Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Conspiracy of Inanimate Objects


It is now just over four years since I started this blog, also four years since I joined Twitter and I can't remember the date when I set up my Facebook page. All of which is NO EXCUSE whatsoever for revisiting some of the more popular blog posts. But then, when have I ever needed an excuse.
Remember this one?

A vexing week at Hedges Towers. I think I am developing Copenhagen Syndrome. Every time something goes wrong, I find myself putting on a different jumper and thinking: 'What would Sara Lund do?' The new mobile phone is a case in point. I decided to upgrade to a new phone when the B H  E and U keys died on my ancient one, and the predictive text stuck on 'I am in the bar' rather than 'I am in the car'. Wrong impressions were being conveyed, I was having to think sideways every time I sent a text and my street cred was rapidly descending into the clown zone.

What I had failed to grasp however, was that mobile phone technology has moved on considerably since I bought my little silver 'mum-phone' many moons ago, which means that currently, if you chose for so many reasons, most of them associated with sheer terror and no money, to lurk down the shallow end of the technology pool, your choices are few. Basically it was either the black Nokia one that looked almost but not exactly the same as my previous mobile, or the Hello Kitty phone with free pencil set. I chose the Nokia; I chose wrong.

Getting it out of the box was, in hindsight, the easy part. It then took me ages to unlock the keypad - simply couldn't get the 'Press *' key to align with the 'Press Unlock' key. By the time I'd mastered that, my faith in the ability to absorb new skills had melted away like snow in summer. Two days later tentative progress has been made, despite the instruction booklet not being aimed at someone with technological skills so low you couldn't limbo under them. I still haven't worked out how to switch it off, though. (Am I the only person on the planet who turns off their mobile phone to save the battery? Apparently so.)

It's all part of what I see as the Conspiracy of Inanimate Objects, something I've observed is becoming worse as I grow older. Although the truth of that sentence could lie in the reverse premise. Whatever. Everything just seems to be getting proactively more annoying. For example, I'm fully expecting Sainsburys to post a notice any day banning me from the store, because I always end up rowing with the invisible purple gremlin inside the self-checkout till in a 'That's not an unidentified object in the bagging area - it's my SHOPPING, you stupid woman!' sort of way. I've noticed that assistants now seem to hover apprehensively whenever I approach.

In the same category is the Orange phone lady who tops up my pay-as-you-go account, and will not allow me to deviate from answering either 'yes' or 'no' to her questions. But my life is full of uncertainty, I wail, how can I possibly commit myself to only two possibilities? Is there no room for 'maybe'? At which point, she cuts me off and I have to restart the whole process from scratch. See what I mean?

 Before writing this post, I had to restore and reload Chrome, as it had decided to stroll off somewhere and commune with itself. Oh ~ and the printer is currently not working, despite kicking it, feeding it with paper and pressing all the buttons. Stuff that is supposed to make my life easier is by default managing to make it far more complicated. I am careening towards a farcical cliff.
Time to break out another jumper?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Serial Offender


As you probably all know, Diamonds & Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my former agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize, the Folio Society Prize, and score 83+ reviews on Amazon, is now developing offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet and Haydn String Quartets, once started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel Honour & Obey, which was published November 2014, Death & Dominion which came out last October. Rack & Ruin is the fourth outing for Stride & Cully and  I am currently putting the final touches to a fifth book.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a ''cop-out''; after all, you've got your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The *Spy Girl series for Usborne was the first)

The main problem is that unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book one that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.

By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wander off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3 with added lacklustre.

I have never got further than book 5 (and Usborne turned it down) so I cannot speak from experience, but I can say from avidly reading crime series, that some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't and the result is a series of  flat readalike stories with little variety at best, or downright daftness at worst, (bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's hamster has survived longer than any hamster should or ought!)

The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told though, that the ''real money'' comes from a 5 book series, which means most other writers will have been told this too. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third or fourth. My former agent didn't see any mileage in the first ...

* These books will be re-published in 2017 by Accent Press

So what's your experience: Do you prefer a series? Or a one off novel. If you are a writer, have you ever tackled a series, or does the prospect fill you with horror? Do share your thoughts ....

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Remembrance Day


'No shelter from the kniving wind
No solace from the driving snow.
No warmth, no comfort or bright cheer
In heav'n above or earth below'
from 'Trench Winter. November 1916' by Noel Clark 

If you read my stuff, you'll know that lines from this poem feature in Jigsaw Pieces , my YA ebook . Noel Clark is a character from the book and his short life as a soldier poet in the first world war makes up one of the story strands. In a few days, we will mark the anniversary of the end of  that so called 'War to End all Wars', and there must be very few UK people who don't have some link back to the 1914-18 conflict. My link comes via my late father-in-law, the wonderfully named Herbert Inkerman Hedges.

My father-in-law was the youngest of twelve brothers. The eleven older ones joined the East Riding of Yorkshire Regiment and marched away to fight the Hun. They were all killed at the Battle of the Somme. He recalls his parents telling him how the telegraph lad kept cycling up to their house day after day, until the news of the last son's death was delivered.

I'm always intrigued by the way wars throw up poets. It's not just World War One, though that cohort are probably the best known. Poetry was also being written during World War Two, on both sides, in the Iraq War and is still being produced in Afghanistan today. I think the proliferation of soldier poets during times of conflict is directly related to the situation they find themselves in.

Poetry demands an inner ordering, a precise selection of vocabulary and structure - it's the verbal equivalent of piecing together a complex jigsaw - the picture only emerges when all the pieces are correctly placed. The control needed to make a poem is in direct contrast to the chaos that soldiers live in daily. Poetry is a way of containing their world and making sense of the senseless. It is therefore both therapy, and a psychological outlet for feelings and emotions too horrific to be dealt with in 'normal' prose.

Those who have read Jigsaw Pieces know the story of Noel Clark an imaginary World War One poet who died tragically at the age of nineteen, is closely linked to another soldier from that time: Billy Donne. What you do not know is that Billy was an actual person. I came across him quite by accident in a small article in the Times in 1997. It was headlined 'A happy 100th for man with mysterious past'. I used his story almost to the letter: Billy Dunne (the correct spelling of his surname) couldn't speak, and drew pictures of battlefields, just like his fictional counterpart. He was placed in a mental hospital in 1923 for unknown reasons, and no family had ever claimed him. His story touched me so much that I felt I had to write about him. The link with Noel Clark is where fact and fiction elide.

During the upcoming commemorations for the anniversary of World War One, we shall no doubt re-read many times the 'big' soldier poets: Owen, Sassoon and Brooke. But actually I find just as much pity and pathos in the work of the women poets of that time, who did not share in the fighting at the Front, but shared in the suffering, and the changed lives. It is their sense of loss, their attempt to learn to survive survival, that makes their verse so poignant. One of the best is Margaret Postgate Cole. This is her poem Praematuri:
When men are old, and their friends die 
They are not sad,
Because their love is running slow, 
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.
But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
- But there are years and years in which we shall still be young. 


Saturday, 5 November 2016

Stolen Childhoods


William Blake published his 'Songs of Experience' in 1794. Holy Thursday is one of the most poignant. The reference is to Ascension Day, when a service was regularly held at St Paul's Cathedral for the poor children of London's Charity Schools. Blake's verses are a bitter outcry against the hypocrisy of church and state (then closely linked), that doled out charity with 'a cold and usurous hand' and then paraded the recipients through the streets in a humiliating public spectacle.

These 'Babes', he says, do not enjoy 'sun' nor 'fields', instead their young lives are marked by 'misery', 'poverty' and 'eternal Winter'. The lexical polarity is quite deliberate. It is a bleak picture of a cruel and harsh time. Not that the Babes' lives got any better in the 19th century. Poor children were expected to contribute in some way to the family earnings from birth onwards. Small girls sold watercresses, strawberries or sulphur matches, depending upon the season. Boys risked life and limb sweeping the muck off the streets for people to cross. Babies were frequently 'lent' to elderly beggar women to make them look even more pathetic. Others sold flowers or matches on street corners, standing in the open in all weathers. Still more risked life and limb darting between carriages to sweep a path. Some children spent long lonely hours minding smaller siblings.

Henry Mayhew, the great chronicler of London life recorded in his London Labour & the London Poor (1852-4), the words of  a coster-lad. His father died when he was 3 years old, leaving his mother to cope. He told Mayhew:

''Mother used to be up and out very early washing in families ~ anything for a living. We was left at home with some bread and butter for dinner. Afore she got into work, we was shocking hard up. Sometimes when we had no grub at all our stomachs used to ache with the hunger, and we would cry when we was werry far gone. She used to be at work from six in the morning till ten at night which was a long time for a child's belly to hold out again, and when it was dark we would go and lie down on the bed and try to sleep until she came home with the food. I was eight years old then.''

1889 poverty map of London's East End . The blackest streets mark areas of complete destitution

Sadly over two hundred years later, we still see the lives and life-chances of poor 'Babes' being trampled in the dust as their parents are treated with scorn and contempt by a government that regards them as idle wastrels. We see benefits cut, sanctions applied, help denied, whilst all the time millions of pounds are being doled out to football stadiums, Japanese car firms and infrastructure vanity projects.

Daily there are stories of parents denying themselves food so that their kids can eat. Children arrive at school too hungry to concentrate; sometimes they don't arrive at all because they have no shoes, or uniform, or a warm coat. We see the rise of foodbanks: an utter disgrace in a 'rich & fruitful land' like ours. We read tragic reports of families being made homeless because private landlords raise their rent, and greedy profit-focused developers are reluctant to build 'social' housing.

Now, to add insult to injury, a cap on housing benefit is to be imposed, potentially throwing numerous families onto the streets and depriving their 'Babes' of the right to stability, education and a decent family life. Thousands of children will have their hopes and dreams of a happy future kicked into the nearest gutter though no fault of their own.

Someone on Twitter recently asked: How can any Government do this to innocent children? My reply: Because they aren't their children so they don't care. Blake cared. His poems, of which only seven copies were printed, were radical critiques of the rich landed fat cats in Parliament and the Church who lorded it over society and inflicted terrible damage to the lives of ordinary human beings by their selfish, greedy policies and attitudes.

The Songs of Experience were considered deeply 'seditious' and could have led to Blake's imprisonment if they'd ever been read by government officials. Nowadays, I guess he'd just be roundly mocked in the tabloid press and trolled on social media.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Men are From Mars


BH went off on his annual jaunt around Italy recently, leaving the cat and I in charge. Just before he left, we were invited to a lunch party at a couple's house we'd only been to once. Normally something to look forward to, and we do once we've surmounted the Actually Getting There scenario, which we go through so often in our 42 years together that it has now evolved into a script with its own rituals, worthy of a John Osborne play. It goes something like this:

Setting: We have been driving around for some time

Me (eventually): You're lost, aren't you?

BH (edgily): No, I know exactly where we are.

Me: Well, so how come we aren't there by now then?

BH (testily): We're going in the right direction.

Me (because I've started): Why don't you LOOK at the map?

BH (pointedly): I HAVE looked at the map.

Me: Then why is this the second time we've driven down this road?

BH (thru' gritted teeth): Maybe YOU'D like to map read? Maybe YOU'D like to drive?

Me (crossly): Just check the map, okay? Because I don't think this is the right way.

Eventually we stop, the map is checked, the car is turned round, and we arrive at our destination. I think that this is another of those 'Men are from Mars women are from Visa' things. If I need to go anywhere new, I have to do at least one pre-visit recce to make sure I know exactly where I'm going. And I still get anxious on the day of travel.

Checking the diary, I see it is just over four years since @carolJhedges joined Twitter. I did so mainly because having uploaded my YA novel Jigsaw Pieces to Amazon Kindle, and nearly died in the attempt, I needed to disseminate its presence and sell a few copies to make the whole ghastly experience worthwhile. Twitter has been getting a bad press recently due to the misogyny, anti-semitism and racism that its anonymity seems to bring out in certain warped individuals post Brexit.

My experience of Twitter has been reasonably positive, despite having some very unusual followers: dogs, hotels, cats, radio stations, pubs, lizards and two years ago, Lechlade Music Festival where one of BH's socks was apparently performing with The White Stripes. Don't ask. What makes Twitter such fun for me is encountering individuals with a sharp, razor-like wits, or just thoroughly nice supportive individuals who care about others and the world. There are a lot of them about.

Through Twitter I have learned how to grow veg, how to download images from the internet, and how to self-publish. There seems to be an expert out there for every occasion or eventuality. I've been recommended books I'd never have read before, and enjoyed some wonderful poetry. I've had access to brilliant blogs, I've come across recipes for luscious mouth-watering cakes and listened to some amazing bands. As for #thearchers tweetalong: you just have to be there to 'get' it.

And I'm absolutely sure that, in the extremely unlikely event that my 2CV were ever to break down on a lonely country road in the depths of Winter, while I was in the middle of a heart attack, there would be people on Twitter only too willing and able to help. Wouldn't you?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Lost in Translation


So, it's farewell to the latest TV Beck episodes, which were a bit confusing as one of the main characters, Gunwald, was shot fairly soon into the series to be replaced by a very tall man with a beard you could use as a rug and a Norwegian accent.

The Nord-crime fest has been with us for so long that I now seriously believe I can actually speak Scandic ('tak ..praecis...alibi..') and I've almost stopped getting snagged up by the sub-titles, except where they are just plain daft. There was a bit in the last series of The Bridge where Martin, the gloomy can't-keep-it-in-his-cargoes 'tec met up with his son.

Martin: Hi.
Son: Hi.
Subtitles: Hi....Hi.

Someone in the sub-title department was clearly having a laugh.

I don't know how you react, but I also find heartening to realise that there are countries where people exist in a sort of 24 hour low-level gloomy twilight, speak languages in which the consonants vastly outnumber the vowels, and spend all their lives killing each other or plotting political coups behind the scenes. And only have 8 professional TV actors between them. Maybe that is why Annie, the heroine of my YA ebook Jigsaw Pieces, originates from one of the Scandi countries. I'm a closet gloomster with hidden psychotic tendencies.

I hold my hands up at this point and confess that of all the countries featured in the Nordic Noir dramas, I have a particular fondness for the Danes, because they translated one of my books into Danish.  Rodt Flojl (the o's have little lines through them, can't work out how to do it, sorry) which is the Danish version of Red Velvet, has been available in Danish bookshops since 2001.

Interestingly, Rodt Flojl, the translated version, is at least a third longer than its English counterpart Red Velvet. Don't know why. Complete mystery. Maybe I have more to say in Danish. Sadly, I also don't know what it is, but every now and then I receive a small royalty cheque.
Tak.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Ready, Steady > Review!


If you  follow me on Twitter, you will be familiar with the above poster. Ot  tweets like this:

‏@carolJhedges
❤ Read it?
❤ Loved it?
❤ REVIEW it!

#Writers make the world go round

I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts (hopefully positive) onto a review site. One of my writer acquaintances @TerryTyler4 started #AugustReviews over the summer with the idea of encouraging readers to write reviews of books they have enjoyed on Amazon, and then tweet the link so that we can all share it. You can read her post here:  

So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least a cogent paragraph not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5') help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.

As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book. Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writer's lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.

Reviews are also very important in boosting sales.That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas,because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, are pretty remote.

For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has also come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers) to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2016 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.

So with Christmas tiptoeing over the far horizon, may I encourage you to buy our books, read them, and then knock out a quick review for us ~ it needs only be a paragraph or two. Long essays not required. But it will make a HUGE difference.

Thank you.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The PINK SOFA meets: ME!



As you all know, the PINK SOFA is incredibly friendly and sofiable and loves nothing better than a good chat with a lovely guest. Sadly, the guest who was invited to drop by, hasn't materialized so to stop it weeping all over its upholstery, I have offered myself. Yes, utter madness, but there you are.

When did you start writing? 

I probably started writing as soon as I could write ~ I remember making tiny books for my toys, age about 6 (yep,very Brontes). I won the Writing Cup at primary school, for a review of Alice in Wonderland. As with most of my stuff, I still don't know why it was 'so good'.

What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good day's writing? 

Coffee. More coffee, ooh and a piece of cake would be nice.

Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes? 

If I wrote only when the mood struck, I'd never get anything written. I have learned after 17 published novels that the only way to write is: you sit down at the computer (usually an hour or so in the morning and then a few more hours in the afternoon) and YOU WRITE. Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard. Only way to do it. The inspiration comes as you start.

Is writing your main source of income? Lots of articles say writers make no money. Can you survive on writing alone?

I could never survive on writing alone. As a self-published writer, I make a couple of thousand pounds a year, and that's apparently pretty good. In the past, I taught at secondary school. Currently as I am retired, I tutor A and GCSE English. I don't know of ANY writers who do not have several day jobs to make ends meet. And with the ruthless discounting of books and ebooks by retailers, it is becoming even harder to survive.

What is your favourite cake? 

As I write Victorian crime fiction, it has to be Victoria sponge ~ of course!

Where do you do most of your writing? 

I have colonised the third bedroom. I have my desk, my iMac and all my bits and pieces. The window overlooks the pond, so I can stare at the fish for inspiration. I do a lot of inspired staring.

What book are you reading at the moment? 

I'm reading An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Love his books ~ consistently good. I read Archangel every 2 years.


Do you use social media (facebook, twitter) to engage with your audience? Does it helps sales? 

I LOVE social media. I have met so many great people on there. I tweet at @CarolJhedges and am there every day chatting, posting pics, getting into discussions and trouble, and generally having fun. I have a very active Facebook page as well and I belong to several Book Groups on Facebook. It's the only way to get yourself noticed ~ though not if all you do is promote your own stuff. Most of my sales come from people who've enjoyed what I post and decide to read the books on that basis.

What do you prefer? Kindle or printed book?

I'm a book girl. Partly my age (66) and partly my arthritic hands. I just find as I write on a screen, I prefer to relax with an actual book. And one reads books more slowly and thoroughly. And they look good on your bookshelf. I appreciate that ebooks are cheaper and you can store more on an ereader, but I just like turning pages, and underlining things, and going back to read something that I enjoyed.

If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead? 

Die. End.

The PINK SOFA and I are now going to stuff ourselves with cake. Please feel free to join us  and share your writing/reading experiences.


Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Oldest Juvenile Delinquent


Next Tuesday BH is off on his annual Italian jaunt. This time he will be accompanied for the first week by You must be mad and the two grandchildren. They have rented a villa near the beach at Bari. No, don't ask why I'm not going. It's complicated and involves sleeping in my own bed and sundry other small things that are insignificant to people like you but are big things to people like me.

As a rule of thumb, whenever BH leaves, various mechanical devices in the house see it as their opportunity to break down or fall apart, so I have mixed feelings and a roll of gaffer tape ready for his departure. I have also alerted a few responsible friends on Twitter to stop me getting into cyber-trouble. Good luck with that, responsible friends.

Last week marked a milestone in the life of Little G Books with the first publication of Murder & Mayhem, the 4th book in the Stride & Cully series. It has been a bit of a personal triumph as we managed to write/edit, and then produce both book and ebook entirely on our own. For Death & Dominion, we had a lot of help and advice. The time before that, books came out via a small independent publisher.

If you are now expecting a blog on the merits of mainstream/indie/self publishing, look away. Been there, written those. Suffice it to say, it is very satisfying to have the reins of control firmly in my cold little Reynauds fists. Am currently working on the 5th book.  Hopefully the lessons learned will enable us to publish it with even less hassle next year.

Not that I am to be trusted with anything, it appears. Popped into local supermarket to buy some sparklers for upcoming Bonfire Night celebrations. Approaching the fireworks counter, I was informed by the assistant that I had to complete my shopping before I could buy them. Asked why ~ and was told that it was a safety precaution to prevent youngsters from setting them off in the store. I pointed out that I was in possession of a bus pass but it made no difference, which only goes to prove that I am potentially the oldest juvenile delinquent on the block.

But you already knew that, didn't you?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Inspiration or Perspiration? #Amwriting


So here we are, almost the end of September, and I am trying not to put the central heating on, as last year I spent my meagre heating allowance at least 20 time over. The price of oil is supposed to be lower than at any time over the past few years, yet I spend every penny I earn on keeping warm enough to earn the money to spend on keeping warm. 

Paradoxical world.

As writers, we are often asked (well, I am) how the creative process of writing a book happens. What I think people desperately want to hear is the apocryphal Enid Blyton response on the lines of: I just wander into my little writing place, and suddenly, all sorts of lovely characters and plots tiptoe through the mental bluebells straight into my mind fully formed, and all I have to do is write them down and hey presto! a book appears. In other words, writing is easy and you, interested interlocutor, could easily do it too.

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. At least not for this little duck. In another of these paradoxes, I find that creativity only occurs when disciplinary structures are applied. Rigorously. In other words, I have to make myself sit at the keyboard, regularly, and write. I can fantasize about the book all I want, imagine the amazing prose that I will write when I get round to it, but until my rear end and the chair are brought into contact, and remain in contact for long periods of time, nothing creative happens.

Sure, there are moments, and flashes of inspiration, when one stares at the screen, and wonders whether the Writing Fairy has just made a house call, but on the whole, these episodes only tend to emerge out of a period of just slogging away at the writing process. And I should know, having just topped 70 thousand words of the next Victorian novel, purely by dint of making myself sit down at the eMac every day and write it.

An article in the Guardian recently lifted the lid on how to be a successful author. No secret, sadly. A lot of labour and a bit of luck. Heavy on the former. As Wm Blake remarked: Without contraries is no progression. Ain't that the truth!