This is the last post I am doing from this Google blog. Please come and join me at my new website/blog at
Scarborough Consequences, the story I wrote following the collaborative story project I facilitated at the 2013 Scarborough Literature Festival, has been up-loaded onto the SLF site:

Once you're on the above page you have to click through twice to get the download....

I hope you enjoy it!


My friend who is a fan of Dorothy L Sayers queried my previous post about Sayers' writing lacking intense emotion and it made me think more deeply about it.

I think it comes down to technique and how technique in fiction writing has changed over time. I am now deep into Gaudy Night (dug out of the library vaults!) and am loving it, however, I think it has a couple of examples of what I mean. On page 9, the protagonist Harriet Vane finds a tie belonging to Philip Boyes (the ex-lover who she was accused of murdering in Strong Poison) and the comment in the text is: ‘how horrible that that should still be hanging about!’ On page 34, Harriet is talking about finding the dead body with the cut throat (described in Have His Carcass), she says, ‘It was beastlier than anything you can imagine.’

Of course, there’s intense emotion behind these phrases, however, I think in more modern fiction they would be accentuated by (a) some kind of internal monologue and/or (b) a bodily feeling within the character. It doesn’t happen here at least partly because of the way third person is being used. We get much closer to characters (including inside their heads) in modern fiction even in third person, whereas in Sayers' day there was more of a sharp distinction between first and third person. With the former the reader was inside the character, with latter they were most definitely outside. I believe that distinction has collapsed to a certain extent in more modern writing. And I enjoy that both as a writer as well as a reader.


I am doing what I always tell my students to do - reading the genre/form I am writing. I have heard some would-be writers declaring that they won't read others authoring in their chosen genre or form. They claim it will contaminate their style or their inspiration. And yet artists, dancers, musicians and anyone else working in the creative arts will study what has come before them and their contemporary colleagues' output, so why not writers?

I am, therefore, delving into crime/mystery fiction. One of my writing friends put me onto Dorothy L Sayers. My only previous brush with this author was the TV series with Ian Carmichael in the title role, now only very hazily remembered. I was surprised to find, then, that the edition of 'Have His Carcase' I found in the library got me hooked. For sure, the language and dialogue are very dated, but for anyone interested in pace and plotting, this story fairly rattles along.

There's no doubt that crime/fiction has changed its focus since Sayers' time away from intricate story-lines. These days there is more emphasis on character building and the psychological layering of those involved. I can't imagine a modern writer attempting as complex a plot as 'Have His Carcase' which involves letters in code, people in disguises and numerous false alibis. Still I think there is something to be garnered from the skill with which Sayers sets her riddles and unravels them. And even she has started down the path of the 'flawed hero' which is so beloved of present day crime fiction. Lord Peter Wimsey is far from the perfect leading man I recall from the small screen.

In some ways, because of the lack of intense emotion expressed in the pages of her novel, she does capture something I heard a forensic pathologist comment on in an interview I saw recently. He said that, in general, crime fiction fails to portray the casualness and the indifference of the perpetrators of the violence he encounters in his job every day. Sadly, that perhaps hasn't changed in the last eighty years.



There came a moment of inattention,

I think I was trying to make sense of my own design,

when it began to unravel.

I dropped stitches,

felt the yarn untwist then knot between my fingers.


There came that moment of inattention,

when my own fashioning began to seem unwieldy,

and I purled instead of plained

and our glorious pattern looked

awkward, unworked, unbeautiful.


There came this moment

when I saw what I had done

and cried.


Then there came another moment

when together we scooped up the sorry mess

and wove

a variation on what we had before

but more brilliant.


I have re-read the first draft of my novel and have begun to fall out of love with it. I know this is part of my process as a writer and also has to do with where I am emotionally. If there are tough days to do with being a writer, then this is what makes them tough for me.

It's at times like these that I remember this from Elif Shafak (quoted in the English PEN magazine):
When we are faced with censorship, intimidation, persecution, ignorance and sheer fanaticism, there can be parts of us that feel despondent or fearful or doubtful. And that's OK. We are not heroes and we shouldn't try to be. Yet at the same time, we should remember that our writing is stronger than us. Our writing is wiser than us. Basically it is more than us personally. So the writer can be afraid or depressed, but the writing should not waver because words matter. Stories matter.

Of course, Shafak is talking about situations far more grim than mine, where writers ARE heroic, far more heroic and wise than I could ever be. Still I find it a beautiful and encouraging quotation, I hope others will too.
How the mighty have fallen. For years, I have had a vague sense of who Radclyffe Hall was, the woman who wrote The Well of Loneliness, the seminal treatise on the rights of gay women. The book was banned for being obscene and RH was vilified for writing it. However, I have just read Diana Souhami's The Trials of Radclyffe Hall and it has left a rather sour taste in the mouth.

According to Souhami, Radclyffe Hall supported Fascism and Mussolini, was intolerant and unkind and her pleas were for a 'certain class' of lesbian (or 'invert' as she called herself). They were god's creatures and, therefore, to be treated with forbearance and consideration. Others, it seemed, could go hang.

The trial did underscore the deep misogyny and prejudice of the government and judiciary of the time. Indeed, though we quite rightly still rail against the 'isms' of today's society, we need only go back a century to see how far we have come. And as for violence, is anyone else shocked by the White Queen being serialised on the BBC? Assuming that at our core humanity has not changed in 600 years, there is a lot of brutality which is now lying dormant.

It is hard, however, to see Radclyffe Hall, a feminist icon, in such a different light. What she did with The Well of Loneliness was ground-breaking and paved the way for what was to come. And yet, as an individual, she was so imperfect. It is difficult for me to marry those two aspects. And it is a conundrum presented by a number of other writers.

Going off on another tangent, when (in the late 1930s) RH was diagnosed with cancer, her doctors advised her to cut down on smoking. So they must have known even then about the link?