This time last week I was in prison – My visit to HMP Thameside’s book club

Eighteen months ago, when my debut novel, The Sister, was No.1 in the charts, I was invited along to HMP Thameside to meet their book club. Immediately, The Fear hit and I quickly declined. Not because of the environment, but because I had a massive phobia of public speaking. Those who read my blog know that after turning down numerous talks, I was asked to speak at the Althorp Literary Festival last year and eager to attend, I had a course of hypnotherapy to help me overcome The Fear (you can read about that here). I’ve since spoken at, and enjoyed, several events so when HMP Thameside’s librarian, Neil Barclay, got back in touch and asked if I’d reconsider, grateful of a second chance, I said yes.

I had never been in a prison before and my expectations were very much centred around what I’d seen on TV, rowdy tattooed men in orange boiler suits, and as I queued up to be booked in I started to wonder, for the first time, what I’d let myself in for. It was a surprise I had to be fingerprinted before I was granted entry, and not by ink and paper but by a scanner. (‘Mum, did you think it would be like an 80’s cop show?’ my son asked when I told him that later. Umm, yes.) My photo was taken, my ID checked and then I was given a visitor’s pass. After storing my possessions in a locker I was directed to the next room. Here, I was met by an officer who asked me to remove my boots so they could be scanned. As she snapped on blue latex gloves I felt a flicker of unease but the search was soon over and another officer arrived to escort me to the library.

One of my first observations was how many doors there were. Each one needing to be unlocked and immediately locked behind us. Listening to the slam, the twisting of the key, I tried to imagine how I would feel if I knew I would be there for months, or even years and anxiety bubbled.

In the library I was greeted by the prisoners who participate in the book club and the creative writing class and it struck me, as my eyes swept around the room, at the different clothes (not an orange boiler suit in sight) the different ages, races, that these were just people and my anxiety dissipated.

We talked about my books, about writing, but more importantly, we chatted about mental health. I relayed my story of how finding myself with a disability in my 30’s lost me my mobility, my job, my home and caused me to develop clinical depression. I shared how I was at rock bottom, thinking my life was over, my best days behind me. My fears that no-one would employ me, love me. But eventually I picked myself up and overcome depression through mindfulness and forged a new life. A new career. Although, they didn’t tell me why they were in prison, and nor did I want to know, they shared how they felt. How they coped.

Time flew by and after signing some books the men were escorted back to their cells. I ate a delicious lunch at the staff bistro, cooked and served by the prisoners. Later, I had a tour of the prison. I experienced what it was like in both a single and double cell and chatted to the men who lived there. It was heart breaking to visit a room full of toys and books where the men could record themselves reading a story to send to their children and that really reiterated that their sentence isn’t theirs to bear alone.

It’s now been a week now since my visit. A week in which the people I met are still very much on my mind. A week in which I am still trying to process how I feel. Despite my expectations, the images I had built up in my mind, ultimately these men were people, like you and I. Some were anxious, bewildered, depressed and frustrated. All were respectful and polite. There were repeat offenders, that was inevitable but I also met men who wanted an education, the chance of a better life. Hope. There are no victimless crimes but could any one of us take a wrong turn? Although I’ve never broken the law I’ve made bad choices, rash decisions. Mistakes.

I’ve offered to go back and run a workshop on mindfulness. As well as helping with depression and anxiety, imagine if learning to live in the moment, pausing to think rather than having a knee jerk reaction, could stop just one person reoffending? Mindfulness is all about choice. I chose to visit the prison, and I was free to leave at the end of the day, but sometimes I think – what if I wasn’t. It’s a sobering thought.

I was presented with a gorgeous bouquet, a ‘Wish You Were Here’ mug, and a thank you card.


B. A. Paris – Bring Me Back Launch Party


One of the best things about writing is the sense of community amongst authors, and the friends I have made. I first met B.A Paris while her phenomenal debut, Behind Closed Doors, was storming the charts, and I had newly published The Sister. It’s been lovely to share our experiences as new writers, and cheer each other on over the past couple of years. It was a privilege to attend the launch of her third offering, Bring Me Back last Thursday.

Lisa Milton from HQ, me, B.A. Paris

If you haven’t read it yet, you really should! This is a dual narrative story, and B has written from both a male and female perspective. The male voice, Finn, is excellently executed and the story of Finn’s girlfriend’s disappearance, 12 years previously, had me hooked. Had she run away? Had he killed her? You’ll have to read it, to find out.

The launch party took place in a private area of the bar in Waterstones, Piccadilly and the 5th floor location gave us a stunning view across London, by night. We drank wine and ate canapés including salted chicken and mini burgers. Russian Dolls feature as part of Bring Me Back’s plot and although I’m a chocoholic I couldn’t bring myself to unwrap one of these chocolates as they looked so pretty.

B gave a heartfelt speech, there are always so many people to thank. Writing a book can be quite solitary but publishing one takes a village.

You can find Bring Me Back on Amazon here.

A writing retreat – Is it more than wine & cheese?


A few months ago, I was lunching with a group of writer friends when it was suggested we should hire accommodation and go on an informal writing retreat. Four of us committed to a date and I spent last weekend packing for my big adventure.

My son sat on my bed as I haphazardly threw an array of clothes into a case and then I spent an inordinate amount of time carefully selecting notebooks and pens.

‘Like you’re going to use those,’ my son scoffed.

‘Of course I am!’ I was a little offended.

‘It will be like the “revision” sessions I used to have with friends during A’Levels.’ he said.

‘I thought those were really valuable?’

‘Yeah. In terms of drinking beer and eating pizza. You’ll be the same but with cheese and wine.’

‘I’ll be writing.’ I stressed again, as though he didn’t know me really well.

At this point my other son wandered into my room. ‘Mum, isn’t an untutored writing retreat really just a holiday.’

‘Umm… no?’ Yes.

Monday, led by Word Warrior Tina, we checked into Centre Parcs and immediately headed to the shop and filled a trolley with wine and cheese. After we’d unpacked, I lounged on the sofa, opened my notebook and jotted down the available times for a massage. Damn my children for always being right.

But although this week there has been much talking, eating, laughter and drinking there has also been much, much more. It was such a privilege to watch and feed the wildlife including this adorable deer who slept on our patio.

The gorgeous surroundings, dusted by the unexpected snowfall, created the perfect creative environment.

Although we’ve been out – our first day saw me heading to the spa after a humungous afternoon tea – we’ve also given each other the time and space to work on our individual projects. We’ve bounced around ideas, read aloud and critiqued each others work with love. I feel relaxed, energised and as I look back at what I’ve achieved this past week I’ve also written more than I thought.

It’s been a really valuable experience and one I can’t wait to repeat. You can listen to my 90 second summary here: –


Novel writing 1st draft – When the end is also the beginning

Today, I typed two words on my fourth manuscript. The two words that are often the most exciting to write. The End. Although it’s only a first draft, the relief I feel is immense but it’s also mixed with a nervousness, and if I’m honest, a little sadness.

Relief, because despite the success of my first three books the self-doubt has never completely gone away. The little voice whispering I won’t be able to do it again. This book has been such a hard write, and a long time in the making, started and abandoned twice, and there were times when I absolutely believed that voice and almost, almost gave up.

Nerves, because this is when it goes over to my agent and publisher for their feedback. This psychological thriller comes from a different angle and I’m hoping it’s one they will like. It’s also pacier, darker and more emotive than my first other books, although I hope it still retains the same feel.

Sadness, because again, I’ve become ridiculously attached to my main character, Ali and in a way this feels like letting her go. She’s been through such a lot in her life (and in my story!) and after spending 8 hours a day with her for almost a year I am already feeling lost without her.

I remind myself that this is not the end, this is the beginning and it’s the next part of the process I enjoy the most. The editing, the shaping of the story, polishing the language. It will be interesting to see, when the edits come back, how they compare to my previous books. I feel I’ve learned so much working with an editor and I’ve tried to put it all into practice. I shall let you know shortly as well as sharing the tips I have picked up along the way.


My school visit – Lessons from Jack Black

There’s a fabulous scene in School of Rock where Jack Black, masquerading as a teacher, gets asked about his methods. Straight-faced he quotes ‘The Greatest Love of All’ lyrics, written by Linda Creed & recorded by Whitney Houston ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’ Anyone who has seen the movie will know Jack’s reasons for teaching are intrinsically selfish at first but ultimately he inspires the kids with his passion for music.

Encouraging creativity in schools is so important. Sometimes I feel it can get a little lost amongst the league tables, the desire for academic excellence, the immense pressure on both teachers and children to produce results that exceed target levels. The younger generation, teenagers in particular, often get a bad press. My sons and their friends are polite, friendly, with a passion for politics and the environment that would put many adults to shame.

School visits are something I am doing more and more of. Not for marketing, my psychological thrillers are entirely unsuitable for children and I never take any to sell, or sign, but to share my experience of life inside and outside of education. I still remember that moment nearly thirty years ago when I sat in front of the careers advisor, palms prickling with nerves, stomach churning as I said out loud the thing I had never dared say before. ‘I want to be a writer.’ I still feel the crushing disappointment when she dismissed my dream with words that hit like bullets. ‘That’s not a career. You can’t earn a living from it. Go and work in an office.’ I often wonder if my school had focused a little more on creativity how different my career path might have been. How, if an author had visited and said ‘Yes, you absolutely can make a living writing. I’m doing it,’ whether I wouldn’t have given up quite so easily.

The last thing I want to do is make it seem is that the children’s dream careers are easily achievable but I want to impart that with hard work, determination and positivity there is nothing you can’t at least try to do and to encourage them to never lose that passion for the things we love, because as adults we often do. The things we enjoyed when we were young, cast as frivolous and time wasting, buried under a mountainous pile of routine, bills and domestic drudgery.

Write, paint, draw, sing, mould with clay. Never lose sight of who you are or what you love. The average life span is 4,000 weeks. Make the most of your precious time.

If just one child during tough times, remembers my visit, recalling how once a disabled mother, with limited education, came to their school and said ‘Yes, you can. Don’t give up,’ they might end up paying it forward one day. Encouragement, kindness and love are free to give and easily shared.


Diamonds & Dust #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Roger Bultot


Nothing. I’ve nothing except dust and junk. Mama’s attic virtually bare now. Opening the last box, I’m hit by colour and memories as vibrant as the shimmering material I find myself clutching to my chest, which aches with longing.

‘Do you have to go?’ I’d asked.

‘It’s how we’ll make our fortune.’ Mama kissed my nose as she set off for another long shift, sewing clothes for the ungrateful jewellery maker’s wife.

I lift the dress to the light. It’s heavy. Surely too heavy? The sparkles too bright to be fake?

I remember the headline ‘Missing diamond mystery.’

Perhaps I have something after all.


Happy New Year! Tomorrow, Thursday 4th January, at 19.30 GMT I’m live on the Facebook Group Crime Book Club, answering questions about writing, publishing and books as well as discussing my latest novel, The Surrogate. Whether you’re a reader or writer do pop over and join me if you can. You’ll need to join the group first here.

Diamonds & Dust was written for Friday Fictioneers. A weekly 100 words story challenge inspired by a photo prompt and hosted by Rochelle. You can read the other entries here

A day in the life of author…Tracey Scott-Townsend

Hmm writing in a ‘shed’ with no wi-fi distractions may be the key to being more productive. Tracey, do share more about your day.


For a good deal of my writing life (which began full-time in 2010) my office has been a shed in the garden. As it happens I’m currently packing up my shed in preparation for a house move so I’m having to work in the house. I find this distracting, due to my two captivating rescue dogs wanting my attention so much of the time. I also have other intrusive business going on at the moment, mostly stemming from the house sale.

At our new home in Hull I’ve created a cosy ‘shed’ by dividing an alcove off from the main part of the spare room. I hope I feel secure and isolated (in a good way) in there in the same way as I do going out to a dedicated space in the garden.

But let’s imagine for now that I`m still working in my shed – it’d be a shame not to show you around. My mini-palace is no ordinary garden shed. I have electricity and a wood stove and rugs hanging in there. I have photos of my kids on the bookshelves and one or two of my old paintings on the walls, too. Research notes and reference photos are also pinned up under the window, along with a calendar on which I mark the daily progress of my writing. In winter I have the stove burning merrily with the copper kettle coming to the boil on its flat top.

My day begins with a catch up on social media before I exit my bed. The first task downstairs will be to provide `strokey time` for the dogs, who act like they haven’t seen me for a year. Then I need to give Luna her Turmeric paste, followed by her YuMove tablets and her anti-inflammatory medicine. She’s less than 2 years old but she has severe hip dysplasia. I`ll probably need to wipe down the kitchen after my 18-year-old daughter has blasted through it. She’s my youngest of four and about to leave home as her brothers have already done, so I’m much more indulgent with her than I was with the others! I try to leave any other housework tasks until outside of work hours but sometimes it’s difficult to ignore them.

I always describe the feeling of closing the shed door behind me and sitting at my desk as like childhood visits to church. Okay, I’m not saying my shed is holy or anything but the atmosphere inside is to me kind of spiritual…

If I’m working on a new novel – which I am at the moment, only my progress has been interrupted by all this house moving business – I set myself a word-count target of 2,000 – 3,000 per day. I divide the target into more-or-less equal portions so that I know what I need to achieve in each session and I must reach the targets before I allow myself to take a break. (Even if I’m writing absolute drivel. Absolute drivel can be improved later.) I can also work out roughly how long it’ll take me to complete the first draft of a novel by sticking to the daily target. My novels are usually around 80,000 words long. Not that I won’t end up getting rid of at least one-third of it during the second draft but at least it’s a reason to keep going at the outset. Spending two years working as a secondary school teacher really helped me with targeting and time-management.

During my breaks I return to the house, check on the dogs and generally move around a bit. Quite possibly I’ll be forced to pick up a snowstorm of stuffing from the latest cushion or soft toy disembowelment! I have a cup of tea and/or my lunch. On a sunny day I leave the back door open so the dogs can come and go in and out the house all day. I might have my shed door open while I’m working as well. I often prepare the evening meal early in the day, during one of my breaks. Back in the shed for another thousand-word session I feel refreshed, as though I’m beginning a new working day. If it’s going to get dark early I might take the dogs for their walk during my afternoon break, but at the moment while it’s light until nine I tend to take them out after work. A daily walk (two in the winter when it’s no fun for my husband to take them out in the pitch-dark early morning) is essential to me both physically and mentally. I’m lucky in that I live near a riverbank, a large, wooded park and a hilly common so I have plenty of opportunity to commune with nature. I’ll need to walk further to commune once I’ve moved permanently into our house in Hull. My walk talks a minimum of half an hour.

An advantage of working in the shed is the lack of Broadband because if I’m really good and leave my phone in the house I get a lot more writing done.

My husband comes home about six and that’s also my official work-finishing time. If I’m tantalisingly close to my target but not quite there I take a little extra time in my shed. He’ll most likely offer to take the dogs out for me if I haven’t done it yet – but that’s not really as good a thing as it sounds as I won’t then get the exercise I so badly need… but sometimes you can’t fit in everything! I much prefer working in my shed to being in the house because once I’ve typed the daily word-count I close the laptop and zip it into its bag. Then I lock the shed door after me and return to other business. Having the shed makes writing so much more like actually going out to work. I’m never distracted by housework in my shed.

I tend to spend the whole time that I’m preparing, cooking and serving the evening meal talking about my characters and their fictional world while Phil listens patiently. Or possibly he’s not listening at all. When I was writing my first novel, The Last Time We Saw Marion, I used to read a chapter to him every night in bed. I soon realised he was falling asleep a few pages in. Pity I didn’t try that on my children when they were little!

After dinner I like to make sure I’m up to date with email correspondence and then have another catch-up on social media. I like to watch a drama programme in the evening so if there’s nothing on TV I select something from catch-up or Netflix. I’ve recently watched complete series’ of Raised by Wolves, based on the childhood of Caitlin Moran, Peaky Blinders, which I was introduced to by my son and I’m now working my way through Orange is the New Black.



Thanks so much Tracey for sharing your day. We have the same taste in TV! You can find Tracey’s blog here and buy her books on Amazon here.