Places behind the books – Whitchurch water tower        watertower

From ‘Word on the Street’:

‘…beyond the rooftops the copper dome of the Whitchurch hospital water tower burnt a hole in the darkness. Wherever you go in Cardiff, the water tower is there; it doesn’t seem to matter which way you’re facing – and you can be up on a hill looking down or walking along the road looking up – there it is. Leering, dominating the skyline, you can’t touch me, I’m listed. I used to collect pretentious phrases from the television and radio, and I remember some cheesy-grinned gardening presenter talking about ‘borrowed landscapes,’ which really just meant looking at something that isn’t yours. Your neighbour might have a nice tree, for example, which you can see from your decking. The cheesy gardener went so far as to suggest you made an interestingly-shaped hole in your fence in order to borrow a view. But you don’t need to go to any such lengths to include the water tower. You could blow it up and, when the dust settled, it would have rearranged itself and be standing gormless and all the more indestructible for its ordeal. I don’t know where I got the idea from, that the water tower was where they burnt the suicides. Maybe it was an early playground myth. I imagined a trolley going round the wards, collecting the bodies of people who hadn’t been able to face another day, and using them to stoke an everlasting furnace in the tower. At the bottom there was (I imagined) a pile of bones and ashes, and at the top the fumes produced by the boiling blood of people fed on mind-altering substances. Apparently, the purpose of a water tower is to create pressure in the taps.’


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My literary roots

Reading is to writing as eating is to your body. Read soggy prose or clichéd characters, and you might find that’s what comes out of your pen. Read crafted prose and stories that shine a light on human interaction, and you will find golden nuggets glinting in your scribbles.

Whatever genre you want to write, you can learn by reading a variety of genres. Read thrillers and crime to study suspense. Map the ways in which the writer leaves a trail of clues and see how the best writers plant clues without drawing attention to them. It isn’t until the story comes together that we make the connections and things fall into place. Look at Joanne Harris’ Gentlemen and Players and Blueeyedboy.

Read rollicking plots to learn pace and momentum, when to pause for breath and when to run. Read Ben Elton’s books, This Other Eden, maybe, or Gridlock, which makes an adventure out of traffic jams. You can learn to satirise popular culture from Elton, too: social pressure to conform in the 1984-style Blind Faith, and revelations about reality television in Dead Famous and Chart Throb. And he handles imaginary worlds deftly, too. There’s no lengthy exposition about how the world of the story works; information is woven through the action. The key is to write as though the reader already knows how the world works. Start the story, have the characters interact with the setting, and the reader will go with you.

For delving into the innards of family relationships, you could try Shelagh Weeks’ Up Close, Tessa Hadley’s The London Train or Mark Haddon’s The Red House. Consider how they tangle the internal worlds of the individual characters with the knotted threads holding them together.

And do get hold of a copy of Liz Jensen’s Ark Baby, which can get forgotten amongst her more recent genre novels. Ark Baby is different; it is weird and disgusting, funny and gripping, and will free you up to write whatever you like without worrying about it fitting into a category.

Terry Pratchett is a master of imagined worlds of course, but he manages this more subtly in Nation, where the fictional island community feels tangible from the outset, as does the tightly-laced historical counterpart over the seas.

For gritty realism, read Hilary Mantel’s early works. Learning to Talk is up-close observation and A Change of Climate will burrow underneath your skin and stay there. Every Day is Mother’s Day and its sequel Vacant Possession are a study in the grubby eccentricities of people and relationships. Sue Townsend’s Rebuilding Coventry is similarly brief, deep and touching.

Kate Atkinson’s early novels, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Human Croquet, and Emotionally Weird, illustrate how emotional content can be handled lightly, comically even. A story is made comedy or tragedy by the presentation, by the language and observations made, by the pace and voice. What we see lurking behind flippancy and lightness of touch can be all the more sinister for being masked. Helen Fielding’s (pre-Bridget Jones) Cause Celeb is full of comically satirical farce, amusing characterisation, and a self-deprecatory first person narrator – you can sense Bridget Jones emerging in the voice at times. It is, however, a story about death on a massive scale.

Word on the Street is a funny tragedy, I think. Perhaps it is a tragic comedy.

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Given the Choice by Susan Sellers

From the award winning author of Vanessa and Virginia, Given the Choice is about growing older and growing up, about making choices and learning to live with them.

At 39 Marion has a lot going for her. She’s talented, ambitious and married to a wealthy financier who adores her. Marion’s top clients benefit from her entrepreneurial flair, but when her husband says it’s time they had a child, this contrary heroine starts to panic and the cracks in her carefully constructed lifestyle start to show. Will Marion become ensnared in the web of deceit she has cast round herself? Or can she learn enough to save her business and her marriage? But in the end it is the reader who is given the choice.

After a nomadic childhood, Susan Sellers ran away to Paris. While studying for her doctorate, she worked as a barmaid, tour guide and nanny, bluffed her way as a software translator and co-wrote a film script with a Hollywood screenwriter.

She became closely involved with leading French feminist writers and translated Hélène Cixous. From Paris she travelled to Swaziland, teaching English to tribal grandmothers, and to Peru, where she worked for a women’s aid agency. Moving to Scotland she became a Professor of English at St Andrews University, began to write fiction, and won the Canongate Prize for New Writing in 2002. Susan has published sixteen books, although Given the Choice is her second novel. Her previous novel, the critically acclaimed Vanessa and Virginia (Two Ravens Press, 2008) was translated into various languages and has been adapted for stage, performed at the Riverside Studio, London (Spring 2013). Susan now lives mostly near Cambridge with her husband, a composer, and their son.

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Wingspan by Jeremy Hughes

In September 1943 an American Flying Fortress returning from a bombing mission crashes in Wales. A farmer is first on the scene to discover that its crew of ten have all perished. When the police arrive, only nine bodies are recovered. A lifetime later a son goes looking for the father he never knew, climbing steep hillsides into deepening mysteries of time and loss.

Set in America, England and Wales, Wingspan tells two intertwined stories separated by fifty years and a thousand miles of ocean – stories of pursuit and discovery, love and war, bereavement and remembering.

  • Alternates between two love stories, one set in the 1940s, the second in the 1990s, connected by the mystery of a missing airman.
  • A lyrical work set in both the Suffolk and South Wales countryside.
  • Examines the effects of growing up in the 1940s and 50s without a father figure.
  • About letting go of the past and learning to live for the future.
  • Portrays the romance of flying and drama of mid air combat.

Jeremy Hughes was born in Crickhowell, south Wales. He was awarded first prize in the Poetry Wales competition and his poetry was short-listed for an Eric Gregory Award. He has published two pamphlets – breathing for all my birds (2000) and The Woman Opposite (2004) – and has published poetry, short fiction, memoir and reviews widely in British and American magazines. His first novel Dovetail was published in 2011. He studied for the Master’s in creative writing at the University of Oxford. He now teaches Creative Writing at Oxford and the University of Wales, Newport, as well as literature for Aberystwyth. He is married with a daughter and a son.

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A story about love, money, and lost opportunities, ranging across Europe against a background of financial crisis, terrorism and the power of the super-rich.

At the pool-side, the evening breeze is fragrant with the scent of grilled lobster and designer sun-block. Two German girls in starched white uniforms, buttoned up as tight as barbie dolls, are serving champagne to the guests. Dave Leaper sips his drink and dreams of death and vengeance.

At a clinic in Southern Portugal a group of young film-makers are recreating the songs, the slogans and the idealism of the years of revolution, while an old man, mummified by wealth and power, watches them and pays the bills. He pays and pays, missing nothing.

‘Flirting at the Funeral’ is subtle, evocative, dealing with deep human themes. Keil’s novel reads with the pace and tension of a thriller, addressing urgent contemporary issues, as the global economy melts down. It’s immersive and atmospheric. The reader is drawn into the lives of the characters.

The critically acclaimed Keil, one of Wales promising new writers, has delivered his best yet with this new novel and has already attracted very favourable critical attention from both the UK and US.

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This modern day Lord of the Flies follows a group of teenagers who find themselves cut off from the adult world in an unfamiliar environment.

Abandoned by his mum and with his dad in prison, 16 year old Alvin is facing life on the streets. Taking refuge in a school hiking expedition across Dartmoor, Alvin sees it as a way of avoiding his problems, but he didn’t account for Miss Tregarthur and her dreadful Promise.

Following catastrophic events, Alvin finds himself, together with his old friend Jenna, lost in an unknown time and place, leading a group of school children in a desperate fight for survival. Disease, death and disaster follow them as they try to decipher the Promise and search for the way back home. But Miss Tregarthur has not played her last game.

Inspired by the Ten Tors Challenge, an annual event organised by the Army, for 2,400 teenagers to visit ten tors

across Dartmoor over two days. This modern day Lord of the Flies follows a group of teenagers who find themselves cut off from the adult world in an unfamiliar environment. It deals with themes pertinent to the lives of young adults, such as bullying, leadership, grief, and friendship, whilst at the same time having a page turning story line full of adventure and mystery.

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In the near future, when the world’s population has been decimated by disease, the fortunate few live inside the Boundary, while the unlucky ones are left to die on the Outside. MaryAnn is one of the privileged. It doesn’t matter that her friends can sometimes be cruel or that the boy she likes just threw up on her shoes, it’s all about being noticed at the right parties.
But it takes a single event to rip her life apart.
Struggling with physical and psychological scars, MaryAnn must face up to the truth about the foundations of the Neighbourhood and the legacy of her family. Once she learns the truth she can never go back, but can she really put her faith in the Union?

Blinded by the Light is about death and coming to terms with loss, the abuse of power, discrimination and the fear of the unknown. It is the first book in The Union Trilogy.

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Word on the Street a new novel by Romy Wood.

A darkly comic reflection on homelessness, life writing and dermatology.

The papers call it ‘Tramp Flu’ but the doctors don’t know what to call it. Homeless people are dying and the government is scrambling for an answer…and then suddenly ‘The Public’ is no longer immune. A pretty little schoolgirl is in hospital. Which seems not quite right to shelter worker Shona and the (unspoken) love of her life Dan, because the homeless people are in a make-shift clinic in a warehouse on an industrial estate.

Shona’s love for Dan, and unlikely but tender friendships with newly-homeless Fflur and socially inept Colin, are set against the continually worsening epidemic, and their efforts to be both detectives and political campaigners.

Word on the Street is about love and squalor, tenderness and disease, dead dogs and midnight burials, boils and pus and body hair.  And politics, of course. It’s about what separates people, and what joins them: courage, resilience, self-sacrifice, humour and friendship. It’s a gruesome black farce: absurd, profoundly moving, and very funny.




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