NAWE 2016 Good Girls, Bad Girls in YA fiction

Looking forward to co-presenting the Good, Girls, Bad Girls creative writing workshop this Saturday as part of a brilliant and packed programme at NAWE’s annual conference. The workshop will explore how to write distinct female characters, ask what makes a memorable, relatable protagonist and, just as importantly, our antagonists. Although we’ll dip into a few examples from fantasy/sci-fi/supernatural as writer’s our interests are focussed firmly in contemporary realist YA fiction.

We’ll begin by discussing what moves us in a YA fiction heroine, which characters make an impression, stay with us and why. Identifying key traits and thinking about how to develop the internal and external world of our characters; then we’ll think specifically about the challenges of writing convincing, relatable YA characters and focus on writing exercises that will engage these discussion. Who knows? One of those little exercises might just be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship between you and your new YA heroine. Join us!

My co-presenter is the generally fantastic, experienced workshop leader and YA author Liz Flanagan. Liz’s PhD novel Eden Summer is already published and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2017 no less [too impressive].

Two of my favourite contemporary girl heroines…

Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli [2001]

young adult book quotes
young adult book quotes


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell [2012].

Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

Writing Exercise: Write a Selfie

Screenwriters often have actors in mind when they write a screenplay. Even if it’s only a wish list actor it can help take the character idea in the mind to something more three dimensional on the page. If you find the idea of a particular actor to pin your writing on too remote, why try a selfie as a visualiser?

A Selfie’s disguise as much as they reveal but they are a great starting point to help a writer flesh out their character idea. Selfies are posed photographs that give us a sense of how a person wants to be seen but who is the real person behind the selfie mask?

Thinking of your characters Selfie immediately puts her in the real, digital world. How would she choose to present herself online? What does it say about her? How does it reveal her character?

Choose 1 of the following selfies and write the moment around the taking of that photograph. Put us in the place where they are – physically, geographically, emotionally. You can include what happened before and/or after. Show us the real person behind the selfie image.

search images-1 images-2 images-3 images


‘The horizons of personality always recede before us.’ Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse.


Writing Exercise: After The Camera Stops Recording…

Another potential source to mine for creating contemporary relatable characters voice and action is to use online video to conjure an authentic voice, appearance and action.

There are thousands of Youtubers many with a pre-chapterised lives via their own channels with hundreds of uploaded video waiting for your pen to draw out the drama and detail that might make a meaningful and lasting story.

Who is this person? What has led her to make this video? What happened after she made this video? Something ordinary or extraordinary? You decide.


Not sure if we’ll have time for that last one but you get the idea.

Hope to see you there!



Writing in the 21st Century @ The Cambridge Festival of Ideas

The future of writing is now. Smartphones, interactive storytelling, stories that take us right into the future…now.  Writing and technology have a long backstory: from Guttenberg’s press [and beyond] to today’s digital smart phones humans have explored ways of communicating using tools of one form or another and these tools have had an impact not only on how we communicate but what we choose to say.

Join us at The Cambridge Festival of Ideas for 4 events will get you thinking and writing about digital writing, future writing and what the future may bring…


Two Exciting Talks:

Two Stimulating and Creative Writing Workshops:


Tickets going fast so book yours now by following the instruction at the links above.

I look forward to meeting you there!

The Gift of Time

This semester I have research leave in the form of teaching relief awarded by my department. Thank you Anglia Ruskin. Without weekly teaching schedule and only minimal student contact time [still supervising 6 x Level 6 major projects] I have time to plan for a conference workshop presentation, pitch to two more and prepare for my Upgrade to PhD [formerly know as Confirmation of Candidacy] which involves writing a report of what I have done so far and submitting an indicative thesis. The latter seems a little far off realisation but hopefully it will have taken shape by my December 20th [self imposed] deadline. Which will give me up to 25th January 2017 to edit and polish before I have to hand it over. I have nearly completed a second draft of my creative writing element – a YA novel -so all in all feeling like for the first time in a long time I am getting on top of things. Amazing what a little gift of time can bring. Long may this feeling last. More about the upcoming Cambridge Festival of Ideas events and NAWE writing workshop very soon.

YALC 2016

I should have written about this weeks ago but i have had a difficult personal time this past month with my mother falling seriously ill and my initial post impetus became defused before completion. Despite this lapse in time the warm embers of what i already refer to as my first YALC still glow strong. The Young Adult fiction world is a unique community where readers, writers, publishers and characters co-exist in a seemingly utopian literary democracy.  Of course there are big name writers and the less well known but everyone is hugely supportive of each others work and passion for reading. It is like the usual rules of literary festivals don’t apply. Maybe because this isn’t a literary festival [although it kind of is with it’s book market and signings and talks] It’s a convention so it’s full of fans. Writers and readers alike with a huge appetite for an exciting still growing genre that’s redefining itself all the time. It surprises me that the UK is still behind on the US when it comes to taking YA seriously in academia. Perhaps it’s time for me to organise a symposium. Time for more serious YA literary criticism. Watch this space.


Flash Fiction | You Don’t Love Me



For a moment my heart stops.

Ottie, I say, sitting down and offering you a biscuit. Some weak recompense for the toy you so want so badly but I have no money to buy. I love you so much I can barely think about how much I love you. When I do I have to sit down. [I sit down]. I have to stop everything, including breathing. I literally can’t do anything or think about anything else. Thinking how much I love you makes my heartache worse than any break-up and my feet numb as if I’ve run ten marathons. When I think how much I love you I worry about everything because anything could be something that impacts on your happiness. How much I love you makes me want to fix the world beyond any reasonable hope. It makes me want to banish the bad guys, save the good guys and protect every new born and promise them a happy, pain free, love filled life because every child reminds me of you.

I knew children before. I knew how they lived in the present, delighted in simple things, laughed like they meant it and how that laughter went on forever. I knew that they ran with a love of running I have long forgotten and how that ability to love without boundaries said everything anyone could ever say about what was good about living. I knew that children imagined the impossible and dreamed of beautiful things and that the monsters of their nightmares could always be slain.

I loved children before. But you’ve taught me more. You taught me children aren’t archetypes for adults to gaze on for their own consolation. You are noisy and challenging and subtle, surprising and free. You have not only transformed my life entirely but raised me to a new way of living I could never have imagined before you came into my life.

Ottie looked at me, slowly munching on the biscuit and thinking about what I’d said. I smiled, unexpectedly nervous, and waited. He pushed the last crumbs into his mouth and said, the small one is nice too. And it’s half the price.


Flash Fiction | To Die For


You went too far this time. You took yourself to the edge and yes it was going to be an amazing shot. A 3,000 instant likes on Instagram shot. With who knows how many more as it went viral. Shared by friends of friends of friends. You with your hair blowing upwards like someone had turned you upside down. Floating as warm winds from the thousand foot drop beneath buffeted the cool air higher up, carrying each strand on its turns. Silky corn locks in the performance of a lifetime. Your smile. Those eyes. Centre stage. Spot lit by canyon sunshine. The world your back drop, adjusted to fit the frame. This would be the one that would get you noticed above all the rest. The one that’d get you the following you deserved. I can see you stepping up and over the safety barrier. Anticipation of the soon to be experienced outpouring of praise drowning out any thought for what hazards the real world might have in store.

It was going to be the best shot ever. A selfie that now no one will ever see. Your camera phone smashed to pieces at the bottom of the ravine. It’s parts all mixed with yours. The sun sets and a shadow creeps over the rock. Far below I can see your SIM card twinkle. Your hair splayed out around it.


[replaces words with gestures]

SHOW DON’T TELL is a mantra we’ve all heard – or felt as it’s used as a stick to beat us about the head until our writing brains get the message. The point of the mantra is to remind us that a bald…

Source: [replaces words with gestures]