Speak Its Name is coming (on 2nd February)

Crocuses blooming

I promised you a publication date for Speak Its Name, and I’ve got one. It’s Tuesday 2nd February – just over a month away. That’s long enough for my army of editors to get back to me with any last nitpicks, and for me to wrestle the finished work into the desired format, but also gives me time before my day job (yes, I have one) starts getting really busy and devouring my brain at the end of February. In the liturgical calendar, 2nd February is the festival of Candlemas, which is an entirely appropriate day to decide that there’s been quite enough waiting around.

I’d therefore like to invite you to join me on this blog from around 7pm (GMT) on Tuesday 2nd February, and I will press the magic button that makes the book available, and tell you how to get hold of it. I will have prosecco, but I think that’s one thing that can’t be shared via wi-fi.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here, moaning about the horrors of formatting, and sharing extracts and pictures of the cover. The end is in sight, but I can’t quite believe it…

How I write

Crossing the barren wastes of plot
Crossing the barren wastes of plot

Experience has taught me that I simply cannot start at the beginning of a story and go on until I get to the end and then stop. I have remarked before that my writing process is less like laying a road than it is like connecting up islands of an archipelago. I start with two or three very definite pictures or ideas in my head, and usually have a basic idea of their position in relation to one another. Writing those down will induce five or six other islands to erupt from the seabed. And they drag more up behind them. After that it’s a matter of building bridges, or causeways, perhaps throwing in an artificial island, perhaps bypassing three or four of the early ones, after all.

It implies a phenomenal amount of rewriting, to ensure that character development and such things are consistent. But that’s probably good for me, and anyway, it’s the only way that I can do it.

I have discovered that, even if I plot the whole thing out in advance, some scene that’s meant to happen two thirds of the way through catches my imagination and refuses to let anything else past until I’ve written it. I then say ‘sod it’, and continue writing the bits that happen to catch my fancy at that moment.

Perhaps island-hopping just suits me.

Setting a date to set a publication date

Mince pies
And some mince pies, sadly virtual

On Sunday I made mince pies for my mother’s birthday lunch. They turned out beautifully: proper boozy, nutty, mincemeat in thin, crisp pastry. I made more today, while listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols; they aren’t quite so good, but they will do very nicely. My plans for the next twenty-four hours go: church, eat, church, sleep, church, cook, eat, sleep. I hope you have a lovely Christmas, if you celebrate, and if you don’t I hope you have a lovely time not celebrating!

I’ve been doing more work on Speak Its Name with the help of my obliging ex-colleague. We’ve arranged to continue edits on each other’s work over the Christmas break. And I’ve promised myself that on New Year’s Eve I will set a firm date for publication. I’m thinking in terms of early to mid February at the moment, but, as ever, I need to check some things with some people. Come back on the 31st and I will let you know!

Reverb day 21: my take on a manifesto for 2016

Your last challenge for Reverb15 is to write your manifesto for 2016.

I find myself thinking back to previous years.

I remember my 2014 dammit list.

I remember my 2013 list of non-negotiable conditions for 2014: alive; sane; married; employed

I remember the dreamboard I made in 2012, looking forward to 2013:

Dreams for 2013
Dreams for 2013

2016, then…

I take responsibility for my own work and my own words.

I take decisive steps towards the goals that I deem to be important.

I take my needs and desires seriously.

I take care of myself.

I take a proper holiday.

I take every other weekend to recover from activity or company.

I take time.

I take notice.

Reverb day 20: 42 (not actually ready)

Today, I invite you to think about the great unknowns in your life right now. Say to yourself this morning: “I am open to the answers finding me”. Then stay alert with as many senses as you can.

In what form did the answers find you?

I was thinking about The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this morning. It has some things to say about answers. After that, it has some things to say about questions.

That might be the answer. I don’t know. I’m not really sure what the question is. So I shall just note down:

Some things I noticed today:

  • the charge for home delivery for items from one particular shop: £3.95
  • a delivery bike coming over the bridge
  • that carrying a large, heavy box home is very hard on the shoulders and the fingers

Or what about this?

  • Yesterday I used the last lavender Earl Grey teabag.
  • Today I opened the box of Christmas tea that my mother didn’t want.

Since we’re talking about Christmas, in this morning’s veg box there were:

  • potatoes
  • brussels sprouts
  • carrots
  • parsnips
  • satsumas (!)
  • apples
  • red cabbage

Tomorrow I need to buy:

  • brandy
  • icing sugar
  • turkey escalopes
  • bacon
  • sausagemeat
  • wine
  • onions
  • plain flour
  • butter

and that will easily fit into two pannier bags.

In fact,

  • I am pretty much ready for Christmas


  • I slept until a quarter to nine, and
  • I could very well have had a nap after lunch, and
  • I’m really quite sleepy now.

Do you know, I’m not sure that I am open to the answers finding me today. I think they’re waiting until I’m actually ready to do something with them. And what’s particularly interesting is that I’m fine with this. I don’t want massive progress right this minute. I’m still catching up with myself. I need some more space. So, I suspect, do the answers.

Reverb day 19: what would it be like?

Today I am wondering what would happen if I allowed a little more out-of-control-ness in my life.

So I invite you to consider: where could you (like me) consider turning it up a few notches in the new year?

What would it be like if I turned off my morning alarm and slept as long as I needed to?

What would it be like if I just didn’t bother talking to people I didn’t feel like talking to?

What would it be like if I wasn’t scared of top Fs?

What would it be like if I stopped agreeing to do things that I didn’t want to do?

What would it be like if I started admitting to wanting what I actually wanted?

What would it be like if I remembered to make my choices based on what I actually wanted?

What would it be like if I got rid of everything that people had given me that I didn’t like?

What would it be like if I tried one or more of the above?


Reverb day 18: trajectory

Haven’t you ever been caught in a moment, a magnetic swirl of a moment, when you knew – just knew – that something magical was taking place?

You might feel as if a portal into Something has opened at your heart to release a sort of energy into your own private universe, telling you, “Remember your magic…” 

Think of three important portal points – one in the past, the present, and one you hope to have in the future – and join them together into one powerful and personal gateway into 2016.

Where will walking through this gateway lead you in this upcoming new year?

I remember the day of my interview for my current job. It was a brilliant day, it felt, if I may be allowed a Harry Potter reference, as if I’d taken Felix Felicis: everything seemed to go right. Oh, apart from the bit where the administrator forgot to reset the MS Word test and I had to undo all the previous candidate’s work before I could do my own; I nearly walked out at that point. But I kept my head and worked out how to untangle it, and everything else was great.

It was a Tuesday. I like Tuesdays. I had a fortuitous day of time off in lieu, so I took the Monday off. For some reason I can’t now remember, we were staying with the in-laws, who live on the easier side of London for the office. On the train, I passed the pub that says TAKE COURAGE in huge letters on the side. While I was drinking a cup of tea in a café, waiting for it to be an appropriate time to go in, a family friend emailed some pictures of my beloved, much-missed godmother, whose birthday it would have been. My visitor’s pass was number 26: my birthday, and part of the fleet numbers of two of my favourite buses. After I’d dragged myself through the Word test, the interview went enjoyably smoothly. Two university friends whom I hadn’t seen for ages happened to be in London, so we met up for lunch before I headed south to go back to work. All the way through, it felt as if the universe was on my side.

Where am I now? Still in that same job, but living sixty miles to the north-east of London rather than twenty-five miles to the south (weirdly, the commute is actually easier, not that it feels like that in the dead of winter). It feels as if I’m in something of a lull. There isn’t much going on at the moment; it’s that still point when the year is at the turn. There’s space here, and I need it.

There are at least four huge, important developments that are about to happen or will happen within the next year or two years, or could very well happen, and I want all of them to happen. For the sake of symmetry, I’m not going to specify what any of them is, though one at least is no secret.

I’m reluctant to pick just one of them for my future point. I am laying them out in a line: first this, then this, then this, and that can be slotted in at any point, but I’d rather it were sooner than later.

Here’s a trajectory with five points on it, then. What will I find if I follow it?

Safety. Adventure. Roots. Puzzles. Love. Claiming my ground. Growth. Learning. Trust.

Reverb day 17: life in purple

One of my daughter’s favourite books is the American classic Harold and the Purple Crayon. If you haven’t had the good fortune to come across it, it’s about a little lad called Harold, whose magical purple crayon enables him to create the world around him.

Whenever I read it to her as a bedtime story, I spend the rest of the evening pondering what I would create if I had a magical purple crayon of my own.

Imagine one such crayon would be bestowed upon you on New Year’s Eve 2015: what would you draw to ensure 2016 had everything you need?

Purple crayons were always my favourite, and they weren’t even magic. I still love purple.

Purple: the colour of waiting. The present moment is important, even if nothing particular seems to be happening.

Purple: the colour of mourning. There is a place to ackn0wledge the fact that things are occasionally, or quite often, painful and distressing, that grief and loss are real.

Purple: the colour of majesty. My life is my own.

Purple: the colour of chocolate wrappers. There is a place for pleasure.

I’d draw a purple tent, for shelter and sanctuary and rest. I’d draw a purple train, for transport and connection and adventure. I’d draw a purple crown, to keep me possessed of my own presence. I’d draw a purple sofa, for luxury.

Reverb day 16: including white space

Ancient alchemical texts are things of beauty – filled with allegory and symbolic language; things hidden in plain sight; and plain things promising transformation.  

If we were to peek into the book of your year, what might we find?  

What magic do you carry that people need to look a bit deeply to see?

This year was meant to be something of an interlude, a space where nothing major was going on, a chapter of pure indulgence where one could revel in the lush surroundings and not worry about the plot.

It didn’t quite work, of course; there was always a part of me that was desperate to know what happens next, and to read ahead and make it happen. Never mind. This was the Year of Fun, and I had fun.

This year I tried to include more white space. I blocked out a week at a time in which to do nothing, to recover, to replenish my resources. The interesting thing is how much more white space I need than that, or perhaps how I need to distribute it differently. I’ll keep experimenting.

As for allegories, well, the mermaids are still around, finding out how to get from the sea to the dry land in safety. I am becoming an ostrich, or maybe a dragon: something that eats iron, anyway. I’d like to be a tortoise, but can’t quite work out how.

Magic? I have been a fairy godmother since I was nineteen, but of late I have discovered that all the fairy godmothering that I need to do is sit and listen while my charges work out for themselves what they need to do.