I feel I should start this blog, ‘it has been three weeks since my last confession…’

You’ll see why. Anyway, a slightly late post this time, partly because if I’d kept to the fortnightly posts, the next one would fall on Easter Monday, when anyone with any sense will be eating chocolate, not sitting at a computer reading my blog. The other reason is that this time last week, I was at the point of despair with my current draft and I couldn’t quite bear to talk about it. I’m feeling a little more positive now, though, so here’s what’s been going on.

First, I was ill. Not properly, seriously ill, but a lingering head cold which then turned to sinusitis. With a painful, bunged up head, I couldn’t even think straight, never mind sort out the complex structural problems with my novel. Even worse, I spotted a major plot flaw, and not surprisingly, this induced an intense plummeting in confidence. This was all Not Very Nice. I racked my brains (my poor, thickening, stuffed up brains) but I couldn’t think of a solution. Then I had a good chat with an author friend who reassured me that it was a solvable problem, that I’d just got myself into a can’t see the wood for the trees state. She made a couple of suggestions, I wrote the scene I’d been so worried about, and hey presto, it works! At least, I think it does.

I still have structure/viewpoint problems, but I’m sure I’ll find a way through those eventually. So not much tangible progress since last time, I’m afraid. Time has been a bit of an issue, mainly because of my teaching work, which involves a lot of reading as well as the face-to-face meetings. But, as I always tell my students, you need to make time, so I’m ring-fencing some days over the next two weeks to really focus on the issues with this draft.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be a guest speaker at the Yorkshire Post Literary Lunch at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. There were around 120 guests, which is the largest audience I’ve addressed so far, so I was a teeny bit nervous. However, I managed to get through it without making a tit of myself. I could see smiling faces, I got the odd laugh, and a few people came up afterwards and said they’d enjoyed my talk, so phew! I was made very welcome by the organisers, and had the pleasure of meeting my fellow speakers, the acclaimed crime writer David Mark, and the poet and novelist Wendy Bardsley.

As you can see from this is not very flattering (of me) press photo, David, who writes ‘gruesome’ thrillers and is charming and funny, was more the star turn, with Wendy and me as his backing group! It was a lovely event, though, and I enjoyed the day immensely.

Being at the Old Swan in Harrogate was tinged with sadness for me, because the last time I was there two years ago, was to attend a family gathering in memory of my dear grandma-in-law, Winifred, who’d died aged 96 the previous year. I first met Winifred when I was in my forties and she was approaching ninety. My husband hadn’t seen her for some years, and we prepared ourselves to ‘make conversation’. But Winifred turned out to be an attractive, fiercely intelligent, witty, wise woman with whom I hit it off immediately. We soon became close friends, despite a 40-odd year age difference.

It was nice to be able to mention this at the lunch in connection with The Secrets We Left Behind. One of the themes in the book is female friendships, and my central character has developed a close friendship with her much-older mother-in-law. Yes, that character, Estelle, is based on Winifred! One of the joys of being a writer is that you can play God to a certain extent. Ian Rankin said in a documentary recently that if someone annoys you, you can ‘bump them off’ in a book. I wrote Estelle partly as tribute to Winifred, and perhaps as a way of feeling I was spending a little time with her. My great sadness, as I told the Literary Lunch guests, is that she died a few months before I got my publishing deal. She would have floated up to the ceiling with pride.

On the subject of publishing, my first novel, The Things We Never Said, is published in Germany this week, under the title Ich Habe Dich Immer Geliebt, which translates as, I Have Always Loved You. It has a rather lovely cover, too.

That’s about it for this time. I hope to have moved forward much more decisively by next time. My novel group is meeting this week, so I’ll get some feedback on that tricky scene, and I’ll also run my structural problems past them to see if anyone has any bright ideas. I have a few appointments over the next two weeks, and I need to start preparing the short story course and teaching after Easter, but apart from that, I should be able to crack on.

I hope everyone has a good Easter break, and let’s hope the weather is a little more clement two weeks from now!

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


As I write this, the sky outside my window is an unbroken blue and the sun is bouncing off rooftops and windowpanes. Snowdrops are out, and even daffodils are stretching their heads upwards. Everything is growing, everything is full of life. This is the perfect time to be ‘creating’, and I’m trying to harness all that wonderful creative energy so that I can pour it into my novel.

In last week’s post, I talked about the feedback I’d received and the massive amounts of work I now realise I have to do on novel number three. I said that undertaking a major re-draft is a bit like climbing a mountain. Last week, I was standing at the foot of that mountain looking up into the foggy distance and wondering where I would be now, a week later.

Well, the summit is still shrouded in mist, but I have taken a few steps up the mountainside. I’ve been working pretty hard this week, although it feels a bit frustrating, because I still haven’t done any actual rewriting. There’s been a great deal of thinking and planning, making new timelines, writing scene summaries and moving index cards around.

Finding a timeline that will work has been incredibly difficult. I thought I had it sorted until I realised that it made one of the characters much too young for what happens at the time. The timeline is a microcosm of the whole novel in that if you change one thing, everything else shifts as well. Anyway, I think I have a workable timeline now. I’ve written a list of the key scenes chronologically, including dates of birth and deaths, and now I just (ha! “just”!) have to work out the order in which these things are revealed to the reader. This is fairly complicated, because there are two viewpoints and the story happens both in real time, and over a number of years before the novel opens. One day, I’m going to make life easy (well, easier) for myself and write a novel that is set in real time and where the story happens as we go along!

The amount of work I have to do is daunting but I’m also feeling excited about it again now, because even though I can’t quite see the top of my writing mounting, I’ve started the trek, and that feels good.

If you’re at a similar stage with your work, it might help if I share this comforting advice from my lovely agent when we were discussing this recently. She told me to look after myself and be kind to myself, because this stage is the literary equivalent of the metaphorical ‘eating for two’ in pregnancy – not literally ‘eating’, of course, but nourishing and nurturing yourself in order to feed the baby (novel) you’re growing, and building up your strength in readiness for the massive output to come,

So I’ve been trying to do that. Yes, I’ve been working every day, but I’m also allowing myself time to read, time to think and the odd non-working trip to a coffee shop – maybe even featuring cake!

I’m going to leave it there for this week. I’ll post again in two weeks’ time when I come back from my retreat in the Forest of Dean. details here I’ll have four clear days where I don’t have to think about shopping, cooking, walking the dog or any other domestic responsibilities. I’m hoping I’ll have significant progress to report on 23rd of February.

Oh, and before I go, I should mention that I’m running a couple of one-day writing workshops in Sheffield soon, on 28th of February and 28th March. These days are always fun, always productive, and, people tell me, incredibly inspiring. If you know anyone who might be interested, the full details are here.

Happy ‘almost Spring’ everyone, and happy writing!

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


Just a short post this week to keep you up-to-date. The last post was about me celebrating – drinking champagne, no less – because I’d finished and sent off the first draft of my 3rd novel. In that post, I made it clear that I was expecting to have to do a lot more work. I knew there were problems, particularly with the structure, but I’d got too close to be able to look at it objectively.

My wonderful agent and editor both read it quickly – they knew I’d be biting my nails down to the knuckles. Also, I’ve never pretended this book wasn’t proving particularly difficult, so perhaps they both suspected there would be a lot to do and wanted to get a head start!

Anyway, there is a lot to do, as expected. From our initial chats and emails, it looks like it will be a VERY, VERY LOT. More, even, than I’d anticipated. I’ll know more after we have a meeting next week, but it seems there’s a lot that’s not working at the moment. I suspect it won’t be so much a case of murdering a few darlings as embarking on some wholesale slaughter!

About halfway through writing this draft (which had already gone through a major change of plan from the original idea – I cut a whole storyline and about 30,000 words!) I began to understand what I was really writing about. And therein lies one of the major problems, I think.

Of course I went back and did a lots of rewriting when my characters began to go in a different direction, but in hindsight, I wonder if what I was doing was the equivalent of realising I’d made a chicken dopiaza instead of a chicken madras and then trying to sort it out by pouring off half the sauce and whacking in the extra spices. What I really need to do is wash all the sauce off, grab some fresh garlic and ginger and start combining the spices again from scratch.

I have lots of ingredients; some of them are good ingredients which are right for this novel; some are good ingredients but need to be set aside for something else, and the remainder need to be binned completely. I also need to bring in some fresh ingredients. Okay, I can no longer bear the screams of that metaphor so I’ll stop torturing it. But you get the gist.

On the upside this week, I’ve been catching up with some reading, including 50,000 words of a novel I started writing a few years ago and abandoned because I got stuck. While I can’t instantly see where that novel should go, there’s a lot of good material there which I’m sure will form the basis for my 4th novel.

I’m thinking a lot about book three, of course, but am very much looking forward to those thoughts becoming more focused after the meeting next week. There’s a lot of thinking ahead, and a serious amount of hard work, but I know it’ll be worth it, so bring it on!

Here’s a picture that may just be the light at the end of the tunnel – something I hope to see before too long!

If you’d like to know more about me and my work or keep an eye on what I’m up to, visit my website, ‘like’ my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot