The Next Big Thing

Fab writer Maria Roberts has tagged me to answer questions about my work-in-progress. Maria and I both had stories in the Bracket anthology and she has since gone on to great things with her memoir, Single Mother on the Verge. You can read Maria’s answers to the same questions here. I will now be tagging five authors to answer the same questions next Wednesday on their own blogs (I’m a day late, how unusual!) and will be posting the links here.

What is the working title of your next book?

Dark, Beautiful Storms

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Back in 1998, I attended my first Creative Writing workshop at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. One of the assignments was to write a ‘borrowed place’ story. I chose, for random reasons lost in the mists of time (although it might have been because I was reading Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo), to set my story in the Isles of Scilly. The 10,000 word story I submitted was the genesis for my novel in progress (and yes, I have been working on it for 15 years!). The original story now makes up Parts 2 and 6 of the novel. (The story is no longer set on the Isles of Scilly, but on a fictional archipelago somewhere in the Atlantic ocean.)

What genre does your book fall under?

I like to think it sits at the commercial end of literary fiction but that might be wishful thinking. It’s literary in the sense that it plays with conventions and the nature and meaning of storytelling, but I’ve also worked hard to make it accessible and (hopefully) a good, old-fashioned gripping yarn.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The characters are so real to me that it’s hard to imagine them being played by anybody, although I do think Emilia Fox would make a great Rebecca, a slightly unhinged gothic novelist living alone on an island and singing into the sea for her lost husband.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Mousy scientist investigates the disappearance of her estranged gothic novelist mother and is drawn into the repeating cycle of stories of past generations, uncovering madness, terrible crimes and the legend of the selkies.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping it will be represented by an agency although I don’t have an agent yet.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I started it in 1998 and it’s almost finished. Hopefully the second, third and fourth drafts will be quicker! The reason it’s taken so long is because it’s taken years for me to develop my skills to a level that enables me to tell the story in the way I wanted. I’ve also written a lot of short stories and a PhD thesis since 1998 so I haven’t been slacking off!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I feel slightly embarrassed to compare my novel to such wonderful books but it’s a bit Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a bit The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve and a bit The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to write a story about Selkies, mythological creatures that are seals when in the water, shedding their skins on land to become humans. The legend is that fishermen would steal the skins of selkie women, forcing them to remain on land as their wives. I wanted to turn the mythology upside down and bring it into the modern day, with women acting as perpetrators as well as victims. For me, content should dictate form, and after a few false starts with a modular structure jumping between narrators,  I realised I needed to tell the story in a circular and concentric format, with texts embedded within other texts, working back in time and then forwards again.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a cross-dressing Selkie fisherman in it, and he’s really, really hot. Also, there is some really bad but fun poetry. I attribute the terrible poetry to the mad gothic novelist, but really it’s all mine.

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 -Matt Wingett

Rounding off the Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 author readings will be Matt Wingett.

Matt is a well-known local author, and many of his stories are set in and around Portsmouth. A number of Matt’s stories are available to buy on Amazon, and you can also find out more about Matt’s writing by checking out his website.

Matt will be reading at Southsea Library, Sunday 4th November, at 12.20.

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – Gareth Toms

Today’s penultimate performance in the Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 series of local author readings will be poet Gareth Toms, at Portsmouth Central Library, 12.20 pm.

Gareth is a regular performer of his poetry at local open mic events and recordings of some his readings can be found on YouTube. He is also a member of the Tongues and Grooves writing and performance group and you can read one of his poems on the Tongues and Grooves website.

Gareth’s poetry is refreshingly down to earth and completely unpretentious, so if you’re out and about in Portsmouth today, try to make it along.


Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – Andrew Bailey

Today’s Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 writer is poet Andrew Bailey, who will be performing at Southsea Library at 12.20 pm.

Andrew’s wonderful collection Zeal, was published this year by Enitharmon Press. He is also widely published online and in journals such as Ambit, Stand and Poetry Review. In 2005 Andrew won the Geoffrey Dearmer prize. He is also a playwright and a co-written play was well reviewed at both the Edinburgh Fringe and the Adelaide Festival.

Andrew’s performances come recommended (by me, no less!).

Andrew’s website contains more information and examples of his poetry.


Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – Zella Compton / Annie Kirby

It’s two for one day at Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12!

If you’re out and about in Southsea, your time would be well spent popping into the library to see Zella Compton reading from her recently published debut novel for young adults, The Ten Rules of Skimming. Zella is a freelance writer and editor and a columnist for Portsmouth News. Zella is a very engaging reader and she also has a rather lovely website which is well worth dipping into.

The other 20×12 reader today is, um, me. I’ll be reading my short story “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” from the Comma Press anthology BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research at Portsmouth Central Library. You can find out more about me and my writing by clicking on the links above, and specifically about my BioPunk story by clicking here.

Both readings are at 12.20 pm, so dust off your time machines…..

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – Richard Williams

Today’s Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 writer is local poet Richard Williams, who will be performing at Portsmouth Central Libray at 12.20 pm on 31st October 2012.

Richard has had over 80 poems  published in magazines such as Acumen, Envoi, Orbis, Ariadne’s Thread and Poetry Monthly, among others. He is also an active member of Tongues and Grooves, a Portsmouth based writing and performance group. Tongues and Grooves do amazing work and I strongly recommend you check out their website.

You can read one of Richard’s poems here.

If you are in the Portsmouth area this lunchtime, it would be well worth a few minutes of your time to pop into the library and check out Richard’s work.

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – Diana Bretherick

Diana Bretherick will be reading at 12.20 today at Portsmouth Central Library as part of the Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 free author readings.

Diana will be reading from her novel The City of Devils, a crime thriller set in 19th century Turin. The City of Devils won the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing competition and will be published by Orion Books in 2013. Kate Mills from Orion Books praised Diana as “a very exciting discovery,” and described City of Devils as “a terrific debut novel spiriting the reader back in time to the birth of forensic science in Turin at the turn of the nineteenth century. Diana explores this fascinating period with a thoroughly modern narrative, a suspenseful whodunit, and an excellent cast of characters and red herrings.” (Source:

You can find out more about Diana and her writing on her website:

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – James Schillemore

Today is officially the first Monday of British winter, so my recommendation is that you brighten up your lunch break with 12 minutes well spent at Portsmouth Central Library, where James Schillemore is today’s Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 writer.

James writes fiction for young people (age 9 and upwards) and his first book Off the Post should be available by the end of this year. James is a very engaging performer, so you really should try and get down there to see him read if you can. James’s reading commences as 12.20 pm.

James has his own website at


BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research

New anthologies from Comma Press are always exciting, but BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research is doubly so (for me, anyway), because my story “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” is in it.

BioPunk is the third and final anthology in Comma’s series of scientist-author collaborations and explores the ethical ramifications around innovative bio-medical research. Once I had agreed to get involved, I was sent a list of potential research areas nominated by the scientists. The concept was that each author would pick a research area, meet the scientist, learn as much as they could about the research and write a story that would then be checked for factual accuracy by the scientist. Each story would be published with an afterword from the scientist, explaining the science in more detail and grounding it in real research.

Once I had picked my research topic (which I’m not going to go into here, as it would spoil the story) I travelled up to Manchester to meet my scientist, Dr Nick Love. Nick made me very welcome and spent a day showing me around his lab and explaining his work. Nick may well be the most patient man on the planet when it comes to answering stupid questions and explaining cutting-edge research to someone who just scraped through her biology A-level. He had kindly prepared a couple of crib sheets for me, one of which used a lovely musical metaphor to explain part of the science, which I refined a bit and used in the final story. We also talked about ethics and I was struck by how reflective Nick was around these issues, and that he did not pretend there were any easy answers.

Writing “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” was challenging at times, as I tried to articulate complex scientific ideas in language that would keep non-scientific readers engaged, but would also accurately reflect the scientific reality. I also struggled with the ethical issues and agonised over how to address these in the story without sounding too preachy. But I also had a lot of fun writing this story, and I hope you have fun reading it too.

BioPunk: Stories from the Far Side of Research, ed. Ra Page (Comma Press, 2012) is published on 22 November 2012, in paperback and on Kindle. Follow this link below for additional information.

I will also be reading an abridged version of “Xenopus Rose-Tinted” in Portsmouth Central Library at 12.20 pm on Thursday 1st November 2012, as part of the Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 event.

Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 – William Sutton

William Sutton is performing at Southsea Library today at 12.20 as part of the Portsmouth Bookfest 20×12 series of readings.

Will is a fantastic performer and comes highly recommended (by me!)  As well as being a writer, Will is also an actor and a musician, so his readings are not to be missed.

Will published his historical mystery The Worms of Euston Square in 2006, and his new novel Maestro of Assassins, will be published next year.

Will has a great website which I urge you to check out.