For no other reason than I love this picture and don’t want to publish this blog without including something pretty to look at, here’s a snap I took in November while on an Arvon writing retreat at Lumb Bank

By ‘eck, I’ve been working hard these last two weeks. Not that I don’t always work hard, you understand, but now I’m talking back-aching, neck and shoulder-aching, brain-hurting sort of hard. It’s structure, you see. I keep thinking I’ve got it nailed, then as I start to write, I realise, Oh, that can’t go there, because that hasn’t happened yet and it’ll give away that other thing … Or something along those lines. This has happened several times over the last couple of weeks, and I really feel as though I’m taking two steps forward and one and a half back; maybe one, if I’m being optimistic.

The main problem is, I think, that I have two viewpoint characters, one whose head we’re in both in the present and in the past, and the other who we only see from the first character’s viewpoint in the present, but into whose head we go in the past. So I’m basically juggling Character A present, Character A past (both from her viewpoint), Character B present (from character A’s viewpoint) and Character B past, from her own viewpoint. With me so far?  Thought not. If anyone knows any novels where something similar happens, pleeeeeease let me know!

Anyway, in my last post, I mentioned having cut more than half my original draft. It was scary, but necessary. I had lots of lovely supportive comments both on Twitter, and on the post itself. My thanks particularly to Rachael Dunlop who said that she’d had a similar experience, but rather than cutting, she put the original MS aside and started again from the beginning, because, she says, “at least this means the word count goes up and not down.” This is good psychology! I’ve now done the same thing, starting with 15,000 words (all completely new or significantly rewritten). I still have all the original scenes on my desktop for when I need to refer to them, but so much has changed that there’s very little, if anything, that I can simply paste into the new draft.

Because of the structural issues, there is a great deal of thinking to do, and while I’m normally in favour of taking a break now and again to let my subconscious do some of the work, I spent one day away from it last week and found that it set me back considerably because I lost the train of thought I’d been following with a particular problem. Having said that, it’s not good to have no breaks at all, so the best solution I can think of for now is to make sure I look at the work every day, just so that I stay familiar with it, and also to keep a large notepad beside me so I can write down every idea/possible solution as it comes to me. Then I just need to cross it out if I decide not to use it.

The current new word count is 23,760, so I’m not quite making my target of 5000 words a week, but then I know it’ll be much higher some weeks because it’ll simply be a question of rewriting, rather than completely rethinking. So, I’m plodding on, slowly but surely.

I’m trying to stay positive and optimistic, and it really helps that spring is on the way – here’s another lovely picture to prove it:

And just to round off, I’d like to share a couple of nice things that have happened since my last post: I’ve been invited to speak at the Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch on 26th March, which I’m looking forward to immensely, and also, I’ve had another one of those rather special reader emails. It’s always lovely to hear from readers (and I always reply), and I particularly like the emails where they include something about themselves, or why the book had particular resonance for them. Just after my last blogpost, I received an email from a reader who said that, due to family/work circumstances, she’d got out of the habit of reading and hadn’t read much at all for the last twelve years. My books, she said, had ‘reignited’ her love of reading. How lovely is that?

This is the second time a reader has told me that one or both of my books have started them reading again after a long break. I can’t think of many things you could say to an author that would be more pleasing than this. And as always, I’m immensely touched when a reader takes the time to write and let me know that they’ve enjoyed my books. In fact, even as I’m typing this, I’m smiling!

And on that note, I’ll sign off and see you in two weeks time with another update!

To find out more about me and my work, please visit my website, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot, or like my Facebook page


Well, I hope the tone of this post conveys the excitement I’m feeling at the moment. Regular readers will know that I am one of those writers who finds the first draft (or “zero draft”, as I’ve been calling it) absolutely torturous to write. I am happy to report that the zero draft is more or less complete, and I feel I am now a good way into what I can confidently call the first draft. This is the bit I love! I can now see the shape of the whole thing. I know what happens, to whom, and when; I know how they feel about it, and I know what the consequences are. I still have to rewrite most of it to add more texture, more nuance, more sense of place. But this story is now living and breathing, and I’m excited about it.

I should make an effort to record how I feel now, in detail, so that the next time I’m at that difficult ‘this will never work’ stage, I can look back on it and remind myself that there is a way through, and that even if it takes a long time to find it, it’s truly wonderful and worth the hard work when you get there. Unfortunately, this stage is a relatively short one. Writing a novel is a bit like doing a basic jigsaw with no picture to guide you. The incredibly difficult stage of trying to fit the pieces together has taken over a year; painting the picture on the front is the fun part, and will be a quicker process. (Of course, I’m saying all this with the assumption that my agent and editor will like the results, and I won’t have to go back and rewrite the entire thing!)

Writing retreats have helped enormously – I’ve been on two recently. I talked about the first one in my last blog post. The second retreat was with Arvon, at the beautiful Lumb Bank writing house, near Hebden Bridge.

I’ve been to Lumb Bank several times before, both on taught courses and on retreats. There’s something about the place that I find incredibly inspiring, and every time I go there, it feels like going home. In fact, when I was shown to my room this time, I suddenly felt quite emotional. Maybe it’s because when I started  my first Arvon course back in 2002, I felt like someone whose hobby was writing; by the end of that week, I felt like a writer.

Or maybe it was the beautiful surroundings that caused the lump in my throat; or being in the company of so many lovely writers, old friends and new. It was probably all of those things combined.

So, the long and the short of it is, during those few days at Arvon, I wrote three complete new scenes (my ‘scenes’ may end up as short chapters, but I prefer to think in scenes at this stage in case I need to juggle things around.) I also rewrote two early scenes that I needed to keep but which now required a complete overhaul.

After talking with fellow writer, the lovely Rosie Garland, I also came away with a new morning routine. We’ve discussed ‘warm-ups’ before in this blog, Rosie tries never to miss a single day. ‘I’m about to run a marathon,’ she told me. ‘I’m not going to do it without warming up first.’ Every morning, Rosie writes six images – just a couple of sentences on each; then a haiku, the subject of which often arises from one of the images. Then she does the classic ‘morning pages’ – three pages of freewriting. Only then is she ready to start her work on her novel.

I’ve been doing my own version of this warm-up, which is exactly the same as Rosie’s, except that as long as I’ve done six images and a haiku, I allow myself to write two pages of freewriting rather than three. If I miss out the haiku or one of the images – I usually describe something I can see, but sometimes it’s something I remember – then I do the full three pages. It feels good.

Whether the morning routine has made a difference, I don’t know, but I find I’m starting work much more easily each morning, and since Arvon I haven’t missed a single day. Nor has there been a day where I haven’t worked on the novel, even if only for half an hour. It’s usually for much longer, though – at the moment, I’m working until my eyes hurt!

So, all in all, it’s going well. I am, at this particular moment, a Very Happy Writer!

In other news:
Last time, I reported that Apple iBooks had picked up The Secrets We Left Behind for a special promotion. Well, it looks like Amazon has followed suit and so  the Kindle version is now £1.99 on Amazon, too (although I don’t know for how long). UPDATE 18th Nov: damn! seems to have finished already.

Signing event:
If you’re in or near Sheffield on Saturday 29th of November and you’d like to buy a signed copy of either of my books, or a copy of the Watch & Wait anthology – Christmas presents, perhaps? (God, I hate the self-promotion, but here I am, trying to self-promote!) Or even if you just fancy a chat, please come and say hello. I’ll be upstairs at WH Smith, Fargate, Sheffield, S1 from 1.30 until about 3.30. There may well be chocolate involved.

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: no new reviews (OMG! No new reviews! I did get a lovely reader email about this one, though)
The Things We Never Said: Two 5-star and one 4-star

If you’d like to keep an eye on what I’m up to, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my  Facebook page. You can visit my website here