Saturday, 24 November 2018


It’s a truth universally acknowledged that short story writing is a fantastic way for would-be novelists to perfect their craft.
For years I ignored this wisdom offered to beginner writers, not because I’m arrogant or thought I knew better, rather the opposite. I didn’t believe I was creative enough to continually imagine a company of new characters and settings. What I’d failed to grasp was that I didn’t need a mountainous stack of short story ideas all clamouring to be told. All that was required was that I write one story, followed by another, then another.

It wasn’t until I attended a short story writing workshop in May and began to wonder if I might tackle shorter work, that I understood if I read short stories, as well as wrote them, ideas would bubble up. Now instead of worrying I don’t have enough material to try shorter pieces, I find inspiration all around – a juicy snippet at the hairdressers, an unusual photograph on Pinterest, some interesting theme in the news.
As a newbie short story writer, the past few months have been encouraging. Last time I shared how thrilled I was that my Doric piece, The Whole Hog, was to be published by literary newspaper NorthwordsNow. The excitement continued when my short story, Jenny’s Well, was selected to be included in a Scottish Book Trust anthology, created to celebrate Book Week Scotland 2018. But this very nearly didn’t happen. My inner critic is strong and I wasn’t convinced my piece fitted the brief. Thankfully a generous writing buddy, Sareen McLay, gave me the push I needed to submit.

Book Week Scotland 'Rebel' Anthology

And I’m so glad she did. As well as 100,000 copies of the Rebel anthology being distributed to libraries and bookshops across Scotland, the stories were also published online. Contributors were invited to record their work at the Royal National Institute of the Blind studios in Glasgow, to be transmitted via RNIB radio. Hear me reading Jenny's Well around 6 minutes 45 seconds  (LISTEN NOW), along with an eclectic selection from fellow Rebel writers. The fun didn't stop there. We were treated to a swanky launch party in Edinburgh, where I met other writers – many experienced, some taking those tentative baby steps like me. I even received a shout out in our local newspaper.

Recording 'Jenny's Well' at the
RNIB Studios in Glasgow

So what lessons have I learnt from trying my hand at short story writing?
Firstly, that writing buddies are invaluable, not only for helping critique work but also, when the time is right, to give an encouraging nudge to submit.
Secondly, never to restrict myself as a writer. My inner critic is loud and bossy but she can be tamed, as long as I find the courage to have a go.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, remember to enjoy the ride. As well as finishing my women’s contemporary fiction novel, I intend continuing with short story writing, not only to hone my writing craft, but because it’s something I love to do.

So wherever you are on your writing journey, what wisdom do you wish to share?

Happy travelling!

Rae x

Friday, 16 November 2018


Buildings can form a great backdrop to a scene, but they can also be used to tell us about the characters’ mind-set, past and even their future. Buildings can show the passing of time, add tension to a scene or show the class the character has been born into or aspire to join. Buildings are an amazing tool and are, in my opinion, not used to their full potential, yet they can draw a reader into the story and help them to walk in the footsteps of the characters themselves.
An example of this is Manderley, the house in Dauphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It holds a sense of doom for the new Mrs De Winter. Its rooms feel haunted by her husband’s former wife, the heirlooms are hers and even her portrait still hangs on the wall and gets her into trouble. In addition to all this, the housekeeper constantly reminds the new wife how Rebecca liked to run it. Little by little the present Mrs De Winter feels overshadowed by the former wife as her confidence is gradually whittled away. Mrs De Winter never meets Rebecca in the novel, she doesn't need to. The house is a constant, imposing reminder of how great her husband's former wife was and the housekeeper uses the building to her full advantage to taunt her about this every moment she can.

When I wrote A Daughter's Christmas Wish, I ensured that each main character had a building linked to them which helped to tell their story.
The heroine, Rose, feels lonely and trapped in her unexciting life living with her parents. Her mother still grieves for the loss of her son and is unable to move on in her life. Their home reflects this and, hopefully, the reader will be able to empathize with Rose's feeling of being trapped in a dull life. If only she had someone who could help her to feel festive again as Christmas approaches … cue the arrival of a lone soldier, called Nicholas.
Nicholas has returned from the Great War and has a promise to fulfil - to give a fellow soldier’s fiancé, Rose, the Christmas she has always wanted. Once again I have used his home to show his class, the past he has tried to hide from and how the passing of time (and war) have changed it. He also imagines the future too, which I hope shows his mindset in that moment.
Yet for these two people, who are from very different classes, to meet I needed a neutral setting and, for the first time in my writing career, I used a place of work – a teashop. This allowed them to meet and be alone together, an oasis for their festive countdown to Christmas to begin and their relationship to grow. It is where shy Rose feels most confident. This allows her to blossom and think about leaving her grief for her fiance behind her. Hopefully the reader will feel that they are watching Nicholas and Rose from a quiet corner of the room as these two people learn to live in peacetime again.

As a writer one must use all the tools at hand. We often use smell, taste, sound, feel, sight, thought and internal emotions to convey what our characters are experiencing, but the buildings that form a backdrop to their lives can also speak volumes - in their own quiet way.
A Daughter's Christmas Wish
Available as an ebook & audiobook from 20th November, 2018.
Available to pre-order today. 

Saturday, 10 November 2018


'Where do you get your ideas from? Oh for a ten pound note for every time I've been asked that. I've now had over 300 short stories published, plus serials, articles, and now my eighth novel is to be published next month. I can't say I've ever analysed where my ideas come from, but for the purposes of this blogpost I thought I'd give it a go. CHRISTMAS AT STRAND HOUSE is set, well, at Christmas. a time for families and friends to get together. What if you have no family? Or friends, only acquaintances? Could you make a happy and memorable Christmas from less than happy circumstances? So I decided to take four disparate characters with nowhere to go and no-one with whom to spend Christmas and over 80,000 words try to knit them together. I'll take Lissy first as the house in the title is now hers, willed to her by her godmother. I am a godmother. A not very good one - two Roberts and an Emily. I often think of them but I'm not the best present buyer and I certainly won't be able to will any of them a house. But a friend of mine was willed the most fabulous house by her godmother and it got me thinking .... how might something like that change your life, especially if you are now on your own, post divorce, and desperate for change? (I've never been divorced but know many who are) It was a bit of a light bulb moment and I thought I might be able to get a book out of it.
So I brought Janey into the equation. Janey is an abused wife and knows she must leave her marriage. I've got to state here that I have never been an abused wife but sadly, I've known those who are/were. More than one has said to me over the years something along the lines of ... 'I'll leave when the children go to senior school/university/get married/when X gets over his illness/the mortgage is paid off'. But they rarely do, because is there ever a right time. I don't think a couple of days before Christmas would be the time that many would choose, but Janey does. She leaves a note for her husband and accepts Lissy's invitation to spend Christmas at Strand House, taking the secret of her abuse and the fact she has run away with her. Next came Bobbie. I have a Facebook friend - Gerri - who puts up the most wonderfully glam and feel-good FB posts - pictures of impossibly slim and beautiful models dressed in clothes and shoes and hats I will never wear. We have bonded in the ether over my love of black and white.
So I decided to counter the sadness of Janey and the blandness of the way she dresses by having Bobbie the absolute opposite. Bobbie is a mature model but she has brought her own secret to the party and over the course of the book she shares it with the others at Strand House. So, I thought three characters would be enough as each has a point of view and I'd need to know their back story, how they speak, how they think. But then I remembered that 'two's company, three's a crowd', and decided to bring a fourth character into the group - Xander. Xander is funny and kind ... and a young widower. (My starting point here was a neighbour widowed far too young and struggling to mourn his wife and move on at the same time) Xander's late wife, Claire, had been childhood friends with Lissy. Janey and Bobbie had met Claire, if briefly, and only have good memories of her. But, as in most marriages, life isn't all sweetness and light, hearts and flowers, and cosy, romantic moments in front of a log fire with a glass of wine and a box of chocolates. Xander has a secret too. And somehow, Claire has wormed her way into this book - not quite the elephant in the room but her absence is affecting them all. So, I had my characters. I had the setting. Over the course of four days they all get to know and like/love one another a lot better. It was fun - well, okay, not fun writing this in the hottest summer we've had for decades- deciding what they would eat, what they would drink, what they would wear, and how their friendships would develop in Strand House, perched as it is on a cliff in coastal Devon. Bring into the equation all the decorations we have at Christmas and the traditions and .... last but not least there is even a sprinkling of snow!
Available as an ebook and in paperback and up on Amazon for pre-order right now!

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Some Thoughts on Stars

Beautiful stars... (public domain)
I’ve been thinking about stars

No, not those stars. Not the ones that twinkle in a clear summer sky. I’m talking about the ones that corrupt and compromise you, the ones that make you feel bad about yourself, the ones that hammer home your own irrationality and, days, weeks or even months later, leave you riddled with guilt.

They’re the stars that review sites insist you allocate before you leave your thoughts on a book.

Generally speaking I avoid giving star ratings, but as I’ve recently tried to do a lot more reviewing, on the grounds that it’s a way to help writers and also help readers find books they want to read, I’ve been forced into it. When I review on my blog, I don’t leave a star rating, but Amazon, Goodreads and Netgalley, which are the places I’m now regularly posting, won’t let you get away with that.

I find it a huge problem. Not because I hate giving a bad review, because that’s easily dealt with purely by not reviewing a book if I can’t give it at least three stars, and preferably four. But reviewing is subjective, and while you can build that into the text of a review, the raw star rating doesn’t allow it.

So on what basis should I score a book on a scale of between one and five? Because it’s a good book? But we’ll almost certainly differ on what constitutes a good book, and I can think of a lot of good books I haven’t enjoyed, and some bad ones I did.

Not-so-beautiful stars...
So shall we say there’s a book I enjoyed some years ago and gave five stars? But my tastes have changed and now I don’t think it’s half as good as I did. In the past I’ve given five stars to books in a genre that was new to me because I thought they were fresh and original, only to realise that in fact they’re just tired repetitions of the same old tropes. So do I give four stars to a book that’s better than the one I originally gave five stars to, because now I understand the genre and overrated the first one?

Some of the differences between four and five stars may be nothing to do with the book itself. They might include:

  • whether I’m in the particular mood for that particular book at that particular time
  • whether I like the place it’s set, or find a well-written character irritating
  • the frame of mind I’m in when I read it (gritty, violent, scary books will get a lower score if I’m feeling frail and in need of cuddles, whereas you’ll probably always get a higher rating for something feel-good)
  • whether I’ve read a book with a similar plot that was better.

I’ve reached an uncomfortable accommodation with my soul over this. I read books for pleasure, so my default position is that I would expect to give every book I read at least four stars. If a book falls short it might get three. But the difference between three, four and five stars probably isn’t one of quality but is all about me and my expectations.

I might as well admit to my inconsistencies. I’m too old to grapple with a qualitative rating system so I’ll give stars for enjoyment, and I reserve the right to be inconsistent.

Jennifer Young