How Music Can Help You Write

A lot of fiction writers find music a real distraction when writing, but here’s why I find it a real help…

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INSPIRATION: The Death of a Tree

My family tree is in a poor state. Over the years, and every so often, I attempt to revive it. I pull my gloves on – you need gloves with my tree – and rummage through the sparse leaves, searching for a promising new bud or some forgotten fruit. Instead, I pull out clothes manglers, salt miners and poachers…

Aah, yes, the poachers. Two great-great (and maybe another great or two) uncles, Matthias and William, nice young lads but hungry, who were caught and hanged in a notorious case at the time. You can read about it here if you like that sort of thing.

Anyway, I started thinking about the people who could trace every inch of their heavily- laden branches. The people who have dates and photos and paintings and diaries going back centuries. What must it be like to be so aware of where you came from? To live with the weight of their own tree?

This is part of a little novelette I’m writing…

Megundra sml


My brother, Tam, was born when I was already two. We were close in age, but he was born a boy and I was not. His official title was Tamerathen, Prince of the Five Towers. One day, when he was crowned, he would be King Tamerathen X, the tenth of his name. When I wanted to annoy him, which was most of the time, I called him Number Ten.

“Dinner’s ready, Number Ten.”

Or: “You could grow turnips behind those ears, Number Ten.” This, always, in front of his friends.

At sixteen he was taller than me. More handsome than I would ever be pretty. He had a sweet nature, and a way with people and animals that I did not have. He would make the best of kings – a hundred times better than my father – and I would be proud to serve him. But, until that time came, it was best he didn’t know that.

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INSPIRATION: Lottie’s Minefield

Eadweard Muybridge (he changed his name several times to come up with that) not only killed his wife’s lover, but also came up with the first ever motion photography. ‘The Horse in Motion’ was achieved by setting up a number of cameras along a distance to take photographs when the horse triggered a series of tripwires.

Horse in Motion


On Monday morning, Lottie walked into a minefield. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t even know it was there. But once in, she got so far and couldn’t turn back. If she turned back there would be even more explosions. Explosions that would ricochet through her whole life. And she wouldn’t be the only casualty.

Mum suggested it.

“Call Uncle Milo,” she said,” I don’t know why you’re so precious about it. He changed your nappies when you were tiny. He gave you your first taste of orange juice – you shuddered so hard when you swallowed it and then wanted more.”

“He’d feel obliged,” Lottie argued, “And I hate for people to feel obliged.”

“Take, take, take!” Her mum insisted, “If you don’t take for yourself, you’ll get nothing and end up like Helena.”

Helena was Lottie’s older – much older-sister. Helena lived in a one bedroom flat with three cats and a poster of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. Helena had a solitary job. She reshelved books at the British Library after hours. She lived in a world of silence. Except for incessant meowing.

Lottie thought about Helena and how their lives were different, and how their lives were the same. They both loved vanilla more than chocolate, and the smell of mown grass more than flowers. But that’s pretty much where the similarities ended.

When he came round, Uncle Milo was so very nice. He said ‘of course’ a lot, and ‘well, I do owe you, Maggie’. All of this to Lottie’s mother who had decided to do the taking on Lottie’s behalf, lest she end up with two useless daughters. Lottie sat, quietly thanking and nodding in the corner. She became so fixated on Uncle Milo changing her nappy that she almost missed the final planning.

A one week course from Monday 18th September. Greenwich School of Film. Accommodation and meals provided. Fee of £4,865 waived for Lottie. Of course.

Afterwards, Lottie’s mother washed the teacups and pressed her finger onto the biscuit plate to capture the crumbs and suck them up.

“You know how amazing this is?” she said.


“He’s one of the best.”

And he was. Milo Lorenzo. Film Director of 25 years. Winner of a Palm d’Or in 1998, an Oscar in 2001, and three Baftas in some other years that Lottie couldn’t quite remember.

“Don’t let me down, Lottie.”

“I… I’ll try not to.”


And so Uncle Milo felt obliged. And so Lottie walked into the minefield. Completely unprotected.

INSPIRATION: Doris and Albert Escape from the Moon

The Great Moon Hoax of 1836. Published in the New York Sun, six stories told of life on the moon, including hairy bat-winged aliens and nude moon maidens, as supposedly seen by astronomer John  Herschel through his telescope. At the time, many people believed the stories to be true. (Artist: Leopoldo Galluzzo)
Life on the MoonINSPIRED

Doris and Albert Urquhart are centre left. Can you see them? Today, Doris is wearing her favourite primrose dress, but it is too tight in the waist to allow for anything more than shallow breathing. Albert, a Primate Keeper at London Zoo, shakes a stick at a hairy alien, fearing that Doris will be abducted and turned into a nude moon maiden.

Albert is eager to escape the moon and all its bizarre inhabitants, and keen to show off his new exhibit. (He plans to put the alien creature next to the Mandrills). This could be the making of him. He will perform tests on the exhibit, and write scientific papers for pompous journals. Maybe his father will finally forgive him for abandoning the family business, ‘Urquhart’s Urinals’.

Doris is strangely turned on by the alien, and quite fancies being a moon maiden, but only if she is allowed to keep her petticoat on. In the weeks they were there, she became quite fond of the moon, and the sight of the earth, so small in the distance. She is not looking forward to returning to her humdrum existence in Basingstoke, where the highlight of her life was the brief-but-beautiful arrival of the handsome butcher’s boy on a Wednesday. She wonders, just for a moment… if she jumped out of the moon boat, would the alien catch her or leave her to fall to her death?

She grips the sides. Begins to lift her knee. The wind catches and lifts her primrose bonnet, and it sails on an updraught, into the blue. Albert, watching it, misses the sudden decision his wife makes. The last he sees of Doris are the curled ends of her dark hair, writhing in the breeze as she falls… and is gone.