Advent doesn’t need to be expensive…

It’s November again, and you may be looking for exciting Advent Calendar ideas: something the children will look forward to every day of Advent, something special to share as a family, something that will create lasting memories, something that delivers an uplifting Christmas message. You might also be hoping to find all this without breaking the bank this year. Well look no further. Instead of gifts or sweets, choose an Advent Story, ready to print out and cut up to fit in any re-useable Advent Calendar. Follow the link to the Index of Stories, where you will find ten different stories to choose from, catering for a variety of age and tastes. It really is that simple, and ABSOLUTELY FREE.

Advice for Writers

Writing about Hilary Mantel and sharing her wisdom about writing has made me think about all the advice for writers that is available. There is an abundance of it out there – books, articles, on-line courses, interviews, blogs, more books… it is endless. Pinterest is bursting at the seams with it – a rabbit hole I can all too easily disappear down. For someone desperate to write and be published, it can be very distracting.

Obviously, I have read my fair share of it. I find it breaks down into two types. There is the practical ‘Nuts and Bolts’ type, which is literally How to Write: how to structure a plot, how to create interesting characters, how to beat writers’ block, how to finish a novel. In the past, I have found some of it useful. When I was seventeen, I found a book in my college library that was specifically about writing a good plot. At that point, I had written two and a half novels (my ‘juvenilia’) and thought I already knew everything, but reading this book was a revelation to me. I don’t remember exactly what the book was, but it gave me two rules that I stick to religiously.

 1. Don’t switch viewpoints. When writing in the third person, stick to one character’s perspective to tell the story. Don’t tell the reader what one character is thinking, then switch to another character’s thoughts and feelings when it suits the narrative. If that second character’s thoughts and feelings are important to the plot, then you have to find a way to tell them through the first character’s understanding. To me, this is a fundamental rule. Obviously, not all writers agree with this, and I do come across it in fiction, but not from the writers I really admire – just saying.

2. Don’t put Bambi up against Godzilla. Your protagonist has to stand a chance. It makes sense. I once read a science fiction novel by Iain M Banks, which I was enjoying until he killed off ALL the main characters in the final chapter. I had never felt more cheated, and I have never read any more of those books.

Those two pieces of advice have served me well over the years and I recommend them. If you want more advice on how to write a novel, just type it into Google and you can spend the next year reading it. These days, I’m looking for spiritual guidance rather than How To guides. This is the type of advice that comes from established authors, preferably the ones I admire the most. I like to think of it as ‘mentoring’ rather than advice. Luckily, it is also quite easy to find. Besides writing successful novels, the best authors are often called upon to share their writing wisdom. Some of this is the practical day-to-day stuff, such how to stay focussed, or how to avoid getting stuck in a novel that isn’t progressing. It is reassuring to know that even the best authors sometimes have these problems too. But I prefer to read about the mysteries behind writing, the magical alchemy that takes an idea from someone’s mind and turns it into a fully formed novel. Those words from Hilary Mantel – a book grows according to a subtle and deep-laid plan. At the end, I see what the plan was – this is what I love to read, because it resonates with the process going on in my own head. Yes, it is blatant self-validation, but sometimes that’s necessary too. It makes me feel like I must be doing something right. After all the rejections, I really need that. And after all the advice on how to write a pitch for an agent, I also need to remind myself that writing is a mysterious joy that I love doing, not just a business pitch. In researching quotes for this blog, I have refreshed my soul and found new inspiration. This is the advice I want to share, some of it practical, some of it more motivational.

“Forget about inspiration and get into the habit of writing every day. Habit has written far more books than inspiration has. If you want the Muse to visit you, she needs to know where you are: so stay at your desk.” Philip Pullman

“Get disciplined. Learn to rush to your laptop and open it up. Open the file without asking yourself if you’re in the mood, without thinking about anything else. Just open the file: and then you’re safe. Once the words are on the screen, that becomes your distraction.” David Mitchell

“Neglect everything else.” David Mitchell

“Write more. And remember that everyone who writes anything good wrote a lot of bad stuff first.” Neil Gaiman

“Don’t obsess over your first draft…. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft…. For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.” Neil Gaiman

“Any form of human creativity is a process of doing it and getting better at it…[Writers] don’t usually peak in their 20s. It’s usually quite a lot later on. Why is that? Because writing is about people and story is about people, and you know more about people and their stories as you get older … you see more and you experience more.” Margaret Atwood

“A good day is when you’ve written a good sentence.” Anne Fine, as quoted by Kate Atkinson

“Respect your characters, even the minor ones. In art, as in life, everyone is the hero of their own particular story: it is worth thinking about what your minor characters’ stories are, even though they may intersect only slightly with your protagonist’s.” Sarah Waters

“Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones.” Roddy Doyle

“But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer.” Ursula Le Guin

“It’s a mysterious process. Of course, part of me must be making them up. But it doesn’t feel like making up – it feels like discovery … It’s a curious business and I’m not at all sure about it, but I don’t want to be sure about it really. I like being in a state of doubt.” Philip Pullman

“I do believe writing for a writer is as natural as birdsong to a robin.” Sebastian Barry

If I had a notice board in front of my desk, I would turn these quotes into posters and stick them up, to remind me of how and why I write. And maybe there is a purpose to it beyond self-validation. The advice from David Mitchell has been particularly helpful recently – and not just making me feel better for having a messy house! Making the effort to open the file and sit in front of it has been very productive – I’m actually at Chapter 20 of my latest novel and steaming towards the climax. Stay tuned for exciting news!

I hope this helps other people too. If anyone reading this has some different quotes from writers that inspire them, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a quote from the booksellers Waterstone’s – not necessarily advice, but certainly motivational.

Hilary Mantel – a few, inadequate words

Since the death of Hilary Mantel last month, there have been many words written and broadcasted extolling her brilliance as a writer. There is nothing new I can add to the eulogising, but to let the death of my favourite author go by without writing about it seemed amiss. She is someone I have mentioned in a previous blog as one of those authors who I admire so much that reading her novels is both pleasurable and painful; I enjoy her writing for its perfection and brilliance while knowing that I can never hope to put words together in the way that she did. But I would rather live in discontent in a world where her novels exist than live in a world of mediocrity without them. Reading her fiction brings the satisfaction of a good story well-told, and also the chance to witness a master at work. Quite simply, she was a genius.

I first ‘discovered’ her when I read Beyond Black, and knew instantly that it was absolutely brilliant. It is one the creepiest, most sinister books I have ever read. I love the combination of the mundane and the genuinely terrifying, suburban and supernatural rubbing shoulders in a way far more terrifying than any gothic mansion horror could create. The characters are slippery and unreliable, with the living just as untrustworthy as the dead. Evil lurks in this novel. It is unsettling, disturbing, but that is why it is so good.

Having read that, I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic to learn that the novel that followed it was about a real person from history who I knew nothing about. Who was Thomas Cromwell? Hadn’t there been enough novels written about the court of Henry VIII? But then I read Wolf Hall and I loved every word of it. The tricky thing with reading any historical fiction is constantly wondering where the boundary between truth and fiction lies, but I could feel the depth of research behind it; I was confident that if Mantel’s extensive research had led to her admiration of Cromwell, I could feel the same with integrity. But it is not black and white. By the time I read Bring Up the Bodies, I loved Thomas Cromwell as much as the friends and family that surround him in the novel do, but I also find him dark and terrifying. The way he goes after Ann Boleyn is calculated and guaranteed to succeed. It reminded me of a kimono dragon, that bites its prey just enough to poison it, stalks it while it slowly dies, then picks up its meal when the time is right. I don’t think Mantel could have written this without feeling it too. But that is the genius of the work, this creation of parallel opinions that both contradict and work together. When I finished The Mirror and the Light in 2020, (the best thing that happened during lock-down) I was utterly devasted and could barely see the words on the page through the tears as I sobbed my way through the closing chapter.

Since her success with the Cromwell Trilogy, there have been plenty of opportunities to read and hear Mantel speak about her work. I am sure I am not the only aspiring author to have lapped up her words, looking for clues to the magic ingredient that made her fiction so brilliant. Of course, her genius was unique and can’t be learnt, but some of the things she has said about the writing process resonated with me like a shared experience. For example, she once said “A book grows according to a subtle and deep-laid plan. At the end, I see what the plan was.” This is exactly what it feels like to me when I am working on a first draft of a novel, or even a second or a third. I know how a story is going to go, but sometimes is surprises me how it gets there. Not everything works out the way I thought it would, and yet when things change, I know they are right. In another quote from Mantel, “Not only did I think of it but it seemed to me to be true.” That sums up the alchemy of writing, making things up but at that same time feeling like they existed all the time, waiting to be discovered.

These comparisons between myself and Mantel are purely about the process of writing – I would never compare my work to hers. But I wanted to share these quotes because I am currently at this stage in the novel I am currently working on. Things I thought were going to happen are not quite fitting in, but I am happily letting it take its own course, trusting that it will reach the planned conclusion in a way that is better than I originally planned. Writing fiction is a startling and unpredictable game, which can be both frustrating and addictive. That’s why it was such a blessing to the world of literature to have an author like Hilary Mantel who could do it so well.

Summer Update

Ok, so it’s been five months since I last posted, and I’ve been feeling somewhat guilty about my lack of content. I also don’t want people to think this site has gone completely dormant, so I thought I’d write a quick post to keep things up-to-date and prove that I am still active – though by activity, I mean no more than the twitching tail of a sleeping cat that lets you know it’s still alive!

You see, that’s the trouble with writing; it isn’t always the most scintillating pastime to share. This year has been particularly quiet. I haven’t undertaken any major editing projects, which has kept me busy in previous years. That always feels very productive and exciting but there has to come a time when you leave the editing alone. Then there was last year’s big project of submitting to agents. My plan had been to continue, but somehow, I never did. After a year of rejections, the futility was starting to get me down. I haven’t given up, I will get back to it, but it has been refreshing to forget about that side of things for now. At least that has given me more time for actual writing. I am still plodding on with the Young Adult novel that I started. It is on the brink of taking shape, and I am hoping that by the end of this summer holiday, I will have got a few more chapters written. I have the time, but I’m a little lacking in motivation. I keep thinking that I just need to get it to a point where the action starts hotting up, and then I won’t be able to stop. However, I’m five chapters in, and if it doesn’t feel exciting now, then how exciting will it be for readers? Really, I should just cut to the chase – forget the exposition and character development, get stuck into the drama. Alright, now I know where to start tomorrow.

Alongside this, I have been reading. I discovered an author that was new to me – Anthony Doerr, author of Cloud Cuckoo Land, which I really enjoyed. Then I took on the challenge of reading more Dickens and have just finished Little Dorrit, which was an absolute joy. I also have a pile of books by favourite authors that I have been meaning to read for ages, novels by Sebastian Barry, Kate Atkinson and Jim Crace, and some non-fiction, by Robert Macfarlane, Bill Bryson and Philip Pullman. The recent heatwave in the UK has been perfect for reading – when it’s too hot to do anything else, there is nothing better than sitting very still with a good book.

Summer holidays are always my time for reading, but I have also been trying something new this summer, writing poetry. I love poetry, even though I don’t read a lot of it. And I haven’t written it for a long time, not since the angst-ridden days of my youth! But I do still think about poetry that I would like to write. I have seen it recently described as ‘the words at the back of the mind’, and I love that, as it quite accurately matches the way I think, always looking for the perfect words to sum up a moment, or to capture a feeling with nouns, adjectives and verbs. So I decided to set myself the task of actually writing down some of this ‘thought poetry’. On our recent camping holiday, I kept a notebook close to hand, and by deliberately making the time to stop and jot down my thoughts and observations, I created a little memoir of the holiday in poetry form. It was an interesting exercise, and whatever the quality of the writing, I was pleased to have kept it up all through the week. It’s certainly not something to share yet, but I’m hoping that in a month or so, I can read it back and still feel the moment that inspired me to put pen to paper, and maybe develop those ideas and themes. If nothing else, it will be a nice record of a lovely summer holiday, and also maybe an encouragement to do it again.

So that’s where I am at. And now it’s time to stop making excuses. I need to put some thrills into Chapter 6. 

Teen Fiction vs Young Adult

The novel I am currently developing is a change of direction for me. There is no rural setting; the action takes place around a suburban housing estate and a secondary school. It is set no further back in the past than the 1990s, which does not count as a historical setting. And my main characters are teenagers, not adults. Does this mean (voice drops to a whisper) I am writing Young Adult fiction?

The Young Adult market is a massive phenomenon that I know little about. Some on-line research suggests that it started to become a serious genre in the first decade after the millennium. This means I missed it as a reader because I was too old, and also as a bookseller because I had left before it made it big on the shelves. Neither have my own children been particularly into it. Looking through bestseller lists and suggested reading recommendations, there is a wealth of high quality and thought-provoking fiction, with lots of publications that are considered “classics” of the genre. Young Adult is now a respected and lucrative element of fiction. As a passionate reader, I am, of course, delighted that so much is being done to encourage young people to read, and glad that the publishing industry has recognised that teenagers deserve high quality literature just as much as anyone else. It’s certainly something I feel I missed out on at that age.

I was a vociferous reader all through my teens, and yet when I look back on what I was reading, it makes my toes curl with shame. Between re-reading my favourite children’s books, I read some absolute rubbish. But the mediocrity of my literature choices reflects on the lack of options there were back then. Young Adult wasn’t a thing, only “teen fiction”, which tended to be mass-market produced romance. I read a few of the “Sweet Dreams” series, with the classic formula of Girl meets Boy, Girl hates Boy, Girl changes mind about Boy, Girls ends up with Boy, all sealed with a kiss on the last page. I read them willingly enough but with an awareness that they weren’t really any good. I liked something a bit spicier, like Virginia Andrews. Back then, novels like Flowers in the Attic and Heaven were published as Adult Fiction, probably because of the sexual content – that’s probably why so many teenagers like me read them. I also liked a bit of Aga Saga, picked up from my mum, and historical fiction, such as Sharon Penman’s Here Be Dragons. Then I discovered Fantasy and devoted myself to authors such as Tad Williams, David Eddings and R A Salvatore. Looking back on this now, I see that it was all pretty formulaic and rather disappointing as literature. Nor does any of it reflect my own experiences, as ordinary teen living an ordinary life.

So it is great that teens have such an amazing choice these days. And yet, I still feel a bit reluctant to label my new novel as Young Adult. Yes, it has teenaged protagonists, and yes, it is a “coming of age” story. But to me, that’s not what it is about. In all my fiction, I want to write stories about people, and it just so happens that this time, the people are young and living in a time period that I lived through myself. That isn’t meant to make it more accessible to just one group of readers, or exclude others. In the same way that I will ignore labels and read anything, I want my writing to work in the same way. If I do the job right, there isn’t anyone who shouldn’t enjoy reading my new story. So I’m not sure I would want it published as a Young Adult novel, even if that meant opening my work to a whole new market – not so great if that put off other readers. Why shouldn’t adults read books about young people – after all, we have all lived through our own ‘coming of age’, and even if it was a long time ago, we can still relate.

However, while this is definitely not an attempt to get a foot in a new market, I will admit that there is another agenda behind my choice of characters and subject matter. When I wrote my children’s book No Such Cold Thing, it was out of a desire to write something my own children could read. Now my children are older, maybe I am writing something that will continue to appeal to them. And not just my own off-spring. I work in a school with children aged between ten and eighteen. They don’t know that I write novels, and I suspect if they found out, they wouldn’t want to read them anyway – there’s way too much boring history, and the characters are practically middle-aged! But it would be different if I had a novel about teenagers. That would be relevant to them, and maybe even a tiny bit tempting to read. It’s not that I’m trying to be cool or impress them, but it would be nice to engage with them in a subject that I love. After all, I like working with young people, and the more I get to know them, the more interesting they become. They might even inspire more novels!

I must stop now, before I go off on flights of fancy about being discovered as the TA who wrote the bestseller that all the kids are talking about, and my novel making it onto school reading lists. I haven’t even written the novel yet.

One Year On

It was one year ago that I blogged about beginning the process of submitting to literary agents in the hope of moving beyond self-publishing. I had a spreadsheet of agents to approach, a meticulously crafted begging letter with the all-important elevator-pitch, a carefully thought-out synopsis and highly-edited first three chapters of my novel. And begin I did, just a few days after writing that blog.

Since then, I have made approximately twenty-five submissions. I have found and corrected some sneaky mistakes in the first three chapters, and redrafted my synopsis in various attempts to make my novel sound more enticing. I have read many advice columns and blogs, prompting me to rewrite my introductory letter countless times. I have carefully filed into my records each individual submission, and logged any responses – my spreadsheet is colour coded, with each agency highlighted in a different colour according to the month I contacted them, with the colour being changed to grey if they reply with a rejection. Inevitably, there are a lot of greys. And I think the time has come to update the outstanding colours to grey too, especially those from the first half of the year. Well, all I can say is, they missed their chance!

I still have faith in the quality of my work. However, by the autumn, I was beginning to wonder if I was submitting the wrong novel; I had thought that After the Rain was the easiest to sell, but what if that also made it seem too clichéd? I don’t think it is, but to agents with five minutes to glance at a synopsis, it might just seem like another First World War love story. So I made a complete U-turn, and took a chance on submitting The Most Beloved Boy, hoping that its more unusual story would stand out more. This meant a brand new synopsis, another rewrite of the opening chapters (in which I decided to delete a whole chapter!) and yet another begging letter with a new elevator-pitch. I’m hoping that the unique and intriguing plot will be tempting enough to smooth over the fact that it is a very long novel, or maybe even convince them that the length is another selling point – after all, what’s wrong with a good, lengthy read with lots of complexity and depth. That’s the kind of novel I like. 

The months of November and December were completely taken up with promoting the Advent Calendar stories, so I have taken a break from the submission process for a while. But now that it is January, it is time to start the ball rolling again. However, I have almost exhausted my first list of potential agents, so will need to return to Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook before I can go any further. It’s time for another list, and a new set of colours. Am I down-hearted? Well, yes, of course I bloody am. But I’m not beaten yet. I will keep going, and I will believe that each of those agents that rejected me will one day look back with regret that they missed their opportunity to sign me up. I’m sorry if that seems hubristic, but what kind of writer would I be if I couldn’t imagine that?  Besides, I am a writer, with other projects to work on. It’s been eighteen months since I completed The Hawthorn Bride, and so far I have resisted the urge to start editing it. I think the time is now ripe to start turning the first draft into something more polished, and maybe aim to publishing it on KDP by the end of the year. I also have a new novel niggling away in my head. Shortly before Christmas, I was invigilating for mock GCSEs, and in that lovely empty time, I found myself fleshing out the bare bones of a story that I have been loosely plotting for a few years now, and suddenly I have an almost complete chapter plan. If I were to apply some Nano-Wrimo motivation and my newly discovered technique of “don’t think, just write” to it, I could probably get a first draft written pretty quickly. Both of these projects are really exciting, the things that make writing fun and worth-while. I don’t write to be rejected by agents – I write to create fiction. If no agent has discovered that yet, they only have themselves to blame.

Merry Christmas

#caftforcrisis -spreading a little magic for those without it

So Christmas Eve has come around again. The cake is decorated, the presents are wrapped, and I am watching The Fiddler on the Roof with a nice drink. Later, we will finish the story that my daughter wrote and get ready for the big day. Christmas Day will be lovely, with the food and music, spending time with family and seeing gifts opened, and yet there is something special about Christmas Eve with its sense of anticipation. It’s all part of a feeling that there is something magical going on, a feeling that can’t be recreated at any other time of year, powerful and intense and yet slippery and ethereal, disappearing without notice. I have always felt this magic was strongest on Christmas Eve – even as a child, I always felt it slipping away once that mad dash to see what Father Christmas had brought was over. Maybe it is the fragility of the feeling that makes it so special – only the most rare magic can be so overwhelming and yet so intangible. It’s what we’re all reaching for – but how many of us find it?

Christmas stories are an attempt to capture the feeling. It isn’t an easy thing to achieve – Christmas means different things to different people. But I hope that my Advent Stories have done that. If you are one of the growing number of people who downloaded a story this year, I hope that it has added a little more magic to your Christmas. Maybe you can make the magic last a little bit longer by taking out all the episodes and rereading it in one go, recreating the old tradition of Christmas story-telling. But whatever your Christmas plans, whether you find the magic or not, I wish you peace and contentment, and the best fortune for the New Year.

My Christmas cake – complete with gingerbread village

Happy Advent

In just a few hours, we will be entering the final month of 2021 – where did the year go? As the inexorable march of time brings us to the end of another year, it is lucky for us that we have Advent and the Christmas Season to distract us from any gloom we may have that twelve months have been and gone in the wink of an eye. Surely, it is not just the darkness and cold that makes it so important to have Christmas to look forward to, but also a need to celebrate the passing of the year rather than let it slip by with a sense of regret.

There are no regrets here. I have now been running my Advent Story offer for five years, and it has slowly but surely been gathering strength each year. 2021 has been a record year for downloads. I am absolutely amazed by the figures this November, and I am proud and happy to think that so many families will be waking up to their story tomorrow morning, and every day of Advent until the happy ending on Christmas Eve. And there has been a change in the rankings. The top five are now…

Dropping to Number 5, but still beating its total for last year, The Shepherd’s Tale.

Holding strong at Number 4, Disaster at the Christmas Pudding Factory.

Proving that traditional is still popular is The Very Special Christmas Star at Number 3.

At Number 2, the story I was worried was too miserable, Mrs Christmas – after all, it does have a very happy ending.

But at Number 1, and personal favourite of my children, Bunny and Pup’s Big Christmas Adventure, just going to prove that mischievous toys and an appearance from the big man in red will always be a winner at Christmas.

Whichever one of my stories you may have chosen – and there’s still time, just click here– I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I love all my stories, and think every one of them offers a perfect touch for Advent. And you don’t even need an Advent Calendar, because I will be publishing one of the stories on Facebook, one episode each day. This year, I give you my tribute to Thomas Hardy – The Shepherd’s Tale, the story of young Joe Turnicock and his experience of watching the sheep in the fields on Christmas Eve. If you want to be sure of getting every episode, click here to Follow my page.

But now, with Advent rapidly approaching, I had better say goodnight. Happy Advent.

10 Reasons Why You Should Choose a Story for Advent

  1. Absolutely FREE and very easy to use – no shopping required.
  2. Fun and original stories that keep the suspense going all the way through Advent.
  3. Can be cut to fit into any size of re-usable Advent Calendar.
  4. Recyclable, no plastic waste.
  5. Healthier than chocolate or sweets.
  6. Something new and different every day.
  7. A real treat for Christmas Eve – the happy ending.
  8. Will even work without an Advent Calendar – just print and read out each day.
  9. Suitable for all ages – and not just children.
  10. Create memories that will last much longer than sweets.

And if that hasn’t convinced you, head to the Index of Stories and see what’s on offer.

Passing the Baton

When I was young, writing was something that came naturally to me, but was also something weird and freaky – I didn’t know anyone else that wrote for pleasure. I had friends who were good at writing, who wrote amazing stories for English lessons, but as far as I knew, they didn’t go so far as writing their own stories outside of the classroom. (To be fair, my friends were much cleverer than me and got top marks in their GCSEs, so clearly they were using their time more productively rather than writing novels when they should have been revising!) I’m sure I can’t have been the only one, and certainly I won’t have been the only one having ideas, but I was the only one showing off about doing it.

This was back in the eighties and early nineties. Writing as a hobby felt isolated and obscure. Everything was hand-written or typed, and passed around as a single hard-copy. I didn’t even have a computer until 1999. I studied English Lit for my degree and took a job in a bookshop because it felt like the only way to get closer to my ambition of being a published writer, and even then it still felt like a dream rather than a career choice. There was only one way to get published – write a novel, send it to publishers and hope that someone liked it. Until then, keep working and write in your free time.

Things are pretty different today. There are many universities offering BAs and MAs in creative writing – how I would have jumped at the chance to do that when I was eighteen. KDP has opened up the whole of Amazon to self-published novel writers without the stigma of ‘vanity publishing’. And as for writing and presenting work on the internet – well, it is a massive world that I know nothing about. But my kids do. They read all kinds of work on the internet: fan fiction, web-comics, Tumblr posts. At times, I get frustrated that they are wasting their time on writing of dubious quality instead of reading real books. But at the same time, I have to admit that I am just jealous. Being honest to myself, I know that if I were eighteen now, I would be writing bad fan fiction and posting it for everyone to read. Actually, when I was eighteen, I did write bad fan fiction, which thankfully is still in a notebook and will never see the light of day, so maybe that is something to be thankful for. But there are so many more opportunities for writers to get their work “out there” that I would have embraced whole-heartedly, and who knows where that would have taken me.

Maybe with a bit of effort, I could still take advantage of those opportunities. After all, I have published my novels on KDP, and I set up this blog to promote myself. But I feel too old to go further than that; not incapable, but too old to jump on a bandwagon that belongs to another generation. It isn’t my fault that I was born when I was, but that doesn’t mean I can crash someone else’s opportunities. Maybe my sense of propriety is too sensitive, but that’s always been my way. So I will stick with my original plan – keep working, write on days off and keep sending out my submissions. Sometimes I feel bitter, but it’s the writing that really matters to me, and nothing stopped me doing that, and I guess that is the most important thing.  

But for the younger generations, writing has become a hugely popular hobby, and no wonder, with so many opportunities. I see it amongst the teenagers I work with. And, joy of joys, I see it with my own kids, as all three of them write. I have watched them start stories and get excited about projects just like I did when I was their age. When my son was eight, he had me print off his “novel” – a sci-fi adventure, with one chapter per page. My daughters publish art and web-comics and fan fiction on the internet and receive thousands of likes – more than I ever get with this blog! I am so proud of them, and more than a little thrilled that they share this passion with me – and dare I say, ‘inherited’ from me. Of course, I will be proud of them and encourage them with whatever direction they choose to take in life, but if it happens to be writing – well, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be a family of writers, like the Brontës, the Durrells or the Amis family! But no matter what, I will always encourage them to keep writing, just for the sheer pleasure of it. I’m sure they will – once a person discovers the joy of shaping words into sentences and paragraphs, creating people and worlds, it can be quite addictive.

However, this blog is not just about me being the proud mother. It is nearly the end of October, the time of year when I start to think about promoting my Advent Calendar Stories. Last year, I was so busy on other writing projects that I ran out of time to write a new story for my family. They were very understanding, and didn’t mind that I could only offer a repeat. But then, to my delight, one of my daughters took it upon herself to write the story herself. It was brilliant, a perfect Christmassy story about a brother and sister helping one of Father Christmas’s reindeer get back into the sky to catch up with the sleigh. And this year, all three of them have volunteered to provide a story. Now I know that my Advent Story Calendar has well and truly become a family tradition, and I have every confidence that they will be writing stories for their own family and friends long into the future. And if they ever make it big, I’ll be happy to take some of the credit!

For everyone else out there wanting a story for an Advent Calendar – there are ten to choose from in the Index of Stories. And they do say that reading to children is a very good way to encourage them to start writing their own stories…