How Do You Know When It’s Done?

Image result for finished gif

I finished a book on Friday. Though finished is probably not the best word for it. What I did was get to the end of a first draft which, anyone who’s ever written a book will know, is most likely terrible – full of plot holes, clichés and generally bad writing. Or is that just me? Getting to the end of a first draft is not really an ending but the beginning of what is often a long and frustrating process to get it into something you wouldn’t mind other people reading.

But some of the other things I’ve been working on recently are further down that road and it got me wondering, how do you know when something is actually done?

A couple of weeks ago I was sent the proofs of my book No Place Like Home to check over, and though I didn’t make any huge changes, there was still the odd word change, or cutting a line. Each time I’ve gone over the book, something has changed, no matter how minor. These little tweaks won’t change the novel but they still seem important to do. But how long can you keep doing that? Not anymore, now that I’ve sent it back.

I remember tweaking things from my first novel, Stolen, after it had been published, using a pencil to cross things out and add things in just before I was about to get up and do a reading. But the book itself was done. I could only make changes to what I read aloud. But maybe that’s how it should be. I can look back at my work and cringe and wish I’d done it differently, but that’s just showing that I’m (hopefully) getting better as a writer, and the books as they are show how far I’ve come. In theory, I can change Murder in Slow Motion as much as I want because it’s self published. But should I? Catching typos is one thing, but altering the book itself seems wrong.

So ultimately, I had to stop messing with the manuscript and send it off, knowing it’s as good as it can be at this time. But how do you know when that is?

I was working on a play recently, using competition deadlines as motivation to get it done. I was quite proud of myself for putting the work in – coming up with the idea, developing it and writing it in just a few weeks. I sat up late redrafting and redrafting again. But it got to the point where I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and had to put it aside, even though it meant missing a deadline.

But a week or so later, I read it through again and realised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought, and with a few more tweaks, I was able to send it off to another competition. I’m still not sure it’s done. I’m sure I will mess with it some more. But there’s a fine line between done and not done. If I waited for perfection, I’d still be working on my first book. Sometimes you need to let it go, send it out, and let someone else tell you when it’s done.




So, the interweb reliably informs me that Gone will be released in 30 days. This is exciting. It is also terrifying.

Gone is my second novel, so in some respects I should be prepared for what’s to come. And yet…

In 2013 my first novel, Stolen, was published and I experienced a lot of things for the first time – seeing the cover, seeing the book in physical form, seeing the book on a real shelf in a real bookshop, seeing reviews online, seeing a group of people gather to hear me talk about the book. All exciting. All terrifying.

I remember seeing the cover of Stolen for the first time just before Christmas 2012. The lovely Andrea from Moth sent it via email to see what I thought. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure about the orange of the word Stolen. It didn’t seem very crime-y. But she told me to have a think about it over Christmas and if, after that, I still disliked it, we could talk. Fortunately, after a few more hours staring at the image, I decided it was actually pretty cool. What’s wrong with standing out a bit? So thanks Andrea!

I saw the cover of Gone for the first time in May this year and this time, even though I was no less surprised to see it popping up in my email unannounced, I loved it from the start. It’s creepy and unsettling, and, in my opinion, suits the book perfectly. Thanks Mulholland!

I saw an actual copy of Stolen for the first time in the offices of New Writing North, where I’d gone to speak to Liv of the horror I felt about my launch and the other events that would follow. She kindly gave me a copy of the book to take home, possibly to make me feel it would all be worth it, and also put me in touch with the venerable Mari Hannah to talk me down from the ledge. In the end I managed to get through my launch without keeling over, and soon after did my first library event alongside Mari and discovered that librarians and readers are all lovely people. Thanks Liv and Mari!

With Gone, I’ve yet to see the finished book in person, as it were. I’ve had my mitts on a proof copy though, which was exciting for many reasons, not least because it meant it was finished and all the tear-inducing rewrites were over.

So the next step is seeing the book on shelves, then seeing (and trying not to read) the reviews, and lastly, going out into the world to meet more readers and hear what they think of Gone.

So, 15th January 2015.



Books are my bag

forum signing

Even though most of my weekends (and weekdays, if I’m honest) are pretty book-centric, this weekend was extra bookish thanks to the Books Are My Bag campaign and the Durham Book Festival.

Things kicked off with the Gordon Burn Prize announcement at Durham Town Hall on Friday night, something I was very excited about as one of my favourite authors, Willy Vlautin, was nominated. Unfortunately he couldn’t be there on the night but it was fantastic hearing the readings from the nominees and there was great music from The Cornshed Sisters.

Then it was off to Corbridge on Saturday morning to visit the amazing Forum Books to sign some copies of Stolen and chat to customers and other writers about books and other things. And I also picked up a copy of Willy Vlautin’s new book, The Free. Well, it would be rude not to.

books are my bag

And we’re off!


Read Regional 2014 kicks off (for me, anyway) tonight with my first event at South Shields Library. It’s been a while since my last event so I hope I’m not too rusty. Fortunately I have the brilliant Susan Elliot Wright to share the stage with and I’m really looking forward to hearing her read from The Things We Never Said and finding out more about her writing.

I recently sent off what I hope will be almost the final draft of my second book so I can focus my attention back on Stolen. Although it was only published in May last year it feels like a long tome ago so I’m hoping readers will help me to remember some of the details!

The event in South Shields will be followed by a trip to Bradford on Saturday afternoon which will be a slightly scarier solo event and then in March I will attend my first book group (as a writer). As a former member of a book group myself, I know how heated the discussions can get and how opinions on the books generally range from love to hate. So I’ll prepare myself for some honest feedback!

A list of all the Read Regional events I’m taking part in can be found on my events page and to find out more about the project and the other writers and events please take a look at the Read Regional site here.

Authors for the Philippines


Please check out this fantastic site Authors for the Philippines which is auctioning lots of items to raise money for the Red Cross’s Typhoon Haiyan Appeal.

I’ve donated a chance to have a character named after you in my third book (the second is fully named unfortunately) plus a signed copy of Stolen. But if I’m not your cup of tea, there’re lots of other things on the site including signed books, author visits, critiques of manuscripts from agents and editors, and much more.

Please have a look and make a bid! Thanks!


gateshead library

A great night was had by all (I hope!) at Gateshead Central Library on Tuesday night – I know I had fun anyway! Unfortunately there are no photos as my official photographer Stephen was persuaded to be my official interviewer for the evening. (He did a marvelous job and one lady even told him he was pretty.) So instead, here’s a moody picture of the library at night.

I’m always nervous before events but nowhere near as much as I was at the start of this adventure in May. Before my book launch I didn’t sleep properly for weeks. But after doing a dozen or so readings I’ve discovered that readers are a lovely bunch and are generally enthusiastic about what you’re doing and have buckets of interesting questions.

When I started out as a writer I never imagined having to hit the road so much to spread the word about my work. But it’s been fun and everyone who told me it’d get easier were right – it does. But Gateshead was my last event for a while before I get back on the horse (or train, probably) for more events when the Read Regional campaign begins in February. I’m looking forward to it already.

So thank you to Helen Eddon from Gateshead library for inviting me and to all the lovely readers who came along and made it a night to remember.

The End of Summer Reads


No, this isn’t a picture of my living room – my books aren’t as tidy as that. But I’m going to be surrounded by books this week as I venture out to libraries and bookshops around the North East.

First up is an event at the new library at Whitley Bay where I’ll be reading and talking about Stolen thanks to the lovely folk at North Tyneside council who chose the book as their Summer Read this year. I’m very excited to meet some people who’ve read the book and see what they think.

Then on Thursday it’s off to Clayport library in Durham as part of the Durham Book Festival. It’s very exciting to be asked to take part as anyone who’s ever been to the festival knows that it attracts fantastic writers and the events are excellent. So thanks to New Writing North for inviting me to take part. And it’s always nice to work alongside fellow Moth writer Helen Cadbury.

Finally, Saturday takes me to Helmsley to take part in the On Our Turf festival, again with Helen Cadbury. We’ll be at the Cut Price Bookstore from 2.30pm reading from our debut novels (as well as sneak peaks at the next books) and we’ll be signing copies too.

See my events page for all the details.

The Crime Bus.


Before I get on with another round of rewrites for the second book, a quick update on the very nice weekend I’ve had. Despite it raining constantly on Friday and having returned from seeing The Be Good Tanyas at The Sage in Gateshead to discover my part of town was flooded, it was a very nice couple of days indeed. The Tanyas were fantastic (if you haven’t heard them before I urge you to seek them out) and I was also very surprised and warmed to my cockles to receive a fan letter. An actual letter that someone had taken the time to sit down and write and put in the post. Very exciting!

Then on Saturday it was off to Easingwold to take part in On Our Turf. There was all sorts going on and will be more at various locations throughout the rest of September. Check out the website here for more info. Our event was on a bus (pictured above) which was strange but fun – an intimate reading on the back of the bus alongside Helen Cadbury and a very lovely audience. As well as reading from Stolen and To Catch a Rabbit, we bravely (or perhaps stupidly) read from our still-in-progress second novels. Fortunately both seemed to go down well. Thanks to Alex for letting us bring a little crime to his bus.

Summer Read

summer readphoto by Angela Melvin

Started the week sitting in a deckchair in a North Tyneside park having my picture taken to launch the council’s Summer Read 2013 which I’m very proud to say Stolen has been chosen for.  You can read about the campaign here and I’ll be at Whitley Bay library on 24th September to talk about the book with readers.

Also had fun at BBC Newcastle on Friday despite having to do media training, the thought of  which filled me with dread. But everyone was so lovely and helpful so it was more than worth it. Same goes for the pitching workshop run by Liv Chapman from New Writing North yesterday.  Plus it was great to meet lots of other writers including the winners of the Northern Writer’s Awards (whose identities I’m not allowed to reveal until after the awards ceremony on Tuesday) and winners and shortlisted writers of the Mslexia Children’s book competition.  I heard so many interesting stories and great pitches – can’t wait to read the finished books. Congratulations to all the winners!