A new book and a new me.

The Heights – a beautiful cover from the team at HQDigital.

I’m really pleased to at last be able to reveal some exciting news. I’ve been keeping this secret for what seems like forever… but now I can announce that I have new book coming out soon – in a new genre, with a new name and a writing partner.

The Heights is a modern adaptation of the classic story of Heathcliff and Cathy – set in the late 20th century, against the backdrop of the miners’ strike and the decline of a once proud mining community in Yorkshire.

Juliet Bell is the pen name for my writing partnership with Alison May. It all started at a conference a couple of years ago. We each led a workshop, and both used Wuthering Heights to illustrate very different points.

This is a book I have wanted to write for years. I am a huge fan of the original. I have often heard people talk of Heathcliff as a romantic hero and Wuthering Heights as a great love story. In my mind, that’s just not true. Heathcliff is a fascinating character… but he’s no hero. It’s not really a story about love, it’s a story about obsession and the destruction it can cause.

As a journalist, I have read and written about the period from the winter of discontent, through the Thatcher years up until the global financial crash in 2008. This time of great social change and discord seemed a perfect setting for the book – but as an Australian, I really didn’t feel I had the cultural background to do it justice. Research can only go so far.

Back to the writing conference.. and Alison who is not only a fabulous writer, but also grew up in just the right part of England at just the right time. She too loves the work of the Bronte’s – and like me tends to think of Wuthering Heights as something other than the romance of popular belief.

At the conference we joked that between us we could write that book – and get it done in time to mark the 200 anniversary of Emily Bronte’s birth in 2018. A couple of weeks later, we decided we weren’t joking, and The Heights is the result.

I thoroughly enjoyed the collaborative process. You can go and meet Alison on her website … and there will soon be a Juliet Bell website, because The Heights is not her only work. Alison and I are part of the way through another book – but shhh … I can’t say anything about that one yet.

I am incredibly proud of The Heights, and will be talking about it on Juliet Bell’s twitter account @julietbellbooks  and facebook page too. And I probably also should mention it’s now available for pre-order.

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Sue’s latest book hits e-readers today! #TheLittleVillageChristmas #AvonBooksUK

TLVC web size copy

 

Every publication day is a happy, happy day, but I’m particularly happy to bring you The Little Village Christmas, just because I enjoyed writing it so much. It’s the story of how Alexia means to leave the village but gets a bit stuck when what’s supposed to be a splendid bit of community spirit turns into a nightmare.

The village has fund-raised to transform the old falling down The Angel pub into The Angel Community Café. Until all the money vanishes overnight.

Ben doesn’t intend to mix much with the villagers at all but the more Alexia struggles, the more he gets drawn into the whole shemozzle. His Uncle Gabe has lost a pot of dosh too and he’s had a bit of an encounter with Alexia … awkward.

The Little Village Christmas also features a rescue owl called Barney, a pony called Snobby and a non-swimming litter of kittens. AND, for those who have asked me for more Middledip novels, The Little Village Christmas is for you! Look out for Gabe Piercy, Carola and Janice and Tubb from the pub.

Writing Commercial Fiction, one-day course

Sue Moorcroft blog

Writing Commercial Fiction

When I took on a publishing contract for two books a year, I had to make a few adjustments to my working life. I had to cut out all those publishing parties … No! Of course I didn’t! I love publishing parties. But I did have to sacrifice most of my teaching of creating writing.

So … the above workshop is the last I’ll be leading in the foreseeable future. (Unless someone invites me to teach in a country I want to go to. Then I might find the time.)

If you’d like to join me on October 19th then go to the diary page of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and click on the booking form. Men are, of course, as welcome as women.

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Donkey Boy and Other Stories

I’m delighted to announce the publication of my short story collection, Donkey Boy and Other Stories.
donkey boy book-cover-k v1Over the last few years I’ve been focussing more on non-fiction titles so I’m particularly pleased to be returning to fiction with this slim collection of eclectic stories. Readers will meet a diverse range of characters in wide-ranging locations from Pakistan to Scotland.

It was with some trepidation I asked author Margaret Elphinstone to read the collection and, if she liked them, to write a couple of lines to use on the back of the book. When she emailed to say she’d decided to read the first couple of stories then found herself reading them all straight through I was very happy. I was even happier when she sent me this:

‘Whether we’re in urban Pakistan, an old-fashioned travelling circus in Scotland, or repressed suburban Britain, Mary Smith’s stories take the reader right to the heart of a situation. They focus on characters who are disinherited by mainstream cultures. Whether it’s the boy from Peshawar whose father can’t let him stay at school, the adopted child who is marginalised by an identity she can’t recognise, or a woman escaping from lethal oppression, these people have been forced to abandon a part of themselves. The take on this theme varies from first person narrative ironically revealing its own complacency, to an impersonal voice which takes us right to the heart of suffering. The final story is perhaps the most chilling: is the character suffering from all-too-acute perception of cruelty and brutality, or is she simply crazy? In these stories the reader’s position is always ambiguous: are we colluding with dispossession, or are we honestly able to listen?’ – Margaret Elphinstone, author of The Gathering Night

My thanks to Melissa Priddy of Creative Station for the fabulous cover design.

The ebook is available now on Amazon.

A paperback edition will be published soon – so watch this space if you prefer to read a real book.

Writers – are they born or made?

I have a confession – I’ve never taken a writing course. I didn’t go to university, was only too happy to leave the boring old classroom behind, and actually, thanks to a snide remark from a teacher (which I later realized was intended as a joke), I didn’t even take English my last two years of high school. As for Pam, she only wanted to be a farmer or work with horses.

So, although we were avid bookworms and lived most of our time in our imaginations, the idea of becoming novelists was as far-fetched as joining the space program. On the plus side, we had a mother who was a born storyteller and we constantly played creative games in which we acted out different characters and adventures. From the age of 5, I obsessively read every book in the library, plus cereal boxes, newspapers, billboards, soup can labels. By the time I moved to London, I was regularly writing ten page journal-type letters to the friends I’d left behind. Ah, remember the days of snail mail? Still I might never have dared to publish anything professionally if I hadn’t lucked into a job in a literary agency. Such is fate.

But then again, working in publishing, I met so many editors and agents for whom the reverse was true.  It was their life-long ambition to be a published author. They’d taken all the right steps – English Literature and Language ‘A’ levels, graduated with honors in English at Oxford or Cambridge, studied all the great masters and what was the result? Total inhibition. After years dissecting the works of Tolstoy, D H Lawrence, Dickens, Shakespeare, they were far too scared to pen an original piece of writing, too burdened by all that knowledge of sentence structure, plot devices, subtexts and character analysis to risk producing anything less worthy than the geniuses they admired. Instead their lives were dedicated to nurturing and guiding raw talent, helping literary novices and unabashed dreamers get their manuscripts on to the bestseller lists.

Which makes me wonder – are writers born or made? These days creative writing courses abound, something that barely existed when I was young. There are brilliant books on writing for those wanting advice.  I read those obsessively for a while: Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, Stein On Writing… I could go on and on.  Mostly what they did was provide glorious encouragement while allowing me to pretend that I wasn’t just a hopeless procrastinator who’d rather do almost anything than take the disciplined, daunting action of putting words to paper.

Do I wish sometimes that I’d had more formal education? Often. Do I think it would have led me to penning incredible Pulitzer Prize-winners instead of commercial fiction?  I doubt it. I’d probably be like those editors I met, comparing myself to the greats and stultifying my own creativity for fear of producing second-rate work. The one-day local writers group I attended had me so terrified of reading aloud and being found lacking, I couldn’t scribble a single word. Which is probably why I’ve avoided writers workshops and novelist gatherings like the plague, while envying the brave souls like Sue Moorcroft who find in them inspiration, community and even lead retreats!

So what do you think? Is creativity something that can be taught? Can a brilliant teacher improve your craft? Or lead you from mediocrity to masterpiece? Or is writing a passion that will find a way to emerge despite the odds? And what about people like Jeffrey Archer who, with no previous literary ambitions, decide to sit down one day and pen a bestseller – indeed a long string of bestsellers – as a means to avoid bankruptcy? A born storyteller? Or just the type of bold lucky bastard we can all agree to hate?

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