Friday, 16 December 2011

Sledging, for Christmas

The snow had transformed everything. Zac’s hill had become a mountaintop, the whole park some storybook kingdom; even the other kids’ high-pitched shrieks were softened by its padded, magical layers. Zac sat in the sledge. He was perched on the brink of the highest peak, breathing in crystals and wishing he was gone.

And yet – what a view!

He felt compelled to admit that, just as he felt unable to stop looking. In the distance, beyond the fairytale trees, the deserted playground had transformed into a futuristic city. It was all strange, glittering angles, sci-fi walkways and suspension bridges, elegant towers with head-spinning drops. Today, it would be padlocked. It didn’t belong to the children anymore, not to these present-day children anyway, although they were everywhere else, moving in fits and bursts and surging ripples. Scattering across the other hills and craters like blown confetti, their bright coats and flying scarves unreal against the white.

Almost everything was white. The sky all around Zac, and his chattering teeth, the air that snapped between them. His knuckles, he was sure, were blanched to the pale of their bones beneath his gloves. Zac wondered if, in all his life, he had ever felt this scared.

The rope tied to the front of the sledge was frayed and grubby, not much more than a handful of unravelling strings. Yet he leant forward to wind it tighter around his woollen fists and as he shifted, the snow directly beneath him creaked and dipped. Like the warped old wooden boards of some galleon, the precarious deck of a sinking ship. Any moment, he knew, it might give, it would collapse. He’d be sent flying, falling, spinning over the edge –

As if that wasn’t the whole point of being up there. What was wrong with him?

He couldn’t give up, couldn’t trudge down to where the little kids were playing, closer to the bottom. Far too vividly he could picture that return: Mum and Dad waiting with Jamie, while the sledge bumped along behind Zac as if he were a toddler dragging some dead-eyed toy about, a plush, stuffed dog on a lead maybe, a duck with wheels. He knew how, as soon as they saw him, they’d start to laugh.

Of course there was no possibility of retreating. And yet – no way he could sledge down.

He’d started to shake, he realised. To shiver. But that was just the cold, surely? The cold, which was everywhere. Pushing up through the snow and the sledge, through his jeans, his flimsy skin. A cold that seemed to rise directly from a secret darkness packed far beneath the blinding earth. A chill so abruptly cutting, stinging, that Zac was forced to blink back tears. He blinked and blinked, wishing with all his might that he was sitting at home, beside the fire, watching television perhaps, and eating toast. Definitely eating toast, he told himself. Although truly, he longed to be anywhere else, doing anything else. To be anyone but Zac.

Except that then, suddenly there, between those confetti kids and their sledge tracks, through his own ice-bright tears and all that white, there was Mum. She was heading towards him, red-faced, arms pumping, puffing out steam and grinning as she waded closer. She was wearing her new suede coat. Such a deep, burnt orange colour, that coat; she flared like a flame against the snow. Briefly, Zac recalled church, the Christingles lining the deep stone sills. And then, despite how obvious it was that he was stuck, trapped, that he wasn’t about to go anywhere, Mum shouted. Shouting loud enough so that even the people waiting, far away, might hear.

“Hey, Zachary! Wait up! Wait for me...”

And almost before he realised what was happening, she was climbing on to the sledge behind him, wrapping her long, warm arms around his belly.

“You’ll be ok,” she whispered, and then she pushed.

And although Zac knows that the flight must have been exhilarating, that his heart was bound to have lifted as trees and kids and powder went tumbling past, his main memory of that sledge ride is of Mum. He remembers her arms around his middle, her cheek pressed against his own – and then, flickering out around them, against that glaring, spilt bleach sky, her joyous amber coat. The most vibrant, living colour, he’d thought then, in the entire Universe. Reaching out to grasp it with one flailing, grateful fist.

(glimpsed from The Dawning)

Happy Christmas x

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Nigel Pickard

This week we lost Nigel. A wonderful person, a stunningly good writer, an inspirational teacher and an unforgettable friend. I’m finding it very difficult to write about him, although I’ve tried to express something of what he meant over at LeftLion, where James Walker has gathered together memories of this unique, amazing man.

But really, words are nowhere near adequate.

The Broadway Book Club Weathervane Reading will still be going ahead on November 24th, and will be held in celebration of Nigel. There are details here.

Nigel is the highly acclaimed author of One, Attention Deficit and an incredible poetry collection, Making Sense (Shoestring Press). His current, almost complete work-in-progress contains some of the best writing I have ever read.

It is impossible to explain how much he will be missed

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Spot the Difference :-)

& Just One More

Wafer-thin mint...

Or maybe two

(please don’t explode)

But firstly, the reading at Mayhem was amazing!! Such a lot of fun, and utterly terrifying – completely packed (my papers were shaking like a shaking thing, nevertheless it was great to unleash a little of my Ghosts.)
Alongside fabulous excerpts from Niki Valentine, Charlotte Thompson and local storytelling legend Pete Davis, there was an awesome performance scripted by the very talented Andy Kells and up on the big screen, Robert Powell, Christopher Lee and Tom Baker!! How good is that??

So, coming up...

This Wednesday, November 9th, at 7pm, I’m at Nottingham’s marvellous Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop, running a fiction workshop on openings and images with the great Writing at Rosy’s cw group.

And later in the month, I’m back at the Broadway (hurrah!) reading with wonderful Weathervane (irrepressible Ian Collinson and perfect Pickard) at the phenomenal Pam McIlroy’s brilliant Broadway Book Club, November 24th, from 7...

Right. That’s quite enough alliteration (more than enough), though if you’re not fed up of me wittering on about events (which you surely are) there’s a bit more of my blah about such things amidst an excellent article by Shanta Everington about workshops and Luton’s groundbreaking book festival over at the awesome The View From Here....

Saturday, 1 October 2011

And More!!!

Ghost Stories for Halloween

Nottingham Writers Studio and Mayhem present a Halloween treat for
all fans of supernatural storytelling. Leading horror author Niki Valentine
hosts an evening of haunting tales and live readings as well as a series
of screenings of cult television ghost stories including Tom Baker reading
The Emissary by Ray Bradbury from Late Night Stories; The Mezzotint
read by Robert Powell from Classic Ghost Stories by M.R.James, and
from Christopher Lee’s Ghost Stories for Christmas, the good man
himself reading The Ash Tree.

I can't believe I've been invited to read at this!!

The Broadway is one of Nottingham's finest establishments and its annual Mayhem film festival is legendary. Alongside those screen greats, there will be spine-tingling tales from stunning storytellers Pete Davis and Marty Ross, a performance of Andy Cattanach's SMS ghost script 'Sent/Received', Nicola Valentine will be reading from her new novel The Haunted, and there's horror and wisdom from graphic novelist Brick too!

What am I doing there? (well, actually I'm reading something from my latest, The Lives of Ghosts, but you know what I mean)

A scary night for me in many, many ways -
am so excited, I can't wait :-)

It all takes place on October 31st (of course!) in the Broadway cafe/bar from 7.30 and it's FREE
Come along and join my trembling! Come! Come!

Monday, 19 September 2011

...and another

My review of When I Followed the Elephant by Tony R. Rodriguez can be found over at the fabulous The View From Here...

(just saying)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Taking Off

There is no fear of flying here. She love, love, loves it. Despite the airport waiting, the narrow foot space, the vague smell of something not too clean burrowed like rats into the upholstery. She loves it.

The grin is there already on her face, even before the safety demonstration that no one ever bothers to attend to, although she pretends to. Out of some sneaking wonder for the secret flitting lives of the cabin crew. And out of politeness. Of course.

And –



She loves it.

She loves the acceleration, is head-over-heels-passionate for the whoosh-slump of the moment when the plane leaves the ground. That swinging in her stomach. The hurricane that turns on, and then oh so forgivingly turns off, her ears.

Perhaps most of all, she loves the other passengers.

The little boys in matching lumberjack shirts who squash the stunted windows, shouting “Mum! Mum! It looks like toys.”

She loves the mum already with her headphones on, the cream-slow thick flick of her magazine. Her practised “mmm”.

And the teenage couple, the girl freshly blonded and bed-tanned, fully prepared for their very first break, while her boyfriend sits rigid, with his eyes screwed tight, white-lipped as they ascend. The way that girl laughs and pretends not to notice how scared he is, offering only the briefest touch to his corrugated knuckles –

She loves the kindness of that. The whole containment.

And she’d like to lean over too, to let him know that really,


There is no need to feel afraid.

But naturally, she won’t intrude and right now, she has no one else to explain to. The seat beside her is empty. The plane’s crowds have been mismanaged. And yet although she can’t see him, she can feel her own missing person there. Right there. She’s keeping hold of him, no matter what he might be thinking. Or where he’s placed. How high, or low.

Unstoppable, the thoughts fly out of her (to him? to him?), twined with that happiness.

And does he catch them? Perhaps it makes no difference.

His ghost hand’s wrapped so knowingly in hers.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Blue Windows

She doesn’t hear his key, the latch, the charm-like jangle of the forgotten chain. She doesn’t hear the back-and-forth rasp of boot soles on brown bristles, WELCOME trampled underfoot. She only realises he’s home with the bark of a televised shout, and then an eruption of orchestral strings that crest up through the living room ceiling, through the bathroom floorboards, an exultant fanfare for a shiny new car, or a packet of razors –

The commercial thrums in the gaps between her toes.

It’s more than enough. She throws the test into the cupboard beneath the sink and slams the door, catches her grey face in the dusty mirror. Her lips in the twilight are almost blue.

Her hair splashes over them as she swings away. She’s been in the bathroom for long enough. She’s thought for long enough. Nothing will change unless she starts it. And yet everything is different no matter what she does –

But before she can barrel downstairs, before she can rush him, the sky snatches at her. Blind-less, it forms a perfect panel in the neat white tiles. Not a true blue this evening, but a silky, opening mauve. Veined and deep and delicate, like the layered heart of some tropical flower. She feels a chill dab her collar, though the dusk doesn’t appear cool at all, but warm, and secretive.

Like flesh, she thinks and then hastily un-thinks it, drawing back the bolt and crossing the landing, but walking – walking now, not running – down the stairs.

She supposes that this is better, to appear calm. At the living room door, she pauses. Rakes her fingers through her hair, the strands more silvery than blond in the bleary, static light.

Not that it matters; he scarcely glances from the screen. She perches on the armchair at his side.

The programme is familiar. Yet another narrative about people circling their dreams. Every week, the same formula – a bright young couple or sometimes a family with mysteriously disappearing children, strive to build a house. Along the way, inevitably, things go wrong, with building supplies, and with builders and architects, bills flutter out of control – except it is almost at its end now. It’s the moment when everything’s resolved and the mellow-vowelled presenter (Cloud, she thinks his name is?) is led through a glittering palace of glass and clever, winking halogen. The fantasy-house (they’ve done it! Against the odds! What a surprise!) is revealed, as it always is, against a backdrop of incoming night.

The surrounding trees smear beside the building’s gleam; they bow respectfully, shuffle back. And it’s not the vast windows that are blue of course, but the world beyond their clean-cut gold. It’s as beautifully shot as ever and yet she thinks how her own bathroom sky was so much more palpable, a living thing –

"What now?" he says, and she jumps.

The remote’s clenched fatly in his fist.

"Shall I switch channels?" he asks "Or d'you want it off? Do you still want to talk..?"

She opens her mouth to begin it. She needs to explain.

About the test tossed with the unopened tampons beneath the sink. About windows, changing colour. She tries to imagine how his face will transform too, with her confession, but instead becomes distracted by the TV’s glow, the way it slides across his well-known features, remaking them already. And that blue flickering in his eyes. It brings to mind her Nana’s gas fire – the one she reached into, when she was five. She remembers how, because it danced so prettily, like water, she’d kept her fingers there, unbelieving, even as her skin began to curl.

"I," she says, but finishing off, the Cloud man interrupts her.

"This home," he says, "is an act of faith."

And for a moment, she watches her lover's thumb hover, considering Mute, before he shrugs forward. Breathes out. Turns over.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Furver fings...

ooh - look...

Come along! Make crafty things! Browse books! Say hello!

(I really must get a new picture)

and if you'd like another chance to hear me waffling on about The Dawning and writing in my own unique bumbling way (how can you resist?), the lovely Tina Bettison has made a podcast of her radio interview available on her blog (the brilliant Ian Collinson and Nigel Pickard are on there too, making contrastingly perfect sense)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Small happy happenings

A new review in the fabulous the view from here of Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (which I bloody loved, though if you'd like to know why, you'll have to buy a copy (-:)

Have been invited to talk about The Dawning, alongside my lovely publisher, at Nottingham Central Library, 4th May as part of this fine city's Festival of Reading (-:

And most very exciting, am about to vanish again, back to this amazing place, to play with novel 4.

Plus the sun is everywhere today. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Second Person

You’ve reached your flat, your doorstep. At last, you stop, but you’ve scarcely any breath and your head goes on echoing with the harsh ticking of your heels. You still can’t quite believe yourself, how you forgot your phone. Today, of all days. When you promised you’d call as soon as you’d told him. There’s somebody else. By 2, you’d said.

You drop your keys. Bend awkwardly to retrieve them, unbalanced by your heavy bag. It slide-slumps from your shoulder to your elbow, the strap catching, snapping, at your hair. A battle to simply get past the door and even once you’re in, you go on fighting yourself. Knocking your knee on the hall table so that later there will be a bruise, not unlike those others. Those perfect, purple petals circling your wrist. Not that any of this concerns you now –

The pathway to the kitchen, where your mobile surely waits, becomes a wind tunnel, sucking you on.

And it’s there. Thank god, it’s there.

Lying on the counter beside the fruit bowl (two browning, wrinkling apples, a skeleton of grape sticks), like something innocent. In relief, in triumph, you pounce. A greedy child grabbing at the last fat wedge of cake. But in your hand –

The phone is lifeless.

You don’t take your eyes from its screen as you rush through to the bedroom, to where the charger waits amidst a tangle of other wires. Irrelevant leads. You squat clumsily to plug it in and your skirt rides up, revealing a milky slice of winter thigh. While you wait for the connection, the acknowledgement, you grow aware of the different places where your blouse is sticking. And that exposed skin distracts you. The pale, dimpled meat of it. Hastily, with your spare hand, you tug flat the crumpled cotton. You can’t afford to think about your imperfections. Of how, even after everything, you might not be enough. With the first pulse of the battery bar, you dial.

Except apparently you can’t. Not yet. At least not without a glass of wine at your side. You return to the kitchen, where the light is changing, pinking. Reaching into the cupboard, you look deliberately past the way your fingers tremble through that pink. Only you can’t help wincing when the glasses knock together; their thin, piercing ring reverberates right through you.

It's the fear. The fear that despite all the planning, the daydreaming, the reality of your freedom will change everything. The fear that though you’ve kept up your side of the bargain – that you’ve actually done it, you’ve left him - you might after all, remain alone.

You go to the fridge, and as you pour, you’re suddenly, distinctly, struck by a whole new guilt. A cold, far brighter and sharper than the slow, pervasive, mud-like sensation that you’ve been carrying for months. So clearly, you feel the waiting beyond yourself, and you know that this delay is madness. In your renewed haste, clenching your Dutch Courage, you leave the fridge open, purring, behind you.

Still, the phone goes on lying in the soft dark beneath the bed.

You needed to finish the glass first. Although between each starched sip, your afternoon snapped back at you in pieces. How he slumped forward when you told him, the colours changing in his face. You’d never seen him cry like that before. Such a slow, sad breaking… And it’s all wrong. Of course it’s wrong –

You ought to sound happy when you ring. You should raise your cool glass to your new future. You need to believe in that future, to trust it, to move beyond the fear. After all, you’ve done everything you were begged to do. Except even now. Even now.

There’s too much love inside you. Too much hope. You return to the kitchen to fetch the bottle. You go on pouring, drinking.

The bottle’s empty.

Though you lost the last half-glass of it, tipping it stupidly, soaking your skirt. For a moment you just sit, watching the stain. Feeling the wet, feeling caught out. You don’t know how you’ll explain this wait, why you still haven’t called. When you said 2. What if it’s unforgivable?

In the next moment, you’re up, fumbling with your waistband, desperate to be rid of the sodden fabric. The zip’s tearing sounds far louder than it should. You feel it in your teeth. And there’s your body again. Your legs. You cover them quickly. A pair of ancient pyjama bottoms, the first thing to hand. You can’t stand your skin, that sallow gleaming, made worse by the shadows. Grey flowers, cobwebs, in every corner. The scent of your own sweat turns your stomach. And your breath’s rough with the wine. Something sourer underneath.

Your dread becomes clearer. What if you get what you deserve?

But with it, the longing –

You’re calling.

The phone damp already in your hand.

You’re calling.

And between the ring tone and your heartbeat, it occurs to you that its small, glowing screen revealed no new messages. No missed calls.

And you look at the bruises on your wrist. The bruises that I put there. And I join you in your wondering, about whether I’ll reply.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


This Sunday evening I'll be talking writing with wondrous Weathervane on local radio station, Boundary Sound.

We'll be on Tina Bettison's 'In the Limelight' show from around 6.15 and you can listen live here:

(if you fancy (-:)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

February fings

Happy writing things lately!

Firstly, a visit to fabulous Fosseway writers group with Weathervane.
It was a real honour to read and chat with such supportive, interested and interesting folk. I first visited them in 2009 when I had the privilege of judging their horror short story competition and it was wonderful to be so welcomed back. And it’s always inspiring, and tons of fun, to read alongside Ian Collinson and Nigel Pickard. They show me how it’s done.

Also, I have a review out in the February issue of the magnificent the view from here magazine of Kenneth Oppel’s Half Brother – a YA novel, with wide-ranging crossover appeal about a family raising a chimp as a child in a unique linguistic experiment…

Meanwhile, at work, I’ve been figuring out workshops and writing with children, which has been brilliant. They're brilliant, imagination overflowing.

At home, I’ve been writing a new short story, which I don’t do so often these days, and which at the moment feels a bit, I think, like amateur topiary – there’s this massive hedge to shape and shears to wield and at times I’m so cack-handed I may well end up chopping that fuzzy green swan’s head clean off... Yet, I’m loving it – although if I ever do get it finished, I’ve no idea what I might do with it. But then, writing simply for writing is perhaps the very best thing of all.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


This weekend, a year ago, The Dawning was published.

And over that past year, I’ve…
Read and been welcomed at a number of fabulous writing and reading events, all over the place in Nottingham, and in Leicester and London.
I’ve had interviews and reviews online and in print
Sneaked into my local Waterstones on more than one occasion just to see my spine gleaming back at me on a bookshop shelf (I know, I know, I’m sorry)
I’ve been on the radio and featured in podcasts
Been nervous and grateful and utterly overwhelmed. And a bit tipsy too.
I’ve signed books. And I’ve tried to explain.

The Dawning has brought me many, many happy things, but meeting brilliant people has definitely been the best bit.

I’m incredibly fortunate.

So please excuse the soppiness, but I wanted to say some massive thank yous.

Firstly, thank you Nicholas Royle and Sherry Ashworth, alongside my other inspiring tutors and astoundingly talented classmates at Manchester Metropolitan University for all that incredible encouragement long before The Dawning even guessed what it might be called.
Thank you to my long-suffering family and my lovely friends, and to the great writers at NWS, who have been so supportive.
Thank you kind bloggers and reviewers, and especially readers, and to the people who have patiently listened (and sometimes even nodded) while I’ve read and chatted and squealed. Thank you to everyone who’s raised a glass with me.
Thank you, hugely, to Weathervane, to fellow author Nigel Pickard for putting up with reading beside me, and to the lovely Ian Collinson who turned my excitement into a real, live book.

This weekend, I may be celebrating all over again, with something fizzy, maybe a cocktail. Or two.
Except I’d best not have a headache on Monday because that’s my birthday as well (though I’ll be considerably older than my little book)

So cheers folks, and thank you. I’m a lucky, lucky woman. (-: