About Me

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Shortlisted Bath Short Story Award 2013 Runner-up Cinnamon Press Competition 2013 WNNER: Don Louth Writer of the Year (run by Reading Writers) WINNER: Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012. SHORTLISTED: Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) 2012 for a short story collection. Writer/ Journalist - assistant editor and writer for the art and books pages of Wolfprint. Most recently published in Independent on Sunday and short story anthologies: Sentinel Champions No 9, 100 Stories for Queensland, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and From Hell to Eternity. In a recent writing competition, Joanne Harris described my writing as '...compelling (but quite creepy)'

Thursday 31 March 2016

A dish well-cooked with Masterchef precision – Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear

The third book in the Marnie Rome series, after Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness

It was immediately obvious, from the opening few pages of Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear, that this was exceptionally well-written, the antithesis of pulp fiction. The scene is set beautifully or rather, London is presented in all its ugly squalid stink and risk. There are some eloquent turns of phrase that never feel over-written or didactic. Like a bad but rogueish lover, London become an oily, fascinating and distinct character of its own, like Hardy’s Wessex. I have rarely seen a better and more tender portrayal of kids on those harsh London streets, too, vulnerable as a crab’s belly. The Lost Children. I did a tiny bit of work in the past with a charity called Railway Children, who dealt with homelessless and runaways. So Tastes Like Fear is real and reflects the situation as it is now. Characters are strong, self-contained and memorable. Our detective has a past, a past damaged by murder. It fuels her, pushes her forward – a classic example of how anger at a situation can be productive, valuable. As a reader bored with being spoonfed, I was grateful that here, I was given the intelligence to deduce for myself and that wonderful gift that is mostly seen in Nordic Noir (which this is not, but it is equal in quality and darkness) , the space to think about things. Marnie is a fascinating gal who really pours heart and soul into finding the missing, helping the families who have lost them. If I needed help, I would want Marnie on my side.

Think writing crime is easy? Try juggling enviable pace, psychological insight, three dimensional characterisation, believable dialogue and a plot that compels the reader to keep that book open. Alternating perspectives are tricky too but they keep things fresh, fast and intriguing. If Tastes Like Fear was a cake – it would be one of Mary Berry’s best. Pacy, punchy and powerful, with some unusual but spectacular and unexpected flavours – it also has another factor that makes a book into a novel with resonance – compassion. As we watch the odd and disturbing world of a killer, a killer for whom family has become a warped concept that makes sense in his twisted and constructed world, we are equally horrified and fascinated by him. Harm – our perfectly named bad man – compels us to look and listen to him even if we feel ashamed, like straining to look at traffic carnage.

There were so many characters that drew me, that existed beyond the scope of the book. Noah was charming and sexy too. I wanted him as my friend. As with all the characters, I felt that they were flesh, brain and soul.

After I finished Tastes Like Fear, I had to analyse for a while why I found it such a satisfying read, why I was happy to rip through page after page, neglecting everything else around me. Ultimately, it’s because I felt the author’s sincerity. Nothing was gratuitous and the lurch I felt in my heart as a mother when reading about the young victims was also genuine. I was connected. Hilary is fierce as a writer but empathetic, oozing an angry intelligence about human nature, our capacity to be truly bastardly to one another. It helps that this is done in strong, muscular prose. The reader is never allowed to be complacent and in this, there is one particular shock that I absolutely did not see coming. Want to hear the plot? Read it.

Monday 11 January 2016

Ashes to Ashes Indeed

Most of us would love to believe that we are strange, mercurial creatures with an alien inside. The truth is usually more mundane; most of us are pinstripe prim – at least on the inside. But we grew up chafing against conformity – a single earring here, an attitude (that most didn’t notice) there. I went out around a small market town – Hereford - in bondage trousers and a combat jacket, with a punky bounce and I thought, a sneer. I was but a tiny tiny speck in the universe – a nothingness. Yet there was Mr Bowie – that voice seems to cleanse my blood and make me want to scale mountains while shouting down ‘see you suckers’ to the people below, spiky finger in the air to the world.

As a teen your emotions are undulating bloody monsters. Bowie in a single song could tap into melancholy, that disconnected anarchy that goes on in the black soul of an arrogant but terrified teen. He made you feel that strange was norm, that the normal people were the freaks. I had a very beautiful German boyfriend – Paul Schindler – who was an enormous fan. So, as with all of us, Bowie will mean a place, people we knew or attitudes we struck where we were most happy. Mine would be Berlin, I think, running up one of those high-ceilinged hallways to someone’s flat, or watching Marianne Faithful ride in black leather in Girl on a Motorcycle, in a shabby building in Berlin that had been turned into a cinema with seats from a bus. The wall had just fallen and it was an exciting time to be in the city.

Tomorrow I will be fine but today has been a rather discombobulated one and I have returned to adolescence – just for today, to indulge, to listen to a lot of Bowie. I was about to buy The Man Who Fell to Earth for my own teen but I am sure that they will show it on TV.

We all love the alien. We may never be alien and we can plod through our lives carrying our secrets and our stubborn strangeness. So thank you Bowie for all you gave us, how some of will share the grief and then we can smile and dance around to you. We won’t talk about Absolute Beginners and we won’t mention Tin Machine. We all make mistakes, my darling boy and we can forgive you much. For the songs, for the wonderful wonderful weirdness that made us all feel sane in our difference.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Life So Far

It has been an obscenely long time since I shared anything, personal or writing-wise, on this blog. Life continues to throw some challenges at me and there have been times when things are coming in from so many angles, I can’t catch them all.

I am lucky in a lot of ways – I am very proud of being able to work with my beloved wolves, to have brilliant friends and a funny feisty girl I adore.

Recently, I read about Sinéad O Connor and her meltdown with a certain amount of sympathy. It is a little too easy to judge someone when we are in a happy, sane, comfortable place. What drives someone to share and rant on social media can be a desperation, a sadness and an imbalance of sorts.

As writers, should we not communicate to others in depth, particularly on points that are meaningful to us? Writers like Matt Haig have opened themselves up to the world and talked in great depth and sensitivity about depression. It helps him, it helps others but of course it makes him vulnerable. I admire him for that.

Sadly, when we share – there will often be others who do not understand or choose to say cruel things to us, or just live to troll. I have always been a sharer, a communicator.

Ultimately, I would still like to think that I am a writer. I certainly love editing, writing and proofreading – but my own creative writing has recently taken a back seat due to unpleasant personal circumstances. I respect my daughter but she took a very hard decision to have nothing to do with her father when he walked out on us. She had some very serious problems and I made sure that she had a stable home, even when I had to fight to keep it. Every parent – every good parent – will understand that the tigress comes out when our offspring are threatened. However, when my mother was sent a vile message from my ex partner’s new wife, it gave me a very clear view of how they see me, how nasty they are together – which is rather sad. It is easier to blame me presumably than to look at the truth, of a man who leaves his sick partner and a vulnerable child. I have never used my daughter in any way, or denied her support. I did not choose to be a single parent and it has been bloody bloody hard, particularly with bad health and regular chemo. My discussions and arguments with my ex other half have been justifiably furious, considering how ill our daughter has been. That is OUR relationship, based on twenty years together in which we were incredibly close. I was his first love, his first proper girlfriend and we shared many beautiful moments together – including days in London when we took out the whole series of I, Claudius and watched it in bed. Lots of utterly wonderful times and a lot of laughter. I will not have that stolen from me. Ever.

Yet writers have a huge advantage – everything can be used and I am now writing a non-fiction book, that will hopefully help others. There will definitely be over-sharing in that.

In the spirit of over-sharing, I would like to share the badly-written and unbelievably nasty message sent my diabetic mother, who is nearly eighty years old. Facebook in one of its odd moments had attempted to add my ex’s wife as a friend – this is how she responded:

I am not completely sure what or who drove you to contact me and more to request my friendship?
By all respect, which I do not have for you or your daughter, somebody who needlessly attacks my family either directly or indirectly has no room in my life and also I have no need to have such people around me. I do not care if you were cajoled to do it or if it came directly from you, somebody of your age should know what is appropriate and what is just tasteless.
I was always hoping that you could be the voice of reason (my husband and my mum-in-law had nothing but nice things to say about you) and convince your daughter to move on, live her life instead of wasting it on some manufactured self-pitying lies, childish procrastination and endless bullyboy tactics not even stopping at involving her own daughter. Instead of being happy and making sure that her daughter has as many people in her life that love her and support her, she selfishly strips her of that right only for self-gratification purpose. If that is what you encourage and support then I feel only pity for you.

So, I have over-shared but this will be fuel and I will do well. It has been an awful four and a half years.

Friday 5 December 2014


Julie Burchill and Cosmo Landesman in the same room. Could ever such a thing happen? Well it did – at Covent Garden’s Horse Hospital on a skin-flaking December night. December 2nd to be precise. Both were there to discuss their respective memoirs and in particular, some small recollections of their marriage. Can a memoir ever be subjective? Is an entirely straight account simply boring?

Two people, once lovers, sat on the stage – with journalist Katie Glass between them. There was a crackle of anticipation. Many people in the room knew Burchill, or were fascinated by her unusual, unquiet life.

It was clear as the night progressed that Julie and Cosmo are very different people: Julie is a modernist and a mischief-maker. She believes in ‘candour in all things’. Candour was clearly once a worry for Cosmo, as he once put a stipulation in their divorce papers that Julie never spoke about their relationship. When Cosmo spoke publicly about their relationship first and broke his own embargo, she saw it as a release to do the same, albeit with great discretion. ‘I was a gentleman,’ she said quietly. Cosmo is much more of a measured and melancholic soul but his description of the young Julie tip-tapping out words while asking sweetly to be fuelled on more booze and cocaine - still producing ‘perfect copy’ - was a revelation. ‘I was taught by a master,’ he admitted and his tone throughout was seemingly fond, nostalgic and self-deprecating. They both remembered the ‘cold vodka and hot sex’ of their early affair. In contrast, the notorious bileophile Julie was disparaging about Tony Parsons, her first husband. He was, she said, always keen to come to London to parties to ‘be all cockney and also be my bespoke fucking guard dog’. It was clear that Cosmo – her ‘hot jew’ had been an escape, an adventure and a breath of clean, unpolluted air.

Their first meeting – or memory of it – was an example of how subjective memoir truly is and how detail is remembered so uniquely. Cosmo met the ‘hip young gunslinger of punk’ and she met the ‘son of the parents who have an open marriage’. The young Julie was all legs and pale skin, whereas Julie saw Cosmo as a young John Taylor from Duran Duran, without the flounciness. Or the hair. ‘Now you look like a Jewish grandmother,’ she giggled. Cosmo’s peculiar family – the subject of his memoir - was talked about a great deal.

Julie read a chapter from her memoir Unchosen called ‘Meet the Perverts’. Cosmo’s family were notoriously into free love and they pottered, kaftan-kinky, in a crumbling house in Islington that they had picked up for a song in the sixties. Cosmo describes his father Jay wearing purple nail varnish and his mother in a see-through kaftan at the school gates. ‘Were you jealous of your father?’ asked Julie. ‘I guess I was,’ said Cosmo. His father was a libertine but a very successful one, with women at least. The fact that he tried to blag his way into parties with his ‘I’m Julie Burchill’s father in law, don’t you know!’ truly placed him as a wannabe, besotted by celebrity. Cosmo’s mother Fran once berated the clean very working class Julie for throwing away mouldy bread. ‘I dislike beards on men,’ said Burchill –‘ …but I dislike them even more on bread.’ She was pretty brutal about his parents and described Cosmo as the ‘only intelligent person in that house’. A house she nicknamed Slaggy Heights. ‘Not so much Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,’ she said, ‘…but more Guess Who’s Coming to Do You…’ It prompted a member of the audience, who knew the Landesman family well, to stand up during open questions and make a long defence of the parents. She wasn’t the only person to make a statement rather than ask a question, as some people seemed to have missed the point of a time for questions.

During open questions, a woman garbled a little about being middle class – most of us lost her point – whereas Julie told her sweetly: ‘I can tell that by the way you talk.’ (She was high end posh). It was a great putdown and some of us were choking with laughter. Burchill is funnier than a donkey on acid slipping on a banana skin. She gives you belly laughs because that’s exactly where she kicks. Cosmo throughout simply shrugged at the stories and muttered ‘true…true’. I actually quite liked him and wasn’t expecting to. Julie was very generous in complimenting his book and he gave her a number of sincere compliments too. Not a love fest, but a relationship with a certain amount of respect, particularly as they share parenting.

Ultimately, there were some fiery moments, but no blood drawn. Or at least, none dripped. Julie did sneer at Cosmo’s romanticism of the past. ‘You think things were better then,’ she told him. He denied it, but his protests faded away pretty quickly. When, during their marriage, he told her he was writing the great London novel. Later in his life, his failure to do it successfully was always a regret for him. The Tough and The Tender was the intended title. ‘Sounds like a butcher’s memoir,’ Julie giggled to the audience. But she was unimpressed by a suicide in the novel of a character very obviously based on her: a woman who ultimately throws herself off Brighton Pier. ‘If I had written about you throwing yourself under a lorry in Tesco’s car park, you wouldn’t have been happy. It’s so mundane. But you are more of the suicidal type than I am,’ she said wryly.

Cosmo painted well the fire and fun of their life together. Yet he rarely smiled. He seemed to have a melancholic core that has hardened over the years. He talked about the young punky girl teasing him and call him a fucking ponce with one ‘crazy demonic finger’ – pushing him to write when he was tangled up in angst and procrastination. He admitted once to only 250 words and he was known for rewriting shopping lists. ‘Just hit out the fucker,’ was her advice. I was reminded of the glorious film Betty Blue – where beautiful troubled Betty acts as a strange but effective mentor to the blocked writer Zorg.

However, if you think that I am referring to Julie and Cosmo as the tough and the tender in the title, you would be very wrong. Julie showed a great deal of tenderness during the evening, particularly in the way she described her parents: ‘straight out of Thomas Hardy novel’. She talked quietly too about the Stalinist influence she inherited from her father, which faded eventually but formed a lot of her opinions at the time. She considered that each new marriage was better and Cosmo gave her confidence, was the sherpa who took her up the mountain. At the summit of course is now her Dan, the brother of Charlotte Raven, who she originally left Cosmo for. ‘I will die in my marriage, ‘ she said, before apologising for being ‘operatic’. Cosmo also talked about being with Julie as ‘winning the lottery of love’.

But ultimately, the subject of Julie’s memoir Unchosen is her love of the Jewish faith. It was only brushed upon during the evening but she is very clearly fuelled by this love. She now has a happy marriage and her Jewish faith. Her eyes shone and she sat up straighter whenever Judaism was discussed. Cosmo pronounced Judaism as ‘Judyism’ in his chewy American accent and called himself a ‘bad jew’. He was quickly corrected and for a second, you saw the solid husband-wife combo in their comfortable berating of one another. Two writers in the same house must have created interesting chemistry. Cosmo argued that she was not quite so pro-jewish when he knew her, but Julie vehemently denied that.

A tough and tender lady indeed. I feel Julie Burchill – the heroine I so admired in my bondage-trousered teens – is tough in terms of not accepting any bullshit, but is tender in terms of friends she loves, a husband she adores and a faith she will be fiercely faithful to for the rest of her life. But don’t think settled and slippers – that is not her style. There is still the same naughty insolent spark in her eyes and when she told the story of Cosmo asking her about books on her bedside table when she was younger, her remembered reaction was typically scathing: ‘Bedside table, I said! I don’t have a fucking bedside table! What am I – 50!’

Now 50 has come and gone, but Julie Burchill still has energy and things she wants to do. If she has climbed a mountain, from the evidence of that evening, she has not only arrived at the top, she is planting flags everywhere with happy, well-oiled hyperactivity. I hope she and Cosmo take their banter on the road. They have so much to say about marriage, the process of writing and the world as we are experiencing it now. A great night.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

J K Rowling and her Cloak of Invisibility

I was intrigued by J K Rowling’s recent flirtation with her cloak of invisibility. There will be plenty of people – particularly publishing folk – who will dissect and analyse her motives, as well as sniffing out a cynical marketing exercise that will of course, in time, make money.

I do have to be honest – the industry that Rowling began has given me my house and the food I eat. My ex other half worked on Potter for ten years and it was fascinating, but more so for the tactile talent it stirred up amongst designers and artists, who had a vision that was spurred from a reasonably-sized book. The creativity of crafting wands and Rowling’s early involvement with drawings and notes was genuinely exciting. But talk of it was forbidden at home - it grew so big that it was too overwhelming at times. I went to a few Potter parties and again, if I’m honest, I was bored. Actors are lovely but they ‘are’ rather than have vast and complex things to say that have not been written for them. Film folk too sometimes have a hard edge or they live in a rarified world where the veneer is important, but nothing is deep. So when I finally got to talk to Rowling – a fellow writer - I felt a sense of relief.

She has been typecast so much – so many have built a sense of romantic poverty about her life. People flutter around her, waiting for their good fortune to arrive from a touch of her hand. So what did I ask her? About Wales of course. She went to school in Chepstow and grew up in that area. I was a Tintern teenager and although the valley is lovely, I can fully understand the need to create worlds of your own, to cloud-dream lying on your back in a field. The penultimate film recreated the forest in the Severn Valley and so I asked her if she missed Wales. I had a lot of champagne inside me and she had more – but the joyful way she talked about Wales was real, very passionate.

But I didn’t ask her about the name Hermoine. My mother – who had an antique shop in Tintern, not far from Chepstow, had her name across the shop front. Her name is Hermoine – not Hermione – my grandfather spelt it incorrectly on the birth certificate. But I often wondered if J K Rowling made the connection. Yet I never want to know – to be disappointed, perhaps.

But drunk or not, she struck me as intelligent, mischievous and playful. In some ways, it’s sad that people can only see her as money as a ‘standard’ for writers. ‘You can be the next J K Rowling’ is the most vulgar and depressing thing I hear from non-literary folk and even, shame on them, some bookish souls. Money is important of course – it cushions you from some pain – but literary excellence is better, surely?

So I understand why she wrapped herself in Gaibraith (which means ‘stranger’ but also is a Scottish estate agency.) For a moment she could walk in the world with a moustache and a big hat pulled down over her face and people would still say ‘Handsome fellow.’ Writers are about words, the quiet internal worlds. But successful writers – where we know their faces and every aspect of their lives – invite huge amounts of criticism and some jealous sneering. Many attack the work as sport and it often goes beyond literary criticism. So the production of this work quietly let her know that she can write, that other writers rate her without all the baggage of the Rowling name. She has broken out of the typecast and instead of the main part in the panto, she was for a while the back end of the horse, watching the audience from a hole in the cloth.

Many discussions will be made and now of course, like people who forensically analyse the darkness in pop songs, meanings will be made for her Cuckoo. But a cuckoo too is of course in disguise and the over-grown nest baby and by the time it is revealed, it is too late. I’m sure that there was lots of playful knowing symbolism that made her chuckle when she was writing the book.

She is not the first writer to write under another name and if you can afford to experiment as a writer, then why not? It worked for the wonderful George Eliot in a sexist age. When writers become a clumsy and monstrous brand – they surely crave some delicacy and impartial judgment of the words they spill on the page? Let’s love our writing – be the best we can and stop being jealous of those who actually get off their backsides – or should that be settle down on their backsides – and write! Not to be the next Rowling, not to copy any particular voice or see gold in the print. Just to write because you have twitchy fingers and some tiny little fictional people keep matchstick-poking your brain to smear their lives on some paper.

Sunday 12 May 2013

In The Lowlands

Depression is like a dog chasing its tail. But it’s a tail that not even the dog wants. Not really. It is just the compulsive need – a short circuit in the brain – that prevents the dog from leaping up and racing outside to join a world of new. Of vibrant. Of delicious potential.

I now put my hands up and admit that I am deeply depressed. But I am only depressed on certain days, when my Interferon kicks in and the bugger causes this reaction. So I know the cause – it’s a recognised side effect. I don’t want anti-depressants. Really don’t like the idea of a pill-popping Valley of the Dolls existence. I have a bit of an obsessive and compulsive personality but not OCD. They are separate things.

Matt Haig – he of new book The Humans – has spoken out about depression. I saw him launch the book last week and when he was asked by a fellow depression sufferer if he wrote through the low bits, he admitted that he hasn’t had a major low for quite some time. His focus and humour were very – oh I hate the word ‘inspiring’ – but yes, they were.

In fact, I do love the way writers are formed. It is rarely a linear process. They get battered as they go along, something is chipped or they stumble. Or they deviate into various daft adventures. Where else can you see a CV that is proud of ‘I was a circus performer at gunpoint, ran cigarettes for the Gestapo and plucked chickens in Margate’ etc? But writers do need not to be neat creatures, if they are to find little strange moments, characters that you would never meet in an accountancy firm. Of course, there are those who live a neat carefully controlled life who can write purely from imagination – particularly famous fantasy writers. But they are rare. Things spark from wandering down wrong streets.

I have been down some bloody awful streets. Taken risks, been in relationships with unsuitable folk, been reckless. There were times, when I met a golden-haired Oxford graduate that I felt ‘Jeez – how messy my life is and how blessed and Brideshead brilliant their life must be.’

So depression is a dark street and sometimes, a rough hand pulls me into a street littered with fag butts the smell of failure. But stories also come in those times – they just may need a little lighter shading in the good times. Dark is good but some stories are coloured in by oblivion – so much so you can hardly see them.

I mentioned the dog and that depression can be a debilitatingly circular affliction. You worry and thoughts magnify, repeat and then hurt you so much you can’t function. It’s bloody annoying because you end up being a bore, melodramatic. Yesterday I went to a Quaker thing in London. Religion can be boring too – if people with shine in their eyes try and persuade you that their happiness can be your happiness, I run away. Quakerism is never like this. I am an atheist Quaker and this is fine. All manner of things are fine in Quakerism. It’s a Society of Friends and activism is a huge part of it all – whether it be political or compassionate. It’s also about thinking, challenging preconceptions. One Quaker talked about his bisexuality and how the Society of Friends now embraces same sex marriages. Another fellow talked about his militant atheism and how he loves to ‘embrace the anarchy.’

It felt like an intellectual movement, rather than an incense and robes kind of religion. The latter is fine for some but really, I’ve done that and I have the ‘Bloody Guilty All My Life’ t-shirt. But finding a group of folk who share your world view is also about joy, finding it wherever you can.

So – what was I talking about – oh yes, depression. Yeah, it’s annoying but I seem to be pushing myself to productivity. Most writers do. It almost becomes a ‘I haven’t got depression or alcoholicism– good grief I can’t be a writer!’ If you are not in the gloomy club….tut, tut.

But when you are in that low place, your skin is softer. I was hit hard recently by someone beloved telling me that ‘You were special, but not that special.’

Someone who can kick a dog (chasing its tail) when it’s down – may reveal much about a person that no further comment should be made. It helped me let go of them completely – hoorah! No one that heartless deserves much from me. Special is subjective and we shouldn’t really be hostage to anyone else’s approval. Special is what you do, how you treat people, that soft chicken fillety thing in your chest. Trying not to sound like a shy over-sensitive snuffly schoolteacher in thick-can’t-see-you-without-them-glasses – but YOU ARE ALL SPECIAL.


I am writing a novel: The Modelmaker’s Daughter. Trying to run along with a 1,000 word challenge with my writing group Reading Writers. Keep getting sidetracked by various travel writing and article things.

Have had article on Abruzzo published in The Independent on Sunday: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/abruzzo-poetry-in-motion-in-central-italy-8603826.html

The best thing about that?

My guide Alessio – who is mentioned quite a lot in that piece – sent me a message: ‘Brave, Maestro!’ To put his beautiful country in a British newspaper, made him incredibly happy. You can warm your hands on other people’s happiness, can’t you?

I have been shortlisted for The Bath Short Story Award, which felt like some bloody achievement.

White blood cell count is very low but I treasure the ones I have. I will treat them well and try to keep them away from stress. Maybe I shouldn’t take them down too many dark streets. In fact, I should be a better writer and not mix my metaphors. Dogs chasing tails and dark streets indeed! Ah who cares. They are my words, my indulgences, my legacy.

Write well and prosper, folks!

Sunday 31 March 2013


It has been a crazy few weeks. Whenever I have been tired, I have remembered greater folk than me. Did Scott of the Antarctic seek a comfortable chair and a Hobnob? Did Shackleton watch bad TV? No because they pushed up through unpleasantness and strain – to achieve great things.

Not at all comparable – but I have challenged myself to do interesting stuff and none more interesting than going to Downing Street. Me – an ex-anarchist – walking the stairs where many decision-makers' slippers have trodden. But this was important – an event for RAILWAY CHILDREN


A group of mostly women (as we had been selected through our connection with Mumsnet, the very vocal parenting site that often makes the news) met first at Horseguards Parade Hotel – for lurid macaroons and to meet several other charities around the country who deal with children on the streets:


These lost children are invisible to most. Outreach workers, who can see them, are out there all the time – not only checking on anyone obviously homeless, but identifying children at risk.

Statistics can be powerful – but these just made me sad:

Every year thousands of children across the UK, India and East Africa run away or are forced to leave homes that have become unbearable through poverty, abuse, violence and neglect.

In the UK a child runs away from home every 5 minutes. That's 100,000 children under 16 a year, and 70% of those children are never even reported missing by those who are supposed to love and protect them.
Unwanted, unloved and often abused, children find themselves alone and at risk on the streets simply because there's nowhere else to go and no one left to turn to.

The streets are often even more dangerous and frightening than the homes these children were desperate to escape. Violence becomes a way of life; something to be endured and often a necessary means of survival. Sexual abuse and exploitation is rife. Drug use often seeps into the lives of children living on the streets and becomes impossible to avoid; drugs are often the only available escape from the hopelessness of their situation. These factors are the same across the three continents in which we work.

With no means of support or protection, these children fade into the background of the streets, often unseen by societies who either deny their existence or regard them as the 'norm'.’

So many of these children are under twelve years old. Imagine not even having a dozen years on the planet under your belt and to be out in the world. Vulnerable, maybe superficially tough but on the inside, where it matters, to be tender and lost. Truly disturbing.

The flip side wass hearing about the incredible workers who put their time into these projects. They radiated enthusiasm and sincerity when they explained their work. It must never be forgotten how vulnerable a child is out there.

Downing Street is a tiny political village. Policemen laughed with us but their hands never left their guns. Inside the place there is Tardis magic and as you walk up the stairs, you have to stop to look at the handsome Earl of Aberdeen and the many many portraits Prime Ministers who have graced the place. Samantha Cameron came to support the charity. She is not her husband and is a person in her own right. But it still felt a little uncomfortable, especially when I talked to her. I felt a bit better when I chatted to Andy, who gives talks for Railway Children and has been at the rough end of things – in care, waking up with another strange tattoo he can't remember. He told me that being in a Tory den was nothing – there were plenty of places where he had felt a lot, lot dirtier. But it’s all about the kids to him. Theresa May arrived as we were leaving but was not impressed by a gaggle of women giggling on the steps.

Fanastic charity, great experience.

I have also:

Helped to judge a short story competition with Reading Writers

Auditioned unsuccessfully for Blithe Spirit

Rejoined my playwrites group

Attended a Writers and Artists’ event at Bloomsbury and spent time with wonderful writers Vanessa Gebbie and Tania Hershman

Said goodbye to someone and truly meant it – a door closed and locked firmly

Met a member of great Indie band The Real Tuesday Weld at a gothic and gin-pickled event called London Bone (which I will blog about shortly).

Exhausted. Communing now with my pillow but still thinking of all those children out there. Some stories are coming too...always a good thing...

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Prizes and Writing Awards

  • Winner Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012
  • Shortlisted for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short story collections 2012
  • Finalist in Brit Writers' Award 2011
  • 2nd in Sentinel Literary Competition 2011
  • Whitechapel Society Anthology to be published 2010
  • Shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2009
  • Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2009
  • Joint winner of the Penguin/Decibel Prize 2008 - Asian Invisible. Published as The Map of Me
  • Highly Commended in The National Galleries of Scotland Short Story Competition 2008
  • Runner-up in Segora Short Story Prize 2008
  • Joint Winner of The Lancet Short Story Competition 2007: The Resurrection Girl.
  • Runner-up in Virgin Trains/The Guardian Short Story Competition 2007: A Small Revolution
  • Winner of the Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006: Ghosts of Jamaica.
  • Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2005
  • Runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Short Story Competition 2003
  • Winner of The Sunday Telegraph Tourism for Tomorrow Travel Writing Competition 2002: Wolves of Rumania. Winner
  • Winner and also Winner of Most Original Short Story in the Competition in Trowell and District Writers' Competition 2006