This Is Your (Writing) Life

Clarice Lipspector

Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector circa 1950

I don’t know about you, but I always imagined the life of a writer to involve smoking Gauloises, drinking wine, and looking like the cone-breasted, immaculately-coiffed Clarice Lispector above. Oh, and churning out a few thousand words before breakfast.

While I still hold dearly to the vision of this existence, alas, my reality is far it. (Apart from the wine, of course – the contents of my recycling bin would make Bukowski blush.)

Most of my literary life is spent thus:

a) Thinking about writing

b) Looking for opportunities to sustain my writing

c) Thinking some more about writing

d) Checking terms and conditions on grant forms

e) Submitting grant forms

f) Waiting for a reply to grant form

g) Checking outbox to see if grant form has definitely sent

h) Tapping some words into a document

i) Deleting the words immediately

j) Idly watching pigeons

k) Reading a book I wish I’d written

l) Screaming into a dark hole of existential despair.

Occasionally, something from within the dark hole responds.

This time, the response came so long after I’d submitted the grant form I had forgotten I’d submitted it in the first place. But it was worth the wait.

It was a cheque from The Society of Authors to develop a piece of research I have been working on for Durham Book Festival. With it, notification that I had been elected to Membership of their hallowed institution (plus a cool widget for my website – yay!)

All this to say that writing is hard work – and that’s if you even make it to putting pen to paper. But don’t give up. I’m just off to buy my conical bra…

Durham Book Festival 2018


Photo credit: Keith Pattison


I am delighted to be on Durham Book Festival’s commission bill this year, with my project, The World Above. My research centres on the lives of four women, across three generations, living in a colliery village in East Durham, spanning 100 years.

The event on October 7th will be staged in the magnificent Pitman’s Parliament at Durham Miners’ Association.  It will feature a stunning projection installation designed by Newcastle-based production company Novak, a soundscape of women’s voices, and a reading from my creative piece, followed by a panel debate on the future of female activism in the North East of England.

Click here for more information and to book tickets for this very special event.

Northern Writers’ Award 2018 – Winner!


Fiction winners

Northern Writers’ Awards   Fiction winners 2018

I am so pleased to have been awarded a Northern Writers’ Award 2018 for my novel-in-progress The Song of Annie Chapman. Over 1400 writers applied for the Awards; my novel was one of three fiction titles to have been selected by judges Jonathan Ruppin and Kerry Hudson.

Ruppin describes the book as ‘a hugely immersive piece of writing that really captures the emotional rollercoaster of teenage life, with a claustrophobic and antagonistic friendship at its heart. It confronts the feelings of shame and exclusion forced upon children who grow up in poverty and the yearning to escape that this brings.’

I will now be developing the book with an editor and spending some time away to focus on the redraft, as well as taking advantage of ongoing guidance, networking and advice offered through New Writing North.

For full details of winners and more information, please click here:

Ryedale Book Festival


Books and the people who write them.

I will be appearing at Ryedale Book Festival in Malton, North Yorkshire, on October 8th 2016.

I’ll be reading from Life After You and chatting to the lovely Emma Cansick about books, bereavement and other things which don’t necessarily start with ‘B’.

There are loads of other cool people appearing too. Come, why don’t you? It’ll be right gradely!

All you need to know is here.



Widowed & young. More fun than it sounds.

Last weekend, I was honoured to be invited to speak at the AGM of WAY Widowed and Young – a wonderful charity that supports anyone under the age of 50 who has lost a spouse or partner.*

(Here I am below, attempting to look intellectual.)

*more fun than it sounds. No, really.

reading from LAY

Reading from LAY at WAY

It’s not the first time I’ve done a public reading from the book, but arguably, if I was going to be slain by a crowd, it was this one: 100 widdas and widdawers, all of whom had been through their own personal versions of spouse-loss hell, all of whom were in the unique (and entirely unenviable position) of having a real insight into the issues raised in my book. The passage I read was about disposal of ashes, coffin choices and thrifty funeral directors named Dennis. I worried that they might not see the funny side.

(Fortunately, they did. In fact, for a bunch of bereaveds, we spent an indecent amount of time belly-laughing.)

Coffins, ashes and Dennis’ economic advice aside, the central message of my talk at the AGM was about the act of writing itself. I had been asked to consider how writing helped me after losing Mark.

Thoughts turned from my beloved husband to my beloved computer keyboard – the keyboard into which I had pounded grief, rage, loneliness  -the keyboard who, like every good friend, had responded by listening and offering me space and a conduit for reflection.

I concluded how I felt about writing and grief with the following:

Writing helped me to examine my grief, to express it in a way that I couldn’t manage with the spoken word.

Writing allowed friends and family to see how I was doing, without them having to bring out the platitudes.

Writing the blog turned into writing the book, which turned into a sort of therapy all of its own.

Writing saved me in ways that guides to grieving never could. I highly recommend it.

Fellow WAY member and BACP-registered counsellor Nicki Walker and I are now running Writing Grief, an expressive writing course for those dealing with loss. It is fully-funded through the generous support of Tyneside Mind and the Linden Family Trust. Visit us here for further information.



On raw grief, writing and one-word reviews


A one-word review: “Disappointing.”

My biggest revelation on entering the world of published authorhood was that  people actually read my book. Some even took the time to comment on it. I’d spent months sweating raw grief into my keyboard; it didn’t occur to me that someone I’d never met might have an opinion on it once it hit the bookshelves.

When I read the first review, a lovely one in the Sunday Mirror, my instinct was to go foetal beneath my duvet with my fingers in my ears going ‘la-la-la’!

But more reviews came, and  still they come now. Most good, some plain ugly. (Including the Spinal-Tap-inspired one word review which haunted my dreams for weeks: “Disappointing.” The word took me straight back to that wretched hour I spent in the brown-walled office of Mr Wallace, where he used that word to describe my conduct in the lunch queue.)

As the book has gained an audience, (and a place on Richard and Judy’s Autumn Book Club list), I have had to come out from under the duvet and accept that reviews are part of the process. And actually, reviews are good. They mean that people are reading, engaging, taking time to consider your work, even if they find you disappointing at the end of it.

Meeting the Maker

Mary Callery 's final resting place. Stone created by Xavier Corbero

Me at Mary Callery ‘s final resting place. Stone created by Xavier Corbero.

I’m just back from a research trip to Cadaques in Northern Spain, ostensibly to view the ‘final resting place’ of my subject Mary Callery, but also to sample the lifestyle that any artist worth their salt got a piece of during the 60s and 70s.*

Since my husband died I’ve become faintly obsessed with graves, or ‘final resting places’ as they are quaintly known. They provide the last tangible evidence of an earthly existence and as such demand a reverence which is hard to muster in 25 degree Spanish heat without a sun hat.

Nevertheless, seeing Mary’s grave was a big moment for me. I know so much about this woman now, having trailed about the world in her footsteps, and the prospect of standing over her cremulated bones filled me with trepidation.

The site, high in the scrubland above Cadaques, has no shelter from the Tramuntana, and does indeed seem to be imbued with the ‘seeds of madness’ carried by that savage wind. It is a maze of wall tombs, statues, trees, all set against the raging blue of the sky.

A rotting wooden cross marks the spot, propped up behind an immense block of marble, which has been pushed up from the earth by the roots of a mighty weeping bottlebrush. I am pictured above in something of a pious pose, but sit and gaze was all I could do.

After two years of seeking her, I finally met my sculpture maker.

*consuming crema Catalan and local grog with creative abandon, apparently.

Full Petal Jacket

photo (14)

And lo! Me After You has a glorious new jacket for its mass-market paperback release in August!

Where I come from, in Geordieland, (don’t look for it on any map – it’s like Atlantis with a drink problem), we have a term of endearment derived from the word ‘petal’ – the diminutive ‘pet’ – and it was Mark’s favourite; not just for me, but for most of the ladies in his life and a couple of particularly unfortunate men.

In a vain attempt to make him part of my excitement and delight at said new cover, I hereby refer to it as the ‘Full Petal Jacket’, as I truly believe he’d love it.


[Insert Title Here]

untitled (13)

My editor looked nothing like either of these men


I’ve reached that point in my novel. You know the one. 30 thousand words and still no title.

Titles have been waking me up in the night when I’m otherwise engaged with Gary Barlow.

How about ‘Introducing Mrs Callery’? No, wait, Miss Callery.

‘Losing Miss Callery’. (Too negative).

Finding Miss Callery’! (Too Nemo?)

Hang on, Miss Callery used to hang out with Picasso, right? She was an artist, RIGHT?! How about a Picasso-esque, artistic designation? Wait for it:

‘Study of Woman, Standing’.

But would you choose that book when you have titles like ‘The 100 year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ winking at you from the shelf in a bid to be your next read? Me neither.

The title of my last book ‘Me After You’ became the most wrestled-over element of the entire publication process. My editor and I were like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks over the email, hoisting up our spandex fight suits and pummelling titles back and forth until they just got silly. (‘Big Boozy Bender’ was one notable suggestion. It was at that point I conceded that the battle was over. And in the event, my editor – as always – was right. I now love ‘Me After You’ and tell everyone it was my idea.)

So I’m hoping for divine inspiration for this next title. Not least so that I can get back to Gary in peace.






Me after Me After You

It’s mid-November and my memoir ME AFTER YOU is published, reviewed and gathering dust on bookshelves across the country.

I now find myself shuffling awkwardly on my cheap leatherette office chair doing anything but knuckle down to my next book. (I’m grappling with a structural issue which is so complex that I am regularly forced to abandon it in order to go out and spend money I haven’t got on items I don’t need.)

There is a distinct sense of deflation after finishing any piece of writing, especially one as gruelling and emotionally challenging as ME AFTER YOU. It has been part of my everyday life for so long, now that it is gone I am bereft. I look for it in bookshops, and find it, nestling in a mind-boggling miscellany of sections, from self-help to biography and beyond. I gaze upon it lovingly, sometimes plucking it from the shelf and stroking its beautiful, peaceful cover (the one we tussled over, my publisher and I, because it seemed so at odds with the chaos depicted within.)

Realigning and disciplining the writerly mind feels now to be a Sisyphean task, so I’m blogging about it in an attempt to clear the log-jam. And then I’m off to the shops.