Friday, 18 May 2018

Hebden Bridge: A Source of Inspiration by Sophie Claire

Hebden Bridge is a Yorkshire mill town which has been popular with artists, musicians and creatives since the 1970s.

Nestled amongst the hills, it’s a picturesque place, and it’s also where a group of us, Authors on the Edge, meet regularly to talk books and writing.

L to R: Helen Pollard, Sophie Claire, Kate Field, Marie Laval, Helena Fairfax, Mary Jayne Baker, Melinda Hammond, Jacqui Cooper & Angela Wren
Hebden Bridge is packed with inspiration, from the historic mills, some of which have been converted into artists’ studios, to the volatile River Calder (which sometimes floods with serious consequences for the town centre) and the beautiful hills which encircle the town. You won’t find any American coffee or fast food chains here. Instead, Hebden Bridge is overflowing with independent shops and cafés, and this is what gives the place its unique character. 

So when we decided to write an anthology it made perfect sense to set it in the fictional equivalent, Haven Bridge, with an imaginary shop at the heart of all our stories: Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings is a collection of 9 feel-good short stories, all connected by the mysterious Miss Moonshine and her uncanny gift for knowing exactly what each visitor to her shop needs. 

To give you a flavour of the town’s varied and unique shops, I thought I'd share with you a few of my favourite places in Hebden Bridge:
Heart Gallery

Heart Gallery

With its rose-covered archway and glossy black doors, the exterior of this building provided the inspiration for Miss Moonshine’s emporium. 

In reality, it’s a gallery selling jewellery and art. The beautiful stock changes regularly, and it's a place I love to linger. Prices range from very affordable to the more aspirational.



Another favourite of mine, this shop provided inspiration for the interior of Miss Moonshine’s. It sells a huge range of quality items: clothes, crockery, jewellery, bags, home decorations, greetings name but a few. The sheer variety inspired Miss Moonshine's eclectic range of goods to sell. 

Spirals interior

If you visit Spirals, you’ll recognise the stone steps and the fireplace upstairs. I love to shop here and always find unique gifts. I usually come away with something for myself, too. In fact, I've bought several pairs of earrings here and this was what inspired me to write about a jewellery designer in my short story, The Angel Stone. There's something very personal about jewellery and I always wonder about the person who crafted it. Who are they, what's their story, and how much work and thought went into making each piece?

Yorkshire Soap Company

Yorkshire Soap Company

Who couldn’t love a shop which, rain or shine, pumps bubbles into the street? It lends the town a quite surreal air, especially in the snow, or in the sunshine when the bubbles catch the light...

And look at the display inside – a visual feast of scented soaps shaped like candles, cupcakes or glittery bath bombs. Also a great shop for gift-buying, I defy you not to find a soap you have to take home with you.

Valentine's Café

Valentine's Café

Meetings to discuss writing require fuel, and cake is the food of choice for most writers. At Valentine’s the cakes are homemade and delicious – I can recommend them.

Hebden Bridge Mill

If you want to find the closest thing to Miss Moonshine’s Wonderful Emporium, pay a visit to this place. Filled with stalls selling a variety of vintage treasures, you could lose hours in here. Every object tells a story, from an antique suitcase to a handcrafted Steampunk top hat!

One Step Beyond

This vintage dress shop is small but perfectly formed. The owner adapts the clothes herself, and she has excellent taste. You'll find a variety of designer and high street labels, sometimes in their original condition, sometimes adapted to bring them up to date. I have yet to come away empty-handed.

The Quilt Cabin

The Quilt Cabin

Another small treasure of a shop, I can’t help but indulge my love of patchwork and quilting by visiting. How can such a small shop contain so many inspiring display quilts and fabrics?

Last time I stopped by I found these beautiful Provençal fabrics.

Provençal fabrics

The Canal

The walk from the station down to the town centre takes you along the tow path with the park on one side and the canal on the other. I wasn’t the only writer to be inspired by this and to feature a canal boat in my story. There’s a feeling of serene calm here, and when the sun is shining it’s even more special.

Which special places have inspired your writing? I’d love to hear from you…


Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings is available as e-book and paperback from:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Friday, 26 January 2018

Plotting: Wrong Way or 'Write' Way? by Sophie Claire

Are you a plotter or a pantser? (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, there's a good explanation here)

I’m a wannabe plotter

I would love to be able to sit down and plan a book. I wish that before I started I could produce a neat map detailing exactly how the plot will unfold, when and how the characters will develop and change, and which obstacles they will face and overcome. And with every story I write, I try to do this.

Unfortunately, my mind doesn’t work that way.

My plot outlines are usually hazy with two-dimensional characters and predictable situations. 

It’s only as I write that the characters come alive and usually throw my plan out the window to take new, unexpected routes of their own choosing. Which is great. There’s nothing better than a character who knows their own mind and has their own unique fears and dreams and opinions. And if they surprise me, then hopefully they’ll surprise the reader too.

But to get to the point where my characters become fully developed like this involves a lot of hard work: hours spent at the computer, writing scenes which will later be deleted. 

In essence, I write, scrap what I’ve written, then rewrite and rewrite again. I have to explore a lot of dead ends before I find the right way
It’s a time-consuming process, and I used to berate myself for not getting it right first time. I wished there was a trusted and experienced professional would read my synopsis and instantly spot the flaws. A fairy godmother who would give me advice (kill off the ex-girlfriend, increase the conflict here, raise the stakes there…) which would save me months of work.

Over time, however, I’ve realised that no one has a magic wand, and this is simply my method of writing. 

It feels scary, fumbling around in the dark, struggling with a story for weeks and months. When it's not going well, writing feels like the loneliest job in the world. I feel lost and alone, I question why I ever started this novel...

                               – then, suddenly, a bulb lights up and everything falls into place.

This has been the process with each of the last 3 books I’ve written, and I’m finally learning to accept it. To keep the faith and keep writing even if what I write today will be deleted tomorrow. Now, rather than seeing these scrapped scenes as wasted pages or wrong turns, I understand that they’re invaluable for getting to know my characters and understanding what makes them tick.

So that when I find the right path, I’m certain it’s right. 

What's your writing method? Are you happy with it?


Photos copyright: Sophie Claire and Pixabay

Monday, 6 November 2017

National Creative Writing Graduate Fair 2017 by Louise Marley

I recently attended the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University. There was an opportunity to attend panels and workshops, and pitch to a literary agent! However, it is hard to take in what is being said and make notes at the same time, so I have paraphrased!

Balancing Act:
Living and Working as a Writer

SJ Bradley (Writer)
Adam Lowe (Writer/Performer/Publisher)

AL: If getting started is difficult, try writing about anything. Or write around the subject – write about your characters, the setting, etc. Or draw a map of your location. Anything to trick yourself into writing.

SJB: It can be a challenge to get people to take you seriously as a writer. You have to be strict about your writing time. Think of it as work. Don’t let anything interfere.

AL: Switch your phone off. Have set writing times. Set boundaries.

SJB: If it helps, go somewhere to work where you can’t be interrupted – like a café. You’ll also get that ‘going to work’ feeling!

AL: Find time to think. Let things percolate. Reads books – it counts as work (films count too, if relevant). But be strict with yourself. And don’t work in the evenings, it’s unhealthy.

SJB: But don’t write yourself out!

AL: It can sometimes be helpful to leave something for the next day. Try breaking off halfway through a sentence!

AL: But it is important not to sequester yourself. It’s good to meet other writers. Bounce ideas off each other, compete with word counts, but be supportive of each other. Writers are like magpies, they love new and shiny. Meet new people. Have new experiences. It will make your writing come alive. If you don’t go beyond your own experiences the reader is never surprised and it can lead to inadvertently duplicating ideas or themes from existing books or movies.

AL: It’s easier for others to take you seriously as a writer when you are paid for your work. Don’t use the excuse that because you love your job you’re happy to work for free. Lawyers love their work too but they don’t work for nothing!

If you’re on Twitter, check out SJ Bradley’s timeline (@BradleyBooks), where you can find answers to some of the questions there wasn’t time for.

Going Digital:
New Opportunities for Writers

Kathryn Taussig (Associate Publisher: Bookouture)
Michelle Green (Writer)
Kit Caless (Co-founder/Editor: Influx Press & Co-founder: #LossLit)

Michelle Green told us about her collection of short stories, Hayling Island: Stories at Sea Level, to be published as a digital audio map in collaboration with a composer, digital artist and literary geographer. The map will link to local tidal reports and change according to the real-time time on the island. For example, a story set on one of the sand banks will be inaccessible when the tide is in!

Kit Caless talked about the digital story-telling project, LostLit, which explores the various influences of loss in literature. The LostLit Twitter write club is hosted every first Wednesday of the month between 9.00 pm and 11.00 pm, and open to all. Updates and retweets can be found on @LossLit, and hashtagged #LostLit.

Kathryn Taussig is an Associate Publisher for Bookouture, who were one of the first digital book publishers. Their challenge was to make their books more visible and to stand out from the crowd. With traditional publishing you only have one shot to get it right. Sometimes even the most promising books can fail for no apparent reason. With digital publishing there can be more individuality, and there is the opportunity to re-brand authors and try things that are different. For example, if a book cover doesn’t work it can be quickly and easily changed. Readers of ebooks are voracious and ideally they want two or three books a year from their favourite authors.

Bookouture publish mostly commercial fiction, including women’s fiction, romance, sagas, and psychological crime. They take unagented submissions, which can be made through a portal on their website. Their authors receive a higher percentage of royalties – 45% of everything they receive from the retailer.

Writing the Perfect Synopsis

Debbie Taylor (Founder & Editorial Director: Mslexia)

An elevator pitch is the character, their quest, and the obstacle preventing them getting it. Concentrate on just one character – who is the most important person in your story? – and be sure to name them!

A synopsis is the summary of characters and plot in order, not a blurb. Your submission letter explains who you are, the sample of three chapters proves you can write, but the synopsis is there to show how you plan to develop your story. A synopsis may also be used to create the blurb on the back of the book, and sent to the designer to create the cover art.

A synopsis should be between 500 and 1,500 words (but check individual guidelines). Write it in the present tense, third person, ‘omnipresent’ point of view. It should start with a summary paragraph, similar to the ‘elevator pitch’, followed by the sequence of actions that make up the plot. Summarise each character’s profile when they turn up. Who propels the story forward? Give their name, occupation, social position, and anything distinctive about their appearance or an unusual personality trait.

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Comma Press

Louise Marley is an Amazon Top 100 bestselling author and a creative writing tutor with Writing Magazine. Her latest book is Trust Me I Lie.