How to finish something

Posted: March 13, 2014 in novel writing, writing

Not rocket salad, but so true

12 Books in 12 Months

Do you ever feel like you’ve got so much to do that you’re forever catching up with yourself?

I do.  It’s got to the stage where my whiteboard of stuff to do (yes, I have a whiteboard with stuff to do installed on a wall so it’s the first thing I see when I come home from work) looks like this:

20140309-144712.jpg My super cool whiteboard.

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this really happened to me, just after I sent off the pitch to NFM:


introduction to crime writing

You know how they always tell you to have your ‘elevator pitch’ — 2-minute summary of your project  — ready just in case? This really happened to me.
I’m in the Algarve in a tourist resort to get some head space to work on a writing proposal. I’m chatting with my nice friend who asked me to look up the Dancing on Ice results  — which I do. She’s 81 years old and tells me she’s reading 50 Shades of Grey on her kindle. I say I read the first book and sort of could work out the ending.
“Yes, I prefer crime and thrillers,” she says.

We talk about Patricia Cornwell, PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, and A Touch of Frost.
I tell her about the project I’m working on here:
“It’s about a woman who’s kidnapped. Only she’s a bit unusual — she’s a 15-stone pole-dancer…”

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I can see how it happens now, the Twitter wars. In one of Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, can’t remember which one, we learn of the Krikkit Wars, where the peace-loving inhabitants of said planet end up reducing a whole galaxy to ashes (hence the rather distastefully named sporting trophy, the Ashes).

I got into a rage about a stupid article by a feminist journalist, who allowed herself to be used by a right-wing rag, for a piece which combined hypocritical titivation with self-righteous slut-shaming in a way that only such a cynical piece of toilet paper can.

I don’t know if Julie Bindel is vicious, reckless, cynical, gullible or just plain stupid. It was predictable they would use her that way. I suspect an inflated ego blinded her to the use they would make of her: why else would the Mail her a noted feminist? It aint because of the cogency of your argument. Sorry, love.

I stand by what I said about her article. But I got drawn into a much more blanket condemnation, in love with my own rhetorical declaration of war. In other words, I did exactly what I condemned her for.

I have been in conversation on Twitter with someone who describes herself as a radical feminist, with whom I have a lot of agreement. It’s caused me to reflect: is it fair to say all radical feminists are hateful?

She says they do good work for women, and once I allowed myself to think, I could recall lots of women who use that label about themselves and work tirelessly for rape crisis, women’s aid, against domestic violence and for lots of international causes. I lost a friend last year, a beautiful, loving woman who called herself a radical feminist, and whom it would be obscene to put in the same category as Bindel.

So to all those women who call themselves radical feminists and don’t attack women for their life choices, I apologise. I think your political analysis is wrong, but we can debate that. I think the ultimate logic of radical feminism is hatefulness, but that’s not the same as saying you are hateful. That’s like saying someone who is for immigration controls wants to burn down mosques or go on a killing spree like Anders Breivik. One may be the ultimate logic of the assumptions contained in the former, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. And part of our debate would be to examine why I think one leads to the other, and to get you to abandon the former because of what it leads to.

So to all non-hating radical feminists out there, sorry, lets talk.But that does not mean a truce on the haters. To distinguish them I think we need a new term. In the ‘trans wars’, they came up with TERF: trans exclusionary radical feminist. So I’d propose WHERF: Women-Hating Radical Feminist, which is anyone who excludes from the category of women:

women whose sexual practices they don’t agree with (heterosexual, bisexual, role-playing lesbians, Butch/femme, ‘lipstick lesbians’, women who like porn, BDSM practitioners:);

women whose work they don’t approve of (sex workers, porn stars, lap-dancers);

women whose politics you don’t agree with (members of ‘male’ groups);

anyone not natural-born unambiguous-cis woman (trans, intersex, gender-fluid, gender-queer)…

Blimey, it’s exhausting just listing the exclusions. And I haven’t even started on exclusion-by-invisibility (women of colour, working class, disabled…

this could take a fucking long time

Anyway, if you exclude women on any of these grounds, you can fuck right off.

I give up on compiling the list, but women have been excluded either physically (trans women, sex workers) or by negating discourse (No woman likes porn; all PIV is rape…)

So non-exclusionary radfems lets talk.

WHERFs fuck off.

Back in the last century, 1980 when Margaret Thatcher, that bastion of women’s rights, first came to power, I did a little street theatre piece, called the Invisible Woman. Fairly simple concept – me wrapped in bandages to highlight that the official figures did not show women’s hidden unemployment. Invisible Woman, geddit?

It looks like the bandages with have to be dusted off again.

Not just because women’s unemployment and poverty is again on the rise, thanks to Coalition austerity policies. You probably already knew that. And some good people used International Women’s Day to draw it to widcr attention. Just as others pointed out that there are 7 million women refugees worldwide. Good on both of those campaigns. I’m right behind you, sisters. That’s what International Women’s Day is supposed to be about, solidarity with working (class) women worldwide.

No, this time the Invisible Woman has another purpose: to highlight the invisible women in radical feminist discourse. That’ll be about 3.5 billion of us, all but their tiny but media-dominating clique.

Yesterday I got pretty irate at the hijacking of International Women’s Day by radical feminists to attack other women. In particular, an article by Julie Bindel in the Daily Mail. For readers outside the UK, this is a Hitler-supporting, immigrant-bashing right-wing rag. I found this article bi-phobic, misogynist, and potentially damaging to the “Impressionable young [women]… questioning their sexuality” whom Bindel professes to be so concerned about.

It mocked two celebrity women, because they’d previously had relationships with men. The words ‘bisexual’ or ‘bisexuality’ were never mentioned in the article. It was never suggested that this was a possible sexual choice. That’s what it means to be invisible. ‘Bi-phobic’ is probably not the best word: phobia would be a step up from non-existence. We don’t even fucking exist!

I got mad, I ranted, I posted a link to this article on Facebook. I was going to move on to other objectionable attacks by radical feminists – on sex workers, transwomen, women who like porn. I felt better having got that off my chest.

So, this morning, I find on my thread, that I posted: “more men telling us how to do feminism”. One glance at my profile pic, read one sentence of my post, and you couldn’t be in any doubt: I AM A WOMAN. But that can’t be. I don’t agree with the radfem analysis, so I can’t exist. QED

Enough is enough. All my conscious life, I have fought for women’s rights, and for those of workers, poor and oppressed people. I have so had it. You will not make me invisible, you will not shut me up, ‘sisters’.

And for those of you who say, lets deal with our differences in private: I didn’t start this. I didn’t use a fascist-supporting millionaires’ rag (Julie Bindel) to attack bisexual women. I didn’t go on CNN Freedom Project (Robin Morgan) to attack Amnesty International and sex workers. I didn’t use my university professorship in gender studies (Sheila Jeffreys) to compare transwomen to racist black-face entertainers.

I didn’t start this war, ‘sisters’, but you sure as hell aint going to win it.

pornography — a genre that, incidentally, exclusively titillates men — LOL

I thought I’d mellowed, lapsed into a benign detached bemusement, thought my ranting days were over. But even the mellow me has limits. One provocation too far and I’m up shouting: “E-fucking-nough!”

It’s IWD and I’ve celebrated it for 40+ years. I’m broad-minded: if liberal hippies want local authority-funded face-painting and crystal healing, who am I to judge? Each to their own nonsense, I say. But there are limits.

When the Daily Mail – that bastion of women’s human rights – chooses to run a blatantly bi-phobic slut-shaming article by ‘feminist’ Julie Bindel, I think: WTF? It’s International women’s Day ffs! International Working Women’s Day of Solidarity, get out of my face you hateful bitch. And I choose those words advisedly.

In her article “Why I loathe lesbian chic,” Bindel choose to comment on model Clara Delavigne and her ‘lover’ actress Michelle Rodriguez. (Nice use of scare quotes there: always a good pointer of rational argument. “Delevingne, 21, has dated men such as One Direction’s Harry Styles but has been portrayed as inseparable from Rodriguez, who is 15 years her senior and who has also been out with men in the past.”

I know nothing about either of these women, but what a hateful piece of bitchy sniping – worthy of the worst celebrity gossip mag. Why the scare quotes? Has she less right to be her actual lover because she’s previously dated a man? And what’s with the “Delevingne, 21” and “ 15 years her senior”? Is she implying the older woman is a predator? Great bit of sexist stereotyping, sister! Or is it just he vacuous, gratuitous detail beloved of lazy journos?

Does any of this matter? They’re celebs, they’ve got PR, surely they can look after themselves.

Well, it does matter, precisely for the reason Bindel herself points out: the “impressionable young audience — some of whom are at an age when they may question their own sexuality”. What kind of message does her article give them?

Well, for starters, that there is no such thing as bisexuality. If you’ve dated a man, you can’t have a valid relationship with a woman; you can’t be lovers, only ‘lovers’ – phoney lipstick titillation for men. How fucking dare you, Julie Bindel? Did you think, for one second, the effect would have on the impressionable young woman who finds herself attracted to both men and women, or who, after dating a man, falls in love with a woman?

Do you know what it feels like to have your sexuality blanked and denied? Try to take that leap of imagination, Julie. Try to imagine being that young woman who come to question her desires, being told: you’ve got it wrong, there’s no such thing as what you’re feeling. What, you fancy boys and girls? No, you’re just doing it to tease your boyfriend.

Go on, Julie, search back in your memory. You were young once, you were uncertain, perhaps even a little shameful? How would it have felt to be told you don’t exist? Your love is only ‘love’, a pretend copy of the real thing. I hope you’re capable of feeling shame for what you told those young bisexual women.

And while we’re on the subject of shaming, what’s with the the Katy (“I kissed a girl”) Perry stuff? So she was briefly married to serial shagger Russell Brand? Does she deserve to be told about her actions – “such a sexual merry-go-round makes sex look temporary and trivial.” That’s slut-shaming in spades. And come to that, are we not allowed to have temporary sexual relationships? Is it Marriage-for-life with your first partner, or be damned to the hell of harmful, trivial stereotypes?

Now lets get to the most hilarious claim in the whole piece: “pornography — a genre that, incidentally, exclusively titillates men.” I’m not quoting this out of context or by sneaky clever selection. That remark, delivered with a throwaway incontestable assurance, should have her laughed out of any sane gathering. Porn is enjoyed “exclusively” by men. No woman likes pornography.

Are you mental, woman? I could produce dozens of women I know personally who do. And no, we aren’t all forced to look at it by our boyfriends, pimps, tyrannical husbands. This is the 21st century ffs. We can look it up all on our little ownsome. In fact, one change that I would note is that more women are accessing porn now from their own computers, now that they don’t have to venture into sleazy sexshops. Though some of us like the extra frisson we find a sleazy Soho den confers.

And what about those impressionable young women? Lets imagine, it’s easy if you try, a young woman who likes to look at pictures of other young women kissing. (I know I do.) imagine she finds other pics of them doing other things, and she finds these even more exciting, and she seeks them out. What will say to her? Get back, you slut, these are male fantasies of lesbians, you mustn’t like them, you mustn’t be aroused by them. What are you some kind of freak?

I’d be the first to admit that most porn is crap. Most everything is crap – books, films, newspaper articles. You’ve got to seek out the good stuff. It takes effort, and sometimes you’ll settle for the McDonalds’ meal the cheap supermarket chocolate: it’s better than nothing. It’s an unfortunate fact that the inexperienced will come across more crap. It takes a certain amount of discernment to wade through to the good stuff.

But if you humiliate them for even trying, if you tell them they’re freakish pseudo-men (because no woman likes porn), then you’ll deepen their confusion and silence their sexual self-expression. By all means point them to the good stuff, warn them to exercise some judgement, but stop with the shaming, eh?



Posted: October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


I have just signed up to PiBoIdMo. The idea is to come up with 30 picture book ideas in a month. I was going to do NaNoWriMo but I’m off to Barcelona for an Improv Festival and then to London for my nephew’s wedding, so I suspect I’m only going to have little itty bits of time. A picture book idea a day strikes me as do-able. Lets see how it goes. I already have one: The Great Storm (that never was – up here).

My Butterfly

Posted: May 22, 2013 in writing

I was sitting alone in the library cafe with a pen in my hand and that look on my face.

“Are you alonely?” she asked, very politely, with that slight oriental ‘r’ sound replacing the ‘l’.

I interpreted her question as a pretty mis-phrasing of an enquiry whether the empty seat next to me was taken.

“No, please. Go ahead.” I gestured with my pen-hand to the seat.

She hesitated.

“Do sit down,” I said, reflecting how confusing some of our constructions must be to the non-English speaker.

I watched as she sat herself down with a neat folding motion, her hands ending at rest on her lap. There was something of the geisha about the movement, though she was dressed in that rather doll-like fashion of Japanese or Korean students. Black mini-skirt, white stockings topped by childish ankle-socks, a fitted t-shirt with an oversize butterfly motif and a gauzy fabric embellishment suggestive of wings at the shoulder.

“You writer?” she asked.

I glowed in the reflected light of Hemingway and Sartre. Squint and this could be Paris.

“You not alonely?” This time the question was more challenging, an implied ‘though’. You’re a writer and you’re not ‘alonely’?

“I’m not sure I understand you,” I said.

She smiled and it lent her rather bland face an impish teasing quality. “You not understand me? That is funny.”

I admit I can get a little prickly when I think someone is making fun of me. I felt a surge of objection but that was wafted away by a glance at her charming amused expression. She had dimples when she smiled, adding to her doll-like appearance.

“Are you implying that a writer should be lonely?” I asked, trying to match her playfulness.

“You told me sit down,” she said simply.

“Yes, but that was politeness. I thought you wanted to know if the seat was taken.”

“You want me leave the seat?” Again that slight ‘r’ sound: you want me alleve the seat?

“No, of course not. You’ve only just sat down. We’ve barely met. I’m Sam, by the way.”

“Sam. Like Sam Spade. You like Hammett?”

“Yes, I do actually. I used to devour those hard-boileds when I was a teenager.” I had a disturbing flash then of a hard-boiled-egg eating competition. Was that from Cool Hand Luke?

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” she said, which astonished me. That line from Cool Hand Luke: was she reading my mind?

“So, let’s start again,” I said. “I’m Sam. And you are?”

“Your Butterfly.”

“Your Butterfly?” Presumably an Anglicisation of her original name.

She giggled. “No. Your Butterfly. Sam’s Butterfly.”

This was a bit peculiar. Still, I shrugged, “My Butterfly, well, how do you do?”

“That is just polite question? You want me answer?”

She had that attentive way of waiting for an answer, which some people find inscrutable, but I thought a refreshing relief from European over-emoting, which is just disguised self-preoccupation.

“Tell me something about yourself, My Butterfly. It’s an interest name.”

“You familiar with Lao Tse story?”

“Lao Tse wakes up, having dreamed he was a butterfly. Or is he a butterfly dreaming he is a man? I had a similar dream myself.”

“What if,” she asks quietly, “both man and butterfly are aspects of the same dream? Both being dreamt by the Great Tao?”

The London Book Fair felt very different this year. Previously, print publishers ruled the roost and showcased their star authors (Hilary Mantel, and in YA, Anthony Horowitz and Patrick Ness). They were stridently denying the digital revolution would have any impact on ‘real’ books.

This year the Kobo logo was everywhere, and the Books Are My bag give-away sounded a very defensive note. People who buy real (print) books from real (bricks-and-mortar) bookshops are now a niche who need to distinguish themselves with special markers. Once that was all there was, now – Welcome to the Age of the Algorithm.

New Adult

As a YA author my focus was on YA as a genre and how to get visibility as an author in the new digital world, and the intersection of the two (blogging, niche branding).

Two seminars examined the new genre of New Adult (New and Opening Markets: Young adult, teen, new adult and crossover

New-Adults-Steamies-Crossed-Genres–Reinventing-Teen-Fiction). Was it just YA with added sex? Is it defined by who reads it or the age/ life stage of the protagonist (leaving home, first years of college)?

Authors seemed to feel that it was a marketing invention aimed at the 18-25 age group with outliers, bright aspiring younger readers and some 25-35s, settled with young families looking back nostalgically on their college years. Though Abbi Glines said she had met readers in their 70s. All agreed that, because of the age of the protagonist (16+) you could include more sex, but what was really the focus of interest was romance, relationships, independence and self-discovery. Twilight readers grown up, pushing into chicklit territory.

It also seems to be driven by an audience raised on tv (Girls, Skins)


On the author side the buzz word is discoverability. Self-publishing is now technically simple, but how do you get any sort of visibility as an author? A number of seminars addressed this (Successful-Self-Publishing; branding, and what authors need to know; Good Reads; Amazon CreateSpace and KDP). I found all these useful and will write up in more detail. The star turn, though, which made the whole visit worthwhile was Advanced Online Marketing for Authors. I will devote a whole page to the enthusiastic Joanna Penn’s tips. I’ve paid hundreds of pounds over the years for workshops and seminars on how to ‘break in’ but this was simply the best.



Then there were the intersectional book bloggers, of whom the most prolific are YA readers, with publishers now knocking at their doors for reviews and coverage.


Equal Measures: Achieving diversity and equality in children’s books has now become something of an institution at LBF. I was particularly interested in the issue of gender and LGBT representation. As one of the speakers pointed out the BT bit tends to get lost. Where are the bi and trans characters in YA fiction? The few that there are tend to come from the US. I’ll be asking for suggestions of UK YA books that present positive representations.

Pitching Your Project

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

I am republishing this post to give participants at my Pitching Your Book workshop an idea of what’s in store. the workshop is modelled on the one given by Northern Film and Media. First posted this Jan 2010.

This was a fantastic experience, a workshop at Northern Film and Media, supported by the Indie Training Fund. The trainer, Christina Burnett, has worked with the greats. I felt awed and a bit intimidated to be there at all.


Name check who you’ve worked with, who likes your work: it makes your audience sit up and take notice.

Of course, this goes against all one’s upbringing. We have what is called in the MoneySupermarket ad an overdeveloped cringe gland. Ugh! Do I have to? Are people really that superficial? Shouldn’t the work speak for itself? Yes; yes; yes; and no, it won’t get the chance. Shy bairns get nowt.

What the workshop, throughout the day, demonstrated by putting us in the position of commissioners, was that we all make those instantaneous judgements. Commissioners, and that includes editors, agents and anyone who is in a position to green light a project, will be wading through thousands of submissions. Your work won’t get a chance to speak for itself unless it get noticed in the first place.

What struck me immediately was the difference between writers and producers in this respect. We writers were all shrinking violets compared to the producers and directors. Well, we’ll just have to get over it.

Christina explained that there are generally three stages or forms of pitching: verbal, written, and audio-visual/ supporting material. I’ll deal with these in three separate articles

Verbal pitching: tell me more

Posted: March 9, 2012 in pitching

We were pitched in at the deep end: 3 minutes to talk about your project to 9 strangers – before the first coffee break. We went round in turn. We were asked to notice what stood out for us. For me, it was humour and pithily delineated character: ‘a mortician in the wrong job’;  ‘Alan Partridge without the charisma’ – thank you, Michael.


What I noticed about my own verbal pitch was how nervous I was – and unprepared. Maybe there’s a link there. Usually, I’m quite confident at making presentations. Years of standing up and being unpopular at conferences, or teaching writing classes, have given me that confidence. Why was it so nerve-wracking to be presenting to 9 people a project close to my heart?

I felt out of my depth. Here were producers who’d aired dozens of documentaries for major broadcaster, someone who was an AD (assistant director) on Torchwood, etc. Argh!


You are going to feel out of your depth. Get used to it. If you only ever do things within your comfort zone, that’s a recipe for stagnation.

So what to do to get over it? The usual: prepare, prepare, prepare. I never went into a new classroom without at least an outline lesson plan. Years of practice mean that you can get to do it off the top of your head. To start with, though, rehearse, practice on a friend, prepare. If you know you are going to have to give a 3-minute presentation, time it. If you don’t know how much time you will have, perfect your 30-second ‘lift pitch’ and another 3-minute one for when they say: tell me more.

I didn’t know I was going to be doing a 3-minute presentation first thing in the morning. I could have guessed. What else would we be doing at a pitching workshop? As the trainer pointed out, there is no such thing as ‘just a workshop’. Deals are made by bumping into somebody, through a friend of a friend, or because somebody thought of you and passed your name on, because when somebody asked: what are you working on? you were ready with your answer.


Practice the answer to that question till it trips off your tongue

what got noticed

Participants noticed personality, projection, and body language; clarity, character and comedy.


Be approachable:

  • make eye contact
  • project the sort of person you’d go up to at a party where you didn’t know anyone. That doesn’t mean pretending to be an extrovert if you’re not. If you’re shy, smile shyly and admit that talking to big groups makes you nervous. People warm to warmth and honesty.
  • speak clearly, slow down and don’t cover your mouth. It’s really rude to people with hearing difficulties, and it makes you look shifty.

What is it?

Be really clear, in your first sentence, what it is you are pitching. Think charades: is it a book, film, tv series? Then answer the questions: how long? how many? what format? what genre? Your audience needs to know this up front, so they can get a fix on it. Too much detail before they know what it is will leave them floundering.

Clear images

If you can nail your target audience with a pithy phrase, ‘SAGA louts’, or conjure a vivid image of your character, ‘leather cat-suit’, then you’ve got them on your side.

Who are you?

One of the participants was an AD on Torchwood; another had his film script forwarded by Lord Putnam to Ridley Scott; a newly formed animation studio, with a 20-year old just- graduated animator, had been commissioned by E4. I sat up and took notice. But none of them had volunteered this information in their pitch: it had to be drawn out by the trainer – like pulling teeth, she said. Modesty may be a virtue in private life, but it doesn’t cut it with commissioners.


What is it about you that will make them sit up? Put that up front.

what they need to know

After we’d all said our bit, the trainer fed back. Commissioners need to know:

  • what is it?
  • who are you?
  • can you deliver?

None of us answered those three questions fully. We got lost in the detail before we’d said the most important thing. We forgot to blow our own trumpets. We were unconvincing.

The next session was on written pitches.