Check out the amazing line-up for the Nottingham Festival of Literature

unknown-2Before I disappear for a while to write I must mention the Nottingham Festival of Literature that’s running from 8-13 November 2016.

This fantastic six day festival is packed with events, workshops, residencies and networking opportunities for audience members and writers.

The event has an amazing line-up of truly inspiring writers whose work is a genuine pleasure to read, including Gillian Slovo, Alison Moore, Jon McGregorCathy Rentzenbrink, Jen Ashworth, Stephen Booth, Wendy Jones, Sophie HannahKerry YoungAmit Chaudhuri and Jack Monroe, plus many, many more.

All the events will be held in some of the best venues in the city are set to inspire readers and writers of all ages and skill levels. This is also a perfect opportunity to bag some amazing reads for Christmas presents!

As well as many thought-provoking novels and non-fiction reads the Festival will also be showcasing theatre, poetry, a print screening exhibition and will be launching Dawn of the Unread, which is a unique online graphic novel.

You can find out more and book your tickets at, and follow the team on twitter at @NottsFol and on Facebook at Nottingham Festival of Literature to keep up to date with all the action. You can buy individual tickets in advance or on the door,  subject to availability, or invest in a Festival Pass which gives pass holders access to all events except workshops, for £58.95 or £44.95 concessions.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Fear has been holding me back lately. Let me explain.

My job in writing began with a question.

Did I like movies and if ‘yes’ would I write a movie review for this particular mag?

Now at the time I hadn’t written anything since school. There was a sinking feeling of abject terror in my stomach as I contemplated the above question. The first question that entered my head in response was ‘what if people didn’t like what I wrote?’ Fortunately that voice was swiftly followed by another little voice asking ‘what if they do?’

I listened to the second voice, wrote two movie reviews, both were published and a door opened to a new career.

When I started the blog both of the voices piped up again and yet again I listened to the positive voice, and the readers came.

When I finally bit the bullet and started to think about writing fiction seriously those two voices came again and for the third time I listened to the positive one. It took considerably more courage this time as I’ve discovered my instinct is to explore unpalatable truths. However, trusting this instinct has led to a voice that is uniquely mine.

Sending the first good piece of fiction out to a writing competition ramped the fear factor up 100%. I was actually more scared of winning than being rejected as the subject matter was fairly hard hitting. I did sigh with relief when the piece was shortlisted, a) because just being shortlisted meant I’d reached a certain standard, b) because I had leapt over the hurdle of writing something and sending it out, and c) it confirmed that there was an audience for what I feel compelled to write.

Then I got scared again and stopped.

I tried repeatedly to explore an idea that I’d come up with one wet and windy night when I was a bit bored three years ago, but the concept no longer felt right. However, the themes that were emerging from those attempts did feel right.

This week I met up with local author Eve Makis who was supportive and encouraging as I explained what I was struggling with. This conversation has led me to let go of the things that were holding me back, as Eve said that I needed to find a way to expand on the short story in the novel and I knew she was right. 

I realised that the reason the short story worked so well was because I placed it in a believable setting. However, the novel I thought I wanted to write was not in a believable setting. I finally realised  that due to the themes that I wanted to explore the original concept for the novel would not work as I’d moved beyond it. 

So I stored the old idea and decided to start again, and as soon as I made that decision the voice from the short story returned within seconds. 

When I left Eve I took myself off to Waterstones Nottingham for drink and a think and wrote the beginning of the story. Then I went home and knocked out another 1,500 words. The next day a rough outline of the last chapter flew out as I wrote the morning pages. Since then the structure of the novel has been solidifying through the morning pages each day.

This time the only voice I’m hearing is the one that’s telling me I’m going to be a marmite writer, one that people may love or hate because of where I want to shine the spotlight, so right now I’m learning to live with that thought and to write the story anyway.

It’s my last writing class with Megan Taylor tomorrow, Megan has always been a source of great inspiration and good advice and these classes have encouraged me to push myself again. After the class is finished I’m going to disappear from social media for a while to get the first draft of this idea down. I just hope I can do it justice. 

Do you write what scares you? How do you manage to feel the fear and do it anyway?


My latest book buys…

Why is that when you ruthlessly cull your book collection down to:

A) Read, loved and likely to re-read books, and

B)  Yet to read books,

That the sight of half-empty bookshelves make you feel like you’ve abandoned a puppy? When all you’ve actually done is donated books to a good cause that will soon find a new home with an appreciative owner.

Every time I pass the emptier bookshelves they catch my eye with this doleful look that whimpers ‘what have you done to me? ‘Tis my purpose in life to hold things yet there’s virtually nothing here!’ They tug on my senses until I finally give in and find myself in a bookshop where I proceed to go on a teeny tiny book buying binge.

So here’s what I’ve bought recently:

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: Read an extract on  Amazon

Publisher synopsis: Praised by Barack Obama and an Oprah Book Club Pick, The Underground Railroad by unknown-1Colson Whitehead is a National Book Award 2016 Finalist.

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

Men by Marie Darrieussecq: Read an extract in the Guardian

Winner Prix Médicis, Prix des Prix, 2013

unknown-1Publisher synopsis: The French title of Men plays on a quote by Marguerite Duras: ‘We have to love men a lot. A lot, a lot. Love them a lot in order to love them. Otherwise it’s impossible, we couldn’t bear them.’

With her characteristic intensity, edginess and humour, Marie Darrieussecq explores female desire, what it means to be a woman. Solange was a provincial teenager in All the Way; now in her thirties, she’s not a great mother, is a mediocre actress, but in Hollywood she falls for a charismatic actor, Kouhouesso, who wants to direct a movie of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness—in Africa. He’s black; she’s white—what’s the difference when it comes to love, she wonders?

Personal and political, passionate and engaged, Men is a novel that will make you see things differently.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine: Download a sample from Amazon

Publisher synopsis: Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. unknown-2Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family’s ‘unnecessary appendage’. Every year, she translates a new favourite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read – by anyone.

This breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman follows Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colourful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her ageing body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.

A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a magnificent rendering of one woman’s life in the Middle East.

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway: Download a sample from Amazon

Unknown-3.jpgPublisher synopsis: First published in 1927, Men Without Women represents some of Hemingway’s most important and compelling early writing. In these fourteen stories, Hemingway begins to examine the themes that would occupy his later works: the casualties of war, the often uneasy relationship between men and women, sport and sportsmanship.

Modified: GMOs and the Threat to Our Food Our Land And Our Future by Caitlin Shetterly: Read an extract on the Penguin website

Publisher synopsis: A disquieting and meditative look at the issue that started the biggest food fight of our time–GMOs. From a journalist and mother who learned that genetically modified corn was the culprit behind what was making her and her child sick, a must-read book for anyone trying to parse the incendiary discussion about genetically modified foods.

GMO products are among the most consumed and the least understood substances in the unknown-4United States today. They appear not only in the food we eat, but in everything from the interior coating of paper coffee cups and medicines to diapers and toothpaste. We are often completely unaware of their presence.

Caitlin Shetterly discovered the importance of GMOs the hard way. Shortly after she learned that her son had an alarming sensitivity to GMO corn, she was told that she had the same condition, and her family’s daily existence changed forever.

So that’s my new additions to my bookshelves, what are yours? Have you heard of, bought or read any of the above?


The joy and pain of writing morning pages


So, after my first writing class I took up the advice to writing morning pages continuously for 30 minutes as soon as I awoke every day. I put a notebook and pen by my bed in preparation. That night I slept really well, woke up, switched on the light, grabbed the pad and pen and simply let everything in my head spill out onto the page.

It’s the ultimate free writing experience because you’re encouraged to write down all the stream of consciousness stuff that rattles around in your head. Like the remnants of the dream you just had, some random conversation from the previous day, the connections that have occurred since then, a list of the things you must remember and inevitably your brain automatically turns to the work in progress. Then remarkable things emerge like plot lines, a piece of dialogue, a whole scene or an idea for the structure of what you’re writing.

However, afterwards I found I couldn’t settle. I felt a bit sleepy and tired so I switched off the lamp for a further snooze until it was time to get up.

I should have paid more attention to the morning page induced sleep.

On the third day I switched on the lamp as usual, grabbed the notepad and pen and got cracking. But as soon as I started writing I was walloped by the strong smell of bitter almonds. I took the pen off the page and sniffed the air as I wondered where the smell was coming from. As it began to fade I started writing once more and the mysterious scent walloped my nose again. It felt like I was hanging my nose over a factory size vat of the stuff, which was the same reaction that I had to the tiny droplet on the stopper of the spice allergy bottle before it even got anywhere near my skin at hospital.

I stopped and stared at the three sentences on the pad. No, I thought. Please don’t let it be the ink.

I lifted the notepad to my face and sniffed cautiously, then flinched as the scent of bitter almonds punched my senses. Then I briefly sniffed the pen nib and sighed.

It was the ink.

I turned to google.

Typed “what is pen ink made from” into the search bar.

And this popped up.

‘The ballpoint pen, the felt-tip marker, and the fibre-tip pen have led to inks containing solutions of dyes in water or organic solvents such as propylene glycol, propyl alcohol, toluene or glyco-ethers. Other ingredients like resins, preservatives and wetting agents are also added.’

Translation: corn.

I’ve always been sensitive to marker pen fumes but hadn’t even thought about what ballpoint pen ink was made of until now. Propylene glycol, propyl alcohol and glyco-ethers are all corn derived or corn is used in the manufacturing process, and I strongly suspect toulene’s not compatible with me either. The minuscule amount of the above substance in a pen was triggering my airborne corn allergy and was the reason I felt wiped out after doing morning pages.

So there you have it. Morning pages turned out to be a gift that just kept on giving, both in terms of ideas for the current work in progress and as resource to discover more sources of allergy triggers that I may need to avoid.

Now, rather than become a pen sniffer (which would take some explaining in shops) I decided to switch to pencils. Then I had a brief ‘OMG you’re never going to believe what my nose has objected to now’ type whinge on Facebook, where one of my friends suggested using Blackwing pencils instead. So another Google/YouTube search led me to this wonderful video which makes Blackwing pencils sound like they are imbued with creative magic….


I filed this info away for when I was ready to splash out on luxury pencils and grabbed a cheap one from the stash I already had to carry on with my morning pages. Then this week I received an unexpected present (pictured below) from my Aunt V in France, who has clearly been paying close attention to my Facebook account. Aren’t they fabulous? Have you ever used Blackwing pencils?




The simple pleasure of eating out at The Ruddington Arms in Nottingham

Since being diagnosed with multiple true food allergies at my local hospital I rarely eat out in restaurants because it’s just too hard. 

However, my aunt V in France and aunt M in Ireland both suggested they come over to the UK for a day to see family members over here, and asked me to find a restaurant where we could have lunch together.

I’d read about The Ruddington Arms in the Nottingham Post and as the location was convenient for the rest of the family I suggested that we went there, especially as a couple of the dishes on the menu also seemed easy to adjust for me.

I should add that I haven’t tried flying anywhere yet since being diagnosed with multiple airborne allergies (as well as ingested and on contact), basically because if you think a peanut allergy is hard to manage, can you imagine trying to ask passengers not to use or consume spices, corn or salicylate related products on a flight? Nope, me neither, so I’m still working on a solution to manage that complication.

So, on Tuesday 11 October we all met up and headed to The Ruddington Arms, where we proceeded to have a wonderful time.

We were seated at a round table by the window looking out over the garden. I let everyone place their orders first before I grilled the owner, Mark Anderson, about what was in each dish that I thought I could eat with a couple of adjustments, and he was exceptionally obliging.

My meals are simple, plain and fresh now. It’s quite hard on chefs as they tend to want to make flavour enhanced dishes full of spices and herbs and I can’t have any of that due to salicylate intolerance and the spice allergy. The veg can’t even be cooked in salted water due to corn derivatives being used in some salts. So I had an adjusted duck egg starter followed by grilled free range chicken with spring greens and they were perfect.

As usual I had a slight hive moment due to wine fumes and possibly a couple of other milder triggers, but it soon faded as the empty plates of starters were removed and everyone moved their wine glasses away from me.

When you’re an airborne reactor to corn, salicylate and spices the risk of encountering a major allergy trigger is possible 24/7. But I’ve learned to accept and manage the risks as best I can, as I don’t want to live in a glass bubble and I like working for a living. This is also why my adrenaline autoinjectors are on me at all times. I’m doing really well on the management front as I’ve not had to use them yet this year.

Our table at The Ruddington Arms was positioned away from the others and as it was Tuesday afternoon the restaurant wasn’t busy so this minimised any scent encounters.

But this restaurant should be busy because the food is a delicious, melt-in-the-mouth joy, locally sourced as much as possible and freshly cooked from scratch. Oh my word if I was able to eat everything on that menu I’d be going back all the time until I’d sampled every single dish. My mum’s scallops with chorizo starter looked incredible. My brother had the pork belly and looked like he was in heaven as he ate it, my aunts tucked into celeriac and apple soup which was such a hit with them that my Aunt V is determined to have a go at making it when she goes back to France. My sister-in-law was impressed by the generous ‘Ruddy-good’ breakfast and should you be a fan of chips they serve big chunky chips here, the kind that are crunchy on the outiside which then dissolve in your mouth according to my family members. They looked so tasty they made me wish I wasn’t allergic to spuds!

It was a rare treat to spend time with my aunts and to eat out with virtually no problems. As I left Mark said that if I emailed him with a list of what I could eat they’d make something special for me next time. Now that is great service, so if you have allergies I highly recommend you try The Ruddington Arms and if you don’t have allergies just go and treat your tastebuds. They even make jars of pickles, sauces and jams to buy and take home with you.

I am interested to see what Mark and his team could do with my limited options, so I’ll may well be taking them up on that offer to cook for me in the future!

For more information: The Ruddington Arms

Follow the restaurant on Twitter at @ruddingtonarms

So, the book blogging has stopped but the writing hasn’t…

I signed up to a writing class with local author Megan Taylor four weeks ago. Last year I signed up to short story writing and this year I signed up to novel writing. Now before you all get too excited I have no idea if I can write a novel or not.

Anyway, the first week was a ‘get to know the writing group week’ and everyone shared some cracking ideas for their novels. Me? I was a bit vague despite knowing exactly what I want to do, basically because I’m scared to death of where the writing wants to take me but I feel compelled to do it anyway.

Week 2 was all about writing characters and I could not write a decent line in that class because my characters clammed up.

It’s like being in a Jasper Fforde novel in my head at the moment.

There’s a scene The Well of Lost Plots where Thursday Next goes into Wuthering Heights and chats with the characters between chapters (worth reading to see what Miss Havisham from Great Expectations inflicts on Heathcliff during the chapter breaks, I laughed so much I hurt my ribs!). Every time I sat in the writing class I could see my characters in my mind’s eye going on strike and crossing their arms while muttering ‘nope, we’re not giving you nothing, not here’ as each exercise was explained, and my heart would sink.

Which was a bit of surprise considering stuff poured out of me during the short story writing classes last year, which I happily shared. But Megan says it’s not unusual when you’re attempting to write something that challenges you.

However, later that week I had an encounter with a homeless person, which I wrote about without realising that everything Megan had taught us about writing characters was reflected in that piece, a thought that occurred to me in the next class when she asked me to talk about it.

So last Saturday we did settings. We were instructed to write six lines that conveyed the setting within our novel and the characters within it.

I wrote one line.

The group thought I wasn’t serious when I said I’d written one line, but I had and it delivered everything requested. Even I was surprised after the the first couple of weeks being such a disaster.

I apologised to Megan after class for failing to produce the goods on a regular basis, explaining that the story was refusing to be written in that environment. Fortunately Megan didn’t see that as strange, and she was reassuring saying that her best stuff often occurred after class. We had a little chat about me wanting to experiment with voice and Megan told me to go for it.

Then I wrote 2000 words last Saturday evening, where I started to grasp setting.

There is hope for me yet.





An encounter with homelessness

He’s as thin as a string bean. Flesh stretched taut across hollowed cheeks. Hopeless, haunted, forget-me-knot eyes. 

A damp earthy smell assaults my senses as he stands there swaying on legs like twigs, begging for a coin to buy something to eat. His worldly possessions bulging in the two large bags clutched close to his chest.

I give him a fiver.

He stares in shock at the note in his hand. Glances from me to the fiver and back again, 14485083_1124071491016169_5090393513724989632_neyes welling with tears.

Putting the bags down he opens his arms, his expression hesitant, wondering if I’ll accept the invitation.

I step into his embrace. We hug briefly and he feels as fragile as a bird in my hands.

We separate and he draws the bags back to his body like a shield.

‘I’m going to take this (fiver) to a cafe I know where I can get a breakfast for three pounds,’ he said. ‘They’ll let me put two pounds on one side for dinner.’

There is note of pride in his voice, a sense of excitement at the thought of eating twice that day. I say that I hope it’s a big breakfast as I can see he needs it.

He moves the bags to one hand and raises his sweater, fear rippling across his face.

‘I’m losing weight so fast on the streets,’ he said.

He turns, shows me knuckle white vertebrae that draws a line across his spine like the sharp uneven ridges of a mountain.

‘Sometimes when I go to sleep I wonder if I’m going to wake up the next day.’

I feel my throat tighten. I understand this fear, I know it as intimately as he does, although not for the same reason. But now is not the time to share my story, it’s the time to hear his.

I ask him how long he’s been living on the streets.

‘Three months,’ he said.

He has a child, ten years old, and he’s worried he won’t make it through the winter.

He tells me about his partner’s betrayal, how he couldn’t bear to be with her after catching her in the arms of another. How he lashed out at her lover.

He had not considered the aftermath: where he would live, how he would survive.

His rage is incandescent, disabling, and I sense with sadness that unresolved anger will eat him alive.

That soon all that would remain of him would be a bag of bones lying in a doorway, as life continued to pass him by.

And I feel for this lost boy as he bids me farewell, with the frightened eyes that beg not to be forgotten.

© Pamreader

Since my experience above I’ve learned that if you see a homeless person and they’re in need of support you can contact StreetLink or ring them on 0300 500 0914 (open 24 hours). There’s also a StreetLink app available for download to your mobile device.

In Nottingham there’s also a service called Framework: For urgent support please call the Central Access Point on 0800 055 6184 or send a text to 075280 16812.