An accidental Business

No one said setting up a writing coaching and feedback service would be easy. No one really had any predictions about it, probably because we didn’t ask for any.

 My work space.

My work space.

And then when people do ask about it, I’m either so surprised they’re interested, I talk them into a look of bemused boredom or they grasp it too well and ask that little bastard of a question: ‘so have you been published?’ Or, it’s awkward close relation: ‘What do you do if they don’t get published at the end of it?’ (More on this another day.)

No one told me it would be quite so much staring at my inbox, clicking refresh when staring become disheartening as well as pointless (it’s only a light step between the two but I’m sure it’s there) and then snarling at the screen when the little (1) of hope turned out to be a ‘do you know ...’ email from twitter.

The other day I actually celebrated our 40th follower on twitter with a post announcing the fact on facebook. Why did I not enter the working world before you had to put little sentences onto a conveyor belt of little sentences for people to scroll down when they could also be doing something more interesting, like flattening receipts or making everything on their desk perpendicular? I still don't know what Pinterest is for...

I like post. I like trying to guess what it is before I open it. I like walking downstairs to the post office, pausing to check the back is sealed, the address is legible, and the stamp is firmly affixed, for the third time, before dropping it into the mouth of the cheerful red post box. I even like how it reminds me of the outside world by breaking the silence of my quiet flat when it rattles through the letter box and flunks onto the carpet. Even if it does scare the shit out of me. Every time.

It wasn’t really a conscious decision to set up a creative writing and feedback service. Not on my part anyway, not yet. It was something to do, after university and after the third or fourth internship and the 37th failed job application. The problem with being a magpie person (distracted by so many shiny things of interest ranging from psychology to dress making and algebra to stage management) is that you end up with a CV of nothing and everything: everything you had a go at and nothing of use. The only thing mine really proclaimed (with some editing) was: I like books! Me and all the other thousands of graduates scrabbling for jobs in the book industry, castaways missing or capsizing a tilting boat.

That was something everyone told me. But you either hope you’ll be one of the lucky few who does make a career in books or you give up without even trying – and do something else. Only that didn’t work out because I hadn’t done anything else enough to get a job in it, except retail and only the big supermarkets or big department stores take on full-time employees at non-managerial level.

John Lewis wasn’t hiring so it was work for Tesco or be standing in the chocolate aisle in Tesco, choosing between maltesers and minstrels, when your mother sends you a text saying, ‘How about we set up our own company?’ and you have to stop yourself telling the nearest person about this incredibly ludicrous idea that’s just been suggested to you.

16 months on, though I am one of the lucky few, being paid to do what I love doing, I’m still not sure it’s not a ludicrous idea. But with 48 clients (former and existing), leaflets, business cards and a load of social media accounts I’m not sure what to do with, I have to at least admit it is happening.

I just sometimes wish it was slightly less of a pushing a building up a hill sort of happening. 

Posted on October 13, 2014 .

Poetry Quiz

To celebrate National Poetry Day, we've put together a poetry quiz. 

Match the lines, to the poem, to the poet!


The lines


The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,

And I am next of kin;

The guests are met, the feast is set:

May'st hear the merry din.'



The rain set early in to-night,

The sullen wind was soon awake,

It tore the elm-tops down for spite,

 And did its worst to vex the lake:



Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom



May no fate willfully misunderstand me

And half grant what I wish and snatch me away

Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:

I don't know where it's likely to go better.



Sun, rain, curving sky                               

Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone

Star shine, moon glow

You're all that I can call my own.



But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

      Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

      Turns again home.



Like shut-eyed half-submerged Nile bulls

The buildings tremble with breath.



Currants and gooseberries,

Bright-fire-like barberries,

Figs to fill your mouth,

Citrons from the South,



My heart forgets,

While pityless the tempest wild

Sore on you beats.



Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not. 



And one day

Side by side

In big wicker baskets

Walking through the market

 To realize their dream



He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped

Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;

Aqueous like floating rays of amber light, 

Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.



She came from a long, long way,
but I saw her at last, walking,
my daughter, my girl, across the fields,



But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
“O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.



And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

All poems taken from:

The Poems 


The Death Bed

The Raven

Sonnet 116

Goblin Market

Crossing the Bar

Woman Work

As I Walked out one Evening


The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Ode to the Artichoke

Porphyria's Lover

A Winter Night





The Poets

William Shakespeare

Robbie Burns

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Edgar Allan Poe

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Robert Browning

Christina Rossetti

Robert Frost

Siegfried Sassoon

Pablo Neruda

W.H. Auden

Maya Angelou

Ted Hughes

Seamus Heaney

Carol Ann Duffy


Posted on October 2, 2014 .

Rewrite a fairy tale

Rewrite a fairy tale as one of the following:

A press release
A medical report
The topic of a conversation between two (or more) people

Sleeping beauty might lend itself to this ... Coma? Narcolepsy? ME?

This was our writing challenge for Thursday 4th September.

In response, we received this wonderfully retold tale by Fran Hill.

Dear Doctor

Thank you for sending me Grandmother, your patient, for a consultation, and for raising your concerns about her health. I agree there are urgent matters to be dealt with and look forward to working with you as a medical colleague to alleviate her distress.

I have never encountered the condition ‘Trapped-inside-a-wolf-itis’ before and indeed it made examination difficult. In my consulting room, it is not often I say‘Please open your mouth as wide as possible’ to someone not actually the patient, but someone who has eaten the patient. However, with the wonders of modern technology, a camera on a long wire, I was able to insert this into the wolf’s alimentary canal and view Grandmother. She looks remarkably well for someone consumed by a large hairy animal, though she is rather squashed in there, and I doubt that her pre-existing arthritic condition is benefiting much from her current situation. She appears to be fully-clothed in a lace cardigan and tweed skirt; I assume this means the condition was of sudden onset.

My prognosis would have been pessimistic, had it not been for a woodcutter who leapt into my consulting room in the middle of the consultation, claiming to be the father of a Miss Hood, and wielding an enormous axe. Axes not being my preferred surgical implement for delicate operations such as releasing Grandmothers from those who have digested them, I offered instead, as politely as possible, the suggestion that a scalpel might result in a better outcome for Grandmother, his mother. With the woodcutter’s permission, I operated immediately, having anaesthetised the wolf with the head of the woodcutter’s axe in a way, I have to say, was remarkably efficient and much cheaper than the usual NHS dose of Desflurane. (You will note that I have copied this letter to the Secretary of State for Health).

For a woman of 92, Grandmother’s recovery has been extremely rapid and she is now sitting up in bed reading a book called ‘Home Security and its Advantages’. The wolf, I am pleased to say, never recovered from the operation.

Should Grandmother have any further medical concerns, please do not hesitate to refer her back to me. 

Yours sincerely

Dr Lou Pinesolutions

Posted on September 11, 2014 .

Children's Book Quiz (for Grown-Ups)

To mark the first day back at work (or school) after the summer, here's a Children's Book Quiz for Grown-Ups.

 Back in the jug agane

Back in the jug agane

1. In Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, what is the Banks’ family address?

2. What is the name of Tintin’s dog?

3. In which A.A. Milne book, does Tigger first appear?

4. Who wrote the book Little House on the Prairie?

5. Name all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia series.

6. What daytime job did Richmal Crompton, author of the Just William books, have?

7. Which Mr Men character is round and yellow, with a big red nose and blue gloves?

8. In the Beatrix Potter stories, who escapes over the hills and far away with Pig-wig?

9. Which country did the Moomins books originate from?

10. In White Boots by Noel Streatfeild, what does Harriet’s father do?


11. According to Roald Dahl, what do the Twits put in their pies?

12. In Erich Kästner’s book, who is Emil accompanied by in the title?

13. What is the name of the druid in the Asterix books?

14. In the books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, what is the name of Molesworth’s school?

15. What four books make up Louisa M. Alcott’s family saga?


Click here for the answers.

Posted on September 1, 2014 .

Book review

How not to.jpg


How not to write a novel

Who’s it by?

Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. Newman is a novelist and Mittelmark a ghostwriter. Both have been ‘teaching, editing, writing and reviewing fiction’ for a long time.

What’s it about?

All the major areas of writing that any novelist needs to know about: plot, character, style, pace, beginnings, dialogue… you name it. If it matters, it is in here.

What is it not about?

They don’t cover literary fiction, and they don’t pretend to be highbrow.

Why buy it?

Firstly, because it is so entertaining. It is a genuinely funny book. Secondly, and more importantly, the authors know their stuff and know how to put it over. Everything wannabe novelists should not do is illustrated with a cringeworthy and memorable example, and these stick in the mind better than a list of rules ever could. This is not the only book fiction writers should read and it will not teach you all the nuances of the craft but it will stop you making some basic, very common, mistakes.  It is a paperback, it is not expensive and it covers a huge range of issues.

Posted on February 14, 2014 .

Character: What would they do?


Rowan Atkinson once said he played Mr Bean by imagining what a 7 year old boy would do in a given situation (hence the nativity figures' encounter with a truck of sheep, a tyrannosaurus and a dalek). 
Place one of your characters - or make up a new one - in one or all of the following scenarios and write what they do.

A waiting room.
A queue for the toilets.
A crowded bar.

What do they do? Where do they look? Do they speak to anyone around them? Do they fidget? Do they have any mannerisms or habits?

Better still, if you're in a room alone, or even if you're in company and just fancy adding a touch of eccentricity to proceedings, pretend you are that character. And do what they would do. Then write about it. Try using strong verbs rather than adverbs and stick to what they do, not why they do it.

Posted on January 2, 2014 and filed under Tips, Thought.