Friday, 17 September 2021

Ann Wilkinson – award-winning writer mines tales from the coalfields of Durham

Ann Wilkinson’s earliest memories included tales told by her grandparents of life in the Durham coalfields. These sparked a fascination with social history and she spent years researching the world of those family memories, eventually producing her first novelA Sovereign For A Song (later reissued as Sing Me Home), that won the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Award (now the Joan Hessayon Award) in 2003.


Ann’s debut novel became the first in a series of family sagas, as her research followed the fictional Wilde family in the years leading up to World War 1 and through the war itself.

Winning a Wife

No Price too High

Ann, now retired, enjoyed a long career in nursing, spending many years as a health visitor, ending up in the city of Hull. Using the experience of her own training, Ann went on to research medical nursing at the time of World War 2, and used the city of Hull, where she still lives, as the background to a new series of novels.

Hull, a key port, became a strategic target and suffered widespread destruction from 1941 to the end of World War 2. Ann’s second series was set against the backdrop of this war.


From here, Ann’s writing moved beyond world wars, but retained Hull as its setting. Her first post-war novel was The Would-be Wife.

Following this, Ann drafted The May Day Nurse, a novel set in 1950s Hull. Although the manuscript is complete, her publisher’s editorial process was significantly delayed by the 2020 global pandemic.

Learn more about Ann and her writing HERE.

Friday, 3 September 2021

So you want to write a crime novel: Part 9 - Focus


Focus is an essential tool in any writer's toolbox, but especially for a crime writer, where the facets of the story must be laid down so precisely.

In my blog - link below - I detail how you can organise your notes for a concentrated writing session, how to use "timed sprints" to help your productivity, where to write and healthy writing habits.

One of the most common problems writers encounter is interruptions. Because this is not a 9-5 job in an office, for which a company pays you a monthly salary, there is a widespread belief that it is "okay to interrupt X because he/she is only writing." Most writers write at home so it is easy to open the door and break the writer's concentration.

My advice is to politely but firmly state that between these two times, you are working, so you are not to be interrupted unless the house is on fire or your leg has fallen off. Why is this so important? If your train of concentration is broken, it can take 20 minutes for your brain to get back to where it was before the interruption. So, be polite but firm.

If you would like to read more about focus as a writer, click here.

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Friday, 27 August 2021

Formidable ladies of history

Before I began researching my latest book, Distant Shadows, I never considered how many unsung heroines there have been throughout the last 1000 years.

From Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was married to 2 kings and produced Richard the Lionheart and King John through to Professor Sara Gilbert, relatively "unsung" formidable ladies abound. For the thousands we know about, many more thousands remain unknown or are awarded only passing mentions in documents that have survived.

Distant Shadows
 began when I read about the sisters Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne. They worked for SOE in Nazi occupied Europe as radio operators and couriers. Despite both being captured and sent to Ravensbruck, the sisters survived the war. Eileen died in 2010, unknown until the discovery of the civilian MBE in her effects. 

I was astounded that these women had suffered so much for their country but were largely ignored by the British government, who, in my opinion, used the Official Secrets Act too liberally to ensure nobody knew who they were. Women who had endured constant danger and often betrayal, torture and execution by the Nazi regime.

I know very few people - men or women - who would exhibit that degree of courage and steadfastness. We owe them more than we can say.

If you want to know more, my blogpost is here

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Friday, 13 August 2021

Stuart Aken – A prolific writer who won’t be pigeonholed

Prolific writer Stuart Aken says that being raised in a household without a TV was probably a factor in his becoming an avid reader, to the extent that he had read all the books in his local children’s library by the time he was 11. At this point, a formidable but far-sighted librarian named Hilda allowed him to pick an adult book on the understanding that she must approve it before allowing him to take it away.

He picked All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Maybe it was a book Hilda had never read, or maybe she saw even at that early stage that Stuart was destined to become a writer for whom no topics were out of bounds. Whatever the reason, the 11-year-old Stuart was allowed to take the book away. It taught him that there was nothing he couldn’t read.

It wasn’t just reading that was an integral part of Stuart’s early life. He was in demand as a storyteller for friends and family, concocting tales that would later be acted out in games.

At 14 years old, for a school assignment, Stuart took a real event, fictionalised it and turned it into a tense mystery. It won a cup for the year’s best story. He looks back on this as his first real step on the road to becoming an author. Though blessed with a magical childhood, family tragedy dogged Stuart’s adolescence leading to a roller-coaster of upheavals for several years, the highs and lows of which have helped shape him as a writer.

As well as being a successful novelist, Stuart is also a talented photographer. His first publications were illustrated articles in the British photographic press. His first fiction publication was a radio play, Hitch Hiker, broadcast on Radio 4 in 1978. He had entered Hitch Hiker in the Radio Times Drama contest, and came third, the year the contest was won by Willie Russell of Blood Brothers and Educating Rita fame. Stuart was interviewed about the play by Tom Stoppard, and as a result was contracted by a prestigious literary agency. Sadly, Stuart’s work was considered too radical for the TV channels of the time (perhaps Hilda should have withheld consent for All Quiet on the Western Front until he was older). Stuart has since gone on to further competition success with his short fiction.

Building on his early achievements, Stuart has written numerous novels, novellas and short stories, notable amongst which are his fantasy and science-fiction trilogies and his novella, The Methuselah Strain.



In addition, he wrote a memoir about his tenyears with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, his recovery from which he celebrated by running in the GreatNorth Run.


Amongst Stuart’s works are two major trilogies; A Seared Sky and Generation Mars.

A Seared Sky is a fantasy adventure to rival The Lord of theRings.

Like Tolkien’s epic, A Seared Sky was several decades in the making, but has yet to be made into a series of blockbusting films; his fans live in hope.

When the Skyfire arrives early, Dagla Kaz sets out for the ancient homeland to harvest a new Godwood and exchange Virgin Gifts. He must lead his pilgrims hundreds of leagues over pirate-infested seas, across hostile lands, and return triumphant before the seared sky dies back to normality.




GenerationMars is a science fiction trilogy.

The story of Generation Mars begins in the near future, when climate change has made the Earth all but uninhabitable. The story unfolds to reveal the long-term fate of humankind.




You can check Stuart’s publications HERE

Stuart's latest novel, An Excess of... is an eco-romance / political / environmental thriller due to be released in October 2021.

Read more about Stuart, his life and his writing, on his website.

Friday, 6 August 2021

So you want to write a crime novel: Part 8: Suspense.

 Suspense is a necessary part of a crime novel. It is the ultimate conflict between good and evil. Can good prevail or will evil triumph.

For the crime writer, suspense is a joy to plan and write. From conflict between characters, to time constraints, red herrings, plot twists and the like, the writer can have such fun. However, the fun is tempered by the necessity of making sure everything that happens is logical, timely and that the end is satisfying.

If you want to know more, you can read my blog here

Friday, 16 July 2021

Penny Grubb – a multi-layered career but always a writer

Author Penny Grubb says the only consistent part of her varied career has been as a writer; when it wasn’t part of her job, it was something she pursued in her own time.

‘I wrote my first novel when I was four,’ she says. ‘It was written in pencil in a small lined notebook. I didn’t need the whole notebook as it barely ran to half a page, but it felt more like a proper book that way. I can remember three things about it; it starred a cat on a mat, I asked for help to spell its only two-syllable word, and it gave me a tremendous sense of achievement. I think that was the moment I decided to be a novelist.’

Almost half a century would elapse from then to Penny’s first published novel, although she published non-fiction as part of her various day jobs. The first three books in her Annie Raymond mystery series have recently been rereleased as a trilogy, Falling into Crime, one of them having won an international CWA Dagger in 2004.

Penny’s career laid the foundation for her becoming a crime novelist. She worked in hospital pathology labs, an early job giving her access to renowned Home Office pathologist Dr Alan Usher who regularly entertained and educated the medical school staff with lectures about his work. ‘I learnt a lot about sudden and suspicious death. It was information I used when I began my PI series.’

Even after she moved on from Pathology, Penny’s brushes with the world of serious crime continued. In a career switch, and after graduating with a degree in Maths and Computer Science, she spent some time working as a software engineer helping to build a system, the forensic analysis of which later contributed to the conviction by the UK’s most prolific serial killer. She talks about this in an article published in Kings River Life magazine.

Penny later moved into medical computing, founding one of Europe’s first Medical Informatics research groups. ‘It was a very busy decade,’ she recalls. ‘But all the travelling around Europe gave me a wealth of settings for stories and novels. I wrote a lot during that time; including many draft novels that weren’t very good and never saw the light of day.’ The publications that came out under Penny’s name were technical reports, academic papers and textbooks.

When the research field took a different turn, Penny changed career again, and was seconded from her academic post to become Chair of the Authors’Licensing and Collecting Society, the largest authors’ society in the world. During this time, she wrote several of the books in her crime series.

Where There’s Smoke



Penny teamed up with fellow crime novelist, Danuta Reah, to run creative writing workshops. Together they wrote How to be a Fantastic Writer.


In 2013, Penny stepped down from the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society and returned to academia, specialising in nurturing fragile learners to go on into Higher Education.


After leaving academia, Penny continued her Annie Raymond mystery series, her 8th book coming out a year into her retirement. She says she expects to be writing Annie books ‘until Annie is too old and decrepit to climb the office stairs or until I get fed up and push her off a cliff.’


Friday, 2 July 2021

So you want to write a crime novel. Part 7: Characters

 Characters have character. At its simplest, the people who inhabit your crime novel - the characters - all have different characters or characteristics.

It used to be the fashion that writers began and ended with the plot in a crime novel and that the intricacies of that plot were what made the books so readable and interesting. That still holds true when you read some of the golden age fiction of John Bude or Freeman Wills Crofts. The latter, especially, majored on intricately tight time schedules. To the modern reader, these books can be bland because we have grown used to the characters and their interactions driving the events of the books we read.

These days, writers, including crime writers, generally begin with, perhaps, their protagonist and antagonist and the bare bones of a plot. It is knowing your characters and how they would behave in a given situation that will drive that plot.

If you would like to read more, you can find my longer blog on characters here

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Saturday, 12 June 2021

Elaine Hemingway – Out of Africa

Elaine Hemingway’s career began as a police constable in the East Yorkshire city of Hull. From there she moved 8,000 miles to take up a post with the Northern Rhodesia Police. Her contract was for three years; she stayed in Africa for half a century.

With a lifelong passion for reading and storytelling, it was natural that Elaine should become a writer. For many of her years in Africa, she wrote for a local newspaper, producing a regular column called Stille Oomblik, which translates to Quiet Moment. 

She had to give up the column when she and her husband, Dennis, moved to Natal, but continued writing for newspapers and magazines, her publications tracking their travels down Africa. A short story in a Zambian newspaper marked her move into writing fiction, whilst an article in a car magazine reflected the self-sufficient life she and her family led.

Elaine nurtured ambitions to write a longer piece, especially as her African travels gave her a fascination with history. She acquired the diaries of Johan van Riebeeck and attempted an historical novel based on his time in South Africa.

The demands of a busy life and growing family prevented completion of this project, and it was a while before Elaine found her writing niche. ‘It was my religious values that brought me back to my writing,’ she says. ‘I grew up with Christian beliefs, but only after a particular disaster did I come to full commitment and find my niche. Writing and studying became a real pleasure, to be indulged more deeply. My Stille Oomblik column was a part of it.’

It was still difficult for Elaine to fit any general writing into her life. She was running a Resource Centre that required a lot of reading and presentation of reviews; leading a home Bible Study group and Experiencing God courses. She managed to write some articles for Baptist Today and Christian Living.

It was after producing a 40th anniversary brochure and magazine complete with interviews with all the previous Pastors, that Elaine started a writing group. ‘At that point in our lives,’ she says. ‘It seemed inevitable.’ The group resulted in diverse publications including a self-published novel from one of the church deacons, a set of biblical crosswords, and the founding of a quarterly Church News magazine.

After Elaine and Dennis moved back to England, the group disbanded but the Resource Centre is still running.

Following her retirement, Elaine became an active member of the Faith Writers. Having re-stoked her long-held ambition to write a novel by completing the latest NaNoWriMochallenge, she began an ambitious project, a Midrashim – fiction based on a Biblical account.

Her major work is now well underway. It interleaves the contemporary story of Marla, a young woman struck by sudden tragedy, with that of another young woman, Shaina, caught up in the Babylonian war of around 600 BC. It’s a hugely ambitious project for a debut novel, juggling time frames and cultures, but Elaine has the background and experience to be able to make it work. 

You can browse Elaine’s many contributions to the Faith Writers HERE.



Friday, 4 June 2021

So you want to write a crime novel. Part 6: Structure

Many writers get themselves in a knot about how to structure their novel, and crime novels have some issues that affect the structure the author uses.

I have found that one of the things that muddies the waters is the plethora of 'how to write your novel', 'how to structure your novel' books, articles and blogs etc. So I have tried to simplify these, but I would urge anyone who wants to delve further into this to do so, with one huge proviso. And that is, do not let the scaffolding of structure constrict the story you want to tell. 

When I first set out to write a crime novel - which was published as Dearly Ransomed Soul - I just sat down and wrote it. And discovered afterwards that the Three Act Structure best suits my way of writing. And in the whole of that last sentence the operative word is my.

In this month's blog, I cover four of the main forms of structure and try to help the would-be crime writer to decide which format best suits the story they wish to write. You can find it here

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Friday, 14 May 2021

Pippa Ireland – a writer who has persuaded hundreds of young people to put pen to paper

Writer Pippa Ireland is a published poet and short story writer. Her prize-winning story published in BonmarchĂ© magazine in 2005 was later re-issued in the Sack of Shorts anthology.

There isn’t much time for dedicated writing in Pippa’s life as she has a yard full of competition horses to look after, but in the days when she competed herself she used her skill with a pen to further her career in the saddle. One of her poems significantly contributed to her success as a rider. She entered it into a competition and won lessons from Olympic eventer,Chris Bartle.

Pippa is an active contributor to equine blogs, regularly writes verse on equine social media, and has a novel close to completion.

Back in 2010, as a student studying equine management, Pippa was charged with finding a creative written assignment with an equine theme. While most of her fellow students opted for essay-style ventures, Pippa decided on an ambitious project to set up a creative writing competition with an equine theme. Covering admin and advertising costs with a modest entry fee, she attracted a large entry by soliciting a wide range of prizes from sponsors including cash prizes for the winners, and equine-related prizes for dozens of runners-up. Prizes included tickets to prestigious equestrian events and the prize pot reached close to £1000. Entries came in from across the globe.

Pippa persuaded two Hornsea Writer colleagues to provide sponsorship too. Linda Acaster offered advice and professional critiques; Penny Grubb offered three of the winning entrants the opportunity to name ponies in her forthcoming novel.

The project won Pippa an award from Bishop Burton College and was such a success that she decided to run it again the following year. The 2011 competition featured more prizes, a larger total prize pot and attracted an even bigger entry.

Pressure of other work prevented Pippa from making the competition an annual undertaking, but she continued to write, contributing regularly to a horsey blog  published by British Horse Feeds and written from the point of view of the successful Ireland-trained horse, Billy Bank.

However, just as Billy Bank was being prepared for a busy 2020 season, events conspired to bring Pippa back into the limelight as a creative writing competition organiser. The busy equestrian competition calendar was brought to a halt by the global pandemic. Many schoolchildren, looking forward to a summer of shows and events were stuck at home without outlets for their creative energy.

As an active Pony Club member and trainer, Pippa too found her outdoor activities curtailed.

She pitched the idea of a creative writing competition to the Pony Club. Initially sceptical that there would be much interest, they agreed to let her run with it.

Her Write2Ride Creative Writing Competition began as a small idea and snowballed into a huge event with its Facebook posts and website taking thousands of hits and generating hundreds of entries.

It became the most successful competition she had run, with record entry, sponsorship and prizes. The winning entries were published in Equestrian Life magazine and several hundred more young writers were launched on the world thanks to Pippa’s efforts.

Throughout, Pippa has been writing her own novel based in the world of international eventing. The book was finished over a decade ago and had encouraging feedback from a literary agent, who said it just needed a final polish. Pippa says she hopes to find the time to do that before another decade passes.