Cape Clear Storytelling Festival, Ireland

I recently headed over to Cape Clear Island, the southernmost inhabited spot in Ireland, for the International Storytelling Festival. This wildly beautiful and unspoilt location formed the backdrop to a brilliant creative weekend.I arrived by ferry from the village of Baltimore. The short voyage to Cape Clear was spectacular. We spotted sharks along the way and learnt that whales, leatherback turtles and dolphins all thrive in the area.

I received a warm welcome with tea and cake when I arrived at Cape Clear B&B. We were absolutely blessed with the weather on the first day and the initial events were held outdoors. Paddy O’Brien provided a crash course in the Irish language and many of the stories were told using a combination of Irish and English.

People came from all over the world to share their stories, including Turkey, Austria and the USA. Storytelling is an ancient spiritual art form involving the passing on of tales from generation to generation. Gifted New Zealand-based Irish traditional storyteller Niall de Búrca created the powerful illusion of sitting around a campfire a hundred years ago. Listening to him was a truly astonishing, uplifting experience.

Cape Clear is an Irish-speaking island with around 120 residents. It features harbours, cliffs, bogs and a lake, and its tiny but well stocked library is housed in a cabin beneath the hillside ruins of a 12th century church and graveyard.

Trekking back from the Grand Concert on Friday night, we had panoramic views of the island by moonlight. As a city dweller it was a rare treat to see so many stars in the sky.

What an amazing weekend!

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Judge of Flash Fiction

I’m thrilled to be judging the flash fiction category of the Hysteria Writing Competition. Looking forward to reading the huge array of entries by talented and inspirational women writers! The competition also includes poetry and short stories. Submissions are encouraged between now and the closing date of 11.59pm on 31 August 2017.

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City Writes Competition

My short story ‘The Anniversary’ recently won the City Writes competition. So I was very excited (and a tiny bit scared!) to do a reading at a special event at City University London.

I was in excellent company with fellow winners Katy Darby and Bren Gosling as well as guest author Luiza Sauma. Katy is an award-winning writer who runs the live fiction event Liars’ League. Bren’s stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. Luiza read an extract from her new debut novel Flesh and Bone and Water.

The competition was organised and hosted by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone. Rebekah is a published author who is teaching creative writing at City whilst working on her second novel.

I wrote the first draft of The Anniversary during a brilliant creative writing course run by the Literary Kitchen. I’m very grateful for the valuable feedback I received during the course from tutor Andrea Mason and all the students (pictured below).

My story was inspired by the Thomas Gainsborough portrait Mr and Mrs Andrews at the National Gallery. Although it was painted in 1750, I think the couple look surprisingly modern.

This was the first time I’ve read my own work publicly and despite the intimate setting, I was very nervous. My knees started actually shaking mid-recital! How ridiculous. What a lovely evening!

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National Writers’ Conference 2017

This month I attended the National Writers’ Conference 2017 held in my home city of Birmingham. Emerging and established writers were welcomed to a day of panel discussions on subjects including digital writing, how to raise your profile, and writing overseas.

The Bramall Music School at the University of Birmingham was our venue for the day

As a Brummie based in London, what impresses me most when I go back for a visit is how genuinely inclusive and diverse Birmingham’s creative scene is. Authenticity was a theme running throughout the conference and speakers emphasized the need for everyone in society to have their voice heard.

Andrew McMillan


Opening keynote speaker Andrew McMillan gave an inspirational talk on how writing should be ‘a political act of resistance’ celebrating the history and artistic identity of the under-represented in society.

He particularly focused on working class writers and the reactions he himself has experienced as a poet and academic from Barnsley.

L-R Publicist Amy Winchester, agent Ella Kahn, Chair Jane Commane and writer Luke Kennard

The first specialist session I attended was ‘Working with Agents and Publishers’ where I picked up some great tips on writers’ rights, the role of the literary agent, and submission guidelines. Then there was ‘Writing for Broadcast’ featuring TV and film writers and a producer from the BBC Writersroom. Again, the emphasis was on telling the stories you want to tell reflecting different backgrounds and cultures. Over a networking lunch we were treated to thought provoking readings from Birmingham Young Poet Laureate Nyanda Foday and Birmingham Poet Laureate Matt Windle.

Film writer Paven Virk perfectly summed up the day when she observed: ‘The beauty of the arts is that it’s open to everyone of any background. We are an open door.’ This was certainly true of the National Writers’ Conference 2017!

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Greenwich Book Festival 2017

This year’s Greenwich Book Festival took place in the beautiful setting of the Old Royal Naval College and was accurately described as ‘intimate in scale, though grand in setting.’ Its diverse programme featured both famous and emerging writers from a wide range of mediums including memoirs, crime, thrillers, and poetry. It all culminated in the festival finale of a literary London pub quiz.

As a judge of flash fiction for the Hysteria Writing Competition, I’m always looking to access writing by different voices so I was very excited to attend a reading and Q & A with the fantastic group of writers at the Short Story Prize Showcase. This event launched the 2017/18 Short Story Prize of Galley Beggar Press, a small publishing house committed to nurturing unique and innovative writers.  Longlisted, shortlisted and winning authors from their 2016/17 award read from their eclectic mix of pieces. Winners Yelena Moskovich and Joanna Walsh were joined by T. Schroeder, Malachi McIntosh, Gordon Collins, Richard Smyth, Paul Jones and Henrietta Rose. What a lovely evening!

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Interview with Author Donatella di Pietrantonio

Having reviewed two books by Italian author Donatella di Pietrantonio (My Mother is a River and Bella Mia), her publishing house Calisi Press invited me to put some questions to her this week about her approach to writing.

Read more

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Time Out London Blog

I’ve just joined the Time Out London Blog. My first full post will be out in April but for now I’ve made a small contribution to 22 brilliant places Londoners love in spring. See number 11.

Looking forward to writing about this amazing city!

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Short-listed Poem

My poem about my home city of Birmingham was short-listed recently for the Verve Poetry Prize 2017. I went along to the Verve Poetry Festival this weekend which aimed to ‘capture and celebrate the spirit of Birmingham and its creative, plucky, open-minded, fun, down to earth, industrious, collaborative, cosmopolitan nature.’ Sounds about right! Read my GEM Magazine feature about the event here.

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Republic of Consciousness Prize

Four of the books I have reviewed (The Storyteller, Forbidden Line, Solar Bones, and The Empress and the Cake) were recently long-listed for the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize. I went along to the short-list announcement on Wednesday night and met lots of lovely publishers and writers. I’ve written an event feature about it for The Contemporary Small Press. Read more

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