March: The longest month

Anyone else just waiting for this month to end or is it just me? I am very definitely NOT a winter person, so this final slog towards spring always leaves me bad tempered and emotional and desperate for company while being fully, one hundred percent aware that I’m the person you least want to call for a good time. It’s also my least productive time of year to write, which is what makes it the perfect time for editing, an admittedly self-loathing task where, for the non-writers amongst you, you basically take all the work you did that you thought was great a few weeks or months previous, rip it to pieces at the behest of your agent/publisher/self and try to put it back together again without losing the plot (in both senses of the word). I actually enjoy editing for the first two thirds of a book but by the final furlong the doubt that I have written anything of worth always creeps in and by the end I always assume I’ve made everything ten times worse than it was before. Fortunately this is rarely the case. Editing – especially the final edit before submission – is a vital part of writing where you get to reshape and refine your work. It’s an opportunity to really take a good look at your characters and make sure they make sense and are consistent as well as ensuring they have room to grow. For crime writers, it’s a chance to add or remove red herrings, find places where suspense needs to increase and check that you don’t accidentally reveal how your book is going to end somewhere around chapter eight. For comedy writers, it’s an opportunity to cut gags that aren’t funny but maybe add more humour in places where the ebb and flow of writing requires it. If a book were a piece of music, the final edit before submission is that final dress rehearsal: making sure you aren’t just playing the notes in all the right places, but that you’ve thought about dynamics, ornaments, emotion and nuance, that you know your work back to front and upside down; that you’ll never be more ready to throw it out into the world that you are right now. Of course, this is where the comparison ends… being an author on submission is like playing the concert and then waiting six to eight weeks for applause, if indeed there is any to be had at all!


Two books for this month, because they both deserve celebrating! The winner and runners up of the Comedy Women in Print Prize for 2021, Rebecca Rogers and Hannah Dolby have released two contrasting but equally fun books this month which deserve to go on your TBR pile!

If you like a bit of Terry Pratchett or Hitchhiker’s Guide, then The Purgatory Poisoning could be right up your street. A crime caper set in the afterlife finds Dave having to solve his own murder from his own personal purgatory, St Ives’ youth hostel c. 1992.

No Life For A Lady is a quirky Victorian mystery, centred around a young woman named Viola, who decides she would rather become a detective than marry any one of the young bachelors her father sends her way.

As one of the judges for the CWIP Prize in 2021, I’m extremely proud and excited for Hannah and Rebecca and wish them lots of luck now their book babies are out in the world! Have fun, you witty women!


Okay – I admit it, my month has been a series of questionable indulgences when it comes to TV viewing. Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19 returned, meaning a happy withdrawal into the comforting world of Shondaland predictability. Chicago Fire is back as well, giving me the opportunity to wonder for the eleventh season in a row how on earth it is still being commissioned (and why I continue to tune in). I binged three series of Jack Ryan which left me befuddled as to whether John Krasinski is a really good actor or dead inside, and also whether anyone, CIA or no, would really be allowed to board a nuclear warship and have a chat to the captain while he prepared to start a war. I feel like this is exactly the sort of thing editors would never let an author get away with, even if it was convenient to the plot. After watching this, I feel fairly strongly that editors of TV shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it either.

Daisy Jones and the Six, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, is far from perfect either. But it’s fun, frothy, drug fuelled nostalgia for the 1970s and a ‘fictional’ (but uncannily reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac) story of the rise and fall of a world famous rock band makes for some serious ‘guilty pleasure’ viewing. I don’t think it’s brilliant: you can’t easily manufacture the magic of the Mac for TV and the whole ‘documentary’ style of the series is spoilt by the lack of any real effort to show the passing of time except for a few terrible wigs. But it has made for a pleasing watch and if you fancy kicking back with something not too awful and not too taxing either, this would be my recommendation.


Well, mainly I’m celebrating it not being winter anymore! But my main excitement for this month is attending the Comedy Women in Print Awards, which I’m very much looking forward to. Fortunately, I’m off on holiday the week before, which means I will be able to read the shortlist of published novels before I hit up the party! Bring it on, April….


February: Old friends, new friends, no friends

My feet have just about touched the ground again after four weeks of mayhem, starting with jetting off to Dubai for the wonderful Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature at the start of the month, which I was lucky enough to be invited to as a speaker and workshop facilitator. I don’t think there is any point in pretending that it wasn’t THE coolest thing I have done as a published author, because you’d all know I was lying. Highlights were many but included:

  • Delivering a workshop on being inspired to write and writing comedy to a sold out room!
  • Talking books and publishing and everything in between with readers, other authors, agents & generally bookish people for a whole week!
  • Being on a panel with Sudha Murty and the utterly lovely Alexander McCall Smith, and having the most fun and fascinating conversation about letter writing. You can find the transcript of my letter to Dubai here.
  • (Much later…) Discussing the merits (or not) of toilets with glass walls with Alexander and his wife.
  • Meeting a bunch of amazingly creative people and being surrounded by multi disciplinary artists from so many different places and cultures.
  • Seeing a bunch of old friends and making some new ones too. The theme for this year was ‘Old Friends’ and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
  • Sunshine and warm weather… working by the pool made for a nice change of pace!

Talking of working, I’ve been going at it like a dog. I’ve barely left the house since I arrived back and I’ve forgotten how to talk to people but my latest manuscript is now nearly ready to go out to the world and there’s another one hot on its heels that I’m two thirds of the way through already! I’m really enjoying being at the end of the process for my second novel, and excited at the ideas I’ve had for the third one, to really make it zip. Putting an extra spring in my step this month has been the fabulous news that my agent, Davinia Andrew-Lynch, has joined Curtis Brown Books and taken me with her as a client! I am very much looking forward to stepping out on this new adventure with her.


Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano was a recommendation by Davinia, actually. The premise is simple but irresistible: a author and mom of two who’s husband has run off with the estate agent is mistakenly hired as a contract killer. If you like Stephanie Plum, you’ll love this. It’s fast paced, murderously good fun with lots of funny and familiar scenarios for the mums out there. A great palette cleanser if you’ve been getting too serious with your literature lately. I bought the audio book and it’s read pretty well – not sure about the ‘guy’ voices but it’s not as annoying as most!


There is nothing better than deliciously dark television that offers plenty of sass alongside – and Bad Sisters more than delivers. Nicknamed ‘The Prick’ by his sisters in law, JP really is the gold standard: his apparent playfulness towards his wife, daughter, mother, the neighbour and the sisters is in turns threatening, frightening, patronising, dangerous and downright evil. The sisters decide they’ve had enough and plot to kill him, but he proves a slippery fish to nail – and here is where the wonderful comedic turns can be had as the assassination attempts get more and more outrageous, with disastrous consequences. The story, in essence a ‘whodunnit’, moves forwards and backwards in time to finally reveal the who, what, where of the murder.  The only thing I didn’t think was utterly brilliant was the slightly annoying subplot of two hapless insurance agents trying to prove the women killed him to save their business from bankruptcy and a criminal action lawsuit. Yes, it was necessary to have someone investigate to create the motivation for the cover up, but I think the plot stretched a little thin at times in terms of the believability of these characters. However, it didn’t really take too much away from what was a brilliant story, beautifully shot, subtly acted and wonderfully written to keep us guessing most, if not all of the way.  


Well it’s a quiet month for me after the storm that was February so I’ll mainly be focused on final tweaks for submission and cracking on with the next manuscript. But there’s a couple of things going on in the CWIP motherland that I should draw your attention to…. firstly, the shortlist is out and it’s fantastic! Very much looking forward to reading some of this stack that hasn’t already found it’s way to me.

Secondly… and admittedly, you don’t have long with this bit of information… but the Comedy Women in Print Prize is running a ‘Febulously Funny’ fundraiser, where if you donate, like, TODAY, you’ll be put in the prize draw to win lots of books and swag from the authors of the unpublished-but-now-published CWIP Prize books. The Prize relies purely on donations and Helen Lederer’s caffeine intake, and does great things for unpublished authors as well as championing funny female fiction – so if you’re a fan, please consider donating here. You can, of course, give generously after today, with absolutely no chance of winning anything except the adoration of all involved with CWIP!

See you next month,


How it started… how it’s going…

Someone asked me last week, what it was like to be a debut author. It’s weird, because to be honest, I don’t feel very debut-like anymore, although as far as the glacial timelines of the publishing industry go, it’s entirely possible I could be considered ‘new’ for another 23 years. But the initial excitement and sense of achievement of publishing a novel is certainly in the past; and while I’m still learning a lot about my role as a published writer, it’s quite an interesting question to answer, six months in, with the benefit of quite a bit of hindsight. Now the euphoria has worn off, what does it really feel like to be a debut author?

Well, firstly, I’m a bit knackered. Every debut author will know (or very quickly find out) that the lion’s share of day in-day out marketing and publicity comes down to you; publishers simply don’t/can’t invest the same amount of time and energy in debuts by unknown authors as they do if you’re, say, Richard Osman or Dawn French. Trying to get noticed or stand out from the crowd is incredibly difficult; longer tail ‘reach’ feels like the holy grail. I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I have spent campaigning to get into bookshops, do signings, appear in the local news or on the occasional radio show in the hope of selling a few more copies; social media is easier, but even so, to get followers up in the thousands could send you mad or die trying. And, after the initial few months, I’m possibly not alone in having the niggling thought that no matter how hard you work, it might not be gaining you any traction at all in terms of book sales. Not that you know one way or the other; there’s no way of knowing how your book is selling for at least six months so you are pretty much working in an informational void, with no idea if anything you are doing is paying off at all. Still, you can’t stop; you have to keep pushing, and hoping, and praying that it does.

But as time passes and people move onto the ‘next big thing’, it’s hard to keep the momentum going. And here’s where it gets tricky, as a debut author, to remain sane and grounded about your work. You have A LOT of other debut authors to compare yourself to and with each passing day you watch more and more of them launch into the world. We’re all making out like we’re so popular and successful and supportive in order to try and convince readers to give us a spin, but deep down in places we don’t like to talk about at parties, we’re all still really wondering if our books are shit in comparison to everyone else’s and that’s why we’ve only got 573 followers on Twitter and no one will answer our emails about appearing at book festivals. I’m not going to sugar coat how difficult that can be sometimes – I think it’s important to be honest with myself and a good thing, to check my ego and say, wow, you did an amazing thing but other people do it better, or got luckier than you, or both. But I recognise that in comparison to a lot of other authors whose books never see the light of day, I’m very lucky too, and I’m not saying I’ve been hard done by – I’m just saying it’s hard.

There’s a lot to celebrate, of course. Reviews, for one thing. Fan mail, too. I’ve had some amazing messages from complete strangers who felt compelled to write and tell me how much they loved the book. That I inspired someone to do that, to actually reach out, is a massive compliment and incredibly meaningful. I’ve been very fortunate to have a stonking set of reviews and actually only a few negative ones (my top three favourite 3* reviews, btw, are: 1. awarded for ‘ an unnecessary sex scene’, 2. ‘it’s not as good as Motherland’, and 3. ‘I’m going back to Ken Follett’). The variety of these comments will tell you that what readers like or want is very subjective so you can’t set too much store by them – and anyway, reviews aren’t really about feeding your ego – they’re more about feeding algorithms; still, it’s comforting to read what people are saying and know you didn’t write a complete load of rubbish. But ultimately, it IS about algorithms… so it’s hard to remain relentlessly upbeat about a product that you believe in and have invested so much of yourself in that almost everyone says is great when they read it, when you’re watching your Amazon sales nosedive because you haven’t hit the number of reviews that would propel you to be ‘noticed’ by a computer. That’s the other thing I’ve learned – don’t be shy about asking people to leave reviews!

Although I might sound a bit jaded I should point out that there’s still a boat load of things that make me buzz, that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. Seeing my book on the shelves in a book shop. Friends messaging me to tell me they’ve seen my book on the shelves in a book shop. Getting on ‘the table’ in Waterstones. Being asked to talk about my book, the writing process, and yes, about being a debut author. God, I love the talking. I could do it all day long. When I’m not busy writing, of course (just in case my agent is reading this, I am actually writing too, I promise).

As I move from being debut author to an author with a debut novel (and I do think there is a distinction to be made) it’s great to take the time and consider all the stuff I’ve learned so far – which is A LOT. Next time – and there will be a next time, I am determined of that – my expectations will be set. I will know how to do a book launch, who to call, I’ll know what the publisher does and what my agent does and what I have to do and I’ll know a whole bunch of hugely supportive bookshops, radio stations, magazines and social media pals who will help me to get my book out into the world. I will reap the benefits of the hard work I put in this time around and cross my fingers and hope for that tiny little bit of luck that will get me on the shelves of Waterstones without having to go in and ask, appear on the supermarket top 10 or get me an invitation to a book festival where I can share all the things I’ve learned with other new authors too.

What’s it really like to be a debut author? Exhilarating, exhausting, joyous, tough… but most of all, memorable. But I have the sneaky feeling it’s like that every time; and that’s why I’m hoping to do it all over again.