THE WRITING LIFE – authors in lockdown

I’m shocked to see how long it’s been since my last post! What happens to the time? Anyway, the idea for this post came from something Northumberland libraries are doing to help promote reading and keep the connection with readers during lockdown. They asked authors what we’re reading and how we’re coping.  I’ve used my response as the basis for this post. 


Just because they’re pretty…


Some of my friends are struggling to read at the moment but I’m finding it easier to read than to write. It’s also the best possible activity to take my mind off what’s going on outside the front door. Since lockdown started, I’ve read six novels  and I’m halfway through another. I usually read roughly a book a week, so this is very slightly more than usual for me.

MY Lockdown reading

The Authenticity Project, by Clare Pooley. This has a clever premise (strangers getting to know each other through a notebook in which they’re encouraged to write their own truths). A light, easy read, and very charming.

My One True North, by Milly Johnson. I don’t read a lot of romance, but I fell in love with Milly’s writing a few years ago. Her books just get better and better, and this was an absolute delight, beautifully written and thoroughly uplifting – perfect lockdown reading. I loved it so much I felt genuinely sad when I finished it.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. This was our bookclub choice. We usually meet in pubs, but now it’s Skype with wine and crisps. Five of us loved it, the other two liked it, but it was a winner overall.

Heat stroke, by Hazel  Barkworth. This one’s out at the end of May. A heady, claustrophobic (in a good way) novel about the tensions between a mother and her teenage daughter when the daughters friend goes missing.

The Man on the Street, by Trevor Wood. I’m not a huge crime fan, but I really enjoyed this one. It had great character depth, and I loved the main character – an ex-military policeman who finds himself homeless and unwittingly witnesses a crime.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid.  This month’s book club read – I’d been meaning to read this for ages, and after I bought a new copy, I discovered I already had one on my shelves! This went down well – two of us liked it, the other five loved it.

The Covenant, by Thorne Moore.  I’m halfway through this historical drama, and I’m loving it so far. It’s a prequel to one of the author’s earlier novels, and it’s out this summer.. 

So that’s my lockdown reading so far. Next on my list is The Cazelet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard. I’ve been meaning to read these for ages, too – heard so many wonderful things about this author.  Hilary Mantel wrote an excellent piece about her recently in the Guardian. You can read it here: Elizabeth Jane Howard

How am I coping in general?

Well, it’s horrible this, isn’t it? I think we’re all a bit jittery. Like many others, I’m missing my friends and my family. Part of my writing life involves meeting other authors in coffee shops, either for writing sessions or just to chat about our writing projects. Although I quite like my own company, I also love being with others, so social distancing is hard. 

For the first few weeks, I was listening obsessively to news bulletins and press briefings, but I’ve slowed down on that now, and I’m careful what I read on social media. The outpourings of political rage, the horror stories and the tragic personal stories of loss and grief are quite a strain on my mental health, and there are days when I simply don’t feel strong enough. I’m allowing myself to admit that now.

In many ways I’m lucky – my kids are grown-up,  so no homeschooling or stir-crazy teens to deal with. My husband and I are used to working at home, and we quite like each other. We have a lab/collie cross called Norman, who keeps us company and joins us on our daily exercise.

Norman among the daffs


Norman nestling in the wild garlic


Workwise, it’s hard to concentrate. I’m in the process of working on an outline for my fifth novel, but one minute, I’m worried that it seems disrespectful to be making up stories while so many people are suffering, then the next minute, I’m thinking, we need stories now more than ever! Then there’s the financial aspect – we’re all suffering a massive drop in print sales at the moment, although hopefully, our e-book sales will do slightly better. Many of us supplement our income by running workshops or doing events, but of course, all of these have been cancelled.  I’m still mentoring, but it’s online or phone tutorials instead of the lovely face-to-face meetings. When I can’t concentrate on work at all, I bake, which is fine, but then I eat the stuff I baked, which is not.  And don’t even get me started on wine o’clock…

So, that’s how this author is coping. I’m a bit fed up, but I’m thankful to not be working on the front line, and I am profoundly grateful to those who are. 

How are you coping? Are you reading more or less than usual? If you’re an author,  how is this affecting your work?

*EDITED 2nd May  It seems the 99p deal has ended – sorry, peeps. I never know when these deals are going to start, or when they’re going to end. Ah well. It’s 3.99 now, so still half the price of a physical book (but obviously not as good as 99p!)

Let’s all try to find something to smile about,  and remember, there are always stories. Let’s take one day at a time, blow a big fat raspberry at Covid19, and settle down with a good book..On which topic, if I may be so bold, how about The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood?

Read some of the reviews here

Buy the e-book here

For more about me and my books, please visit  my website

THE WRITING LIFE – when writers can’t write, part four

In this installment, I’m going to talk about how, after the wonderful experience of writing The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood, I developed what I think may be true writer’s block. (Click the links on the right to catch up with the first three posts in this mini-series)

After delivering the final version of the MS, I gave myself three weeks off, then started work on a plan for the next novel. This is how I’ve always worked – finish a book, deliver it, start a new book. I had an idea based on my own family, a story going back to the 1920s, of infidelity, illegitimacy, and true, long lasting love. But a novel can only be ‘based’ on a true story – you still need a plot.

After weeks of approaching the idea from different angles, I couldn’t seem to make it work, so I abandoned it and returned to an idea I’d been thinking about a couple of years ago, where a woman raises her sister’s child as her own. Long story short, I remembered why I abandoned it before, and it was the same reason I gave up on the family story – I couldn’t find a strong enough plot.

Another idea started to take shape, and I even had a rough idea of how it might progress. I began to feel excited, I had the atmosphere of the novel, the feel of it; I started to hear that wonderful ‘hum’ in the back of my head…

But there were two problems: 1. My agent thought an aspect of the idea was too similar to my previous novels – a fair point, which had occurred to me but which I’d willfully ignored, and 2. I couldn’t find a way into the past story from the present.

I spent weeks trying to make a plan, to repeat the experience I’d had with Cornelia Blackwood. But I couldn’t find a way of telling the story without giving too much away too soon. Unable to move forward and anxious about not writing at all, I made a start anyway, telling the present day strand from the POV of a supporting character and hoping a solution might reveal itself.

I enjoyed discovering the characters and exploring scenes in which tensions developed and backstory emerged. But 30,000 words in, I still hadn’t found a suitable way in to the past story. I had a chat with my agent who came up with some brilliant suggestions. I dived in again, quite excited by the new approach. But then I realised it had changed the focus so much that my original idea had all but disappeared.

So I put that one aside, too.  Initially undeterred, I began toying with two more ideas, but again, I couldn’t seem to pin down an actual plot. I had interesting situations and ideas for characters, but every time I tried to develop those ideas, to make some notes, or sketch out how things my progress, I felt an almost physical barrier.

Over the course of a few weeks, sitting down to work became harder and harder. The barrier grew bigger and stronger. It was like a massive iron plate in my chest that sent out weird impulses to my brain, making it impossible for me to pick up a pen or open a document on my computer. When I thought about trying to work through a new idea, I felt sick with fear and physically and mentally paralysed. When anyone asked me how the writing was going, my eyes filled with tears and I became too choked to speak.

I decided to stop trying to work out a new idea and just write a scene instead – I’ve always found this useful in the past when I’ve been stuck. The point is to ‘play’ with fiction, to rediscover the fun of creativity rather than get hung up on whether it’s going anywhere. But as I tried to do this, I once more found myself assailed by that same feeling of paralysis. When I did manage to force myself to write something, the writing was flat and toneless, dead on the page. The more words I added the more painful the process became. It was like trying to reanimate a corpse.

And I’ve included this image because I keep thinking of a line from an old Smiths song: ‘I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible’.

In the fifth and final part of this blog post, I’ll tell you what steps I’ve taken, what helped and what didn’t, and how I’m gradually, tentatively, emerging from the fog.

THE WRITING LIFE – a room of one’s own

Virginia Wolfe famously told us, ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ Well, the money bit is tricky – most of us have other jobs or at least rely on teaching and critiquing to keep the lights on. And I know that for many writers, men as well as women, having a room that’s exclusively for writing is a luxury they can only dream of. I know that I’m extremely lucky to have a lovely study-cum- office at the top of the house.

I have an ergonomically designed desk and chair, two monitors, a comfy sofa, a coffee table, lots of books around me – it should be the perfect environment for writing a novel. But what do I do at that desk? I do admin, then I faff around on Facebook. Then perhaps a bit more admin, before taking to Twitter. Next I’ll probably check my Amazon sales ratings and see if there are any new reviews. Then I’ll check my email again and if there’s nothing that needs answering, perhaps it’s time for a quick look on eBay. I probably need more ink, or a lightbulb, or something.  Then I’ll just have one more look on Twitter before I make a start. Chances are I’ll find a link to some fascinating  blog post and that’ll be another 15 minutes gone. You know how it goes.

A designated place for fiction
One of the articles I read recently was one of those ‘top tips for writing your book’ pieces. Now, I know as well as any other writer that the top tip for writing your book is just sit down and bloody well write it. But one of the tips was, don’t write your novel in the same place as you do your admin and social media – have a space that’s exclusively for writing. This made  sense. I can see how having a special  ‘writing place‘ and going to that place regularly to write helps to automatically switch your brain into writing mode. It’s probably one of the reasons so many of us like writing in coffee shops, as well as the fact that we can’t be distracted by domestic chores and we’re less likely to be distracted by admin and social media.

I love writing in coffee shops – I wrote most of The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood in the coffee shop across the road – and as long as they ‘re not busy, many places don’t mind you sitting there with one drink all morning. But even one coffee a day has become unaffordable for me at the moment, though I still try to  go once a week. So I needed an alternative. After spending last Saturday doing a tour of the secondhand furniture shops, I found this little fold-away table for a fiver.

I’ve tried writing at the kitchen table, or in the sitting room, but there’s always something The House wants me to do. Fortunately my ‘room at the top’ is divided into two with a plasterboard wall so that guests can stay overnight without feeling as though they’re sleeping in an office. It’s a small space, not big enough for a proper desk, but perfect for this little fold-up.

Trick your brain into focusing on fiction
So I can still be tucked away at the top of the house, but I can close the door to my study (when the dog isn’t demanding it be left open so he can be near the radiator and see me at the same time!) and I can focus entirely on the novel instead of being constantly tempted to check Facebook or Twitter.  It was also a conscious decision to work facing a blank wall – an attempt to trick my brain into thinking the most interesting things are happening on the screen.

As for whether that’s true, I can’t say at the moment because I’m in the very early stages of a new novel. That point where the confidence I had about it at first has disappeared, and The Fear has arrived. A quote from Iris Murdoch springs to mind – “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.” Ain’t that the truth!

Ah well, for me this is a normal state of affairs. I just need to put myself in that chair every day, switch on my laptop and step into my fictional world. It may work, it may not, but one thing’s for sure, nothing’s going to happen if I don’t try, and I’m pretty sure that reducing the distractions will help.

What do you think? Should we write fiction at the same desk where we pay the bills?


If you’d like to keep up with my writing life or just have a chat, pop over and ‘like’ my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter or Instagram


A big milestone for me today – I have submitted the draft of novel number three, the progress of which many years of you have been following on this blog. It’s a strange feeling, because on the one hand, it’s immensely satisfying to have juggled and plotted the lives of a number of characters and reached a point where I have a completed story. But on the other, I know that this is only a milestone; it’s by no means the end of the journey.

I’m looking forward to receiving feedback from my agent and editor, both of whom have immense skill and insight when it comes to the finer points of storytelling. I am of course very nervous, too. I want them to love it – I want everyone to love it! I don’t mean I want them to say it’s perfect, because it won’t be – beginner writers take note: by the time you take a novel off the shelves in a bookshop, it will have been redrafted more times than you can begin to imagine. But I’m just hoping that they’ll share my passion for these characters and what happens to them, even if I have to rewrite, rethink and re-order whole chunks of the text.

So, what has the process of getting this manuscript ready for submission involved in the last couple of weeks? Well, it’s amazing how you can think you’ve done all you can and then find SOOOO much more to do! You may remember I made myself a novel “to do” list, which initially had about 65 things on it. It was wonderful to cross off several of those items each day, but I think the number probably doubled. They varied from bigger things like, ‘write an epilogue’ to smaller technical things, such as: ‘show character getting dressed’ (I noticed that the character was naked in one paragraph, and then he was opening the door and stepping outside – he wasn’t meant to still be in the buff!)

Then, when I thought I’d done all the ‘story’ things, I read it through again looking for typos, punctuation errors, extra spaces etc – it seemed like there were millions. Then I read it through again, and found a million more.

I’d written most of this draft in Scrivener, so I then had to compile it as a word document, which was really easy, except that Scrivener refused to accept that my prologue wasn’t chapter 1 (even though I put it in a separate folder. Anyone??) Anyway, I ended up having to manually change the chapter numbers – all 50-odd of them! And then I realised I still hadn’t written the sodding epilogue. It may be that the epilogue isn’t needed, but I thought I needed to know what happened to the characters after the ‘ending’, so I sat in my favourite coffee shop and bashed out an epilogue of sorts. That will be the most first-draft-y bit of the whole thing!

It’s been a lot of hard work, and I know there will be a lot more hard work to come, but I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to hit ‘send’ earlier this afternoon (despite sitting here looking at the screen for a few minutes before plucking up the courage to actually make that click!)

And so now I’m going to have a break for a few days, catch up on some reading, and maybe even let my thoughts roam over a few ideas for novel number four. The immediate plan, though, is to sit and drink a glass of bubbly in celebration. There’s still a long way to go, but at least I’ve reached this significant point in the process. Hubby is having a glass, too – after listening for hours on end to me moaning about how difficult it all is, he deserves it!

Things may go a little quiet on the blog now for a while, but I’ll still be blogging about the writing life at least every three or four weeks. In the meantime, cheers!

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


So, another two weeks of working on my novel in a really focused way, often for quite long hours. I feel like a real, proper author, rather than someone who’s masquerading as a real author and is likely to get found out at any moment!

I mentioned in my last post that I had one more decision to make about one of the characters before I could really move on and I’ve made that decision now, and written the necessary scene. I now have three more scenes to re-write, and out of an original 65 things on my novel ‘to do ‘list, there are 14 remaining, although of course, more will emerge as I continue to edit. Some of these are simply a question of going back and adding in references to something. For example, I realised that a character who smokes heavily at the start hasn’t had a fag for about five chapters! I also need to fill in some location details, but that’s going to require another research trip, so may have to wait until the second draft.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to cross things off the ‘to do’ list. I find that making such a list really helps me to organise my thoughts, but even if you don’t need to do that, it’s worth making a list if just for the pleasure of crossing things off it!

So satisfying!

One of the reasons I enjoy setting part of my novels in a different time period is that I love researching a particular decade. There’s a scene in this book where one of the characters is reading a copy of Woman’s Realm in 1967. What better way to research that than to read a copy of Woman’s Realm from 1967? I have to say, I found some of the advice on the problem page to be, well, shall we just say less than supportive of married women! These magazines make fascinating reading.

Woman’s Realm, 1967

I’ve been slightly better at scribbling notes in my journal over this last two weeks, but still haven’t got back into the habit of morning pages, something I fully intend to resume in the New Year. But I have kept some notes, and a quick flick through tells me that other writerly activities since my last post include a feedback session with a fellow writer, a coffee shop writing session with a (different) fellow writer, a boozy Christmas lunch with two (different again) fellow writers, and a signing session at WH Smith’s – not for my own book, but for the Watch and Wait anthology, which I’ve mentioned in this blog several times. Here’s a review.

As well as these more obvious writerly pursuits, I’ve prepared and taught my evening class, had tutorials with my MA students and read the opening chunk of a psychological thriller in readiness for preparing a critique. I love my job!

In addition to all that, I think I’ve made a fair dent in the Christmas shopping, and I’ve managed to knock up a few mince pies and nibbly things which are now in the freezer ready to be heated up later in the week when I’ll have some friends round for festive drinkies. So, all in all, I’m feeling reasonably productive and pleased with myself – and it’s not often you hear me say that!

I think I’m going to leave it there this time, because I’m itching to get back to my novel, which I plan to deliver on 5th of January. I’ve no doubt there will still be quite a lot of work to do, but although I could tweak and twiddle until the cows come home, I’m now at the stage where I need the insightful and experienced opinions of my agent and editor, who both seem to understand what I am trying to do and are able to point out how I could do it more effectively. I’m so looking forward to receiving their feedback – although it’ll be a nailbiting time while I wait to hear what they think!

I usually post fortnightly, but as that takes us to just after Christmas, I’ll be extending it to three weeks this time, so my next post will be on 5th January – the day I submit this draft!!

In the meantime, check out Simon & Schuster’s books and the city page, where you can read features entitled My Perfect Christmas Morning by the following authors: myself, Jane Costello, Rachel Hore, Isabel Broom, Kate Long, Patricia Scanlan, and Andy Jones.

I hope you all have a fabulous time over the festive period, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

By the way, Merry Christmas or Happy Christmas? Discuss! (My vote is for Merry!)

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


Usually, when I come to write this blog, I refer to the notebook in which I’ve been doing my ‘morning pages’ in the form of a sort of writing journal. Imagine my horror when I opened the notebook today to find that the last entry was on 19th November! So I’m going to have to rely on my very poor memory (ironic, given that this is one of the themes in the novel I’m writing at the moment!)
The reason I’ve neglected the morning writing is that I’ve been completely caught up with working on the novel. I’m nearly there with my first draft, which is a wonderful feeling. At the moment, not only am I finding it easy to motivate myself to work on the book, but I actually resent time spent away from it, even time spent sleeping! I’ve been going to bed wishing the night would hurry up and pass so I can get up and start again. I wish I didn’t need sleep – if only I could just plug myself in to a wall socket to recharge!
Since my last post, I don’t think there’s been a single day where I haven’t done at least some rewriting or editing, (more of this in a moment) even though these last two weeks have included a three day trip to London and a book signing as well as the usual teaching and preparation, tutorials (and reading work for them) and domestic annoyances like having to get the car serviced etc.
The London trip was fun, and included talking to a book group who’d recently read The Secrets We Left Behind. They plied me with wine and cheese and we had a lovely chats about my books, and lots of other books as well. 
I did a book signing at WH Smith on Saturday, the highlight of which was meeting lovely fellow author Samantha Priestly who kindly popped in to say hello and to buy a copy of The Things We Never Said. Book signings are strange occasions – you get little flurries of interest, then quite long periods where no-one approaches you (except to ask where they can find the gardening books…) So, it was lovely to see you, Sam – and I hope you like the book!
Hawk-eyed readers will notice copies of another little book on the signing table – this is the Watch and Wait anthology that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. I’m one of 20 authors who have gifted stories to this anthology, which is published by Cybermouse books and is being sold in support of the Lymphoma Association. A few of us will be back at WH Smith, Fargate, Sheffield S1 on 13 December, promoting and signing this anthology.

So, back to what’s happening with the novel. The story is almost completely in place now. I still need to make a decision regarding what happens to one character in the final chapters, but I’m hoping the answer will come to me as I work through editing / redrafting the rest of the novel.
It might be helpful to some of you for me to outline the way I approach this. First, I print out the whole draft and read through it with a pen in my hand. I said I wasn’t going to do any close editing at this point, but if I spot something, I find it impossible to ignore it, so I’ll underline typos, repetitions, dodgy punctuation etc. But I’m mostly looking for inconsistencies in plot or character, clumsy phrasing, repeated ideas, and sections that feel too ‘told’ rather than shown. Similarly, there may be places where I’ve ‘shown’ too much, and If this happens, I could find myself deleting a whole page and replacing it with a paragraph.
I’ll mark the text wherever I find problems, sometimes suggesting alternative phrasing, but sometimes just making a note in the margin. It might be something like: ‘add more depth here’ or ‘rework this paragraph to show her feelings’; or it might be simply ‘show!’ or ‘trim’. Sometimes, it’s just a question mark – which means, what the hell are you getting at here? 
When I’ve finished making my notes, I then go back to the screen and work through from page 1 making all the changes that are fairly easy and don’t need thinking about too much. At the same time, I make a ‘to do’ list, where I note the page number and what needs doing. Things on the list could be anything from ‘rework this paragraph’ to ‘add in a scene to show xyz’. These small changes can be worked on at any time when I have a spare half-hour, but bigger changes on the to-do list mean I need to set aside a block of time, so I can get myself right back into the story and the characters.
At the moment, I’m about halfway through making the ‘to do’ list. I’m hoping I’ll be able to start working through the things on it by this weekend. But whether I do or not, I’m still loving it. If only writing was like this all the time! 
I have told my agent and my editor that I will deliver this draft on 5 January. There, now I’ve told you lot as well, so it has to happen!

In other news:
I was delighted to hear that The Things We Never Said has been nominated for the Impac Dublin literary award which means that one or more libraries has deemed the book to be of literary merit (a number of libraries in major cities worldwide are invited to nominate up to three books for the award) I’m on a long – very, very long- longlist, and when I look at my fellow nominees, I just feel enormously chuffed to be on the same list as such distinguished authors.
New Amazon reviews:
Only a couple this week – a five-star for The Things We Never Said, and a three star for The Secrets We Left Behind. 
Also, I had a lovely email from the Italian translator of The Secrets We Left Behind, saying how much she’d enjoyed reading the book, and was looking forward to translating it into Italian.
If you’d like to keep her eye on what I’m up to, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my Facebook page Or you can visit my website Here


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


I said at the end of last week’s post that I knew this would be a fairly light week work-wise, because my son has been up from London for a few days so obviously I wanted to spend time with him. However, that’s my excuse for the first part of the week – he went home on Thursday evening, so…
Tuesday 20th, Wednesday 21st, Thursday 22nd August
As above, not much work done on the novel during these three days, although I have been thinking about it a lot, particularly in terms of structure. At the moment, the story is told chronologically from two third person viewpoints, but with quite big jumps in time. I’m now wondering whether the time jumps might be better handled by a slightly different form of narrative, and I’m considering incorporating the diary of one character to cover part of the story. Obviously this would mean part of the narrative would be first person, which would allow me to get right into the character’s head. I can think of novels that have been written entirely in diary form, or in letter and diary form, but I couldn’t think of any in the form I’m thinking of.
When I’m considering a particular structure for the novel, the first thing I do is to try and find out if anyone else has tried it, how they did it and how well it works. So I got onto Twitter and asked the wonderfully supportive and generous network of writers (who regularly keep me from my writing because they’re all being so witty and interesting) if they could help.  I love twitter! My request was retweeted 30+ times and I ended up with a few suggestions, although many of them turned out to be straight first person narratives. There were one or two that might be helpful though, so I’ve ordered those. Interestingly, three other authors were in the process of writing their own novels in a similar form – all were finding it rather challenging! Anyway, no decisions yet.
Time spent on the novel over these three days: Not much, but I am going to allow myself to count some of the time I spent online in pursuit of helpful titles: two hours
Friday 23rd August
First proper day back at my desk since Monday. Got up early, raring to go, determined to get stuck in again. Failed. First, I dealt with emails. I always have this idea that I should get emails ‘out of the way’, but the reality is that my replies often generate yet more emails, so this ends up taking most of the morning. Why, I ask myself, do I do this first thing in the morning when I know full well what’ll happen? Does anyone else have a pathological need to sabotage their writing day like this? Honestly, I do my head in sometimes, I really do. Pause while I kick myself sharply on the shin. Anyway, then I opened up the document with the full intention of being pleasantly drawn into it again by rereading the most recent scene while eating cake and drinking coffee. During this cake-eating and coffee-drinking phase I came down with a terrible bout of procrastination so faffed about on Twitter and Facebook for most of the morning. While having lunch, I read a few blog posts, and that took me neatly up to the time I had to leave the house in order to meet a friend for tea and, um, more cake. Time spent: 0
Saturday 24th August
Late start today – heating engineer here this morning installing a bigger radiator in my study. This unseasonably chilly weather has reminded me how bone-achingly cold it can get up here in the winter, so I thought I’d sort that out now or, knowing me, come January I’ll be whinging about the cold and using it as an excuse for not writing. Up until now I’ve been using a little halogen heater, but the dog manages to soak up most of the heat from that.
Not sure I’ve moved forward today, but I spent some time reading parts of the novel to get myself back into it. Ended up doing a little editing, too, although I’m trying to avoid doing too much at this stage, because I don’t even know if those scenes will end up staying in the final version. Also divided up the two characters’ narratives and put them into separate documents then printed them out. This will be useful for me to look at in the context of a possible new structure. So, while I’m not exactly thrilled with my afternoon’s work, I’m not too unhappy.  Time spent: three hours.
Sunday 25th August
Okay, I’m not going to go into the excuses, but suffice to say the day ran away with me. Time spent: 0
Monday 26th August
Determined to make up for yesterday, so at my desk for 9.30. As someone on Twitter said, ‘Bank Holiday Monday, or, as we freelancers call it, Monday…’ I’m still very aware that I need to take apart what I’ve written so far and put it back together in a different order, and I’m also aware that I’m putting that off! Not indefinitely, you understand, but we’re going away for a week soon, and I’m planning to tackle it then. At the moment, with the distractions and responsibilities of domestic life, I’m finding it really had to dive into what could be a mammoth task. On holiday, away from the pressures of home, I might find myself actually enjoying the challenge! Anyway, used today to rewrite couple of scenes and I’m fairly happy with what I’ve got done. Time spent: 6.5 hours
Tuesday 27th of August

I don’t usually include Tuesday, but as I’m going on holiday on Friday, next week’s post is going to be at least three days late, so I’m extending this week a little. And it’s just as well, because today was a good day. I met a writing friend for coffee and wrote a complete new scene. What still isn’t clear to me, though, is why, when I’m sure we both spent an equal amount of time looking out of the window, he managed 4000 words in the time it took me to write 2000 words! Ah well. Maybe my words are better. (Fat chance!) Time spent: 3.5 hours
Just realised that having said last week I would set a modest target, I didn’t actually set one at all. It’s been a short working week, But even taking that into account, I still didn’t do very well with a grand total of 15 hours. Having said that, this is time, actually spent at my desk, whereas I’m thinking about the novel most of the time. In fact, as I write this, I’m nodding with tiredness having been awake half the night because the novel was buzzing around in my head.

Nice things this week
Lovely email from a reader who grew up in the same area as me and who said very nice things about both books.
The coming week
I’m going on holiday for a week on Friday to sunny Scarborough – it’s all glamour here, you know! Actually, sunny or otherwise, I don’t care as long as I can see the sea. Although it’s a holiday, I’ll be working on the novel most days and I hope to at least make a start on trying out a possible new structure. Because of the holiday, next week’s post will be three or four days late and will cover a longer period. It’ll be the final post in the series of 10 (in this particular form, anyway – I intend to continue charting this novel’s progress in shorter posts right up to publication) and will contain a summing up of the 10 weeks. I’m not going to set a target for the coming week, but I’ll report my progress faithfully when I post, either on Friday 5th or Monday 8th September.
New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind: Three new ones – one 5-star, two 4-star
The Things We Never Said: Only one new one this week – a 5-star

To find out more about me and my work, visit my website Or you can ‘like’ my Facebook page  or you can follow me on Twitter, @sewelliot


If you’d like to catch up with this series, here are: WEEK 1 WEEK 2 and  WEEK 3

Tuesday 15th July
Busy day. Finished reading and annotating students’ work for short story tutorials tonight. Finished working on the ‘week three’ post, which I published at lunchtime, then edited after spotting errors. Spent time on Twitter and Facebook, replied to emails. I knew I probably wouldn’t get any writing done today because I’m busy finishing things off before I go on a writing retreat tomorrow. Typed up summaries of scenes I’ve already written to take to the retreat with me. I thought having an overview might help me decide how to move forward (if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll  know I’m really struggling at the moment.) Email from my editor, asking if I could send over a para or two about the main storyline so she can discuss it at a meeting next week. Ooh ‘eck. Sent a garbled reply, admitting that I was feeling pretty stuck, then crossed my fingers and headed off to teach the evening class. So impressed with the progress students have made over the last few weeks!  Word count 0
Wednesday 16thJuly
Lovely reassuring email from my editor, offering to meet up and chat through the problems. So pleased – talking it though is bound to be useful. Did some emails, updated my website and Facebook page with events coming up in September and October, then packed for the retreat. By the time I’d arrived and unpacked, there wasn’t much time before dinner, so I just wrote up this account of the day so far. This being my first night, I had dinner with my host, the writer and former Radio 4 newsreader Annie Mckie, who also offers writing support for those staying on the retreat. Annie cooked a lovely vegetarian meal over which we shared a bottle of wine while talking nineteen to the dozen about our novels. A thoroughly entertaining evening, but today’s word count? 0 (keep reading – it gets better!)
Thursday 17thJuly
Started the day with breakfast on the balcony, which overlooks the Forest of Dean.
I’d told Annie last night that I felt sick when I thought about my novel, so this morning, we had a brainstorming session. Annie’s insightful comments and suggestions have set me thinking along a different route. Went for a walk and found ideas kept popping into my head.  I actually feel quite excited about it again. Of course, this could all change by tomorrow, but at the moment, I’m feeling happy about my decision to lose a character and concentrate on the remaining viewpoint characters. The order in which to tell the story is far from clear yet – structure’s always tricky. I plan to do a bit more thinking now (lunchtime), then maybe start writing some of the scenes I’ve planned and see how it feels. 9pm – wrote over 1000 words of notes today, and started a new scene. Word count: 865
Friday 18thJuly
Good chat with Annie this morning about my new ideas. She was positive and encouraging and came up with a few useful suggestions. I‘m feeling I have a clearer idea of the story now. Worked on the balcony in the sunshine. Word count this morning 876, and wrote more after lunch. It’s so hot today I feel like going to sleep, but the ideas are bubbling now – this is the bit I love about being a writer! Went for a walk down to the village, triggering more ideas. The walk back – uphill in blistering heat – was more challenging. Wrote again when I got back, plus notes. After dinner, I stayed out on the balcony making notes, drinking wine and totting up the day’s word count: 3307 – that’s more like it!
Saturday 19thJuly
Spectacular thunderstorms overnight but at least it’s a little cooler this morning.  Got up at 6.30 to make tea and get started, but we’d had a power cut! Fortunately, laptop was charged, so I got cracking and wrote 653 words before breakfast, plus some notes. I feel ridiculously excited and energised. Heavy rain first thing and now there is a lovely mist rising from the trees and frequent rumbles of thunder in the distance.
Power back at lunchtime, then it went again. Arghh! Did some writing with a strange, stick-like object that bleeds blue when you press it on paper…
Word count for the day 4035 – now we’re cooking!
Sunday 20thJuly
After doing so well yesterday, I hit another problem last night. It’s structural mainly – I always find it difficult to know where to start and leave a narrative. A couple of other minor issues, too – writing a novel really is a bit like a Rubik’s cube in that every change you make affects something else. But I went for another walk, and had another long chat with Annie. Think I may have at least partially solved these problems. Knuckled down again, and ended up with a word count of 3034
Monday 21stJuly
I won’t bother going into detail today, but knowing it was my last day here on the retreat, I really got on with it, working in chunks of about 90 minutes with breaks of varying lengths, depending on how tired I was. As it was my last night here, I joined Annie and her husband for dinner – lovely, lovely evening, justified (I reckon) by my word count for today: 4040
Total for week(actually five days, because I didn’t write anything on Tuesday or Wednesday): 15,281

Nice things that have happened this week: see above!
I am incredibly pleased with what I’ve achieved, particularly as I was feeling so bad about the novel this time last week. Of course it’s helped being on a retreat, away from the responsibilities and distractions of home, but it’s also been so useful having brainstorming sessions with Annie, who is incredibly good at stimulating ideas and making insightful suggestions. I’m not out of the woods with this novel yet – I can already see new problems looming – but I feel excited about it again, and that’s a wonderful feeling. If you think you might benefit from a retreat, check out Annie’s website
The coming week
Real-life will no doubt get in the way again, but for the moment at least, I feel I know where I’m going, so I’m going to aim for 7000 words this week.
New Amazon reviews 
The Things We Never Said: Bumper crop! Four 5 star, one 4, one 3 and one 2 star

The Secrets We Left Behind: Two 5 star and one 4 star


Last week, I posted the first blog in a series of 10 in which I share my writing process over 10 weeks with anyone who’s interested. Here’s week 2:
Tuesday, 1 July
Tuesday is when I publish this blog, so I spent some time last night and this morning tidying up the first post. I’m making notes as I go along, keeping a record of what I’ve done each day, but I still needed to write the introduction and do some editing. Once I’d published the first in the series, I went off to meet a friend for a coffee shop writing session. A fairly brief one today, because I’m teaching this evening and have students’ work to look at. Most of today’s writing was actually rewriting, but I clocked up another 658 words, even after deleting some. I’ve almost reached the point in the narrative where I need to jump forward in time, which will be tricky. On the plus side, as I was rewriting a scene I wrote ages ago, I realised I’d forgotten what happened next. When I read it, it actually made me gasp! Happy with that!  Word count: 658 

Wednesday, 2 July
Bitty day today – admin stuff in the morning, then an enjoyable half an hour so on Twitter before meeting friends for coffee and cake. Did some editing after lunch but didn’t really get into any new writing because I knew I’d have to stop at 3pm for babysitting. Did manage to do some reading, though. Just started We Are Called To Rise, by Laura McBride. I don’t feel too bad about not writing if I feel I am learning from what I read, although this book is so stunning, it just makes me think, why can’t I write like that? 

Did a bit of background work today, too. This is a great tip: go through your notebooks and copy out those one-line notes or snippets such as: ‘A wears cufflinks’; ‘B has asthma’; ‘C reads A’s letters’ onto a separate card/piece of paper and chuck it in a shoebox. When redrafting, just take each card and when you’ve incorporated what’s on it, you can throw the note away. I found this really helpful with my second novel, especially as, when looking through notebooks a while after my first novel was published, I found loads of things I’d intended to include but had forgotten about.  Today’s word count: 0 

Thursday 3 July
Started with emails, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Read over the last scene I worked on – quite a dramatic one – and now realise I need to rewrite the next scene, too. I don’t usually do much rewriting until the first draft is complete, but in this case, I need to rewrite in order to be able to move on. Made a few cuts, then off to a coffee shop for a writing session with two friends. Fairly happy with the day’s work and could have carried on, but it was our book club tonight, so we closed our laptops and went off to the pub, all agreeing that the promise of a glass of wine at the end of the session was a great incentive. Word count: 1519; Glasses of wine: a few
Friday 4th July
Babysitting from 11am until 12 noon tomorrow. Squeezed out a few words before they arrived, then managed to do a bit of editing  while half watching Peppa Pig (it’s ever so good, you know!) but that just reduced the word count again. Still, at least I’ve done something.  Word count: 230
Saturday 5th July
Not much progress today. I’ve got to that point where I’m writing everything the characters do. Does that happen to you? It’s boring, and if I’m bored, the reader will be bored. I need to jump ahead in time, but I also need to know what happens to the characters during that period, and that’s why I’m stuck on a never-ending road. Stared at the screen for ages, then came to the conclusion that perhaps I should just write the next bit of the story in a boring  ‘tell-y’ sort of way (she did this, then she did that, then three years later, this happened and so on).  Might help me learn what happens to the characters in the ‘off-stage’ sections.  Feel very fed up. This is one of those days when the wine count exceeds the word count. Words: 0; Glasses of wine: 3

Sunday 6th July
Feel really stuck today, even when trying to put into place what I decided yesterday. One of my main characters is 15 now, and she and her mum are at a crisis point. I need to jump ahead about ten years, but I just don’t know what happens in those ten years. Went for a walk to think about it. Maybe I should just skip ahead and write scenes that’ll come later in the novel? Popped into a coffee shop, took out my notebook and began writing a very rough draft of a scene that might come later in the novel. Didn’t get very far with it, so word count for today: 360
Monday 7th July
It’s amazing how keeping a daily writing journal for the purposes of this blog can concentrate the mind. Did some editing this morning, then really got stuck in to a scene that comes ten years later. It’s very rough, and there’s a large chunk of ‘info-dumping’, but it has told me something about what may have happened during those ten years. I’m sure I’ll look at this scene tomorrow and decide it’s all dreadful. So maybe I shouldn’t look at it? Perhaps I’ll just try to move on… Word count 1023

Nice things this week:  
Lovely email about The Secrets We Left Behind from a male reader. The first novel went down well with men, so I’m pleased this one is appealing to male readers, too.
New Amazon reviews this week:
The Secrets We Left Behind: No new ones this week, but some nice Twitter comments.
The Things We Never Said: one 3-star review and two 5-stars – particularly chuffed with this one (posted on Goodreads, too)

I didn’t hit my target of 4000 words this week, but wasn’t too far off at 3790. Total word count now: 38, 213 (Didn’t count how many words I deleted, but it would seem to be about 2000. Oh well…)
The coming week:
This is going to be a tough week: babysitting tomorrow (Tuesday), then my mother is visiting Wednesday-Saturday, then we’re staying with friends the Saturday-Sunday. My target this week is very modest – I simply want to make sure I do something on the novel every day. Aiming for maybe 2000 words as well.  Wish me luck!
For more about me and my work, visit my website or ‘like’ my Facebook ‘Writer’ page  (and of course, you can follow me on twitter: @sewelliot )