One Christmas Star by Mandy Baggot / Blog Tour

Hi there! Today I am delighted to have Mandy Baggot stopping by with a guest post. Mandy is namaley back with her new release “One Christmas Star” that is receiving raving reviews – no wonder, as Ms Baggot is a real Queen of Christmas stories! Today however put your feet high and read about the power of hedgehogs! Yes!

 

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One Christmas Star –Mandy Baggot

The power of hedgehog

The main characters in my novel, One Christmas Starare schoolteacher, Emily Parker and troubled musician, Ray Stone, plus thirty-three ten-year olds at Stretton Park Primary School.BUT there are two little characters who havepushed their way into the limelight and have even scored a starring role on the front cover of the novel! Meet Olivia Coleman and Idris Elba –two of London’s declining hedgehog population.

Living in the countryside,I am really used to seeing hedgehogs all the time in my garden,soI never even considered that these cute little balls of spikes might be endangered. But, putting them into my book, a book set in and around Islington, London, I did some research about urban hedgehogs and was alarmed to realise how in decline they actually are.

Back in the 1950s there were over 30 million hedgehogs in London and now, scarily,there are thought to be less than 1 million. In fact,since the year 2000,the hedgehog population has declined by a third. This is huge! There are many, many reasons why this has happened, for example, less natural gardens (more decking and tidier grass spaces)and decline in their prey as we kill the beetles and slugsthat are their foodwith pesticides etc.But the London Wildlife Trust is doing their very best to tryto help.

In One Christmas Star, the children of Stretton Park add their sightings of the hedgehogs to an interactive map that helps plot where hedgehogs are livingin thecapital. This isso an accurate picture of activity can be established. This map isn’t something I’ve made up, it’s very real and it helps the London Wildlife Trust see theareas that need their help the most. You can find out more on their website and even download a booklet that tells you how YOU can help hedgehogswherever you live.

Here is the link:-https://www.wildlondon.org.uk/hedgehog-help

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The Playground Murders by Lesley Thomson / Blog Tour + Guest Post

Good morning! Today I am a part of “The Playground Murders” (brilliant title, no?) by Lesley Thomson blog tour. I haven’t hosted a guest post for a long time and so, this time, the lovely author has written one for me, and it is about a day in author’s life – I was always intrigued how they look like. So put your feet high and enjoy!

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

40879173Forty years ago, in the dark of the playground, two children’s lives were changed for ever.

Stella Darnell is a cleaner. But when she isn’t tackling dust and dirt and restoring order to chaos, Stella solves murders. Her latest case concerns a man convicted of killing his mistress. His daughter thinks he’s innocent, and needs Stella to prove it.

As Stella sifts through piles of evidence and interview suspects, she discovers a link between the recent murder and a famous case from forty years ago: the shocking death of six-year-old Sarah Ferris, killed in the shadows of an empty playground.

Stella knows that dredging up the past can be dangerous. But as she pieces together the tragedy of what happened to Sarah, she is drawn into a story of jealousy, betrayal and the end of innocence. A story that has not yet reached its end…

 

GUEST POST:

    • A Day in the Life
      Readers ask me, what is a typical day?
      I’m lucky, unless I’m preparing for an event or teaching (I’m a visiting tutor on an creative writing MA) I write every day.
      7am. I walk our poodle Alfred through a ruined priory of crumbling flint walls. In winter I wear a high-vis jerkin and a headtorch.Alfred has a neon collar. In the dark it’spotentially scary and it inspired me to write The Dog Walker … in which the dog walker dies. Unlike a character in that novel I’m not alone. There’s a bunch of us solving world issues and keeping each other sane.
      After breakfast and a read of the newspaper, I start writing.
      8.30am. My target is1,000 words.Obviously not any old words, but this objective keeps up the pace of the drama and gets the first draft down. On a first draft with blank pages ahead, it’s easy to procrastinate, rework a sentence over and over or dip out and check email.
      11.15. I’m in the patisserie for a takeaway latte and a natter with the owner Libby and anyone in the queue. I leave invigorated for the next writing stint. If I’m stuck -Why would Stella be at the crime scene? When should Jack tell Stella the truth?-I’ll stop inthe gardens of anElizabethan house where colourful flowerbeds, newly-cut lawns within more flint walls soothe the brain.
      1pm. Lunch with The Archers on catch up. Another dog walk, just me and Alfred. Walking’s ideal for fleshing out characters and deciding their next move. I dictate ideas into my phone or I won’t remember. In the old days I’d ring home and leave a weird message on the answer machine.The blood was between the floorboards.
      I’ve had mishaps. I lost Alfred’s lead and had to lug him home (he chases lorries so can’t be off-lead). Seven kilos gets heavier after half a mile. Another time I fell on my face in mud. Heigh hoe, it feeds the fiction.
      Then one afternoon we were playing ball in the park.I stopped by the children’s playground, the primary coloured equipment cheery on a greyday. Kids charged about,swarming up ropes,swinging from bars. I recalled the playground of my own childhood. Playgrounds, I pondered, chucking Alfred his ball, are fun places where children play imaginative games. What if their games are not fun? The plot for The Playground Murders unfolded.
      4.30pm. Cuppa and reads omething, perhaps for research or another crime-writer’s novel if I’m moderating a panel. It’s called work, but I love it.
      6pm: The End.Relax. Take ages to do half the Guardian Quick Crossword.

 

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The Good Friend by Jo Baldwin / Blog Tour (Guest Post)

Hello guys, the lovely Jo Baldwin, author of “The Good Friend” that is set in the wonderful France during one hot summer and touches upon such issues as toxic friendship, mental health and betrayal and which is full of darkness and tension, has written a brilliant Guest Post for her blog tour stop today. She’s chosen three brilliant things to write about – thank you so much, Jo! –  so put your feet high and enjoy and then treat yourself to the book!

 

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GUEST POST

  1. Books that helped shaped me/my writing

 

I am drawn to stories in which strong, yet complex, characters – usually women – form strong bonds with friends or siblings. When I was a child, my mum passed onto me her copy of Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, and until I could read the words, I would spend hours poring over the beautiful full-colour illustrations, wishing that I could be part of the March family and share in their lively experiences. I grew up with three older brothers, so there was always a part of me that yearned for a sister.

Setting is also very important for me in a novel. When I was 20, I spent a year working as a teaching assistant in a small town near Provence. While there, I read all of the novels by the French author Sébastien Japrisot. My favourite was L’EtéMeutrier (One Deadly Summer), a psychological and suspenseful tale, which unravels slowly during a sultry and oppressive summer heat wave in 1970s southern France. The setting is like another character and serves to build tension and drive the characters to near-madness in this captivating story, which had me on the edge of my seat. I loved the main character Elle. She is so multi-layered – manipulative and seductive, yet fragile.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is another novel that I first read in my twenties and which has stayed with me. Again, it’s the dry, dusty heat of California which affected me greatly when reading this story. As a reader you get a great sense of location and space, and how the setting itself plays an important part in developing the characters’ behaviours. There’s so much sadness in this story but it’s a powerful tale – a retelling of Cain and Abel. All of the main characters are compelling and complex. I remember reading it for the first time and being so shocked by the pure evil nature of Cathy. Again, another strong female character, but this time, one who destroys those around her.

  1. Researching The Good Friend

It was fairly easy to research the setting of The Good Friend as I have spent a lot of time in the Languedoc during the past 16 years. There’s a small lake close to our family house, which is idyllic to swim in during the summer months, but it can seem murky and uninviting out of season. For the sake of research, I decided to bite the bullet and take a swim in it one cold grey autumnal day so that I could experience it as if I was Kath, one of the main characters in my novel. As soon as I jumped in and felt the reeds lashing at my ankles, I shrieked with pure fright. It felt as if I was swimming in a pond full of eels. The sensation was truly horrible, but it helped me to get inside Kath’s head and experience what she felt when she looked down at Jenny swimming in the soupy green water.

3. My writing process

I don’t have an enormous amount of free time in which to write as I work most days as a freelance marketing consultant. However, I keep Friday as a writing day and try to make it as productive a day as possible.

First I go to an early morning yoga class and try to clear my head of mundane thoughts, so that I can draw on something more inspiring than what to cook for dinner. I’m home by 9.15am and usually put a wash on, before making a coffee and taking it to my desk, where I try to work undisturbed until my sonreturns home from school at 3:30. If I’m struggling to find the words, I’ll reach for a novel from one the many bookshelvesaround the house and read a chapter to see if it can stimulate my thought buds. If that doesn’t work, I make another coffee and hang up the washing. I keep several notebooks around one, even one by my bed, so that if I think of a plot detail or a sentence that’s been bouncing about in my head, I can write it down quickly before I forget it. There’s nothing more frustrating than coming up with an idea then forgetting about it half an hour later, because I didn’t jot it down!

Jo Baldwin

18 Feb 2019

 

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One Little Lie by Sam Carrington (Guest Post / Blog Tour)

Hi guys, today is my stop on Sam Carrington’s blog tour, celebrating the release of her new gripping novel “One Little Lie”. If you’re like me and likes reading guest posts then you’re for a treat today, as Sam has written a little piece on location in the novel. It’s brilliant, so put your feet high and enjoy!

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One Little Lie – on location.

Alongside the prison setting in One Little Lie,the town of Totnes, in Devon, remains a key location.Psychologist Connie Summers – who we first met in Bad Sister– has her counselling practice there. Although Connieis a central character, along with DI Lindsay Wade and DS Mack, this book is really Alice Mann’s story.

Alice is the mother of a murderer and she is struggling to come to terms with this and the impact her son’s actions have had on her and his victim’s family. She moved to Totnes to escape the past and rebuild her life, but she still feels massive guilt and so in an attempt to gain redemption she sets up asupport group for parents whose children have challenging behaviour or committed crimes. These monthly meetings take place ina church hall in the centre of Totnes. In addition to the support group, she seeks professional help from Connie, so a large part of the novel takes place in Totnes.

Totnes is a historical market town situated at the head of the estuary of the River Dart and has many beautiful features. It’s a place I love, and I visit regularly.

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The narrow streets lined with indie shops and boutiques, interior furnishers, art galleries and gift shops are quaint and offer a more unique shopping experience than the surrounding towns.

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The East Gate Arch is one of the most prominent and famous features of Totnes, it straddles the street and was originally the entrance to the old Elizabethan walled town. It was reconstructed after a devastating fire in 1990. Connie’s counselling practice is just beyond the arch, on the right going up the hill.

I really like having a few real locations in my novels, although it can be a bit restrictive. For those who also know Totnes well, they might notice I have played around a bit with the geography in parts – but hopefully not too much!

Dartmoor, specifically Haytor, doesn’t play a central role in One Little Lie as it has in my previous novels, but it does feature briefly. Andagain, for One Little Lie, I have used the fictional town of Coleton – which is situated a few miles from Totnes.The police station, where DI Wade and DS Mack are based, is located there, and it’s where Connie lives.

I think I will continue to set my novels in Devon, it’s a place I’ve lived all my life and there are so many beautiful locations that I could use. I’m sure it will continue to inspire my stories and be the perfect backdrop.

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Best Practice by Penny Parkes (Blog Tour + Guest Post)

Hi amigos! Today I am so very thrilled to welcome Penny Parkes to my blog! For all those of you who doesn’t know it yet, Penny is the author of the brilliant, heart – warming and gorgeous The Larkford Series and the third installment, Best Practice, was published on 28th July in paperback by Simon & Schuster. The lovely Penny has written a guest post for us about three books that shaped her writing life – put your feet high and enjoy!

 

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Three books that shaped my writing life – Penny Parkes

Ask me who my literary heroes are and, from a very (annoyingly) young age, I would talk about my favourite authors – the people behind the stories being just as fascinating to me, as the characters within them.

So, in truth, it’s not surprising that I was always one of those readers who would count down the days until the newest offering from these ‘destination authors’ arrived. Not for me something slender and literary – I would always prioritise chunky, tome-like books over clothes in my holiday suitcase – and the photographs from my eighties travels will testify to my precocious (albeit questionable) ‘skills’ with a capsule wardrobe. Chunky novels, though hefty, have always been my go-to pleasure – diving in for five hundred pages of well-crafted, relatable, escapist fiction.

I’m going to blame the marvellous M.M.Kaye for triggering this obsession – her novel The Far Pavilions found me at an impressionable age, when our local librarian had given up pointing me towards more suitable offerings, and allowed me to make the most of my family’s entire collection of library cards by weight, if not by virtue. (See also Ken Follett!) The thing that made this particular book stand out, was that it was like nothing I had ever experienced, in real life or in fiction – it was transporting and illuminating and a little bit terrifying at times. In short, I was hooked.

Penny Vincenzi picked up the reins of my chunky novel obsession shortly afterwards. How, I used to wonder, did she make me care about every single one of her characters, and to weave them so tightly and cleverly together, until I emerged blinking after a day or two, unsure of which reality I now inhabited. That, I decided, was a true art form and one I dreamed of emulating. Even writing this paragraph gives me a lump in my throat remembering reading the crash scene in The Best of Times with tears pouring down my face, and knowing that the wonderful, late, great, dearly missed Penny has written her last denouement.

I’ve always been a bit slutty with my reading habits – thrillers, domestic noir, young adult, romantic comedies, biographies, even if I’m honest, the multi-lingual back of the shampoo bottle – but there is a certain kind of book I return to time and time again. The kind of book that reels me in, makes me laugh, breaks my heart and makes me whole again and for that I can only cite Marian Keyes.

Rachel’s Holiday is, in my opinion, a modern classic – darkly funny, deeply touching and beautifully crafted. Without this book, my writing aspirations would be like driving the Cotswold lanes without a signpost.

Now, when I sit down to write, I have Katie Fforde’s wonderful quote for my first book pinned above my desk – ‘light and funny, but deep and meaningful at the same time’ – and I know exactly where that motivation came from and, that if I’m doing it right, then maybe one day somebody might run into the bookstore with their weekend plans on hold because my new book is hitting the shelves…

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Alone Time by Stephanie Rosenbloom (Blog Tour + Guest Post)

Alone Time by Stephanie Rosenbloom

 

33295222Publisher: Bantam Press

Publishing Date: 14th June 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 288

Genre: Travel, Non – Fiction, Memoir

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Hardcover

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

A wise, passionate account of the pleasures of travelling solo

In our increasingly frantic daily lives, many people are genuinely fearful of the prospect of solitude, but time alone can be both rich and restorative, especially when travelling. Through on-the-ground reporting and recounting the experiences of artists, writers, and innovators who cherished solitude, Stephanie Rosenbloom considers how being alone as a traveller–and even in one’s own city–is conducive to becoming acutely aware of the sensual details of the world–patterns, textures, colors, tastes, sounds–in ways that are difficult to do in the company of others.

Alone Time is divided into four parts, each set in a different city, in a different season, in a single year. The destinations–Paris, Istanbul, Florence, New York–are all pedestrian-friendly, allowing travelers to slow down and appreciate casual pleasures instead of hurtling through museums and posting photos to Instagram. Each section spotlights a different theme associated with the joys and benefits of time alone and how it can enable people to enrich their lives–facilitating creativity, learning, self-reliance, as well as the ability to experiment and change. Rosenbloom incorporates insights from psychologists and sociologists who have studied solitude and happiness, and explores such topics as dining alone, learning to savor, discovering interests and passions, and finding or creating silent spaces. Her engaging and elegant prose makes Alone Time as warmly intimate an account as the details of a trip shared by a beloved friend–and will have its many readers eager to set off on their own solo adventures.

Rating: four-stars

Stephanie Rosenbloom has done a thing that I’m dreaming about – she’s travelled alone to four different cities. I don’t actually have to travel around the world but being alone is high on my list of priorities. You know, I’m actually never alone, there is always someone around me, be it at work or at home, and a solitary minute is like a Utopia Island. I think I wouldn’t be afraid of travelling alone, I’d enjoy every single minute and use it in exactly the same way Stephanie Rosenbloom did. 

I usually don’t read books like “Alone Time”, which is a shame as I actually found this book informative and entertaining, interesting and refreshing. I absolutely admire how much research must have gone into the story, as it is full of facts and references – some of them I found amusing and interesting, and I’d do without the others but altogether it was something different and I truly learnt from this book. 

The author takes us on a journey through four cities – Paris, Istanbul, Florence and New York, during four seasons. There were incredibly vivid descriptions of food that made my mouth water, beautiful settings and descriptions of places and of course people the author has met during her travels. This all will give you solitude and courage to perhaps travel alone one day and enjoy your own company, to focus on things we usually take for granted instead of appreciating. It will show you that it is really worth to slow down and open your eyes and your tastes. And it will show you how great it is to make your own marks and memories. Full of tips and resources, it’s really worth reading, not only when you’re planning a solo excursion. It felt so relaxed, and it was also very well written . Stephanie Rosenbloom’s writing style is warm and inviting, insightful and it pulls you into the book. It is also full of depth but the author knows when to add a relaxed anecdote to make it even easier to follow and for us not to feel too overwhelmed with the facts.. I must also mention the gorgeous cover of this book – it’s simple but beautiful, and the blue colour is one of the most brilliant and friendly ones. It will be for sure standing out on the bookshelves.

Let’s stop in Florence for a moment – this stop was full of art. I loved the precise descriptions, the slow motion, the no – hurry, to see Florence through Stephanie Rosenbloom’s eyes like this. The one or two anecdotes or memories were an added bonus, of course, the secret place so worth mention. This destination was beautifully described, with so much heart and soul in every word, and the educational part was truly well balanced by humour and sharp observations.
Stephanie Rosenbloom has visited Florence in autumn and the descriptions of trees glowing yellow in the sunshine were so vivid, as well the descriptions of food and streets, and I really didn’t know there are streets like Death, Hell and The Way of the Discontented in Tuscany – but this book is so much more than a travel guide. Many great names are being mentioned in this chapter, just think about Michelangelo, Padre Pinocchio, The Birth of Venus, and I would really take someone’s arm off to see those things with my own eyes. There were brilliant, interesting facts mentioned that I would probably never hear about if I hadn’t read this book, and it was full of clever insights and observations. And now also check what 5 things you just have to see when in Florence:

 

Five Things Not to Miss in Florence Ex: Stephanie Rosenbloom

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–The Uffizi is a must, as is the Vasari Corridor, the hidden passageway lined with some of the world’s best-known self-portraits— that is if you can get in. Still, even if you can’t, the Uffizi is unrivaled for Renaissance masterworks, including its leading lady: Botticelli’s Venus.

–Never mind the Piazza Michelangelo. Cross the Oltrarno and climb the hills to the Basilica of San Miniato, where you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the old city and the Duomo. While you’re there, go behind the basilica to visit the beautiful old cemetery, where a mausoleum houses the remains of Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio.

–In the evenings, the city is alive with music. But there’s no need for formalities. Take yourself to a small church for a casual concert, as special as any in a grand concert hall.

–After hours inside some of the world’s most ornate museums and churches, get outside and wander amid the sculptures, grottos, and fountains of the regal Boboli Gardens.

–Yes, everyone goes to see Michelangelo’s David— and with good reason. Don’t miss the Galleria dell’Accademia. It’s one thing to see photos of the David, but quite another experience (and a moving one at that), to stand beside it.

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The Scent of You by Maggie Alderson (Blog Tour)

Hi guys, hope you are all well. Today I am thrilled to have a wonderful guest post from Maggie Alderson for you. Maggie’s brand new novel “The Scent of You” is out tomorrow in paperback, published by Harper Collins, and this book has a) a brilliant, brilliant cover and b) a fantastic premise and I am dying to read it! In the meantime I have, as already above mentioned, a guest post from the author on “The Seven Mysteries of Writing a Novel” – out your feet high and enjoy!

 

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By Maggie Alderson

I can’t quite believe that The Scent of You is my tenth novel. And what I find particularly bewildering is that although I’ve done it so many times, I still make the same mistakes. Every time.

 I charge into a new book in a frenzy, never planning anything, never doing a time line, a map of where everyone lives, or a list of the relative ages in families, until I’m about 30,000 words in.

 That was interesting when the family in question was a modern jigsaw of numerous half and step siblings in Cents and Sensibility (my fourth one). I realised half way through writing the first draft, when I did finally do a timeline, that I was going to have to make my heroine ten years younger than I’d wanted her to be. Oops.

 So as I am about to start my eleventh book, I thought this was a good moment to ponder over what I’ve learned over all the years of writing in the hope it might help stop me making the same mistakes again – and hopefully give some insights to anyone else who might be thinking of embarking on their own fiction adventure.

 

  • Starting it

I remember very clearly when the first of my contemporaries wrote a novel – and got a publisher. I was in awe, dreaming of writing a book myself one day, but too scared to start in case I found I couldn’t do it.

‘How long did it take you to write it?’ I asked him.

‘Six months,’ he replied. ‘And thirty two years…’

That remark returns to me every time I’m writing a book and I’ve allowed myself to get hoity toity about how clever I am making all this stuff up….

Because one day I will have a blinding flash of revelation when I understand exactly what things in my own life have fed into what I’m writing. Even if it’s about rich beautiful people living lives I can only dream, the seed of it comes directly from things I have experienced.

So really, you’re starting a novel every moment of your life. I think of it as adding stuff to the stock pot in my brain, which will later come out as something that seems completely different, but is really that bit of onion I chucked in earlier.

To keep this stock pot topped up, between books I try and have lots of new experiences – visiting new cities, exhibitions, books and any kind of random experience I can have. Once I’m writing a book, I don’t do anything except write the book, so I have to cram it in while I can in between.

 

  • Making it up

This was one of the hardest things for me to do when I started my first novel, Pants on Fire. I’d been making my living as a journalist for about fifteen years by then and sticking to the facts and the quotes was part of my DNA.

In the end I signed up for a Fiction Writing evening course at Sydney University (it was while I was living in Australia) and although I only went to three of them it freed me up to let go and make it up… It was so exhilarating when I first allowed myself to trust it, like jumping onto a flume ride.

 

  • Finding the characters

They seem to find me. When I start a book I know who my heroine is, she’s my starting point. I have an idea what she looks like and I know what she does – that gives me the milieu for the book. Apart from that, I have no idea who else is in it until they stroll onto the page.

I always remember when I was writing my second book Mad About the Boy (not be confused with the more recent Helen Fielding of the same title). The doorbell rang (in the book, not my doorbell) and I had no idea who was going to be behind it until my heroine opened the door.

It turned out to be Uncle Percy, who remains one of my very favourites of all my characters.

Another way I find them is by pulling pictures of people out of magazines and seeing which ones ‘speak’ to me – a technique I discovered after I stuck a picture of a hot guy on the wall over my desk just to gaze at and he walked into the book.

 

  • Staying seated

Sometimes it takes every bit of willpower I can summon to keep my bum stuck to my chair. Music helps me, tea helps me, biscuits help me – then carrot sticks, after I’ve put on half a stone – looking at my phone does not help me. I don’t have wifi on the laptop I write on and put my phone on the other side of the room.

Conversely, sometimes going out for a walk, or a look at the shops helps me stay seated later. I get the urge to flee out of my system by fleeing and then when I come back staying seated doesn’t seem so hard.

 

  • Finishing it

See point 4. It’s the only way. Stay seated, or at least stay in the room – some people write standing up, Hemingway did – and keep going.

 

  • Getting over writer’s block

There are always sticking points when writing a book, when it feels like someone has turned the tap off. That’s when I run to my books about writing.

The first one I reach for is Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. It’s a masterpiece. It was originally an article in Esquire (you can Google it), but I have a little hardback book of it which takes about 20 minutes to read. It always makes me roar with laughter and usually eager to get back to the fray.

Leonard’s first sentence is: ‘Never open a book with the weather.’

My all-time favourite is Stephen King’s On Writing (which David Walliams also cites as a great influence), which is a work of pure genius.

I have another one called Dear Writer, by Carmel Bird, which I find very useful for practical tips on the craft of writing – tense, point of view etc.

My other stalwart is David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction, which is so beautifully written and has a wonderfully varied collection of passages in it, one to illustrate each point.

The section from Catcher In the Rye to discuss skat dialogue entirely created the character of the outrageously dreadful – but actually very vulnerable – daughter Theo, in my book Shall We Dance?

 

  • Surviving editing

Or as I like to call it – re-eating your own vomit. That’s about how enjoyable I find that part of the process. It’s entirely my own fault. If I planned my books more carefully and didn’t write them at high speed as though I am trying to beat Jack Kerouac to the world record, editing wouldn’t be such a trial.

But while I always suffer great editing agonies, it’s always worth it for the feeling of utter elation that comes when I finish. And the book is always exponentially better for it.

I can’t wait to get started on the next one.