Shirley Jackson. Tin House. And me!

Last autumn, the wonderful Tin House launched a competition to finish an unpublished short story by the legendary Shirley Jackson.  The contest was to be judged by the Tin House editorial team, Shirley Jackson’s family and awesome short story mistress, Kelly Link – what an opportunity!  How could I resist?

Of course I didn’t win – this was Tin House, this was Kelly Link, this was Shirley Jackson!!   (Kelly Link was a brilliant discovery for me last year, I’d just finished reading everything by her I could get my paws on, and I’ve loved Shirley Jackson forever; she’s just one of those authors – every time I reread her, there’s something more…) but I WAS A RUNNER-UP!!

As you might be able to tell, this is incredibly exciting for me – I (truly) couldn’t believe it.  It took a couple of emails and a phone call to Tin House to convince me that that ‘Megan Taylor’ was actually this one.

After the competition, I was contacted by Jessy Randall, another Jackson devotee.  She’s been posting the alternate Jackson endings on the brilliant mystery publishing blog ‘Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room’ – – (including the wonderful winning entry from Pazit Cahon,  the brilliant piece by Bill Gavula who came first runner-up and Jessy’s own excellent ending).  This week, mine’s up there too –


Yay !

Come and write with me!

From 20th January, at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, I’ll be leading a six week course for novelist and short story writers who wish to shake up their prose and write from the heart.

Whether you’re looking for a way out of a story rut, seeking inspiration for a fresh project or redrafting, this playful and practical course will combine essential craft elements (such as creating authentic settings and ‘living’ characters) with free-writing exercises to build your confidence, hone your individual voice and reconnect you with the reasons you loved fiction in the first place…

For more information, including how to book your place, please visit


Short Story Night 2013

butterfly-and-bookOn the shortest night of last year, during June 2012, Nottingham joined a host of other great cities worldwide to celebrate Short Stories with the wonderful Comma Press.  We had an incredible evening at the Broadway hearing some amazing tales, swapping shorts and enjoying a crazy story raffle to raise money for Book Aid.

What struck me about the evening more than anything (aside from the sheer love of this most beautiful form) was the generosity of everyone involved – from all the wonderful storytellers who took part then (thank you Caroline Smailes, Pete Davis, Nicola Monaghan, Frances Thimann, Giselle Leeb and Alison Moore) to the Broadway who provided us with such a great space, to Robin Vaughan-Williams and Anne McDonnell who kept me on track during the frantic run-up, and to all the great publishers (including Five Leaves, Comma Press and Pewter Rose) and writers who donated books, often signed copies, for that raffle J.  And not forgetting the amazing audience who spilt out of the room so that we had to fetch extra chairs…

Massive thanks!



Come to the Broadway Studio on the shortest day of the year, 21st December 2013, from 7.30pm, to hear stunning new stories from –

Alison Moore

Nicola Monaghan

Giselle Leeb

D P Watt

& Roberta Dewa


Pick up or swop a free short story (print one out or bring one of your very own to exchange – share the short story love!)


WIN fabulous signed collections and raise good money for a most excellent charity! (I can’t tell you how excited I am about this year’s donated prizes – very tempted to run off to Rio, or hide away at home and keep them all for myself, but I won’t, so…)


It’s all FREE!!!

What in the name of short stories are you waiting for??

Can’t wait to see you there! Xxxxx

To find out more, including where we’ll be and why it’s all so great and important, please visit:

Some Short Story News…

I’m incredibly happy to have my short story ‘The Woman Under the Ground’ included in the wonderful Weird Love collection released by the magnificent Pandril Press this November.

Weird Love coverHere’s some blurb –

This collection of short stories explores the ambiguities and nuances of love in its most diverse, startling and destructive guises.
This fresh anthology from published and new writers brings together lyrical, compelling and sometimes comic voices to tell tales of corrosive self-adoration, nuclear family fallout, forlorn desire, derelict affairs, and the quest for true(ish) love.

And (!) there’s to be a launch too.  Check out the Facebook page if you’d like to come along and help celebrate…

And – and! In other news, another of my short stories, ‘Coach Trip’ has been highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize 2013.

I think I love you Manchester 🙂

Festival of Words!

Nottingham’s fabulous Festival of Words has landed!

Highlights include visits from  Michael Rosen, A L Kennedy and David Almond, but there really is SO MUCH going on in this fine city right now – from stunning storytelling to playful poetry, with workshops, readings and performances open to readers and writers of every age and interest…

And it’s truly brilliant to be a part of it 🙂

This Saturday, 16th February (aside from helping out on the book stall – drop by and say howdy!) I’ll be running a workshop ‘Writing Your Ghosts’ with horror author Niki Valentine.  We’ll  be playing with setting and atmosphere and spooky suspense.        There’s more on Facebook if you’re interested:

On Sunday 17th, I’m hugely proud to be hosting a second event in celebration of short stories! Enjoy amazing writers, Caroline Smailes, Alison Moore, Giselle Leeb, Niki Valentine and DP Watt as they apply their immense talents to unique tales of love…

Both events take place from 2.45 at NTU’s Newton Arkwright Building.  Join us!  Join us!

And for more general Festival information, please visit

This Hallowe’en…

I will be joining Niki Valentine and a whole host of haunting storytellers for an especially spooky Word of Mouth at Nottingham’s Broadway to kick off their unmissable Mayhem Film Festival

I’ll be reading a new short story, The Dining Room Ghost, and quite frankly, shaking in my boots –

but the trembling doesn’t end there!  Oh no!

On November 3rd, I’ll also be talking Ghosts and Stories at Loxley House for Nottingham Readers’ Day…

Niki Valentine

Today, I’m very happy to welcome Nottingham’s very own Niki Valentine to my blog as she tours the web in the run-up to the Kindle pre-release of her second supernatural novel, Possessed.  Her first The Haunted came out last year (and she is of course, as Nicola Monaghan, also the award winning author of The Killing Jar, Starfishing and The Okinawa Dragon)

Although our latest novels are quite different, Niki and I discovered several disconcerting coincidences in our stories when we were both first writing our ghosts (the draw of a remote Scottish setting, lochs and loch houses and I don’t think we even mentioned unreliable narrators… Spooky!)

So when Niki offered to drop by here, it was only natural to ask what the supernatural meant to her…

My supernatural leanings

Niki Valentine


I’m a logical person in many ways. I did a degree in maths, for instance, and have plenty of sympathy for the atheist cause. I certainly don’t believe in the God I was brought up with, or any similar deity. But I do find the mysteries of life fascinating, and I’m prone to agree with Hamlet when he suggests all the answers aren’t necessarily in Horatio’s science books. I think my fascination with the supernatural comes from some formative experiences to do with death and loss and family.

A lot of the members of my family are natural storytellers and boy do they have stories to tell. Like the time, months after my granddad died, when my mum was hanging out the washing and heard his voice. Shaken, she came inside the house to find a police officer at the front door, wanting to speak to him about a car tax summons. My mamma1 gave the bloke a shovel and told him to get up to Bulwell cemetery and dig him up yersen!

The strangest tale, though, is about my Uncle David, my mum’s younger brother. He had a hole in his heart and a genetic condition called Marfan’s syndrome, which has blighted our family and killed too many too young. David went into hospital in 1970, at the age of 17. He’d been in and out of the place his whole life and so his family didn’t expect this to be the last time. But he told my mum that he was going to die. He said he’d been told this, by men in white, and that he’d also been told he could ‘move on’ or come back here again and have another chance.

David died, like he’d said he was going to. My mum worked as a nurse a few years later and heard other people say similar things days before death. She was told by the ward sister that it was common in dying people, and was a hallucination. But she never believed that. She tells me that she never had a spiritual experience before her brother died but, when he did, everything changed, as if something was switched on inside her. It changed the instant he died.

My mum woke up at the moment her brother died and she knew he had gone. My dad woke up too and they talked about it. He told her not to worry. David was a ‘big, strong lad.’ He noticed that the alarm clock had stopped and worried about how he’d get up for work the next day. But the next morning, the alarm went off, as if nothing had happened. And my mum went to see her family, who confirmed what she already knew; David had died and it had happened at the exact time she woke up in the night.

This was May 1970 and I was born in March the next year. Unsurprisingly, the loss of her brother and, subsequently, of her dad too, coloured my early life with my mum. I wouldn’t say it put a shadow over it, because it wasn’t like that, but it I think that the experiences she’d had and the stories she told about it were what fuelled my fascination with the otherworldly. And it had a huge impact on my philosophy and beliefs.

There’s another aspect to the story. The one where I grew up remembering trips in a lorry with my granddad that I could never have taken. I was only eighteen months old when he died, and he’d stopped driving a long time before. But, in my memory, these outings were vivid, and I was big enough to look into the glass counter at a transport café. Other things, like telling everyone I’d grown up on Huntingdon Street, where my mum’s family had lived, and being convinced of it. Memories of a school playground on a rooftop, somewhere near the IBM building in town. Pointing towards Nottingham’s Victoria Centre when giving directions and telling people to head up past the ‘station’, a place demolished four years before I was born. I can’t explain any of this but I can promise you that it’s true.

The supernatural, to me, is a subtle thing. I think we all experience it, in our own ways, even if we choose to reject it. My life, certainly, has been filled with synchronicity and strange goings on. I had a close friend at University and we knew so clearly what each other was thinking, so precisely, that we very often didn’t need to speak. A friend of ours, a real sceptic, even he came to call us ‘telepathetic’.

There are so many remarkable things I could tell you, which this margin is too small to contain2. Real paranormal experiences are never as blatant as they’re portrayed in books and films. They play out quietly, and leave room for doubt. For this reason, I’ve always loved the classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, where you are never quite sure if it is a real ghost, or if something psychological is going on. It is this territory that I find interesting and where my own spooky stories exist. I always give an alternative explanation. I suppose you could call it realist supernatural fiction, to satisfy the sceptic and the believer inside all of us.


1Mamma is pronounced mommar, and is a Nottingham word for ‘grandma’

2Warning: geeky mathematical reference here.

Thank you Niki!!!

7 Lines

The remarkable Ray Robinson has tagged me in the 777 Challenge – to post 7 lines from page 7 of my current work-in-progress, and then to pass on this mission to 7 more writers.  Despite a second of panic (I am at such an early hiding stage with novel 4), how could I refuse?


Through the windscreen, above the highest Leylandii fronds and satellite dishes, playful patches of blue and festive gold have broken through the cloud-cast.   Despite the morning’s earlier chill, it is likely to end up a beautiful day.

“I don’t want to do this,” Nell says.  “I don’t want to go.”

She is sitting in the front passenger seat of the parked Rover, where she always sits, and in the rear of the car, where they always sit, made taller and brought a little closer by their booster thrones, Nell’s daughters are quiet.  Beyond them, there is the boot of course, and in the boot, the box.  Not an urn, but a box.

Well, there we go – seems to have emerged as 8 lines on here, but nevermind… And who next?
Andrew Kells

Angela Barton

Anne Brooke
Andy Miller
Arthur Piper

Giselle Leeb

Pippa Hennessy

I’m looking at you x

Short Story Night at the Broadway

It’s International Short Story Day on the 20th June – and Nottingham
will be celebrating in style from 7.30pm in the Studio at the
Broadway Cinema.

Please join us for a FREE event offering fantastic author readings, a
short story swap (please bring along your own/ your favourite
stories/collections to exchange). The evening will also include a
charity raffle to raise money for Book Aid for Africa (, with brilliant signed book prizes and general short story fun and love.

Authors reading on the night are: Nicola Monaghan, Caroline Smailes, Frances Thimann, Giselle Leeb, Alison Moore and Pete Davis.

How can you resist?