Creative writing in Witney – this autumn’s first guest speaker is Ben Jeapes

You’ll recall me mentioning the creative writing course I’m offering in Witney this autumn? Since I know from my own experience how valuable a range of perspectives and experience is for writers, I planned to include guest speakers from the outset.

The first of these will be Ben Jeapes. For those of you who don’t already know his work, do check out

There’s an update on the Writers of Witney website here.

If you know any aspiring authors within striking distance of Witney, do please let them know 🙂

Cool things for a hot week plus a Newsletter question

It’s unusually hot here in the Cotswolds. The cats are unimpressed and I’m working in the garden as much as possible, thanks to the marvels of wifi. Moving on to the cool stuff.

If you have access to BBC programming don’t miss Artsnight on BBC tomorrow, Friday 22nd July.

“Is fiction the best way to access the truth? Award-winning Scottish crime writer Val McDermid explores the relationship between fiction, video games and real-life crime documentary. She talks to Ken MacLeod and Richard K Morgan, whose science fiction novels offer a commentary on current political events. She meets Malath Abbas, the designer of Killbox, a new game about the ethics of drone warfare, and Lucas Pope, whose Bafta-winning Papers Please examines the moral and political decisions faced by an immigration officer. McDermid discusses the importance and the pitfalls of covering real-life crime with veteran documentary maker and criminologist Roger Graef.”

Here’s a link to the BBC website though I suspect access will depend on your location.

For more outstanding SF, here’s an update from the SF Gateway

“Today, we direct your attention to one of the great forces for good in modern SF, the one and only Pat Cadigan.

Twice winner of the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award: in 1992 for Synners and then again in 1995 for Fools, Pat has also been shortlisted multiple times for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, BSFA, World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, among many others. In 2013, she won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for ‘The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi’.

Many are the good and great of the field who have lined up to praise her. Can Neil Gaiman, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling all be wrong? We think not. Nor could fellow Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Paul McAuley, who wrote an astute review of Fools in the early days of this very blog.

OK, we’re sure by now that you’re champing at the bit to sample some of Pat’s extraordinary work – but where to begin? We’re glad you asked!”

So click on through to find out how to get reading!

Apropos good reading, you may – or may not – be aware that I really don’t do Horror. I simply don’t get it. Whatever – that’s just me. I have a good many writerly pals among horror authors and find they have a lot of useful and interesting things to say about both the craft and the business of writing. One of those is Adam Nevill. Here’s the latest news from him, if horror’s remotely your sort of thing.

I’m offering a FREE full-length book, CRIES FROM THE CRYPT: SELECTED WRITINGS, for folks who take my monthly newsletter, and it’s now available to download from my homepage.
CRIES FROM THE CRYPT is a selection of uncollected short fiction, unpublished chapters from my novels, advice for writers, features on horror, and some favourite interviews that accompanied the publication of my books. I guess it’s a horror companion and weighs in at 70K words. Just register at my homepage and collect your free copy.

Click through for a full table of contents and other information on how this will work.

Now for my question. That news from Adam got me thinking about newsletters. Increasing numbers of authors I know are doing them and as a reader myself, I see why. Facebook, Twitter and other such social media are increasingly ‘curating’ their content with algorithms and such which ensure you see what they want you to see (and make money from) rather than what you necessarily want to see.

Okay, that’s commerce for you. But how to make sure you don’t miss the latest news from a favourite author? Do you want that landing in your inbox?

If you’d be interested in a newsletter from me, let me know in comments. I’m interested in whatever thoughts you may on the pros and cons. How often might you like to get such a thing – monthly, every two months, quarterly? What sort of thing would you be looking for? Snippets from work in progress? Bits of idle flash fiction?

Any and all observations welcome.

What we did on our holidays

We’re back from a much-needed break in the Lake District. It’s somewhere I’ve never been before, while my husband went several times in his teens, doing ‘Outward Bound’ with the school – sailing, canoeing, rock climbing and such. (He tells me the hills have inexplicably got steeper since then…)

The idea was to get away from work, his and mine, and as it turned out, from the utter chaos of UK politics at present. So we made good use of our National Trust and English Heritage memberships as well as enjoying the scenery and solitude.


On our first day we went into Kendal and had a bimble around the town, which turns out to have a very unusual layout going back to medieval times. It also has quite the most convoluted one-way traffic system we’ve ever come across, so if you’re up that way, be warned! Later in the week we climbed up the hill to the castle ruins and that vantage point helps make a bit more sense of it, when you can see the layout of the hills and the river, as well as other impressive views, so that’s a walk well worth doing.

We found the museum that first day, and that was very interesting, not least to see what today’s curators can do with a collection of bequests from the days of Empire when British naturalists mostly went abroad to shoot things to prove they existed… A real added bonus was an exhibition of art inspired by the works of Beatrix Potter, and as a huge fan of Bryan Talbot, I was thrilled to see original artwork from The Tale of One Bad Rat.

Since it’s the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth, there’s an awful lot going on to celebrate and promote her work. We visited Hill Top, the farm she brought with her own money after Peter Rabbit’s success and that was probably the most touristy place we went. It is well worth a visit, not least to learn how much more there was to her than writing little books about cute animals.

One thing in particular worth noting is her commitment to supporting the Lake District as a working, thriving community. It’s one of those parts of England where an important industrial heritage deserves to be remembered – and the consequences of its loss on the modern day population needs to be addressed. We visited the Stott Park Bobbin Mill which used to produce literally millions of bobbins and cotton reels for the textile mills of Lancashire and beyond in its heyday. And that was only one of more than seventy such factories. Highly recommended for anyone who’s interested in Victorian and earlier industry. If you can get there on one of the ‘in steam’ days, to see the machines at work as we did, so much the better.

Not that the Victorians were all about work and no play. We also visited the Claife Viewing Station, once an elegant assembly rooms for Georgian tourists come to admire Windermere. It’s ruinous now but there’s an Aeolian harp installed as there was in its heyday – and since we were there on a blustery day, that added a distinctively unusual note to our visit.

Windermere and the towns around that particular stretch of water were busy – which must be a good thing for the local economy which does look to be under some stress. Quite a lot of commercial property was vacant, everywhere we went, along with plenty of house for-sale signs to catch the eye. But you don’t have to go far to find peace and quiet and leisurely country walking. We spent a very pleasant day in the hills above Patterdale – being overtaken by enthusiasts in Gore-Tex and lycra as we ambled along, enjoying the views of Ullswater. And on the way back, we rounded a corner on a country road and both saw a red squirrel sitting on a tree in a patch of sunlight, waiting just long enough for us both to say ‘oh look!’ before it bounded off.

After a day of walking, we fancied a sitting-down expedition, so went over to Coniston for a boat tour of the lake. Since I spent my early years reading about sailing small boats rather than doing so like my husband, I was pleased to see places which I remembered from the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books which I adored. I’m seriously considering giving them a re-read.

We also visited Wray Castle which is a very curious place, built as a Victorian exercise in ego for a wealthy industrialist by an architect who really didn’t know what he was doing – and who apparently drank himself to death. Since then, the National Trust hasn’t really known what to do with it and at present, it’s given over to fun activities for children, which seems an ideal use of the place. So if you’re up that way with a young family, bear it in mind!

Sizergh Castle is much more of a proper castle, and home to the Strickland family for over 700 years. The history and evolution of the house, from fortified manor to elegant residence is fascinating, with a lot of original features still in situ including fabulous Elizabethan panelling and carving. The family history is just as intriguing, especially their involvement with Jacobean politics and the exiled Stuarts in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth centuries. Then there are the splendid gardens – complete with a very friendly and sociable black cat. Possibly because, as I discovered reading the guidebook over a cup of tea, the herbaceous border he was so comfortably ensconced in includes a generous planting of catmints.

So that was our holiday in summary, and very enjoyable it was too. While I was up there I did acquire some reading – a scholarly biography of Beatrix Potter and also a book by Christina Hardyment detailing her searches for the places and people who inspired Arthur Ransome’s books. Those will warrant a separate blog post.

And now we’re both back to work. And yes, I’ve been places and seen things which have given me ideas for the stories I’m working on at present, as well as for future projects.

A VATMOSS, politics and holiday update

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t blogged in over a week, just look at the UK newspapers…

Given I’ve committed hundreds of hours, thousands of words and an incalculable amount of energy and concentration as part of the EU VAT Action team trying to secure meaningful reform of the 2015 EU digital VAT rules, you won’t be surprised to learn that was uppermost in my mind. Had this collectively disastrous referendum decision thrown all that hard work in the bin?

The short answer is no, for which I am profoundly thankful. Clare Josa and I went into London yesterday for a meeting with our Whitehall contacts to discuss the Brexit vote implications. We shot a quick update video in Green Park immediately afterwards, which you can find here. To summarise the key points arising, I’ll quote from the EU VAT Action site, which is where you should link to spread the word to other interested parties.

The UK is still in the EU and has the same rights and obligations as before, so EU Digital VAT continues to apply, worldwide, as before.

The EU Commission still intends to propose the promised legislation for a threshold and a simplified ‘soft landing’ area above that threshold, by the end of this year. This is a huge achievement, since a year ago they did not believe there was a need for either of these.

Another major achievement is confirmation that the Commissioner proposing the Digital Single Market legislation WILL include a provision to permit geoblocking for the purposes of reducing legitimate administrative burden, such as EU Digital VAT

The UK will continue to have a voice in the EU Digital VAT negotiations, whilst the UK is in the EU. However, once Article 50 is invoked and the formal leaving process has started, other Member States may choose to give less weight to our opinion

This is an issue because the UK has been the most vocal country over the new EU Digital VAT rules. So it is more important than ever for micro businesses outside of the UK to make sure their Finance Ministers, Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament are fully aware of the challenges you face with these rules. We are happy to help you get creative in making your voice heard, if traditional routes aren’t yet working for you. (See Action Challenge, below)

Whatever the outcome of the UK’s EU negotiations, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) trend is for more countries to implement similar place of supply rules to those from January 1st 2015 in the EU. This means that you need to keep taking actions to upgrade your business systems, so that you can prove where your customers are located.

Whilst the OECD recognises the need for thresholds and simplifications for the smallest businesses, it is imperative that we keep up the pressure on our shopping cart providers and payment processors, to supply us with the data that we need, to be able to comply.

The VATMOSS system in the UK will remain in operation for the duration of our negotiations. What will happen to it after that, no one knows. But please don’t make major business decisions based on guesswork, at this stage.

Next steps: we will continue to give you a voice within the UK government and the wider EU. The campaign has already achieved recognition in Whitehall, Brussels and at the OECD. Together, we have achieved the breakthrough that these decision-makers now understand that micro businesses – especially the smallest that are running on a laptop from a kitchen table – must be considered when changing legislation.

None of this could have been done without your support and the actions of the thousands who have supported the campaign. Thank you.

And here is the action we need you to take, please: And we need your support now, more than ever. We have been asked to put together a technical paper for the OECD Working Party on VAT, summarising the specific technical challenges that micro businesses have faced with complying with this legislation, over the past 18 months. So:

Please write to your Finance Minister, MEPs, Member of Parliament and copy to us (euvat @ clarejosa . com) to tell them:
Specifically why you cannot comply with the EU Digital VAT rules – or why it is difficult for you.

This will help to keep your problems top-of-mind, despite the background noise, and it will encourage Finance Ministers to vote to support the threshold and ‘soft landing’ legislation, when it is proposed.

So that’s the situation there. Phew.

As for the rest of it…

I didn’t think I could be more disgusted by Nigel Farage by now – but he managed it with his antics in the European Parliament. I’m thinking back to our VAT campaign visits to Brussels where I was able to see at first hand just how hard our MEPs and their teams of all parties – except UKIP who were an idle, know-nothing embarrassment to the entire UK delegation – have spent years working on so many vital issues in the interests of us all.

The Leave vote has thrown all that time, effort, passion and commitment from so many people into the bin for what’s already turned out to be a pack of lies.
Because Tory posh boys were more concerned with playing their power games than really thinking hard about the possible outcomes and the reality for the rest of us.

And now they are in absolute denial – or are totally oblivious – to the very real commercial damage this is doing from biggest to smallest businesses while the UK’s standing in Europe has already suffered more damage than we can hope to make up in a decade.

Meantime, the Parliamentary Labour Party has decided now’s the ideal time for a game of King of the Castle. When someone, anyone should be demanding answers from any and every Tory leadership candidate every hour on the hour to expose them for the charlatans they are. Yes, okay, I know it’s a lot more complicated than that – but honestly, the timing?!

Are there *any* politicians in England at the moment looking out for the national interest in the current crisis rather than serving their own narrow interests and ambitions?

I say England because Nicola Sturgeon and Scots MEP Alyn Smith have been showing how these things should be done!

What of the Greens? Plaid Cymru? LibDems? There’s talk of a progressive coalition. I would dearly love to see that gain some traction. And yes, I am in favour of proportional representation, even at the price of UKIP MPs. Having them in parliament would very rapidly expose the inadequacy of their position and skills for one thing.

Where do we go from here? As far as the big picture’s concerned, I honestly have no idea.

At the personal level, I’m going on holiday for a week with my husband, to the Lake District. We’ve been trying to arrange a break since March but what with one thing and another…

Anyway, I intend to have as much downtime as possible, especially from social media, and that’s why I’m disabling comments on this particular post.

When we get home I intend to get back to writing, and blogging about books, writing and the more usual aspects of my life!