Wednesday, 22 June 2022

My Big Book of TRANSPORT, written by Moira Butterfield and illustrated by Bryony Clarkson

 This wonderful handsome big hardback book is exactly what it says it is; a big book of transport. From trucks to tractors, cars to cranes, moving day to mending roads, and a good old 'Plug for the Planet' cheer for electric vehicles, here are thirty colourful, fun spreads full of interest.

My not quite two year old grandson loves this book, but I can imagine children well into primary school age getting absorbed, having fun, and learning lots. It even gives you a chance to drive a tractor!

And there's so much more ....! 

Monday, 20 June 2022

Non-fiction - A Dance or a Poem? by Joan Lennon

A while back, I posted a blog here on how writing non-fiction is a bit like a dance. But lately, as I get further on in my non-fiction writing career*, I've started to think it's maybe more like a poem. In a poem every word has to work hard. You have to pare everything down and say what you're trying to say in as tight, concise and vivid a way as you possibly can. There are boundaries. Constraints.

Wordsworth wrote a lot - there's no arguing about that - and not everything he wrote was perfection on a stick. But in amongst the pearls and the not-so-pearls is a poem about the constraints of writing a sonnet, which begins 'Nuns fret not':

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Ever since I first read that poem many, many decades ago, I have OFTEN muttered the words 'Nuns fret not' followed by 'I bet they bleep bleep bleep do!' I have never been a nun but, sonnets or not, writers ALWAYS work within constraints. Fret as much as you like, it's still going to be the case. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction - if my experience is anything to go on, we're unlikely to suffer from too much liberty. 

And I'm sure that's a good thing. 


Talking History: 150 Years of Speakers and Speeches written by Joan Haig and Joan Lennon, illustrated by Andre Ducci.

Or, if you prefer your non-fiction in Spanish, Hablemos de Historia: Discursos Que Cambiaron el Mundo, translated by Victoria Porro.

*The book I'm working on now is only the second children's non-fiction I've ever been involved with - does that count as a career? Am I speaking with admirable self-affirming positivity, or just jinxing myself? Time will tell ...

Joan Lennon website
Joan Lennon Instagram

Sunday, 19 June 2022

'Gone From My Sight' by Henry van Dyke - posted by Joan Haig


‘Gone From My Sight’, by Henry van Dyke*


I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,

spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts

for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck

of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.


Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me—not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"

there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices

ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"


And that is dying...        



*The origin of this poem has been contested and authorship is sometimes attributed to Luther Beecher.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

What happens when you press the panic button - by Lu Hersey

 A problem (admittedly a luxury one) came up this week because I have a book coming out.  On 21 June, to be precise. 

Not having had a book out in a while, I swanned about, thinking I had plenty of time to get all my book promotion ducks in a row. (Which simply meant arranging a couple of events where I could blow my own trumpet - invite a load of people to a launch and a book signing maybe, and hope a few of them might show up.) Easy enough, you'd think.

But sometimes things don't work out smoothly, the way you imagined. Stuff gets in the way.  And you start to panic.

Firstly, a holiday. Yes, I know. Another luxury problem. But not having had one for a couple of years, thanks to the pandemic, I hadn't remembered the dates. So a holiday in Cornwall, booked long ago, happened to coincide with the week immediately before the book launch. 

Also, I'd somehow forgotten about the Glastonbury festival - again because there hasn't been one for the last couple of years. I live in Glastonbury. The festival means a couple of weeks a year when trying to get in and out of town is a pigging nightmare. Just when my event books were due to arrive.  At my house. While I was in Cornwall.

Meanwhile, my 95 year old father needed a cataract operation, which had been postponed from January and rescheduled, so I abandoned everything to look after him for a few days. Which would have been fine, except that immediately after his op, he tripped over a kerb, fell flat on the pavement, and managed to pump out more than enough blood for a slasher horror movie over Plymouth city centre. Obviously I ended up looking after him for a few days more. And still not sorting the problem. 

I was starting to lose sleep. After a few nights of waking at 5am, wondering if it was too early or too late for a cup of tea, I thought maybe taking up smoking might help. 

Throughout this time, social media and all the junk emails I get from writing organisations, the bookseller etc., were busy shouting about the millions of books being published right now. Book awards, book launches - books, books and more books. 

Light dawned. 

What on earth I was worrying about? There are more new books out every week than anyone could possibly read in a blooming lifetime. So who would give a flying squirrel about mine? I hadn't even told anyone about the launch or the book signing, because I hadn't had time. In fact I hadn't said much about the book at all. So despite thinking the bookshop would probably never speak to me again....

I cancelled.  

I held my breath for a second in case the world exploded. Of course it didn't. What actually happened was the bookshop simply offered sympathy and asked if I wanted to reschedule. Because basically all bookshop people, librarians and writers are the best type of human beings.

However, there's one event I haven't cancelled. I'd actually arranged it at a sensible time, and organised it before anything else. I'm doing a book signing at the Henge Shop in Avebury on July 30th, the Saturday immediately before Lughnasadh or Lammas. It's the area where the book is set - and around the right date.  I'll be there all day, so if you happen to fancy a visit to Avebury and Silbury Hill, do come and say hello. It's an inspirational landscape, regardless of whether you want to buy a book or not.

And despite blowing out the book launch, Broken Ground is out 21 June, available to order from the publisher, via a bookshop or library, or even Amazon. It has a really nice cover, thanks to Rhi Wynter, and hopefully it's an exciting read, if a little dark. After all, Lughnasadh is grain harvest time, and the story is loosely based on the John Barleycorn myth - and we all know what fate held in store for him...

So that's what happened when I pressed the panic button. I didn't need to take up smoking. The world didn't end. And like I said, no one but me gave a flying squirrel anyway...

Lu Hersey

Friday, 17 June 2022

Feeding the machine by Tracy Darnton

I'm about to go on holiday in Cornwall. I should be ramming piles of unread books into bags right now. 

We'll be staying in the same cottage on the Roseland Peninsula that we last visited in September 2020 when I was struggling with my WIP and wrote this blog  I'd realised that all that 2020 brought us had really messed with my head and powers of concentration. The usual way I had of ramming images and experiences into my brain, pressing go and waiting for stories to come out had malfunctioned. My output was stalled. 

I needed to see the creeks and beaches, harbour towns and gorgeous holiday homes that I wanted as settings and hoped that 'seeing' and 'feeling' the book would spur me on. Well, Reader, it must have worked because Ready or Not, came out last month. Teenager Kat goes missing during a game of hide-and-seek at a party on holiday in Cornwall. 

So next week, I'm going to sit on the beach and take a moment to reflect that I got through that sticky patch with the book, maybe I'll even treat myself to a celebratory ice cream. If I can do it with that one, I can find a way through with the current WIP. The more books I write, the more I realise that there isn't a magic formula* for how to do this. I can only do my best and not beat myself up. 

In that blog, I said I needed cultural top ups to feed the creative part of my brain. I'm sharing some pictures from the things I've done lately to do just that. I no longer take any of these activities for granted. I hope one might spark a story for me, or any of you.

(*If there is a magic formula, please let me have it.)

Historical time travel adventure set in the Roman Empire 
(the Newt)

A YA set at a busy festival?
An author mysteriously murdered in the Kids Lit tent ?
(Boney M at Wychwood)

How about a cosy crime plot packed with innuendo?
(Much Ado About Murder - Heartbreak Productions)

What world is beyond the gate?
(Corsham Court workshops)

A procession of unusual exhibits comes alive?
(Tate Britain with a writers' group)

Tracy Darnton is the author of YA thrillers Ready or Not, The Rules and The Truth About Lies. She really needs a holiday... You can follow Tracy on Instagram and Twitter @TracyDarnton

Thursday, 16 June 2022

The Ideas Factory

As I approach the publication of my second children’s book (cue humble plug: The Mermaid Call), I’m being asked to go back to the beginning and pin down my inspiration for the novel. So long in the writing and editing, I sometimes find I have to stop to think about a book’s origin, to recall what exactly formed the idea for a story.

The Mermaid Call cover and themes

It’s probably one of the most common questions a writer can get asked: Where do you get your ideas from? (Alongside, how many have you sold? Best to ignore that one.)

So, where indeed? 

Gah, story ideas, they can be slippery creatures, full of fool’s gold and emperor’s new clothes. In the same way The Supremes found you can’t hurry love, I’ve discovered you can’t rush an idea. Like love, ideas tease, play hard to get, disappoint you. And when you finally find ‘the one’ idea you love, beware: writing the story can ruin the relationship.

In the past, I would relish some time in my ideas factory. I’d book time off work; fresh pad, fresh coffee; fresh-faced. I’m ready, brain, show me your best. And nothing. Nada. Not a nugget. I soon came to realise that - like my cat - story ideas won’t come when they’re called.

Why? (the story idea not the cat)

My theory is this. The core threads of any story idea already exist in your mind, lurking there like spectres, unseen but shadowy. To knit these threads together into a potential story idea is a process that often requires a random spark. An external source, from the banal to the unusual, that sets alight the fuse, gathers those elusive spectres together and presents you with: THE PERFECT STORY IDEA. Or something nearly like that (N.B. see above, writing can ruin the relationship).

Back to The Mermaid Call (2nd humble plug) and its origin – I can clearly recall said spark. It was a visit to a shell grotto at a charity open garden; this magical outside space that was plastered floor to ceiling with all kinds of shells. 

Shells in a shell grotto

I stood there in wonder and - without warning - the fuse lit in my cerebral cave, spotlighting disparate threads around my brain. Threads that had previously been swimming solo; threads that had no idea they could synchronise to form a story idea. They included:

  • My love of a good legend, mermaids particularly, and the stores of tales I’ve collected
  • Growing up with the pressures to be pretty and being different
  • The Lake District and Matlock Spa, close to my heart, and settings that both combine stunning scenery with the fun of seaside attractions, but inland!
  • The Suffragettes and their campaigns 
  • A childhood fascination with the mystery of Loch Ness monster – real or not?
  • My teenage hatred for my very curly hair and how it seemed to set me apart
  • Gender stereotypes I’ve watched my children and others continue to endure
  • The tragedy of Andersen’s Little Mermaid 

Threads that, for whatever reason, wouldn't present themselves together in the Ideas Factory. I needed that spark to unite them. A spark that went from the wonder of a shell grotto...

... to a mystical queen conch shell

... to village tourism 

... to a lake mermaid myth 

... to hair that doesn't fit 

... to young entrepreneurial Suffragettes

... to a secret diary and a missing girl

... to real-life monsters

... to personal truths.

-        Course, I still continue to make regular trips to my Ideas Factory on my days off; why not: fresh pad, fresh coffee (less fresh-faced these days), there’s a lot to love about a creative brainstorm. But I also try (I say, try) and practice patience, to wait for the spark that might light up those lurking spectral threads. In the meantime, I'll remind myself to keep filling the well, with interesting people and places and objects - because who knows what, where or when that spark will set the threads a-spinning?

      Alex Cotter’s middle-grade novel THE MERMAID CALL will be published with Nosy Crow on 7 July 2022. Her previous novel, THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE, came out in July 2021. Find her at or on Twitter: @AlexFCotter

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

On Scrivener and muppetry - by Rowena House

A problem that afflicted my debut novel, The Goose Road, is rearing its head again with the C17th witch trial work-in-progress: how to remember good ideas when the research notebooks are toppling over on the bedside table, and the folder marked ‘synopses’ bytes deep into your memory store?

For example, I’ve just discovered that I’d written about this spring’s great plotting epiphany – that the A-plot is actually Historical Crime fiction. Yay! At last! I know its genre! – back in July 2020 here on ABBA.


To try to stop this happening again, I’ve decided to take the plunge and learn Scrivener.

The theory is that having everything together in one package should – should – make things harder to lose. Which just got more urgent. Because...

As part of a creative writing PhD, I have for two years been writing about the slow, stuttering creative act of developing an historical novel as it happens in real-time. These ABBA posts are part of this process: monthly snapshots of an aspect of the story’s emergence.

One discovery I’ve made is that each issue only becomes explicit and understandable once I’ve written about it, i.e. the act of writing turns information into knowledge, to borrow a phrase.

Initially, these analyses were intended largely to help the story along and provide evidence of my creative practice for the reflective part of the PhD. Lately, though, that has seemed a limited ambition.

Rather than bury this knowledge in an academic thesis, why not craft it into something practical? Like a book.

Now, therefore, there are three mutually-dependent projects going on: a novel in development; research for an academic thesis; and writing a craft memoir. AKA three opportunities to forget important stuff.

Time to get organised.

Years ago a SCBWI friend, Amelia Mansfield, gave me an excellent tutorial on Scrivener, for which I’m still very grateful. [Our Scooby SW meet-ups in Exeter were great!] Amelia’s enthusiasm for this software was enough to persuade me it would be worthwhile taking the time to learn it – one day.

But one day always felt like procrastination – until I started forgetting stuff like genre: a failing too dumb to ignore. Not only does forgetting waste precious time, which is unforgivable, it also risks making the story less than it could have been (see below for a confession).

Taking time now to get the organisational side right will, I’m sure, pay off in the end, just as it was worthwhile not writing for five months this year in order to plan the story properly.

Fortunately, Scrivener’s online video tutorials are good, better than the non-in-house versions I’d tried on YouTube, and more intuitive than text-based instructions (and that’s from a written word addict).

Each video is tightly focussed, well-structured and short enough to watch repeatedly, which is handy since the narrator speaks too quickly for me to take notes, even in short-hand, which is a hassle when you rely on note-taking to cement understanding and improve memorisation.

Here’s a link to the core concepts tutorial in case you, too, are considering taking the plunge.

While the introduction tutorial claims to be enough to get started, I felt more comfortable about the system’s basic functions after watching four or five different tutorials a couple of times, especially the one about importing files.

There will, no doubt, be technical hiccups aplenty. 

Transferring a scene-by-scene synopsis from MS Word onto Scrivener’s e-cards looks likely to be labour intensive, and I’m not clear how these cards will link to the manuscript panel before any text is written, but hopefully it will make sense in the doing.

Colour-coding and sorting these cards on a digital corkboard certainly looks fun.

Accessing multiple files also looks simpler on Scrivener than in MS Word, with a split-screen mode allowing a research file – external pages, character biographies, photos, maps, etc. – to open alongside the manuscript, plus scene synopses and notes.

Many/most of you can probably do this already, but my dated version of MS Office overlays or minimizes files if I have more than two open.

Another plus for Scrivener is the types of file it should allow into research folders, including documents, photos, videos and Wikipedia entries. It will be interesting to see if services like British History Online open in Scrivener, too, and whether academic publishers let you link to their sites as well. [Any hints in this regard most welcome.]

So there we go. It's goodbye to the old, hello to a new digital home for the WIP. Having struggled for a year to get new words onto the page, I’m hoping that by this time next year – the creative gods willing – a full first draft of the story will be sitting in one of three bulging Scrivener folders.

Fingers crossed!

And happy writing.


Rowena House Author on Facebook for more about the work-in-progress for lots about The Good Road

@HouseRowena on Twitter for anything that catches my eye

PS, that confession. For The Goose Road, I developed several detailed synopses for the Walker edit, one of which I lost it until after the book was printed. When I stumbled across it, it read better – and got Angelique onto her quest quicker – than the published version. Muppet.