Saturday, 31 August 2019


As the days grow shorter, it’s time for some hard-core writing to be done. I have the guts of a novel in place and yet I’d reached a stage where I felt publication might forever be beyond my grasp. The ogre of doubt who leans heavily on my shoulder was growing louder … Your writing’s not good enough. What are you doing? You should find a proper job. What was needed was some focused time, away from family distractions, with others who understand this crazy urge to keep tapping away no matter what. So I set off for Moniack Mhor


Located high in the Scottish mountains near Inverness, it’s a writing retreat I’ve been lucky enough to visit a couple of times. Whilst the vistas it offers are awesome (sorry – I’ve spent the summer with teenagers), the peaceful location makes the wider world seem distant, making it easier to concentrate on writing.

The Hobbit House where workshops take place


But the main reason I chose this particular retreat was because of the opportunity to learn from two fabulous tutors. Nathan Filer’s debut novel, The Shock of the Fall, became an award-winning bestseller. A multi-talented writer, he also tutors at Bath Spa University.  His latest non-fiction book, The Heartland: Finding and LosingSchizophrenia, quashes myths, offering a fresh perspective on mental health.

Whilst Francesca Main, editor and associate publisher with a list of bestselling fiction and non-fiction titles at Picador - including Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, as well as Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce – was someone I knew I would learn from.

Nathan Filer and Francesca Main - our tutors - the Dream Team


The weekend opened with some meditation before we moved outdoors to write a personal reflective piece. Being a part-time yogi (I practice when I remember), I loved that mediation could help writers, or anyone, access thoughts that might otherwise remain stubbornly out of reach. It’s definitely a practice I will use again.

The next two days followed a set pattern, optional workshops in the morning examining character and structure, followed by one-to-one tutor feedback with time to write in the afternoon.

The quirky inside of the Hobbit House


As well as learning and writing at Moniack Mhor, participants are also expected to help prepare dinner – during which there was so much laughter that it was a minor miracle that a tasty meal for seventeen was served. A highlight of the weekend was when the skirl of bagpipes announced the arrival of the haggis, which was ceremonially carried to the table, addressed then toasted with a tot of whisky.

Addressing the haggis
Hmm - Cranachan, made using cream with a dash of whisky


Nathan and Francesca’s generous sharing of their expertise has helped bolster my shaky confidence. It’s now time to put their editing tips into practice.

Our final evening before we take our next steps ...


And my ogre of doubt - he opted to stay in the Scottish Highlands. Let’s hope he takes up residence there, leaving me in peace for a while!

An early morning farewell to Moniack Mhor

So how do you control your pesky ogre? I’d love to know …

Happy autumn,

Rae x

Saturday, 24 August 2019


I love the film You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It tells the story of  Kathleen Kelly, an independent children's bookshop owner who is trying to compete with the large bookstore along her street. Her relationship with the owner, Joe Fox, initially develops (unknowingly) via email. In their day to day life they are at loggerheads, but online their friendship and romance blossoms.

     Kathleen's shop was called The Shop Around the Corner, a production nod towards the 1940's Hollywood adaptation of the same film starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. The film portrays the financial and emotional impact small bookshop owners face as they try to compete with the larger chains and supermarkets.

     Vast numbers of small independent bookshops have closed over the decades. The decline started when the Net Book Agreement (which existed from 1900 to 1997 and ensured that all books had to be sold at roughly the same price) ceased. It was hoped it would encourage competition, but in reality led to a two tier system which placed the smaller shops at a huge disadvantage. Supermarkets and larger shops, which had greater buying power, were able to buy in larger quantities and negotiate better dealer discounts, something the smaller shops were unable to do. This resulted in the larger stores being able to sell the books for very low prices and the practice continues today.

     This price cutting makes it difficult for the smaller shops to compete as do the rise of eBooks and crippling rates on the highstreet. Gradually the smaller bookshops began to leave the larger cities or were forced to close.

     Independent bookshops have had to adapt to the changing landscape around them. Many "go the extra mile" for customers that some of the bigger shops are unwilling to do. Book themed events, author signings, storytelling, breastfeeding friendly environments, coffee corners and unique decor have all been used to entice customers to step inside and browse.
     The more successful have identified their customer base. Many of the bookshops in Cornwall have done this. They have embraced the local talents and culture of Cornwall to cater to the tourists seeking keepsakes as a reminder of their holiday. This tactic became evident to me when I toured the independent bookshops in Cornwall and discovered that most were located in the tourist hot-spots, such as the many picturesque coastal towns.

     The idea of a tour was inspired by talking to the co-owner of Lost in Books, a wonderful independent bookshop in Lostwithiel. It was refreshing to speak to a bookshop owner who had a real passion and enthusiasm for books.

      There was only one way to tour Cornwall on a sunny summer day and that was in Ruby, the camper.

     The first stop was The Falmouth Bookseller, in Falmouth

     The second was the Edge of the World Books in Penzance.

     The third stop saw me in St.Ives at The St.Ives Bookseller.

     Fourth stop was at The Padstow Bookseller in Padstow.

     Closer to home, I just had time to pop into The Bookshop in Wadebridge.

     The tour came to a sudden halt when our brakes failed driving down a hill. Luckily we managed to avoid an accident, no thanks to me! I was too busy screaming while my husband steered our runaway camper! Ruby spent the next few days  recuperating in a VW specialist garage. She is fighting fit again and ready for the next stage in our tour, which will include Spencer Thorn of Bude, The Bookshop in Liskeard, The Bookshelf and Tearooms at Saltash and Bookends in Fowey.

     I had a great time (apart from my near-death experience) and recommend a visit to an independent bookshop.

     If you would like to find your local independent bookshop, search them out by clicking HERE

     Independent Bookshop Week is celebrated every year. It will take place 20-27th June in 2020. To find out what it is about and how to get involved, just click HERE

     Or you could take part in a tour, as I did, and visit some bookshops you may not normally come across. Find out more about a #bookshopcrawl by clicking HERE

     Support your local bookshop. Use it or lose it, before your unique little Shop Around the Corner is lost forever.

Victoria Cornwall


Saturday, 3 August 2019


Victoria Cornwall
We have all heard about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression which comes and goes with the seasons and may be linked to the amount of exposure to sunlight.  It can be debilitating and make the autumn and winter seasons very difficult for sufferers of this very real disorder.

     The condition got me thinking and asking myself if the seasons can affect other parts of our lives? As a writer, I know the seasons affect my ability to be creative and write. Not because it changes my mood and causes depression, but for far more shallow reasons. I am more creative in the winter when the clocks go back and the daylight hours end early. I find it easier to snuggle up with my laptop and write because, quite frankly, the wind, rain and limited daylight outside don't encourage me to do anything else. This is very different when spring arrives (with its blossoming blooms) and summer (with its long, warm days which are perfect for socialising). Needless to say I want to be outside instead of inside writing. Yes I think I suffer from Writers Seasonal Affective Disorder (WSAD), which, incidentally, is a condition I just made up!

Victoria exploring a Cornish rock-pool instead of writing
    So I asked my writing colleagues the same question, Are you more creative in any particular season and why? This is what they told me.

Kathleen McGurl
     Oh wow. I have never been asked this question before, and have never given it any thought. Ok, right, here goes. Putting my thinking hat on.
My instinct is to say I write more in the late autumn and winter. Those dark, rainy days when there's nothing much else to do but sit inside and write. But then, I remind myself, I always have more energy in the spring, when the days get longer, the trees are in bud, the birds are singing and the words are flowing... Wait, though, isn't it also fair to say that some of my best writing has been done during the summer months, even while travelling?
     So actually, I write all year round, fitting writing around everything else. Until recently I had a full time job so had to make do with writing in the evenings and at weekends - no scope to prefer writing in one season over another.  Just needed to get on with it, in whatever time there was available!

Kath being creative in the winter
Rae Cowie
      When Victoria suggested we share how the seasons affect our creativity and writing, I was thrilled! As someone who lives in darkest NE Scotland and suffers from mild SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the rhythm of the seasons definitely helps structure my writing year.

     In spring and summer my creativity is sparked by travel, encountering new people, places, buildings, stories etc. A time when I squirrel away ideas to be unearthed in the depths of autumn and winter when I’m tucked up in my writing den. That’s not to say I don’t feel creative during darker days, I do. In lots of ways it’s easier to settle my bottom into my writing chair when there’s no lure of a sunny day tempting me outside. Autumn and winter are the times I get the actual writing done – word count up, achieving those writing goals. So I need all seasons, the fun and excitement of being out and about during spring and summer, followed by the discipline and hard graft in winter, working with the seeds I’ve gathered that will hopefully blossom again in spring.

Squirrelling away ideas
Jennifer Bohnet
     To be honest I struggle with being creative in every season.Winter's dark and grey days can bring a small 'black dog' that hangs around me for days, where doing anything let alone write is difficult. When the daffodils and primroses of Spring appear I definitely perk up only to fade away again when the heat of Summer arrives. This summer has addled my brain completely! I am so looking forward to Autumn 2019 - not that I'll be anymore creative as the nights draw in and we light the log burner. But writing gives me an income so whatever the season I have to get over myself and write, promote and do all the accompanying administration. My grandmother had a saying that I mutter to myself whenever the weather is affecting things:
'We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether we like it or not'.

Jo Allen
     To every thing there is a season, says the Bible, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

     But is there a season for writing? I’m going to answer that with a qualified no. I write whenever there’s a story needing to be told and that can be summer, autumn, winter or spring. It can be work time or holiday time. It can be day or night. But for me there is a fixed time to write and that’s November. I’m target-driven. I tick things off of lists and fill in apps for my step count and the like. Every November I sign up for a programme called National Novel writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I sit down and produce the first draft of a novel. Other than that, no. No season at all!

     As a short story writer with over 300 stories published worldwide under my belt I’m well used to writing in every season, and out of season. So, it’s almost always been, during my writing career, snow in summer, and bikinis in November ... well, in my mind, that is. I’d say my writing is weather-dependent and I write better when the sun isn’t shining, because when it is I just want to be out there in it. My house is small and my writing station is in the hall with a patio door behind me and a big window - facing south - to my left so sometimes heat dictates whether or not I write.
     I know people who use props to get in the mood .... wearing a summer frock and sandals to write in winter when writing a summer story, for example, but I don’t think I’d ever go that far! Writing all the above has made me realise how few Spring and Autumn stories there are .... Easter, of course, and some bonfire ones but neither of those seasons seem to sustain a novel to me.
     If I’ve got a deadline to meet then I just knuckle down to it – The Little B&B at Cove End was written mostly in winter, and Christmas at Strand House was written early morning and late evening in the summer to avoid too much heat at my writing station. There’s dedication for you!

     So it appears that some writers are affected by the seasons and others are not. What about you?
Are you more creative in any particular season and why?