Sunday, 12 November 2017

Where have I been?

Getting ready to start teaching
 at Oxford University
Summer School for Adults
It’s a while since I last blogged so this is a round-up of what was going on and advance notification of what is coming up!

Summers equate with creative writing teaching: no sooner had I finished running a part time course for Oxford University during the spring, but I taught at Winchester Writers’ Festival where my subject was the power of point of view, then two summer schools on two different programmes for Oxford University. This was my fifteenth  year at OUSSA and my fourth at the OUDCE Creative Writing summer school at Exeter College.

As ever, I was blown away by the quality of work I was assessing and hearing. I loved meeting my students and hearing their stories. Summer schools bring together the most extraordinary mix of nationalities, backgrounds, life experiences and writing dreams.

With lovely tutor and writer
Judy Waite, at Winchester Writers' Festival
By mid-August I was just desperate for a holiday, though! I hadn’t had a break since our holiday in Cornwall in early spring. But before I could relish any down-time, I had to face tasks I had been putting off for months – nay, years! I moved my website host, I created an opt-in PDF, I learned how to use Convertkit and moved my mailing lists to it, I got all the elements talking to one another!

Before we left for our holiday in France in September, I set up my new website landing page. I felt tired but pretty damned chuffed. What would be a walk in the park to some people was like climbing Everest to me, but I had done it – I had got that far.

Roussillon, Provence
We went back to Provence, which we had visited last year. And oh, it was still gorgeous. For two weeks I genuinely unwound and it did me a power of good. I even wrote something!

Back home, I soon got all wound up again. Life has been full on since then. I have been editing, mainly, for long-term clients. I’ve also been the co-ordinating judge of the short story competition Writers in Oxford has been running for young Oxfordshire writers. Now, our choices have been made and sent to Philip Pullman, our head judge. The prizes will be announced next week at the Writers in Oxford 25th Anniversary party, held in conjunction with the Society of Authors.
Being interviewed at Radio Oxford
to publicise Writers in Oxford's
Young Oxfordshire Writer competition

And what about the website, you may ask?

Ah. Ahem … a work in progress still, but progress is being made!

Well, do go and visit: you can download my free PDF on leading a productive writing life!

In other news, I got published!

More of that in my next post too …

Download your free guide to launching a productive writing life by visiting the website here

Thursday, 6 July 2017

History on the Doorstep - author Clare Flynn and the inspiration for The Chalky Sea

Today I'm welcoming Clare Flynn to Literascribe. Clare has just published her fifth novel, The Chalky Sea, set during World War II, and I invited her to tell me how she drew on local knowledge and local history when she wrote it. The result is a fascinating article, reminding us that we often don't know the details even of the recent past, in the places familiar to us. If you're a writer and you choose an exotic location, you're all set to research it thoroughly, whether in person or on the internet. But even if you're writing about home, you need to look at it with a fresh eye and delve into records and old images - you will be amazed by what you turn up, as Clare proves here!

I recently moved to Eastbourne, on the Sussex coast. I lived here as a teenager and because I love the sea and the Downs decided to move back after twenty years in London. I get very cross when people have a go at Eastbourne – describing it as “God’s waiting room” and the like. Someone reviewing my novel Kurinji Flowers referred to the fact that the main character honeymoons here in the 1930s with the comment “I suppose someone has to”. There is so much more to this town as I quickly discovered.

During my school days in the late sixties/ early seventies, no one spoke of Eastbourne’s pivotal role in the Second World War. It was as if the town had put its past behind it and wanted to focus on the present. So it was a big surprise when I moved back and discovered that it was said to have been the most heavily bombed town in south-east England.

Walking the streets the evidence was there – I just hadn’t noticed it. There is the ugly 1960s extension tacked onto the Victorian Cavendish Hotel on the seafront, built to replace the original east wing bombed in May 1942; the Central Library is a modern building, opened in 1964 to replace the red brick structure that was destroyed in 1943 and there are post war buildings to replace Marks & Spencers – bombed while people were doing their Christmas shopping in December 1942, Barclays Bank (1943), and the central fire station (1943), St John’s church, Christ Church junior school, to name but a few – as well as four hundred and seventy four houses. For years I had walked unknowingly past an unmarked spot, where a blast shelter sustained a direct hit, killing everyone inside during a raid that across the town centre claimed thirty-two lives with ninety-nine injured.

One hundred and ninety-nine people died in the bombing raids on Eastbourne – one hundred and seventy-two of them ordinary civilians. The raids began in July 1940 and continued until the last bombs fell in March 1944. As well as being bombed out of their homes, the townspeople endured being strafed in the streets by machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers. The early raids were doubtless to soften up the town ahead of Hitler’s planned invasion, Operation Sea Lion, which was expected to take place along the Sussex coast. But the bombing didn’t stop when the invasion was called off. Eastbourne suffered from bombs dumped on the return leg from London and the Midlands but, being just a short hop across the Channel, it was subjected to “tip and run” raids with bombers coming in low under the radar then, as they reached the coast, climbing up over Beachy Head to the Downs, banking and swooping down to attack the town before nipping back across the Channel. These attacks were not aimed at strategic targets – there were none – they were designed to cause terror and damage morale.

Another factor that may have made the town a target, especially in the run-up to the catastrophic allied Dieppe raid, was the presence, from 1941, of thousands of Canadian soldiers until the D-Day preparations of 1944. They were essentially the allies’ reserve army and thus an attractive target for the enemy.

The town also witnessed the loss of German life. The first “kill” over Eastbourne of a German fighter plane happened at the end of my road. A twin-engine Messerschmitt Me110 was shot down and crashed into the grounds of the Aldro School – now part of Brighton University’s Eastbourne campus. The pilot, Hauptmann Ernst Hollekamp, already dead, landed on the roof of another school half a mile away, while the rear gunner parachuted into the sea and drowned. For years, the people of Eastbourne believed the crashed plane to have been a Henkel bomber until the pilot’s widow visited the town and confirmed he had flown a Messerschmitt.

With the heavy bombardment of Eastbourne, which began a month before the London Blitz, the vast majority of the population evacuated, so that the local MP described the place as “Ghost Town on Sea”. The arrival of the Canadian army must have been welcome to the pubs, cafes and retailers who remained open throughout the war.

With all this history on my doorstep, it was impossible to resist the idea of setting a book here. It was not in the plan when I moved, but within two months of arriving I had started writing The Chalky Sea. The book is set mostly in Eastbourne, but also in Aldershot, where numerous Canadian regiments were garrisoned throughout the war years, and a little bit in Ontario, Canada.

The challenge in writing fiction based on actual events is to be respectful to those involved while also being accurate. It is probable that relatives of victims of the bombings still live in the town. I have used real bombings, but all the characters involved are completely fictitious. I have tried to ensure that I stuck closely to the dates and places that were actually bombed, beginning with the first attack on the town in Whitley Road at 11.04 on July 7th 1940 – a Sunday morning. If people die in the book, then people actually died in that raid at the time. Sadly with so many raids there was no need for invention.

The book follows two main characters – Gwen, an Eastbourne woman, alone and refusing to evacuate the town after the departure of her officer husband to an unknown destination for what we now know as Special Operations; and Jim, a young Canadian farmer, who joins up in a fatalistic effort to escape from a broken heart. The Chalky Sea follows their individual journeys and examines the impact of war on them and how it changes them profoundly.

Clare Flynn writes historical fiction with a strong sense of time and place and compelling characters. Her books often deal with characters who are displaced - forced out of their comfortable lives and familiar surroundings. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature.

Born in Liverpool she is the eldest of five children. After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she writes full-time – and can look out of her window and see the sea.

When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel - sometimes under the guise of research.


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Triskele book launch: the power of writing communities to create connection, promotion, celebration

Jill Marsh and Catriona Troth
of Triskele Books
We’re stronger together

Phew! As I look back at June, I wonder what happened – it went by in the blink of an eye. What I want to do with this post is celebrate the power of friendship in this often challenging world (see the heading above this paragraph). Whether we’re writers or readers – or, indeed, both - it’s an absolute joy to make connections and discoveries, to support and celebrate one another’s successes.

Alison Morton, Antoine Vanner,
Anita Chapman and you know who
My June started with a book launch in London on the 3rd, at The English Restaurant in Spitalfields. An amazing group of writers got together to send their books out into the world. After my rather hermit-like winter it was good to see so many old friends all gathered together.

The party had been organised by the Triskele book collective (see my blogpost on the last launch of theirs I attended). A nicer, more professional, more sickeningly productive bunch of women you are not likely to meet!

Jane Dixon-Smith aka JD Smith
Here’s the list of their new books:

JJ Marsh was launching the last in her successful Beatrice Stubbs series of crime novels, Bad Apples.
Gillian Hamer – the latest in her Gold Detectives series set in Wales, Sacred Lake.
JD Smith – The Rebel Queen is the fourth in her series about Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (exotic or what? Who could resist such names?)
Liza Perrat – who sadly could not be with us on the day – was launching her suspense novel, The Silent Kookaburra
Gillian Hamer

Jessica Bell
Plus, the Triskelites had invited two more writers to join the launch. Alison Morton had just published Retalio, the latest in her Roma Nova series of alternate history thrillers, which have been a huge success. Jessica Bell was launching her powerful memoir, Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel.

Every single book looked absolutely gorgeous, with excellent production values and brilliant covers. 

Readers, we had a ball! Catriona Troth very ably compered a series of readings and interviews, there was fizzy wine, lots of food, and the chance to meet other friends again – Roz Morris, Rohan Quine, Clare Flynn, Glynis Smy, Anita Chapman, Jane Davis, Helene Halme, Antoine Vanner, Debbie Young (who had just published her latest, the brilliantly named Best Murder in Show), Carol Cooper and Karen Inglis - plus Jessica Bell’s amazing mother, musician Erika Bach.
Erika and Jessica

After such an afternoon of fun on a very hot London afternoon, I took the train home and came back to earth heavily when I heard the London Bridge terrorist attack had just taken place, so the end of the day was spent checking Facebook to make sure everyone was OK and texting my son to make sure he hadn’t been in the area (he wasn’t – but he had been just 22 hours earlier …)

It was a salutary reminder of the preciousness of friendship and of celebrations on warm, free summer days, of the freedom to write what we want and share it. Let’s cherish it all.

Glynis Smy and Clare Flynn
I’ll be blogging again soon about this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival, but in the meantime, Clare Flynn will be guesting on Literascribe tomorrow, talking about her fifth novel, The Chalky Sea, an exciting wartime drama – don’t miss it!

You can visit the Triskele website and their blog here, Alison Morton's amazing Roma Nova website here and Jessica Bell's multi-dextrous website here. Is there nothing these people can't do?!

Ros Morris

Saturday, 24 June 2017

IGISIRI books for May 2017 - what were your reads?

(Photo © Lorna Fergusson)
It's a measure of my life that I'm posting my IGISIRI reads for May when we're coming up to the end of June! This will be a very quick post - next time I'll be posting about Winchester Writers' Festival and the Triskele book launch I attended this month. In the meantime, here we go:

Both my May IGISIRIs are poetry books -

Poems that Make Grown Women Cry, edited by Antony Holden and Ben Holden (Simon and Schuster).
This collection is named to match the earlier collection Poems that Make Grown Men Cry. I have to say I find both titles irritating, as if an emotional response is something to be wrung out of us in spite of ourselves and our adult status. Poetry is more than a sob-fest, anyway. So my advice is ignore the titles and relish the range of poems and, what is more, the short essays written by the contributors describing why they chose the poems they did. Their reasons are both moving and enlightening, sometimes sending you back with new insights to a poem you thought over-familiar. And if no other poem does make you cry, Claire Tomalin's choice will: it's a poem written by her daughter, Susanna Tomalin. 'It is a poem of farewell, clearly stating her intention to be gone.' As I have lost someone from my life too, who wished to be gone, the last verse of this calm, lovely and resolute poem in particular broke my heart.

Alice Oswald, Falling Awake (Jonathan Cape)
Poetry is all about perception and expression of that perception. I bought this book after standing entranced in a shop, reading the first few poems. All too often with modern poetry I feel shut out by the knowingness of it, the archness, the deliberate obscurity or awkwardness. Here I felt that sense of revelatory recognition you should feel when the poet pounces, captures, holds up to the light, the thing, the sense, the perception. It's a blend of the familiar and the utterly refreshed - something I have always loved in metaphysical poetry when poets like Herbert and Donne dazzle with a swift piercing image, like an arrow thocking into the bullseye. Oswald's title poem, written in rhyming couplets, has the deceptive simplicity of a poem by George Herbert, her poem Swan has a fairy tale quality like Angela Carter as the dead swan lifts from the 'plane-crash mess of her wings', the 'clean china serving-dish of a breast bone' and her 'black feet/lying poised in their slippers.'

Poetry is never well-served in reviews, I feel, by short quotations. Somehow the spell of all is lost - so I highly recommend you take up these books and make your way through them, putting them down at intervals to absorb the beauty or the power of what you've just read.

[What is IGISIRI? remember, IGISIRI means 'I've Got It, So I'll Read It!' and it's a simple project where you read two books each month, books already on your bookshelves. You choose them quickly and without too much consideration. And you read them. That's all there is to it! I'd be delighted to hear about your latest reads. You can comment here on the blog or on my Facebook pages, LornaFergussonAuthor and Fictionfire.]

IGISIRIs for April 2017 here: March here; the campaign introduced here.

Friday, 12 May 2017

IGISIRI books for April 2017 - what were your reads?

Here I am with my latest IGISIRI update: remember, IGISIRI means 'I've Got It, So I'll Read It!' and it's a simple project where you read two books each month, books already on your bookshelves. You choose them quickly and without too much consideration. And you read them. That's all there is to it!

For the past two months I managed four books off my TBR pile each month, not two, and last week I was enjoying the first break I've had this year down in Cornwall, so I was armed with several paperbacks and my trusty Kindle. The irony is, I didn't read as much as I expected in April. First, I was up to the wire finishing a client's edit and report before I left. Secondly, Cornwall is just so lovely (as you'll see from the photo here!) I spent far more time gazing at the sea and going out for great meals than reading...

Anyway, here's the latest IGISIRIs for me - and as usual, I'd be delighted to hear about your latest reads. You can comment here on the blog or on my Facebook pages, LornaFergussonAuthor and Fictionfire.

Remember, I list my latest reads briefly here - I'm not writing lengthy reviews.

Two thrillers, this month, then:

J J Marsh, Raw Material - this is one of the Beatrice Stubbs series of novels. I'd read one before (Tread Softly) and certainly intend to read the whole series. Pacy, witty, quirky, yet dealing with dark topics - human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Great use of location. You won't meet anyone else quite like Beatrice in other detective stories! I read it in two sittings - I love J J Marsh's writing.

Tess Gerritsen: Playing with Fire - longterm readers of Literascribe will know she's one of my favourite thriller writers and a lovely person too (I met her several years ago). This is one of her standalone novels, rather than one in the Rizzoli and Isles series. Here she starts with what looks like a kind of Exorcist situation, with an innocent-seeming child and a strangely powerful piece of music. What unfolds is a historical tragedy with a powerful moral message. Extremely moving.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

IGISIRI books for March 2017 - what were your reads?

A reminder that I'll be teaching at
Winchester Writers' Festival in June.
 Bookings are now open
 so visit the website for details.
In February I told you about my IGISIRI campaign and I hope you were interested enough to start your own! If you remember, IGISIRI stands for 'I've Got It So I'll Read It' and the simple concept is that you read two books a month, two books you already own and are selected quickly and without too much thought or dithering from the many many I know are sitting on your bookshelves. If they're anything like mine, they reproach you silently every time you scan those shelves. 'Read me, read me!' they plaintively call ...

So here, slightly late, are my ISIGIRIs for March (it's not my intention to write full reviews here - just record them and draw your attention to them in case they might interest you):

Jessica Bell: The Book - a novella written in several different voices, at the heart of which is a troubled child. Compelling in its satire of relationships and the lies we tell ourselves, with a very moving ending.

Clare Flynn: A Greater World - a damn good historical read, mainly set in Australia after World War 1. A classic search for self and love against a very well realised backdrop.

Kathleen Winter: Boundless - a poetic account of being writer in residence on board a ship travelling through the North West Passage. Fascinating blend of history, travelogue and introspection.

Marcus Ferrar: The Fight for Freedom - a lucid summary of how various kinds of freedom have been worth struggling for over more than two thousand years of civilisation.

As you'll see, instead of two books, I give you four! That's the remarkable thing - in saying I only read two I seem to facilitate the ability to read more than that.

I hope you'll join me and share your recent IGISIRIs
- you can do so by commenting on this post or by visiting my Facebook pages, Lorna Fergusson Author and Fictionfire-Inspiration-for-Writers.

You can see my introductory post about IGISIRIs and the books I read in January here.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Twelve free books too good to miss

Time has almost run out but until midnight on 28th February you can take your pick of any or all of these twelve amazing reads, simply by visiting!

I've got together with eleven other women writers in an experiment in co-promotion of our stories. It has been a revelation to work this way, where we can pool our resources and talents to improve our chances of discoverability. We're hoping to increase our lists of subscribers and develop that relationship between writers and their readers that's so important to us. After all, we write to be read!

Let me introduce you in this video.

If you visit the landing page you can download any or all of the books, in return for subscribing to the author's mailing list (and you can unsubscribe later, of course, if you want!).

Here are the twelve books, including with my own An Oxford Vengeance:

I hope you'll enjoy these reads and for those of you who are writers, I'll report back on how this sort of promotional activity has worked - or not - for me!

Remember, you can always sign up for my newsletters at and and you can follow me on Facebook at LornaFergussonAuthor and at Fictionfire-inspiration-for-writers!