This is my Blog. I'll try to update it with interesting snippets much as I can. Thank you for reading...

Friday, 10 December 2010

Edit edit edit

I have finally handed in the first edits of my new novel The Double Shadow to my publisher. Perhaps the best way to describe The Double Shadow is as a family sci-fi saga... ? It's always rather nerve-wracking waiting to find out what your editor thinks about your manuscript edits. What more will she feel should be taken out, what more enhanced?

I think finally I’m growing in confidence enough to know the shape of the novel that I am trying to create. Consequently I am a little less terrified of the lead pencil comments that come plastered in my editor’s tiny handwriting all over the first draft. It would be great if manuscripts were edited on computer so that comments were more decipherable. In the future perhaps they will be.

It was when I worked in theatre as a set designer that I became aware that it’s always good to keep several tricks up your sleeve. So when the audience thinks they’ve seen all there is to offer, you hit them with a big surprise. It is a lesson that I learned visually and now I'm putting it into practice as a writer. I think the main thing when you work with a character or characters is not be frightened to let them rule you. I do believe if you try to control them, you end up with cardboard heroes and villains, when what you really need is the foibles of humanity.

Monday, 23 August 2010


I recently gave a speech to some prize winners at a school and it went down well - it was written for the losers as well as the winners. I thought I'd share it with you, too:

Today is a celebration for all of you prizewinners who’ve worked very hard and are being justly rewarded for pushing yourself that little bit further.

It is also about the sterling work of your teachers who have encouraged you and helped you to achieve what maybe some of you thought was impossible. Not forgetting the support and love of your proud parents, who have in many cases made great sacrifices for you to be at this excellent school.

But alas, olay, that leaves quite a few of you sitting there thinking “I have won nothing again”, and who’s parents might be wishing, “, if only you had.” What I want to say comes from personal experience,

that winning happens at different stages of our lives.

As the great scientist Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I think imagination is the key to dreaming, and dreams lead us to imagining the impossible and making it possible.

Here I have to be honest in saying I never ever once won a prize at any of the numerous schools I was sent to. The closest I have come is to have the honour of being asked to speak to you today.

If the truth be told I spent most of my education being either expelled, or politely asked to leave various educational establishments.

It wasn’t that I was naughty, well we won’t count the small matter of the missing buns, but hey-ho a girl has to make friends somehow! No, my problem was much bigger, and went unrecognized, misunderstood and undiagnosed until I was about 12, when the term WORDBLIND was first used to describe my condition – I couldn’t read, or write, my brain wasn’t like other peoples. It had been compared to a sieve a description that I liked a lot and hoped that it might be an exit pass from having to ever go to school again. I mean it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this way of learning wasn’t for me .By then I had spent five years on a reading scheme called Janet and John. They had a ball. Which I would like to assure you, they didn’t. At least not my idea of a ball with wonderful frocks, handsome princes and glass staircases… no, all Janet and John had was a hoovered lawn, one dog, one red ball and the unbearable excitement of one brown stick.

To me they looked like the dullest pair of bores, who I would never ever wish to play with. I dreamt of 50 ways of having them kidnapped possible - a genie could take them to the furthest end of the world, a witch could lock them in an ogre’s castle, strand them on desert islands, shoot them up to the moon, or into the deepest part of the sea. Except the dog, surely there was a better home waiting for him, with more interesting children to play with, who could tell a good story.

Finally the word DYSLEXIC was used to describe the fact that I couldn’t read or write. A cruel joke, considering any dyslexic worth their salt can spell such a hard word. I was then sent to a school for maladjusted children, where I was diagnosed with a reading age of 5 and writing age of 4 not great, since I was 13 at the time. Personally, I think Janet and John have got a lot to answer for.

Aged 14, on a wet day in a small hut filled with angry out of control children, I found the entire works of the Bronte sisters and started reading Wuthering Heights, letter by letter, until I found to my utter amazement I had fallen into the book. And the hut, the children, the brick walls, the dyslexia, had temporarily disappeared, and I was far away on the moors with Kathy. After that my nose, my brain, was never out of a book.

The next school I attended was for well-adjusted girls, which I can assure you made the maladjusted lot look positively normal

We were made to wear brown horsehair uniform and slippery start right shoes I hated the place so I made a deal with my mother, a gusty bird. If I got 5 O levels - GCSES to you – could I please get out of here? It was an impossible dream, but after all, dreams were what kept me going, so why stop now? I worked night and day, break time lunch time supper time, through the night in the smelly girls toilet, determined as I have never been before, to get out of there.

Miss bell my English teacher thought I didn’t stand a chance. I remember that she was shaped lie a bullet with tiny cartoon legs, sticking out from cardboard tweed skirt she told me just before taking my English exam, Susan, this was a bit baffling as it had been quite a fight to change my name from Sarah to sally on account of it being easer to spell

not to make too much noise with my pen as there were girls here going to Oxford. She didn’t say it, but I knew she was thinking – and you are going nowhere.

While waiting for my results, my mother and stepfather took me to the races. My stepfather was a wonderful, generous man who gave me 10 shillings to bet on any horse I liked. At the time this represented a small fortune .As far as I was concerned, there was only one horse in the race. The horse’s name was ‘Silly Season’ - it was I felt a horse after my own heart, as my nickname at school had always been Silly Sally. My mother was furious when she realized what we’d done – the odds were packed against the animal this horse was not a winner.

When the starter gun sounded, Silly Season was the last out of the gates. Seeing the rage on my mother’s face, I said quite calmly – you see, that horse is saving up all its energy to win. And blow me down, it did. We made a small fortune. But more important still is that the horse became a mascot for me. It stood for you can, you will.

Just to prove the point, I got five O levels and at 16 went to art school, where the doors of a world that understood me finally opened... I received a first class honours degree from the central school of art, then won an arts council scholarship, and designed my first West End show at 23.

After 15 years as a costume designer and after having three gorgeous children, I decided to do what I had always dreamt of – illustrating children’s books. Though still I kept quiet about an even bigger dream – to be a writer and tell the stories that would help and inspire other children to think outside of the box. Today, I am proud to say I am a successful novelist, with over a million books sold and many translated into foreign languages.

, Dreaming the impossible has led me to find something I love doing and make my living from.

I am in the five percent of severely Dyslexic people. It will never go away, but these days I wear it with pride.

I once asked my son, who like me is dyslexic, what kind of car are you? Without hesitation he said a Lamborghini.

I asked him have you started the engine?

No, he said.

I said, a car with out a starter motor even the most expensive car imaginable is going nowhere. No matter how much it costs, how good it looks, you need to turn the key in the ignition after all dreams are powerful engines that can take you further than even you can imagine.

What car would you be? He asked.

I replied a battered up old Morris Minor, with the best starter engine in the world.

For all you winners here today, you are on road to achieving your dreams. Well done. And that is what we are all here to celebrating. As for the rest of you, who have yet to win, you will, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you will.

I worked on a book with Yostein Gardner, called Hello, Is anybody there? He told me this – and I would like to share it with you: every person in this world is already a winner. Because the chances of being born as you are smaller by far than the chances of winning the National Lottery jackpot.

So let’s celebrate all you who are here to receive prizes today, and, the potential in all of you. The word impossible is only a full stop that you have to get over. If you believe your in dreams they are attainable, you can and will become the winners of tomorrow.

Monday, 10 May 2010

I'm sorry I haven't blogged for so long - I've been writing constantly. Now in serious lock-down mode, all stations are go. I have to have the first draft finished by the end of this month.

I promise to blog again soon, but in the meantime, here's a piece I recently wrote for ENO. It's a retelling of Tosca, read by the exceptional Emilia Fox: http://www.eno.org/explore/opera-lit.php.

It's aiming to make opera (and its stories) more accessible. I really loved writing it and I hope you enjoy listening.

Back to the study for me...

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Double Shadow

I am on chapter twenty of the new book, which I think is going to be called THE DOUBLE SHADOW. My editor at Orion seems keen on that title and I must say I like it a lot better than the working title: The Memory Chamber.

It’s quite a challenge, all the research that needs to be done for a book set in a different time to the one we live in. The Double Shadow is set in the 1930s, which is a period that seems to me like a U-bend in the sink of history. I am struck by how distant sixty years ago seems to us now and how much the world has changed.

Take mobile phones. As witty as the Orange adds are, they have a serious point - that if mobile phones had been around, what a huge effect they would have had on the First and the Second World Wars. I was talking to a group of young people trying to explain how hard it was to get the news to all the troops in 1919 that the amnesty had happened, that they could finally stop fighting. “Why didn’t they use their mobile phones, miss?” one girl said.

In many ways it is one of the great tragedies of modern education that history is not seen as vital for young people to learn. If history isn’t studied as it should be, how will the next generation deal with events that keep coming round time and time again and always will do, for as long as humans live? How will they learn from the past, from both its soaring successes and detrimental mistakes?

I am not a teacher, I am not a historian. I am a storyteller who’s fascinated by the past.

What I have discovered is that there are many different layers on the research front, and many different ways to approach research, like there are many ways to approach history itself. What works well, for me at least, is to do a general sweep of the period I’m interested in. Then I find areas that intrigue me, normally the ones I know nothing about initially, and go in for more careful, deep research.

I’m now on the fourth novel that I’ve written in a historical setting and I think I’ve got the process a bit more sorted. The best thing to is write the story even if it’s not historically correct. Then, when you have shaped it out, and done all your research, you can go back and correct it, filling in and taking out what does and doesn’t fit with the time.

I think the one thing to avoid is becoming what I would call a time travelling tourist. You know - one of those bores who has taken every picture there is to take of their holiday and insists that you see each and every one. As fascinating as the past is, it shouldn’t wear or tear at the story, neither should it be so inaccurate that its faults trip up its credibility. History will always be seen, no matter what, through the eyes of the time we live in.

The story is everything.