Category Archives: Writing
For a long time, when I started attending creative writing workshops, I was mainly writing poetry. I tried to stick at NaPoWriMo a couple of times, and really enjoyed a month of learning about found poetry too. But in the last couple of years, I’ve not really tried anything poetic.
That could all be about to change, this weekend…
On Sunday, I’m off to a walk and workshop with Colette Bryce and the Dove Marine Lab as part of the Iron In The Soul festival. We’re having a guided tour of my lovely home-town of Cullercoats, hopefully picking up some trivia tidbits along the way, and then heading to the workshop proper. I must confess, a part of me is a little anxious about jumping in at the deep end, but I loved Colette’s collection Balasting The Ark, from her time in residency at the Dove, and am also really excited about trying to capture some Cullercoats magic on paper. I’ve even selected an appropriate notebook for the next in line, as I’ll have finished my current one in time!
This workshop is being followed up on Monday to my first visit to the Poetry Society’s Stanza group in North Shields, run by Harry Gallagher. I’ve been a member for a while, but not made it along to any before. At least, after Sunday, my head should be attuned to poetry, and having a temporary break from prose.
I’ve never wanted to move completely away from poetry, so I’m chuffed that the events have fallen so close together.
I shall report back…
Well, the mania and madness (both in the positive) are over for now, and I am gradually coming down from the rushes that were Thursday’s online launch, and Saturday’s “live” launch, for Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile.
Both versions of the launch were very different to those for Kindred Spirits: Tower of London in October 2015. Then, I set up an online event, but didn’t really know what I was doing, and accidentally left it alone to go for lunch with my parents early afternoon. And the “live” launch was fun, but essentially just a gathering in the pub!
Not this time.
Thanks to excellent advice and examples to follow from other Cats, this time I had guests, chat, and more competitions. It was a great day, immersed in the Royal Mile world for the duration, and getting such lovely feedback from everyone. Huge thanks again to everyone who clicked on through and got involved throughout the festivities.
And then there was Saturday. In one word: Wow. I’m a natural-born worrier, and had visions of it being me, my parents, Elaine and Sandy, launching a book to an empty room. Or the bar somehow falling apart. Something going wrong, at any rate.
This did not happen. Saturday was unbelievably brilliant, and I simply could not have been happier with the way things went. I am determined NOT to get soppy here, but seeing so many people there, being so supportive, it’s a good job that for me, only water and lemonade were consumed until it was finished, or there may well have been tears in the second half. I commented on the day (to many people, sorry!) that it felt like a wedding of sorts, and even now, I’m waiting, with excitement, to see what the pictures from the fabulous photographer (Peter Robinson, Positives from Negatives) look like!
I’ll be posting some of those photos from the day when I have them, but as I’ve done nothing but grin since Saturday, I had to write something now.
So it’s time for more thanks, to everyone who came along to the Town Wall at the weekend, and for helping make the day so special. Here’s to (hopefully) another one in the future!
Morning everyone, and welcome to the first Sunday Sojourn of June (where is this year going?). Today, I’m welcoming Alison Morton to the blog, and she’s taking us somewhere you may feel you know, but not as you know it, and explains how to create a new, fictional state…
Hello, Jennifer. Thank you for inviting me into your blog world. Let me take you to an imaginary one in Central Europe, to a city state in the mountains. Its people are tough, its history long and its heroines valiant. Well, nearly always valiant; they do have their bad days.
This is Roma Nova! Founded sixteen hundred years ago when the Roman Empire was crumbling, this tiny country has struggled its way through history, survived and thrived. Silver in the mountains, Roman engineering genius and a robust attitude to threats has brought them through. Roma Nova lives by core Roman values, but with a huge twist: it’s run by women. You can find the whole story here. At the heart of each of the six books lies a complete thriller story. My latest book, RETALIO, tells of resistance against a dictator in a darker period in Roma Nova’s recent past. More of that later!
Technically, this genre is called alternative history as it changes the standard historical timeline at a particular point. Events then veer off in a different direction. Some alternative history stories are a bit fanciful, but many deal seriously with the concept of ‘what if?’. The Second World War seems to top the list of possibilities as we’ve seen with SS-GB and The Man in the High Castle, but other popular topics include the Spanish Armada succeeding or the Norman invasion in 1066 having a different outcome.
I’ve been rather vague about exactly where Roma Nova lies, but it’s bordered by ‘New Austria’, the ‘North Italian Federation’ and the ‘Helvetian Confederation’ or Austria, Italy and Switzerland as we know them in our timeline.
Now, the obvious problem when showing you photos of this imaginary setting is that the country doesn’t exist! However, there are some clues. First of all, like many alpine countries, it has high mountains to the north.
These give way to typical valley towns and villages just below the snow line resembling those found in Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy and Slovenia.
But then we rapidly reach the lower part of Roma Nova where they grow wheat, oats and spelt…
…and still lower, grapes from which in the west comes the famous Castra Lucillan white wine. and in the east Bracadorum champagne. Both feature often in the Roma Nova stories!
How can I be so sure of this landscape? While Roma Nova is an imaginary country, I’ve based it on sound geographical principles. Austria and Switzerland both have this kind of scenery and land use, and Austria and Slovenia are known for white wine. The trick with world building is to make it plausible and consistent. and the best thing is to ‘borrow’ a landscape that already exists! Although the ancient Roman Empire was a military society, it was also an agricultural one; every metre of land available was exploited for crops. Their descendants are no less industrious.
When we get into the towns of Castra Lucilla, Aquae Caesaris and Brancadorum and the city of Roma Nova itself, you would see more obviously Roman structures. The triumphal arch, at the end of the decumanus maximus (the main street)…
…and in the forum.
The central market is busy every day, and the galleried macellum, or shopping centre, would be familiar to most people…
…as the streets would be to most people in central and southern Europe.
So how did I create this image of a non-existent place?
In the same way that the Roma Novan landscape ‘borrows’ from alpine and southern European countries, so does the cityscape. Most of the city photos were taken from my Rome album. It’s highly likely that Roma Nova will have evolved its cityscape in a similar way but with classical touches of central southern European cities like Vienna, Trieste and Ljubljana.
The trick is not to overwrite the description, but let the flavour and appearance of an imagined country emerge through the plot, the characters’ lives and actions. I particularly enjoy evoking scents (and sometimes smells) as well as textures and tastes, but the best way to connect with readers is through the characters’ eyes and ears, their reactions, whether good or bad, to what they are seeing and hearing. In RETALIO, heroine Aurelia’s reaction to the state Roma Nova has been reduced to under dictator Caius Tellus tells us more than anything:
Instead of the noisy, sometimes boisterous, seething mass of a year ago – shoppers, traders, hucksters and tourists, all pushing past and exchanging insults and greetings – it was dead. Instead of over two hundred stalls, there couldn’t have been more than thirty. One or two had a good selection of fruit and vegetables at outrageously inflated prices, several were selling second-hand irons, toasters, hairdryers and electrical toys for just a few solidi each. Others displayed curtains, sheets, towels and tablecloths; all neatly folded, but faded. Grey faces, desperate faces, worn clothes and even some people without shoes or boots. It looked like the third world.
So what’s RETALIO about? In three words, resistance, resilience, retaliation.
Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.
Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. Without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.
You can watch the RETALIO book trailer here: https://youtu.be/Mql2Mm3ytJc and find RETALIO in ebook and print format from your favourite retailer here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/retalio/where-to-buy-retalio/
Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.
The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.
AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April 2017.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing. Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
Today, I’m delighted to be handing the reins over to Ailsa, a fellow Cat and good friend, to tell you her news…
You thought you had lost it but Shaman’s Drum is back on the market for six moths only. From 1st June it will be available in Kindle form for only 99p or cents as a special re-introductory offer.
WHAT? A mixed genre book which can be read as a stand-alone or as the sequel to Alchemy. It has variously been described as slightly futuristic magical realism, fantasy and romantic thriller.
WHEN? Set in our own word in just a few years’ time after a world-changing scientific discovery frees mankind from dependence on fossil fuels.
WHY? The banning of public religious practices was thought to bring an end to terrorism and war but unexpected consequences turn the new ideal world into a nightmare. Pagans having been left out of the ban are the only groups left to combat the new threat and they are fighting between themselves.
WHERE? The Capital is never named so it could be in your country.
WHO? Iamo, a priest of the Goddess with an aristocratic background who has just been released from prison for breaking his vow of chastity. A woman Black Shaman avenger who was the cause of Iamo’s downfall, rescued from her prison by her lover.
Between them they have to solve the mystery of who is allowing demons into the world of Men and find a way to stop them. Who can they trust in the chaotic world of pagan clans?
The author, Ailsa Abraham, knows her subject having been a student of religions and a practising pagan most of her life. Friend of Druids, Hedge-witches and other assorted magic-users she is the village shaman in her home.
Reviews on Amazon
Number 15 at the moment with an average rating of 4.7, with comments including: Shaman’s Drum sucked me in and swallowed me whole! and Unique, ingenious and well crafted, plus: Just the right mix of danger, mystery, history, a possible future, and tastefully exciting romance,.I want more of Iamo and Riga. I just want more! 🙂
The sequel to Alchemy, brings heroine and hero back together for another scrap amongst the netherworld. Fairly ripped through this cracking read, which for me indicates a winning combination of pace with great writing.
International Amazon Link http://bit.ly/1mgdIhL
Well, we’re finally here… The eve of the launch of Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, and just about the time that, last time, I started fretting that somehow, between author, editor, publisher and printer, the whole thing has somehow been translated into Martian, or that every other word / page / chapter has been mysteriously deleted! I worried about this so much last time that I didn’t dare open the e-book I had downloaded for days after the launch.
Of course I needn’t have worried.
Because of course, it was all fine, and it will all be fine tomorrow when Royal Mile hits the electronic shelves. But I do wonder whether I’m the only one who feels like this ahead of their Big Day?
Enough of worries though, and onto celebrations! I’m having an online launch party (click here), with guests, games, chatter and competitions. There’s even the chance to win a Mary, Queen of Scots bath duck! Yes, you read that right – you’ll have to come along and take part to find out… So, do come along and take part in the fun. We’ll even have virtual tablet – the greatest culinary creation the world has ever known!
If you do get yourself a copy, I’d love to hear what you think!
Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile: Along Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, royalty and commoners – living and dead – mingle amongst the museums, cafés and former royal residences. From Castle Hill to Abbey Strand, there is far more going on than meets the eye, as ghosts of every era and background make their home along the Mile.
Returning to the city for her annual visit, Mary, Queen of Scots, is troubled by the lacklustre attitude of her father, King James V of Scotland, and decides to do something about it, with the aid of her spiritual companions. More troubling, though, is the arrival of a constant thorn in her side: her second husband, Lord Darnley.
Can Mary resolve both her own issues and those of her small, ghostly court?
Morning everyone, from a very sunny Whitley Bay. Today on the blog, I’m joined by Denise Deegan, to take us to Gallipoli, in Turkey, to talk about the emotional setting for her novel, Through the Barricades.
I want to visit Gallipoli, in Turkey – to remember, though I’ve never been there.
I have spent the last two years researching and writing a novel called Through the Barricades set in revolutionary Dublin and Gallipoli during WW1. The biggest surprise for me is how connected I felt to the young men who lived and died in the trenches. I long to visit Gallipoli because of that connection. I am drawn to the place like a murderer to the scene of his crime.
At some point, my research went beyond research. I began to inhabit my story. I lived in the trenches with the men. I saw their horror, smelled it, tasted it, touched it, heard it. Breathed it. I felt their fear, boredom, homesickness, thirst, optimism and pessimism.
And so, I will land on the beach at Suvla Bay on a misty dawn, as did Daniel, Michael and the rest of The Pals Regiment. I know that I’ll hear the sounds of shelling, gunfire and exploding mines. I know that my heart will pound. I know that I’ll sweat and very possibly break into a run to the base of the ridge hiding the enemy. I will taste army rum, bitter in my mouth and I will look back towards the hospital ships in the bay, their red and green lights bobbing.
I’ll hear the order to march inland. And I will go. The sun will beat down. The air will hum with heat. Flies will form a welcoming party, feeding on my sweat. I’ll ignore them and the thirst. Up ahead, I’ll see a mine explode into the 5th Royal Irish Fusiliers and I’ll hear the whispered curses of the men beside me.
Without knowing it, I’ll have halted. I’ll remember how to pray. Then I’ll urge myself on with images of my loved ones in my mind.
I’ll hear the sounds of war explode all round me. I’ll see bodies ripped apart and men fall like puppets. I’ll hear the groans of the wounded I step over.
I will cry.
I’ll cling to friends who have made it.
I will live in trenches and fill my letters with lies so my loved ones don’t worry. I will feel the cold at night. I will watch for the enemy. And I will see it coming. Again.
I will know the panic of running out of ammunition. I will witness my friend catch enemy grenades and fire them back until one explodes him to kingdom come.
I will relive it all in Technicolour and surround sound.
Visiting Gallipoli will not be fun. It will not be pleasant. But it will be important. It will be a thank you to the souls of those men who entered my mind and heart as I wrote, sharing with me their story. It will be a proper ending to a humbling writing experience. And it will be a reminder that war is never the answer.
Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies.
Denise has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was being a checkout girl, although ultimately this experience did inspire a short story… Denise writes for both adults and teenagers. Her novels have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing. Writing under the pen name Aimee Alexander, Denise’s contemporary family dramas have become international best-sellers on Kindle.
Through the Barricades
She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country.
He was willing to sacrifice everything for her.
‘Make a difference in the world,’ are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart, years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.
‘Don’t go getting distracted, now,’ is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.
A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realises that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.
The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?
Through the Barricades on Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2ipY5WI
Through the Barricades on Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2iq7762
Having been watching BBC 2’s Second Chance Summer in Tuscany, and dreaming of running away to a dream life in Italy, I’ve been looking forward to hosting my guest today, Katharine Johnson, to talk about her upcoming novel’s inspiration…
Hello Jennifer and thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I love reading your Sunday sojourns so it’s a real treat to be taking part in one.
Today I’d like to take you to Tuscany where my psychological/coming of age novel the silence is set.
Most people probably associate Tuscany with the gentle rolling hills, art cities and cypress-lined roads around Siena that we see on calendars and postcards. But the landscape in north Tuscany where my novel is set is wilder and less hospitable with jagged mountains, narrow gorges and thick forests. The hills are crowned by Medieval villages which are enveloped by cloud some of the year and can often only be accessed on foot. It’s a land of myths and magic with stories passed down through the generations about the devils, witches and imps that inhabit the area.
Among the best known of these is the buffardello, an imp who lives in the Garfagnana and Lunigiana. He gets in through keyholes at night, hiding and moving objects, leaving sulphurous smells, shaving men’s beards off, removing bed covers and knotting young girls’ hair and horses’ tails as they sleep. He also sits on sleepers’ chests or covers their mouth to stop them breathing.
Tree spirits also appear at night in the form of lights through the branches. Walnut trees are especially to be avoided. Whoever answers their call falls into a cataleptic state that slowly leads to death.
Some of the stories serve as an explanation for how the landscape was formed. In the mountains of the Apuan Alps between Pania Della Croce and Pania Secca is the Uomo Morto (dead man.) If you look carefully you can see the face of a man lying looking up at the sky. The story goes that a shepherdess was abandoned by her lover who went off to become a sailor. She spent her time staring out to sea from the meadows of Pania Della Croce pining for him. A young man was so struck by her beauty and sadness that he fell in love with her and tried everything to make her happy again. When he realised she would never love him he asked the gods to turn him into a rock that would unite the two mountains and block out her view of the sea forever.
Another story explains how Monte Forato (the holed mountain) was formed. The highest point of the Garfagnana is San Pellegrino in Alpe. It is here that the hermit San Pellegrino met the devil who did everything he could to tempt him. The saint resisted for as long as he could but in the end he lost patience and gave the devil a smack. This sent him flying across the valley into the Apuan Alps. The rock where the devil landed gave way leaving a big hole.
The village of Santa Zita in my novel is entirely fictional but probably contains random bits of lots of places in the area. Some of the residents of Santa Zita still believe in tree spirits and the villa where Abby stays that summer is thought by locals to be cursed. It is hidden by trees in summer and mist in winter so a tragic incident there could remain a secret for many years.
The Silence is a psychological/coming of age story.
Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.
About the author
Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for crime novels, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a National Trust room guide.
You can find her online, at the following links: Amazon author page
Happy Sunday all! Today, I’m delighted to welcome Michelle Cox to the blog, telling us the real life story behind “A Girl Like You” set in Depression-era Chicago…
“I had a man-stopping body and a personality to go with it!” is what the 81-year old Adeline Canton told me in an interview, shortly after she had been admitted to the nursing home where I once toiled as a social worker.
Even with her many health problems, some of them of a terminal nature, Adeline had a lean, wiry body and a definite spark still in her eyes as regaled me with stories about her youth and adventures during the Great Depression and beyond. So much did they mesmerize me that some twenty years later, when I began fishing around for an idea for a novel series, Adeline’s story naturally came floating back to me. Gingerly I took it in hand and began sculpting it, obviously changing some things and inventing others until my heroine, Henrietta Von Harmon, was born, very much resembling a girl like Adeline.
For the more curious reader, listed below are some of the highlights of Adeline’s life which bear an unmistakable similarity to that of the fictitious Henrietta. Most surprising is the fact that the more outlandish parts of the novel are actually the true bits!
Family history: Adeline’s father, Lester Von Freudenthal, was originally from Alscace-Lorraine where he (like Henrietta’s father, Leslie Von Harmon) claimed the family had been aristocratic barons, thus the “Von” in their name. Also true: Adeline’s great-grandfather eloped to Chicago with his bride and settled in Logan Square.
Great Depression: Adeline was fifteen when the Great Depression hit, so she quit school to find work. Like Henrietta, it fell to her to go down to the armory where free government food was being handed out because her mother was too proud to go.
Jobs: From age fifteen to sixty-eight, Adeline worked such a large variety of jobs that she can’t remember them all. Sometimes she worked two or even three at a time, many of which feature in the novel, including: floor scrubber, waitress, radio welder in a factory, hair curler demonstrator in department stores, Dutch Girl at the Chicago world’s fair, 26-girl, bookie’s girl, taxi-dancer and usherette at a burlesque theater. Adeline’s extreme beauty got her many jobs, but it also got her fired for slapping owners who constantly tried to feel her up – often in the long dark passageways or closets where supplies were kept.
Neighborhood Boys: Like Henrietta, who is dogged throughout the novel by the love-struck Stanley Dubowski, Adeline said that a little rag-tag band of neighborhood boys who knew that she was a “nice girl” often waited by the El station for her to get off from her late-night jobs and would follow her home at a distance so that no harm would befall her.
Burlesque: At nineteen years old, Adeline saw an ad in the paper for an usherette at a burlesque theater on Monroe and went to audition, where the line of eager women wrapped around the block. Many of the novel’s details about Henrietta’s audition are taken exactly from Adeline’s experience, including having to show off her legs and bottom on stage in order to get the job. As in the novel, the theater maintained a strict “no touching” policy between the girls and the crowd, with burly ushers doubling as bouncers to throw out any man that crossed the line. Girls were required to go to the bathroom in pairs for safety’s sake.
Lesbians: Adeline discovered that most of the usherettes or dancers at the theater were lesbians. Though Adeline did not share their sexual orientation and warded off their initial advances, she was eventually befriended by them. One of them, Didi, became her best friend and protector and tried to shield her from some of the more risqué situations that were occurring at the “lesbian parties” Adeline was invited to, which, she said, were boring because “everyone just sat around and made out.”
Though much of Henrietta’s story was taken from Adeline’s, the two tales eventually begin to diverge at some point, with Henrietta’s taking on a life of its own. For example, while I’m sure that Adeline was exposed to her share of crimes and murders as a working girl in the city, to my knowledge she was never involved with one, nor did she probably ever come across an aloof, but oddly charming, detective inspector of the Chicago police. But who knows? Maybe, like Henrietta, they once shared a dance…
Michelle Cox holds a B.A. in English literature from Mundelein College, Chicago, and is the author of the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. Book two of the series, A Ring of Truth, was released April 2017. She is known for her wildly popular blog, “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps—A Practical Guide” as well as her charming “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. Michelle lives with her husband and three children in the Chicago suburbs.
Today, I received an email from Amazon, letting me know that my next novel is ‘coming soon’, and was now available for pre-order. I knew it had started drifting slowly out on emails, with two friends having received similar emails, but seeing it pop up in my own inbox? That truly brought it home.
Especially as it was in pretty good company in the email!
So, I am delighted to announce that Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is now available for pre-order (international Amazon link here). Also, to remind you that I’ll be hosting an online launch party over on Facebook (click here), where I’m chuffed to be joined by fellow Crooked Cat writers, and will be sharing virtual food, drinks and entertainment, along with real competition prizes.
Looking forward to seeing you there x
Happy Sunday everyone (our first in May!). Today, I’m inviting fellow Elementary Writer Emma Whitehall to the blog, telling us why she (and every writer) needs a good café. I entirely endorse this! Over to you, Emma.
Every writer, I think, should have a good café.
I simply can’t write when I’m at home. I can read at home – most of my slush pile is completed in bed – but, when it comes to finishing an article, or plotting a story, I will literally do anything else before I work. I’ll binge on Netflix, do the laundry, and bathe the gecko before a single word hits the page. That’s why so much of my time is taken up in cafes, or coffee shops. Every important email, every significant story, has been written at least in part while sitting in a public space.
As I write, I am sitting in Quilliam Brother’s Teahouse in Newcastle City Centre. It’s a gorgeous old red-brick building right in the heart of the city, revamped by the titular brothers (yes, Quilliam really is their last name) a few years ago. It’s all wood furnishings and quirky decorations (the chandelier is made of tea spoons!) and I love it. I’m on my second Strawberry Iced Tea, and my dessert of a caramel brownie after a really hearty mushroom burger – setting me up for a dull evening shift at my Day Job. I have a long history with this teahouse; I actually worked with one of the owners in the months just before it opened. I had first date with my partner downstairs – terrifying him when he was presented with a menu with over 50 different types of tea. I wrote most of my upcoming collection at Vic Watson’s writing group, which is held here every Monday night, and made some amazing friends in the process.
There’s something about writing in public that really sparks my motivation. Maybe it’s the “performance” of writing – living up to the stereotype of the hipster writer, tapping away at her laptop with a fancy drink for company. Maybe it’s the idea of this being “my time” to write, without thinking too hard about work, or commuting, or the thousand tiny distractions that are always there at home. It could be the white noise around me that helps my brain focus – I’m one of those rare writers who can’t stand to have music playing while I work. Maybe it’s just the way my brain is programmed now, to associate sitting at a table with a hot drink and something sugary to be Writing Time. Whatever it is, I know I’m not the only writer in Newcastle to be thankful to all the staff at Quilliam Brothers for their patience (I’ve been here for nearly three hours), their delicious food and drink, and for providing a space where we can come and think, and create.
Emma Whitehall is a writer and spoken word performer based in the North East of England. She specialises in supernatural fiction, and has been published in the United Kingdom, America and Mexico. Her Flash Fiction has been longlisted for the Bath Novella in Flash Award, and shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Award. She also writes book reviews for genre publications such as Unnerving Magazine, and her guest blog posts have been praised as “invaluable advice” by their readers.