On Not Writing

If you’ve read any of my posts about writer’s block, you’ll know I don’t believe in such things, but it isn’t only the lack of inspiration that can get in the way of creativity.

A few months back, my father was taken into hospital and I drove down to my native Northumberland to see him. I expected he’d pull round, get better, or somehow return to his former self, but dementia, pneumonia and old age got the upper hand and he died. It was almost five weeks later that I came back to Scotland, and three months more before I started writing again.

Death, as they say, puts things into perspective: it made me think a lot about my life and where I’m going. So, I wasn’t surprised to find my usual need to tell stories went out the window. Understandable, you might say, except that this was a new experience for me. And unlike the usual reasons behind writer’s block, it wasn’t a lack of inspiration that held me back, but simply an absence of the desire to write.

I began to wonder if that desire would ever come back, or if I’d somehow lost forever any smidgen of talent I had. Maybe the sixteen books I’d pushed out over the last few years would turn out to be all I’m capable of, and nothing else of any worth would ever emerge.

Even with these negative thoughts buzzing around in my head, I did eventually scribble a few book reviews and spent a bit of time Twittering and Facebooking etc, but whatever it was that had inspired me to keep working on my novels, and wanting to work on them, had gone – the motivation pushing me forwards, ensuring my continuing journey through the literary waters, disappeared. And so far, it hasn’t come back. At least, not completely.

Of course, the more time I spent not writing, the more I worried about it, so I did what I’ve always done when any hint of a blockage lurks on the horizon – I forced myself to write. As some wise old novelist once said, writing is like a muscle – you have to exercise it, otherwise you’ll lose it. So that’s what I did, and even if some of what I’m churning out is utter drivel, there’s always the thrill of re-writing.

Though I don’t know exactly what it is that’s changed, I know something has. Maybe in another three months it’ll work itself out, but until then, I’ll do what the British always do – make another cup of tea and just bloody well get on with it.

‘Cascade’ by Peter Harper


When her adopted father suffers a heart attack, Shani Bălcescu hurries to Prague to be at his bedside. However, his dying words leave Shani puzzling over a mystery – one that will lead her into a maze of corruption and secrets, not to mention rebel freedom fighters and military coups. With the help of a journalist, Shani discovers where she fits into the mystery and begins to uncover the hidden history of her own family.

Initially, I struggled to get into this book, but by the third chapter, I was hooked on the story and couldn’t put it down. The author weaves a truly global plot packed with intrigue, devilish villains and even a spoonful of romance. The main characters are well-drawn and believable, and while one or two of the characters are at times a little ‘preachy’, the denouement is worth waiting for.

A clever and insightful story that reflects our troubled times.

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‘The Silence of the Lambs’ by Thomas Harris

The Silence of the Lambs

FBI rookie Clarice Starling finds herself in the middle of a murder hunt when an interesting errand (interviewing serial killer Hannibal Lecter), turns into a race against time. As Lecter probes Starling’s mind for juicy personal facts, he forces her to face up to the traumas of her own childhood. Meanwhile, Buffalo Bill is on the hunt again…

I read this book many years ago after seeing the movie (starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster). Trouble is, the movie is such a classic of the genre, it tends to linger into the memory more than the book does. Over the years, I’d forgotten what I thought of that first read, so wanted to re-visit the original to see how it stands the test of time.

Sometimes movies based on bestsellers create memorable lines that were never in the original book, but I’m happy to say that lots of the best lines uttered by Lecter and Starling in the film version, are right there in the text. And even though the build-up of tension works marginally better on the big screen, this is still a fantastic read. Thomas Harris has a gift for gory storytelling, and his characters, even when they’re being very, very bad, have a knack of grabbing you where it hurts.

“As delicious a thriller as you’ll find anywhere,” said Hannibal, savouring a nice chianti.

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‘Girl Ghosted: A Penny Wade Mystery’ by Lucy English

Girl Ghosted: A Penny Wade Mystery

Social worker Penny Wade throws herself into the world of online dating in a bid to forget the past. But a killer is on the hunt, scanning dating profiles to choose his targets. Can Penny identify the bad guy before she becomes ‘ghosted’ for good?

This is an easy and enjoyable read with well-drawn and likeable characters, whose day-to-day lives have a comfortable familiarity about them. Heroine Penny Wade’s up-and-down love life is entertaining and will no doubt be familiar to readers who aren’t quite as ancient as this reviewer. My only criticism (and it’s a small one), is that the ‘mystery’ part of the tale does take a while to get going and though it’s nicely done with a satisfying conclusion, I think it might have worked better if the ‘hook’ had come a little sooner in the story.

Lucy English has created an interesting character who will no doubt get herself into more trouble in the next episode of this mystery series.

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