Top Three Romantic Places to Write

I don’t know about you, but some days, when sitting at my desk to write is like falling through to a world full of distractions, I like to change it up a bit. I sit in another seat, curl up on the floor (with my laptop, not in the foetal position) or I go outside. Something about writing somewhere new, or somewhere that looks like a romantic spot to sit alone with my thoughts, works for me.

So where are my best places to write? I’ve compiled a list (if you can call it that) of what I think are the top three most romantic places to write. Your challenge is to go out and find places like them, take your favourite note book, and see what magical work you can come up with.

Romantic Place to Write #1 – On the Waterfront.


Sit with your legs as close to the water as you can get them, on a ledge where you can dangle your bare feet or on a patch of grass nearing the bank. I love to find a bit of solitude near water, though most places where there is an open area to sit next to water tend to be touristy. I find most inspiration when there is background noise and action but I am far enough away that I feel like I have a bit of privacy with my thoughts. Obviously this only works if it’s a nice day.

Romantic Place to Write #2 –  In the Woods.




Okay, this may sound a little creepy or fairy-tale like, but if you live near a peaceful, safe woods, then a nice fat tree stump and your pad and pen is all you need to get those juices flowing. I grew up a two-minute walk away from a safe Woods, and loved to find those wide open gaps of trees where I could perch at the edge of the opening, and day-dream for hours.

This is okay if the weather is not great, as long as you can find a big enough tree to sit under.

Romantic Place to Write #3 – On an empty train.

Empty Train


There’s nothing like the peace of an empty train juxtaposed with the noise of the wheels on the tracks to get my creative juices flowing. Though the train has to be empty, or as good as, for me to feel comfortable to write or I feel like people are peering over my shoulder (I’m not paranoid.) Especially when you know you have a long journey ahead of you, it can help force you to change that blank page, and time spent staring out the window is better than time spent on the internet. The weather doesn’t matter on this one.

So there you have it, my top three most romantic places to write. Most of the time I write on my desk in my own house, but this is where I like to run away to when I feel a little stuck with words. Where are your favourite places to write or to run away to when you feel the dreaded writer’s block?

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How to Write With Dice

Story CubesSome days, it can feel like trying to write is like trying to squeeze a watermelon through a pin-sized hole in your brain. I’ve set myself the challenge to write for one hour a day this year, which so far is mostly working, but there are some days when I feel like I’d rather shoot myself in the head then stare at a blank screen with heavy eyes for 60 minutes. But I still do it.

On days when I want to hang myself I force myself to write by playing with dice. Yes, dice. They were a Christmas present from my wise older brother and they are the best thing he’s ever given me (sorry Bruv.) They’re called Rory’s Story Cubes, and are designed to be inspiration for stories as well as a fun game with kids. Of course I’m not a kid, I’m not using them for a game, this is serious business. Inside each magic box is nine dice, with an individual picture on each side. Some have action words, like a man running or jumping, and some are just random picture, light a light bulb or a moon.

To play:

1. Take three dice.

2. Roll them one at a time.

3. Use each image to create a beginning, middle and ending of a story. If you’re feeling adventurous you can roll all nine dices and create a nine step story, completing an elaborate, detailed story.

It could look something like this.

Dice #1: Dice #1

There was once a man who was stuck in outer-space, looking down on the world.



Dice #2Dice #2

The good thing was, he had super eye sight and could watch the people moving around on earth below. He had fallen in love with a beautiful girl who he couldn’t take his eyes off. But no matter how much he waved, she never seemed to look up at him.


Dice #3Dice #3

He searched all the planets until he found an arrow. He threw it to earth, as hard as he could, piercing her through the heart. As she was dying, she fell to the ground, looking up at the sky, and finally saw the face of the man she instantly loved.

The End.

It’s okay, you don’t have to say it, I’m aware this isn’t a master piece. But at least it’s something on a page on a day when I might have had nothing. And who knows, one day I might look back at the stories that came from the dice, and find there’s something that can be used again. So happy dice-rolling and happy writing.

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Two books with one month.

One of my aims for this year is to read two books a month. I’m quite a slow reader and although I managed (almost) to read a book a week whilst studying for my Masters, I found that I was missing the smaller details of the prose and story, and lost some of my enjoyment of reading. I want to be binge-eating books this year, so I think a two week period is slow enough for me to take time to savour the small treasures of each novel, but fast enough to keep me engaged.   And so, below are the two books I read for January 2013.

Swamplandia! Swamplandia! by Karen Russell – 4/5

This book is described as quirky and eccentric, and I guess it terms of some of the story lines, it was, although at times perhaps it was a little too aware of this. Set in gator-park Swamplandia!, in the Florida Everglades, we follow thirteen year old Ava as her mother, Hilola Bigtree, champion alligator-wrestler, succumbs to cancer and leaves Ava alone with her younger siblings to defend the gator-park. The prose style of this book took a little while to get used to; it’s dense, the words even look dense on the page, and it felt like there wasn’t a need for it to be so. The story itself is streamline and simple if we break it down into important scenes, and the characters are under-complicated enough to allow for a more paired-back prose style. The writing is of course very strong, but perhaps over-stated for the style of the story being told. Each character is, in essence, going through their own ‘coming of age’ moment, though what makes this novel different is the environment of which they have grown up, in the gator-park. I enjoyed the naivety of the characters and the way they tried to fit in and understand the mainlanders, the brother even trying to adapt his vocabulary.

I was disappointed by the ending. Someone called The Bird Man shows up and promises to take Ava to the Underworld. The novel sets the tone of this wonderfully, using Ava’s imagination to exaggerate details of the swamp so you can almost believe the Underworld is a real place, whilst remaining aware that we are seeing the story through the mind of a thirteen year old. However, it is as though the author grew concerned that there hadn’t been enough story to complete the novel and so felt that something dramatic had to happen. I won’t say what it is, but I feel the threat of the event was enough, without it needing to happen. This didn’t spoil the novel for me, the journey was enough without the need for a dramatic conclusion.

Hope a TragedyHope: A Tradegy by Shalom Auslander – 4 ½ / 5

This book is funny, and couldn’t be more opposite to Swamplandia! Simple, clean prose with one simple story line that progresses chronologically, from one characters point of view. I don’t know if it’s because it was so different to the book I read before, but I think this is the funniest book I have ever read. It even encouraged me to try and write light-hearted things as my work is usually quite melancholic. The book follows Solomon Kugel as he moves to a small rural town  with his family, ‘where nothing of import has ever happened’, and discovers Anne Frank living in his attic. Yes, The Anne Frank. Apparently.

What I loved about this novel was how on-edge the narrator seemed, always on the verge of losing his mind or having a nervous break-down but never admitting it. What I didn’t like about this novel was the ending (again). The author seems to push and push at Solomon until you think he’s finally lost it, (his sanity that is) except he never quite does. As I reader I have to admit that I did feel a little let down, to feel like the novel was building towards something that never happened. Another point I didn’t like was the surprise twist at the end, where a character appears to become the hero of the novel, you could say, except I wasn’t sure who this character was. He had appeared before, but long before the moment of reveal and I had to read back to remember what his significance was. Perhaps this is me being an unobservant reader, but it annoyed me. Other than that, I laughed until I almost cried, and gulped down the words with an energy like I was tasting my favourite birthday cake for the first time, afraid that others would eat it all before I could. I loved this book.

Not a bad start to the year. I’m already on to my first book of February, but any suggestions for the next one? I want something funny, melancholic, dark, energetic, beautiful, mind-consuming (don’t we all).

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Goodbye dust of 2012.

naples 2

Welcome to 2013. I know some people find it annoying how much pressure is placed on a new year to create a new start in your life, but I love the feeling of endless possibilities that a new year brings. This year, I decided I wanted to shake up my comforts and I have moved to Naples, Italy for 2 months, to write, walk and aupair.

So far the walking has been epic, the writing almost epic and the aupairing stressful. I didn’t realise how emotional children could be. One moment they are happily playing, giggling away at any little thing you do, the next they are red faced and crying at something you don’t understand (or at least I don’t because I don’t speak Italian.) It’s nice to be around things that are so delicate for a while, to remember how overwhelming life can feel before we can begin to understand it.

My new year’s resolution, (which I love to set myself, although I know some people hate them) was to write for at least one hour a day, and so far it’s going well. I’ve found that even the act of sitting in front of a blank screen for an hour, thinking about the possibilities of what I could write, has helped me come up with regular ideas for new short stories. Fingers crossed I can keep this up for a year and have a few more short stories and hopefully a first draft of a novel complete by December.

Something about Naples is inspiration enough to create new stories. The landscape is beautiful and always changing. You can be walking down a winding narrow street, covered in graffiti with cars lining the edge of the pavement, pass over a bridge that looks down on winding streets below, lines of washing hanging out on verandas with children’s toys scattering the concrete, then turn a corner and reach a wide open stretch that spans a view of the whole city, including the volcano and the coast line. Even if you don’t come to Naples to write, it’s a good city to clear your head. I feel like the mind dust of 2012 has been polished away by the beauty of the city.


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Spanking new words in interesting places

That’s my new name for site specific literaImageture projects. I’m very excited about a new project which Bad Language are part of (and I just can’t hide it!) The project is part of a wider collaboration called Northern Elements, funded by Arts Council England and ARC as part of a series of events.

Bad Language presents Northern Elements will see acclaimed writers Jenn Ashworth and Helen Mort working alongside Manchester Museum to create new work inspired by the current exhibitions. Their new commissions will be presented along side five chosen emerging writers on the evening of Wednesday 22nd October, in The Living World Gallery. This will be an evening of new writing themed around elements of the museum, be it about taxidermy, Mummies or how people engage with Museums around the world.

I’m wiggling with excitement for the new work that is being created and the Museum is a stunning setting for a spoken word event. Please see evidence below:


You can invite yourself along on our facebook page, or book your tickets here to secure your entry on the night. Please join me in wiggling with excitement now.


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You can view all the videos from the Bad Language and Waterstones event with Ewan Morrison and Anneliese Mackintosh. Here’s one of my short flash fictions called Pacing. Happy listening!

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Who has time for writing?

I’ve been finding is so hard to write anything at all lately, mainly because I have so many things going on. I have until September to come up with 15,000 of delightful novel words to submit for my dissertation and yet each time I write I seem to get to a dead end. I know that writer’s need to find time to fit writing in to their lives but I do find it hard to be creative without time to slow down and breath. How do people find time to fit writing in to their lives AND do other things?


As well as silly things going on, such as my birthday, which of course I needed to stop and celebrate, and working 10 days in a row, I’ve also got important things that I need to make space for. I’m attempting to move house in a week, so I have to rush the paper work through, as well as urgently running around viewing houses to move in to. I started a new job with Litfest in May, my main role of which is creating their annual literature festival in October. Great opportunity, great work, great colleagues, but completely mind consuming. I find myself dreaming of things I need to do or what I can add to the festival which I haven’t already thought of. As well as that, I work a second job at a football club who are currently hosting endless concerts and renewing their seasoncards, I edit for The Cadaverine, I still attempt to co-run Bad Language and I’ve committed to a small feedback group with my MA students to edit our dissertations. I’m not complaining, I’m just finding it hard to fit space in my head to think about my own writing between all of that. When I do have a day off, I find I want to curl up and let my mind breath instead of settling down and being creative.


On my last day off, me and Dan from the Bad Language crew attended the Manchester Independent Book Markets where we held an independent stall and performed on their literature stage. It rained all day but we met great people and sold a few of Bad Language anthologies. I read a piece call The Private Collection on the stage, which you can download in the e-book The Hat You Wear which showcases all the readers from the Manchester Independent Book Market. Here was our lovely stall, you may have passed us if you were out and about in Manchester that day:



My attempts at creating a writing environment/ possibly just creating distractions include; re-organising my twitter lists, writing this blog, running, reading all the short story books I’ve been meaning to for ages and snuggling up to these creatures ( I wish I could say it also includes cleaning):



I guess the best thing you can do when you’re struggling to write is to read read read as much as you can. I’ve been trying to find a novel which fits the sort of novel I want to create but I’m struggling to find something that I haven’t already read which pushes my buttons. I’m currently reading A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. I love her wit, I adored Anagrams which is why I chose to read this novel, but I find the prose quite heavy with distracting details. I’m enjoying the main story line about a girl who takes a job as a nanny to an unborn child, and is forced to visit the birth parents with the woman who is looking to adopt the child, that’s quite an unexpected story-line, but I like prose that’s focused and I find myself day-dreaming as the narrative disappears into distracting but witty details.


I think another reason I may be struggling is that the idea of writing a novel is so huge I’m finding it hard to tackle. I tend to write without a plan but from a sense of urgency of where the story is heading and I work in creating tension towards something, but in a novel you can’t hold the tension for that long. The story line is too long to focus it all towards the ending. I guess that all come’s in experience and practice, but how does everyone else manage to tackle it?


In other exciting news, me and Dan from Bad Language along with the Mr Fat Roland will be reading at The Imploding Inevitable Festival on the 30th June and you can buy your tickets here.

I’ll leave you with The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better than You Normally Do on McSweeney’s, which has been helpful in keeping me thinking about writing.


Also, the thought of being surrounded in piles of these…









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