My first writing advice for 2021 is here!

2020 has been the worst year for many people in a long time. For someone like me and just on a VERY personal level, it hasn’t been too bad. Sure I miss my old life: being sociable, travelling about and lunching (I secretly miss that more than anything!). …but it’s also brought out the hermit in me. I think a lot of writers have quite enjoyed the time to excuse themselves from the world and create. I must admit to diverging slightly. I have found my love of painting and have set up a fortnightly painting challenge on Facebook (The Isolation Studio). So I’m now dividing my time between painting and writing. Living the dream…..just need to keep that pesky virus away! In the meantime here are my latest writing tips, book reviews and reader questions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Autumn 2020 writing column

The autumn edition of my writing column is here. It’s packed with great tips to help you write a novel along with some great book reviews from my summer reads. I had a mailbox bursting with reader questions… you’ll find them on page four.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Isolation Gallery

Since facing the prospect of weeks/months stuck at home, (Shhh..don’t tell anyone but it actually suits my hermit instinct) I decided  to start a virtual gallery on Facebook. It’s called The Isolation Gallery. Here’s how it works:

Everyone is welcome to join (we have over 4oo members already).

Each day by 10am (GMT) I post a word or theme for guidance.

You then go off and paint, write, draw….doodle pictures in the sand with a stick…whatever. Then upload your image to the site.

The purpose of the site is to create an online community of creative people.

Our strapline is: No judgement. Pure enjoyment….you can tell I used to work in advertising right! Haha :))

Anyway above are some of my sketches…I now have to think of tomorrow’s word. Want to know what it is? Come and join us. All welcome. No previous experience necessary!



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Food, love & Italy: a recipe for success in Jane Hugen-Tobler’s debut novel.

If like me, you enjoy a taste of Italy in the 1920’s, mixed with the promise of love and fine food then look no further for a great debut novel by Jane Hugen-Tobler.

Set in 1927 the ancient lemon tree sits resplendent on a farm in Italy. It holds the secrets of former kings and saints and has been protected through time by the Hugen-Toblers. 

The farming family’s future is in the balance when tragic events unfold, and the tree is threatened.

Corrado’s passion is cooking. When he leaves Italy for London no one knows the unimaginable effect it will have on the tree and his family…

In London, Margaret is trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man who has a dark secret. He constantly buys her shoes but cannot make love to her.

Shifting between drab, grey England and vibrant, sunny Italy, Margaret and Corrado find themselves embarking on life changing journeys; little do they know how inconceivably important it will become when their lives collide and cultures clash.

I think Jane’s novel has certain similarities to Dance with Fireflies. I can’t wait to tuck into this beautiful book.

I caught up with Jane to ask her my usual clutch of author questions:

What form does your writing take? What is important to me is family so writing mirrors my experience of life. I think it’s good to write about what you know. I also love to explore European culture, particularly because I am part Italian and wanted to connect with my roots and history. Food is a big part of our family life; I am also fascinated with the 1920s, so all these ingredients have come together in my fictional novel Love, Life and Lemons.

How often do you write? I don’t write as much as I’d like as I work full time in a secondary school, I am an English tutor for GCSE in the evenings and I also have a family. Fortunately I get the school holidays off and that tends to be when I write the most. However I think about writing every day – it’s like a huge jigsaw puzzle in my mind that I’m constantly trying to piece together. I have a journal with me at all times and jot down any ideas, sentences, scenes or characters that come to mind.

How does your writing make you feel? It makes me feel whole. I see it as a healing process – a way to make sense of the past – and move on from it. I love writing when it’s going well because I forget about everything. Time disappears and I get completely lost in another world. I have learnt that even when it isn’t going well it is a process towards getting it right so when I have writer’s block I try to write my way through it and hope that good things will come eventually.

Where and when do you write? I write on my laptop at my kitchen table because I have a small house. When my daughter left home I used her room as a study with my own desk; but she came back (which I’m very happy about!) I tend to write best in the mornings. I suffer from insomnia, like many women my age, and get up early so I have no interruptions while everyone else is asleep.

What do you write about? Relationships – the difficulties people face and how they resolve them. For the past 7 years I have been writing Love, Life and Lemons so that has taken all my time. I also write poetry, some of which is incorporated within my novel. Now I have started my new book which is inspired by my latest holiday. As I was 50 this year I have been doing 50 things to celebrate. One of them was going to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. My husband organised a boat trip for my birthday where we visited various wonderful places around the coastline. On the way back we visited a secret cave and my new story stems from that. It is about hope and giving women from history a voice. I feel excited to be back to trying to figure everything out again. Now I have written one book I have the belief that I can write another. My husband is a huge support to me and he helps me come up with the stories. We go on long dog walks in the Devon countryside and mull things over.

What is the best thing about writing? Creating a whole imaginary world and its characters. As a writer you want the people you invent to be three dimensional and seem real. Since finishing my novel a friend asked me if I was writing a sequel. I said I didn’t think so because I’ve got an idea for a new book. She was disappointed and asked me what happened to two or three of the characters. I laughed and said I don’t know because they’re not real people! That was a real compliment because to her they were obviously well rounded characters that she believed in.

How long have you been writing for? I’ve always loved English and written poetry for many years. It has only since I went back into education that I have really written stories. I had some difficult teenage years. My parents divorced when I was 13 and I suffered with anxiety and depression. This culminated in me stopping going to school, so I left with no qualifications. I had my first son when I was 18 and then the rest of my family followed. I decided to go back to studying when I was 40. I went to a GCSE English literature evening class, which I loved. Then I went to Exeter College and undertook an Access Course studying English and History – the equivalent of taking 2 A-levels in one year. It was hard going as my family were younger then and I also had a part-time job. It was like a dream when I found I had been accepted at Exeter University; however, I hated it there. Despite feeling privileged to have got in, I felt like an imposter and an outsider and cried a lot. I was so much older than all the 18 year olds, the majority who had been to public schools. Thanks to my husband and family I persevered. They were very proud of me when I graduated with a 2:1 and a more importantly the beginnings of my novel.

If you would like to know more about Jane Hugen-Tobler or fancy a taste of this family saga, click on one of the links below.


Twitter – @lovelifeandlem1 //


Amazon link:






Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Marseillan Book Club and beyond!




Marseillan is a beautiful town in the Languedoc region of Southern France. We spent a magical six weeks here as the long summer days slowly came to an end.  Our townhouse was in the heart of the old village. The tiny balcony gave us views of the narrow streets and the many resident cats who mercilessly teased the dog.  Our days were spent walking the vast windswept beaches, eating the fresh seafood (oysters are a big deal here!) and sampling the many vineyards offerings. We borrowed some bikes from our newly acquired friend (hi Martin!) and peddled our merry way to Meze… such a delight to cycle through vineyards …all helped by a few tastings en-route.

With so many distractions on our doorstep (the port with fine restaurants, the pretty cycle to the Canal du Midi and Agde beyond, sketching in Meze, driftwood painting and days out to Carcassonne and Gruissan to name a few)  it was hard to stay focussed on the job in hand : To complete book three!

One of our last memorable evenings in Marseillan was spent drinking Beaujolais Nouveau with our ever expanding group of lovely friends from all over the globe.

After a couple of glasses/bottles oops………the lovely Anita, thought it would be nice to feature Dance with Fireflies for their next book club choice. So here we are, a few months on and back in the UK. The Marseillan Book Club met for their January session. Here are some photos from that night and some comments too….

“Loved the book.  Enjoyed the feeling of adventure with the sense of foreboding. Good storytelling.  Realistic. When is the sequel coming out?”

I’m told the book club carried on the theme with curry for dinner and came up with suggestions for actors if the book would ever come out as a film. Elizabeth: Maggie Smith. Margaret: Olivia Coleman. Phyllis: Claire Foy.

The bad comment…Yes, only one! “The book ended abruptly.”

So thank you Anita and the rest of the lovely Marseillan Book Club and all our new friends that made us so welcome…..we had the best time ever….Hopefully see you all in 2020.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My quarterly writing column goes live!

I’m very excited to be able to share with you my quarterly writing column.

The first in the series is an overview on how to get started if you are embarking on writing a novel and are unsure how to begin. That first blank page/screen can be a very lonely place… but once you get started it’s not so bad!

I’ll be sharing some more tips in my next column along with my latest book review and top reads.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Howl and The Hum


When these guys popped up on Spotify, I fell instantly in love with the vocalists voice and the lyrics he sang. I’ve been playing it on loop ever since. I find myself putting on when I sit down to write.

So last night I was lucky enough to see them perform live in a pub in Birmingham. I like small intimate gigs and have always stayed away from the big arena type events. It’s so much nicer when you can see the faces of the band in real life as opposed to a large screen.

They were superb, energetic, charismatic and even better live than the recorded tracks I have come to know so well.

They are on tour until the 19th November (see dates at the end of this post). If, like me, you love intimate gigs where you get to chat to the band afterwards, then I urge you to book your tickets… won’t be disappointed.

Sam (lead vocals and guitar) was a lovely guy and shares with us his thoughts on being a songwriter.

What form does your writing take? If I’m being a good boy and putting in my 9-5 then I’m sitting in front of a piano with a laptop on top, with an electric guitar plugged in to my right and an acoustic to my left. I steal notes from the ‘Notes’ on my laptop and phone and mix them with other ideas I’ve collected in my notebook, and vice versa, to try to spark something, or I’ll listen through various Voice Memos and Garageband projects to find a starting point. Basically I’m a modern slave to consumerism, especially Apple products. Aching for an endorsement.

How often do you write? I try to give myself a Monday – Friday 9-5 but our gigging schedule makes that difficult and I’m a lazy bastard so, depending on the week, I’ll give myself the excuse that the artist has to sit and wait for inspiration to come to him. This is becoming more and more apparent that it is total bollocks, however, as if an idea does spring to mind and I’m miles from the nearest musical instrument or notepad, sometimes that idea will have disappeared by the time I am ready to note it down. I’m making it my business to be readier when inspiration strikes.

How does your writing make you feel? I find writing very cathartic and treat it like free therapy: mostly because actual therapy is very expensive, but also because it looks like there’s a chance I can turn this self-therapy into a mildly lucrative career. When I stumble across a lyric which is totally true, and feels inspired, however, it can teach me more about myself than I’d ever say aloud, or know about myself. That’s the joy of writing for me, I guess – exploring the subconscious. That seems to be where the best ideas come from too.

Where and when do you write? We have a studio just outside York where there’s a piano and lots of geese and not many people at all, and it means I can write there whenever really. I tend to write best between about 10-3, but sometimes nothing comes so I just end up sitting outside smoking, drinking excessive amounts of coffee and talking to the geese. They know a surprising amount

What do you write about? I guess the songs I’m most comfortable writing are drawn from experience, but I do love creating characters born from people I’ve met or emotions I’ve not quite come to terms with yet. We have a new song called The Only Boy Racer Left on the Island about a boy racer we saw on Orkney, but when I finished it it had become an exploration of masculinity through youth and loneliness. The rest of the songs are about girls, I guess.

What is the best thing about writing? For me, it’s the cathartic nature, and the feeling you get when all the music fits with the words and you’ve created an atmosphere, but I think the most satisfied I’ve ever felt is when creating something that doesn’t quite make sense, even to me – when you’re left with questions about your work even as the author. Recently I’ve been trying to write a lot more open-endedly, with the hope that the song doesn’t wrap itself up completely.

How long have you been writing for? My first great work was aged four when I wrote a story about my lost balloon visiting my grandmother in heaven. Still have yet to top this.

Tour Dates:

02.10.19 | London | Scala
10.10.19 | Cardiff | SWN Festival
13.11.19 | Liverpool | Jimmy’s
14.11.19 | Dublin | Workman’s Club
16.11.19 | Stockton-On-Tees | Songs From Northern Britain
17.11.19 | Hull | The Adelphi
19.11.19 | Bristol | The Exchange

Tickets available from Ticketmaster and

Instagram: thehowlandthehum
Twitter: @ howlandhum





Leave a comment

Filed under music

Italian Inspiration


I went to Italy with an expectation to find time, peace and inspiration to create. My idea was to write, edit and continue book 3, with the aim of nudging it in the direction of 80,000 words and completion.

It was an amazing experience to be able to spend the day being creative, sitting in the shade of a tree in the overgrown garden. Occasionally staring at the view as I wrote about rural Gloucestershire in the 50’s, far off tractors working away, a noise I got used to over the month we were there.

A long break for lunch of gorgeous fresh produce from the market alongside DD’s (husband) homemade bread, was a nice distraction from the laptop.

By late afternoon the Bee eaters arrived, swooping around the fig trees to catch their dinner, showing flashes of olive green and bright yellow as they loudly warbled …for want of a better word!

Evenings spent in the traditional kitchen, music blaring (no neighbours), Figgy, the stray cat looking on, glass of wine in hand, knocking up something tomato based with pasta was a beautiful end to most of my days.

Did I reach my target? Well I wrote everyday and have definitely improved and lengthened my manuscript. I also found my love of painting! Some days I found myself drawn (no pun intended) to painting and others to writing. It was a massive pleasure to have two to choose from. I think I’ll continue to do both alongside each other, they seem to compliment each other well and keep me exceptionally happy and fulfilled.

All in all a molto bellissimo experience!





Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The prettiest bookstall I’ve ever seen


We are enjoying a month in Le Marche, Italy. Our nearest village is called Montefelcino… It’s a beautiful, fortified hill town with high walls that guard the pretty interior. Every Tuesday night in the summer months, this sleepy village turns into a vibrant evening of food and antique stalls. It seems that everyone from the surrounding countryside turns up with pushchairs and dogs in tow. Families, old and young crowd the narrow streets. Music DJ’d by Radio Fano fill the balmy/sticky night as people browse the market stalls and purchase all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

Old pots and pans, machinery, hideous paintings and handmade clocks all add to the eclectic vibe of this wonderful evening.

I love the bookstalls..some in vintage suitcases lining the streets others stacked on banana boxes overlooking the great view towards the Adriatic.

Did I buy?  Books? Sadly not…my Italian is not yet good enough but I did find a great Alfa Romeo hub cab (I am still a petrolhead at heart) and some simple brass candle sticks.












Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

An interview with composer and music producer, Harry Steele.

Harry writes music for various different artists around the world and music for film, television and games.

He is also a pianist and keyboard player, with a passion for jazz, pop and classical music. Harry was a founder member of the hugely popular band, Young Kato, which took him and the band on many different national and international tours, at major arenas, performing at sell out headline shows, major UK festivals and international touring along with various television and radio performances.

I caught up with the amazingly talented Harry between his busy schedules, to ask him about his passion for writing and performing  music. What struck me was how similar his feelings are to writing music as mine are to writing books. You live and breathe it and without it, life would be unthinkable!


harry 2

What form does your writing take? I write music in many different genres and for lots of different platforms. I sometimes write by myself, but I also work in a song-writing collaborative with two other musicians and we write songs for other artists. I also write music for films and games. The range of genres is really wide, from mainstream to jazz, alternative and including acoustic and electronic instrumentation.

How often do you write? I write every single day! There are so many things around me that give me inspiration, I find that I need to write every day, to be able to express myself through the music. It’s a biological need! I can’t remember the last time I had a day without writing music.

How does your writing make you feel? When I write music, it can make me feel a huge range of different emotions. Sometimes I can be completely absorbed in the writing proses where nothing else in the world matters apart from that one single moment when I am writing. In terms of emotions, it isn’t as simple as ‘happy’ or ‘sad’, but it’s much more subtle. I feel I need a lot of empathy, considering who will be performing the music, being really mindful about the lyrics of the song and what they are trying to convey (if there are lyrics!) and also what I want the impact of the song to be on the listeners.

I feel that once you are completely absorbed in the creative process, whether that be composing, writing a book, cooking or drawing up a plan for a building, it’s not just about how it makes you feel once deeply in the writing process, but more about this thing that you are creating and how other people are going to feel about it. So it creates a feeling of wanting to serve the creation and also a feeling of selflessness.


Harry 1


Where and when do you write? I write everywhere. I have transformed my flat into a music studio, which on the one hand is incredible, but there’s no escape! But really I write everywhere. I can be walking down the street, sitting on a train, reading a book, or simply having a conversation. But at that moment, if I start to create a melody, a harmonic movement, or something rhythmical, the key thing is to capture the idea. If I haven’t got a laptop and keyboard in my bag, you’ll see me frantically singing into my phone, capturing the new ideas, so that I can use them again later. Some of my most creative moments are completely unpredictable! I love to create something which wasn’t there before, which can then manifest into whatever you want.

What do you write about? I write about everything. If there’s something that has the potential to illicit any kind of emotional response, then I will write about it, whether it’s about love, heartbreak, conflict, politics or social issues. It also depends on whether I’m writing for myself, or following a brief for someone else. The great thing about the creative process is that you don’t know where it will lead. You only know the starting point. At the beginning, you often cannot predict the path, the middle or the end. Therefore, I need to accept that what I am writing about might change as the songwriting process emerges, multiple times!

What the best thing about writing? For me the best thing about writing is being able to create something that has never been made before, out of nothing. It is an amazing feeling being able to say that this creation didn’t exist 5 hours ago and that I have brought it to life. From there, if this creation can cause people to deeply feel in new ways, whether that is through sadness, joy or inspiration, and if the music can also make people think differently, then I am always continually blown away by the power of music and the impact it can have on people’s lives. The power of music ripples through people, and can create huge changes within individuals and within society. I love the way that my music can have these massively profound and transformative impacts.

But even before this, in the writing process, if I am working with other people, I love that too, as you may be working with people who are so different to you, but you then create something together. It is always incredibly unique and something you could not achieve alone. Writing music in this collaborative way is also a huge learning journey for me and the other writers. We get to learn how to express ourselves in brand new ways, and to fuse together so many different ways of looking at the world, and articulating how to express those ideas.

How long have you been writing for? I have been writing music since I was a baby! From as young as I can remember, I have always been expressing myself through the keys of a piano, with my earliest songs captured on old school tape recorders! My more significant compositions started from the age of 10. It’s fascinating to dig out some of the old recordings. But we grow, we change, we move forward, and I know I will be writing differently as the years go by.

If you’d like to hear Harry’s amazing piano playing for yourself,  head over to his website:

You can also contact Harry on his mobile: 07577238229.





Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized