I’ve put Square Peg on a final Countdown offer for the year, starting at 99p, then going up to £1.99 before going back to £2.58.

I am reviewing whether these sales are actually good for me or not, so it’s possible I won’t be doing this again.

I would very much appreciate shares, tweets and recommendations. Reviews would also be welcome.


Winter Fallen

Winter Fallen


like glass.


of grass,

sharp, brittle,


with crystals.


like pelt

of ancient wolf.


of implacable grey.


of forgotten folk

long gone under

the earth,

bone alone



the stars light up,

million pin pricks

in the cloth

of heaven.

Hedgehog Medicine- on the value of literal and metaphysical prickles

When my daughter was small, a story at bedtime was one of the things we treasured and like many parents, we had our own favourites. The Winter Hedgehog was one we all loved.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Winter-Hedgehog-Red-Picture-Books/dp/0099809400/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417864863&sr=1-1&keywords=the+winter+hedgehog

It tells the story of a young hedgehog who refuses to go to sleep for the winter and sets out to explore what winter is. Without spoilers, I can tell you he found it to be “beautiful, dangerous and very, very cold.”

Last month, I had a series of baby hedgehogs needing rescuing. All (probably) from a late litter, I found them in my garden at night, one at a time, and all were tiny, hungry and riddled with fleas, lung-worms and ticks. A few days before I’d seen a dead adult squished at the side of the road, and I am pretty certain that was their mum. In total, we took five little hogs to the rescue centre, and I am pleased to report that most recent report has them all thriving and doing well. This is against the odds, as usually only 20% of youngsters rescued at this size survive. If they all make it through to the spring, we will bring them back here to release in our garden.

I’ve handled a lot of wildlife in my time and I have been privileged to handle many hedgehogs. They’re at a critically low level in the UK, and there are fears we may lose them altogether. There are lots of things we can all do to help, and for more info, do look at the Hedgehog Society’s website for advice http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/

on feeding and more general information about their lives. We put out food every evening, because contrary to what most have believed, they don’t sleep the entire winter but will come out during mild spells and will need food if they do.

Now, as far as I am concerned, there are messages that come to us from within our own souls and from the outside world: oracles, if you like. The arrival of quite so many spiky little beings coincided with a time of needing to withdraw and of going within, but also of the need to protect myself. I have often felt raw and with too few skins and the hedgehogs remind me of the need for psychic protection for the sake of staying safe while being able to go about my daily life. I’ve talked before about armouring and becoming vulnerable and this encounter with hedgehogs has been a reminder that while I need to protect myself I should not do so by becoming cut off from the world. Hedgehogs are agile, and are good climbers, despite their apparently cumbersome outer layer. Each prickle is actually a modified hair and is very flexible and quite light.

One of the very curious things about this litter of hoglets is that I found it much harder to pick them up. I’ve scooped up hedgehogs with bare hands in the past and not been prickled, but when the rescue centre lady handled them she showed me these ones have a different pattern of prickles. They seem to have a number of extra prickles that are longer, thicker, sharper than the others, and which are also paler. It would seem they have been adapting and changing too. One of the few predators in the UK that can do anything with a hedgehog is the badger; they turn them inside out and eat them. I imagine that these new pricklier versions may well be harder to do that with. The other curious thing is the fact that FIVE babies have made it thus far from a late litter. Hedgehogs can have up to ten babies at a time but it’s rare for more than three or four to survive to leave the nest. All of ours have this new pattern of prickles and so are almost certainly litter mates. This gives me hope that they are somewhat better protected than others.

In terms of personal psychic protection, the use of metaphysical prickles is the same as for literal ones. No one gets hurt by prickles if they are not actually attacking the hedgehog; psychic prickles are the same. You are not choosing to attack anyone else, but should they attack you, it will hurt. If you are curious about protection, there are a lot of excellent books I can recommend, but I’ll leave you with some medicine information about the hedgehog as totem or guide or guardian.

Wisdom of the female elders

  • Fertility

  • Defense against negativity

  • Enjoyment of life

  • Understanding weather patterns


The Hedgehog teaches how to be on the defence and how to protect yourself.
It shows how to protect the soft inside – your inner self.
Hedgehog shows how to be gentle, yet protective at the same time.
How to build defences and protective barriers that discourage negative people.

It also is the symbol of the Wisdom of the Female Elder, with close ties to Mother Earth. People with a Hedgehog totem often understand weather patterns –
they know when it will rain.


So that folks in the USA don’t feel left out, Away With The Fairies will be on countdown from today, for 120 hours at 99 cents first and then at $1.99, then at $2.99 before going back to its original price of $3.99 on the 10th of December. I don’t think I have put this on sale in the USA before, so I shall be very interested to see what happens.


Over the next forty hours , The Bet will be on a Countdown sale on UK Amazon.

As a result of changes to VAT regulations (it’s complicated and so far I’m not entirely sure how it will work) coming in from the first of January, prices for e-books will probably be going up to compensate for the 20% VAT. This also means it may not be feasible to do these sorts of offers often if at all.

It seems insane to me that e-books are subject to VAT when paper books are not; I am hoping that this may change but as things stand it’s another thing that is chipping away at the earnings of authors.

Grab it now, if you haven’t already. And if you can pass this on to friends, family, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, I would be very grateful indeed, as I would be for reviews (good ones for preference!)


It’s a great debate, nature or nurture, when it comes to who we think we are. While we may think we are our own person, that person is shaped both by upbringing and genetics and the experiences we go through in life. As a novelist, the shaping of characters is a curious process, half unconscious and half deliberate and I’d like to think that the fusion of the two has meant I’ve created some memorable folks amid the pages of my novels.

I was asked recently (several times) if Chloe’s grandmother in Square Peg is based on my own grandmother. My answer is that she’s not based on anyone(as such) but she’s probably how I’d like to be seen when I am granny-aged. I’ve also been asked how much of Chloe is me (just as I was asked how much of Isobel in Away With The Fairies is me) and I’d answer that question in the same way: a good deal of me is in her.

Yet Chloe’s Gran and her unconventional upbringing shaped her and brought her to the uncomfortable place she’s in at the start of the novel. Gran was one of those free-spirited women who blazed trails through history yet get almost no acknowledgements for the work they did. Trained as a doctor, she chose to spend her working life amid the poor, oppressed and marginalised people around the world, travelling and finding new challenges in a risky life. At some stage, she met and fell in love with someone whose child she came back to England with. She never saw him again, and returning to her home town and parents, people assumed she’d married while abroad but kept her maiden name for professional reasons. A generation before it would have been a massive scandal and a generation later, something fairly unremarkable, yet at the time the birth of a son out of wedlock was something she needed to keep private. As soon as her son was independent, she left to return to the work she loved, only returning when her son lost his wife in an accident. In the intervening years, she visited her family and sent presents home, usually gifts that reflected the community she was living in. Chloe and her sister are sent a colourful Pendleton blanket, packed with white sage, suggesting that Gran was living among Native Americans, perhaps acting as doctor on a reservation. The battered sandalwood Buddha that sits on the hearth is another such fixture in Chloe’s home.

Like so many women called upon to care for those who need it, Chloe’s grandmother reluctantly returned but never fully settled into a life of a suburban general practitioner and her restlessness was only assuaged by working with the fringe communities, like Romanies and other travellers. Chloe spent enough time as a child among these communities that she grew to identify unconsciously with the marginalised and the outcasts and not with respectable middle class values of those more expected to be her peer group. She also learned a lot of very dubious skills, like how to fight and use a shotgun. Combined with her plain-speaking grandmother’s influence, who taught tolerance for differences of faith, ideology and race but resistance to blind convention and mealy-mouthed maintenance of a status quo of injustice, Chloe arrives in a place where she’ll be tested to her limits simply to survive without going under or losing integrity by acquiescing to the kind of hypocrisy that would make her grandmother spin in her too-recent grave.

It’s not only her grandmother’s influence that has brought her to this turning point in her life. Her childhood and her student days shaped a woman who is combative and uncompromising, yet her choice of husband has also changed her. Clifford has not tamed her, but rather has seen her wildness as something to cherish. He sees her plain speaking as a virtue; not as the college wives do, as rudeness and a lack of community spirit. He’s not the kind of ordinand who wants or expects his wife to be a stereotypical help-meet, organising prayer groups and baking scones; it would bore him senseless and the spark he has with Chloe would gutter and die if she became meek and conventional.

Chloe isn’t someone who needs a horde of friends, but she does need kindred spirits to keep her from sliding into despair, and she’s lucky to find one in her first year of college who keeps her from the darkness of total isolation. But it’s not until their final year when the anarchic Isobel arrived with her ordinand husband Mickey, and a bond is formed between two square pegs that will endure some terrible times. Isobel is someone better able to walk the line between being outrageous and acceptable. She’s had a bit more practise, swapping from a degree chosen to placate her father to a degree in art to please herself, and somehow keeping it secret long enough to produce work her father can see is potentially a career builder. She’s also able to accept some compromise, cutting off her dreadlocks and removing her piercings before she and Mickey start at college. She sees them as peripherals and not really that important to her identity; she can go ‘plain clothes’ for the duration and not see it as infringing on her core identity. She makes the perfect mole.

Authors sometimes talk about back story, of knowing who your characters are, and how vital that is even if little of the background appears directly on the page. It’s about knowing marrow-deep precisely who they are and how they came to be that way. Chloe inherits her grandmother’s not-inconsiderable intelligence, her red hair and her questioning nature, but perhaps not her tough and resilient hide, impervious to the opinions of most other people. Her time growing up with such a role model taught her not to suffer fools gladly but it’s only experience that teaches how to spot rogues and frauds, and only experience that can teach self preservation in impossible situations. There’s a saying that the secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go, and that’s the one secret that Chloe’s Gran really needed to have taught her.

Did I flinch? Oh, tell me I didn’t flinch!” On idolising stoicism

The line in the title comes from Lark Rise To Candleford, one of my favourite books and a very rare insight into the collective psyche of the British nation at the time of Queen Victoria. Strength, endurance, stamina and stoicism were so prized that girls delivering their first baby would beg the midwife to reassure them that they had not flinched, that they had endured their pain and suffering in appropriately stoic fashion. Some of that came from the supposed Biblical decree that the daughters of Eve would bear their children with great suffering and we must endure it without complaint, but some goes beyond the austere Christianity of the time and has its roots much deeper in a cultural identity.

Mustn’t grumble” is a bit of a mantra in Britain. We’re good at the whole understatement and self deprecation; “Not bad” is often meant as high praise over here, much to the mystification of other English speaking nations. You’ll often see certain phrases in obituaries: someone passes away “after a long illness bravely borne” and the highest praise for someone fighting a life threatening illness is, “She never complains”. On social media, that melting pot of shifting cultural memes, complaining, moaning, whining, whingeing are considered so unacceptable that most of us put a bright, cheerful face on so that we avoid any accusations of being a bit of a moaner. People preface very valid statements with, “I know I shouldn’t grumble” or “I know plenty of people have it much harder than I do so I shouldn’t complain.”

I do wonder if it might be killing some of us, keeping in the anguish, not sharing how we truly feel.

Oh I know we don’t want to make a fuss. We don’t want to be thought weak or pathetic, but why? It’s not as if these days admitting you’re ill, unwell, tired, elderly, frail are going to get you left behind with rations for a day while the tribe marches resolutely onward, leaving you to either starve or be finished off by the cold or wolves. It doesn’t make much sense to me. No one wants to be a burden on others, yet as we get older, inevitably we cannot expect to retain the complete independence of youth and full health and we will come to rely on others to help us. It’s a cycle. We aid the frail and infirm and one day, we too will need the same aid. For some, the frailty comes sooner than for others, but I believe that we are being subtly indoctrinated by the prevailing philosophies espoused by government, into believing that all human worth is based on fiscal usefulness. The Nazis exterminated all those they believed to be “useless bread gobblers” and it’s that fear of being useless that I suspect is what drives the idolisation of stoicism over compassion.

It’s subtle most of the time. We all know folks who never seem to pull their weight, who constantly seem to scrounge and complain and demand attention and it’s unattractive to most of us. We don’t want to be seen like that. No one wants to be known as the one who won’t stand their round at the pub. Because I am no longer working full time, in paid employment, I often feel a sense of shame that I am not earning the kind of salary expected for someone of my education and experience. I fear that I have somehow wasted my education, have done nothing with it – SOLELY BECAUSE I CANNOT SHOW A FINANCIAL RETURN ON IT.

This is palpably ludicrous and shows how seductive that way of thinking is. You cannot measure in fiscal terms my contribution to the world. I believe that the world has been a better place, if only in a very minute way, for me having been in it. I believe that my books, my blog, have aided people in dark times and light. I don’t get any remuneration for blogging and that’s fine because I write it for what I can offer, not for what I can get. Call it a vocation if you like. I earn very little from my books; at one time a year or two back, I thought I might earn, if not a living, then a decent income from my books, but so much has changed and there are so many more authors out there, so many more books, and with a few exceptions, everyone is getting a smaller and smaller slice of the book market pie. I left one Facebook writer group because I got fed up of certain members boasting on an almost daily basis about how many books they were selling and how much money they were earning. Book sales, as part of personal worth, are irrelevant per se. I know some superb authors who sell few books, yet whose work is of enormous skill and is full of soul; the people who are succeeding are those for whom branding and self promotion are not at odds with their ethics and character.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t really have any suggestions. I don’t like complaining but you know what? It’s the squeaky wheel that gets oiled. I might try being more open about how distressing I find life at times and hope that people might cut me some slack and accept that actually, stoicism may not be the healthiest of philosophies to base your life upon.


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