Tuesday, 8 September 2020

What a So and So

Language evolves all the time and the rules (there are rules) change. I know that. I accept that. But, being a bit long in the tooth, it took me many years to do so and even more to implement some of those changes into my writing. You will no doubt have observed that I began the previous sentence with the word ‘but’. But is a conjunction. Its purpose is to connect ideas that contrast. For example:

I like my coffee black but she likes hers with milk.

Had I put…I accept that but, being a bit long in the tooth etc…there would be no controversy. However it seems to me that it carries more weight this way. And, while I’m talking about breaking old rules, what is more important? Adhering to convention or using the best way to make your point? My poor English teacher would turn in her grave. Not only have I begun one sentence with But, but I began another with And.

A fairly recent innovation in the spoken word, not so much yet in the written, is the use of the word So at the beginning of speech, a propos of absolutely nothing at all, with not the remotest connection to what is to follow or anything that came before. Now this one really irritates me – I’m sorry if you’re a convert but I’m not.

Imagine my dismay then when, in the middle of the night, one of those times when a jumble of thoughts comes flooding in when you’d far rather be asleep, I found myself thinking…So, I wonder how my day will pan out tomorrow? Why the So? What’s the matter with just I wonder? And then I giggled. Silently. I didn’t want to wake my husband. Well, (a similar misuse I fear) was that so very bad? It isn’t the best example but it made me (metaphorically) sit up and think.

I’ve been known, when editing my work, to alter the text because it feels old-fashioned and stilted. I know I write historical fiction but I still want it to flow. Does the grammar really matter when what we’re trying to do is entertain? Old habits die hard but newly-acquired ones aren’t always so bad. (acceptable use of both but and so in that sentence)

And (see, I’ve done it again) don’t even get me started on split infinitives. I’m prepared to be shot down in flames. What do you think?


Until next time


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Sunday, 19 July 2020

Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot?

In the light of my much-stated love of the Regency and my frequent assertion that it’s my go to genre, it occurred to me that I might have given the impression I rarely read or watch anything else. Not so. Like many, I love a good thriller though I can’t read anything containing horror as I’m left with bad dreams. A pity, because there’s some superb writing which I have to avoid for this reason.

Lockdown has given us the opportunity to re-watch many old favourites, some of which are rather dated but still very watchable. I’m pretty much talking cosy-crime here though you may have your own preferences of course. There are many series which fit the description ‘cosy crime’ and I won’t list them all, even if I could remember them.

Agatha Christie

So I got to thinking about Agatha Christie. Prolific, hugely readable, though I haven’t for years. I wonder what happened to my collection? And a joy on the small screen. But…Miss Marple or Poirot? For me there is only one Miss Marple, Joan Hickson epitomising our aged but needle-sharp sleuth. And David Suchet made the role of Hercule his own. It has left me unable or at least unwilling to watch any other actor in those roles because to me they ARE Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.

As I’m writing this, I realise how drawn I am to this particular genre when it’s portrayed on the television. How many series, and I think they tend to be series, are produced for our delectation. Do you like the modern ones or do you go back to the tried and trusted? Or do you watch them all?

Back to the header of this piece then. For you, is it Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?

I’m off now to see if I can find any Agatha Christie hidden away anywhere. See you next time.


A sad footnote:
Also by Agatha Christie, though featuring neither Miss Marple nor Poirot, The Mousetrap, the world's longest running play, opened in London's West End in 1952 and ran continuously until March 2020 when stage performances had to be discontinued due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Let's hope it comes back soon

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Chatting with Francesca Capaldi

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Francesca Capaldi to the blog for tea and a chat about her recently published saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys

Hello Natalie, and thank you for inviting me.
The biscuits are on that plate, Francesca, so help yourself and let’s begin.

What a mixed heritage you have. Your parents came from vastly different backgrounds. With Heartbreak in the Valleys you’ve obviously been pulled towards your mother’s homeland. I’m aware you grew up on the south coast of England so tell us, what is it about Wales that tugs at your heartstrings?
Wales is such a breathtakingly beautiful place. I've been visiting it since I was six years old, when we had cousins living in Merthyr Tydfil. They used to drive us through the sweeping valleys and around the verdant mountains, to visit the beauty spots. Although my mother was only eleven when she left, her heart always belonged to Wales, and she passed that affection for it onto me.

Your father was Italian. Have you had much opportunity in your own lifetime to return to his roots? Do you know what his childhood was like?
Although I've been to Italy a few times, I've never visited Picinisco in Lazio, where he came from. It was a place of mountains. There has been a family trip planned there for years, but we haven't quite got there yet. I know he was brought up between two farms, as both sides of his family owned them. One, or maybe both, had sheep. At least one of them had a vineyard and made their own wine. On one occasion, my dad was playing in the building where they were making wine and ended up drunk from the fumes. He talked of donkeys (which he was very fond of) and strawberries as large as apples. It sounded like a happy, carefree childhood, though his father was killed in World War 1 when he was only ten months old, so his mother was a widow.

Your readers will be delighted to know that there is a Book 2 in the series. Will Wales remain the focus of your writing after that, do you think, or will you change the setting and/or the time period, and will it be another saga?
I'm hoping to write another in the series, but that hasn't been decided yet. I have part of a World War 1 saga written that is set on the Sussex coast, which could be another series. There are several contemporary novels that I've written, one of which is set in West Wales, so at the moment I could go several ways.

As well as your sagas, you’ve also written several pocket novels and a great number of short stories. With such a varied output, do you have a favourite? Do you like the quick fix or do you prefer to be in it for the long haul?

Ooh, that's an interesting question. I'm not sure I have a favourite, though I do like to alternate novel writing with shorter pieces. Short stories require a different skill and it's good to keep my hand in, though I don’t write as many of them now as I'd like to.

Impossible to write a saga without doing a considerable amount of research. Is this something you enjoy or a chore that has to be done?
Not a chore at all – I love it! I particularly love primary record sources, like the census and newspapers from the time period. If anything, I love it too much as I could look through them all day and not get a word written!

And now, a little bit about Francesca Capaldi please. When you’re not writing, and when we’re not all stuck in lockdown, what best do you like to do?
I love being out visiting places, especially with friends and family. I enjoy a coffee out at the garden centre, or a visit to a National Trust property. I like going to the theatre. What I'm particularly missing at the moment are days out with the family, visiting places like museums or country parks, or simply having a meal. And I love having the grandchildren to stay, as we always have lots of fun.

Thank you for your questions, Natalie. 
It’s been a pleasure, Francesca. Thank you for joining me.

About Heartbreak in the Valley
The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father's drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War. 

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen's heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

Book Links

About the Author
Several years ago, Francesca Capaldi pursued a childhood dream and joined a creative writing class. Lots of published short stories, a serial, and three pocket novels later, she's now explored her mother's ancestral history for a novel set in a Welsh colliery village. A history graduate and former teacher, she hails from the Sussex coast but now lives in Kent with her family and a cat called Lando Calrissian

Social Media
Twitter: @FCapaldiBurgess
Instagram: Francesca.Capaldi.Burgess

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Chatting with Ros Rendle

I'm delighted to welcome Ros today for tea and a chat, and to congratulate her on the publication of her latest book, Bird in the Hand
I love a chat about books at any time, and if there's tea involved too, then even better. Thank you for the invitation.

It seems to me that the beautiful cover of Bird in the Hand conceals a novel filled with a multitude of emotions, which begs the question, is your writing character or plot driven? Do you find yourself living in Charmian's skin? Does she take you on her journey or do you take her?
Many of my books have started with the main character, who I picture in great detail, both physically and emotionally, from the beginning. I could picture Charmian's wild curly hair and brown, long-limbed figure. I knew she was rebellious and restless. Having said that, more recently my books are concept driven. That is to say I have in mind a 'what if'. What if the girl has two people who wish to have a relationship with her but through a particular circumstance she decides to relinquish both? Or...what if the decisions she makes for her partner or are made for her by others case her intense difficulty then...the plot thickens. It's great fun whether it's character, plot or concept. 

You've written several books in different genres. Was that a deliberate choice or was each one a story demanding to be told?
My very first book, soon to be reissued with Sapere Books, demanded to be written. It was the one that released me. We all have those dramas in life at some point and people say to write it down can help. It's not my own story, I must emphasise, but it was useful. Then, each book since has come with its own clamour to be written. The 20th century historical series arose from family history delving and, living in the area of many WW1 battlefields at the time, the research was fascinating. Thus, three sisters and three times of major conflict of the last century were born. My contemporary novels are just fun to write, even though each has a serious social interaction or family drama at its heart. I do quite enjoy the difference in time periods and therefore different types of research.

I see you lived in France for ten years. Was that prior to your retirement and, if so, were you teaching in an English or a French school? Or something entirely different? Can you tell us something of your experiences there?
Both my husband and I took early retirement here, and that's when we went to live in France. He did work for a French builder and I did do some voluntary English teaching in our local primary school there, but really it was great to do very little in terms of work! That's when I took up writing. I had tried in my twenties, but 'life' got in the way. My mum, who was a published author, always encouraged me and I'm sorry she never knew of my more recent success.
We lived in a small village and had a good community of French and English friends. The language was not a problem for me, and my husband took a short course which gave him confidence to have a go. He was able to converse with lots of people using French and gesticulations. Getting into the bureaucracy of a foreign life was sometimes frustrating and often hilarious but people were always helpful. Life was calm but punctuated by parties and outings. We enjoyed it all.

As a head teacher you must have needed to be extremely organised in your working life. Is that a natural trait or an acquired one? Does it follow through to your writing?
Yes, that's very perceptive. My working life had to be highly organised, especially with family and children to sort out. Often I had evening meetings and long days, so I had to think ahead and write lots down. Nothing else is particularly so. Housework definitely got forgotten. I'm not an in-depth planner with my writing. I usually plan each of the first ten chapters but leave the next ten until I get there and so on. I do know at roughly what part major plot points will happen, though, just not the fine detail of how to get there.

Writing is a somewhat sedentary occupation but I notice from your biog that when you're not at your desk you are often indulging in some physically demanding activity. Do you, for instance, ever find a plot running around in your head when you're walking the dogs or is it a complete getaway for you?
I have plots and conversations running through my head all the time. Sometimes I must make myself concentrate on talk going on around me. However, when we're ballroom dancing, I need to focus closely so it's probably just as well to get away from novels for a while. Then an idea or a resolution will ping home when I least expect it, often in the middle of the night. 

It's been a real pleasure chatting with you, Ros. Let's do it again when your next book comes out. In the meantime, I wish you all the luck with Bird in the Hand. 

1970, the height of the sexual revolution and independence for young people. Set in Cornwall, Charmian is worried her future is mapped for her and repressive. She craves that freedom and excitement. That's not quite what she gets.
Bird in the Hand is a story of making decisions for others which reaps heartache. Charmian has two birds and a third on the way. What's a girl to do? Consequences can be tough. We cannot mould our children to fit our own expectations. Sometimes it's better to be the familiar stranger. Charmian and her family have much with which to come to terms but it's ultimately uplifting.
Live, laugh, cry with, and love these characters. Lose yourself in a feel-good holiday read.

Author biog:
Having worked as a head teacher, Ros has been used to writing policy documents, essays and stories to which young children enjoyed listening. Now she has taken up the much greater challenge of writing fiction for adults. She writes both historical sagas and contemporary romance; perfect for lying by a warm summer pool or curling up with on a cosy sofa
Ros is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, the Historical Novelists' Society and the Society of Authors.

She lived in France for ten years but has moved back to the UK with her husband and dogs. While there, she gained much information which has been of use in her books. They are thoroughly and accurately researched.

Ros enjoys ballroom or Latin dancing, and dog walking across the fields. She has been caught out a couple of times, but she and her husband don’t normally do both at the same moment. She is a committee member of for the Deepings Literary Festival. Two daughters, with their husbands, and four granddaughters live close by, with whom she shares many marvellously fun times.


Friday, 1 May 2020

Chatting with Elaine Everest (Again!)

Once again I am delighted to welcome Elaine Everest to chat over a cup of tea/coffee. This time we’re talking about her latest book in the Woolworths series, Wedding Bells for Woolworths.

It lovely to see you again, Elaine and what a wonderful opportunity to catch up with some old friends. And to meet some new ones too. There’s a lot of optimism in this book. Well, just look at the title. But there’s tragedy too. You don’t make it easy for your girls, do you?

Hi, Natalie and thank you for hosting me today. No, I try not to make things too easy for my girls as the books would be quite boring!  This time I’ve looked at their longstanding relationships with each other and started to think what could pull them apart and how would they react? In real life we can all think of a friendship, or marriage that has failed, and how other friends take sides. Amongst the many weddings in the book I had to think how friends who had fallen out would react when pushed together in social situations, or how they would connive to avoid each other.

You’ve introduced a few more characters and they all slip into place quite beautifully. I found Lemuel’s story particularly interesting. You always succeed in weaving historical events seamlessly into your stories. Did he come fully formed?

I loved writing about Lemuel and how he slotted into the Erith community during the mid 1940s. As soon as I decided to introduce a plotline that would introduce a man from Trinidad, I knew how long-standing characters would react. People could be racist – even ‘back then’– and I needed to show how locals distrusted the stranger and turned against him just as many did in real life. It was uncomfortable but had to be done. I confess to pulling back on some of the nasty comments as it upset me. I could see Lemuel’s family featuring in future books as well…

Speaking of historical events, the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip! What a gift to the writer, but how did you contrive to make it part of the story without over-egging it (not that eggs were in such abundant supply at the time)?

Being a very crafty saga author I needed to be able to bring in a few historical events to my book. The last book in which some of ‘the girls’ featured was The Butlins Girls set in 1946, so I needed to work forward. With Princess Elizabeth’s wedding in her handsome Philip in 1947 and then the Austerity Olympics of 1948 those two years were a gift. The girls weren’t likely to receive an invitation so how else could I weave a story around that happy event…?

I must say that the ending took me a little by surprise (no spoilers) but I was pleased to see you left it open for the next book. Please tell me – and the rest of your readers – that there’s going to be a next book.

Oh my! I changed that ending so many times. If I could go back now, I’m sure I’d change the ending. However, in life we have to let go of loved ones at some point, and so it was with this book. I still smile at my original outline when I was supposed to kill off George Caselton in The Woolworths Girls, but couldn’t do it – he broke his leg instead!

And what of Ruby? You had me worried about her there for a while.

Ruby worries me a lot. So many readers love the matriarch of the extended Caselton family, and she is growing older with each book. She reminds me of my paternal grandmother and many others of her generation. They broke the mould with those women!

You’ve obviously been working on other things since you handed your manuscript over to your publishers all those months ago. Can you tell us what you’ve been doing? What’s coming next for Elaine Everest fans?

This book went to my publisher at the beginning of last year so yes, much water has passed under the bridge since then. Christmas with the Teashop Girls is to be published in October and it was a joy to return to Ramsgate and carry on with Rose, Lily, and Katie’s story, and to catch up with the women living at the Sea View guesthouse.
I’ve also just handed in the manuscript for a very special book. I was delighted when my publisher approved the idea and I could go back in time to 1905 to the day that a young Ruby Caselton moved into her new home in Alexandra Road, Erith. Publication will be for Mother’s Day in 2021.
At the moment I’m writing the first chapter of yet another idea which takes me to Biggin Hill during WW2 and that’s as much as I’m saying …

Intriguing! Obviously nothing to do with the Woolworths Girls but I must say I’m glad we’ll be hearing from Ruby again. I bet she was a feisty one in her youth!

Thank you again for inviting me to your blog, Natalie. I can rely on you to ask me some interesting stories

Elaine xx

It’s always a pleasure, Elaine. I look forward to the next time.
Natalie xx

Wedding Bells for Woolworth is the latest feel-good novel in former Woolies girl Elaine Everest's bestselling Woolworths Girls series. It sees the return of her well-loved characters in another heartfelt and gripping story.
July 1947. Britain is still gripped by rationing, even as the excitement of Princess Elizabeth’s engagement sweeps the nation…
In the Woolworths’ canteen, Freda is still dreaming of meeting her own Prince Charming. So far she’s been unlucky in love. When she has an accident on her motorbike, knocking a cyclist off his bicycle, it seems bad luck is still following her around. Anthony is not only a fellow Woolworths employee but was an Olympic hopeful. Will his injured leg heal in time for him to compete? Can he ever forgive Freda?
Sarah's idyllic family life is under threat with worries about her husband, Alan. Does he still love her? The friends must rally round to face some of the toughest challenges of their lives together. And although they experience loss, hardship and shocks along the way, love is on the horizon for the Woolworths girls.

Elaine Everest is from North West Kent and she grew up listening to stories of the war years in her home town of Erith, which features in her bestselling Woolworths Girls series. A former journalist, and author of nonfiction books for dog owners, Elaine has written over sixty short stories for the women's magazine market. When she isn't writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Hextable, Kent. She lives with her husband, Michael and Polish Lowland Sheepdog Henry. You can find out more about Elaine on Twitter @ElaineEverest or Facebook /elaine.everest

Elaine lives in Kent is available for interviews and to write features.

Wedding Bells for Woolworths by Elaine Everest is out now, published by Pan Macmillan, priced £6.99 as paperback original and eBook


Website:                                   elaineeverest.com
Facebook Author Page:           Elaine Everest Author
Twitter:                                     @elaineeverest
Instagram:                                elaine.everest
Amazon:                                   https://amzn.to/2V8xWNm
Hive:                                         https://bit.ly/3aXvVdE  

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Friday, 21 February 2020

In the Name of Research

Yesterday I went with my sister to the V&A with the specific aim of seeking out all things Regency. I’m very lucky to live on the edge of London within striking distance of all it has to offer. On a very blustery and quite unpleasant day, my husband dropped me at the station and, two Underground trains and forty minutes later I found myself exiting South Kensington Station via the huge tunnel that leads to ‘The Museums’. Under cover all the way. It was packed! Half term. Maybe not the best time to go but wonderful to see so many excited children (and adults) heading to their chosen venue. I turned off at the arm signposted Victoria & Albert to find my sister already there but she hadn’t been waiting long. We headed straight to the café for coffee.

It’s all a bit of a blur but mobile phone cameras are a wonderful asset. So, in no particular order and with details courtesy of the information plates…

Watercolour Box
About 1820

As watercolour painting became increasingly popular among fashionable young men and women, suppliers of art materials such as Reeves and Woodyer in London began to sell portable paint boxes. Colours were pre-formed into cakes with a binding medium, avoiding the messy preparation previously needed. 
Wood, paper and mixed materials including pigments

One of the characters in the novel I'm writing at the moment is a keen artist so I was particularly interested in this. Easily portable and beautifully set out. I wanted it!

Walking Dress
(spencer, skirt and bodice)

            England. Silk with satin appliqué, silk frogging, tassels and braid.

About 1805

Women’s dress changed dramatically after 1785. The rich fabrics and complicated formal shapes of the late 18th century gave way to simple, lighter fabrics that draped easily. These new gowns achieved something of the effect of the simple tunics shown on classical Greek and Roman statues and vases.

Muslin embroidered with cotton thread.
Fabric made in India, gown made in England.

Evening Cap

Silk and net embroidery with silk thread; wired paper and muslin artificial flowers.

This last was, I think, my favourite piece. There are other photos, other descriptions, but I hope this will give you a taste and perhaps convey some of my excitement. One of the most difficult things was walking through some of the other galleries staring fixedly ahead. I was on a mission! But, oh, so many wonderful things to see. Almost inexpressible thanks to those who had the forethought to create these spaces and those who donated or loaned their artefacts for the continuing joy of anyone who chooses to go and see them.

Our last stop was back to the café for lunch. These lights were dazzling but not as dazzling as some of the amazing things we saw.

See you next time

Monday, 16 December 2019

Chatting with Shirley Blair

Image courtesy of Norman Watson

What a pleasure to be sitting down to tea with Shirley Blair, Fiction Editor of The People’s Friend. Many of you will know that after more than forty years of working in magazines, the last twelve of them with The Friend, Shirley will be hanging up her boots in February next year. So let’s find out what she’s been doing all that time, why she’s leaving now and what her hopes are for the future.

It’s lovely to see you, Shirley, and while I wouldn’t have the cheek to offer you Dundee cake, there are some nice mince pies for you to tuck into while we talk. It’s more than seven years since you first accepted one of my short stories, only the second I’d ever sold, and it was for me the beginning of what has come to feel like a personal friendship. However, I realise that I know very little about you other than that you are highly regarded in the industry and that tears (even be they metaphorical) will be shed when you leave. So, how did you get into this somewhat crazy business in the first place and what have your experiences been up to the time you landed what you have referred to as your dream job?

Shirley with Oor Wullie 
Hi, Natalie, and thanks for the excuse for a coffee-and-cake-break in the usual daily whirlwind. Always appreciated.
Gosh, 43 years of me and DC Thomson…
I always loved writing, encouraged by my parents, who I must have half-deafened battering away on their old Underwood typewriter. Encouraged by them, and by my English teacher, I applied from school, the only full-time job I’ve ever applied for. I started work the week after I finished my last exams. I was so keen I didn’t even take a holiday. I began in “Star Love Stories in Pictures”, a romance library similar to “Commando” – same office and Editor, in fact. From there it was to Chief Sub in letterpress, a range that included “Red Star”, “Secrets”, “Red Letter” – remember them? All fiction, of course.
Then there was a change of direction into our glossy monthly “Annabel”, where I was Beauty Editor, which was fabulous fun and a whole new experience. I got to write features there, too, for example about visiting a plastic surgery hospital and observing procedures. How many jobs give you that kind of opportunity?
From there I was drafted onto Chief Sub a launch project, but I moved on again before it actually got beyond the lengthy development stage. Next it was Chief Sub in “My Weekly”, then, after a few more years, I was made Editor of “The People’s Friend Story Collection”, which evolved into the “’Friend’ Pocket Novels”. And it’s from there that I came here into “The People’s Friend” itself as Fiction Editor.
Interspersed with all of those experiences I’ve had other random short spells, eg, as a Features Editor, a Knitting Editor….! All great learning opportunities.

What a varied and rewarding career you’ve had! It’s a well-known saying that if you want something done you should ask a busy person. Obviously they don’t come much busier than you. Do you have a strictly adhered-to routine or do you juggle your work as seems fit?

Taking a short break with Marmalade, the office cat
There are some tasks that follow routine. Website content is very schedule-driven, as is anything fiction related that’s already on the production schedule. And I keep in mind which month we’re in in relation to when manuscripts have been submitted. I hate to keep writers waiting any longer than necessary. But other than that, if I feel like reading short stories from regular writers, or unsolicited writers, or serial instalments or ideas, or getting back to writers, I can please myself, though I always balance that with what’s actually required.

Who came up with the Writing Prompt Story Starter idea? It certainly worked for me. One of yours or one of the team? And speaking of the team, it’s clear there is a very special relationship between you all. That comes through on Facebook, on Twitter and through your web page. Can you tell us about the fiction team and how you all work together? Oh, and do please have another mince pie.

The Story Starter was my own idea. I was always taking random photos with my phone, and I thought they might be useful. I only intended to do it for a few weeks, a year at most, but I know from feedback how it’s caught on. Now I can’t not see things to photograph!
The fiction team – well, we’re genuinely great mates. We have such a giggle – between all the hard work, of course – and talk about a million different things, from space travel to politics, favourite cakes, books, films, TV…But we often just talk about the work, too. We honestly love it. As well as the general fiction content, we each have our roles: Tracey’s is pocket novels, Lucy is pocket novels and poetry, Alan provides the sweets, and I keep it all ticking over on schedule.
Oops, sorry – ‘scuse the crumbs….

Job satisfaction is obviously something you have in shed loads. What pleases you most?

It sounds a cliché, but it genuinely is signing up a new writer. Discovering that talent, giving it its opportunity. And it really is rewarding. One writer who I’ve just signed up with a short story shyly said, “As it happens, I’ve just written a long read…” It’s a corker and we’ve just bought that, too!
It’s also satisfying to take a chance with a story, something our readers haven’t encountered before – as we did with ghost stories, and our cosy crime category - and to receive letters saying how much they’re enjoying the variety.

I’m aware that you are yourself a fiction writer but, as I don’t know your pen name, I have no idea if you have a preferred genre or whether your writing takes the form of books as well as short stories. Can you enlighten those of us who don’t know and will we be able to follow you in the future?

Way back I set myself the challenge of writing a story for every one of our genres. I’ve completed it apart from a pocket novel. So far! But I actually enjoy writing modern serials. It’s a challenge to make them contemporary and interesting and yet still “Friend” appropriate.

You have said on your own blog that in February you will leave your Fiction Ed’s chair spinning behind you and go off and do new things. Work or leisure? Are you planning to travel? Are there things you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time? Perhaps you can share some of your aspirations with us. What is the hobby you would most like to pursue?

The big novelty will be that I can ignore the calendar and the clock. My working life has been entirely dictated by deadlines. Mr Fiction Ed and I have never denied ourselves in the travel and holiday department, so we’ll probably do even more of that. But I have lots of little ambitions. To make jam when I feel like it instead of squeezing jobs like that into weekends. To catch up with friends over leisurely lunches. There’s a corner of the garden that needs rethinking. To write more. To get involved in some local environmental projects. My big one is to try – yet again – to learn to swim, but I think I may need hypnosis!

Do you have a dog? Or a cat? Or a budgie? Are pets part of your life and/or will they be so in the future?

No pets. We’ve had two cats twice. The first two, separately and many years apart, got run over. The second two lived the lives of Riley until succumbing to old age. We haven’t replaced them and have no plans to, but I enjoy being cat auntie to my sister’s gorgeous Angelo.
Working hard at the Serial Writing Workshop
It’s been a delight working with you and I’ve enjoyed talking to you today. I wish every success to whoever steps into your shoes but I cannot let you go without saying how much I will miss our email chats. As you know, we met in person for the first time at the Writing a Serial workshop at the beginning of September but it was like meeting an old friend. And that’s what I feel you’ve been to me over the years. I’m sure there are many others who will say the same. The People’s Friend is not the only friend I found at DC Thomson.


I wish you a very Happy Christmas, an outstanding Hogmanay and the future you wish for. Thank you, Shirley, more than I can say.

It’s been a pleasure, Natalie. My whole career has been a pleasure, from the first minute to this. I will miss it, and the people I’ve worked with along the way, but at the same time I feel a cosy wee glow knowing that my stepping aside allows someone else the most wonderful opportunity.