Sunday, 23 February 2020

Playing with postcards, by Sue Purkiss

Many apologies, but I've had some unexpected edits to do this week, which have left me with no time to do a fresh post. So here's one I did earlier - two and a half years earlier...

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog somewhere - maybe even on here - about a new challenge a writer had set herself: she had decided to write a story on a postcard every day for a month. (At least, I think that was it; something along those lines, anyway.) Alongside this, for some time now I've been signed up to a delightful site called Postcards from Pembrokeshire. If you haven't seen this, do take a look. Artist Guy Manning (who I think is the partner of Eloise Williams, of this parish) has undertaken to do a postcard sized painting every day for a year of Pembrokeshire, where he lives. If you subscribe, you receive an email every day with his latest offering, and if you want, you can buy one. They're very lovely, especially, to my mind, the ones of the sea.

Now. I'm going to tell you a secret, which you must keep very, very quiet. All right? Not a word to a soul - not a word. It's this. Some writers - probably most writers - absolutely FIZZ with ideas. The only problem such writers have is deciding which idea to focus on. No sooner have they started one book than they're itching to start the next, and then the one after that.

But sadly, I'm not like that. When I have an idea, it sort of implants itself. It won't leave me alone. If I try to tell the story one way and it doesn't work, I'll prowl around like a bear with a sore head and eventually I'll try it another way. Sometimes I long to root it out and chuck it away, but no, there it is. I'm stuck with it. There's no other idea waiting to sprout - there's just the one.

My card box, with the cards I've 'done' so far.

Well, about a week ago I was, yet again, at the prowling-around-and-growling stage - when several things collided in the most useful way. First, along came the postcards - Guy's lovely pictures, and the idea of writing a story on a postcard. Next came flash fiction. I've never got into this before, but I had just been having a go at it with the writing class I teach. Next is my habit of buying a few postcards when I go somewhere. Sometimes they're landscapes, sometimes, from galleries and museums, they're reproductions of pictures or artefacts. I've amassed quite a lot.

And suddenly there it was - a brilliant way to challenge myself and get some ideas kick-started. Every day, I would aim to write something on the back of a postcard, inspired by the picture on the front. It might be a story, it might be a beginning, it might be a scene from the middle of a longer story - it might not even be a story at all!

And I'm absolutely loving it! Each postcard takes me somewhere utterly different. I've already learnt a lot more about shaping a story, and about knowing where to start it. Each day, I get to meet completely new characters - it's extraordinarily energising! I'm having ideas - lots of them! And it doesn't take very long, so there's still plenty of time to return to the work in progress. It's also rather nice to sit down at my desk and NOT open up my computer: I'm not distracted by Facebook and other goodies, and I'm not encumbered by the weight of my own expectations concerning ongoing work.

Here's one of them - I've typed it out below so that you can actually read it. I get about 250 words onto the back of each card. I allow myself to make one or two notes before I start, and if necessary to do a tiny bit of research, but not to let myself get bogged down.

It's such fun. You can write in a way you normally wouldn't; you can be a tad melodramatic, for instance. It's playing, it's allowed! What do you think?

This postcard came from a museum in Arromanches. It's a still from a film called Le Prix de la Liberte, and it shows a sky full of parachutes - the D-Day landings.

I imagined a woman, a collaborator. I've seen letters from such people, in Resistance museums: people who informed on their neighbours...


Simone Bachelot finished writing the letter and put it in an envelope. She didn't sign it, of course. It was anonymous, like all the others. So much for that silly girl who lived next door, with her noisy children and her constant men friends. She smiled to herself, and took a sip of mint tea. Oh, how she longed for some good coffee! This war had taken away so much.

But it had given a good deal, too. The chance to avenge herself on all those old classmates who had refused to be her friend, the young women who laughed at her shabby clothes, the baker who saved his best bread for others... oh yes, they'd be sorry! Were already, some of them, rotting in Gestapo cells no doubt - and serve them right.

She put on her coat ready to go to the post box. But when she opened the door, she saw an extraordinary sight. The sky was full of black shapes like mushrooms - parachutes! And how had she not heard that relentless drone - masses of Allied planes, like flocks of metal crows?

"No!" she whispered, as others danced and cheered in the street. "No! This wasn't meant to happen!"

An iron hand squeezed her cold heart. As she crumpled to the floor, her young neighbour rushed up to help. "Madame? Madame...?"



Saturday, 22 February 2020

What's Interesting About Your Work? - Heather Dyer


One of the best things about writing is that it’s a process of discovery. Even when you start off thinking that you know what you’re going to say, things tend to bubble up in the process that are unexpected. I suspect this is because our unconscious (the ‘great home of form’, as Dorothea Brande calls it) knows a lot more than we do – and this can surface during the writing process.


The following writing exercise is inspired by Edward do Bono’s ‘Positive, Negative and Interesting’ (PMI) exercise, from his book Thinking Course: Powerful Tools to Transform Your Thinking.


By asking yourself what you find ‘interesting’ about your story or subject, you push beyond what you already know, and dig deeper. What’s ‘interesting’ touches on the questions your book is raising. It takes you to your leading edge, your point of growth.

What's Interesting About Your Work?

Step 1
List at least ten things you think are good about your work-in-progress.

Step 2
List at least five things you’re worried about.

Note: These steps need to come first – it’s a way of putting aside what you already know about your WIP and priming the mind for unchartered territory. And you’ve got to put pen to paper; it’s in the process of writing that stuff arises.

Step 3
Step three requires a different sort of thinking: receptivity instead of critical analysis.

Sit back in your chair and ask yourself what you find interesting about this project – not what others might find interesting but what interests you, personally. Don’t be in a hurry to write anything down.

Hold the whole thing in your mind. Allow your mind to play across the scenes or sections and explore the periphery. See where your attention goes. Where does it rest? Wait, stay open, look deeper.

Gently probe any areas that present themselves. Consider what it is that interests you about this situation, character place, idea? What draws you in? What don’t you know? What might be beneath it all?

If something occurs to you, don’t write it down immediately. Stay open to other things – related or unrelated.

Step 4
Finally, freewrite for several minutes on one thing that arose.

By allowing your mind to hover over ‘interesting’ areas, you’re staying open to the grey zones, the unexplored regions. This is the growth zone, where new connections can be made.

I haven’t done this exercise with students yet, but when I tried it on my own work-in-progress I realized that the thing I’d assumed most interesting actually wasn’t – something else was. Developing this aspect further might also solve some of the things on my ‘worries’ list.

Another way of doing this exercise is to ask yourself, ‘What is it about this project that has really got me thinking?’  If you try this exercise yourself, I’d love to know how you found it.


Heather Dyer is a consultant in writing for children. She provides writing and publishing advice through The Literary ConsultancyThe Writers' Advice Centre for Children's Books, and privately. If you’re ready for feedback on your work-in-progress contact Heather at heatherdyerbooks@gmail.com

Heather’s children’s novel The Girl with the Broken Wing was one of Richard and Judy’s book club picks, and The Boy in the Biscuit Tin was nominated for a Galaxy Best British Children’s Book award. Heather also teaches creative writing for the University of the Creative Arts, and facilitates workshops in creative thinking techniques for creatives and academics.


Friday, 21 February 2020

Changing expectations

I am so sorry that I am so late posting today. I thought the 21st was tomorrow.

I was going to say something about expectations, and now I find I have another example to add - I have not met my own expectations about posting on time.

Recently I RT something from The Society of Authors about grants for published writers who needed help to complete a project.  I was a bit taken aback to have my RT immediately commented on, first by an unpublished writer commenting on how there was not enough help for people who weren't yet published,( a fair point in itself)  and then immediately following, the tweet which really got to me, by another person, ' Ah, so not designed for the writers who actually really need it then'.

AAGH


We all know that in too many cases, the expectations are that published writers do not need grants, and are greedy to want them, or indeed, payment for events etc. I tried to point out that in reality, published writers often struggle financially, and sometimes they are poorer after they are published than before, because they may have cut down or given up other paid work in order to meet publishers' deadlines etc.

So here, in case you didn't see my re- tweet, are the details about the grants.

https://www.societyofauthors.org/Grants/Grants-for-works-in-progress


I have been at  events for my books where I expected only a few people to come, and many more have turned up. I have also been at events for my books where only a few turned up! I have learnt to manage my expectations but the difference between how it looks online and the reality can be vast.

Signing books yesterday I had a lovely time. I had a long and fascinating chat to a bookseller about pet rats and their personalities. A lady from my village whom I had never met, had seen on facebook I was going to be signing books, and came into town to see me. She was really lovely and was wearing a beautiful bird brooch. She showed me  a stunning photo on her phone of a cloud shaped like a flamingo (I had told her my next book is about Flamingoes) and kindly bought my book 'The Snow Goose' for her grandchild in Canada, and I signed it. I then had a very interesting chat to a very bright 8 year old who showed me she could spell a word I can't even pronounce https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antidisestablishmentarianism (I also had to look the meaning up when I came home.)  She told me how much she liked Dr Who and Horror, she sat down at the table  in the bookshop and wrote me, there and then, an absolutely brilliant and dramatic beginning to a novel, we discussed the relative merits of happy and sad endings (she doesn't like happy endings, I do) I showed her my bird ear rings, a picture of the illustrator Rosie Butcher who has illustrated The Magical Kingdom Of Birds series, and she said how pretty Rosie was and what a good illustrator she was. She coloured in a sheet of Rosie's illustrations, she told me she had read the first of my series and very perceptively suggested the back story to one of the characters, a back story I am about to reveal in Book number 6! I realised, from her enthusiasm for Sci Fi and Horror and the fact that she was reading Philip Pullman, that she was very unlikely to buy any more of my series, but I adjusted my expectations of any sales and just enjoyed talking to a very engaging person who I told should definitely become a writer. Through all this time her lovely  younger sister had been colouring in a sheet too, and smiling, and not chatting as much, and then their mum came to pick them up, and bought one of my books for the younger sister, and I signed it, and she was very happy. By this point I had not expected to sell any books to that family, so that was lovely.  Two more children came and coloured in sheets but bought nothing.  My husband brought me tea and tiffin, I signed some more stock, and I went home. I had only sold two books in one hour but had had a lovely time, mainly because experience had taught me to manage my expectations before the event.

I am sure that I will sell many more books at different events, (I certainly hope so!) and that hour was definitely worth it for the lovely encounters I had. I know, from talking to other writers, that such an experience is entirely normal. However, I do wonder if those people complaining about the injustice and unnecessariness of Society of Authors' Grants to published writers, need to adjust their expectations of what a writer's life can truly be like!

Here is a picture of me wearing my bird earrings.


And the earrings themselves can be bought here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/385391878/superb-fairywren-earrings-bird-stud?ref=shop_home_active_122&frs=1

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Fair Isle February - Joan Lennon

I'm on Fair Isle, the UK's most remote inhabited island, for a month's writing residency.  And as part of that, I've had the pleasure of working with Fair Isle Primary School's 4 pupils, ranging from P3 to P7.  Last week we wrote short stories, and this week it's riddle poems, and both weeks it's been a delight.





I have been overwhelmed by sea and sky and weather and so many more colours than I can find words for.  









My brain is full of images.  I will be writing about this experience for many years to come!



Joan Lennon's blog.
Joan Lennon's YA novel Silver Skin 
(set in Orkney - at least it's close!)

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

I see dead people - by Lu Hersey

This is a post about exploring eerie settings, evoking an atmosphere and trying to describe the inexplicable in your writing. I did see a ghost once, but it's not entirely relevant, so I'll save it to the end.

Whether you're writing a ghost story, a book with an element of otherworldliness, folklore, magic, or anything spooky, your aim is to write something that will stay with children for years to come. I still remember the feeling I got from the reveal in Tom's Midnight Garden (an all time favourite) decades after I read it, and that's the kind of 'feel' I strive to achieve in my own writing.

For many years I worked for a publisher in Bristol that specialised in producing local non fiction books. One book I wrote (or wrote most of) for them was on the subject of local ghosts (ironically I was writing as a ghost writer - the credited authors were celebrity ghost hunters). Research involved visiting a number of haunted venues and interviewing people about their personal encounters with ghosts, and so I learnt quite a lot about the subject on the way.

If you want to spook your reader, it can really help to find an environment with the right kind of ambience. Direct experience of your setting is often key to unlocking a story, so put yourself in a suitably haunting place. When writing the ghost book, I discovered the most popular ghost hangouts include the following:

  • Castles. Castles ALWAYS seem to have ghosts. A visit to a castle can give you a real sense of eeriness. The musty smell, dark cellars, ancient tapestries and walls covered in portraits of dead relatives. Some, like Berkeley Castle, even have a history of regicide, and you can inspect the glory hole where they cast Edward II before killing him brutally (won't go into details, but you can easily find out), and a blood stain that can't be removed from the floor in one of the rooms. Many castles lie in ruins, and have a different feel, especially at dusk or on a gloomy day, when jackdaws squabble high on crumbling battlements. For the ghost book, I talked at length to one of the staff at Farleigh Hungerford Castle, who related all kinds of really hair-raising experiences she'd had (which sadly I wasn't allowed to include because the owners didn't want the castle getting a reputation - but the castle is open to the public, if you want to investigate yourself....)

  • Graveyards. Graveyards are wonderful. Gravestones can tell you so much about a location, and though cemeteries are generally peaceful places filled with the quiet (rather than unquiet) dead, they have very distinctive atmospheres, and you can pick up some excellent story ideas by simply visiting them. Many of the characters in my books have names I found on gravestones. I recommend Highgate Cemetery if you've never been, or Arnos Vale if you live near Bristol - but any graveyard surrounding any church in the country will have an atmosphere of its own.

  • Hotels. The number of haunted hotels around may surprise you - practically every town can boast at least one. Click here for a list of the seven of the reputedly most haunted hotels in Britain. There's nothing like a big hotel with too many rooms and winding corridors to give you nightmares, so maybe go and stay in one...


  • Asylums. Not so easy to visit, but there are places like Glenside in Bristol, now converted into a museum, that provide a chilling history of the appalling way we've treated people with mental health issues in the past. It's no wonder these places are so often reputed to be haunted. If you can't face a real life visit, you can find plenty of pictures of abandoned asylums online - just take a look at Pinterest. 

  • Old orphanages and former workhouses. Also places that tend to have terrible histories and are not easy to visit, though weirdly quite a few have now been converted into luxury apartments. Again, take a look online for images to give you the creepiest ideas.

  • Haunted houses. Believe it or not, some people actually WANT to live in a haunted house, so there are specific online property searches for the creepiest currently available on the market. If you're really keen, you could make the effort to view one, or just click here for a quick look.

  • Misty moorland. Folk tales abound with misty moorland settings - and there's nothing like a good mist to set your imagination free. It doesn't even have to be moorland. Sea mist, London fog - all kinds of things can be hidden out there. Next time there's a mist close to home, venture out in it for a while to find out how mist muffles sounds, and experience how very different everyday things can look. (But watch out for ghost dogs, obviously. You don't want to end up in Grimpen Mire.)


Even if you don't write ghost stories, it's worth experiencing the atmosphere of some of these spooky places. They can conjure strong emotions, and add spark to your writing. Who knows what new ideas will come to you?

So to finish - about the time I saw a dead man walking.

For 20 years, when my children were growing up, we lived in the same house. Across the street lived a very unpleasant old couple and their two nasty sons, who were both middle aged, unmarried, and had never left home. I referred to their house (the biggest by far in the road) as the Bates Motel. Fortunately my kids didn't get the reference until they were much older.

This family were challenging neighbours. Always starting disputes and goading others - including me. They flattened my car tyres on two separate occasions when I dared to disagree with them, and called the police on me when I confronted them about the 'anonymous' poison pen letters they posted through my door (the foul language, written all in capitals, shocked even me). The police told me I wasn't the first, but since I couldn't prove anything, it would be best to simply avoid them.

So I did. But of course I knew them well by sight and saw them in passing most days. They never spoke or acknowledged me (or anyone else) in the street unless they were sparking a new conflict. The old man had a strong, unwashed smell about him.

Anyway one day the old man had a heart attack and died, and it was the talk of the road. My neighbour Marlene had the decency to put a condolence card through their door, even though they'd constantly made racist remarks to her face and even to her two young children. The psycho sons tore up the card and posted it back through Marlene's letterbox.

Then about a week after he died, I was really surprised when the old man passed me on the pavement outside my house. No wonder they tore up Marlene's card I thought. He looked directly at me and said hello. He'd never said hello in all the years I'd lived there, and I was so surprised I said hello back.  I only realised afterwards, when neighbours assured me I couldn't have seen him as he was definitely dead (they'd seen the funeral hearse) - that there wasn't the usual smell about him. But he looked exactly the same as he always had, and it was broad daylight. Which is probably the least scary ghost story you've ever heard, but it's true. Direct sunlight, no mist, no castles, not even a spooky atmosphere.

In the end, all I can say is we may enjoy the eeriness of haunted places, and they may help us with our writing - but in reality, sometimes death improves people.


Lu Hersey
website luhersey.com
twitter @LuWrites

Monday, 17 February 2020

An attack of the adverbs by Tracy Darnton


Ah the joy of getting out the red pen! 




I taught a session to new writers on building up an editor’s toolkit this week. We thought about the ‘tics’ we all have as writers and the merits of a list of our overused words or bad habits - and how to employ the Find and Replace (I prefer Seek and Destroy) function in Word.


I issued red pens and everyone enjoyed ripping to pieces a page which I’d managed to cram full of problems with voice, pacing, tense etc as well as a healthy dose of typos and style errors.  It’s always easier to spot mistakes in other people’s writing than your own – and much more enjoyable to red-ink them. 


Get out that red pen yourself and slash and burn your way through my Attack of the Adverbs exercise below. Think about how adverbs can weaken a meaning or make the whole section annoyingly tentative and wishy-washy, but also how that might be exactly what’s required for characterisation or effect. 


“Well, as always, it’s basically down to you and the sort of style you truly want to achieve but it’s also kind of a useful exercise somehow. Suddenly your writing might seem really tight or indeed it might just appear somewhat bare. It’s utterly your choice,” the editor pleaded defiantly.



And now do the opposite. Use your red pen to add to this writing which is very tight (or bare, depending on your point of view):



“It’s up to you,” said the editor.



Somewhere between the two you might find your sweet spot. We’re making these stylistic choices in every sentence we write. So fish out your red pen and analyse your own prose once in a while and notice the choices you make.

And don’t get me started on speech tags …




Tracy Darnton is the author of The Truth About Lies. Her next novel, The Rules, is based on her short story in I'll Be Home for Christmas. She has an MA in Writing for Young People and a wide selection of red pens.






Sunday, 16 February 2020

Writers in their Landscape by Steve Gladwin


My Interview with Sue Purkiss

Over the next few months and basically as long as there are people to involve, I will be conducting a series of interviews on the theme of 'Writers on their Landscape', (basically what is says on the tin. Over the next few months you can expect authors as varied as Kit Berry and Stonewylde, Scott Telek and the first few books of his massive new Arthurian saga, Elen Caldecott on her exciting new novel, The Short Knife, and John Dickinson on his own trilogy.

Before we begin our wanderings with Sue Purkiss, however, I'd just like to make clear, as I hope is clear in this interview, that landscape is merely a stepping off point for the authorial musings of many things, and that there are many varieties of landscape to me found, whether it be the created landscape of Stonewylde, Sue's own views on the landscapes of home, birth and fiction, here in this interview, or both the outer and inner landscapes of Arthurian fiction in Scott's work. I hope you enjoy them all. And without more ado, here's my interview with Sue Purkiss.


Now, Sue,  as you know, this is the first in a new ongoing series of interviews with writers which has the loose title ‘Writers in their Landscape’. I’d just like to begin by saying that you’re one of the people I might call the facebook snappers. You have this in common with our March interviewee, Kit Berry, and others in that you seem to take genuine delight in just in taking but also in your sharing photos – and I’m sure it’s not just to show off your photography skills!

Having said that, you clearly have some skill in it, as well as a love for it. So perhaps you could tell us how photography started for you and perhaps what your first picture was, if you can remember it?

My mother had a black photograph album filled with small photos from a box camera, which she’d kept since she was a teenager. I used to love looking through it, and I think that’s probably where my interest in photography began. When I was about twelve, I saved up and bought my first camera. It was from Boots and it was called a Koroll 11. I don’t remember what my first picture was – maybe it was of our dog, Whisky, who was a rather grumpy West Highland White terrier. I’ve been taking pictures ever since.

Now this is something I’m going to ask people to do every month. I know you live in Somerset and indeed we first me in the English office at Kings of Wessex school in Cheddar. However, I have no idea where you were born. So, could you please describe the place of your birth to us as if you were looking at it. You can tell us where you are at the beginning, or after if you prefer.

I’m in Cotmanhay, which is a sort of suburb of Ilkeston, a former mining town in Derbyshire near the Nottinghamshire border. I’m looking at our house, which is on a council estate. The streets are all named after Derbyshire beauty spots – Beauvale Drive, Monsall Avenue, and so on, but it’s not in truth a very beautiful place. Our garden is lovely, though: Mum is an excellent gardener. Round the back she grows chrysants, very carefully. Sometimes she even shows them.


Cotmanhay Farm Estate, with the primary school I went to in the centre.

So, Sue, we’ve established where home was, but is it a place or area that has given you much in the way of inspiration.

So far, I haven’t used the area I’m from in my writing very much – although it does form the background to the first part of a book I’ve been working on for a while. It’s based on my father’s experiences as a prisoner of war, so in that case, it’s fairly incidental – the setting, unusually for me, wasn’t part of the inspiration.

What is clear is that Somerset and all its contrasting landscapes, from the levels and the marshes of Athelney, or the Mendips where you live, has inspired two of your books,  Warrior King and The Willow Man. Does Somerset have a particular magic, do you think, or perhaps several different kinds?


I think Somerset is a very magical county. It has several quite distinct landscapes. I live on the Mendips, and I’ve always thought I preferred hilly countryside. But there’s something very special about the Levels. They can be quite eerie, specially when a blanket of mist settles close to the ground, and the tops of the trees float above it like disembodied wraiths. The Willow Man is set mostly in Bridgwater, but the characters are, in different ways, seeking to be free of the situations they’re in; and I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but maybe the references to the willows on the levels, and the climactic scene on Brean Down, reference my own feelings – that the countryside represents freedom, and cities are places where you feel trapped.



The evocatively named Avalon Marshes, on the Somerset Levels.

Of course, people experience different landscapes throughout their life, whereas others remain forever in love with the place or area they started. Do you think you have a particular favourite type of landscape, Are you more at home in woods than mountains, or whatever?

I like open hillsides, with heather and gorse. And I love the sea – perhaps partly because I was brought up about as far away from it as you can get in this country.


On the Mendips.

Your most recent book, Jack Fortune and the Hidden Valley, which my partner and I thoroughly enjoyed, I would describe as a good old-fashioned yarn. But it also has real heart in it and a central constantly developing relationship. All this however is enhanced by Jack’s actual travels with his uncle, to begin with just in the Himalayas, and later with Jack’s solo venture into the hidden valley in search of the fabled blue rhododendron. Are you a frustrated Himalayan explorer?

Well, kind of. But, like Jack, I’m not good with heights. I’d definitely rather write about mountains than climb them. But I am fascinated by them.

Now it’s time for our next bit of landscape visualisation. Could you describe the hidden valley for us and Jack looking into it? I’m sure no-one will notice if you cheat and use the book!

One of the best things about the valley is the contrast between the approach, which involves snowy precipices and a terrifying ice bridge, and the valley itself, which is sheltered and full of glorious rhododendrons – white, scarlet, lemon, purple – and perhaps even the elusive blue one which Jack and his uncle have come so far, and gone through so much, to find.

And in total contrast we have the eerie, and potentially deadly marshes of Athelney, where King Alfred and the hero of your book, Warrior King, his rather amazing daughter, Aethelflaed go pretty much underground in full knowledge that the next battle might be their last. I have some knowledge of that area, as I used to live on the levels for three years. It’s a very specific area, isn’t it – a bit like the Norfolk Broads have come to Somerset! I can imagine your wanting to write about Aethelflaed as a character, but having the levels as a background must also have been tempting.


On the original Isle of Athelney, reading Warrior King to a group of school children.

 Yes, Warrior King, of course, is about Alfred the Great and his daughter Aethelflaed, and he had close ties to this part of Wessex. I first became interested in him when I went to Athelney one day, where he took refuge in the marshes, and I realised that the landscape I was looking at was not very different to the one he would have seen. There were lots of other atmospheric places associated with him too – an important battle took place near Wayland’s Smithy in Oxfordshire, and another near Eddington – Ethandun – in Wiltshire. Interestingly, there are white horses carved in the hillsides in both those places.

Can you tell us about any other landscapes you have used in your books and what specific qualities they might have? And are there any tricks for writing about or creating a landscape and making it feel real?

I used Axbridge, the next village to Cheddar, as the background to my first book about a school for ghosts. And the classroom was based on one in the first school – a lovely old room with a beamed ceiling. I’ve written short stories set in Brittany and Seville. As for making it real – the easiest way to do that is to describe a place you know, especially if it’s the sort of place that gets under your skin. If I’m writing about a place I don’t know, I use photographs, diaries, books – anything. I need to be able to ‘see’ it.

So will Jack Fortune be exploring again? Can you give us a clue where he’s going and why you picked it?

Well, he might. And if he does, he may well venture across the Atlantic…

Finally, is there anywhere left you’d still like to write about?

Lots of places!

Thanks, Sue, for sharing all your favourite landscapes.

Absolutely my pleasure!