In Celebration of Celebrity Publishing

I’ve been invited to take part in a panel discussion on celebrity children’s publishing.

One of the questions up for discussion is:

“Books by celebrities are often looked on as less worthy than books by ‘proper’ authors. Is this part of a culture of snobbery in children’s publishing?”

My short answer to this question would be, ‘yes’.

My longer answer goes something like this…

In my recent blog post, Be Proud of Where You Come From, I talk about what it was like growing up on a council estate and an excruciating lunch I had once with a group of publishing people, who openly mocked those living on estates.

I’ve worked with many different children’s publishers over the last few years (nine in total) and I can tell you it is an extremely middle-class and privileged world. And I can count the number of non-white people I’ve encountered in children’s publishing on the fingers of half a hand.

I have no idea exactly how many working class or non-white writers are commissioned by these publishers but I’m willing to hazard a guess that, historically,  it’s been a small percentage.

Until the advent of ‘celebrity publishing’.

Celebrity publishing has meant that people from working class and ethnic backgrounds, who’ve achieved success in less elitist areas such as sport, or music, or the online world, have been given a chance to share their stories through book deals.

And more importantly, when it comes to children’s publishing, to share their stories with young people who might have come from similar backgrounds. Young people who might not have automatic access to a library of books. Or even a single book. Young people who’ve never been encouraged to read.

When I was a kid, none of my friends on the estate I grew up on had bookshelves in their bedrooms. None of them had books in their bedrooms.

This isn’t necessarily because their parents didn’t understand the importance of reading.

When you’re struggling to find the money to feed and clothe your kids, books become a luxury item. A luxury item you simply can’t afford.

I once did an author talk to several hundred high school students in Wales. The students had been bussed in from all over the region – some were from affluent areas and others were from very poor communities.

I’m afraid the kids from poorer areas probably won’t be able to afford to buy your book,‘ one of the organisers told me at the beginning of the event.

When I was doing a book signing at the end it broke my heart to look into the auditorium and see whole blocks of students – all from the poorer schools – still seated, having to look on, while the richer kids queued up to buy books.

So, what exactly does this have to do with celebrity publishing?

I know for a fact that many, many young people from poorer backgrounds have got into reading after their favourite celebrity has published a book. I’ve heard this from young people during school visits time and time and time again.

And whenever I’ve heard it, it’s made my heart sing. Because I know what a big deal this is. Because I know that this, sometimes very first owned book will be a treasured gift. A gift that may well spark a life-long love of reading that might otherwise have gone undiscovered.

So, when I see snooty articles and headlines about celebrity books being ‘turkey twizzlers for the brain‘, or responsible for dumbing down an entire generation, it makes me sick.

It’s such a lazy bandwagon to jump on.

So easy to join the chorus of negativity without even knowing – or bothering to learn – the truth.

So-called ‘celebrities’ aren’t Dick Dastardly style characters, rubbing their hands with glee while they plot the intellectual downfall of our kids.

They’re ordinary humans, who’ve worked hard to achieve extraordinary success. And, when they’re given books deals as a result of this success, they work extremely hard to make sure that their books uplift and inspire their fans.

I know this to be true – not only from the celebrities that I’ve helped but from other writers who’ve also helped celebrities with their books.

I also know from publishing friends that a large chunk of the money made by celebrity books gets ploughed back into commissioning new and unknown writers and mid-list authors. So it simply isn’t true to say that celebrity books are stealing opportunities away from writers – it would appear to me that they’re actually funding opportunities.

I’d urge anyone who feels that celebrity children’s books are ‘less worthy’ than books by ‘proper’ authors to go and spend some time on a sink estate – or in a run-down school.

Talk to the fans of these celebrities about what their books have meant to them – the positive difference they have made. And how these celebrities’ stories – both real-life and fictional – have given these young people hope and inspired them to dream. 

Instead of mocking and joining the latest twitter witch-hunt, shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that, in this increasingly online world, young people are still reading?

And shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that celebrity children’s publishing is making the world of books accessible to a large section of young people who have traditionally been under-represented and ignored?

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Tell it to the Moon, the sequel to The Moonlight Dreamers, is available to pre-order on Amazon now. Perfect reading for dreamers … and anyone who wants to be the change they want to see in the world.

 


The Gritty Truth About Writing

It was a Saturday night.

My head was thumping and my eyes were sore.

My entire body ached – especially my shoulders, which were knotted tight.

How much longer will this go on for? I wailed into the darkness.

I thought of the rest of the world all out enjoying their Saturday night – dancing, laughing, drinking cocktails with fun names like Tequila Facelift and Vodka Orgasm – and it made me want to weep into my glass of water.

But I wasn’t ill that Saturday night.

I wasn’t stricken down by the flu or in the grips of a migraine.

I was writing my first novel.

And I was wracked with exhaustion and despair.

I had no idea if what I was writing was any good.

I had no idea if I’d ever get the plot to work.

I had no idea if my characters were likeable or even believable.

Basically, I had no idea.

I felt like giving up practically every single day but somehow – thankfully – I kept going.

And I kept going because I had grit.

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Writing a book takes creativity and imagination … but it also takes a huge amount of determination.

It’s easy to dream of writing … but quite another thing to keep on showing up at the page, day after day after day after day.

Or, in my case back then, as the mother of a young son, night after night after night after night.

So, how do you find the grit to get the words down on the page?

How do you overcome the nagging doubts that sit on your knotted shoulders as you type, telling you you’re not good enough?

The answer is, you have to want it really bad.

And you have to get crystal clear on why you want it so bad.

It could be that you’re desperate to share the message of your book with the world…

Get crystal clear on why that is. Who or how would you be helping?

It could be that writing is as essential to you as breathing…

Get crystal clear on why writing makes you so happy. Make your writing all about enjoying the journey, stop obsessing about the destination.

It could be that you love the idea of entertaining or inspiring or thrilling or scaring readers with your words…

Get crystal clear on how happy this would make you feel. Picture your words lighting up others all across the world.

If it helps, free-write your answers to the following prompts:

  • I have to write because…
  • My dream life as a writer would involve…
  • If I don’t follow through on my writing dreams I’m afraid that…

 

Back when I was writing my first novel my main motivation was the financial freedom a book deal would give me.

When I had moments of doubt and despair like on that Saturday night I’d remind myself of exactly how badly I needed to make it as a writer.

Making it as a writer would put me back in control of my own destiny again, doing something that I loved, and really, who doesn’t want that?

So, I kept on showing up at the page, learning my craft from my many mistakes as I went.

And a couple of years later, my first novel was published.

I’ve since had ten other books published.

And one thing I’ve learned more than anything else is that it’s grit, fuelled by desire, that makes writing dreams come true.

 

For more writerly inspiration please visit the Dare to Write section of this website.


Don’t Give Up Too Soon

 

TRUE STORY: Once upon a time, I wrote a book. I was very happy with what I’d written – excited by it, even. I handed it into my publisher feeling elated.

Then I got my editor’s letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She liked the way I’d written it but not the key storyline, which she asked me to take out.

I was gutted.

But I took out the storyline and delivered Draft Two.

I handed it into my publisher feeling relieved to have completed the rewrite but slightly dejected. It didn’t feel like it was mine any more. It felt flat and uninspired.

Then I got my editor’s second letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She felt it was lacking in drama.

I agreed.

But by this time I was so disheartened.

I was about to move house. I had another book to deliver. I didn’t have time to do another major rewrite. I didn’t have the energy.

I cried.

I got into a major ‘woe is me‘ strop.

I comfort ate my way through the Cadburys catalogue.

I wondered if I ought to just quit.

Sometimes giving up can seem like such an inviting option.

Especially when you’re wrung out and feel stretched to breaking point.

Quitting = an end to the stress

Quitting = an emotional fire exit

But giving up too soon can lead to a lifetime of ‘what if‘s and disappointment.

Sometimes, when you’re close to giving up, that’s the very time you need to dig in and double down and graft your way through to the other side.

You don’t need to quit, you need shedfuls of grit.

Once I’d taken a couple of days to wallow in self pity I reminded myself that having a book deal – especially nowadays – is a privilege and an honour.

I reminded myself of how hard I’d worked to get to this point.

I reminded myself that sometimes life isn’t easy but it’s the hard times that make you appreciate the good.

I told myself that I’d rather be a grafter than a quitter any day of the week.

And then a very good friend of mine gave me this invaluable piece of advice:

‘You sound as if you’re not coming from your heart any more. You’re too caught up in your head. Forget what’s happened and tune into your heart. Write from your heart. Forget all the rest.’

So I got back into my heart and I got stuck in.

And I approached the story with fresh, rather than jaded eyes.

And I wrote for from the heart and for the love of it – and for the love of my characters and the reader too.

And this time round, the writing experience was an absolute joy.

Everything fell into place.

I laughed and I cried and I hoped and I dreamed along with the characters.

And when I typed THE END I knew that this third version of the book was the best by far.

But if I’d given up after the second version it never would have seen the light of day.

Sometimes we need to push ourselves to the limit to discover what we’re capable of.

We need to push ourselves past the fire exit marked QUIT to find our way to the prize.

Athletes know this.

They train themselves to break through the wall. To keep going no matter what.

Creatives need to do this too.

We need to train ourselves to overcome criticism and rejection and the desire to quit and to keep on creating anyway.

I delivered the third version of the book to my publisher feeling happy and light.

Then I got my editor’s third letter.

In summary: she loved it.

She thanked me for not giving up.

I thanked her for pushing me to do my very best.

Don’t give up too soon. Dig in. Double down. Keep on creating from the heart. Keep on pushing yourself to do your best work.

 

Need help with your writing…?

daretowrite-anovel-cover-copy

If you enjoyed this post you might like my book DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL, available from Amazon here.

You can find out more and download it as a PDF here.

And you can follow my writing-related posts on Instagram here.

 

 

 

 

 


Behind the Scenes Secrets of Writing a Book

I’ve just finished writing a book. It was a book that ended up consuming most of my waking moments – and a few of my sleeping ones too.

And now I’m emerging, blinking into the light – and back on to this blog – I thought it might be useful to write a behind the scenes look at my writing process.

It’s a process I’ve honed over many years and many books so I hope it helps anyone new to writing who might be reading this – or anyone old to writing but feeling a little jaded or in need of fresh inspiration.

Initial brainstorm

The first thing I do when planning a new book is take myself out for a brainstorm. When I’m writing I like to stay at home but I seem to brainstorm much better away from home: in a park, in a cafe, on a walk. When I was brainstorming Tell it to the Moon I took myself to a local cafe for the day to flesh out the characters and come up with a basic plot outline. (TOP TIP: Fleshing out the characters first gives you loads of ideas for the plot.)

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Finding the fire

Once I have the basic outline I ask myself: Does it fire me up? Does it have me itching to write? Will I be motivated to write upwards of 70,000 words? When I asked myself these questions regarding my initial outline for Tell it to the Moon, the answer came back, ‘Erm, not really, no.’ The idea was interesting to me but not incendiary. So I asked myself another couple of questions:

What are you really passionate about at the moment? What, if you could work it into the plot, would have you burning to write this book?

I got the answer immediately: I feel really passionately about the pressures facing teens which result in ten percent of them experiencing mental health issues. And if I could create a storyline that would hopefully empower and inspire young people to demand positive change then I’d definitely be fired up to write.

I changed my plot accordingly.

Schedule your word count

Once I had my characters fleshed out and my plot outline nailed down I worked out a schedule that would enable me to deliver my first draft on time. For me, this was to write 10,000 words per week. Every week I’d look at my diary and schedule in smaller chunks – 3,000 words on Tuesday, 2,000 on Wednesday, 3,000 on Friday, 2,000 on Saturday etc.

Finding your pace

I never rush the beginning of a book. I take my time to find the voice and the rhythm and I reassure myself that it’s fine to write badly at first; at this stage of the process it’s all about getting into the flow.

Making course adjustments

Inevitably once you start writing, you’ll discover things that don’t quite work when it comes to your plot outline. That’s OK – adjust away. Ditto, characters. Be open to tweaking and changing. I made several course adjustments during the writing of Tell it to the Moon and the book’s a lot stronger for it.

Hitting a block – or two

I always hit a block at some point during a book when something isn’t quite working and the solution isn’t yet apparent. Here’s what I did this time round – I wrote TO the book. And by that I mean, I journalled about the issue. I wrote about the block I was encountering and I wrote about how I could fix it. I kept on writing until the solution appeared. It’s so much easier to write your way out of a block than think your way out. I highly recommend it.

Another great way to brainstorm your way out of block is to jot down potential ideas on post-it notes or index cards, then move them around until a way out begins to take shape.

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In for the long haul

Writing a book is the literary equivalent of running a marathon. It makes sense therefore that you take good care of yourself throughout the process. When I was deep into Tell it to the Moon it was the fag-end of winter and everyone around me were dropping like flies from the latest flu or cold virus. I couldn’t afford to get ill and take a week out of my schedule so I upped my intake of raw food and green juice and I sailed on through, blissfully snot-free. I also made sure I got outside loads and did plenty of physical exercise. Personally, I find yoga, walking and dance really conducive to creativity.

Focusing on the finish line

When I get to the final quarter of a novel I find that it takes on a momentum of its own which requires my undivided attention – and Tell it to the Moon was no exception. In the last three weeks of writing I hunkered down and became a real hermit. The only way I could focus on bringing all of the different plot strands together was to make my life as distraction-free as possible. My friends barely saw me, I lived and breathed the book, I didn’t even go on Netflix! But it paid off. I got the job done. I was able to type those magical words THE END knowing I’d given the book my all … and let me tell you, there’s no better feeling.

Tell it to the Moon is the sequel to my novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, available to pre-order on Amazon here.

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Busting Through Writing Blocks

What’s the one question I get asked time and time again when I’m coaching other writers?

“How do I make it through the blocks?”

Writer’s block can strike at any stage of the process: at the very beginning when you’re trying to come up with ideas from scratch and also at any point mid-story.

For me, when I’m writing a novel, it tends to strike around page 60 and the story that had been flowing along nicely comes juddering to a halt. It’s happened so often I now call this The Curse of Page 60.

In the 15 minute podcast below, from my new book Dare to Write a Novel, I share the techniques I’ve used over the years to help me get through this.

Every time I’ve written a book I’ve experienced blocks (so please don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone!) and every single time I’ve got through it, using the tips and tricks in the podcast.

The important thing to realise is that feeling stuck or blocked is a natural part of the creative process. So don’t let it get you down and whatever you do, don’t let it make you give up.

Grab a notebook and pen, make yourself a coffee / tea / strawberry margarita and press play on the audio below for a whole range of ways to reignite your inspiration…

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY: Why Getting Dropped By My Publisher was the Best Thing That Happened to Me

 

 

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL – OUT NOW!

daretowrite-anovel-cover-copy

Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.

You can find out more about it here.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, no worries. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel

“While there are many books on the technicalities of writing, there are few which deal with the problems that face the aspiring author in the other aspects of writing – the personal. Siobhan looks at those areas – why do I want to write, how do I make time, how do I justify the effort, how do I motivate myself – and draws on her experience as a life coach, and as a successful author and editor to provide strategies to work towards achieving your writing dreams and aspirations. Yes, there is sort-of technical stuff there, too; to do with how to develop characters, how to plot, how to keep track of your characters and plot, how to defeat “blocks”, but none of the formulaic “write to the beats”, “6/7/8/9 basic plots” stuff that so many writing handbooks trot out. You even get audio chapters, where Siobhan talks you through the process of visualisation, a technique very few self-help writing books I have come across ever mention, but one that I find particularly useful. I’ll mention here that I know Siobhan; I was a member of one of her writing workshops for a number of years, and benefited greatly from receiving these lessons and strategies first hand. Now I live too far away, this book makes a great replacement for her personal mentoring skills, and I can highly recommend it to any writer who is contemplating starting out on the journey, who is struggling in the process, or is looking to re-ignite their creative fires.” Amazon review

Please feel free to share it with your social networks and any writing friends.

Thanks so much!

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Why getting dropped by my publisher was the best thing that ever happened to me

A few months after my marriage ended I had a romantic encounter with a much younger man. I was in my early thirties with a four-year-old son, he was 22, had just left uni and had plans to travel the world.

I knew it would never lead to anything – it couldn’t – but after years of feeling trapped and living in fear, spending time with this free-spirited poet helped me remember who I really was.

I’d moved into a new home, a scruffy, terraced house in a London suburb that hadn’t been decorated since the 1970s (the dining room actually had dark brown cork covering the walls and the bathroom was a delightful shade of avocado) and my third novel was just about to be published.

I felt scared – but hopeful.

I might be a single mum, but I was making a living from my dream career as a writer and I had a budding friendship with a beautiful guy who was blasting my mind back open with all his talk of travelling and poetry and dreams. For the first time in years, I was starting to feel truly me and truly alive.

But then disaster struck.

My publisher only printed 2000 copies of my book and it was released without a whisper of publicity.

I had been dropped – the literary equivalent of being dumped – and it shook my life to the core.

It had taken me years to overcome my self-doubt and achieve my dream of becoming a published author. Now it had all turned to dust.

And, worse than that, now I was a single mum. How was I going to keep a roof over my son’s head?

As I looked at my life with gloom-tinted spectacles I felt all hope draining away.

My poet friend went off travelling and I was left suffocating in fog of gloom.

Prompted by the threat of abject poverty I started looking around for other writing-related sources of income. I called the Arts Officer at my local council and asked if he had any use for an author.

He offered me the job of running a weekly writing workshop for adults in a local library.

I’d never taught writing before and the prospect terrified me but beggars can’t be choosers and neither can freshly-dropped authors, so I readily agreed.

In preparation for my first workshop I wrote an actual script. Then I rehearsed this script in front of a circle of my son’s cuddly toys. About midway through, like some terrible omen, Bob the Builder keeled over face first on to the floor.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was on the night of that first workshop, plagued by thoughts like: Who are you to teach?

But little did I know that I was about to start one of the most enjoyable and rewarding strands of my working life.

That’s the thing about rock bottom – sometimes it isn’t rock bottom at all – it’s merely a plot device, an inciting incident, to catapult you into a much happier future.

It turned out that, once I overcame my fear and ditched the scripts, I absolutely loved teaching writing.

I absolutely loved creating a space where fellow writers felt confident enough to share their work. I loved sharing what I’d learned and encouraging them to teach each other.

After a few months, another London Borough got in touch, asking if I’d run a similar weekly workshop in one of their libraries.

I could only get child care for one of the nights so, once a week, my son would come along with me, carrying a backpack stuffed with snacks, a pad and pens and a little transistor radio, and he’d set up camp in the kids’ section of the library, while I ran the workshop in a space around the corner. The people who came to the workshop made a huge fuss of him, often bringing him gifts or sweets, and getting the tube back from the workshops with my son are some of my happiest memories as a mum. He never once moaned about having to come out late at night – for him it was an adventure.

I ended up running those two weekly writing workshops for six years. And, faced with the challenge of keeping things fresh, I ended up teaching just about every aspect of writing. From fiction to non-fiction and writing for radio, screen and stage. The Arts Departments at the local councils were hugely supportive , funding many extra-curricular competitions and events.

I’d initially taken the work for financial reasons but it came to mean so much more.

I made a huge network of new friends and met a wonderful new partner.

My scruffy, 1970s tribute house became a focal point for writing brainstorms and coaching sessions and parties. The orange tiles in the kitchen made a great dance-floor and the cork wall in the dining room made the world’s biggest noticeboard.

And – free from the pressure of having a publisher to please – I began writing again purely for the love of it.

I started writing my first novel for young adults, breaking ‘the rules’ by playing around with the structure and having a main character who was in her fifties (this is not the done thing in YA fiction). I felt free to experiment because I’d decided to self-publish. It was a liberating experience.

When the book – Dear Dylan – came out I entered it for a national book award.

This was not something I’d planned – in fact, it couldn’t have been more random.

One day, on my lunch break, I saw a mention of the award in The Bookseller magazine and had a what the hell moment, which saw me stuffing a copy of my book in an envelope and posting it purely on the off-chance.

What happened next was beyond my wildest dreams.

Over the course of several months I received a series of emails from the book award people: The first telling me they’d received Dear Dylan and entered it into the award. The second telling me my book had been long-listed. And the third telling me it had been short-listed and please could I come to the award ceremony.

Every time I received an email I was at work, and every time I had to take myself off to the Ladies toilets to do a little celebratory dance.

On the night of the award ceremony something truly magical happened. Something that, if I put it in a novel, people would sigh and say, yeah, right.

I was making my way to the London theatre where the ceremony was taking place. It was rush hour and the streets were packed. Just as I started to cross a busy road I saw a familiar face through the crowd on the other side.

The young poet guy I’d known right at the very start of all this was making his way towards me.

I hadn’t seen or heard from him for years. And, in the passing of time, I’d come to associate him with the grim time I’d been dropped by my publisher.

Now, here we were, in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, our paths about to cross once again.

We grabbed each other in an embrace, laughing at the craziness; at the what are the chances?  of it all. And then the crowds swept each of us to the opposite sides of the road.

I hurried on to the award ceremony, knowing that meeting him had to be a coincidence but wondering if there had to be some kind of symbolic meaning behind our encounter too.

Later that night, my self-published novel defied all the odds and all my wildest dreams and won the book award.

A few weeks later, it went to auction with six different publishers bidding for it.

I was no longer ‘dropped’, I was ‘award-winning’.

And the best thing about it?

I realised that it didn’t matter at all.

I’ve never been happier than I was in those wilderness years between book deals.

And I think that’s why I bumped into the poet guy the night it all changed and nothing changed.

To show me that what I’d thought was the very worst of times was simply the spark that ignited the very best of times.

 

New Book News!

 

daretowrite-anovel-cover-copy

Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.

You can find out more about it here.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, worry not. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel

Please feel free to share it with your social networks and any writing friends.

Thanks so much!


Writing By Starlight: Free Book-ette

‘And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.’ Sylvia Plath
 
 
Writing can be one of the most rewarding activities in the world.
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It can also be one of the most challenging.
 
I know this not only because of the challenges I’ve faced in my own writing career – but through my work as a writing consultant.
 
Over the past thirteen years I’ve worked with thousands of writers in my workshops, talks and one-to-one coaching and I’ve seen at first-hand how difficult it can be.
 
It’s also been hugely rewarding helping these writers overcome their obstacles and achieve their dreams.
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WRITING BY STARLIGHT is a collection of the most popular posts I’ve written on writing over the past few years.
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And it’s my gift to you this Christmas.
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All you need to do to download it for FREE is click on the link below…
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This free book-ette (49 A4 pages) contains a mixture of practical advice – on topics such as creating characters, devising plots and self-publishing – and posts to read for inspiration on those days when you’re just too tired to write, or your dream of completing your novel feels a million miles away.
 
Writing is one of the best ways we have of expressing ourselves, channelling our emotions and making sense of the world.
 
We owe it to ourselves to honour our writing dreams.
 
I hope this collection helps you do just that.
 
Ray Bradbury once said, ‘You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.’
 
Here’s to a ‘drunken’ writing life.
 
Here’s to writing unhindered by fear or self-doubt.
 
Here’s to writing by starlight.
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Wishing you all a very happy, peaceful and creative Christmas.
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Siobhan x
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Download WRITING BY STARLIGHT for free below … and please feel free to share this post with your writing friends:
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