Saturday 23 May 2009


Okay, so it's not my novel or another short story, but publication of a Letter to the Editor in a national newspaper (The Guardian) is pretty darn good.

Before my sixtieth birthday in March, I half joked about doing something outrageous like liposuction on my wine and chocolate bulge, plus a tasteful little tattoo on my arm or the base of my spine.

Both John and Lou were horrified by these suggestions, though, and in truth, I had decided that I couldn't be bothered doing either. However, an article in last Saturday's Guardian Week-end colour magazine re-enforced the surgery decision most conclusively.

Because there was a long section in the magazine, entitled 'The Price of Beauty,' about plastic surgery, which was accompanied by the most gruesome photographs of the realities of plastic surgery, particularly the one showing an operation for a tummy tuck, which looked like a cow being hacked into pieces.

So, I wrote a brief letter to The Guardian about this. And okay, I had been thinking of having liposuction rather than a tummy tuck and I've already started losing weight by eating less fat, but the opportunity was too good to miss.

So, you can imagine my delight when I saw, this morning, that my letter had been printed on the letters to the editor page of today's Guardian colour mag.

So, I can now say that I've already been published in 2009!

Well, you have to grasp at straws in the publishing industry.

Lou has been telling her friends about the letter under the general heading of: "My mum's so middle class!"

By the way, I've had another rejection from an agent, this time from Creative Authors, and yes, they kept the paper clip.

Saturday 16 May 2009


There are no rules on how to prepare for writing a novel and I steer clear of books advising the sure-fire way of writing a best seller, because, sadly, there isn't a sure-fire way. In fact, there are so many how-to books and magazines about writing that you can spend all your time reading them and not actually writing a thing.

I subscribe to only two magazines: Mslexia, which I can't praise highly enough. It comes out quarterly so I can usually manage to read it all before the next issue; and Writing Magazine, which comes out monthly. I personally don't think it's as good as Mslexia but it's a good standby until I receive my next Mslexia copy.

Now that I'm not teaching (hurrah!), I have time to structure my day as I wish. I tend to write in the morning and evening, so I'm free during the afternoon to harness Archie up into the back of the car, drive to River Park Leisure Centre for a swim, have a snack lunch as I'm changing (home-made fruit smoothies are my favourite), put a fair amount of slap on, chat to every-one and any-one, take the short drive to one of my favourite pubs for a coffee and fag (usually The Black Boy which has a sun-trap of an enclosed garden) and then walk the dog along the Water Meadows. And it's whilst I'm having my coffee etc, that I read my writing magazines.

It's a great way to spend a day and I'm so thankful that I can do it. I don't think I've yet recovered from the stress and strain of teaching but I'm getting there.

For my first novel - Cyprus Blues - I did detailed character studies for my four main characters - Kate, Ellie, Tony and Jack - but didn't bother with the rest.

However, inspired by the television American dramas 'The Wire', 'Homicide' and 'The Corner', where all characters, even if they play only a minor role, are wonderfully rounded and life-like, I am now doing mini- character studies of all my minor characters, as well as the more detailed ones of the main players in Winchester Blues.

And in the process of doing this, I'm getting so many ideas for how I write the novel that I think that it's time well spent, particularly as I plan to to write more detective novels set in Winchester with many of the characters introduced in this first of the (hopefully) series.

In fact, by really thinking about all characters, how they look, their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, their personal situations and so on, I feel that the book will more or less write itself, based on these character studies.

The temptation, of course, is to try and put too much detail in so these studies are mainly for my benefit in understanding my characters and what they will do and how they will react.

What works for me, is basing my characters on combinations of people I know, being careful not to make the character too closely like the person. It's more of a rough guide for me, really.

The general advice is not to try to totally recreate someone you know because it can limit your writing and I normally agree with this.

However, the one exception in Winchester Blues is Frances Charlton, one of the deputy-heads, and I do this unashamedly because she was a real person - my mum, Frances Charlton, who was a real deputy-head and the best there was. When thinking of creating this deputy-head character, I just couldn't get round my mum, who was better than any-one I could actually make up. Her personality and teaching style were so perfect for what I wanted that it seemed ridiculous not to use her.

I guess, in a way, it's a tribute to her and because she really was exceptional at her job, I decided to use her real name.

She's not around to object but I think she'd be pleased with her portrayal. And anyway, the delicious thing about 'rules' is that you don't always have to stick to them.

I was having difficulty with three of my characters, though:

I just couldn't picture Diane and Christine, two of the three secretaries, until I realised that I was seeing them as being very similiar. So when I envisaged them looking very different and with different personalities, ages and backgrounds, then they became real to me and I could see that they could have an ongoing story within the novel, even though it will only be a small part.


The second deputy-head, Tom Patterson, was also giving me problems. I just couldn't picture him in my mind although I knew what his personality and role in the novel was going to be. And then, a week ago, whilst walking Archie, I saw this guy with two kids on bikes and he looked so distinctive that I slowed down to take a better look, hopefully not looking too obvious.

He was tanned, with short hair and that authoritative way of walking that soldiers often have and immediately I could envisage Tom. He will look slightly different but I'm making him ex-army and that will make even more sense of his personality. This guy was really quite dishy in an understated way (as opposed, for example, to the obvious good looks of some-one like Brad Pitt) and that's just how I want Tom to be like.

And finally, in this brief insight into Maggie Knutson's approach to writing, I want to mention another piece of general advice given to writers, which is that there should be nothing in your novel that does not move the plot forward or is not actually relevant to the plot. However, inspired by David Simon, ( the creator of 'The Wire', 'The Corner' and 'Homicide'), I'm more inclined now to introduce small story-lines that aren't crucial the plot but crucial to character development.

Several episodes, for example, in the first season of 'Homicide' are almost exclusively building up character and nothing much happens but because of these episodes, when something important happens, you understand where they're coming from in terms of their actions and reactions. And it means that you see them firstly as individual people and then as detectives. Thus, less chance of creating stereotypes.

If I can achieve just a fraction of what David Simon achieves, then I shall be well pleased. To me, he is an absolute genius and would-be writers would do well to watch his work and absorb his meticulous methods of creating and presenting a story.


With renewed confidence with the shorter introductory letter and new opening of Cyprus Blues, I sent the first three chapters to two new agencies, found in The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2009, having first checked on their websites that they were still considering new writers.

So it was with dismay that by return of post, my manuscript came back from Rupert Crew Limited, telling me that they had closed their books.

Why didn't they have this information on their website? It is costly sending off manuscripts and time wasting if websites are not up to date.

In future, I shall actually phone up an agency first and not rely on their websites.

But at least they didn't keep the paper clip.

Wednesday 6 May 2009


Like everyone else, I waited in the LONG, SLOW queue at Winchester's main post-office today: to send off a short story and sample chapters of Cyprus Blues and I also wanted the new pamphlet of the revised postage prices.

BUT they didn't have any. Apparently, they were allocated 30, which went in half-an-hour, and staff were advised to tell customers to get the details online. So they have a product but won't give easily accessible details of price.


Don't they want to have a business?

Whoever's bright idea this was should be sacked without a whacking great pay-off.

I'm getting impatient with management inefficiency and government incompetence.



On Monday, Polly and the Billets Doux released their first ever single - Follow My Feet! - taken from their impending CD - Fiction, Half-Truths and Downright lies.

And to mark the occasion, they played a live gig at the HMV store in Winchester. I had forgotten just how good this band is. The acoustics in the place were not brilliant but the group sounded pretty damn good. Polly has just the most beautiful voice and she's a born performer. A delight to listen to.

John videoed the performance, which you can find here

And I took some photos from my coveted position leaning against the counter, as close to the door as I could get. It wasn't a great place to take photos from and I can't yet download them because I can't read the written instructions John wrote down for me (I am such a computer illiterate.) But I'll add them here once I've 'mastered' this complicated procedure. NOW DONE !

Those of us who waited patiently for the group to set up, which was at least half-an-hour, had to contend with people popping in at the last minute and standing right in front of us and thus blocking the exit. So there was a constant battle to move them, by the staff, because of health and safety regulations.

And, of course, I made my feelings known too: "I've been standing here for over half an hour to get a good view and you try and plonk yourself right in front of me," sort of thing and I wasn't taking "fuck you" for an answer.

Lots of copies of the single were sold and rumour has it that Taylor Swift, the American musician making a name for herself in the music industry, popped in to have a look-see-listen.