Monday, 2 November 2015

Historical Novel Society Review - Longlisted for HNS Indie Award

Lament for a Siege Town

Lament for a Siege Town by Clare Hawkins
Lament for a Siege Town is concerned with the siege of Colchester of 1648 by Parliamentarian forces while a Royalist army is trapped within the town walls and the townsfolk who suffer alongside the soldiers.

When I opened this novel to find it written in the present tense my heart fell, but I persevered and I am very glad I did. This is an accomplished novel peopled by compelling characters who you sympathise with and want to know better. We meet Sir Charles Lucas, one of the Royalist commanders, a local man whose family home has been destroyed by the Roundheads; Katherine, the wife of an alderman of the town; Beth, a girl who has to grow up quickly when war descends on her home; Tobias, the Roundhead soldier who finds himself also stuck in the town when he is left behind after an attack; and the delightful, mischievous twins Jack and Edward.

The novel looks good, the cover is attractive and descriptive, it feels good in the hand, and the publication quality is very high. I found no typos and no formatting issues, and it was easy to forget that this is an indie book that I was reading because I was in some way obliged; it became a novel I wanted to read and wanted to finish. Ms Hawkins follows up her characters, forgets no one, ties up loose ends and weaves a polished tale.

I am not a huge fan of the English Civil War or Roundheads, but this novel is a good read, and there are plenty of heroes and villains to choose from, Parliamentarian and Royalist, and ultimately it is a story, not of the Civil War but of people, emotions, torn loyalties, where war is not split into neat factions and is never simple. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes here, and the message that one takes away is that even the simplest, most ordinary person can make a difference.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

How to write Deep Point of View by Sue Dawes

What is Deep Point of View?
Have you ever read a book where it feels like you’re experiencing what the character feels first hand, and by the end you think you really know them?  It’s probably because the author has used a Deep POV. It's a method of getting the reader right inside the characters head.

How is it done?
There are several things that will help you to get started writing Deep Point Of View.  The following is a guide but bear in mind it takes practice and isn’t easy .  It’s also only successful when using the first or third person limited point of view. 

1.       Remove speech tags
Remove any tags (he said, she said) that distance the reader from the character. One way of doing this is to use actions straight after the speech.

Example:             'Get off me,’ he said.
DPOV:                 'Get off me.’ He put his arms up to protect himself.

2.       Remove any filter words
These are words that describe what the character is thinking or seeing, which also create distance.

Example:              'I don’t like it here’, he thought.
DPOV:                  'I don’t like it here.’ He backed away.

3.       Don’t use the passive voice
Discard any ‘passive’ voice.  The emphasis should be on the subject rather than the object.  It also makes it more immediate.
Example:              'My wallet was stolen by Rita
DPOV:                 ' Rita stole my wallet.’

4.       Limit the characters knowledge
No one sees everything all of the time.  If your character can’t see it, don’t mention it.
Example:              Sarah heard the gun shot and wondered what had happened.
DPOV                   It was definitely a gun shot.  What was happening?

5.       Be careful how your character refer to others
Most people don’t call their sibling ‘brother/sister’ when they meet them, but you still need to show the relationship to the reader.  One way is to put the information into action, a direct thought or a flashback.

Example:             Her brother, John, wound down the window and flicked out the cigarette, knowing it would annoy Gill.
DPOV                 John wound down the window and flicked out the cigarette.  Gill bit back anger. That’s what brothers were for, wasn’t it?  To irritate.
6.       Use all the senses
Remember to use the five senses to convey place and emotion.

Example:            She felt very cold
DPOV                 Shivering, she rubbed her hands over her arms.  God it even smelt cold.

7.       Use flashbacks to create backstory.
You can’t have paragraphs of description in deep POV, unless the character is experiencing it.  All description is detailed through perception.

Example:               'You always were a scruffy child,’ her mother said, smoothing down a dress more suitable for the catwalk than a family meal.  She made Gail feel small, like she was a child again. 
DPOV                   ‘You always were a scruffy child’.  Gail turned away.  She wasn't going to let her mum criticise her, especially while wearing that ridiculous dress.

8.       Be consistent. 
Your character must refer to people in the same way throughout the story.  Their likes and frustrations mustn’t change and everything must be internalised.

Example:               The motorway was jammed.  People were driving slowly and Gail felt angry, like she was going nowhere.
DPOV                   ‘What the hell was wrong with everyone and why were they driving so slowly?’ Gail punched the dashboard.

I found the following sites really helpful when compiling this document.  Both are written in plain English:

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Writing Festivals. Are they worth it? by Sue Dawes

I’ve just returned from the Festival of Writing (FOW15) which is held annually in York and run by 'The Writer’s Workshop’. The extended weekend was part of the prize for the ‘Criminal Minds’ Competition.


The weekend ran from the 4th September to the 6th and was fully catered. The food was excellent and although the accommodation was basic (halls of residence), it was sufficient, and all rooms had an ensuite.

A festival for introverts

I arrived late at the festival- navigation is not my specialty- but I didn’t feel as intimidated as I imagined I would, walking into the packed lecture hall. I found the seminars and workshops at the festival very useful (and plentiful) even though by the end of the weekend I had information overload. I learnt some new self-editing techniques, the actual process of submission and I met some agents. I think this is the biggest draw of writing festivals, especially for writers who don't 'know' people in the industry. It’s the possibility that you might be ‘discovered’.

An opportunity to get noticed

The Festival of Writing runs competitions throughout the weekend (I can't comment on whether other festivals do this), and if you're inclined to enter them, have the guts to stand up on stage and read your work out, you can really stamp your mark on an agent’s memory. We were introduced to a handful of published authors, signed up after winning some of these competitions (first chapter, best pitch etc.)

Was it worth it?

Attending the festival has certainly made me feel more confident about the submissions process. Now that I know Agents get roughly 4000 manuscripts a year, and have to squeeze reading them in with their day-to-day work, I feel less anxious about waiting. If they don’t respond immediately to you, it might have nothing to do with your writing but rather timing. Agents are only people, flawed like the rest of us and they have ‘bad’ days too.


I came away from the festival with new friends, a few pounds to lose (the food really was good!) and the feeling that anything is possible (with hard work, and flexibility). Writing can be a lonely life, but if nothing else, these festivals prove that you are never actually alone.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A Sense of Place

A Sense of Place
– thoughts on travel writing by Philippa Hawley.

I’ve just submitted my first piece of formal travel writing; an article for the online magazine, the Literary Bohemian. Doing this has made me realise that much of my writing over recent years has been travel related. Travel writing overlaps with so many genres; memoir writing, autobiography, blogging, or simply keeping a journal. It can form the basis for a short story or a novel, and in my own case I realise travel has frequently inspired my fictional attempts. My first book, ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’ came out of a desire to write about some time I spent working in Sri Lanka. ‘How They Met Themselves’, my second book, was inspired by a road trip I once made with friends in California.
     Traditional travel writing commonly results in articles for magazines, newspapers or online blogs. It is usually written in the first person, present or past tense. As with all writing description is important and clich├ęs should be avoided. A narrative thread can be helpful, maybe some quotes and references included, but perhaps most importantly any facts have to be researched and checked.
     A different form of travel writing is the autobiographical book. I’m thinking of the success of “A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle in 1989 and also ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’, once described as the greatest travel book of all time in both the Guardian and Telegraph listings. Written by Eric Newby in 1959, this book stimulated travel ideas in many a young person in the 60s and 70s.
     In a similar vein Chris Stewart, the retired drummer of Genesis, published “Driving Over Lemons’ in 1999, an account of his Andalucian adventure. Wivenhoe writer, Jan Ward’s autobiographical book, ‘Travellers Wanted…’ about her journey in 1968 from Sydney to London in a bus, was self-published in 2012 and is well worth a look.
     The transition from autobiography to fiction allows the constraints of travel writing to shift. In ‘A Thousand days in Venice’, it's hard to know if Marlena de Blasi is writing true biography or fiction as she describes an unexpected romance in Venice and adds tasty snippets about food and recipes along the way.
     When travel inspires pure fiction the rules change further. In a short story a sense of place often grounds a piece of writing, giving the reader a greater understanding of a plot or character by showing not telling. In longer pieces or novels, knowing where the story is set can add depth and realism to the writing. But in fiction facts can be modified to suit your story, reality and fantasy can merge and create a new place, or a new way of looking at a known environment.
     Placing your novel in a different part of the world or in a specific city or town, can add interest for a reader, allowing them learn about another country through the eyes of the characters within. It can rekindle their own memories of travel or create a desire to visit and make their own journeys.
     I love reading stories set in places I’ve been to. ‘The Miniaturist’ by Jess Burton reminded me of frequent trips to Amsterdam, ‘Brixton Beach’ by Roma Tearne took me back to my time in Sri Lanka, and ‘Brighton Rock’ by Graham Greene made me think of when my daughter lived in the town, albeit decades later. Other novels I’ve read have taken me across the USA, or into unknown areas of the Middle East. I’ve been transported to Sweden, Africa and New Zealand as well as enjoying more familiar European places through different eyes.
     Reading can help you travel the world and as writers we can encourage our readers to do just that. So next time you write, think about place and setting and maybe add a little travel to your tale.
‘There’s No Sea in Salford’
‘How They Met Themselves’
&‘Travellers Wanted…’

 are available at Wivenhoe Bookshop and online.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Monday, 15 June 2015

How to write a Drabble by Sue Dawes.

In July, three of my Drabbles will be published in an on-line e-zine called Specklit (  They are taxing, yet fun to write and really hone your editing skills.

So what is a Drabble? 
It’s a hundred word story- exactly 100 words in my case. The form is very popular in the Science Fiction genre but the subject can be anything you like.

Where did the term come from?
The term was first coined in Monty Python’s, Big Red Book. ‘Drabble’ was described as a word game in which the first contestant to complete a novel was the winner.  When the game was transferred from the page to the real world, it was decided that 100 words was sufficient in order to play.

What are the rules of a Drabble?
'One hundred words' must be EXACTLY one hundred words: not a syllable more, not a letter less.  In addition, up to fifteen words (title, sub-titles and the like) are allowed.  Hyphenated-words-are-argued-about.” David B Wake.

Even though the story is only 100 words, it needs structure.  Like a Haiku, the best Drabbles have a twist at the end.  The best way to approach writing a Drabble is to write a longer story, with the usual beginning, middle and end and pare it down (with a cleaver rather than a filleting knife).  And finally, invest in (or bookmark) a thesaurus.  It will help you to reduce your word count and yet allow you to say so much more.

Story ideas
1               Take a fairy tale and a childhood game and combine them.
2               Write about an object that does something it isn’t supposed to.
3               Use the idea that you are running out of time (apocalypse/race to the moon/hunger games etc)
4               Start with a ‘do not disturb sign’ and disturb them.
5               Pick three random words from the novel you are reading and use this as a prompt.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Summer edition of WDTL

The Summer edition of WDTL has been produced and can be found (in hard copy) at Wivenhoe station.  It is also available to read on-line at

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Interview with Scottish novelist, Catriona Child.

Scottish author Catriona Child has two books published with Luath press: ‘Trackman’ and ‘Swim until you can’t see land.’

Where do you get your ideas?

The idea for Trackman came from a dream that my husband had – he dreamt that he was on an underground train. A girl was crying and a man handed her a pair of headphones. Everything started to go a bit strange when she put them on, but she was happy. He told me about his dream and this set something off. I am a big music fan and have always been interested in the effects that music can have on us as human beings, so this all turned into Trackman.
For my second novel, it started out as an idea about a girl who steals a lottery ticket from an old man. However, it wasn’t really working and then I saw on the news about the death of Eileen Nearne (a WW2 secret agent). I was intrigued by her story and have always been fascinated by social history and WW2. I started to do some research into women secret agents, as well as recounting stories my granny told me about WW2 and my old man was suddenly transformed into a woman secret agent.
So to sum up, a dream and a news item!

How long do your novels take to write?

Trackman took about four years, including a two year distance learning MA in Creative Writing. Swim took about two years. I’m not a full time writer though, so write when I find time during evenings and weekends.

How do you motivate yourself to keep going?

Some days are easier than others, if I have a good idea or if I’m really enjoying what I’m writing about then it’s easy to keep going. If the writing is not going well though, it’s tougher. I guilt myself into turning off the TV or getting up off the sofa – Stephen King said in On Writing, that you need to turn the ER repeats off, and I hear that phrase in my head when I’m being lazy. I also was told that writing is a muscle and needs exercised, so I use that as another motivator, especially if it’s a bad day – if I keep going, the writing muscle will be more toned tomorrow.

How do you judge when the book is finished?

I read it and edit it over and over and over (both to myself and out loud) and get other writers to read it and comment, and eventually the red pen marks get less and less. I don’t think you’ll ever be completely happy with something, but there comes a time when you just have to stop.

What is the last thing you do before you send the novel off?

Read it one last time, check the spelling.

Was it hard to get your first book: ‘Trackman’ published?

It was probably easier than I expected, although a great deal of that was down to luck – the director of Luath happened to open the mail on the day that my submission arrived and liked it. I was told that if anyone else had opened the mail that day, it would have just been tossed onto the slush pile. I used the Writers and Artists Yearbook and sent my novel out to a variety of agents and publishers. Some replied with a rejection, some never replied, luckily for me Luath replied and asked to see the full thing.

Did you ever think of giving up?

Not really. I was aware of how difficult it is to get published, so wasn’t expecting to get a positive response. Trackman was at the stage where I couldn’t really do anything more to it and it was time to start writing something new, so I thought I might as well try and send it out there. If nobody had responded positively, I probably would have given up with Trackman and tried to write something new.

Who did you approach and why?

I sent it out to agents and to any publishers who seemed to fit Trackman and who accepted unsolicited manuscripts.

Why did you make the decision to go straight to the publisher?

Luath accepted unsolicited manuscripts, so I thought I would try them. They’re an independent publisher from Edinburgh, with a good reputation, so I thought they were worth a go.

How long did the process take from acceptance to publication?

It probably took around a year, including all the edits etc. Luath asked me to do a few initial changes to the book and then I worked more closely with an editor.

How did you promote yourself and your books?

This is the bit I find the hardest. I set up a Twitter account and a writer’s facebook page. Luath had various contacts so they managed to set up a few reviews in local papers, and arranged for me to do various readings. I also contacted people myself and asked to appear at their festival or if they would do a review on their blog. Some were successful, some weren’t.

Would you consider approaching an agent with future manuscripts?

Yes, I think an agent would be the next step for me. I think it would be useful to have someone with good contacts who understands the publishing industry more than I do, and someone who can have the difficult conversations.
I sometimes feel that, as an independent publisher, Luath don’t have the time or the finances behind them to market the book as well as a bigger publishing company might have, and I think this is where an agent would help.

Do you have plans for a third book?

I have a vague idea and am trying to write bits and pieces, but am finding it more difficult to get time to myself since having my daughter last year. I’m trying to keep a wee journal of my daughter’s first year, which is a very badly written stream of consciousness type thing, but at least it’s writing.

What compels you to write?

I’ve always written from a very young age, whether it be stories, letters or a diary. It’s something I enjoy doing and something I’m sure that I will always do regardless of publication.

What else do you enjoy besides writing?

I love reading, music (listening to and going to gigs), the cinema – all of which have taken a back seat recently while I spend time with my daughter (which I also love doing!). I swim, run and do a bit of yoga to keep fit.

Catriona reading from her second novel: Swim until you can't see land
Photograph by Alan T Simpson.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley by Clare Hawkins

I have been floundering with the writing of my current novel, partly due to external events but also because the material and the process are failing to ‘grab’ me. With my other novels, I have often become so involved and excited that I can’t wait to get back to the desk to write the next chapter. However, while tidying my desk (a typical avoidance strategy) I re-discovered Jane Smiley’s excellent book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel’ which I had borrowed from a friend some time ago and never got round to reading. (It’s a hefty volume).

Its subtitle is What to read and how to write and it provides material aplenty to satisfy readers who are also novel writers. I turned to Chapter 10 A Novel of Your Own (I), which is a guide primarily aimed at novice writers attempting their first drafts. However, I felt in need of some pretty basic help and guidance in my current state of mind.

In this chapter Smiley suggests that embarking on writing a novel is an exciting, liberating and inexpensive act, but acknowledges the many obstacles that writers will inevitably experience. She provides an insightful commentary on the elements of novel writing as a hierarchy of skills, but most telling for me was her advice about how to deal with doubts and misgivings during the writing of the first draft.

She is a believer in completing the rough draft without too much ‘fiddling’ or re-writing. A new writer should press on with the first draft ‛in spite of time constraints, second thoughts, self-doubts and judgements of all kinds.’ This is ‘an act of faith that is invariably rewarded – the rough draft of the novel is the absolute paradigm of something that comes out of nothing.’ I’ve always liked the idea that writing a novel is one of the few creative activities which comes almost entirely out of your own head.

Smiley goes on the discuss blockages such as boredom with the material, which she claims arises for various reasons. The first is lack of knowledge about your material, which can be addressed by undertaking more active research. Next, confusion about your premise can cause boredom and avoidance, which can be treated by re-reading and thinking deeply about what is actually going on in the plot and with the characters. Another significant obstacle is being too critical or ashamed of your writing, because it doesn’t measure up to the works of others you aspire to. I can identify very strongly with this. She argues that, ‘Admiration for the work of other novelists should remind you of the goal, but not make the goal seem unattainable, should open up your desire to write, not shut it down.’

There are many other encouraging statements in this chapter too arising from her enthusiasm for novel writing, her conviction that hard work and commitment will bring great pleasure and enjoyment. ‘The trick is to make your material so fascinating that you cannot stay away from it, so intriguing that you ignore negative feelings and second thoughts, so rich with interest that the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hardly occur to you.’ Her definition of ‘inspiration’ is interesting too, something which has to be worked at, or ‘a condition of being stimulated by contemplation of the material to a degree sufficient to overcome your natural disinclination to create.’

The chapter also contains some insights into the deeper motivations and insecurities of novel writers, which made slightly uncomfortable reading for me, as I recognised my own errors in some of her examples.

I must read the next chapter, A Novel of Your Own (11), and indeed the rest of the book, as soon as I get time, though now I must pick up my first draft again, re-think its premise, get going and finish it!

Good writing, everyone!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Writing short stories, by Paula K. Randall

Are you a short story writer? If so, there are lots of competitions you can enter, and this is all good for your resume. But make sure you get your stories as good as they can be before you send them off. Mslexia, the magazine for women writers, is running a series of 3 on-line workshops on short-story writing. The first one can be seen here (and you don't have to be female to benefit from it!)

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The new edition of Words Down the Line

The new WDTL is at Wivenhoe station and on-line, featuring a selection of prose by local writers.  Find it here:

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Philippa Hawley in conversation with Tom Hale

Philippa spoke to journalist Tom Hale on 3 January 2015 about her new book.

Q:- So you’ve recently published your second novel, ‘How They Met Themselves’. How does that feel?
A:- I’m delighted to have it out there. I was keen to publish this novel before Christmas in order for it to be available as Christmas presents, and even though it was a very busy time for my family, and indeed everyone in Wivenhoe, the launch went well.

Q:- Are you pleased with how the book has turned out?
A:- Yes, delighted. It looks great,and feels good to hold. It has a fabulous cover which Catherine Dodds created, using a photograph from my husband, Clinton’s collection. I’m pleased with the story and the characters within it

Q:- Tell us how the story began, and what it’s about.
A:- After ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’ was so satisfying to write, I knew I wanted to write another book. I was inspired by a journey I made in America with three girlfriends in 2011 when we drove up the west coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I wanted to use this experience as the basis for a novel, but then changed the perspective by writing it from the point of view of a young man making a journey and growing up in the process. The main character, Max meets two very different young women at opposite ends of California and on his return to England an unexpected connection between them unfolds, which changes all their lives.

Q:- How did you find writing from such a different point of view?
A:- It was a challenge trying to think like a 23 year old man, but having children in their twenties and knowing their friends helped. I was careful not to try to be too ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ as I thought that would simply sound cliched. I also had to be careful not to write embarrassing scenes that might make my own youngsters cringe.

Q:- I notice you use your medical experience in your writing. Why is that so important to you?
A:- Having been a practising doctor for over 32 years it is hard to leave my medical experience behind. Ex-patients provide a huge source of material and I find I enjoy writing about medical issues in a way that is hopefully accessible and even informative for the general reader.

Q:- What issues you explore in ‘How They Met Themselves’.
A:- The two major subjects are disability and adoption, but I also touch upon mental health, bereavement, fertility and relationships in general.

Q:- And how did you think of the unusual title?
A:- ‘How They Met Themselves’ is the name of a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I have always loved the Pre-Raphaelites and came across this painting when researching doppelgangers. It seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Q:- I’ve heard you say you learnt a lot from writing and publishing your first novel. What did you learn that helped you this time?
A:   -To be organised, do research, keep good character notes, and use a flow chart.
-To be conscious of point of view and be consistent. 
-To avoid cliche and be creative with metaphor and simile.
     -To aim to ‘show not tell’ but still be clear and allow the story to make sense and come together.
     -To check and recheck your writing, then pay someone to copy edit, before checking again.
     -To be patient and to not rush things, especially when it comes to publishing and printing the finished article.
     -To have a thick skin in response to the comments and opinions of your readers. Most are supportive, balanced and fair, but inevitably some can be harsh. I try to remember it’s my book and I enjoyed writing it.
    - Not to expect to make money out of self-publishing or e-publishing.

Q:- So will there be a novel number three?
A:- I hope so. The skeleton of it is sitting in my drawer where it will rest for a while. I wrote 50,000 words as a darker and more troubled follow up to ‘How They Met Themselves’ during National Novel Writing Month in November 2014. I’ve been trying to get away from my rather gentle style of writing where everything turns out well in the end. To do the opposite is fun.

Q:- Finally, are you going to put this second novel on to Kindle?
A:- Yes, hopefully in January 2015 it will go on Kindle. I was keen see it first of all as a paperback, printed by Lightening Source, but would like to follow it up as an e-book. I found this to be a successful format with ‘There’s No Sea in Salford’. I do love physical books and real bookshops, but I like to give the reader a choice.

Q:- Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A:- I just want to say how much I’ve appreciated the support of my two writing groups over the last couple of years while ‘How They Met Themselves’ was being written. It is very helpful to share writing experiences with others who understand the process. ‘How They Met Themselves’ is currently available from Wivenhoe Bookshop ( and Red Lion Books in Colchester.