Monday, 10 April 2017

Who Do You Think You Are?

Last week I went to the Who Do You Think You Are? exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham. Having never been to this kind of event before I wasn't sure what to expect, other than a lot of walking and a crowd of people. I wasn't disappointed.

Researching our family history has become a family affair. Turns out learning where you come from is a contagious pastime. Mum's cousin started on it a couple of years ago when she started compiling names and creating our family tree on Then her daughter joined in and their family holidays started including visits to view parish records. Another cousin sparked our curiosity by asking who these people really were. Where did they live? What did they do? Suddenly we were all scouring the genealogy websites searching for answers. The more information we found, the more it inspired us to dig deeper. Which is how I ended up at what is pitched as 'the worlds largest family history show'. It's big. My feet can attest to that.

As well as the big ancestry websites and magazines, there were stands representing different regions, various workshops to attend and even experts on hand to answer questions where I'd got stuck with my research. Sadly there simply wasn't time to do everything that I would have liked, but three hours later I had a bag of leaflets, a couple of books to help me with my research and a notebook full of scribbled web addresses and people to contact.

All of this research has a dual purpose, as it's inspired a new novel. It seems writing has a way of creeping into every aspect of my life. Even the past.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Reluctant Gardener: Lingering Effects of Storm Doris

This has been the view from my kitchen window ever since storm Doris uprooted a tree. Yes, I know that was over a month ago. Yes, I know that was too long to neglect the tree lying across my lawn. Have you noted the title of this blog series? Reluctant is putting it mildly when it comes to my gardening abilities. I will do almost anything to avoid even the simplest of task such as mowing the lawn, so when it comes to anything that involves actually getting my hands dirty and digging, my ability to procrastinate is truly impressive. Although, I have had a good excuse recently – did you see my post about my two jobs? See, I have been busy. Very busy. Far too busy to venture out into my garden with a spade…

To be fair I’d known for a while that the tree was a little wobbly and needed to be replanted much deeper, but it’s one of those things I hadn’t quite got around to. After all, it was still standing. It may have swayed frantically even in the slightest of breezes, but it was fine really.

In a way storm Doris was just doing me a favour by saving me the hassle of digging the tree out myself. Not that I particularly saw it that way when I looked out of my window to find a tree sprawled across my garden. Nor have I seen it that way as I’ve clambered over said tree on the rare occasion that I’ve had to venture down the garden path. Call me ungrateful, but I would have preferred it if the tree had been left standing, swaying gently (uh hum) in the breeze. Instead, it’s forced me (eventually) to take action and deal with something that I had been very successfully avoiding until its interference.

So yesterday I grudgingly headed outside, dusted the cobwebs of my scarcely used spade and dug a hole, before battling with a tree that is a lot heavier than it looks. If my neighbours find my attempts at mowing the lawn entertaining, goodness knows what they thought of the crazy women holding a conversation with a tree, issuing instructions and directions to guide it into its new home, which for the most part it chose to completely ignore.

As I stood in my kitchen last night nursing my aching back, thinking how much larger my garden looks without a tree occupying half of the lawn, I gazed contentedly at my now upright tree only to discover it still sways. A lot.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Sometimes Leaving Is The Hardest Thing To Do

Getting a new job was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. My old job required lots of extra hours. The new job is part time, leaving a whole day for writing. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It just a shame it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Now don’t get me wrong, my new job is great. The people are lovely, the work is interesting and challenging (in a good way, mostly). Even the slightly antiquated building with its unreliable lifts and an office on the 4th floor isn’t so bad. Just think how fit I will be after climbing all those stairs each day. Multiple times a day. Ok, so that part isn’t actually that great…

The problem however, isn’t with my new job, but with the old one. Or more accurately, the problem is leaving it. When you get a new job it’s customary to leave the old one, right? I’d just hand my notice in, work my 3 month notice period, clear my desk and say goodbye. Simple. That was the aim anyway. Turns out the reality was somewhat different.

For the last 5 months I’ve been working two jobs. For someone looking for less hours in the office, this move has definitely not gone to plan.

As I'm simply moving to a new department, albeit in a different building, my new and old bosses negotiated my start and end dates between them. With a 5 month overlap! To be fair, splitting my working week between them seemed like a pragmatic solution. Of course you can’t actually do either job in just part of a week. In the end, the beginning of the week was spent at the old job, the end of the week at the new job, with evenings and weekends consumed by whichever was running the furthest behind. My novel has been on hold, along with the rest of my life, whilst my clever plan to create more spare time, ended up eating up every single moment of it.

My colleagues tell me that I should be flattered that my old department was so reluctant to let me leave, and the fact they haven’t been able to fill my post shows how irreplaceable I am. Of course it could just be that no one else is insane enough to want that job.

But all that changes today.

Finally, I have made it to my last day in my old job. 

When I handed my notice in I felt quite sad to be leaving the department I have worked in for so many years. Five months later, all I feel is relief that the nightmare of juggling two jobs is finally coming to an end. Instead of a sad, tearful farewell this evening, I think it's more likely to be a case of making a bolt for the door.

My old post is still vacant. It’s now being covered by temps until an appointment is made. My old boss has already asked if I could return to train my replacement when they eventually start. My compassionate heart feels obliged to help. My head however is screaming, run! 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Common Ground

I’d always thought of writing as rather a solitary pursuit. It was just me and my notebook. No-one I knew would have understood. My friends went home after a long day in the office to watch TV and unwind, not spend hours at a computer typing. Sure they enjoyed a good book or film, but did they ever think about what went into writing them? Probably not. They didn’t need to.

Then I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and everything changed. That solitary pursuit that had once made me feel like somewhat of a recluse, became the key to a world of sociability. People brought together by their common quest to create a story so compelling that it just has to be read.

People like me.

Of course it didn’t happen overnight. It started slowly. I joined the RNA facebook group and met Morton S Gray. She was the first fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme member I knew. In one of those ‘isn’t it a small world’ moments, it turned out Morton was part of the Birmingham RNA chapter that I was thinking of joining. I headed off to that first meeting reassured that no matter how out of place I felt, there would at least be one friendly face there. It turned out there were many.

I went back for the next meeting, and the next. I went on courses, attended conferences and pitched my novel to agents and publishers. Being part of the RNA opened doors to events and opportunities that I would never have had otherwise. But mostly, being part of the RNA led me to create friendships that gave me the courage to not let those opportunities pass me by.

I’ve never known a group quite like this one. We’re all striving towards the same goal, yet there’s no undercurrent of rivalry or jealously. Published writers share their wisdom and advice with the newcomers. Writers dreaming of publication critic one another’s work to help each other edge just that little bit closer to making that dream a reality. And we all celebrate when one of us makes it, because we know better than most just how much work went into making it happen.

I’m delighted that Morton, my first friend in the RNA, has made that journey from hopeful dreamer to published writer. Her novel, ‘The Girl on the Beach’, won the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition last year and we have all been eagerly waiting for it to be published.

‘The Girl on the Beach’ is out now and I’m thrilled to be able to share my review.

Book Review: The Girl on the Beach by Morton S Gray


About the Author

Morton S. Gray is a writer from Worcestershire, U.K. A member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, she recently graduated from their excellent New Writers' Scheme. Her debut novel, ‘The Girl on the Beach', was the winner of the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition and was published in January 2017. Morton writes romance stories with a mystery to solve.

Website and blog

Facebook author page : Morton S.Gray

Twitter : MortonSGray

Book Summary:

When Ellie Golden meets Harry Dixon there’s something familiar about him. He reminds her of someone she used to know. There’s just one problem; he’s dead.

Right from the beginning The Girl on the Beach is full of mystery and intrigue. We follow Ellie and Harry from their first meeting, as Ellie tries to figure out why Harry seems so familiar, and Harry wonders why a woman he’s never met seems to know him.


Morton’s easy to read writing style kept me turning the page eager to find out more about who Harry was and how the gentle and sweet Ellie could have been part of the dark and troubled world that he was fleeing.

Morton has a knack for creating multi-layered characters, not just for the two main characters but for the friends and family that surround them. Ellie’s son, Tom, is a typical moody teenager, but at the same time he’s trying to cope with the memories of what he witnessed as a child. Nicholas is the tough misfit, yet Morton cleverly gives us a glimpse in to his harsh life and enables him to grow with Ellie’s encouragement.

I loved the contrast between the beautiful idyllic seaside town that Morton created, and the suspense and intrigue of her storyline as Ellie and Harry’s shared past catches up with them.

Congratulations on your fantastic debut novel, Morton. I can’t wait to read your next!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Foyles Blogger Brekkie

What better way to start the day than surrounded by books?

This morning kicked off the first of Foyles monthly Blogger Brekkies in Birmingham's Grand Central bookshop.

We spent an hour before the store opened chatting about books and blogging over cups of tea and croissants. Does it get any better?

Well, possibly...

Over the coming months Foyles events team are planning to have guest bloggers and authors attend the Blogger Brekkies to share their wisdom and tips. Something tells me I'm about to start spending a lot more time in Birmingham...

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Guest Post - Alison May - The Secret To Christmas Shopping

Today I welcome Alison May, author of Midsummer Dreams and Sweet Nothing. Alison tells us a little about her festive book; Christmas Kisses, and shares her secrets for how to do Christmas Shopping the right way.

- - -

Having written three Christmas novellas you’d think I’d have written every possible Christmas related scene by now, and, to be fair, I’ve done a good few of them. I’ve written turkey dinners with all the family. I’ve written a Christmas wedding, and Santa’s Grotto. I’ve written a heroine desperate to get away for Christmas and a hero equally desperate to get home.

But one thing I realise I’ve not written very much about is Christmas shopping, which is a shame, because Christmas shopping is an area where I have views. There is, without question, a correct way to approach it, and, equally without question, all three heroines in the Christmas Kisses stories would do it wrong. Holly, from book one, would be someone who hates Christmas shopping. She would complain about the queues and the expense and the consumerism of the whole thing. Intellectually she would be making a lot of good points, but still she would be Entirely Wrong.

Cora, from Cora’s Christmas Kiss¸ would be someone who is used to just throwing money at the problem of Christmas shopping. Her usual gifts would be stylish, elegant, beautiful and probably selected by a high-end personal shopper on her behalf.

Jessica, the star of the third book, would be a little ball of Christmas shopping stress. She’d hate the thought of not getting the right thing and would work herself up into a great anxiety over the whole present-buying process. And, like the other two, she would also be Very Very Wrong.

To Christmas shop correctly you need the following things:

  • Time
  • Excellent administrative procedures; and
  • A partner-in-crime.

With these three things Christmas shopping ceases to be a source of seasonal stress and becomes one of the highlights of the festive season. The first key requirement is downtime in the schedule. If you have two hours after work to buy presents for everyone you’ve ever met, then you’re going to end up stressed. It needs time, and that time needs to include cake stops, and, if possible, a half-day spa session. Instantly shopping becomes a leisure activity rather than a chore.

The second requirement is good admin. Lists are your friend. Lists of everyone you have to buy for. Lists of things they might like. I don’t mind if you’re a notebook person or a spreadsheet aficionado, but good administration is your Christmas shopping ally. It’s saved me from falling into a retail frenzy and buying more than one present for the same person on at least one occasion.

And finally, you need a shopping buddy – someone to keep the mood up when you’re starting to flag. I can heartily recommend my sister for the role, but unfortunately for all of you, she’s booked for Christmas shopping duties so you’ll need to make your own friend. It’s worth it – if you make a good one, you’ll get use out of them all year around.

So there you go – Christmas shopping – I didn’t put it in any of the Christmas Kisses books, because those heroines would just have done it wrong. Fortunately they do lots of other things right, so if you’re looking for something to read during that Christmas shopping spa session you’ve just booked, then why not check out Christmas Kisses for yourself?

About Alison May

Alison is a novelist, short story writer, blogger and creative writing tutor who grew up in North Yorkshire, and now lives in Worcester. She worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a
learning adviser, an advice centre manager, a freelance trainer, and now a maker-upper of stories.

She won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2012, and her short stories have been published by Harlequin, Choc Lit and Black Pear Press. Her romantic comedies, Sweet Nothing, Midsummer Dreams, and the Christmas Kisses series are published by Choc Lit. Alison has been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards. She also runs novel-writing half-day, one-day and weekend courses.

You can find out more about Alison at, on facebook at, or by following her on Twitter @MsAlisonMay

About Christmas Kisses

Three girls, three kisses, three gorgeous Christmas stories.

Holly hates Christmas with a passion and can't wait to escape it - but then the flight to her once-in-a-lifetime holiday destination is cancelled.

Cora has had the year from hell, and faces a bleak Christmas working in Golding's department store - in the most unflattering reindeer costume imaginable.

Jessica is in denial after her husband's betrayal, and can't help but think back to when her life still seemed so full of hope and promise ...Three years from hell, three sets of broken dreams, three girls in desperate need of Christmas spirit.

Is the perfect Christmas kiss all it takes?

Includes Holly's Christmas Kiss, Cora's Christmas Kiss and Jessica's Christmas Kiss