Land of the One Armed Motorist

Being Britalian

Italian drivers’ always get a bad press; growing up in the UK  they were portrayed as speeding motorists constantly beeping horns and tailgating. This stereotype, in part is correct. Tailgating seems to be the favourite pastime of the large 4×4 drivers in our rural community. The horn beeping isn’t as voracious as that in old black and white films of Rome, the reason being that a decade or so ago before you could overtake another car you had to sound your horn, this practice has now since been abolished and so beeping is down to a minimum.

One thing that does amaze me is the vast numbers of one-armed motorists: I’m not suggesting there’s been a spate of accidents with chainsaws during the olive harvest or that there’s a problem with congenital defects in the area. The reason for this one-armed driving is because the Italian population has become permanently…

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Mess and the Creative Process


Messy room 2

Time to face the mess in my office, I began. There was too much to take everything down and start from scratch. If I did, books, papers  and ornaments threatened to migrate to the hall, the bedrooms and possibly even down the stairs, so the process started  with one shelf at a time.

Now this is where things become very strange. However much you throw away, when you begin to put things back there is less room than before. Where once everything had its place, now nothing seems to fit. What has happened to the space you had before? Where has it gone? Maybe one day someone will find the answers to this question.

Of course one solution to the problem is throw everything out and work in a minimalist space. There are times when this appeals, or rather there are seconds in my life where this idea has some minimal appeal, because basically I like/need my things around me.

Every object has a story. Every book, photo, piece of paper is important. Some bring back memories, others spark ideas, nothing is here without purpose, everything has been chosen.

Very much like writing. Out of the mess of images, ideas and inspirations; the notes jotted down, the story lines explored comes the first draft of the book, story or play.

Malcolm Havard: Guest Post.

Tim's photo
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

I am a self-employed surveyor/researcher. I have flitted between working in academia and industry over the last 20 years, finally settling on my current working pattern around 8 years ago. I have never felt comfortable in a conventional job so having a portfolio of different things to do really suits me, however I also chose it to give me more flexibility to write. I was finishing off my first (terrible) novel at the time I made the switch and being self-employed gave me the opportunity to get it over the line. Since then I have got into the habit of treating writing as both recreation and a weird sort of work that I can justify dropping into most days. I have published four novels and a collection of short stories so far. My novels are The Last Mountain a thriller that explores human failings and ambition, Contrail, a 1950s aviation/spy story, Touched, a romantic supernatural story and The First Book of Gabriel, a Pratchett-like satirical comic novel.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I came into creative writing from writing academic works and text books. In 1999-2001 I found myself having to write three huge projects, my PhD thesis (140,000 words) and two text books of 50,000 and 130,000 words. The first was written in formal, academic language, the latter two for knowledgeable but non-academic audiences. By the end of the process I had both got into the habit of fitting writing 3-5000 words into a normal working day and to pitching my output at different levels for different people. I found I had the urge to write more – in fact I couldn’t stop! – and to carry on the trajectory and write fiction for a much wider readership. The volume issue has, therefore, never been a problem, after the text books, 1000-1500 words of fiction is easy. The latter, writing fiction for a wide audience is much harder, it’s a craft that, 8 years later I am still learning!

  • What genres do you write?
  • Too many! I have written thrillers and supernatural romances but am probably settling on two that I prefer most of all, satirical comedy and historical fiction.
  • Why do you write under different genre?
  • I have very wide interests and I think this is reflected in what I enjoy writing. I would also get very bored if I did the same thing time-after-time.
  • Do you get the same readers for both genres? If not, in what ways do you think they are different?
  • No, I get very different readers, which is an issue and underlines why I should specialise in just one or two. An author needs to build up a following and it is easier to do this if the author is not chopping and changing all the time.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?
  • I love the outdoors, walking, running, camping, kayaking and skiing. Walking and running certainly helps me to work out plots and characters. I also travel a fair bit with work and this helps me to observe and to write whilst travelling or waiting to go somewhere. There is something special about writing in a public place, and it’s where I’ve done some of my best work.
  •  What is at the root of your current book/story?I have tried something adventurous with the structure because it is essentially not one novel but two. One half is a conventional third person book with the story told through a handful of viewpoints and has normal length chapters. This, conventional, part is wrapped around and forms the top and tail to the eleven days itself, which is told in close third person from the viewpoint of one of my characters as he is thrown into the maelstrom of Bloody April and is told on a day-by-day basis. My intention is to trap the reader in the story and give them no rest and no relief, just as my character has no escape from his duty. Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried but would like to?
  • Do you have a different persona/name for each genre?
  • No
  • What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
  • Listen to criticism. Even as an experienced writer our own view of our work is too narrow, and our position too close to our words and characters to be truly critical. I had done a lot of writing before I joined the Renegades but I have improved beyond measure by trying to listen to the criticism given to me over the last 3 years. It can be hard, it’s sometimes painful, it’s easy to become over-defensive, but it is invaluable.
  • Is there any genre you’d like to try?
  • I would like to have a proper go at Sci-fi. I’ve dabbled before and I’ve got some great ideas but, on the other hand, I already have written in too many genres!
  • Tell us more about what you are working on .
  • The novel is called Eleven Days and the first draft should be complete in the next few weeks.
  • I am getting towards the end of the longest, most complex and, in some ways, most challenging novel I have ever written. The root is a short story, The Chivalry of the Air that went into the WW1 collection I co-wrote with Jem Shaw, It Never Was Worthwhile. I have a great interest in the Great War and early aviation and I wanted to do a story that captured both the nobility of some of the participants but also the great brutality and lack of humanity that was sometimes required. I read it, like most of the others, to The Renegade Writers group that meets weekly in Newcastle and got a very mixed reaction – many were shocked at what my narrator did at the end of the story! I knew almost immediately that there was a great tale to tell beyond the short story and that I would have to make it into a novel. I think most people thought I was going to tell the story that led up to the act of brutality in the short story but, in fact, I tell the story of the aftermath, which I think is more interesting. Also going forwards in the timeline from the original story enabled me to have one of my characters go through ‘Bloody April’ in 1917, one of the most traumatic times for the Royal Flying Corp when around a third of their total force was lost in just a few weeks.
  • Do you ever like to brainstorm ideas?
  • Yes I share my life with another writer Nic Hale and we frequently share plots and ideas with each other. It really helps.
  • Pitch your latest book to the world at large in 100 words.
  • Eleven Days is set in a past conflict but it tackles issues that are relevant today. One theme is a country’s need for heroes, how they are created and how the truth about what they did is often incidental to the myth that is created around them. My novel also explores the horror of war and how it changes those who endure it, what they need to do to survive and succeed, and how the impact of war affects not only the direct participants but also everyone around them long after combatant has come home.
  • What’s the most important thing you have learned about writing?
  • Editing. I love creation, plotting, world building and character development. I hate editing. It’s horrid. But very necessary
  • Do you have a writing routine?
  • Yes, I write from 8-9am most weekday mornings. I try and leave the previous section from the day before unfinished but knowing where it is going and what bits I have to add in to complete it. That means I don’t have to think much to get started, I am already in the flow before I reach a difficult bit
  • Research a joy or a chore?
  • .A way of life. I find research fun, though I rarely have to specifically research something, it’s more that I know I’d like to write about something and read around it. Often this can be years in advance of actually writing. An exception was The Last Mountain where I needed to research high altitude medical issues prior to the main write. I was pleased how little of the research I actually used – that may seem an odd line but I did not want fall into the common trap of ‘having my research showing’, a temptation that affects too many authors to include as much research as possible given how hard it is to obtain in the first place!
  • Naming characters: do you choose, or do the names come fully formed?
  • They do generally choose themselves. This frequently leads me into problems with characters with names that are too similar – Eleven Days’ two leading female characters are currently called Annie and Alice! The names as they are suit my characters, it will be hard to change one.
  • What are you currently reading?
    Letters From A Lost Generation: First World War Letters of Vera Brittain and Four Friends I really should have read this before I started Eleven Days, but it is a deeply moving book, particularly when you know the fate of the four friends referred to in the title.
  • @malhavardwriter


Mel Sherratt : Guest Blog

Mel - Sentinel
Thanks Mel for agreeing to write a guest blog. Mel is someone I greatly admire. Not only has she made it in the  horrendously difficult world of publishing, but she is always ready to give a helping hand to other writers.

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve been a published author for four years now, but I’ve been writing since I was a child in some form or other. I started writing short stories in my teens (never getting any published, though!) and then I started trying to write a book. My first novel, ‘Stirred with Love,’ under my pen name Marcie Steele was penned in 1999.

I tried for twelve years to get a publishing deal, writing several novels that went into my bottom drawer. Then I decided to self-publish and thankfully that worked.

Since then, I’ve written lots more books. Under my own name, I write psychological crime thrillers. I’m just about to start writing book number twelve.

What genres do you write?

I write in several – psychological suspense, part police procedural/part psychological thriller, crime dramas and contemporary women’s fiction.

Why do you write under different genre?

The original women’s fiction novels that I wrote were self-published under the name of Marcie Steele and did incredibly well. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone my pen name but recently they have been republished by Bookouture, along with a completely new one, which is out in April this year. As well as that, there was a story I always wanted to write, which didn’t fit into either genre so that, ‘Watching over You,’ is a standalone psychological thriller.

In a nutshell, the reason for writing in different genres, was one of trying to get a book deal in the first instance. Now I have an audience I can write more of what I want to write, which is psychological crime dramas.

As I was reading authors such as Marian Keyes, Lisa Jewell and Adele Parks when I first started to write, it was a natural progression to write women’s fiction. But after I began to work as a housing officer for the local authority, as well as watching TV program, Shameless, my writing became a litte darker in places and I wrote The Estate Series, which is a cross between women’s fiction and crime thriller. After having no success getting that published the traditional way, I wrote a police procedural, set in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent and luckily that took off, so I turned that into a series too.

Do you get the same readers for both genres? If not, in what ways do you think they are different?

Of the readers who come and chat to me on social media, a lot of them have read me as both Marcie and Mel, which is very flattering. As well, women and men read me in both genres. I think it’s more a question of what a particular reader enjoys in the first instance. If they enjoy reading both crime and romance, readers might like each genre.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?

At the moment, with any fledgling business, I don’t have much spare time as I’m busy wirting, marketing and promoting. As I like to interact with my readers, with social media being 24/7, I almost feel like I’m on call. Apart from reading, which is great escapism, I go on breaks away or take time away from my desk. Not nearly enough, I hasten to add, but I try to chill out and switch off. Surprisingly this is the best time for me to find new ideas.

What is at the root of your current book/story?

I’m always writing one and editing another. The one I’m currently writing, book twelve, I’m not allowed to talk about yet… details haven’t been released. The other one is my third Marcie Steele book, and the root of that is people are sometimes not who they seem. We’re still finalising the title on that one.

Is there any genre or style of writing you haven’t tried but would like to?

I’d like to write young adult. I love writing stroppy teenage characters.

Your work space: chaos or calm?

Calm, unless I’m on a deadline. Then everything gets pushed to one side and I have a good tidy up afterwards.

Pitch your latest book to the world at large in 100 words.

‘Written in the Scars’

After years of living as a single parent, all Donna Adams longs for is someone to make her smile, to share hopes and dreams with.

Home from the army, Lewis is a changed man. Angry and consumed by grief, troubled by nightmares and flashbacks, his mind is worse now than ever.

Megan Cooper hides her scars for fear of being rejected.

Mary Marshall can’t always remember how she got hers.

If the past could be erased to make a better future, we’d all want that, wouldn’t we? But life is never that easy for the residents of The Mitchell Estate…

Do you have music playing when you write?

No, I have to write in silence. I can edit with anything on in the background, though.

Romance: Pride and Prejudice or Fifty Shades?

Neither. I prefer a good rom com. There’s nothing like a good old belly laugh.

What is the oddest fact you have ever unearthed when researching a book?

Gross alert – that DNA can be found in vomit. I had to check as it was found near a body… the answer is yes.

What are you currently reading?

‘The Girl You Lost’ – Kathryn Croft

Do your allow your characters to ever take over the plot?

Always. I get my best twists that way.

What/when was the first piece of fiction you wrote? And what happened to it? (Be honest now!)

I wrote 1000 words love stories for a magazine called… Love Stories. I didn’t have any accepted, although I did get a message back with one, saying ‘nearly there, keep going.’ I didn’t.

Mel Sherratt writes gritty crime dramas, psychological suspense and fiction with a punch – or grit-lit, as she call it. Shortlisted for the prestigious CWA (Crime Writer’s Association) Dagger in Library Award 2014, her inspiration comes from authors such as Martina Cole, Lynda la Plante, Mandasue Heller and Elizabeth Haynes. She also writes contemporary fiction under the name of Marcie Steele.


Mel lives in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire with her husband and terrier, Dexter (named after the TV serial killer) and makes liberal use of her hometown as a backdrop for some of her books.



Latest book – ‘Written in the Scars’:

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