Monday, 29 October 2018


My writing posts have largely relocated to the Secret Authors Society blog, Awfully Big Blog Adventure. You can find them here, and my reviews for Awfully Big Reviews are here, or on the links in the sidebar. Ta muchly!

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Big Greenhouse Reveal!

For this post you will need to have the music from Grand Designs in your head (Laaa lalala la la la Laaa lalala…) Got it? Good.

When I asked Michael to build me a greenhouse I thought we’d go to B&Q, buy a flat pack and spend a weekend swearing at the instructions. Obviously, I wanted a mini crystal palace straight out of that posh homes magazine I never buy but I would never have asked for that because I am, as Michael proudly declares to his mates in the pub, ‘medium maintenance’. I just wanted a structure a little less of a death trap than this: 

to grow my seedlings in.

But Michael is not your average anything so I should have known better.

Suddenly I found myself in B&Q buying not flat pack aluminium and plastic but loads and loads of treated timber planks while Michael consulted the 3D computer model he'd designed himself.

This did not feel safe

In the grand tradition of Grand Designs, it overran both time-frame and budget

Oh yes, Kevin

and the journey was much more fraught than these snapshots suggest, but the end result was totally worth it.



Recreating Flashdance

Trying to save as much glass as possible

and mostly failing

New base!

We had lots of help with this. Mainly from Tim and Robert, and we made fair use of my dad's table saw.

First wall! It is straight, it's the garage roof that's wonky.

4 walls! That's the perfect amount!
Meanwhile, our kitchen looked like this for a good 4 months:

And my 'greenhouse' looked like this:

Limited veg growing potential

The tarp was useful for shade during the heatwave.
My advice? Don't build a greenhouse during a heatwave.
Plants shaded from heatwave while we baked in the sun

Plant storage while on hols

We bought a door at Bare Wood Salvage but everything else was built from scratch.

Paint! At last!

And windows! They open automatically when it gets hot. Clever.
We did get all the glass free on Freecycle, and it was the filthiest glass you've ever seen. Even after I'd washed every pane in soapy water, there was a foggy film that we thought wouldn't come off. We were nearly giving up and buying glass but then Michael discovered that an abrasive glass cleaner and an electric car polisher plus a bit of elbow grease did the job. But it was not a fun job.

This is Michael putting in the very last screw! It felt seriously momentous.

 Et Voila! So pretty!

Laaa lalala...

I wanted some shelves for the back wall but saw this on Facebook Marketplace so we bought it instead and it's perfect. Didn't have to do a thing to it except I sanded the table top.

The green shelves were in the old greenhouse so I've reused those. We're going to build a potting bench down the right hand side here but this table is fine for now.

We got a stained glass pane from the Used Unique Boutique for a tenner and thought it was cute.

Like the Lone Ranger

So I am totes in love with the whole thing. It's very much the dream greenhouse I would never have asked for. And actually it worked out a lot cheaper than buying a wooden greenhouse and I'd definitely recommend getting your husband to build you one! I now spend most of the day in there potting things, sheltering from the rain and rescuing butterflies. Might have to put in a screen door.

I was so impressed with it, I insisted on a greenhouse warming party.

If you build it...

Greenhouse warming card. Aw.

My parents bought me the most literal greenhouse warming present ever

Weeds sprout up everywhere

We even invited some kids up to kick footballs at it

Waving to their cousins in America

It was all going so well until, consumed with jealousy, Ally tried to burn the greenhouse down

So that's Major Project 1 complete! Next up... The Shed! Watch this space. For a very very long time.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

And if you believe that...

Much as I enjoy blogging to moan like a whiny bitch about writing, this post is actually about a technical aspect of writing. Which is less fun, but probably more useful, and (*whispers*) a sign that my writing is going a bit better lately? 


A couple of people have noted that my MC in Flying Tips, Finch, is an unreliable narrator and asked about how you write an unreliable narrator. The answer is that I never consciously thought about it, but they’re right, he kind of is, and it’s an important part of the book. And actually I don’t think it’s that complicated to do.

Unreliable narrators can be unreliable for several reasons, including, but probably not limited to:
  • They’re outright lying to the reader for some devious reason of their own, e.g. to force them into a position of moral confusion (Lolita)
  • They’re too young/innocent/na├»ve/mentally ill/drunk to understand the situation so the picture they paint is necessarily inaccurate (The Great Gatsby, Fight Club, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca, The Sound and the Fury)
  • They’re in denial about the situation or their own motivations for some reason, and their perceptions are filtered through that (Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Remains of the Day, The Little Stranger)

The phrase for some reason, is the important bit here.

First off, I don’t think you have to treat unreliable narrators as a discrete category with special rules. I think all good characters are unreliable because all people are unreliable. There is no objective ‘truth’ even in a fictional world, and so there are no ‘reliable’ narrators. What are they narrating? Only their own view of the story. Unreliable narrators are just characters with complex psychological reasons for doing things.

So all characters are unreliable, but the unreliability of a narrator is more important in some books than others. Some characters are just unreliable because people are unreliable and the purpose is just to make them three dimensional. Some characters are unreliable because it contributes to the plot. Some characters are unreliable because the intention is to make the reader feel uncertain and examine their own feelings. You have to decide why and how and to what degree your narrator’s unreliability is going to manifest itself, and how that relates to the themes of the story.

Which is all very woolly and unhelpful. But I think one practical way to think about all this is the idea of the character’s Ghost (sometimes called their Wound). 

Not that ghost

The idea is that something will have happened to the character in their past that has made them the way they are now. It’s linked to the way they (erroneously) see the world, and that erroneous view is the thing that has to be put right in the course of the story. The ghost doesn’t have to occur in the course of the story, it can be in the backstory, but it must be referenced because it explains who the character is.


The character was abandoned by his parents and now believes ‘you can’t trust anyone’ and has to learn to trust someone by the end of the book

The character was attacked once and now believes ‘the world is an evil place’ and has to learn to see the goodness in people by the end of the book

The character was taught that winning is everything and believes ‘I am worthless unless I win this race’ and has to learn that there are more important things by the end of the book

Etc etc etc

This is there in all your favourite characters. Lizzie Bennet was insulted, Scarlet O’Hara was hungry, Jane Eyre was unloved. The entire movie 'Solo' was just the retelling of Han Solo’s ghost – he was betrayed by the woman he loved = he’s a bit of a dick in 'A New Hope'. 

Most prequels are probably retellings of ghosts. The ghost colours their perceptions and interpretations, and this is where the unreliability comes in.

And I would argue that it needs to be there, whether your character is going all out to mess with people’s heads or is just being a normal unreliable human. And here’s why:

The disparity between how the character sees the situation and what’s really going on is a gap the reader will bridge through empathy. The reader has to put herself in the place of someone who was rejected by their parents in order to understand their weird behaviour in adult relationships. And this is hugely important because it’s not only a mentally stimulating exercise, it is what makes them connect to your character. If you fill that gap for them by over-explaining, they won’t make that connection for themselves and they won’t be on that journey to revelation with the character. 

An unreliable narrator can be someone who isn’t in possession of all the facts, so writers get freaked out about how to convey these facts to the reader when it’s the clueless narrator telling the story. But it’s not that complicated. We’ve all have that friend in a bad relationship who tells you stories about how great her boyfriend is while you sit there wondering how she can’t see the blatant red flags. 

Just because your narrator tells the story, doesn’t mean your reader will accept their interpretation of it. If the story doesn’t add up, the reader will spot it. Trust your reader.

In practical terms, how you demonstrate all this to the reader without spelling it out is simply by allowing the character to act as they naturally would. My character Finch was rejected by his best friend and since then has avoided making new friends because he believes he’ll be hurt again. I don’t have to spell that out to the reader, I just described the incident with the best friend, and then when the new boy, Hector, arrives at school and tries to befriend him, Finch reacts with hostility. Finch isn’t aware of why he doesn’t want to be friends with Hector, and to square this lack of self-knowledge he tells himself (and us) it’s because Hector is geeky and hopeless and that Finch is too busy saving his family’s circus school to bother with the new boy. Do we believe him? 

Remember, characters have to make sense to themselves, even if they’re wrong about everything.

I first encountered the idea of the character’s ghost in a podcast by KM Weiland but the idea was completely familiar to me, having done a degree in psychology. The fact is, it’s not just characters who have ghosts and wounds. We are all defined by our pasts and we don’t go around analysing how that affects our behaviour in the present. Most of us aren’t even aware of our ghosts, and we are in denial about why we behave the way we do.

I know

Characters are no different. Finch starts to have feelings for Hector that he’s not comfortable with. He deals with this by displaying hostility, jealousy and anger and by criticising Hector. None of it is unprovoked or out of the blue, but the real underlying reason isn’t discussed or analysed because he’s in denial about it. He will eventually come round to understanding the truth, but only when the evidence has mounted up subtly through the whole book so he can’t deny it any more.

Just because it’s subtle doesn’t mean there should be any room for confusion though. The underlying reasons have to make complete sense and have an underlying unity and coherence. There is ONE basic wound leading to ONE erroneous belief leading to ONE revelation. The wound may have happened over a period of time and it may manifest in various different (but linked) behaviours and the revelation may happen over the course of the whole book but it can probably be simplified to one short sentence. (And this is probably your elevator pitch, btw.)

It’s about a miser who had a lonely childhood and now clings to material success but will discover over the course of one night the true value of human companionship.

Why, that sounds wonderful, Mr Dickens, allow me to give you this six-book contract…

If Dickens hadn’t put in that bit about Scrooge being lonely in school and his parents not loving him, we’d have no sympathy for him because we wouldn’t understand his motivation for closing himself off in the only world he’s ever found rewarding. 

So, I’d say don’t obsess too much about creating unreliable narrators. You don’t have to be sneaky or talk in riddles. Just create believable characters with believable motivations who gradually come to discover something about themselves or the world and boom – you’ve got an unreliable narrator with a complex psychology for the reader to delve into. Yay!

OK, so you probably knew all that already. I'll go back to moaning/memeing soon, no doubt. Possibly about the fact that it's so hot my brain has melted and all my characters do these days is sit around eating Fro-Yo.