What inspires you?

‘What inspires you?’ is a question I am inevitably asked on those occasions when I tell people I am a writer.

When asked the question, I mumble something about being inspired by surroundings, the news, nature. It is only afterwards, when it is too late, that I find I have the perfect answer. I just, ironically, couldn’t put it into words when put on the spot.

This is what I would have said:

I am a snoop. A people watcher. A lurker. An eavesdropper.

When I was little, I would hide behind the kitchen door, with my ear pressed to the wood – the smell of damp and sawdust (woodlice had got to the door) tickling my nose – my eye positioned at the slit at the hinge, listening to my grandmother gossip with her friends.

They had a routine, which I got to know very well after a few spying sessions.

First, they would all sit cross-legged on the cool cement floor of the kitchen and apply themselves to the serious business of eating: spicy potato bondas, onion bhajis, powdery yellow melt in the mouth laddoos and jalebis: crispy tubes filled with sugar syrup. (I grew up in a small village in India where food was the currency of love, second only to religion and sometimes, when religion could not provide answers, the go-to panacea for tribulations and celebrations alike.)

Once they had had their fill of the sweetmeats, they would sit back, their sari pallus awry now that they were relaxing, their hair escaping tight coconut oil massaged buns, and sip sweet, milky, cardamom flavoured tea. After this, they would much on paan and get to the serious business of the day – what they had all come for: gossip.

In retrospect I realise that they were intelligent women, bored with their lot now that their children and grandchildren were grown. With no job to turn their mind to, they channelled their considerable intellect into the comings and goings of everyone in the village.

‘Jillubai hasn’t been to church in four weeks,’ I would hear. ‘Did you see the size of her stomach? The rest of her thin as a reed. And her husband slogging away in Kuwait – he last visited a year ago. Do you think…’

This was why I waited patiently behind the kitchen door, my stomach rumbling as I watched them eat, even though I was missing out on the game of cricket with the neighbourhood kids out in the fields, which inevitably ended in war and of which I was, generally, the arbitrator.

For me, even now, this is how gossip looks: frothy and bubbling, red and fermented, spitting out of eager mouths. It smells tart, of spices and betelnut and it tastes pungent, paan flavoured and fermented with intrigue.

After her friends left, my grandmother would swivel round and look right at me, meeting the eye that was pressed to the slit of the door-hinge. ‘Come away from behind the door now, hasn’t anyone told you eavesdropping is bad for you?’

I should have known that nothing ever escaped her notice.

She would sit me down on her lap and tell me a long winded story about a little girl who listened to what she wasn’t supposed to and the horrid things that happened to her. I would listen agog, while trying to stuff a jalebi surreptitiously into my mouth, replying earnestly when she asked me for the moral of the story – although it didn’t stop me snooping the next opportunity I got.

All that overheard gossip, all my grandmother’s stories, permeated in my head, marinating and maturing, and they are effervescing out of me now, in my books.

I write about small villages in India, steeped in prejudice, pickled in rumour.

I write about women, like my grandmother’s friends, who want to study, to work, to better themselves but are denied the opportunity because they are women; their job to procreate and be good wives, meek and obedient to their husbands who more often than not treat them like possessions.

Growing up, I hated the unintentional injustices against women, the way we were side-lined as a matter of course, so ingrained in village culture that nobody even noticed anymore, weaved as they were into the fabric of society. I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t articulate it then – I was (still am) quite shy and the anger and upset I felt then is coming out now in my books. I write about strong women who speak out against the casual dumbing down they are subjected to, treated as if they are secondary to men.

I write about Indian women trying to stretch their wings while facing the constrictions of a restrictive culture; how they define themselves in a world that tends to impose stifling limitations upon them, how they try and find themselves, constraints notwithstanding.

I am riveted by the interactions, feuds, secrets, lies and intense bonds prevalent among families. The complex ties between family members seem rife with hurt, hate, so many seething emotions, so much love and angst and anger and grudges nurtured over the years. The complicated dynamics of relationships, whether within families or cultures, religions, states or countries – that is what all the stories I love share in common and what I gravitate towards in my own stories.

So, this is what inspires me. This is why I write.

What inspires you?


This post is brought to you by Renita D’Silva.

Emotional Exploitation in Contemporary Fiction

The bulk of my creative time recently has been taken up writing factual material for documentary film. In that mode, whilst structuring and de-structuring sensitive and often complex narratives, I have been striving to find a balance between taking the audience to the intimate core of the story, without emotionally exploiting the memories of the contributors whose journey I have been sharing.

It’s a tension that I’m now beginning to recognise in my fiction, increasingly so as the ownership of my second novel shifts back and forth between my characters and me. My characters, despite being my own creation, are taking control and pushing that balance further and further in the direction of emotional ‘exploitation’. In some instances they are hurtling towards crippling outcomes at an urgent pace and I’m struggling to haul them back and temper the journey with a more methodical approach.

I wonder though, instead of trying to moderate their course, should I be listening more carefully?

Perhaps this breaking free is an indication that I need to stop trying so hard to direct the proceedings. This is not documentary; this is freedom. It’s supposed to be energetic, spontaneous and fun.

Unlikely the way I approach non-fiction work, I don’t plan as a novelist. Allowing the story to unfold as I write is integral to my creative process. I do, however, shape a rough outline, maybe half a page indicating my ambitions for a beginning, middle and end. But for me as a fiction writer, maybe even that is too restrictive.  Suddenly, the shackles of formality feel uncomfortably restrictive.

The strongest works, be it in novel writing or onscreen in film and television have engaging characters at the root and tips. Outcomes and adventures in various overarching arcs are only of relevance if we care about the characters undertaking the creative journey.

In my current writing I honestly don’t think my characters are going to let me go to the place I originally intended. They are telling me they aren’t who I thought I wanted them to be. Not even close. I’m obviously influencing the process; my own emotions have been battered relentlessly since I began this journey so if the very heart of me has changed then surely this must influence my writing?

Write what you know, write what you don’t know, push your boundaries, go where you have been before, go where you’d never imagined you would…

I guess one thing is true. One of the above may or may not apply to you. The trick is understanding what does.

In a moment of clarity, I have submitted. I have agreed to be swallowed by pain (not all pain has long-term negative consequences) and driven by the voices in my head that are shaping themselves not as I anticipated them to be but as they need to be.

It’s a very different experience from my debut. In that writing, my characters took their shape from the off. Whilst the narrative journey developed they changed tact and altered off course, but they never changed who they were to me.

Interestingly, that’s not the case with Rathlin and Barra, the twins in my novel. They are facing a family crisis that is testing their relationship, and the external relationships they have built on their fastidiousness around an event from their past.  I thought I knew what the outcome of the chaos was going to be but in actual fact I don’t and that is the sheer joy of writing fiction. For a while my twins felt distant, but through their own perseverance they’ve brought themselves back to the community and culture that I know and understand and as a consequence they are closer to me and easier to write.  There is a tremendous intimate energy to them and that’s exciting.

Is this why we write contemporary fiction? To be of the people and of the place, our emotions exposed, and dare I say it, exploited?

I think I hope so…


This post is brought to you by Margot McCuaig


An Indie Point of View

When I started out writing my first novel at the age of nineteen, it was on a typewriter and ‘cut and paste’ meant exactly that, using scissors and glue. How things have changed. What has also changed is the technology available to the self or indie publisher/author.

There have always been indie publisher/authors. Virginia Woolf was one. However, her husband had to buy a printing press and put it in their basement to establish what would become Hogarth Press (named after their house in Richmond). These days all that is needed is a computer, a bit of techie knowledge and an internet connection.

I became an ‘indie’ out of necessity. Unable to find a publisher, with a significant birthday arriving, and some inheritance to financially cushion me, I realised the time is now. I now have three novels, of which I am inordinately proud, available to an international audience. I even got long-listed for an award, the CWA debut dagger, for my first one.

There are lots of hats to wear. I pay for a professional copyeditor and proofreader, however, once their work is done, I am totally responsible for making sure I do the corrections accurately. I format the text three times: for a local print-run; for createspace; for Kindle. I over-see the work of the professional designer who is doing my covers and also of the printer (discussing with him issues around type of paper and laminate for the cover). Then, swapping hats again, I organise the launch and market the books.


For me, the hardest part is the marketing. For everything else, it feels like if I put the effort in, I can see the results. Not so with marketing. It is a bottomless pit, always hungry for more and never delivering as much as it promises. Social media has been great for networking with other writers and finding supportive colleagues, but as far as marketing goes? Mmm, in my opinion, it’s only successful for those who are already well-known or who love, love, love being on there every minute of the day.

All this hat spinning can be difficult and sometimes it feels lonely, the responsibility of all the decisions basically being with me. It’s also not always easy to meet the prejudice which I think sill hovers around being an indie. There are those who thrive on being an indie, citing the freedom to be their own boss and to luxuriate in knowing everything is how they want it to be. But despite this and stories of indies who have made it big, such as Eva Lesko Natiello whose book The Memory Book made it onto the New York Times bestseller list (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eva-lesko-natiello/selfpublished-book-beats-_b_11909842.html), my attitude remains more ambivalent.


I have heard, anecdotally, that following the traditional route – lit agent and publisher – is not all peaches and cream. However, deep down, I still yearn to get on this path. And I have decided to put aside my indie hats for a while to once again see what’s possible, being more strategic than I’ve ever been before given what I’ve learnt in the last few years. I know hard work, talent and shed loads of luck aren’t enough, I need to plug into the literary world, network, assess the best approach for me.

What are your experiences of publishing, indie or otherwise? What are the pros and cons for you? Any tips?


This post is brought to you by Kate Evans.

Five of the most important things I have learnt from writing

For me being an author is a continuing learning process. Although I’m about to publish my seventh novel there’s always something new to discover or surprise me, either from something I read or from my writing colleagues. I was once asked what I thought were the five most important things I had learned which could be passed on to would-be writers and here they are –

1. I guess the most important thing of all is self-belief. As a fledgling writer embarking on my first novel I was very aware I was entering unchartered territory. I knew what I had begun was going to be a huge and probably at times, a difficult task. I had the plot sorted but exactly how many thousand words would that translate into? Would it be enough for a whole book? And would anyone want to read it? This was the point where I told myself no matter what it took I was going to write this book; that yes I could do it. It wasn’t an easy journey and there were difficult moments but I kept going, holding on to my belief that I could achieve my dream of being an author. My first book, When Tomorrow Comes was published in 2009 and five others have followed, which I guess is proof that if you believe you can do it, you will.

2. Reading. A writer needs to read…and not only their own genre. Reading enables you to keep up with what is currently on the market and gives you an insight into other writers’ techniques. How they structure their work, create characters and develop storylines. It’s also helped me when I’ve hit a flat spot in my manuscript. Sometimes quite unexpectedly a scene in the book I’m reading will provide me the answers I need to kick start my writing again.

3. Social Media. This is so important. When my first book was published I knew very little about social media. The first thing I set up was a website and hot on its heels, Facebook and Twitter accounts so I could link it. I now have a blog and regularly invite other writers to come and virtually chat. This gives them exposure for their own work and in turn, I get invited back to promote my work. I also review for Brook Cottage Books and have set up a dedicated website for this. Facebook in particular, is very useful, enablling me to link with other writers, join groups and forums and spread the word.

4. Patience. Novel writing doesn’t always go to plan. You begin a story but it’s not always a smooth ride. When things go wrong, as they often do, you need to approach your problem in a calm way. To get your writing back on track, patience and determination should be your main focus. You will do it. It will happen. Yes, I know it’s frustrating but over the years I’ve learned to become very philosophical seeing these unforeseen obstacles as a ‘meant to be’ moment. It goes with the territory and needs to be treated as a challenge not a disaster.

5. When the going gets tough… Yes, there will be moments of frustration when things don’t go to plan. You can also guarantee you’ll suffer from writer’s block – when you have a scene to write but no matter how many attempts you make, it simply won’t come right. Or your writing dries up completely. I guess this situation connects with No 4 above. It’s part and parcel of the pathway. It’s annoying but it happens. When I find myself in this situation I simply take a step away from my work for a while and do something completely different. Because I know in doing this when I return I’ll be much fresher, see things in a completely different way and can guarantee I’ll resolve the problem.

So to summarise, the five things I’ve learned from being an author are:
• Believing in myself
• Being a reader as well as a writer
• Developing a good social media presence
• Having patience when you hit a problem
• Knowing when to step away from your work


This post is brought to you by Jo Lambert.

Talking Male Depression

When I was a kid, the word ‘emo’ got bandied about in unpredictable ways. It was almost always used as an insult, but not always to mean the same thing. It could be used to criticise a band for sounding like My Chemical Romance. It could be used to criticise someone for looking like they might like My Chemical Romance. It could be used to criticise someone for things they put as their MSN name. It could be used to criticise someone for their haircut. It could be used to criticise someone who was basically a little bit different in any way from the person who was calling them an emo.

The word emo seems to have gone out of fashion a bit (unless you’re talking about music, where it turns out, some bands that get classified as emo are actually pretty damn good). In fact, I’d completely forgotten how often I used to hear the word emo in day-to-day conversation until recently, when a good friend of mine, in front of a group of people in the pub, asked me ‘remember when you were really emo for a while?’. My immediate reaction was to feel uneasy. I wasn’t sure why. I hadn’t heard the word emo used like that in years. I wondered if somehow it had been so drilled into me as a kid that even being accused of being emo was a terrible thing, and so my natural response was to feel on edge.

It was only when I got home that I realised what my problem with it had been. I’d had a spell of around four years where I suffered from pretty severe depression. What my friend actually meant was, remember when you were suicidal? Remember when you couldn’t function at all? Remember when you spent days crying and then weeks in near-silence? Now, granted, I was listening to a lot of Joy Division and reading a lot of Sylvia Plath – but there was something more going on there.

I think what I found particularly concerning about this was that this was a friend of mine who had seen me go through that dark period and knew how difficult it was for me. It was pretty disheartening for me. Not because my past pain was being slighted, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I do it quite a lot myself because it can feel helpful to distance myself from my depression in that way. What concerned me was the derisory, mocking tone it was brought up in. The subtext was that was silly, wasn’t it? And yeah, I’ve no doubt, at that time, I was a silly, silly person. In fact, I still probably am. But the thing is, I was also a terribly sad, sad person. And what if one of my friends at that table, in that pub, was experiencing something similar? What if they had wanted to talk to me about it knowing I’d gone through it too, only to hear those feelings dismissed in such a casual way? They’d feel ashamed. And embarrassed. And weak. And a million other things that depression makes it very, very easy to feel. That detached macho attitude is what leads to a perceived inability to discuss these problems. It’s what leads to distressingly high number of suicides in young men.

2016 sees the release of my debut novel. It’s called Waves, and recently I’ve had to start explaining to people what I think the book is about. People close to me are often surprised to hear that it has some semblance of positivity in it. My favourite writers (Hunger is probably my favourite novel) tend to be pretty bleak in their outlook.

But that’s exactly why it was important for me to write a book that has some degree of joy in it. Or hope. Or something between the two. Maybe it’s a naive hope, some would definitely say so, but that doesn’t really matter. I needed to write something where someone found their way out of something painful and moved onto something else. Because suicides in young males are at terrifying figures – if a man aged 20-45 dies in the UK today, it is more likely to be from suicide than any other reason – and sure, dark art can comfort you in dark times, but to get you through them you need something else too, and I wanted a book that worked in that zone where you’re ready for something else.

We all know how to get from our On The Road chaos to our Big Sur despair, but how do you get out of that Big Sur phase and onto the next thing? A lot of people don’t, and Kerouac sure didn’t, so as I reach an age where a lot of people around me are coming out of their young fuck-everything phase, and having to face their mental demons, it’s a conversation I want to be a part of. And I want other people to feel able to be a part of it too.



This post is brought to you by Jared A. Carnie.


Typofuckituptis – The Writers’ Curse

A couple of years ago, when I was preparing my novel The Changing Room for publication it finally dawned on me why most writers are mad. Of course, I’d heard stories about writers who imagine aliens and psychotic wide-eyed rabbits peering out of bushes at them but I’ve never considered myself one of them because, as anyone who knows me is aware, I am completely normal.

However, what I have discovered whilst proofing The Changing Room is that these crazed writers are not just authors of science fiction, fantasy and obscure meaningless poetry as I imagined. They are not even affected by booze, drugs and mental illness. (Well, not all of them.) They are just poor unfortunate writers, such as myself, who have been cruelly afflicted by a terrible disease called
Typofuckitupitus. Now you may not have heard of Typofuckituptis before but let me assure you it is very real and very dangerous. Here’s the definition from the Turley English Dictionary:

Typofuckituptis (Ti-poe-fuck-it-up-ti-tis)

A disease afflicting mainly authors whereby the writer develops an inability to spell even those most common words whislt under pressure. The disease can spiral out of control so that in the advanced stages the author will become delusional and imagine mispleled words leaping of the page and slapping him around the face with a wet mackeral. In recent years, the disease has spread from the author community to the journalistic community. Daily Mail Journalists are particularly affected and a recent outbreak at The Guardian caused The World Health Organisation to issue an international health warning to journalists the world over. There are three stages of Typofuckiyuptitis:

Stage One: The author, usually under pressure to meet a deadline, starts to spel homofones and and random lenghty words wrongly. It is, however, sometimes difficult to diagnose in American writers as they spell things wrong on a daily basis. Therefore, caution must be exercised in diagoinsing American authors as they can be highly volatile when accused of spelling things incorrectly. It should allso be noted that most American authors sleep with a gun under their pillow (in case anyone tries to steal their manuscript) so editors, proofreaders and medical practioners are advised never to ring thier clients late at night.

Stage Two: The auhtor begins to spell even more words wrongly. Theise include simple words lik 2, free and fore, fhe and fuk. This inablity to spell even fhe most simpl off words cuases the writer to become mentaly unstable. Soem off the wurst cases have led to authors riping up their manyouscripts, senfin letter boms to literary agnets or microwavingt their rabit. During this stage jounrlists at the Guardian will usually be fired but at the Daily Fail they will be promted to senior columnist.

Stage Three: Thise stage is the most sevear. Auhtors beging to see typos that don’t even exist. The delusons become staedily wurse until they r comparable to a heroin trip, accompanied by a bottle oaf whiskey and a large joint. When the delusions are a tthei peak auhtors beginn to to read Fift Shaeds of Grey an stab themselves repeatedly and cry “If only I had writon ths mastrepeice!” At this stage, if the auhtors’ wpunds have not proved fatal they are incarcervated in a mentall institution.

So there you have it – Typofuckituptis which as those of you ahve read my blog The Witty Ways of a Wayward Wife might already know – I have been afflcited by for quite some considerbale time…



This is what happens to writers with Typo Fuckitupitus. As the author of children’s picture books, this writer thought she was immune from the illness – until she found she’d spelt her own name wrong on the front cover. She collapsed on the way to the library on her way to pick up a copy of Fifty Shades.


This post is brought to you by Jane Turley.

My summer in books

What’s the best thing about summer holidays? The time to spend with loved ones? The chance to explore new places? Escaping from the office? Ice cream? All these are important, but the very best thing about holidays as far as I’m concerned is the extra reading time. I even look forward to plane and train journeys as long as I have enough books to keep me going…and that’s rarely a problem. One of the unexpected perks of having my first novel, The Daughter’s Secret, published last year has been ‘meeting’ some fantastic book bloggers on Twitter. They have opened my eyes to books which would otherwise have slipped beneath my reading radar, and helped me discover lots of new authors. These days it feels like every time I go online I end up with a new book for my ‘to be read’ list!

I’ve read all sorts this summer – from sagas set in the 13th century to science fiction set in space, as well as some non-fiction in preparation for my first foray into writing historical fiction. I also, of course, read plenty of contemporary fiction. Some of these were new titles hitting the shelves for the first time this summer, while others have been around (and in some cases on the giant pile by my bed) for a few years.

My top five contemporary summer reads this year – in no particular order, it was hard enough whittling it down to five – were:

* The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer. This had been sitting on my shelves for more than a year. I’m so glad I finally dusted it off and took it with me on holiday, especially as parts of the book are set in North Norfolk where I was staying. There are lots of books about missing children around at the moment but The Girl in the Red Coat is a truly original take on the topic and I couldn’t put it down.

* The Good Father – Noah Hawley. I was blown away by this fast-paced literary thriller. Rheumatologist Paul Allen must face the unthinkable when his son is accused of murdering a popular presidential candidate. We follow Paul as he struggles to uncover the truth and come to terms with his relationship with his son. Not to be missed by fellow fans of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and definitely one of my books of the year.

* The Fever – Megan Abbot. I don’t think anyone captures the thrills and horrors of being a teenage girl quite like Megan Abbot. In The Fever a mysterious illness sweeps through a US high school, affecting Deenie Nash’s best friend but leaving Deenie untouched. In the days that follow, Deenie’s life starts to come apart at the seams and her brother and father are swallowed up in the hysteria and speculation that consume the town.

* Raven Black – Ann Cleeves. Not only is this the first in Ann Cleeves’s hugely popular Shetland series, but it’s the first of her books I’ve read. I loved the island setting and the twists and turns as this mystery unfolds. It’s safe to say that I’ll be heading back to Shetland with Ann very soon. I’m also looking forward to watching the television adaptation of the novels – the scenery must be stunning.

* Cut to the Bone – Alex Caan. I’ve just started this debut and it has me gripped. Set in London, it takes us into the dark and intriguing world of YouTube vloggers. With millions watching her online, how can vlogger Ruby have vanished into thin air? I can’t wait to find out!

What did you read this summer?


This post is brought to you by Eva Holland.