Rich pickings

Time to update you on my plans to mingle with the literati here in the south west over the next couple of months.

This coming weekend sees the start of the 10-day Ways with Words, a festival of words and ideas (love that coupling) at Dartington in Devon. I have my eye on several sessions, which could mean more than one trip over the next week. The festival runs from July 4-14; full details of all the events can be found in the programme.

ways with words logo

Not long after that – and I’m very excited about this one – is the Curious Arts Festival in Lymington from 18-20 July. It’s the whole festival thing, wrapped up in a family friendly package of literary events with authors such as Deborah Levy (!) and Nathan Filer, a children’s tent with movie screenings and author events as well as a Jabberwocky Hunt, fairground rides and some very cool live music. All in a beautiful setting: Pylewell Park in the New Forest. Can’t wait.



A breather in August for some Italian culture and inspiration (more on that another time), before heading down to the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, which runs from 18-21 September. It’s a packed programme once again and with Hilary Mantel an ever-loyal attendee, the festival keeps going from strength to strength. The box office opens on July 28th – set a reminder on your phone because the hot tickets will sell out fast.


BudLitFest 2014



Three rooms of one’s own

I do love a glimpse into a writer’s life: their creative space, their haven. I get a strong sense of history and connection that’s hard to articulate. Max Gate is a house in Dorchester, designed and lived in by Thomas Hardy. It was there that he wrote some of his most famous novels, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, as well as much of his poetry.

Two things that impressed me:

1. The house evolved over time to have three studies.

2. In the third study, the window was designed such that Hardy would have an uninterrupted view from his desk. Clever.


More Hardy to come in future, when I post about his birthplace nearby.


I’m editing my novel, making slow progress but that’s just a scheduling issue. While I wade through my pages, pencil and eraser in hand, I’m also dipping in and out of a very useful book that was recommended to me:

At first I was daunted by the prospect of taming my novel, but then I had a chat with another writer (at the school gates). She said it was her favourite part of the process and I’m starting to understand what she meant. There’s something very liberating about cutting large chunks of prose that have no business being there, changing words around and having absolute clarity on how a scene should read. As my novelist friend said, “It’s time to trust the inner critic.” What a great way of putting it.


The Bloomsbury Set

Ever wondered how you might have found it living in a different time period? I have. I’ve been thinking about the Bloomsbury Set: ideas and attitudes colliding in a group of artists, intellectuals and writers who lived and worked in Bloomsbury in the first half of the twentieth century. How nice to have had such a significant impact on literature and economics.

This train of thought followed a few hours strolling around Bloomsbury on a beautiful sunny day, taking in Persephone Books, the London Review Bookshop and a pot of loose leaf tea at Tea & Tattle, all of which left me feeling generally rather literary and somewhat Bohemian.

Persephone is a wonder, reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mostly female writers. The packaging is simple and stunning; each reprint has a dove grey jacket and unique textile-inspired endpaper. There’s a matching bookmark to accompany each purchase. It’s a calming experience to browse the thoughtfully selected titles, as you’ll see from the images below.*

Visit the website to get lots more info on what Persephone is all about and how to order online. But I urge you to make time for a trip to Lamb’s Conduit Street and the surrounding network of streets. It’ll be good for your writing soul.

* This might be a good moment to mention it was during my Persephone visit that I blew my ‘£25 spend on books in 2014‘ rule entirely out of the water. If you ignore those dove grey titles though, I’m still on track, and will update you soon 🙂





Results flash

The results are in for the Retreat West Flash Fiction competition for March, in which my story The Lake was shortlisted. I missed out this time, but big congratulations to Mark Newman, who bagged first and second place with his stories Sunflower Seeds and Little White Lies respectively. I look forward to reading them in the anthology. See the full list of results here.



Flash of encouragement

Every year I resolve to submit more writing to try to get my work ‘out there’ and while I often fall short of my targets, I’m encouraged that my latest submission to the Retreat West Flash Fiction competition for March has made it to the shortlist. Calum Kerr, writer and Director of National Flash-Fiction Day will make the final judging decision; I’ll post when the result is in. You can see the full shortlist here.

Whatever the outcome, it’s given me a boost to enter next month’s competition, which will be judged by Nicholas Royle, author, senior creative writing tutor at Manchester Metropolitan University and editor for Salt Publishing.


Flight of fancy

I recently read Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I loved it. In the book the protagonists – one a writer – take a year’s sabbatical in Florence. At that point I was transported on a flight of fancy to a world of typewriters on balconies, martinis before dinner and the like. It was one of those moments when I was entirely immersed in the characters’ world, and when I came up for air I wanted a piece of it. It made me think how amazing it is when a book does that: takes you somewhere else and makes you want to experience that experience.

Anyway, a trip to Florence is on my list …

… which looks likely this summer, but I won’t go on about that now.