Dreams, dreams, dreams

Picture it: a boiling hot day on the taxi rank at Manchester Piccadilly train station.  A wailing woman (me) and a missed connection to Sheffield.

It’s not a typical dreams-come-true kind of situation, which just goes to show that dreams can start to come true in the most unlikely of places.

I’ve always written stories.  I started writing a novel when I finished my English degree and after working on it for a few years, reached the point where I knew I had to actually let someone *gasp* read it. I looked for a distance learning course and found Novel Writing with The London School of Journalism.  I enrolled and was assigned my tutor: Margaret James. Lightning bolt #1.

Margaret really helped me see my writing in a more professional way.  She was encouraging, expert and constructive.  When the course ended, she suggested that I join the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme (RNA NWS).  I tried to join the scheme, but it was full for that year.  I was still in touch with Margaret through email, and she suggested that I attend the RNA annual conference anyway, as a guest.  It was one of the most daunting and exciting days of my life.  Everyone was so friendly and I learnt so much that I left the conference absolutely determined to get a place on the NWS the following year.

My birthday arrived, and my husband bought me a MacBook Air.  I saw my fabulous new computer as a Carrie Bradshaw-esque sign that I should write something better than my first book, so I started another novel set in my hometown, Blackpool.  I applied Margaret’s advice, researched properly, thought carefully and challenged myself.  As soon as applications for the NWS opened at midnight on January 2nd, I emailed to ask for a place.  I got one.  I jumped up and down a bit in delight.  Lightning bolt #2.

When I booked onto the RNA annual conference again, this time as a member, I managed to arrange a ten minute slot with Charlotte Ledger from Harper Impulse, the new digital first imprint from HarperCollins.  I’d seen the HarperImpulse website and loved it.  I was nervous, but I couldn’t WAIT.


My appointment with Charlotte was at 11.10am in The Edge building of Sheffield University.  Although I do drive, my navigation skills are dire.  So I decided to catch the train, which involved one change at Manchester.  My first train arrived on time, and on I hopped, full of excitement about meeting Charlotte.  I read through the first chapter that I’d sent her in advance of our meeting, made some notes to use as prompts during our chat….and then the train juddered to the most frustrating stop I have ever encountered.

People sighed, the train’s engine was silent, the conductor hid away from us all.  I had minutes between this train and my connecting one to Sheffield.  I tried to search for other train times on my phone, but there was no signal (obviously, because I was now living a horror film where phone signal or any ray of hope vanishes).  Eventually, we started to move forward again, albeit at a speed so slow it actually hurt me.

So I got to Manchester, I’d missed my connection, the next train to Sheffield wasn’t for another hour and I was going to miss my slot with Charlotte.  She would see me as a blank non-attender, my dreams were shattered, and all the rest…unless!  I made a snap, momentous decision to ask how much a taxi from Manchester to Sheffield would be.

So this is where I began: a boiling hot day on the taxi rank at Manchester Piccadilly train station.  A wailing woman (me) and a missed connection to Sheffield.  The figure I was given by the first taxi driver on the rank made my eyes water.

‘I’ve got a very important appointment,’ I wailed, ‘but I can’t afford that!’  (I really couldn’t; I was about to move house and had spent millions on fees that very week).

The taxi driver refused to negotiate.  So I moved along to the next taxi.  I haggled him down to half his original price.  When I got to Sheffield (in plenty of time for my appointment), I realised I was £2 short.  I gave the driver his pathetic fee and gushed about how he was a lifesaver.  He grunted at me (furious), and sped off.  I tried to find The Edge.  I went the wrong way and then had to turn back on myself.  It was so hot I thought I was going to die.  I eventually found the building, went in, had a glass of water and waited for Charlotte.

After all that, I was early.


When she arrived, Charlotte was so incredibly lovely that I knew I would have been insane to miss my slot with her.  We talked about my chapter, Charlotte said she loved it and then she asked me to send her my whole novel.  She phoned me a few months later and said that HarperImpulse wanted to offer me a two book deal. Lightning bolt #3.

Morals of the story:

1. Never give up

2. Learn how to drive yourself to Sheffield


Secrets in the Shadows will be out on 20th March and you can read the first chapter in the FREE Loving New Year, Love Romance sampler below.


You can read more about the amazing RNA here: http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org


photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/purplespace/7057875333/”>purplespace</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;


Why I owe it all to some stamps

About 90 years ago, a woman went to the post office.

When she came out, she realised that she had forgotten something (stamps, the story has it).

She turned back and queued up again, presumably annoyed at her wasted time.  Another customer in the queue, a man, began talking to the woman.  He made her laugh.  He was attractive.  He ended up being her husband, and the father to her children.

Their daughter liked to dance.  When she was in her late teens, she was asked to stand in for a dancer who was ill, in a show in Blackpool.  She said yes, but the decision was so last minute, so unexpected, that she didn’t even pack her swimsuit.  In those days, you didn’t go to Blackpool without a swimsuit.  She had to borrow one to go in the sea.  While she was in the sea, a man on the beach noticed her bright auburn hair.

‘That’s dyed,’ he said to his friends.

‘Prove it,’ they said.

So he dunked her in the sea.

They got married a few years later.  They had a daughter.  Thirty years later, their daughter had me.

I think all the time about those forgotten stamps, and the dancer who was too ill to be in the show in Blackpool.  I wouldn’t exist without either of these tiny events.  My daughter wouldn’t exist either.


Everything we do causes ripples.  It fascinates me, and that’s why I love reading and writing novels with dual or multiple timelines.  There’s something magical about placing such fragile moments that sparked the beginning of something alongside the more recent events that they set in motion all those years ago.  Real life doesn’t let you see two different times together, but oh, imagine if it did!  I would love to go to the post office and bump into the 1920s woman who has forgotten her stamps.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jvk/508534252/”>jovike</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

To e or not to e?

I used to be the girl who started shaking her head sadly and tutting whenever somebody mentioned a Kindle.  

‘I love actual books!’ I would cry, feeling as though Kindles would wipe out entire libraries, bookshops and quite possibly real book lovers like me, all in one careless digital swipe.

But the digital swipe didn’t seem so bad when I was losing myself for hours on end in ‘look inside’ excerpts of novels on Amazon, and storing books I wanted to read in full on my wish list. Reading online, I realised slowly, wasn’t that bad.  So I stopped shaking my head when people mentioned Kindles, though I did secretly wonder: didn’t they miss holding real books?

Then came Harper Impulse.  I read about the new digital-first imprint from HarperCollins when it was launched last year.  My Kindlerphobia vanished, leaving in its warm little spot a spark of excitement at what the future of books might hold.  Meeting Charlotte Ledger, content editor at Harper Impulse, confirmed it: eBooks weren’t the enemies.  They were the new, exciting friends.   

Fast forward to Christmas 2013.  Santa had clearly been observing me carefully, and had noted throughout the year a distinct lack of head-shaking and tutting when Kindles were mentioned.  He had obviously decided that here was a girl who loved books but who, above all, loved reading and loved her new connections with Harper Impulse.


‘I’ll give it a try,’ I said on Christmas morning, hearing the old Hannah scream in terror at what might be lost.

Ah, but nothing was lost.  I’m reading more than ever.  I’m able to curl up with the lights off and read free samples from authors I’ve never heard of, then buy the whole book within seconds.  I’m able to find books I’ve wanted to read for years for 99p.  I have the on-screen equivalent of a by-the-bed pile of books that are waiting to be read next. 


And the best bit?  I have an actual, real pile of by-the-bed books that are waiting to be read too. Image

I don’t think I realised when everyone started talking about Kindles, that none of them ever said I had to choose between a Kindle and a printed book. So now I have both.  

I will always love holding a book: the smell, the charm, the whole experience of those pages that tell stories themselves: wrinkled if read in the bath, pristine if still in The Pile, greyed if second hand.  I’ll always love second hand bookshops and I’ll always buy, and hope for, books as gifts.

But now, I’ll always love my Kindle too.  Is that really so bad?

‘Yes,’ some girl says, shaking her head sadly and tutting.  

Give her Daily Deals, a few free samples and a hot pink cover, and she won’t tut for long.

Happy Coupe Year!

Last night, I had a perfect New Year’s Eve.  And this, of course, involved champagne.

Apparently, you’re not meant to drink champagne from a saucer (a coupe).  The large area exposed to air means that the drink goes flat quickly and the precious aromas are lost too easily.  What you’re left with is a flat, flavourless drink.  Apparently.

But for me, champagne is about so much more than the science of carbon dioxide.  It’s about elegance and decadence.  It’s about drinking what feels like pure gold.  And what better way than to drink gold than from a bowl that makes you feel as though you’re in 1920?  



There was something so special about clinking these glamorous glasses at midnight.  They added to the evening in a way that a slightly fizzier drink just couldn’t have done. And anyway, mine didn’t seem to go flat.  Perhaps I didn’t give it enough time?

Drinking champagne from a flute is clearly very wonderful too.  But next time you have champagne (tonight, perhaps?), opt for a coupe.  Try to drink it before it goes flat though, just to keep the experts happy.



My Favourite Places: Wigtown, Scotland

Since I’ve had my daughter, things have changed*.  I’m not the kind of person who fancies hopping on a plane with a small child who may or may not scream for the whole flight, or swapping a swanky hotel for an apartment with a microwave.  So instead, I’m loving holidays in Britain.  There’s no flight.  We can take everything we might need to make our lives easy whilst we’re away (I’m not just talking Peppa Pig dvds, but bottles of Prosecco; not just a potty but a case full of makeup).

Last spring, after a solid few months of online searching, we discovered an amazing log cabin in the Peak District.  It had a hot tub, a play area and a bbq: everyone was happy.  We all came home refreshed and giddy.  So despite the lack of pool, beach and duty free, it appeared that we’d had a proper holiday in (deep breath) Britain.

Another place we’ve visited when taking part in this strange new breed of holiday is Dumfries in Scotland.  The short car journey from home is broken up by a choice of places in the Lake District which offer soft play areas, good coffee and gorgeous little shops.  Once we’ve arrived at the farmhouse we always rent, we are a few hours’ drive from Edinburgh and about forty minutes from Wigtown.

Wigtown, Scotland’s national booktown, is filled with secondhand bookshops.  Drive through too quickly and you could miss it: it’s small but full of treasures.  The first time I went, the town was hosting a book festival and I picked up a signed copy of The Distance Between Us by Maggie O’Farrell (one of my favourite authors) and some handmade chocolates to eat that night in front of our real log fire.

I was smitten.

There are apparently over 20 book-related businesses in Wigtown.  Most of them make you feel like you’re in another world.  Step into The Bookshop and you will never want to leave. It’s Scotland’s largest second hand bookshop with over a mile of shelves.

Down the street, there’s a park.  Across the road, there’s a cafe which serves coffee and cake.  Again, everyone’s happy.

Realising that lying on a lounger for a week is a thing of the past is hard. But breaks in Scotland and visits to Wigtown make holidays of the past easier to leave behind.  I know how quickly life flies by.  I know that faster than I can say ‘TripAdvisor’, I won’t have a child who might cry on a flight, but a teenage girl who wants to lie on a lounger reading magazines for a week.  I probably won’t want to lie on a lounger by then though; I’ll want to browse in second hand bookshops and go to soft play areas and drink good coffee.

But that will all be a thing of the past. And I won’t even have been able to pack Prosecco (or Peppa – she’ll be a distant memory) to soften the blow.

*but don’t tell those people who told me when I was pregnant that my life would change.  I’d hate for them to know they were right.

‘Tis the season to be reading…

My sister bought me a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadatte, by Maria Semple for my birthday because she had enjoyed it so much.  She’d read it in the summer, lying on a lounger and covered in factor 50 (we’re a pale family).  I am reading it as the nights draw in, as October is making way for a dark, damp November.  I’m loving it.  It’s easy to dip into because the characters are so much like real people, it’s impossible to lose track of who they are and what they want.

So it seems that this is a book that can be enjoyed in summer or winter, which brings me onto my thought for this week: my winter reading.  Every winter, I have a pile of books that beg for some kind of fleece pyjama, a cup of tea, a lit fire and a blanket.  Once I have finished Bernadette, it will be November and I will have to think very carefully about my choice of books for the months ahead.  A book can make or break the Christmas period, just as it can a beach holiday.

Here are some my favourite winter reads so far:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (in fact, anything Bronte is uber cosy)

December by Elizabeth H Winthrop

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

The Christmas Books by Charles Dickens (obvs)

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

The Gift by Cecelia Ahern

Do you prefer a certain kind of book in winter?