Glumbags is out. An editing project.

FeaturedGlumbags is out. An editing project.

Every book I work on as an editor inspires me in some way. I only take projects that have some meaning for me, otherwise the work is too hard.  This month the first of two publications is Glumbags, a children’s book by author Charlotte Tarrant and illustrator Ivy Trasi. It’s delightful, the first from Starlike Books. I helped to edit in the early stages of the author’s journey towards publication. 

When I first saw it, it was just text on a white page. There were a few sentences that needed a cut or a tweak to make the meaning clearer,  and a character I felt was a little underused. 

What appealed to me immediately though were the layers of meaning in the text. The story asks a question. Is there any good, or any point,  in what we fear and avoid? What does Glumbags say to us?  While the child-character is purely puzzled about why Gumbags gets the cold shoulder from all the shopkeepers in the High Street, an adult reader, might be wondering about whether what we avoid has something to teach us.

So I made notes for the author and followed her social media  updates over the weeks; I noticed that there was an illustrator on board and it began to feel like there was a buzz around the publication. When this gorgeously illustrated book appeared with its sparkling sentences, I saw that character was now a real source of wisdom and encouragement for the child. And there was something about the publishing ethos that was quite special. #MyKindofHuman invites readers to celebrate someone who helps others.

Starlike Books exists to cheer on, gift and create children’s picture books that inspire courage, hope, love and joy.

Nicely done Charlotte and Ivy. What a joy to be a small part of this.


December Publication for Josie O.

I am very pleased that my Josie O. part of me is in a book along with 99 (!) other comics artists. Each of us had a brief to draw a positive political action that anyone could take. Mine is about picking up the phone to support someone who might be fearful, even if you don’t know what to say.

We began the project the year that xenophobia and regressive, racist politics re-gained a mainstream foothold in my home country. In among the shock and grief, I felt that drawing something to encourage action, despite not being perfect at it, made sense in a nonsense world.

I never think of myself as a comics artist. I love drawing what a friend calls ‘your doodles’. But I’m not particularly professional about it. Gosh (Zap! Pow!) Saying that feels like a sin. The idea of doing something occasionally because I like it – of being an amateur – even allowing myself to be not totally good at it, a little unskilled in the corners… is risky. There’s another, harsher part of me that judges my inner doodler. But drawing is my way of experimenting.

And then people often like it despite it’s awkwardness of line. Someone says …the faces are lovely…, there’s something in the line… or invites me to make them a treasure for their wall. Last month a piece by me was a prize in a draw! I am humbled by such things.

I’m alongside some dedicated professionals in this book. People who spend their lives honing a skill. Don’t get me wrong, I know what it takes to become a professional and I don’t disrespect it, nor the time it takes. And I know if I drew every day I’d get better. But I write at the moment. And slowly that improves. And then there’s the slow art of being human as well. I try to work on that, and take actions where I can to stop the rot.

Meanwhile, there’s a web version of Draw the Line if you click the pic.


November nights in…

Creative writing class for London’s second lockdown. What shall we write? What tales might we find within on a late autumn evening as the darkness deepens outside and the sparkle and glow of the season are only memories? What do you mean we can’t socialise? Lets zoom in and get inspired. Something always gleams in the dark.

Part class, part write-and-meet. Places have to be limited but our imagination doesn’t.

Wednesday evenings in November 7pm. For a place write to:

Starting to write, where you are, right now.

Starting to write, where you are, right now.

and then having a think…

It’s always been my intention to write my own pieces of memoir as I teach. I think it’s important to be practicing the craft you are asking others to learn. So sometimes, when I am walking in the mornings, I start writing in my head…

In my teens I lived in a provincial town in Essex, grew my legs long and went to the youth club by the playing fields. I  rolled over the waist of my school skirt in an attempt to fashion my individuality from its uniform, knee length hideousness. If I could get away with it I would wear my netball skirt. My nan once ran after me to tell me I’d forgotten to put a skirt on. An ordinary life, it may even have looked privileged on the outside. 

And I was told  by one of the therapists who parented me into an overdue adulthood during my thirties that my mother used the techniques of a torturer to keep me in line.

Now, what’s the next step for this piece? Which is the road I want to travel? Will I ever reveal the torture-techniques? I think I must. If you have a gun in the first paragraph, it has to go off by the end (reportedly, Chekov). But I don’t want to, not now, and for good reason.

I am pausing to have a think here because I want an approach that’s best for both the writer and the writing. I don’t want to to get lost in childhood horrors as I write.  Writing asks for something more. Something bigger.  I need to have worked things through in order to write them effectively  for someone else to read. 

In a writing class things often come up that we weren’t expecting. It probably wouldn’t be that stimulating if they didn’t. But I tell students early on why memoir writing cannot be therapy.  Under the guidance of a therapist it can be,  or with a self-help group who can witness what you write there is useful work to be done in writing for therapeutic purposes.  But we don’t have a therapist in my group. It’s  not what I do. 

My job is to guide you through the writing, help you get better at saying what you want to, help you shape and express yourself fully for an audience, which can be small, or large. Your choice.

September 2020


New Courses, new tech.

I am going to try to avoid words like ‘unprecedented’ or ‘extraordinary’ because none of them are true if you take a long view. But today here, now, as my cat and I sit in a very quiet room with the balcony door open in the sunshine, I have to admit this is a new one on me.

Luckily I have been working with Zoom for about a year already. The video conferencing platform has been ideal for writers groups. Last year I ran a workshop for novelists who were living in Belgium, London, Margate and Kerala. We met together on a Thursday afternoon for ten weeks. Apart from power cuts it worked really well.

Next week I am stating a memoirists’ course for the women in the block where I live. I have a flat in co-housing and normally the population here is out and about, very social both together and with lots of visitors. But we can’t do that and everyone needs something to do. So I’m offering writers meet-ups on the theme of life each week.

Another group I’m supporting on Zoom are PhD writers, all over Europe, who were unable to get back before lockdown for their writers’ retreat.

Keep in touch through the lockdown and stay well out there

parcel for the outside

Writing with Paintings in Holland Park

Writing with Paintings in Holland Park

On July 2nd, next Saturday Josie will be leading a writers’ workshop in the Ice House gallery Holland Park on the Storyteller’s voice.

Writers will get a chance to respond to the images around them  painted by Alex Stewart  and develop imaginative ideas about the Storyteller and other characters  in their writing. There’ll be time to write and read to each other if you want to.

Creativity begins with…well a few days ago I would have just said said  play… but it can also be the happiest response to uncertainty and drama. This workshop is intended to give adults the chance to play with ideas around images, and articulate what wants to be expressed in a narrative voice.  It will inspire you if you’re a regular writer. But no writing experience is necessary.

It may be of particular interest if you are writing fiction and want to develop your understanding of how to use point of view.

We suggest a contribution of £7.

15 places max. Booking required.


Adapting work for TV

Adapting work for TV

I’m excited to be running a beginners adaptation workshop at the Finchley Lit Fest… we will be looking at a short story text and playing with ideas to take it onto the screen. The process will enable you to work on your own ideas later with more confidence. There will  be a chance for attendees to talk briefly about their own ideas for adaptation and get some feedback. Tickets are bookable  through MeetUp.

I first got interested in adaptation when I was studying English and Drama at Middlesex for my first degree. My drama classes  focused on the technical skills of performance, which was no bad thing for a writer because even though I didn’t want to act, I felt I needed to know something about where the actor comes from.  But my main aim was to write,  so I persuaded my lecturers to let me  adapt Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman as my final project.

What surprised me was how  collaborative the process was. The scene I gave to the actors first off was not entirely  the one we ended up with. The process of having actors feedback which of  my lines didn’t quite work,  or re-ordering my scene, was humbling because they were mostly right.

I like working with others and I try to make my workshops as collaborative and fun as I can. So Fran Lima, an actor, will be joining us for the workshop. She’s done quite a bit of TV so she can answer questions from an actor’s point of view and she also writes.

This workshop is not for the super-career-minded or those seeking ways to get finance for projects. I’m happy to point you towards the professional providers but my workshops are about playing with ideas.

When I’m writing fiction,  I feel my way into the story alone and I rarely talk about it before I set pen to paper. In fact I’m superstitious about discussing a story in embryo…because my unconscious will convince itself the work is done if I do, and I’ll never write the thing. So, I’ll probably go to my  writers’ group with a second draft – and then I will talk about it. But with adaptation, right from the ideas stage, writers seem to be discussing concepts and ideas with other creatives.

When you’re adapting something though it’s a long time before you get to writing. You dream, visualise, toss ideas around long before your characters start speaking on the page. I spoke  to screenwriter Elinor Perry Smith who occasionally teaches for Pearse & Black:

Screenwriting can be a lonely process in the early stages, she says, in that you have this great idea, you get your logline/concept nailed, then the outline, then you flesh out a treatment, then it all changes! Oh joy…

I do find that it’s very helpful to discuss your concept at the earliest stage with peers that you trust, or pay for feedback from a professional. This is something that not many screenwriters do when they first set out – and I was no exception. I think it’s vital to remember that film-making is an entirely collaborative act. Everything WILL probably change!

Your ‘first’ draft is probably more likely to be your fifth… it’s only your first in that it’s the first to see the light of day with someone else’s critical faculty brought to bear on it. Screenwriters discover that they’re in it for the long haul but can easily lose heart after bad feedback or a disheartening peer review. The sensible screenwriter, therefore, develops relationships with allies – people they can trust NOT to trample all over their dreams and with whom they can reciprocate.

I love the way she puts that – you need people you can trust not to trample on your dreams.  We all do. Pearse and Black workshops are based on  ground rules that keep things safe and provide the most creative space possible. Editing comes later.

So the difference in the process of making the script public here  is a treatment – in prose only non-fiction writers  submit an equivalent proposal  without much actual writing and sometimes none having been done. Novelists are expected to have their whole manuscript finished, and the best it can be, before they approach the industry.

The other difference is that phrase  everything changes. It’s true that editorial feedback for fiction writers might result in a re-structuring but in my experience,  not to that extent.

In all writing  at some point in the process you are on your own, in your writing space, listening for the next line and whether its dialogue or prose,  you have to show up and  wait for the right words. We come together in workshops briefly to share this strange and wonderful thing we do.

But briefly, back to Middlesex… for my acting skills I chose physical theatre, so I ended up getting six credits of my degree in juggling. I can still do it a little. It helps me think.

In the workshop we will look at what draws you to a story, what kind of freedom there is in adaptation. And although there wont be any juggling, there will be food for thought.

Paying Attention

Paying Attention


In Publishers Weekly this morning I read that Amy Hempel, a creative writing tutor, always asks her students…

‘Why are you telling me this?’ Someone out there will be asking, and you better have a very compelling answer. Is this essential? Is this something only you can say—or only you can say it this way? Is this going to make anyone’s life better, or make anyone’s day better? And I don’t mean the writer’s day.”

Something like this makes me sit up and pay attention.