting up our Christmas tree! We got a gorgeous real 8ft beauty, which we adorned with lights, baubles and tinsel. The Jack Skellington bauble we bought in Magic Kingdom kept an eye on things from the top of the tree. Now, if only it was acceptable to have a tree in your house every month of the year!

Realising I'd not seen much of the Christmas decorations in London, we went for a stroll taking in the Coca Cola truck, Christmas market at the Southbank, the tree at Trafalgar Square, the Christmas market at Leicester Square, and the decorations at Covent Garden. Amazingly, it wasn't too busy either, though we did pass on queuing up to visit the new LEGO store in Leicester Square.

I'm glad we did that though and I had some festive cheer because when Christmas Day rolled round, I woke up in the early hours with the winter vomiting bug... Merry Christmas! Present-wise, Olly bought me an awesome snuggly dressing gown from John Lewis and tickets to see Aladdin on the West End, plus I got a few other bits. As for New Year's Eve, we spent ours at home this year, eating yummy food and drinking bubbles.

What I ate:
Eating out, I had a curry at Alishan in Tonbridge, tried PizzaStorm in Wandsworth, and ate a cheeky Nando's. However, because I was so ill, there was no Christmas dinner for me this year. Boo!

What I watched:
TV-wise, we blitzed Westworld, which I really enjoyed, and I also loved watching the screening of Disney's Broadway Hits at the Royal Albert Hall. At the cinema I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I felt it wasn't as good as Episode VII, and it was too battle-y for my taste, but I do need to watch it again - midnight showings are not for me! I also watched Passengers, which I thought was too long, but overall enjoyable.

Other films watched: The Finest Hours, Home Alone, Finding Dory, Nerve, Home Alone 2, The Night Before, The Holiday, Love Actually, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, Zoolander 2, Jingle All the Way, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Santa Claus: The Movie, The Princess Diaries, Nativity, The Secret Life of Pets, Liar Liar, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, How to be Single, Men in Black II and Bad Moms.

What I read:
In December I read 26 books and abandoned reading 2 books. There were no 5* books for me this month, but I did share my top 5* reads of the year.

Hope you had a lovely December, and that 2017 treats you well! x

Books read in 2016

In 2016 I read 209 books, abandoned reading 30 books, and listened to one audiobook. You can find out how I rated them over on Goodreads. x
  1. The Cherry Tree Cafe - Heidi Swain [B]
  2. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey [B]
  3. Winter Wishes - Ruth Saberton [B]
  4. The Invisible Library - Genevieve Cogman [B]
  5. Never Tell - Claire Seeber [B]
  6. The Secret Diary of a Princess - Melanie Clegg [B]
  7. Wonders of the Solar System - Brian Cox [B]
  8. The Masked City - Genevieve Cogman [B]
  9. Known - Kendra Elliot [B]
  10. Our Story - Reginald and Ronald Kray [B]
  11. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield [B]
  12. Kill Your Friends - John Niven [B]
  13. The Lake House - Kate Morton [B]
  14. The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz [B]
  15. The Girl in the Ice - Robert Bryndza [B]
  16. Eye of the Needle - Ken Follett [B]
  17. Fingersmith - Sarah Waters [B]
  18. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith [B]
  19. Where Rainbows End - Cecelia Ahern [B]
  20. Smart Girl - Rachel Hollis [B]
  21. The Ersatz Elevator - Lemony Snicket [B]
  22. Heartburn - Nora Ephron [B]
  23. The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey [B]
  24. Room - Emma Donoghue [B]
  25. The Cassandra Sanction - Scott Mariani [B]
  26. Blood Defence - Marcia Clark [B]
  27. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling [R]
  28. The Missing - C.L. Taylor [B]
  29. Shopaholic to the Stars - Sophie Kinsella [B]
  30. White Lies - Emily Harper [B]
  31. The Queen's Poisoner - Jeff Wheeler [B]
  32. The Infinite Sea - Rick Yancey [B]
  33. Shopaholic to the Rescue - Sophie Kinsella [B]
  34. The Lying Game - Sara Shepard [R]
  35. Never Have I Ever - Sara Shepard [R]
  36. Two Truths and a Lie - Sara Shepard [R]
  37. Hide and Seek - Sara Shepard [R]
  38. Cross My Heart, Hope to Die - Sara Shepard [B]
  39. Seven Minutes in Heaven - Sara Shepard [B]
  40. While My Eyes Were Closed - Linda Green [B]
  41. Legend - Marie Lu [R]
  42. Prodigy - Marie Lu [R]
  43. Champion - Marie Lu [B]
  44. The Plantagenets - Dan Jones [B]
  45. Knight & Play - Kitty French [B]
  46. The Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart - Anna Bell [B]
  47. The Run of His Life: The People versus O.J. Simpson - Jeffrey Toobin [B]
  48. Hidden - Shalini Boland [R]
  49. Thicker than Blood - Shalini Boland [R]
  50. Hunted - Shalini Boland [B]
  51. The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick [B]
  52. The Stranger - Harlan Coben [B]
  53. Only Ever Yours - Louise O'Neill [B]
  54. Wickham Hall - Cathy Bramley [B]
  55. Always the Bridesmaid - Lindsey Kelk [B]
  56. The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris - Jenny Colgan [B]
  57. Remember My Name - Abbey Clancey [B]
  58. All Wrapped Up - Holly Smale [B]
  59. The Night Manager - John le CarrĂ© [B]
  60. An Autumn Crush - Milly Johnson [B]
  61. The Jewel - Amy Ewing [B]
  62. The Marble Collector - Cecelia Ahern [B]
  63. The Churchill Factor - Boris Johnson [B][A]
  64. Saving Grace - Jane Green [B]
  65. The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion [B]
  66. Behind Closed Doors - Elizabeth Haynes [B]
  67. Caught - Harlan Coben [B]
  68. Noughts & Crosses - Malorie Blackman [R]
  69. Knife Edge - Malorie Blackman [R]
  70. Checkmate - Malorie Blackman [B]
  71. Summer at Shell Cottage - Lucy Diamond [B]
  72. The Ship - Antonia Honeywell [B]
  73. Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig [B]
  74. The Girl You Left Behind - JoJo Moyes [B]
  75. Play Dead - Angela Marsons [B]
  76. The Thief's Daughter - Jeff Wheeler [B]
  77. Luckiest Girl Alive - Jessica Knoll [B]
  78. Resistance is Futile - Jenny T. Colgan [B]
  79. Solomon Creed - Simon Toyne [B]
  80. Little Beach Street Bakery - Jenny Colgan [B]
  81. That Girl From Nowhere - Dorothy Koomson [B]
  82. We Are All Made of Stars - Rowan Coleman [B]
  83. Me Before You - JoJo Moyes [R]
  84. Targeted - Kendra Elliot [B]
  85. My Map of You - Isabelle Broom [B]
  86. Eeny Meeny - M.J. Arlidge [B]
  87. Pop Goes the Weasel - M.J. Arlidge [B]
  88. The Girls - Lisa Jewell [B]
  89. Always With Love - Giovanna Fletcher [B]
  90. Double Cross - Malorie Blackman [B]
  91. In the Unlikely Event - Judy Blume [B]
  92. The Doll's House - M.J. Arlidge [B]
  93. After You - JoJo Moyes [B]
  94. Liar Liar - M.J. Arlidge [B]
  95. Little Boy Blue - M.J. Arlidge [B]
  96. You and Me, Always - Jill Mansell [B]
  97. Just One Look - Harlan Coben [B]
  98. Exposure - Ava Marsh [B]
  99. Sunshine Over Wildflower Cottage - Milly Johnson [B]
  100. The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty [B]
  101. The Turning Point - Freya North [B]
  102. After the Last Dance - Sarra Manning [B]
  103. The Amber Shadows - Lucy Ribchester [B]
  104. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J.K. Rowling [B]
  105. The Plumberry School of Comfort Food - Cathy Bramley [B]
  106. Sleepless in Manhattan - Sarah Morgan [B]
  107. Letters from Lighthouse Cottage - Ali McNamara [B]
  108. The Little Shop of Happy Ever After - Jenny Colgan [B]
  109. Summer Nights at the Moonlight Hotel - Jane Costello [B]
  110. The Ice Twins - S.K. Tremayne [B]
  111. The Singles Games - Lauren Weisberger [B]
  112. Still Alice - Lisa Genova [B]
  113. The Marriage Mender - Linda Green [B]
  114. Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty [B]
  115. Summer Secrets - Jane Green [B]
  116. The Swimming Pool - Louise Candlish [B]
  117. The Last Anniversary - Liane Moriarty [B]
  118. Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey [B]
  119. The Little Flower Shop by the Sea - Ali McNamara [B]
  120. A Parcel for Anna Browne - Miranda Dickinson [B]
  121. A Life Without You - Katie Marsh [B]
  122. One Small Act of Kindness - Lucy Dillon [B]
  123. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling [R]
  124. I Found You - Lisa Jewell [B]
  125. Song of the Skylark - Erika James [B]
  126. Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas [R]
  127. Crown of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas [R]
  128. Heir of Fire - Sarah J. Maas [R]
  129. Queen of Shadows - Sarah J. Maas [R]
  130. Empire of Storms - Sarah J. Maas [B]
  131. The Night Stalker - Robert Bryndza [B]
  132. The Longest Holiday - Paige Toon [R]
  133. The King's Traitor - Jeff Wheeler [B]
  134. The Girl from the Sea - Shalini Boland [B]
  135. The Selection - Kiera Cass [B]
  136. The Elite - Kiera Cass [B]
  137. The One - Kiera Cass [B]
  138. The Heir - Kiera Cass [B]
  139. The Crown - Kiera Cass [B]
  140. Need - Joelle Charbonneau [B]
  141. Paper Princess - Erin Watt [B]
  142. Broken Prince - Erin Watt [B]
  143. Am I Normal Yet? - Holly Bourne [B]
  144. Prada and Prejudice - Katie Oliver [R]
  145. Love and Liability - Katie Oliver [B]
  146. Mansfield Lark - Katie Oliver [B]
  147. A Court of Thorns and Roses - Sarah J. Maas [B]
  148. A Court of Mist and Fury - Sarah J. Maas [B]
  149. All Fall Down - Tom Bale [B]
  150. Abducted - T.R. Ragan [B]
  151. A Jersey Affair - Georgina Troy [B]
  152. The Lost Child - Ann Troup [B]
  153. Brass in Pocket - Stephen Puleston [B]
  154. See How They Run - Tom Bale [B]
  155. Escape In You - Rachel Schurig [B]
  156. The Devil's Work - Mark Edwards [B]
  157. Stardust - Neil Gaiman [B]
  158. Mary Poppins in the Park - P.L. Travers [B]
  159. Coco Pinchard, The Consequences of Love and Sex - Robert Bryndza [B]
  160. The King's Grave - Phillipa Langley and Michael K. Jones [B]
  161. The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling [B]
  162. All About the Hype - Paige Toon [B]
  163. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet - Charlie N. Holmberg [B]
  164. Sunset in Central Park - Sarah Morgan [B]
  165. Twisted Palace - Erin Watt [B]
  166. Happily Ever After - Kiera Cass [B]
  167. Intrusion - Mary McCluskey [B]
  168. An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir [B]
  169. A Torch Against the Night - Sabaa Tahir [B]
  170. Cinder - Marissa Meyer [B]
  171. Scarlet - Marissa Meyer [B]
  172. The Chemist - Stephenie Meyer [B]
  173. The Joy Luck Club - Amy Tan [B]
  174. Miracle on 5th Avenue - Sarah Morgan [B]
  175. Behind Closed Doors - B.A. Paris [B]
  176. Missing You - Harlan Coben [B]
  177. Lord of the Flies - William Golding [R]
  178. Mistletoe on 34th Street - Lisa Dickenson [B]
  179. The Hanging Tree - Ben Aaronovitch [B]
  180. The Danish Girl - David Ebershoff [B]
  181. How to Find Love in a Bookshop - Veronica Henry [B]
  182. Searching for a Silver Lining - Miranda Dickinson [B]
  183. The Amateurs - Sara Shepard [B]
  184. Cress - Marissa Meyer [B]
  185. Winter - Marissa Meyer [B]
  186. The Secrets of Happiness - Lucy Diamond [B]
  187. Asking For It - Louise O'Neill [B]
  188. The Boy is Back - Meg Cabot [B]
  189. A Street Cat Named Bob - James Bowen [B]
  190. Morning Star - Pierce Brown [B]
  191. The Reading Group: December - Della Parker [B]
  192. Three Men and a Maybe - Katey Lovell [B]
  193. The Best Friend - Shalini Boland [B]
  194. Picnics in Hyde Park - Nikki Moore [B]
  195. Hide and Seek - M.J. Arlidge [B]
  196. Fool Me Once - Harlan Coben [B]
  197. Turning Thirty - Mike Gayle [B]
  198. Christmas at the Dog and Duck - Jill Steeples [B]
  199. Comfort and Joy - Cathy Bramley [B]
  200. Coco Pinchard's Must-Have Toy Story - Robert Bryndza [B]
  201. A Yorkshire Christmas - Kate Hewitt [B]
  202. Star of Africa - Scott Mariani [B]
  203. The Devil's Kingdom - Scott Mariani [B]
  204. The Stranger In My Home - Adele Parks [B]
  205.  The Butterfly Garden - Dot Hutchison [B]
  206. Christmas at Copper Mountain - Jane Porter [B]
  207. The Sun in Her Eyes - Paige Toon [B]
  208. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens [R]
  209. Sand - Hugh Howey [B]

Did not finish:
  • In the Blood - Steve Robinson
  • Glamorama - Brett Easton Ellis
  • The Drowning of Arthur Braxton - Caroline Smailes
  • The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett
  • A Year of Marvellous Ways - Sarah Winman
  • The Stone Man - Luke Smitherd
  • The Teacher - Katerina Diamond
  • Oceanswept - Laura Hays
  • Sleep Peacefully - N.C. Marshall
  • Fragile Cord - Emma Salisbury
  • The Swan Lake - Lisa Tenzin-Dolma
  • Bite - Nick Louth
  • Deep Fried and Pickled - Paisley Ray
  • Brass in Pocket - Stephen Puleston
  • Planet Urth - Jennifer Martucci
  • The Green Hills of Home - Emma Bennet
  • And Then There Was You - Suzy Turner
  • Something in the Heir - Jenny Gardiner
  • Fate - Elizabeth Reyes
  • Six of One - Joann Spears
  • Croissants and Jam - Lynda Renham
  • Tender is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Grey - E.L. James
  • How to Get Hitched in Ten Days - Samantha Tonge
  • Every Dead Thing - John Connolly
  • True Calling - Siobhan Davis
  • How to Build a Girl - Caitlin Moran
  • Girl Number One - Jane Holland
  • The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
  • Falling For Christmas - Kate Hewitt


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