Gifts Worth Giving…

In this crazy world of fake news and dwindling access to reality, books are more important than ever. As a child I stood outside my local library many times waiting for it to open. I was desperate to trace my fingers across the shelves and find books that would stimulate, educate and inform.

I’m saddened to think that children today have far less opportunity than I did to access such a rich seam of knowledge. Libraries encourage freedom to think, they give you courage to be who you are. Almost a fifth of UK libraries have closed since 2010 – it is a shocking statistic.

Organisations which support reading projects get a big thumbs up from me, which is why I want to draw your attention to the charity Give a book. They promote reading for pleasure and give books where they will make a difference. They work within many settings including prisons and schools across the UK.

From December 3rd – December 10th if you donate to the charity through The Big Christmas Give link here your donation will be match funded!

Poor reading is linked to economic disadvantage and reduced life opportunities. If you truly want to give a gift worth giving please donate what you can.

Photo credit ~ Jarred Craig Unsplash

Sing That Song Girl…

With The Brits oh, I mean The Bryts (I’m so old school…) held last night, I got to thinking about how powerful and inspiring music can be.

Music connects with me in a way not much else can… except…books!

Music reaches into my soul and shines a light into places that are often left in shadow. Maybe it evokes a memory or a feeling. It plays around with parts of me that don’t surface as often as they should.

Recently I set myself a challenge to create a soundtrack for each piece of writing I either completed myself or read. It has been an entertaining and enlightening experience! My musical taste is eclectic to say the least, and I have spent hours pondering whether a character in one of my short stories is more into rock than jazz! If truth be told I would probably want all of my characters to like jazz, but that’s a whole other blog post!

So, what pieces of wisdom did I manage to garner from my quasi experiment? Above and beyond the obvious fact that both mediums tell stories and the sheer good fun of it all?

I’ve learnt that in order to be brave you must be vulnerable. It could I suppose apply to any art form, but my drugs of choice are books and music. They are as interconnected in me as blood and DNA. They exist to compliment each other not to compete. Buried within the words of both is a truth, shared just with me. The wordsmiths have been brave. They  have laid out their vulnerability for all to see. The least I can do is try to hear and understand.

Happy New Year – Again!

2018 spat me into 2019 before I felt ready! The good news is now I’m ready! So, belated New Year greetings!

I have a plan for 2019, well sort of. I slumped my way towards the end of last year after an action packed Spring, Summer and Autumn. I don’t have a crystal ball but this year is not about puppies or kittens or any other sort of fluffy fur-balls as far as I’m aware. This year is about my writing. Thanks to my wonderful diary courtesy of Charlie at Urban Writers Retreats I can hold myself to account. I shall be either patting myself on the back, or slapping myself around the face, depending on how things are going! I’m happy to report so far no faces have been slapped! 🤣 Happy New Year!

To Be a Good Writer…

Sage advice from the man himself –

To be a good writer, I believe that one has to read a lot of books. Fifty a year would be a good place to start, but twenty five would work... Stephen King.

I shall be putting this good advice into practice over the holiday season.

Merry Christmas everyone x

A Charmed Life ~ The Importance of Character Flaws

Today I’ve been ruminating… Yes, I am feeling quite well, thanks for asking!

A while ago I wrote a blog piece on the believability of character flaws. They are such a big part of a writers remit that I wanted to revisit them. Recently I’ve read a few books where the characters were not believable and it irked me. The books were well written, and the stories could have been so amazing. Yet the characters were not believable. Those books sadly were just words on a page, there was no life in them and I got bored!

Characters need to be equally at home eating a plate of pasta, as running for their lives. Buried deep within the pages they need to live, breathe and come to life.

As a reader, I need to understand them. If I don’t understand them, I don’t believe them. If I don’t believe them, I can’t connect with them and I hang up. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but I do need to have a level of understanding.

As I move forward to write book 4 my head is filled with people. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people – all bouncing through my mind waiting for their moment to connect. Some I’ve already ditched, some I am curious about and some keep me awake at night!

They are ordinary people living ordinary lives…. until something extraordinary happens. How many ordinary lives do you know that are perfectly lived? Exactly!

We, as a species love nothing more than neat little boxes. We want labels on absolutely everything from gender to religion, to leftovers in the fridge (maybe that one’s just me…). We gain a level of security knowing where we are within the world and how everyone else fits into our model.

I, am a walking contradiction. I change my mind more often than not, tell white lies, debate, argue and cry. I laugh at things I shouldn’t and get myself into awkward and tricky situations. Am I perfect – er no! Am I believable? I would like to think so. And that’s the point. It is OK for me to change my mind – I am flawed, it’s part of who I am. It is the same for my characters. They can change their minds too but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), as writers, we get so focused on making sure our characters fit into the boxes we’ve created they can become ‘too perfect’. Characters with contradictions, some ‘why the hell did they do that?’ moments grab our attention. Crazy events work well if you understand them. You need events to move your story forward. People are peculiar- not perfect!

Usually, events are character driven, unless you’re a shark, a big great white shark with big teeth! Although, thinking about it, even shark based thrillers require the characters to get into the water!

So lovely people put your characters in the water and watch them swim for their lives! They can swim right?…Cue scary music…


Are you ready to get into the water? Photo by Francisco Jesús Navarro Hernández on Unsplash


2017 My Year in Books

So many books, so little time will always ring true for me. My Magpie tenancies are definitely of the bookish variety. I am reading more books now than ever before and it’s wonderful! I undertook the GoodReads reading challenge and am doing a rather smug happy dance as I have completed it. This year, I have read 40, yes that’s 40 books! Pop on over  to Good Reads to see my complete list.

I’m reminded of that wonderful poem by Eleanor Farjeon, but rather than sleeping anywhere like the cats in the poem, I’m have done the equivalent with reading! Whether an inflight magazine, a thrilling novel, or just simply a set of instructions for a new mop (don’t ask…). Each has got me thinking in different ways – yes, even the mop instructions!

Reading so much does have a downside… I have fallen victim to the good, the bad, and the downright ugly! Luckily, for me, 2017 has been more about ‘the good’ than anything else. It is these books that I wish to highlight as we turn the last few pages of 2017. So, if you’re looking for a good read look no further. My taste is eclectic and broad, each one of my mentions has something different to offer, hopefully you will find something to spark your interest. My goal for 2018 is to challenge myself further, not only with the amount I read, but also the genres I choose. It will be an exciting year as I peer into those far flung, least visited corners of the library….

I have very thoughtfully listed my top reads for 2017 below …. with buy links… gift to you 🙂 You can thank me later:

Robert Bryndza – Cold Blood

Lynne Fellows – Magic O’Clock

Celeste Ng – Everything I Never Told You

Ruth Hogan – The Keeper of Lost Things

Iris Chacon – Finding Miranda

J.F.Kirwan – 66 Metres

Rachel Caine – Stillhouse Lake

Viveca Sten – Still Waters

So, I’ve shown you mine, now it’s your turn. What books have you enjoyed reading this year?

Here’s to 2018 being a year filled with health and happiness, and plenty of good reads.

I have written this post on my phone whilst travelling, so apologies if the formatting is a bit ‘special’.

Hashtags and Other Tales

These days the humble # is found everywhere. Hashtags are a necessary part of marketing as any fun loving marketeer or PR guru will tell you. Started on Twitter their reach now extends across most media platforms.They can be used for fun, wider social or political issues or just because. Love them or loathe them they are here to stay. For authors, they can be a useful way of reaching a wider audience and potentially connecting with new readers. That is of course if you get it right.

Having cast my eye over today’s trending offerings everything from #internationalbeerday to #FlashbackFriday is filling my twitter feed.So how as a rooky can you even come close to ‘trending’ or at the very least expand your audience? Here’s one thing I’ve learned about expanding your audience which I wanted to share with you. You need to know who the top influencers are in your field.Now, this is where it gets a bit sciencey so bear with me. Top influencers are those tweeters who have received the most impressions for a hashtag from their own tweets and the number of retweets they get. So how do you find them? Ah well… The easiest but also most expensive way is to pay someone to do it for you. Just type into Google ‘top influencers twitter’ and you will be presented with a wealth of companies offering you bespoke services. Or you could do what I did and do it the cheap way! Take a look a company called Klout who offer a free service. Klout allows you to share content and link you social media accounts to see how influential and engaging you have been on social media. Using a fancy algorithm it then spits out your score of influence from 1 – 100. I got 49 so obviously I am not as engaging as I like to think and still have some way to go! What I really like about this app is it allows you to identify the top experts (influencers) in your field who you can choose to follow.You can also monitor how you’re doing via your ‘Klout Score’ which changes dependant on the aforesaid fancy algorithm. It’s a great way of expanding your audience and increasing your online presence.Until recently I had no idea such things existed but as all good indies know it takes a lot of hard graft to raise your wee small hand in the maddening crowd. Simples yes? I hope you too have found this small journey into the unknown helpful 🙂

#It’sthesmallthings #EnjoyLife #AmWriting #NeverGiveUp #FridayThoughts

Tuesday Spotlight ~ My Top 5 Travel Guides 2017

Books come in all shapes and sizes, in all genres and for all purposes. There is nothing quite like a travel guide though to get you in the holiday mood. The internet is my friend when it comes to information gathering but there is something spine-tinglingly good about holding a physical copy of a travel guide. They make me feel equipped for adventure regardless of my destination. Highlighter at the ready I slowly devour each page looking for nuggets of gold to underline and emphasize.

I like ‘local’ books. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing amiss with the big boys. The likes of ‘Lonely Planet’ and ‘Rough Guide’ certainly have a place and their research is solid. I, however, like to support smaller ventures. Books with quirky facts and tips that offer an alternate flavour excite me. Below is my top 5 for 2017 (so far). They are books I’ve travelled with and enjoyed. It is by no means a definitive list – Lord knows I have not read or travelled enough to make it so. My aim is to get you to think the next time you go and search for a travel guide. I want you to dive beyond the first five pages offered up when you type in your travel destination. You’ll be surprised by what’s out there.

I can attest to having read all of the books below and found them informative, funny (in places) and well worth the investment. A test of a good travel guide for me is one that returns from vacation full of pink highlighted sections – there is something deeply satisfying about getting to work with a highlighter! So without further ado……

  1. Brit Guide to Orlando – This book is updated yearly and was the first book I ever used, I haven’t looked back since. There is almost too much information and for first timers it may seem overwhelming. Arm yourself with a highlighter (pink preferably) and you won’t go far wrong. Reliable and informative this guide is full of top tips and insider info. I have returned to Florida many times over the years and always go armed with this book, there are always new nuggets to be found. If Orlando floats your boat then this is the one! It is quite a weighty book but it does cover pretty much everything!

2. Cruise Control – Top Tips for First Time Cruisers – A nifty little book chock full of top tips to help you enjoy your cruise experience. As a first timer, I found this book really informative and funny. It doesn’t tell you what cruise to go on or where to travel to but it is helpful when it comes to making the most of your cruise. I would argue that even veteran cruisers would be able to gather some useful insights. It is a small book so fits perfectly into your handbag!

3. Secret Beaches South West – As someone who lives in the South West of England this book was a revelation. A great easy to read guide, which showcases some truly beautiful and captivating beaches. I am slowly visiting as many of these beaches as I can and they are exactly as the book suggests – secret! You could build your holiday around visiting this wonderful selection.

4. Sweden:101 Coolest Things to Do in Sweden – This is exactly up my street. Just like the cruise book  it is full of interesting bits and bobs. OK so the formatting and spelling leave a bit to be desired but I quite like the ‘less than perfect’ feel of it. It is full of cool things to do and they are not activities I’ve seen featured in other guides.

5. Venice & Verona for the Shameless Hedonist – Venice is one of my favourite cities, which is why a large chunk of my debut novel All Tomorrow’s Parties is set there. This is one of the best guides I have come across. It has the benefit of including 6 walking tours too. This book has the feel of being written by someone who loves Italy as much as I do. It is good for foodies, wine lovers and shoppers alike!

So there you have it fellow travel enthusiasts my down and dirty guide to guides. All of these books are worth you taking a cheeky peak… Hopefully, your feet are well and truly itching…

I’d love to know what guides you’ve found useful? Please comment below.

iphone pics 682

Cover Reveal ~ Soaring ~ A Collection of Short Stories

Whilst work continues on books 3 and 4 I have been busy beavering away with my short story collection. For those of you that know me a short story collection will come as no surprise. I love the short form in all its gloriousness and have over the last few years built up an eclectic body of work. My shorts range from humorous and funny, to poignant and sad with everything in between. Each story ranges in length from 500 words up to 3,000. Many have been entered into competitions with the title piece ‘Soaring’ being shortlisted and featured in the Black Pear Press anthology for 2016.

I wrote my first short story in 2015. I had just finished reading fellow author Wayne Barton’s ghost story ‘Coal House’, which btw I would highly recommend. It stirred me to move out of my comfort zone. I did not want to write a ghost story, but I did want to try something new. I have always been a fan of short stories and toyed with the idea of giving it a go. I had just completed my debut novel All Tomorrow’s Parties and was thinking about writing Forbidden Colours. I put pen to paper and wrote my first piece of short fiction ‘6 months and 3 days’ over the course of an evening. It was 500 words long. The experience of using so few words to convey an entire story had made my mind do mental gymnastics but I loved it. I was unsure what I should do with it, so in typical fashion, I jumped in feet first and entered it into a flash fiction competition. I then forgot about it and got on with the task in hand – writing what would subsequently become Forbidden Colours.
A month or so later I heard I hadn’t won, I had not expected to, but I was shortlisted which was a big surprise. During a lull in proceedings with FC, I challenged myself a bit further and wrote ‘Come Tilly Come’, a 2,000-word tale of love and loss. I showed it to my sister and it made her cry, which was a good thing! CTC was longlisted in the Exeter Short Story Competition. It was another lovely surprise and gave me the confidence I needed to continue writing shorts as and when I could.
When I’m writing novels I like to step away from them to regroup and gather my thoughts. It’s what I need to do to maintain my sanity! Writing short stories to enable me to do that. They plug the void, making me think in different ways about everyday things and I love it. It’s a bit like therapy. What is it they say, a change is as good as a rest? Well, that’s certainly true in my case. I have to deliberate so hard over every single word it’s a real lesson in disciplined concentration! Once I’ve rewarded myself by writing a short story I returned energised to my larger pieces of work.

Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you short stories are easy to write – they are not. Every word needs to be needed, every word needs to count and every word needs to propel the story forward. So here I am, almost ready to release my first collection. It is scary and exciting.
‘Soaring’ is a story that features in the collection. It is a tale of marital abuse and the oppression of women. It is my favourite short story and it arrived quite by accident. One night whilst I was watching TV, I got up from the sofa, reached for my notepad and pen and started to write. By 2 am ‘Soaring’ had arrived.
There is something quite magical and edgy about crafting words to a defined number. Short stories stretch me in a way that screams ‘pay attention, it’s important’ and that’s what appeals. Whilst I have a little way to go before it’s release I wanted to show you its’ beautiful cover. Once again James at has done me proud. He has designed all of my covers to date and they are all stunning. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you ‘Soaring’. I hope you love the cover as much as I do.

Do you or have you ever thought about writing short stories? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Pop a comment below.


Soaring - High Resolution

Wednesday Spotlight ~ U Got to Have U Some Fun by Andrew Harkless

Morning campers! How are you all today? Did your tent stay up overnight? Thinking of upgrading to a cruise? Well, whatever holiday floats your boat (apologises, apologises) you should definitely pack a copy of ‘U Got to Have U Some Fun’ by my guest author Andrew Harkless. Firstly, welcome Andrew.  So, to get the ball rolling please tell us a bit about yourself?

AH: I dropped out of Penn State University at the age of 20 with the deliberate, albeit unorthodox, intention to earn a more practical, street-smart degree studying the human condition through countless bartending positions and extensive travel. That path has been one of sparse means filled with challenging, often horrifying, periods of introspection and no holds barred character studies of everyone with whom I came in contact. From society’s upper echelon, to those whose resumes read like criminal rap sheets, no type of person was off limits. The ultimate goal: arm an innate imagination with enough real-life experiences to eventually be proficient in creating authentic, heartfelt, relatable characters to act out the scenes of my imagination through literary novels.

NF: Wow, that sounds hard work but rewarding. ‘U Got to Have U Some Fun’ is a great title for a book! Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?

AH: I wanted to take an everyman character anyone could relate with on a sort of middle-aged, coming of age existential journey to discover his true potential.

NF: What a great premise for a book. I note that it’s set on a cruise ship, was this your first choice of setting?

AH: It was absolutely my first choice. While working a wide variety of bartending jobs over 25 years to research people so I could ultimately write novels like this one, I was a bartender for two different cruise lines—RCCL and Hawaiian. Setting this story up as a 7-day vacation aboard a cruise ship also allowed me to create a very interesting and realistic sub-plot pulling the curtain back on what really happens on cruise ships.

NF: I am sure there are many more stories to come from those times…. Can you share with us what inspires you to write?

AH: Everyone has a calling. I am an only child, never married nor had children. I am a natural observer who is quite analytical. I love working for myself. All these traits are conducive to creative writing. As a movie buff, my ultimate goal has always been to have something I write adapted for the big screen.

NF: I agree, I think writers are the best observers. I often think writers would make great spies for that very reason. When you write would you say you are a planner or a panster?

AH: A bit of both. I make a thin outline to start and then it grows and changes as I write

NF: Me too. I love watching a story unfold, there is something magical about uncovering a story for the first time.Which authors do you enjoy reading?

AH: All the classics; contemporary wise. I love John Irving, along with all the usual suspects like: Brown, Grisham, DeMille, Elmore Leonard.

NF: I’m with you on DeMille.Who would you say have been your biggest influences?

AH: I have the best parents. Without them, my dreams would have never had a chance. I used bartending for the past 27 years as my education and as a source of research to write great novels, so I would also say all the people I’ve met on that journey are content sources of influence. And last but not least, without my editor, publisher, business partner, and friend—Debra L Hartmann—this novel would probably never have come to life.

NF: Yes families are so important in shaping and supporting us. Where would we be without having someone fighting our corner? If you could time travel what one piece of advice would you give your younger self?

AH: Work hard and buy real estate or stock at a young age so you have the means to afford the luxury of pursuing your dreams later.

NF: Good advice Andrew, I wish I’d have done that… the buying real estate bit! So, what are you currently working on?

AH: A sort of anti-materialistic themed novel. The main character takes a vacation each year to live on the streets with the homeless.

NF: That sounds intriguing. An actor I know is trying to raise money via crowd funding to make a movie about homlessness, it’s a very emotive subject. Thanks so much for joining me today Andrew and I wish you all the best with ‘U Got to Have U Some Fun’ and here’s to all of your future writing adventures.

Just before you go can you answer these quick fire questions? It must be the first thing that pops into your head… OK… Ready…Set…Go..

Favourite type of food?


Favourite movie?

Cool Hand Luke, Casablanca, Caddie Shack

Favourite book?

I have two: Canery Row by Steinbeck and Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk

Favourite book character?

John Smith from U Got to Have U Some Fun

Red or yellow?


Sweet or savoury?


Beginning or End?

The present is a continual beginning.

Favourite city?

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Land or sea?

Land by the sea.

Fact or fiction?

All fiction is fact.

About the Author

Andrew Harkless was born in Orange County, California in 1970, but raised in central Pennsylvania. He currently resides in coastal North Carolina. He has never married nor had children—life-lessons possibly still awaiting him down the road. Many typical luxuries were put on hold for devoting unbridled time to writing with the ultimate goal of becoming a successful literary author along the caliber of his idol, John Irving—inarguably one of the greatest contemporary American storytellers.

Andrew Harkless was born in Orange County, California in 1970, but raised in central Pennsylvania. He currently resides in coastal North Carolina. He has never married nor had children—life-lessons possibly still awaiting him down the road. Many typical luxuries were put on hold for devoting unbridled time to writing with the ultimate goal of becoming a successful literary author along the caliber of his idol, John Irving—inarguably one of the greatest contemporary American storytellers.

U Got to Have U Some Fun is available in both ebook & paperback  right here >>>                                   

To Connect with Andrew Harkless:

Author Website