End of Year Report 2014

End of Year Report 2014

It’s been a year of huge contrasts, has 2014. As I come to the last few days of it, I look back and think, actually, a good year overall. I’ll have a brief run through the various high and low lights of it, but if you’ve been following this blog, I’d like to say simply a big thank you: for all the support, comments, shares and generally for being there.

Health: I began the year with hyperparathyroidism, which was rapidly worsening. Caused by a tumour that had turned one of my four parathyroid glands into a monster I called Dexter, the illness affected every aspect of my health from mental health to virtually every area of physical health. Over-active kidneys meant frequent(sometimes half hourly) loo trips were needed and I was constantly thirsty; the danger of kidney stones loomed as a constant. Brain fog, memory blocks and a general malaise meant I could often start a sentence but sometimes (often) got to the end without remembering what I was saying. For a writer this is unbelievably upsetting; to write anything was exhausting in the extreme. I had pain in my bones (caused in theory by tiny bleeds in the bone as calcium leached out; I was lucky to have very dense bones as the damage was minimal when I had a bone scan) that was like the pain you get when you whack your elbow. By February I was using slow release patches of opiates just to get by, knowing that the operation was scheduled for April. The operation was brought forward to the 29th of March, and I asked for photos so I could look at my enemy afterwards. Dexter turned out to be around the size of an olive, a huge change in size as a parathyroid is normally around the size of a grain of rice. Recovery after the operation was slower than I liked as I got a kidney infection. My scar still hurts, but it does look impressive, around three or four inches.

Nine months after the operation, I am forced to accept that my Joint Hypermobility Syndrome is going to be very hard to live with. Dexter had also caused muscle loss, and that has had consequences for my JHS. I’ve had a year of physio and of OT, which have both helped, and I use a local gym to try and build muscle and fitness, but the muscle pain, fatigue and general weakness are debilitating and demoralising. There has been some spinal damage from the JHS, nothing serious as such, but two areas I need to be careful about protecting. So, despite not enjoying gym work, I go regularly to make sure my core muscles are worked on. I have around 20 minutes of exercises from the physio to do daily as a base-line workout.

That said, I’ve had a year of relatively good mood. Dexter did cause depression, and after he was excised, I think mood generally improved. I’ve had sufficient crises though during the year to know that an illness persists, despite my best efforts, and that I will need to do more work (probably forever). On the advice of my lovely physiotherapist Helena, I contacted the local Well-being services but have been very dismayed by their lack of professionalism, compassion and common sense. I’d been led to believe that it might have been possible to access some level of support via either phone or email, but the process proved to be beyond complex and obfuscated and in the end, downright impossible. I bought myself a book on CBT and having read it (snarling slightly all the way) have concluded that the essence of the thought behind it is anathema to me. Long story, which I may elaborate on some time. There may be techniques that could be of use, but the overall theory is something I cannot accept.

Travel: thankfully, quite little this year. I did a two day Paris trip in March, about a fortnight before my operation. It was utterly gruelling, but due to the opiate patches, a lovely group and the fact that Paris that weekend had worse pollution that Beijing, I coped as no-one was rushing anywhere and frequent rest stops were needed for all of us. I spent much of the following week recovering. I had a trip to Bologne in June, which went very well, and it revealed the extent to which Dexter had wrecked my command of language. My French had been terribly halting for some years, and until I’d got the diagnosis I’d put this down to stress etc. That trip was fabulous because my French came flooding back and so too did my confidence; I felt so much more able to talk. Next year I have a number of trips already booked in, including Austria in February; I’m working to get my German a bit better before then.

Writing and Publishing: This year I managed to get some of my projects underway. I got The Bet out in paperback, published in both paperback and Kindle a little collection of poems called Accidental Emeralds. Emeralds made it to the number one spot in women’s poetry, something that amused me massively. My old friend the Mad Priest keeps telling me to give up the day job (novels) and concentrate on the poetry, but alas, poetry does not sell and nice as it was to get to number one, it didn’t take many sales to get there! In May I published Square Peg, in Kindle only so far. I have done a paperback but it’s not on sale yet as it needs some adjusting. It’s done quite well, has garnered 8 reviews (would love more) and I am making some notes for a possible further book focused on the main character Chloe. Away With The Fairies made it to number one in two categories this year: metaphysical literary fiction and metaphysical and visionary fiction. This was much more of a feat and I was very proud about this. Overall, sales have slumped dramatically, not just for me but for many authors and unlike others who are seeing this as a sign of the apocalypse, I think it’s simply the effect of a saturation of the market and a corresponding dip in individual market share. The sheer number of books out there makes it harder to find any level of visibility. It does depress me, though, so every time a new review pops up for any book, it gives me a lift as it means someone I don’t know found my books and liked them. I have been low enough to consider packing it in, pulling all my books and walking away. There are a few things that stop me: the fact that I do have loyal readers is a big one, but also, what else would I, could I do?

I also published The Hedgeway, a short novella, which was published for Hallowe’en, and which did nicely. Other books sell in fits and starts. My first novel to be published, Strangers and Pilgrims, still sells, but in lower numbers than before. I’d love to see the number of reviews increase; it’s stalled at 35, nearly all of them five or four star. I am making notes and writing scenes for a possible sequel for that too.

The Bet gathered some astounding reviews this year, something else that has given me a reason to carry on; to see that people got the book to the extent they did gave me hope. The only negative review it has so far gathered is actually quite funny. I have two sequels already written, the first needing a good cover and a polish, the second needing to have some level of communication with someone who knows a thing or two about how UK court cases are run (if you are such a person or know one, please get in touch).

In terms of new writing, obviously it’s been limited because of my illness. Dexter meant I was really struggling because my brain no longer had the facilities needed to write longer fiction. The Hedgeway was only 17k words long, and that was a struggle. My mind is clearing still, and I have been plugging away at a novel I began almost two years ago. It’s at around 50k words and I did hope to finish it this year but I’ve not managed that. I’m having to let myself work at whatever pace I can. The long term project begun as Lost, a serial, goes on when the right mood arrives, and is around 30k words long. Another stalled project is on my hard drive, from a good few years ago, before Dexter got his claws into me. As I said earlier, I have begun writing bits and pieces for the sequel to Strangers and Pilgrims, but that could be a while as I am finding it a slow process to let my writing return. There’s some ideas and notes for another book featuring Chloe and Isobel, but nothing more than rough writing in my free-writing notebooks.

I began doing some free-writing in September, the idea being to take any sense of pressure off myself. I can write whatever comes, whether scenes from stories yet to unfold, poetry, ranting, just ideas or phrases. It’s a good way to get a few things down to play with. I’ve always had this underlying belief that once I begin something “properly” it’s hard to change it, often impossible, so this makes any new project much harder because of the pressure to get it perfect first time. A free-writing draft notebook is proving very useful in letting ideas out without them getting set in stone. I’ve got a lot of Moleskine notebooks in readiness for this becoming more a part of my daily life.

Next year: well, I don’t like making resolutions. Book-wise, I have a second and longer collection of poetry being readied. A Box of Darkness will have 66 poems in. I’m still trying to find an easy way to construct an interactive table of contents for Kindle, which is slowing a lot down. I have also a collection of modern fables for grown-ups, provisionally entitled Méchant Loup ~ fables for grown-ups, that needs a cover and a polish. I’ve also put together a collection of essays from this blog, on depression, which needs a title (I have been playing with a few) and a cover. I intend to use some version of the picture I’ve been using here as a banner, and for this book to be part of a series of books of essays from this blog. There’s too many essays here to make a single book, and it’s got so large that any reader won’t easily find what they might need. So the first of the collections will be coming out as soon as I can manage it. Novel-wise, I want to release the first of the sequels to The Bet as plenty of people have been asking for it. I also want to finish the novel I began two years ago; I’ve got tired of it, really, because it’s been there unfinished too long and in some ways I began it for all the wrong reasons. I want to get myself to a point where I can say, there, it’s done.

Commercial success as a writer seems less and less feasible right now. There are undoubtedly things I could do to improve the odds, but most of them are either against my ethics or unaffordable, and one of the things I have learned this year is that I owe it to myself to be able to keep an easy conscience. There are a good number of authors out there who will use anyone and anything to claw their way to the top. I got blocked by one such on Facebook after I’d remonstrated about being added to groups without my permission; instead of apologising, she first insisted she’d done nothing untoward, and when I argued, I found myself blocked. Several years ago, the same author had used a private conversation between us as a basis for a blog post, so none of this surprised me. Some people have no sense of decency. So in regards to promoting my own writing, there are things I just won’t do. If that means my books languish in the doldrums, then so be it. There are far more important things in life than selling books and having a clear conscience is one of them.

Thanks: to all my readers, for everything from reading and commenting on this blog, buying and reviewing my books, sharing on FB and Twitter, and for being there. At times when I write here, or in my books, I feel very alone, as if I am hurling words into a void, but sometimes a voice comes back and then I know I am on the right path. Bless you all and may 2015 be wonderful for you all.

A Wall of Ice – Solstice at the Cave

Solstice at the Cave 2014

A Wall of Ice

The light in my cave is poor; the further back from the entrance I’ve been forced to retreat, the darker it has become. Shadows dance on the rock walls, from the slow-burning fire and from the tiny clay chirag that burns night and day with a golden glow and a smell of rancid fat. The entrance gives a faint blue luminescence. Every time it has snowed, I have shovelled it all back, piling it up until the accumulation of snow has become compacted, a wall of ice that reared and then closed over the cave mouth. It would have sealed me in but for a slot no wider than my body that I have somehow maintained, sometimes at great cost, using an axe to hack out the ice that builds up.

I lie in a smoky stupor, wrapped in skins and wool blankets. I rise when hunger, thirst or other needs compel me, but otherwise I curl into my nest of a bed, like a bear. I do not sleep precisely, but I dip into dreams and waking dreams, and though I keep track of the days that pass, I am never sure I am keeping count properly. I make a notch on a stick each morning, but some days it seems that the sun never rises properly. I keep the entrance open, but I don’t often go out. The last time I did, I saw that the forest below was mostly buried by snow, dark green firs poking out but everything else covered by metres of snow. The air was so still I could see my breath turn to ice in front of me.

The cave is well provided for, with fire wood stacked around the walls and supplies of food hidden at the back of the cave. Each new blizzard forced me further and further back into the depths, but now, the wall of ice insulates me from the worst of the cold. I melt water chipped from the wall with my wood-axe, and heat that on my fire. I measure out every stick I burn, every mouthful I eat. I do not know if it will last till the thaw, or yet, till the spring.

The blue light filtering in is moonlight, spilling eerie shifting silver beams into the darkness of the cave. I drag myself to the front of the cave, to see the moon’s phase and gauge how deep into winter we have come. Easing my body into the narrow slot, I feel my clothes catch on the ice. When I reach the end, I see that new snow has filled the gap almost to the top and I must now dig it out again before it freezes too hard. The work makes me sweat and pant; I have done little but this for exercise for what feels like many months. When I break through, and begin to shovel the loose snow back out of the gap, I feel the harsh wind rip into me, flinging back some of each shovel-full. The night has cleared, and I can see a half moon, a slender curving blade, hanging up in a very black sky. I flatten the loose snow, stamping it down, before I retreat inside again, to pull all my covers over me. My mouth is dry but I am too tired to seek a drink.

The dim blue glow of the moon is soon blotted out and I hear the whine and howl of the wind as a new storm breaks over my mountain, and I turn away, watching the dance of the fire and the chirag. I should bank the fire, make sure it will burn for many hours but instead I drift into sleep. When I wake, it is with a jerk of fear. The sound of the storm is gone, and the air inside my cave is very still and my fire is but embers.

When I run to the entrance, to the wall of ice, I can see that the gap has been filled by more snow. I touch it, and find it has frozen solid. It would take me many hours to hack my way out now, and I do not want to go out. Not into that wild, bitter, frozen wasteland of winter.

I sit down by my fire, feeding it with kindling to coax it back to life, and I place a cauldron of ice on it. I pick up my tally stick and count the days. It would seem that we have reached mid-winter, but I cannot go out to greet the sun. The next few days, the sun will stand still, until the climb towards spring begins. As the cauldron steams and the ice melts, I shiver. I must take it on trust that the thaw will come in time and I will be freed from my prison of ice.

Hallowed hollow ~ a poem for the Winter Solstice

Hallowed hollow

I will hold a space

A dark space

An empty place

A hallowed hollow,

Cupped between hands

Hidden between breaths

Lost between heartbeats

Harrowed from soul-falls.

I will hold a space

Without prayer

Without hope

Without desire.

Square Peg on special offer for UK readers

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

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.


USA Countdown for Away With The Fairies

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.


Special offer for The Bet- very limited time offer

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!)


What shapes us ~ nature, nurture or experience? A novelist’s view

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.