Same Difference

Readers of this blog will be aware that I am an identical twin. In fact, my twin, Julia Williams and I are so similar that our eldest brother used to tease us saying that we were one person really. ‘No we’re NOT,’ we’d cry in unison, as we dived on him, before he brushed us off  suggesting we’d rather proved his point.

Of course, he was just being a mean big brother.  Julia and I share similar faces, and have some similar personality traits, but we are also very different. She is much more glamorous than me, enjoys dressing up in fancy outfits and fine shoes for parties. I’d rather slob about at home. I’m more politically active than she is, and though we share core beliefs about justice and equality, we often have a different take on how these can be achieved.

One thing we do have in common is that we are both writers. Julia is, however, far ahead of me.  She began taking her writing seriously when she had her second child in 1998. She took a number of courses, found herself an agent and wrote two novels, all while raising four children and looking after her parents-in-law. She finally hit the jackpot with her third novel, ‘Pastures New’  which as published in 2009. Since then she’s gone from strength to strength,  having published nine novels that regularly make the best sellers lists.

I’m very fortunate that Julia got going before I did, as she taught me what a hard grind it was, and how much rejection I could expect before success beckoned. I’m equally fortunate that she’s also a fine editor, so I have expert advice on my writing whenever I want. Given how busy she is,  I try not to exploit it too much, but thanks to her, my first flash fiction collection was good enough for publication. And, her advice last autumn was enough to tighten up ‘Echo Hall’, so I finally got the publishing deal I’ve been craving.

I’m also lucky that I get to see Julia’s books first and always enjoy how watching how my feedback is incorporated in the editing process when it is useful. But her writing can be very different from mine, as she has written about here. My stories tend to be politically charged or focus on relationships between friends and family members. I don’t really enjoy romance unless it has a purpose in the story, and I always find romantic relationships more interesting when there are problems to be resolved. I get bored by happy couples frolicking in clover! Julia, on the other hand loves romantic fiction and romance is at the heart of her novels. However, as she has gone on, she has tended to bring in other relationships as well, and often has interesting things going on in the background, such as ecoprotests, or living with a disabled child which I feel adds real depth to her books. I take a long time  to write (‘Echo Hall’ took ten years, I’m two and a half years into writing ‘The Wave’) but Julia has managed ten novels in eight years, a work rate I find astonishing.

If you’d like to know more about how we write, similarities and differences in our work, you can meet us in the flesh! All you have to do is pledge £110 to support my novel ‘Echo Hall’ and we’re all yours. AND as a special bonus, you’ll get a pamphlet of my seven poems about twins l- ‘Monozygotic’. Here’s a sample poem:


On being a twin.

What’s it like then?

Being a twin?


It’s like seeing your face,

but in a different place.


Like someone dressing in

the contours of your skin.


Like sharing shape and thought,

and every single fault.


It’s all I’ve ever known.

Ask me another one.

On entering competitions

When I first started writing seriously, I  began to notice there were a lot of writing competitions about.  Although I’ve never won anything in my life, it seemed like a good idea to try my hand and for a while I submitted to competitions big and small. Eventually, after a couple of years without even the whiff of a longlist, I started feeling a bit disheartened and slowly stopped entering. Fortunately, I had more success with online journals, and I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t a competition winner, but that was OK as I had found places where my work was being read.

I changed my mind a few years later, when ‘Echo Hall’ was ready for submission. There are  so many wonderful First Novel Prizes it seemed silly not to give it a go. Once more, I entered award after award, and once more I got nowhere. This time round, the rejections were harder, I’d invested so much of myself in the novel, and I dearly wanted someone to pick it up and say it was good enough to win. Every time I knew the deadline for a shortlist was approaching, I would be on tenterhooks checking my in-box, or waiting for the phone to ring, before the date passed, the list was published and yet again my name was not on it.

In desperation, I began entering my second novel ‘The Wave’, even though it was nowhere near finished, but this too drew a blank. So, this time last year, having entered ‘The Wave’ for one last prize,  I decided I’d had enough. I just wasn’t going to put myself through it again.  And, it really might have been, had my friend Anne Booth, who is always very encouraging, suggested I enter the Bridport Firsr Novel Prize. At first, I said no, I really had had enough. Besides, I’d entered the previous year and so surely wouldn’t be allowed to enter again. But Anne, persisted, citing the story of a poet who’d resubmitted to a prize and had won it second time round. I contacted the Bridport team, and much to my surprise they said it was possible to enter twice. I sneaked my entry in at the very last minute, and determined to forget about it. After all, previous experience suggested, I’m the writer who never wins…

And then in the course of a couple of weeks last summer, two miraculous things happened. The regular Retreat West email arrived in my in-box announcing shortlistees for the summer opening chapter competition. I’d almost forgotten about it, so glanced at the list with no expectations at all. But suddenly, there was ‘The Wave’ on the shortlist of ten. That couldn’t be my book? Surely not. I emailed back for confirmation, and received a cheery reply from lovely Amanda Saint of Retreat West. Yes, it really was.  At long last, I was in the running for a prize.

Meanwhile, the deadline for Bridport came and went with no news.  ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘It was a long shot.Perhaps I should be putting all my efforts into ‘The Wave”. Shortly after that, the phone rang. To my astonishment, it was Kate Wilson from Bridport ringing to tell me I was on the longlist. I hung up and burst into tears. After all this time, and all those rejections, someone  wanted to take ‘Echo Hall’ seriously.

I didn’t win either prize. Nonetheless,  I received a huge confidence boost simply from knowing my writing was good enough to be considered. I was also hugely grateful for the very positive and helpful feedback I received from judges  which was enough to spur me on to find a publisher.

And find a publisher I did. As you know, I have signed with the crowdfunding publisher Unbound, and my novel is now 21% on its way to being fully funded. (It could always use help though – so do pop over and pledge if you’d like to support it!).

So since last summer, I’ve revised my attitude to competitions. I entered two short story awards, and though nothing came of them, this time I didn’t take it to heart. Then, last October, I saw a new prize that intrigued me – The  Virago/New Statesman Women’s Prize for Politics and Economics. It wasn’t fiction, but I write a lot of nonfiction, in particular about politics. I’ve always admired fiction writers who also wrote nonfiction essays, and I’d long been kicking an idea around about the corrupting effect of neoliberalism. I just hadn’t found the time to do it. Here, perhaps, was my chance.

I wrote most of it over the Christmas holidays, then put it to one side because January was busy. I intended to finish after a trip to visit my sister in Norway, but discovered to my horror the deadline for submission was when I was away. Luckily, Lucy  is a translator, and my other sister Julia is a writer, so they were very patient when I rudely typed away finishing just in time to enter.

When I read it back on my return, I wasn’t too impressed. The rush to finish meant the writing still felt a bit bald to me, there were one or two unforgivable typos, and it lacked sophistication. I liked the central premise, but wasn’t entirely convinced I’d sent in my best shot. So I tried to forget about it till the winner was announced this month.

I’d all but given up this week, when once more an email arrived in my inbox. This one was titled, ‘The Virago/New Statesman Prize – the shortlist… And the winner who is Frances Weetman’. Oh well, it was worth a try, I thought, until I read the text, thanking me for my submission and telling me that I had made the shortlist.  I am still dancing with delight to have done so well, particularly when I compare my essay to the other 5 fascinating titles on the list. I am truly honoured to be in their company and am so pleased for Frances, whose essay looks really interesting. I am really looking forward to read it.

This time last year, I had really had it with competitions, but the experience of the last twelve months has shown me why it is so important not to give up.  I certainly won’t be making that mistake again. Because, one of these days, I know I am going to win won of these things. And in the meantime the joy of being shortlisted is well worth the wait.


Putting yourself out there

I think every writer has it. The terror of being no good mixed with the total arrogance that of course people will want to read us. Both are necessary – the arrogance is what gets us going (only I can write this book); the terror provides the humility required to self-edit to death (the only way to avoid certain failure).

When I was young, I never thought about these things. I wanted to be a writer and thought it was that simple. What stopped me back then was time. It seems stupid to me now, looking back as a 50 year old at my 20 something student self with hours to spare doing everything but write. University was an exciting time for me – the course sucked, but I threw myself into a myriad of activities: community action projects, the student counselling service, Amnesty, the chaplaincy, a vegetarian cafe, and, for a very brief time, the student newspaper. All of which taught me loads of skills for life and work but gave no space for creativity. And when I left York in 1987 I plunged straight into a demanding social care job. I dabbled with writing a bit, but usually was too busy or tired to get on with actually putting anything on paper.

Roll forward a few years, and I’d left my job precipitately, after a particularly stressful year. It was the job or me, so I chose good mental health, which left me struggling to find work. A brief period in a hideous telephone fundraising company, was followed by eighteen months as a receptionist in a church, supplemented eventually by part time work for an inclusive drama company. It happened to coincide with interest rates going up to 15% which doubled my mortgage payments. I was earning far less than I had been and so I ran up debt after debt, was constantly having utilities cut off, and at one point was living off £40/week.

But, the lack of income, and working part time did have one positive effect. I couldn’t afford to go out, and now I had time to write. I began a novel that I’d been thinking of for several years, writing about two thirds of it. I wrote several short stories and worked out the plot for a second novel. I even tried to submit some stories. Back then, pre-internet, there were no helpful agents on line to tell you how to do it right and the only literary magazine I’d heard of was Granta. I typed up my story, sent it off, naively thinking that was all it took. I was so crushed by that first rejection, it didn’t occur to me to try again. Besides, I’d just got a place on a Masters course, and soon that ate into my lovely free time. Shortly afterwards, I found a new job that paid the bills, life started looking up; the novel remained unfinished and the short stories went into the back of the cupboard.

Over the years that followed I kept telling myself I would be a writer one day. Every time I picked up a highly praised book I thought was rubbish, my arrogant self said, I can do better than that. But there never seemed to be enough hours in the day, and once I was married and started having babies, that only got worse. It wasn’t until 2003 when I stopped paid work to be a full time mother that the opportunity to write opened up again. And this time I was ready for it. Because by the time I was in my late 30’s I was beginning to recognise I could no longer put it off. If I wanted to do this, I was going to have to commit to it now, or I never would.

So I started to write, beginning with ‘Echo Hall’. I picked over the writing of my early 20’s cringing in horror at the banality, re-working them to make them better.  I gained a place on a writing course which simultaneously built up and wrecked my confidence. Being on the course suggested I had some talent, but I found the endless assignments, academic approach and constant marking  demoralising. Still, when I left in 2009 I had a writing qualification and had developed the habit of writing. I could consider myself a writer.

On my twin sister’s (Julia Williams) advice  I set up this blog and started finding writers on twitter. I started doing ‘Friday Flash’ and found a supportive community for critique and learning about flash fiction. Gradually short stories were picked up in online journals, and at last in 2014, I could claim the title author, when ‘Rapture and What Comes After’ was published by Gumbo Press.

And in all that time, I have worked on  ‘Echo Hall’. The novel took me ten years to write, and it wasn’t till I had a third edit done that I felt able to show to anyone. I did, however, show sections from time to time. Though the majority of the feedback I received was positive, one particularly bruising and poorly worded critique nearly made me give up writing all together. Most people were encouraging, but some thought it was too complicated for  a first novel and I should lower my sights. I didn’t because I felt (and still do) that the book had something worth saying. Luckily my husband, Chris, Julia and my friend Anne Booth were all very good at geeing me along, so I kept faith with the project. By the time I was ready to submit to agents, arrogance was winning: the book was good enough, it would succeed.

I knew by now that rejection would be the order of the day and it was. Everyone was lovely and I had several requests for full manuscript. Some people liked it, but not quite enough. Others dismissed it as lacking suspense, conflict or characters they could root for. One or two clearly hadn’t read it and some never got back to me at all. I had discussions with people who told me that I’d never get there with my first novel, and it was time to put it to one side. And one stranger online telling me quite categorically that 120,000 words was far too long for a debut novel

Though with every rejection, the terror was never far away (what if I’m kidding myself, what it really is no good?) the arrogance kept me going. And although the steady stream of rejections did get to me (a LOT), I continued to pick myself up and putting myself out there. Until, at last the miracle happened, and Unbound picked me up.

I’m really happy to be with such a great publisher, but of course this means putting myself out there even more. Because I’m not just pitching to agents any more, I’m pitching to you the reader. And every time I do, though I veer from the arrogance of (of course you’ll love it) to the terror of (what if it fails to meet expectations?)I know that ultimately this is what I have to do to get the book published.

After 12 years of living with the characters of ‘Echo Hall’ in my head, I really want to see them on the page and in bookshops, libraries and beside your bedside table. I really do believe that though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, there are enough potential readers out there who will like it enough to want to pledge to make it happen.

So if you are one of them, please do pop over to Unbound and pledge today and tell all your friends to join to. Together, we can make it happen.

Many thanks!



The 112 test

So today, I found out about the the 112 test. Can you judge a book by its 112th page?

You tell me – below is page 112 from ‘Echo Hall’. Does it past the test? If it does, why not pledge to support it  here and spread the word!

“Maybe…a little…she’s not my cup of tea. It’s his funeral, I suppose.” They entered the bedroom where, to her surprise, he pulled a knapsack from under the bed.
“What are you doing?”
“Shh. Come with me.”
“What about Will?”
“It’s all taken care of. Old Mrs Davies is looking after him. This way.”
He took her through the green baize doors in the old servants’ quarters, past the cloth-wrapped paintings. The corridor ended with a bedroom on the left, a twin to Leah’s room on the West side of the house. To the right, a staircase ran up to the attic rooms, and down to the back of the house.
“The servants’ staircase. We can escape unseen.” Jack grinned.
“Why the secrecy?”
“My parents wouldn’t approve of us leaving Will in the middle of the night. There’s something I want to show you.”
They crept out of the back door and up the sloping lawn. The moonlight carved out tree-shadows. After weeks without rain, the grass was dry, crunching under their feet. Jack took her hand. “Come on.” They ran up to the fir trees at the top of the garden, arriving at the gate, breathless.
“We’re not going walking at this time of night? It’s pitch black.”
“I came prepared.” Jack flourished a torch.
“My Boy Scout.”
“I’ve been running around these woods all my life. I won’t lose you.”.

A Little Announcement


I am delighted to announce that I have a book deal for ‘Echo Hall’.

What’s more it is with the brilliant crowdfunding publisher ‘Unbound.’ Even better I was signed by the incomparable Scott Pack, who is really my dream editor.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to be part of this amazing publishing company.  I first heard of ‘Unbound’ in 2013, through Shaun Usher’s ‘Letters of Note’ twitterfeed.  I loved reading the letters on twitter so I was really pleased to hear  they were going to be published thanks to Unbound subscribers.  ‘Letters of Note’ went on my Christmas list and I thought no more about Unbound, until after my copy had arrived a few months later.

I was visiting my friends Hugh and Zoe one day, when Hugh rushed in hugely excited to have his hands on the copy of their friend’s Unbound book. That friend was Paul Kingsnorth, and the book, ‘The Wake’ has done extremely well. (Deservedly so, it’s a remarkable novel). At that point, I sat up and paid attention. Two great books in a few months suggested Unbound was on to something.

I was really drawn to the idea of working with readers to create a novel together. However, having done a fair bit of fundraising, I was also slightly nervous about the work that crowdfunding entails. So I continued with my agent submissions, but all the time with half an eye on the Unbound website.

In December 2014, Unbound advertised for women writers to pitch, and it seemed a great opportunity to do so. I dived in, as did many others. There were only three spots available, and though I was disappointed not to be picked, it was also a bit of a relief. Thank goodness! My life was busy enough, I was training for the London Marathon and had a big fundraising target to reach. It wasn’t the best of times to also be crowdfunding my book.

But Unbound still intrigued me. I kept watching the website, following the progress of interesting looking books such as ‘Pure’ by Rosie Bretecher and ‘Notes from the Sofa’ by Raymond Briggs as they moved from pledges to publication.  Then, last Autumn, I spotted Scott Pack had been hired as associate editor. Scott is a rare entity, a twitter correspondent who I met in the real world first.  A few years ago my twin sister, Julia Williams was a guest at the ‘FireStation Bookswap’. Punters swapped books and ate cake while Scott interviewed Julia and the literary critic Robert McCrum. It was a really fun evening, and afterwards I started talking to him on twitter.

Scott is one of those people who make twitter worthwhile. He is funny, interesting and probably the best read person in England. He has phenomenally good taste in books, and an amazing track record in publishing – Head Buyer for Waterstone’s,  Commercial Director of The Friday Project, initiator of Authonomy, and most recently at Aardvark Publishing.

So when he invited people to pitch directly to him just before Christmas,  I was  quick to respond. I was thrilled when he responded positively and then absolutely over the moon when offered me a contract.  As I said to my husband, Chris, it’s like being picked by Berry Gordy of Motown. Accepting was a total no brainer. And I am equally thrilled to be an Unbounder, and have the chance to work with readers to make this book happen.

Now all I have to do to see ‘Echo Hall’ in print is raise the money. But with the help of a video filmed by lovely Mark and Jake this week, the support of Phil and the wonderful Unbound team, I absolutely know I can do it.

I hope you’ll be able to help too. My page will be up at Unbound soon, so if you are financially able and interested in seeing  ‘Echo Hall’ in print, please do pop over and pledge. If not, it would really help if you could encourage others to support it via social media and I’ll try not to be too annoying with the tweets…

Mother/Daughter Bookswap 6

Another bookswap from last year that never got posted because of the blog mangling and then we’ll be all caught up and ready to get going again…

Sometime last Autumn, Beth’s book for me was ‘Raven’s Gate‘ by Anthony Horowitz. Mine for her was supposed to be ‘Gilead’, by Marilynne Robinson but  I’ve lent my copy out (what was I thinking?) and so I swapped it for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood instead.

Raven’s Gate by Anthony Horowitz

What Beth said about it: Five ‘gatekeepers’ must unite to face the Old Ones – but first they have to find each other. Really, REALLY creepy (like I can’t believe it’s a kid’s book) but really awesome A+

What I said about it: I remember Beth being blown away by this series when she read it a few years back, so I was looking forward to reading it. But at first, I have to confess to being a bit underwhelmed. The beginning, with two kids breaking into a factory, feels too much like ‘Thieves Like Us’ and I wasn’t immediately inspired by the writing style. But once the hero, Matt, is taken to live with a very unpleasant foster carer, and discovers he has magical powers, the story picks up and then becomes, as Beth says, very, very creepy indeed. There is more than a touch of The Prisoner, about Matt’s situation, and at one point I despaired of him ever escaping, which means the peril feels very real. The book is well paced, the slightly overblown ending is just about credible, and the ending sets up the next one well. I’d definitely read the rest of the series.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

What I said about it:  In a post- nuclear Canada, the majority of women are barren. So the wealthy employ the “handmaids” who will bear children on their behalf. Ofred is one such handmaid, experiencing the horror of a form of prostitution against the backdrop of revolution. Stark and disturbing dystopia. A

What Beth said about it: I loved The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve been recommending it to all my friends. I really loved it. This has been my favourite one (except maybe The Colour Purple). It was very compelling and well written. So annoying at the end not to know what happened but there was a good reason for that.

A bit more successful than our fifth swap then and yet again an interesting link. This time protagonists being trapped by an oppressive, evil system.

Now we are back on track, we’re off to read our next choices. Mine for Beth is ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ whilst hers for me is ‘Skullduggery Pleasant‘. This maybe the swap where we fail to find a single link, but perhaps 18th Century ballrooms and dead skeleton detectives have more in common than we think. Back soon to give you our verdict.