Writing lessons I learned from last night’s EastEnders…

It’s been a week for learning from the soaps. Hot on the heels of the clunky plotting that surrounded Kylie’s death on Corrie, came another death. This time it was on EastEnders. After a bit of drama and a case of mistaken identity, we discovered that the person we’d thought was Ben Mitchell was actually his boyfriend, Paul Coker. And Paul had been beaten up and he’d died.


So far, so soapy. But last night’s episode was where my writer spidey senses switched on and I started learning some lessons. Because the understated way the Enders writers showed grief was a brilliant, brilliant thing to watch.
There was no shouting. There was no wailing or screaming. There was just raw emotion. The saddest bit of the whole episode was when Les, Paul’s granddad, poured away a cup of tea. He’d made it for his grandson first thing in the morning, when he thought Paul was just being lazy and staying in bed. Much, much later, when he and his wife Pam had been to identify Paul’s body in the mortuary and come back home to an empty house, Les picked up the tea and poured it down the sink. Heart. Broken.

Nancy, the heroine of my next novel, has lost her mum. I’ve just been editing the part of the story when she talks about her mother and I’ve been struggling with it. But now I’m planning on going back and adding those little things. Nancy’s got no one who cares that she’s on her way home, she has to set the table for one less person, there’s no one to share a piece of good news with…tiny signs of someone being gone, like Les’s extra cuppa.

The funny thing is, we shouldn’t really care about Paul Coker. He’s only been in Enders for five minutes. He’s never really had a proper storyline. He was – occasionally – a bit annoying. But we care that he’s dead, because we care about the people who cared about him. And that’s another lesson. We followed Ben’s journey to being out and proud and happy with Paul, so goodness me we care now he’s grieving. We all love Les and Pam, and their agony as they cope with losing their grandson is going to be tough to watch in the coming weeks. I’m hoping that my readers won’t care that Nancy’s mum’s been dead for five years by the time they meet my heroine, but that they’ll feel her loss because Nancy feels it.

I watch A LOT of soaps, and I love them, but I’m very quick to whinge when they get stuff wrong. This time, though, I’ve got nothing but praise for last night’s Enders. Praise and lots of notes.



Being British

I have always felt British.

I’m proudly Scottish, though I moved to England when I was seven. My husband and my children are English, and I have an English accent (that I can switch off and on at will!).

I’m a devoted Londoner, but I’m not English. The England of cricket pavilions and warm beer and other clichés is a foreign country to me.

That’s always been okay, though. Because I’m not English but I am British. I may be a Scottish Londoner but we’re all in this together, right? I still belong. We’re one big gang. Great Britain. The United Kingdom. Team GB. British has always been my go-to nationality. And today all that’s changed.

There are many reasons why the result of the referendum has upset me, but to my surprise I’ve discovered the thing that’s upsetting me most of all is the future of the UK. Scotland will undoubtedly vote for independence now – and who can blame them? Northern Ireland voted to stay and now people are calling for it to reunify with the Republic of Ireland. But London, lovely London, whose residents voted overwhelmingly to remain, is stuck.

In a selfish, childish way, this makes me want to wail: “But what about meeeee?” I feel like my parents have dumped me in this foreign country and gone home without me (they haven’t, by the way, they’re Londoners, too). It’s amazing and shocking and frightening how you can wake up one morning in the city you’ve lived in for more than 35 years and feel like you don’t belong any more.

Like everyone else today, I’ve got no idea what happens now. But I feel a huge sadness that this could be the end of my Britishness. It’s like we’re saying goodbye to something and I  think we’re going to miss it.


Wild, Hamilton and hard work #LittleLoves

One of my friends joins in with the weekly #LittleLoves hashtag via the lovely http://coffeeworksleeprepeat.com.

I always enjoy it, so I thought I’d write my own. Here’s what I’ve been doing this week…



Wild by Cheryl Strayed is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time and I know it’ll stay with me. It had a similar feel to Eat Pray Love, which I also loved, in that it was the tale of one woman’s struggle to find herself. Cheryl’s story of her 1000-mile walk along the Pacific Crest Trail is so inspiring it almost – only almost – made me want to strap on some hiking boots myself.


15094I was late to The Good Wife party, but I am a committed fan. I love Alicia and Diane, I love Cary, I love Eli Gold – I love them all. And I’ve just started season six and HELLO Alicia’s new campaign manager.


Plans! I went to a business start-up workshop run by Jane Knight, an inspirational local businesswoman and founder of www.successfulmums.co.uk. She’s really helped me think about where I want to be this time next year.



Not me, but my boys. They’ve been wearing t-shirts celebrating Hibernian FC’s historic Scottish Cup victory – the team’s first since 1902. Hibs are based in Leith in Edinburgh, where I was born. The seal of town features the word Persevere, and that’s why the t-shirts say #persevered. It may have taken 114 years, but they got there in the end. It fits perfectly with my ‘just keep swimming’ approach to my writing. I just hope it doesn’t take me so long!



For a while now, I’ve been listening to and loving snippets of the new Broadway musical Hamilton on youtube. The official soundtrack has been out of stock for aaages, but I finally got my grubby mitts on it this week and Oh. My. God. It’s completely amazing and I’ve been listening to it non-stop. For those who don’t know (and I had no idea) it’s the story of Alexander Hamilton – one of America’s Founding Fathers. He was an immigrant and he rose up to become a hero of the revolution and the first secretary of the treasury. The musical has been called the first hip-hop musical but it’s so much more than that. It’s funny, political, joyful and very catchy. It’s also got a very diverse cast and lots of historical Caucasian figures are played by black and Hispanic actors. The insanely talented Lin Manuel Miranda, who wrote and stars in the show, said:  “Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional. It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door. We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of colour, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”

In these times where immigrants are being painted as the enemy (on both sides of the Atlantic – I’m looking at you, Trump), I think Hamilton’s got a really important message for us all, both in the story it tells and in the way it’s told. It’s coming to London in 2017 and I’ve already registered for tickets.

Spend more pennies!

The other day I queued for about 15 minutes to use the loo in Brighton station. A few days before that, I queued for a similar amount of time to have a wee at a National Trust house we were visiting. Most days I queue for the toilet in my office. I have queued in cinemas, theatres, football stadiums, concert venues, airports, shops, pubs, clubs…you get the picture. I don’t know how long I’ve spent queuing for the loo in total, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. Days, probably. Possibly even weeks. So I was wondering this – why aren’t there ever enough loos for women?

I get that we need more space. I understand we take longer to pee than a man. But so what? Why does that mean we have to queue? At the National Trust house we visited, about 90 per cent of the visitors were women and children. There were two women’s toilets. The queue, not surprisingly, was enormous.

The answer seems simple to me – we need more loos. I’m sure someone more mathematically inclined than me could work out a formula involving the number of women and how many toilets they need – probably someone already has. It’s just a bit tricky to fit all those cubicles in, and the women don’t mind queuing anyway, do they? It’s not like they’re busy, or that they have places to go, or work to do, or small, jiggly children hanging off their arms…

Like the fact that the default setting on air conditioning units is comfortable for men and too cold for women, a lack of toilets is a sign that the world is designed to be easy for our brothers. If it’s not so easy for us, well, so what? We just have to put up with it. We are an after-thought.

Sure there are more important things to worry about when it comes to sexism – the pay gap, rape, FGM – but the little things matter too. Just look at what a stir toilets are causing in the trans community right now.

Are toilets worth fighting for? I think so. What do you think?

What I’ve been reading – August 2015

We’re back from a lovely holiday in Portugal, where I managed to find time to read 11 whole books – what luxury! Thought I’d share some very small reviews about each one… The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters This wasn’t … Continue reading