Writers’ HQ: Seven Ideas In Seven Days


Remember my novel? I was working on it loads last summer and then I did (most of) NaNoWriMo in November, before the world decided it really wanted to bring me down with its ridiculous ideas. I also got bogged down in family stuff, D’s operation, Christmas and then the hell that is working in a school when a new curriculum is trying to be introduced. I lost my way and I lost my mojo. My characters were still in my brain, my story was still asking to be written, but I just struggled to get it down or find time to write.

This is where Writers’ HQ comes in; its founders Sarah and Jo are time-poor, cash-poor, sliiiiightly sweary writers (both Sarah and Jo are novelists) who also happen to be mothers and needed a way to find time to do their work. They offer a range of ways for others to write too- monthly writers’ retreats in Brighton and Worthing, as well as online courses which are reasonably priced (there are also free exercises for a lot of the courses, if you want to check them out before committing to buy one) and take into account the pressures of daily life. Now, disclosure time: Jo is a friend of mine and has been trying to get me to go to the Brighton retreat for AGES, but I either never have money/time/anything to work on. Instead, she offered me the chance to have a go at February’s Seven Ideas In Seven Days course. I jumped on it.

Seven Ideas In Seven Days costs £20 and you are given a lesson everyday that takes around an hour to complete. I loved the variety of different tasks and the ideas I came up with were often completely new to me and very intriguing- I have at least three new ideas for different stories in completely new-to-my-writing genres (including one about the popularity of succulent plants being part  of an alien invasion plot, which I may just write for the LOLZ), as well as two new perspectives on the novels that have lived in  my brain for a long time.

I also liked the forum- although I’m not sure everyone signed up for this month’s course was using it. However, I found two supportive course members and Sarah who were all brilliant for bouncing ideas off, discussing what we’d written and where our work could go next. It felt less scary than a class and more like a friendly chat in a coffee shop (except that I was drinking tea. And in my own house. You understand the imagery though.)

Would I recommend the course? Yes. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do another course if I get enough money together- there are all sorts of things on offer, from how to plot your novel right through to actually writing/editing the beast and eventually sending it off to a publisher. It was more personal than just using a book or an anonymous blogpost to write and I think the structure and the range of tasks meant that I sat down every night to work. It also made me realise that I CAN carve some time out of the day to write, even if it’s not much. It’s better to write a bit than not at all. I look forward to reacquainting myself with my characters. And the Mutant Succulents From Space With Mind Bending Powers Of Persuasion, obv.


Books 2015: The Devil in the Marshalsea

The Devil In The Marshalsea (Feb)

This was on my ‘to-read’ list for ages and I finally spotted it on one of my and D’s now-weekly trips to the tiny local branch library. It’s a combination of whodunnit, romance and tale of hard times that just happens  to be set in one of the most notorious debtors’ prisons in 18th century London.

Tom is the wastrel son of a country parson who finds himself thrown into the Marshalsea after a mugging means he can’t pay his rent. Unfortunately, he ends up sharing a room with the most disliked inmate- and the man who had his bed before just happened to have been murdered. It’s up to Tom to solve the crime.

I thought this was a rich novel, full of weird and wonderful characters- apparently some people elected to stay in the Marshalsea after their debt was paid in order to run businesses; there was a barber’s, a coffee house, a pub and the interestingly named chop house ‘Titty Doll’s’ (!)- as well as some more heartbreaking stories of those unable to purchase a life of relative luxury on the Master’s Side. Everything has its price in the Marshalsea, even life.

Although it took me a while to get into the novel, I really enjoyed it and the twist wasn’t completely obvious, which was brilliant; all too often the whodunnit is signposted way too early.

If you enjoy your historical fiction to have a social conscience, this could be the next novel on your to read list.

Books 2015: A Vision of Fire- Gillian Anderson with Jeff Rovin

A Vision of Fire (Jan)

I’ve been a fangirl of Gillian Anderson’s since I was 12, so OF COURSE I bought her novel, even though it’s sci-fi and I don’t usually like reading that as a genre. Gillian Anderson- busy with her work as an actress, obv- has teamed up with sci-fi veteran Rovin and come up with a story of conspiracy, reincarnation, apocalypse and a doctor heroine who has a male, will-they-won’t-they sidekick. Sounds a bit familiar, non?

This is more like the X-Files and what I would have expected from someone who is arguably most famous for her role as Scully. Indeed, the character of Dr Caitlin O’Hara, a single mother psychologist, shares many traits with Dana Scully. She’s cool, calm and professional.Unlike Scully, she’s open to the possibility of an otherworldly reason for the mysterious affliction suffered by three teenagers scattered across the globe; she finds a connection that would make Scully’s eyebrows disappear into her hairline.


The novel has been slated by critics, but I enjoyed it. It was a bit confusing at times, but it was a fairly easy read and the narrative was well paced. I quite happily suspended my disbelief and was content to mentally imagine it as an episode of The X-Files, which was an excellent way to spend my free time. I preferred it to Holy Cow and I will read the next installment of the series (which is called the ‘Earthend Saga’, so we can guess it’s probably not going to be all hearts and flowers, right?)

Books 2015: Holy Cow- David Duchovny*

Holy Cow (Jan)

Yes, this is the book written by that David Duchovny and, yep, it’s about a talking cow.

Billed as a ‘modern day dairy tale’, this is the story of Elsie Bovary (a.k.a. Elsie Q when in her militant phase), a cow who decides that she should really up sticks and moove (yeah, no, I’m so not sorry) to India where cows are revered. Along the way, she picks up a turkey with a smartphone and a recently-converted-to-Judaism-pig and the trio decide to steal a private jet. Oh, and they manage to ease tensions in the Middle East. Of course.

This book is, quite frankly, bonkers. On Twitter, I described it as a cross between Mean Girls and Animal Farm, especially earlier in the novel when Elsie becomes more aware of what life on the farm is like. If you’re expecting an X-Files reboot, this is not it (although I will be reviewing Gillian Anderson’s book on Monday which will be more to you taste if that’s the case.)

It’s a funny read-often verging on the cringey/offensive, although Duchovny takes potshots at pretty much everyone- and I did finish it very quickly. There’s a lot of self-awareness, pop culture references and addressing the reader, which made this feel like a modern satire more than anything else. Will it be the next Orwellian classic? No, I don’t think so. Will it pass the time in a funny and surreal way? Definitely.

*Sent for review