Arthur Ransome Swallow and Amazons

I remember reading Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons and imagining the book’s setting as a vaguely-defined territory inside me. I’d never heard of The Lake District so I invented the location as I read, ignoring the references to farmers and charcoal burners and other aspects of Lakeland life. I was entranced by the children’s freedom, so I set their adventures in the only place that felt the same – around sand dunes beside the sea. In my mind, the Walker children were desert island castaways and a lake the size of Windermere could only be equalled by the sea. Continue reading A BOOK IS AN ADVENTURE


Kimberly Black
Kimberly Black

I asked Kimberly Black, the director of Hemel Hempstead’s Spirit of the Old Town Ghost Walks to guest blog about her creative process. Kimberly has appeared at Sadlers Wells as the Nun in Comedy: A Tragedy in one Act, and in touring musicals, including Styles and Drewe’s version of Kipling’s Just So Stories, where she played the Kolokolo Bird. But for an experienced and versatile actress and singer, switching to the role of director was a big jump.

Kimberly writes:

‘The Spirit of the Old Town Ghost Walks were born out of rejections I received for the play I had been writing about the people who used to live in Hemel. After a short period of feeling a bit lost with the whole thing I spoke to Chris Leverett from The Enchanted Oak and we decided to make my play into a ghost walk. Continue reading THE CREATIVE SPIRIT BEHIND HEMEL HEMPSTEAD’S OLD TOWN GHOST WALKS

Speaking Up

Emma and Lou.

Our attitudes to disability touch us personally. Quoting the disability rights slogan ‘Nothing about us without us’ Emma Claire Sweeney guest blogs about her sister Lou, looking at the whole person, not the label. Emma, who has a Creative Writing MA from UEA and writes for The Guardian, The Independent and The Times, also reflects on her own struggle to find words that truthfully represent Lou’s experience…

‘Some of my most prominent memories of my grammar school days in Birkenhead relate to my sister, Lou, even though she attended the special school across the other side of town. After a swimming lesson in the early nineties, for example, an older boy referred to Lou as a ‘spaz’. I still remember the sudden strength I acquired when I pinned him against the wall, seeing it as my role to speak up on her behalf. Continue reading Speaking Up


get-attachmentI met crime novelist and counsellor Amanda Thow on a University of East Anglia/Guardian creative writing course. I asked Amanda about what detective fiction does for the reader and the relationship between this genre and her wide-ranging life-experiences.

Leslie: What do you enjoy about crime fiction?

Amanda: I like being challenged by a puzzle; I always try to work out who has `dunnit’ and it gives me great satisfaction if I get it right. For me it’s an escape from my stressful life and probably a release from the darkness and violence in me that finds no other outlet, except as both a reader and writer of crime fiction. I remember you once saying, Leslie, that I wrote violent action scenes in a compelling – slightly scary – way.

Leslie: I did say that, and it’s true! Continue reading A CRIME NOVELIST TELLS ALL

Is The YA Novel for Adults?

Izzy photoI interviewed Izzy Robertson, healer and author of three novels published by Magic Oxygen, asking what goes into her creative process.

Leslie: What are the key experiences you’ve had in writing for young adults?

Izzy: An interesting question in that I never set out to write for young adults. The characters presented themselves, along with the story and so I wrote. I hadn’t envisaged any specific audience (or possibly any audience!). It was only when Dreaming The Moon came out that an audience had to be specified, more for the blurb that goes to the retailers than anything else. I think we’ve become very used to pigeonholing everything now, dividing things into genres and subsections, which is fine to a point but we possibly risk missing out. I happily read ‘children’s’, ‘young adult’ and ‘adult’ fiction; a good story is a good story, wherever it may be found. My book has been read by people ranging from 11 to 93 and I’ve had some really positive feedback from all ages, thank goodness! Continue reading Is The YA Novel for Adults?


Jill Oct 2015
Jill Hipson with a book.

Jill Hipson has been completely deaf since the age of five. To illustrate what profound deafness really means, Jill described (in writing) a typical domestic scene:

‘The world of sound simply isn’t there for me at all. I only know there are sounds if there are vibrations too. For example, this morning I was trying to tell my hearing husband Chris something in the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil. He can understand my voice if he looks at my face at the same time; in return he gestures and fingerspells his responses.

Chris, (Cupping his hand over an ear and shaking his head) – meaning: ‘I can’t hear you’. (Points to kettle and fingerspells) “Very loud.”

Jill:  (Speaking) “I didn’t realise it was that noisy.”

Chris: (Nodding his head and mouthing) “Oh yes.” (Fingerspells) “It sounds like a plane taking off.”’

Jill lives a complex life. She teaches deafness awareness and British Sign Language (BSL) to hearing people , Continue reading THE RICH CULTURE OF DEAF PEOPLE.


‘I pass, like night, from land to land; I have strange power of speech’ – illustration to The Ancient Mariner by Gustave Doré.

 Like one, that on a lonesome road/Doth walk in fear and dread,/And having once turned round walks on,/And turns no more his head;/Because he knows, a frightful fiend/Doth close behind him tread – Coleridge.

I’ve always been afraid of the dark. As a child I’d creep across the landing with my back to the wall so I could fight off ghosts. In the bathroom I was menaced by mini-devils who jumped out of sight whichever way I turned. I remember lying awake listening to The Quatermass Experiment on TV. I was four at the time and I’d glimpsed the shots of the crashed spaceship before being sent to bed. Imagining the story and hearing weird music rising from below was almost worse than seeing the programme itself. Continue reading THE DARK SIDE


William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.
William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

Accepting failure makes success of life – Alan Ginsberg.

For many boys, sport is vitally important. For them it’s a great outlet and a laugh. It’s also a measure of strength and skill and daring and timing. So the top tennis players use a complex mental map of where a ball might go and make split-second adjustments for spin, speed and bounce. Based on experience, the player’s coordination between barely-conscious calculation and muscle-reaction is a wonderful dance. And watching or playing sport can be a knife-edge experience where a hair’s breadth separates success and failure.

I went to boys’ schools where status depended very much on how good or bad you were on the field. It was great for some, but I couldn’t run fast or change direction at will. If a ball was in the air I’d drop it, if it was on the ground I’d trip over it and when the team advanced I was the figure lurking at the back trying to avoid contact. So I belonged to the losers. Continue reading FOR THE LOSERS

Author and Poet