Tag Archives: About writing

Emergency writing biscuits.

28 Jun



I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with food. No, that’s not true. I’ve always loved food. Food has always been my ‘go to’ thing when I’m feeling down or bored or anxious. Food has always been there for me, when I really needed it. And when I really needed it, I generally wanted chocolate.

That hasn’t changed much over the years, although I don’t eat anywhere near as much chocolate as I used to (Honestly. I used to eat tubs of chocolate spread mixed with packets of M and M’s. In one go, with a spoon.). The main occasions now when treats call me are when I’m writing. Not every time I sit down at the laptop, but when I’m stuck or trying to edit something tricky. I think I ate my own body weight in biscuits the time my creative writing tutor asked for a chapter by chapter breakdown of my entire book; what happened to whom, where and why.

I learnt two things from that experience. One: writing a chapter by chapter breakdown when I’m only a fifth of the way through a book is – for me anyway – about as much fun as repeatedly poking myself in the eye with a breadstick.  Two: eating that many biscuits makes my head ache and my teeth feel like I’ve been chewing glue. Not good.

So now I’m looking for other ways to soothe my writing worries, rather than resorting to emergency biscuits. I’m also on my guard for ‘helpful’ writing advice which sends me scuttling to the goody cupboard. I’ve realised that, when you’re writing, if a particular technique or strategy doesn’t feel right to you, then perhaps it isn’t.

Have an apple and think about it.


Guest interview: June Taylor

16 May

Leeds-based writer June Taylor (flash fiction author and YA/New Adult novelist) discusses the frightening experience of writing about Krampus, tells us when she finally felt able to say ‘I am a writer!’ and insists that counting isn’t her strong point.

Follow June on Twitter @joonLT . June also tweets for Script Yorkshire @ScriptYorkshire

June 2

June reading ‘When Krampus Comes’ at the UK Krampus Crackers launch.

If you had to describe yourself and your writing in fifty words or less, what would you say?

I’m a writer from Leeds and very proud of my Yorkshire heritage. Like many writers, I need to write. Some days I wish I didn’t, but most days I’m glad that I can. I write mainly novels, but also plays and flash fiction. My novels are YA/New Adult crossovers. I’m interested in characters on the edge of themselves or on the edge of belonging. I’m particularly obsessed with mothers and daughters at the moment. I think you need a good plot but it’s the psychology between the characters that makes it interesting.

(That’s more than fifty words, sorry. I’m hopeless at counting.)

What made you get involved with the Krampus Crackers project and what inspired your story?

I love Tiny Owl Workshop and was involved in their Halloween flash fiction napkins a couple of years ago. They do some really innovative things. So when Vicky put the Krampus Cracker call out I couldn’t resist. And flash fiction is a great way of finding your way into bigger stories and characters. I often use it as a warm-up exercise. However, I have to confess that with my Victorian Krampus story I was totally led by Krampus himself. Really I was just his typist. It was a rather frightening experience. Then, when I was recruited as an elf to assemble the crackers I think I incurred the most paper cuts out of all the elves. It was horrific. You just don’t mess with Krampus.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sentence from your work in progress?

I’m working on my second book, ‘Two Summers’, a psychological page-turner told from a mother-daughter perspective. My agent is currently trying to sell it (see next question).

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves.” I didn’t write this sentence, André Gide did. But it sums it up pretty well and I was told to put a clever quote on the first page.

What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

In 2011, I was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with my YA novel, ‘Lovely me Lovely You’. I got my picture in The Times newspaper and everything! It made me feel like a proper writer and able to say, finally, without shame or mumbling into my sleeve: “I AM A WRITER.” It also convinced family and friends that perhaps I’m not barking up the wrong tree after all – just a very tall one with some rather precarious branches. Anyway, I got a literary agent off the back of that success but – familiar story – although the book nearly found a major publisher, it didn’t in the end. I now have a new agent, the fabulous Shelley Instone, whose aim it is to champion Northern writers. I’m proud to be associated with Shelley. We’re a good team.

Which novel or poem etc. do you wish you’d written, and why?

Which poem …? Poetry generally doesn’t do it for me if I’m honest, unless it makes me feel something right away. If I have to search hard for its meaning then it loses its magic. I’d love to be able to write poetry/lyrics like Leonard Cohen. Music and poetry, that’s when it works best for me, I suppose. Or when it has some real relevance, like Simon Armitage’s ‘Black Roses: the killing of Sophie Lancaster’, which is an incredibly powerful use of poetry that conveys the tragic waste of a young life.

Which novel …? Perhaps a cliché in one sense, but I’d love to have written ‘Catcher in the Rye’, or ‘The Bell Jar’. I’d like to write a ‘best-friend’ book that connects with young people and stays with them through life.

Which screenplay …? ‘Thelma and Louise.’

Which radio drama …? ‘Under Milk Wood.’

Which stage play …? Anything by Shakespeare I suppose would make me look good.

If you could only have three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Well, at the risk of sounding pretentious I think Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ because it would keep me going for life. I’ve only read one volume and there are seven to get through. (I’m assuming this counts as one choice though). Then also ‘Kes’, a book I never tire of reading. Third choice, maybe my book of fairytales I had as a child. I don’t have it any more but there were stories from all over the world in it, as well as the more well-known ones, and the illustrations were magical. It was massive. My chubby little fingers couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. But if that was never to be found again then maybe something else from my childhood, like ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Or ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’. Or ‘L-Shaped Room’… That’s actually more than three books, isn’t it? Told you I’m not very good at counting. Oh well, I’d try and smuggle the extra ones into my carrier bag.

Who said anything about a carrier bag? (I made that bit up actually. I’m good at that).

 Thanks June. I hope you got some enjoyment out of the Krampus Crackers experience. 🙂

Guest interview: Samantha Braham

25 Apr

Thanks to Sam Braham for being the latest UK Krampus Crackers author to guest on this blog, revealing the inspiration behind her flash fiction, what she has in common with Bridget Jones, and her dream of living with the Oompa-Loompas…

You can follow Sam on twitter to find out more about her work. @BrahamSamantha 

DSCN2145Sam at the Krampus Crackers launch event in Leeds.

Describe yourself in 50 words or less:

I’m a writer who doesn’t write as often as I should! I have a busy life so it’s hard to fit everything in. But I’m also a paradox – a busy person who is essentially lazy so any free time is usually spent gazing out the window or eating biscuits.

Why did you become involved in Krampus Crackers and what was the inspiration for your story?

Until about a year ago, I’d never heard of Flash Fiction and then I discovered a couple of American writers on WordPress that write Flash Fiction stories in 100 words. As I have the attention span of a gnat and fail to get beyond page 8 of anything I write, I thought this could be just the thing for me. I’d just finished writing my first ever Flash Fiction piece, Wishes, when I heard about the Krampus Crackers project. I enjoyed the challenge of writing Wishes so decided to try and write a story about Krampus, despite not having any idea who or what he was. After researching his myth and legend, I was struck by his increasing commercial popularity; in particular with chocolate-makers in Austria. I began to wonder what Krampus would make of it all and, from there, came the story.

What are you working on at the moment and can you give us a sentence from your current Work In Progress?

I’m currently working on pieces I’ve previously written. I’m rewriting/editing two pieces of Flash Fiction and a short play. I find it helps to put some distance between myself and my writing so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes I even surprise myself as it isn’t as bad as I originally thought! A line from my short play Lara and Liam (a working title, I’m rubbish at thinking up titles) is “If your Mam were like mine you’d understand.”

What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

That would be the Krampus Crackers project. The whole thing was an amazing experience for a new writer like me. The opportunity to have a story I had written placed in a cracker and left in venues around Leeds for other to read and – fingers crossed – enjoy was fantastic. That would have been enough in itself but I also got to have my story illustrated, attend a fabulous launch event and have my story read by the Liars’ League in London by a professional actor. Wow, what an experience and I loved every minute of it! A big thank you to Vicky for organising and running the project. She did a tremendous job!

What novel do you wish you had written?

That’s a difficult question as there are so many I love and admire. I suppose I should say something intellectual or cool, quirky and edgy but instead I’m going to say anything by Roald Dahl. Not a novel writer but, for me, the supreme story-teller. Widely fantastic, completely original and totally anarchic! As a child, I was obsessed with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I dreamed of being one of the lucky five children who finds a Golden Ticket and is allowed inside Willy Wonka’s factory. Of course, not being a spoilt, over-indulged brat I would be the last one standing, inherit Wonka’s factory and spend the rest of my days surrounded by chocolate and Oompa-Loompas.

If you could only have 3 books for the rest of your life, which 3 would you choose?

Aaarrrggghhh! What an awful question! Ok, I’m going to make this decision on what I do read time and time again, and also on having a bit of variety in my reading if I’m only allowed to ever read three books again.

1 – Bridget Jones’ Diary – I think one of the reasons Bridget Jones is so successful is that most women can see a bit of Bridget in themselves. From dating disasters to messing-up at work, worrying about how many calories I’ve eaten, and drinking too much alcohol and smoking too many fags (I gave up fags many years ago. Can’t say the same for the booze though), I can place a huge tick next to each one and howl with laughter every time I read this book. Also, Helen Fielding’s inspiration came from Pride and Prejudice, which is another of my favourite novels. She paid homage by creating her own Mr. Darcy whilst I did the same by giving one of my daughters the middle name of Elizabeth. Sad, I know.

2 – To Kill a Mocking Bird – Despite loving English, the only book I read for my ‘O’ level English Literature (yes, I’m that old) and enjoyed was this one. Enjoyed is an understatement, it totally blew me away and I read it in two days. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read it since. This book should be on everyone’s top ten reading list.

3 – Great Expectations or The Harry Potter Series – Getting tricky now. I didn’t read Great Expectations until a few years ago. Since then I’ve read it three or four times. I was hooked from the first couple of pages but, what do you expect, it’s a Dickens. Harry Potter isn’t even in the same league, I know, but the truth is I’m a massive Harry Potter nerd. Just recently my twin daughters have developed their own Harry Potter obsessions. When we’re not reading the books or watching the films you can often find them in Gryffindor robes pretending to be Hermione or Ginny. So for the shared family experience I’m going to choose Harry Potter because it would be a shame if my children didn’t have all this wonderful magic in their lives. And I know I’m cheating because there are seven books in the Harry Potter series but I’ve always been one to bend the rules; especially if it’s to my advantage.

Thanks very much Sam, and sorry for asking difficult questions!

Guest interview: Nick Clark

8 Apr

This week, Nick Clark, one of the UK Krampus Cracker authors, answers my questions about writing, his work in progress, and the books he’d choose if he could only keep three…

Find out more about Nick by following him on twitter @ngfclark

DSCN2149Nick at the Krampus Crackers launch event in December 2014.

  • If you had to describe yourself and your writing in fifty words or less, what would you say?

I’m a Leeds-based fiction author with a long-held interest in all that is speculative, sublime and surreal. I like to work with genre fusions and subversions of traditional tropes. My roots are in myth and folklore and worlds behind wardrobes. I plan sober, write drunk, and edit hungover.

  • What made you get involved with the Krampus crackers project and what inspired your story?

The Krampus name leapt out at me when I was skimming through potential story submission opportunities. I’d written an article on mythical Christmas beings the previous winter, so I was already clued up on Krampus and his ilk. The Tiny Owl project allowed me to explore the demon through a creative response, which I really enjoyed.

Flash fiction is entirely new to me. Most of my ‘short’ stories tend to hover around the 5,000 word mark – not really ideal when the typical competition out there caps a 3,000 word limit. Still, I was eager to give flash fiction a go, especially with a theme I was interested in.

I’m a big fan of the short stories of Kelly Link, and I knew I wanted to do something that placed a similar emphasis on stylisation and stark imagery. I wrote the story, edited it, and submitted it over five days. I didn’t have especially high hopes for it because of how little time I had, so I was overjoyed when I got the good news from Vicky. It also spurred me on to develop the setting into what might become a Yule-themed fantasy novel. I love it when the writing process starts linking things together like that!

  • What are you working on at the moment? Can you give us a sentence from your work in progress?

Helwick’s tower stood in the middle of a small island, and the sea encircled it – rising up for more than a hundred feet, so high that the sky above was framed by a ragged edge of restless ocean.

This is from my current project, a YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic flooded world. I know the whole ‘water planet’ concept has been done before, but I’ve always felt it was such a rich source of ideas that hasn’t been fully explored yet. This is my own take on it, which fuses the consequences of catastrophic climate change with epic fantasy, and aims to subvert some of the typical ‘high seas adventure’ tropes. It’s about a magician who wakes up after an enchanted sleep he cast on himself wears off. He’s suffering from amnesia, so we follow his exploration of the drowned world whilst he slowly uncovers his past – not all of it to his liking.

  • What’s your proudest writing achievement so far?

Aside from Krampus Crackers (of course), it would have to be my short story Rattenkönig, a ghost story that got published in Tethered By Letters’ quarterly journal. It was my first story to win a competition, my first to get illustrated, and my first paid gig as well. Needless to say it made me outrageously happy. TBL are really generous with their cash prizes and passionate about helping new authors. They’ve recently revamped their website so take a look.

  • Which novel do you wish you’d written, and why?

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I was sixteen when I first read it, and it completely changed my view of what fiction could achieve and where it could go. I think it represented a direction I would have liked to take my own ideas of writing – if I’d been any good at that point – so of course I was immensely jealous of someone who could set out such accomplished and thought-out storytelling. Still am.

  • If you could only have three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?

OK, I’m going to give you a very practical answer for this:

    • Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer – Without books my writing would get very stale so a writer’s guide of some description would be essential. This one is beautifully illustrated and full of insightful detail.

    • Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism – It’s a book I’ve had since uni that contains absolutely tons of critical theory from throughout its history. Theory often requires repeated reading to get your head round it, so there’ll be plenty of time to do just that.

    • The last A Song of Ice and Fire book by George R R Martin – Obviously.

Thanks Nick!

Losing the plot

21 Mar

Now, can I ask you something? Is it just me, or is plotting really difficult?

I’ve heard people say many different things about planning a book. Everything from ‘have a chapter by chapter breakdown before you start writing’, to ‘so long as you know how it starts, how it ends, and a few key points in the middle you’ll be fine’, to ‘ it’ll just work itself out’. At the moment, from the middle of my plotting quagmire, I’m not sure I believe any of these things!

About a year ago I wrote a chapter by chapter breakdown of my work in progress, which was about 10,000 words long at that point. It was joyless, and didn’t help me. I just went from having plot problems in my head to having plot problems on paper. And the second method doesn’t work for me either; I’ve always known how the book is going to start, how it ends, and the key points in the middle. The difficulties I’m having are with working out how to get my characters where they need to be, and how to get them out again. I don’t want to make things too convenient for them or use outside forces to intervene, robbing them of their agency.

To be fair, I’ve made things hard on myself through my choice of setting and genre. My book can best be described as magic realism, if such a thing exists for 8 to 12 year old readers. This means I have to set up the world of my protagonist, and the ‘magical realism’ world of the antagonist, plus get in enough sub-plot to keep my readers happy, as well as figuring out how a 12 year old and a 14 year old can infiltrate a secure adult organisation and not be immediately caught…

To sort all this out, I’ve started reading up on how to structure a novel – about time too, I’m sure you’ll say. I can’t believe I’ve come so far through my MA without ever picking up a book on the subject. Anyway, so far I’ve read about avoiding a ‘sagging middle’ – which sounds very uncomfortable – or an ending that fizzles out. A lot of the advice is great. Seeing the main action of the book as a series of causally linked mini-plots makes a lot of sense, as does the idea of carefully placing your key plot points, both those where the protagonist makes discoveries and where they’re exposed to the antagonist.

However, none of this is helping with my ‘how do I get my character into that room at that point, and then back out again?’ problems. Is this something that all writers find difficult? Don’t get me wrong, I’m making some progress, but it seems to take an age for my narrative wrinkles to smooth down. My question is, fellow writers, is this normal?

Guest post: Deborah Walker

2 Mar

Deborah Walker is the second of the UK Krampus cracker authors to kindly contribute a guest post to this blog. You can find out more about her on her website, where she describes herself like this: “After a twenty year period of procrastination, I started to write in autumn 2008. I’ve managed a few hundred acceptances since then. I write all types of science fiction, horror and fantasy, poetry and short stories.

Deborah’s blog post is about her love of museums and the way they inspire her.

Ideas for my stories come to me in museums, in galleries, in libraries. Find me upstairs (and it’s always quieter upstairs) in the British Museum trawling the past looking for future inspiration.

Old books, paintings, objects are part of our material heritage. Survivors of the ravages of times, sometimes cherished throughout the ages, sometimes forgotten, dug from the ground, broken and then reconstruction. Objects tell stories. Museums select and interpret these stories, grouping objects together to give a window into the past.

Museum objects are rich in concrete detail for stories. And not just for fantasy stories, set in the real or imagined past. A detail from the past can act as a springboard for a story about the future. Looking at the helmet of a 10th century Norwegian chief leads me to consider what armour a space Viking might wear (Space Vikings! Now I want to write a space Viking story). Looking at a beaten gold headdress from ancient Ur makes me wonder how the woman felt wearing such a beautiful and precious item. How did her society shape her? How will my future society shape my characters? An object in a museum will catch my attention. Why was this sword engraved with the image of a bear? And that will send me down a pathway of research.

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, by Joseph Wright, 1766 (Deby Museum and Art Gallery)

Some museums collect the finest pieces of the past, the most costly, the most cherished. Objects may be monumental, priceless and awe-inspiring. But these are not the only stories to be told. Sadly many objects from the past of the working person have been lost. Yet, you can still glimpse the lives of working folk painted as rural scenes on objects. And social museums seek to recapture a glimpse of the ordinary, the everyday.

Objects, books and paintings are material records of the stories told in the past, the stories of religion and mythology. You can read the changing nature of stories through objects. Creation stories, eschatologies, the stories of the gods as their worshippers migrate and change, stories of lovers seeking to retrieve their beloved from the underworld. Some stories are repeated through the ages. What element has gripped so many imaginations?

Musuems don’t always look backwards. In the British Museum’s African Galleries there’s a sculpture called Tree of Life (2004) constructed out of decommissioned rifles. Science museums examine the science of the past, the future and even trends for the future.

The presence of an object in a museum in a story in itself. The Parthenon Marbles, the Benin Bronzes (and others) on display in London are subject to repeated calls to be returned to their countries of origin. These objects tell stories of colonialism, empire, and war.

Though I love the massive, wealthy London museums and galleries, I’ve a fondness for the more obscure museum. After all, I used to work for one, as curator of the Royal Veterinary Museum. In London you can visit Alexander Fleming’s laboratory, or visit the Royal College of Surgeons Museum to explore the ideology that underpinned medicine for thousands of years. University are centres of research and specialism. Their collections are often open to the public by appointment. It’s worth trying a visit to a museum outside your area of interest. Volunteering to help out during my daughter’s school trip took me to the Imperial War Museum, I saw a wealth of cool spy gadgets that will no doubt work their way into some of my stories.

Ram in a Thicket (2600-2400 BC) from Ur, in southern Iraq, British Museum

I live in London, and this article has been about London’s cultural wealth. But you can find wonderful museums everywhere. Holidays at home or abroad are opportunities to glimpse other cultures. A family wedding in Cyprus found me in a small museum examining of hundreds of votive offerings, clay figurines of a men on horseback. A collection that I couldn’t have seen anywhere else. I’m Derbyshire born and bred. Derby’s Museum has a wonderful collection of Joseph Wright of Derby’s atmospheric paintings exploring the development of modern science during the Enlightenment. A bus ride from my home town takes me to the D.H. Lawrence Museum, and to the National Trust’s Museum of Childhood. And sometimes history can’t be constrained to a building. I like the prehistoric stones ring at Arbour Low in Derbyshire that sometime in the past has been pushed over. The standing stones are fallen, nobody remembers why. There’s history everywhere.

And there’s the internet. Museums have embraced the internet seeking to widen access to their collections. It’s not, in my opinion as good as seeing the real thing. (Who can forget standing under the real-size model of the Blue Whale at the Natural History Museum?) But museum websites are a valuable resource.

And if you do take a trip to a museum, don’t forget to take a tour. Curators love to talk their collections. They have a passion for them. And curators are people who want to communicate stories. I should know; I used to be one.


Two of Deborah’s stories inspired by the London’s cultural heritage are “The Bio-Documentarian of the British Library” published in Cosmos, and “Green Future” published in Nature’s Futures.

Guest post: Madeleine McDonald.

8 Feb

Madeleine McDonald was one of the UK Krampus cracker authors, and read her flash fiction at the launch event in December. She’s a busy and talented lady, and you can read more about her on her blog. Madeleine has kindly agreed to share a post with us, reflecting on what led her to get involved with the Krampus crackers project. And for the record, all three of her entries were great.



I entered the Krampus Krackers competition in order to try something different. The first draft of my third romance novel was finished but it had been a long, lonely slog. With a sigh of relief, I put the manuscript away in a drawer. As with all first drafts, I had convinced myself I was trailing a cadaver that deserved only a decent burial. Nonetheless, I limped along to The End and told myself the historical research had been interesting.


To clear my head, I googled writing competitions and had a go at anything and everything. Within the discipline of a short word count and a set subject, my imagination roamed free. For better or worse, I produced science fiction, cosy crime, regency romance, regional fiction, time travel, magical realism, political satire or poetry. Vicky placed no limits on submissions, so I bombarded the poor girl with three variations on the Krampus theme.


The heartening result was two tongue-in-cheek cosy crime stories published and an invitation to read out my winning Krampus krackers story in Leeds. Thanks to Vicky and my fellow winners for an enjoyable evening.


And that misshapen first draft? Not so bad when I take a fresh look at it. As with all first drafts, radical surgery is required. Now it’s time for my competition shorts to take a rest in a drawer, while I edit and polish.



Click on this link Enchantment in Morocco to buy Madeleine McDonald’s first romance novel, on special offer from Amazon at 99p.

Enchantment - Kindle Rev 1