Capturing Your Voice

Young Frankenstein

Voice. It’s a slippery devil – I’ve been talking about how to capture it on Notes From The Slushpile


Protecting Wonderful Author,  Fiona Dunbar’s Modesty: Conf 2010

The annual SCBWI British Isles conference is open for booking and I didn’t hesitate before signing up. I’ve hardly missed one in years – in fact I’ve been trying to remember if I’ve missed one. Sadly, no one has helpfully produced a list  so I can’t tick them off.

I think my first was in 2004. I have a vague memory of one the year before but  no actual evidence.  In those days, writers held a seperate event to illustrators but it was still held in Winchester – different building same calibre of amazing sspeakers. Malorie Blackman was the keynote that year and her warmth and honesty were such an inspiration to me. I have an image of her wafting a sheaf of rejection letters in her hand but I think she probably drew that image with her words and it just stuck, in all its comforting glory.

Quote from Malorie Blackman ( don't give up_

No picture of Malorie Blackman but this Inspiring Message!

Malorie Blackman had rejection letters? Malorie Blackman?

Jeremy Strong spoke of his determination to get published and Julia Donaldson brought her guitar. She may not have


With Giant of Children’s Fiction Philip Ardagh Conf 2010

done. I’m a writer, I make stuff up without even realising. There were editors and writing lecturers and I SUCKED the day up like a vampire. I went away alive with the possibility that, I too would one day be published. I just needed to learn what I could, keep writing and not give up. It’s all there in my file from 2004. Along with the thick wad of rejection letters.

Actually, it’s a very thick wad of rejection letters. I may have to excuse myself for a minute to make some tea…

Okay, feeling better…

So, what did the conference do for me?

Why am I going again this year. I’ve got my publishing deal now, why bother?

Because every time I’ve attended, I’ve come away with improved:

  • Skills
  • Friendships
  • Contacts
  • Inspiration
  • Tenacity

With The Completely Fabulous Frank Cottrell Boyce Conf 2012

Those are the building blocks of your writing career. And as SCBWI has grown, so too have the ranks of published authors and nearly published writers and illustrators within it. There is a new Pulse strand that I’ve booked for – how to do school visits and a debut de-brief session. Plus four keynote speakers – the hilarious double act of Sarah Macintyre and Philip Reeve; Jonny Duddle and David Fickling.

There are:

Fringe events – mass critiquing!

1-2-1 sessions with publishing professionals


And a fantastic pirate themed party on Saturday night to celebrate all our new launching books for 2014!

To say I’m looking forward to it is a tiny understatement.  Have you booked your place? Well, what are you waiting for?

Conference Header

Still not convinced?  Here’s my impression of 2011 conference , a write up of a picture book session from 2012’s conference, another on Lin Olivers Writing Comedy Session from 2012  and my gushing over excitement after 2010.


A few weeks ago I was contacted on Facebook by an old friend from my sixth form drama days. He was gathering ex-students for a reunion and would I like to come?

Errr, no, not really.

I have a terrible memory for faces and names. I’d embarrass myself not knowing anyone. Most people wouldn’t know me either as I was one of the first to study at the newly formed Portsmouth Sixth College – I’d cross over with very few of the year groups. Besides, I’d kept in touch with everyone I wanted to.

What a liar. I definitely hadn’t kept in touch with ANYONE I wanted to and most especially, somewhere along the river of life,  two very important people had drifted off. My first love and the teacher who changed my life. I gave myself a kick.

Fear is never a good enough reason to avoid something. Unless it’s putting your head in the path of an oncoming truck, then it’s probably best to go with your instincts.


Russell, so full of sparkle he could light up a Christmas tree.

‘Is Russell going?’ I asked – a loaded question in so many ways. Russell, my first true love. Who had left me for Mark,  the boy now organising the reunion. Let’s face it, ours was a doomed relationship if ever there was one – he was a gay male and I was a girl.  The desperate, knee hugging agony I’d endured when we split has fed into every break-up scene I’ve written since. It pained me that Russell and I were no longer in touch – we’d somehow remained friends  and I couldn’t understand why he stopped returning my calls soon after we’d left college.

‘Ahh,’ Mark said, ‘You don’t know about Russell.’

My heart dropped to my feet.

I think I last saw Russell in 1988 – he was working as a carer for a girl with access problems at Manchester Uni and I’d gone to stay with him. We’d had fun. Awkwardly shared his single bed for the lack of anywhere else to sleep but you know, it was fine, we were friends. And then he was gone. Didn’t reply to letters, didn’t answer the phone. I could have tracked him down at his Mum’s but I didn’t. If he couldn’t be bothered, then why should I? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Russell had contracted HIV. In those days there were no anti-retroviral drugs, no understanding of viral load counts. HIV developed into AIDS and AIDS was a killer laced with tabloid induced fear and  shame. The beautiful, funny, stubborn, complex young man who, for a short while,  had been everything to me, had died and I didn’t even know.

So no, Russell wasn’t going to be at the reunion, but someone else was.

James P. McCarthy. The teacher who changed my life.

James P Mccarthy and Kath Hodgkiss as I was known in them days.

James P Mccarthy and Me

It’s not a myth, some teachers really do that. Jim came along when I was half way through my A-levels. I was full of smug satisfaction with my work, no clue that I was heading for failure. Until he chuckled ( I didn’t say he was tactful) and said,

‘But this is rubbish, you can’t write an essay, has no one ever shown you how?’

In the space of a year, Jim dragged me through both my English and my Theatre Studies A level – we’ll not mention the maths, he was never going to be much help with that one. As the end of the year approached, he asked me what universities I was applying to.

I think I laughed.

Kids like me didn’t go to university.

‘But’, he said, gripping my arm, ‘You must.’

And I knew I must.

So I applied and four out of five turned me down in one day. I ran about 4 miles to Jim’s house in the rain, across a dark graveyard, where I twisted my ankle and had to climb over a wall to get out the other side. I sat wetly in his kitchen, sobbing and eating toast until I felt better.

I was eventually offered a place at Birmingham poly  but, thanks to Jim,  my grades were better than I’d hoped.  After a bit of dithering, and a lot of nudging from him, I went to Bangor University. Those years were the foundation for pretty much everything I’ve ever done. Who knows if I’d even be writing now if it weren’t for him?

He gave me confidence and skills and ambition.

And I discovered something at the reunion. I wasn’t the only one. The room was full of us. Teachers, theatre practitioners, lecturers, charity workers, singers ( every Thursday John Dilloway, I’ll be checking) –  warm, wonderful people with one man in common. A man that, after nearly thirty years, remembered every single one of us.


One Man and His Brood

Good teachers are the foundation of good society.

James P Mccarthy you’re the best.

My seminal role darlings...from Sunset Over Chicago, 'There's only one Glenda Berkely'.

My seminal role darlings…from Sunset Over Chicago, ‘There’s only one Glenda Berkely’.

For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to the news with mounting despair and been afraid to really speak out about the refugee crisis. I mean REALLY speak out, here, on my own blog. We employ a lot of migrant workers on our farm and I get into quite a few difficult discussions about it from people who really have no idea what they’re talking about.

Continue Reading »

I picked up the Manifesto on How To Be Interesting, and then Am I Normal Yet because I wanted to read a few more Usborne YA books and get to know the neighbours.

One more reason to love my publisher.

Holly Bourne is my kind of writer – honest and playful and prepared to dig deep. Right now, she’s my new favourite. There are actual tears in this review.

I’m a new girl at this publishing lark. And a not very cool one at that. I get quite giddy and gushy and over excited at all manner of things. Understanding this about myself, I observe what the great and the good say and do in order to inform my own behaviour – I don’t want to look like a twit,do I? Continue Reading »

A little follow up to my previous post. Bristy the photographer, who loves to tell a story as much as I do,  suggested this shot and I was horrified – tear up a book? An actual book? Never. And then I remembered, I’d bought a copy of 50 Shades of Grey.  I honestly tried to read it – THREE TIMES. Gave up every time. The world is full of these books – it wouldn’t miss one…what fun we had!




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