Worlds, real and imagined

Museum Gardens

I’m so enjoying this last phase of finishing the Everyday Magic trilogy. The Glass is almost there – just one final push and it will be ready for editing and proofing. I’ve had to take more time away from this book than I would have liked and each time I’ve returned to the world of Fabbia and Ella, I’ve enjoyed it so much. The books really have become like a parallel universe for me – a place to which I can escape – and I hope it’s the same for anyone who reads them.

Here’s a photo of York’s beautiful Museum Gardens taken just last week. I love imagining Fabbia, Ella and Grace walking and playing here. It really is a place filled with ‘everyday magic.’

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How to do a quick vintage-look lip and eye

quick vintage glamour

As those of you who have read my novel The Dress will know, one of the main characters (who seems to be everyone’s favourite) is Fabbia Moreno, seamstress and purveyor of ‘everyday magic’ from her vintage dress shop in York.

Fabbia loves everything vintage but is particularly partial to her little scarlet 40′s suit with the peplum jacket, which she pairs with leopard print heels – and she always wears red lipstick and black eyeliner.

I too love the vintage look of clean black eyeliner (with or without a flick at the corner) and a glamorous red lip – but is it really achievable in five minutes flat, which is about all the time I usually have for make-up on my average morning?

I actually think it is. With a little practice and a few carefully selected products. Here’s how I like to do it…

Red lipstick: I love Chanel’s red lipstick in Vendome, a MAC lipstick called Ladybug (which I bought years ago at Vancouver airport – I am eeking out my last little stub), a Laura Mercier sheer lipstick, somewhat embarrassingly called Sexy Lips and a lipgloss by Bobbi Brown called Hollywood Red, which has just the right amount of colour and is easy and quick to apply.

Eyeliner: I like Bobbi Brown’s completely smudge-proof gel eyeliner pots – the eyeliner brush is crucial – but as I so often have a toddler wrapped around my ankles in the mornings, I usually use an eyeliner pen such as this Collection 2000 Felt Tip, which is incredibly cheap and intensely black. It lasts for months too.

I usually brush over a dusting of nude or shimmery silver shadow before applying the eyeliner. I find that it gives a better base to work on very quickly.

And if you really want to perfect the art of the feline flick, perhaps on those days when you have ten minutes instead of two, Charlotte Tilbury’s tutorial here is brilliant.

PS. You may have noticed lately that I’ve decided to break out from my usual kinds of posts and talk a little about things that I love that are not always so directly related to writing. I realised that there were lots of other things that I like and it felt natural to share them with you. Let me know what you think.
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Seven favourite cookery books


Since Violetta was born, my kitchen escapades have been a little less adventurous. Most days, I make ragu for pasta, throw fish fingers, jacket potatoes or a chicken in the oven, bake chocolate cakes and assemble salads and sandwiches. But sometimes I still love just leafing through cookery books for inspiration. Tom and I often adapt things, depending on what we have in. And I love reading books by people who love writing about food. Here are a few of my favourites:

1. Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier
Fresh seasonal recipes mixed with food reminiscences. Clotilde has a mouth-watering blog and web site too. Her chocolate and zucchini cake is scrumptious. 

2. How to Bake by Paul Hollywood
Every recipe I’ve tried from this book has worked so far. The sourdough especially is so easy – perfect to make with a toddler.

3. Kitchen by Nigella Lawson
What can I say? Since her How To Eat, I’ve been a huge Nigella fan, mainly because she writes so beautifully about food and clearly loves eating as much as I do. This is a big, fat book full of inspiration.

4. Venezia: Food and Dreams by Tessa Kiros
Gorgeous photography and styling, delicious recipes and currently my inspiration for many of the foody bits in The Glass.

5. Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood
I fell in love with this book whilst searching for healthier ways of baking when my stepdaughters were younger. They loved some of the cakes in this book – and it’s very handy to have tiny hands to help you grate the courgette, butternut squash and sweet potato that are some of the essential ingredients in the recipes. These natural cakes really work – and they taste wonderful.

6. Hugh’s Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Exactly what it says on the cover. I love simplicity – in food and, come to think of it, in all things. Take three ingredients. Make them mouthwatering. Brilliant book for busy people.

7. The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit
Not a recipe book per se but bursting with inspiration. Have some chicken in your fridge and a jar of lentils in your cupboard? Look them up and get some new ideas for flavour combinations.

By the way cookery books are the only books I tend not to buy on Kindle these days. I find it so much easier to leaf through them, enjoy the pictures and ruminate over the recipes in print format. Some cookery books just seem made for sitting on your shelf, slowly acquiring smudges of chocolate and floury thumbprints.

What are some of your cookery favourites? I’d love to hear.

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Spring restlessness


Do you remember my post here about how hard it is to write your way back into a project if you’ve let it go cold? You know. How I talked about how important it is to write a little every day…

Well, erm, that’s exactly what I haven’t been able to do over the past three months. I;m trying to be kind to myself about it. It isn’t that I didn’t make time. It’s that I had absolutely no time at all left over from teaching and marking and mothering.

But here I am, emerging, just as spring seems to be springing and that old familiar restless is rising in me.

So now I do have a little time – just a little – when Violetta is napping or  in bed. And I’ve been doing absolutely everything other than writing my way back int0 The Glass. Surfing the web, planning spring decorating and garden landscaping and a new spring wardrobe for V. I seem to be obsessed with lifestyle-type blogs at the moment. The ones that make me feel utterly dissatisfied with my own living space (which has not really progressed very much since we moved in a year ago). I’m longing to paint walls and hang pictures and tidy cupboards and – just do stuff. I love making things and DIY-ing. Not so easy with a toddler around.

But maybe I’ll start posting about some of these planned projects, just to get it all out of my system. What do you have planned for spring? Do you feel that restlessness in the air too?

And now to writing…





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My readers are such lovely people….


Lately, I’ve been moved beyond measure that people have emailed me or messaged me on Facebook to ask if I am OK.

I’ve been a little quiet here on the blog – and I suddenly realise that I haven’t posted anything since the beginning of the year.  But it’s not for any other reason than that I’ve been working very hard, teaching Creative Writing at Teesside University. I’ve had a lovely time over the past few weeks working with some very talented students on writing fiction. But it has meant that I’ve been incredibly busy with preparing and teaching seminars, mothering my little girl and making (slow) progress on my next book.

I’ll post more here very soon – so much seems to have happened since January – but I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been in touch. I feel so lucky to have such caring and kind readers.


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Beginning – Quick Writing Tip #6

‘Never map it out. Just get into it. Jump in, like going swimming.’

- Margaret Atwood



It’s that time of year when lots of people are beginning new writing projects. The weeks and months stretch ahead of us, bursting with possibilities. Long winter evenings are perfect for writing… 

But all too soon, the minutiae of life crowds in. 

How do you make a start and then keep going? How do you keep writing when there’s no time, when you’re pulled in different directions and you just don’t seem to have the space you crave to string the words together?   

Is there an answer?

The only way I know is to jump in.
Plunge. Write anywhere and anyhow. Launch your little boat on the choppy waters and let it ride each wave of an idea for a while. 

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Happy New Year from beautiful North Yorkshire

IMG_1107 IMG_1111 IMG_1110 IMG_1134


‘Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.

Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.’

from Lines for Winter by Mark Strand

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Quick Writing Tip #5: Speed

I’m writing this post at top speed.  I’m not even going to pause to search for and insert an appropriate photo. I’m not going to stop and reread and make edits. I’m just going to write.

Got half an hour? Write.

Got ten minutes? Go.

Go, go, go…

Find out what happens.



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Happy Halloween and Samhain!

Just a quick post to say that The Dress is free in all Amazon stores today, in celebration of Everyday Magic everywhere…

Amazon US link here, UK link here, France link here, German here, Japan here, Canada here.



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Quick Writing Tip #4: Write a little every day


In the past few weeks, I’ve been conducting an accidental experiment.

I try (as much as it’s possible with a toddler) to stick to a writing routine, in which I write a little every day whilst  Violetta is having her nap.

I’ve gradually retrained myself to make writing in these short bursts work for me. In fact, I wrote almost all of The Dream during Violetta’s much shorter and more unpredictable morning naps when she was still a very small baby. Even though I was chronically sleep deprived, I often chose to write rather than grab a nap myself because writing gave me a real sense of achievement in amongst the endless rounds of washing, ironing, nursing and cleaning up.

Learning to write in this way – sinking into it quickly, maximising my time, never knowing when I might get interrupted – is probably also a really good way of bypassing that annoying inner critic.

But in the past few weeks, the routine has been disrupted. Chaos has descended on our house in the form of workmen with hammers, chisels and serious power tools. We’ve been completely renovating the bathroom of the 1960s house we bought last year. We’re lucky enough to have two lovely, considerate and completely helpful plumbers – but still, it has been quite a challenge with an eighteen-month-old who needs quiet time and a nap in the middle of the day. Consequently, I’ve been focusing on trying to help Violetta to adjust – walking her around in her buggy so that she could sleep or taking her to my parents’ house so that she could try to nap in a travel cot. I’ve struggled to keep up with writing a little everyday – and I’ve really been feeling the effects.

I find that it’s so much easier to keep going with a book project when you do a little each day, however little that little might be – and sometimes for me it might be just 500 words of new writing, or read-throughs and a few revisions. But by keeping my hand in, I find that the book never goes cold. I’m always thinking about it in some way, nurturing it, moving it along. Writing is a part of my daily life and I feel as if I’m still a writer as well as a mummy.

Having taken days off here and there over the past weeks, I’m now finding it much harder. It’s harder to write myself back in to the world that I’ve created. I feel full of self-doubt and my brain seems to have forgotten how to settle into the writing quickly. I’m pushing on through and hoping that I’ll start to find things easier again very soon.

So, there you go. My unintended experiment has proved to me that writing a little every day really does make things easier. Even if you have a hectic and busy life – as most of us tend to do these days – committing to writing just a few hundred words on a daily basis can make all the difference.

If you’ve never experimented with writing every day, I highly recommend it.


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