Category: Books

Reading List: Books about Female Friendship (and some books about women in groups)

This year, I’m looking at female friendships under oppression as an aspect of a literary criticism assignment for my Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University. There aren’t very many literary books with positive female friendships forming a primary narrative. Female friendship, whether positive or negative, is an altogether unlikely subject matter in literature. I had to scour the internet to piece together a reading list, and once I’d gathered all of the books, I really had mixed feelings about those books I’d sourced and went on to read. Depictions of female friendships and female peer relationships penned by women authors are very often a landscape of jealousy, competitiveness, and betrayal. Hey, I get it. Readers want intrigue, drama, crisis. But it seems as though the conflict in novels dealing with female friendship always arises from within the friendship. Comparatively, male friendships fare rather well in literature, and the conflict comes from forces outside the friendship. Consider Frodo and Sam, Theo and Boris, Harry and Ron (okay so that’s not literature so much), Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, amongst many others. Hm.

I’m not sure that the female friendship has ever been honoured very effectively in the fiction novel. The closest I’ve come to a good and satisfying portrayal of female friendship is in the book My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. And I did not love that novel.

Vera Brittain wrote, “From the days of Homer the friendships of men have enjoyed glory and acclamation, but the friendships of women, in spite of Ruth and Naomi, have usually been not merely unsung, but mocked, belittled and falsely interpreted. I hope that Winifred’s story may do something to destroy these tarnished reputations and show its readers that loyalty and affection between women is a noble relationship which far from impoverishing, actually enhances the love of a girl for her lover, of a wife for her husband, of a mother for her children.” (Hence, Testament of Friendship, all about a great and long-lasting friendship with the writer Winifred Holtby. More details in the Reading List below.)

Introductory Reading List of Books about Women’s Friendships

TLDR? Here’s the Goodreads List I’ve compiled featuring all the books (and please add your own.)

(Note: I don’t really do Classics)

First up is a non-fiction book that’s rather archaic, yet exceedingly poignant. Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby by Vera Brittain. The book was first published in 1940. Winifred passed away of Bright’s Disease when she was just thirty seven, and Vera had admired her friend so very much that she composed this book in her memory. Brittain lost her fiancé and her brother in the First World War, and her friendship with Winifred helped her to cope with the overwhelming loss. Brittain writes so eloquently on the subject of her friendship with Winifred. [Sidenote: Do we ever reflect on our friendships until they are gone from us? It is often in its absence that we come to recognise the glory of a friendship and see it as being significant, life-changing, a high point of one’s life.] Their friendship becomes romanticised in the novel, but not in a saccharine way. [And why shouldn’t friendship be romanticised, as an acknowledgement of its beauty and importance?] Here’s a lovely rendering of Winifred’s personality as depicted by Brittain:

Winifred had an infallible consciousness of the other person’s standpoint; usually she put her friends’ wishes first and her own second. When she wrote letters she invariably began by referring to her correspondents’ interests and problems. If she answered the telephone she always replied, however disastrously the call had interrupted her, as though the speaker at the other end were the one person whom she wanted to hear. In conversation she seldom discussed her own troubles; she encouraged other people to talk about theirs. She was never offended; she seemed to be quite without the apparatus of sensitive pride and vulnerable dignity used by the person who lacks confidence to defend his ego against a world of which he is deeply suspicious…She never committed the deadly sin of undermining another person’s self confidence, for she knew that self-confidence takes half a lifetime to build up but can be destroyed in half an hour…The result was a gracious magnanimity, a never-failing charity, which evoked love by the warmth and generosity of the love that it gave.

What’s particularly special about the book is that much of the friendship is catalogued through letters to-and-fro, a practise we’ve abandoned in the modern age. It was a time when people were careful about their communications with friends, noting the intricacies of their lives with consideration, and relaying complex feelings to one another in letters. It happens that both of the women were important writers themselves, heightening the readability of the book. I wonder how many women would relate to the following sentiment, as composed by Winifred to Brittain:

‘Babies are a nuisance, of course,’ she wrote me at the end of 1926 when I was making up my mind to embark on a family. ‘But  so does everything seem to be that is worth while – husbands and books and committees and being loved and everything. We have to choose between barren ease and rich unrest – or rather, one does not choose. If I were you, I would be rich. Even if it ultimately kills you, you’ll have been alive and we all have to die, even those who have never lived.’

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. A formative friendship helps us to understand ourselves and to forge a sense of identity. It is through the feedback of these formative friendships that we come to understand ourselves. Our sense of identity may evolve and shift, and so the friend relationship may fulfil its need, and so dissolves. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine is haunted by a painful formative friendship she had with a girl called Cordelia, a friendship that became idolatrous, sycophantic.

As children, friendships help us to feel belonging and acceptance:

I want some friends, friends who will be girls. Girl friends. I know that these exist, having read about them in books, but I’ve never had any girl friends because I’ve never been in one place long enough. 

These early friendships can also bring to light any of our apparent defects, as in this excerpt from a scene where Carol, another friend, comes to visit:

Carol comes to my house and takes it all in—the unpainted walls, the wires dangling from the ceilings, the unfinished floors, the army cots—with incredulous glee. “This is where you sleep? ” she says. “This is where you eat? These are your clothes? ” Most of my clothes, which are not many in number, are pants and jersey tops. I have two dresses, one for summer and one for winter, and a tunic and a wool skirt, for school. I begin to suspect that more may be required.

The book is an unsettling series of painful recollections that could well resonate with women who’ve experienced cruelty in their early friendships. It’s not the easiest of reads, but is painted with an unfortunate accuracy.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. This book has been a literary sensation for its profound portrayal of the friendship of two young girls living in Naples in the 1950’s. It is a place where women are belittled and sidelined as the norm – their husbands, fathers and brothers wielding a great deal of influence over their destinies. Even mothers have little faith in their daughters, occasionally jealous of their achievements. Status is conferred through right marriage, church attendance, conformity, and behaving ‘as a woman should’. Elena and Lila struggle to improve their circumstances, facing a battle to be acknowledged for their precocity, and to satisfy their ambitions. These struggles introduce competition into the friendship, adding to the usual stressors of a girl’s adolescence. [I think Ferrante did a really good job with this one and she got a lot of things right. However, the writing style really irked me, and it seemed jagged and unfocused in parts. This could be down to the translation – the work was originally composed in Italian.] The book is one of a foursome known as the Neapolitan Quartet.

Sula by Toni Morrison. In Sula, Sula Peace is the charismatic friend, and Nel Wright is the observer/admirer. Sula is an escapist, more worldly and daring, whereas Nel has conformist tendencies. The friendship is magnetic and transcendent in childhood and adolescence, but becomes toxic in adulthood. As children, Sula and Nel were virtually interchangeable, save for Sula’s birthmark. The birthmark may have triggered in Sula a sense of differentiation, a feeling that she did not fit in, that shaped her personality. This is a very strange and powerful book about female friendship under oppression (racial prejudice, poverty). The novel demonstrates that the social constraints and unjust expectations placed upon females force them to deny their own personhood, and that of their friends, leading to friendship crises.

Here are some more books dealing with female friendships, groups of women, and collaboration between women:

The Girls by Emma Cline. 2016’s hit novel inspired by the The Family, the name given to Charles Manson’s followers, made up of a high percentage of impressionable female teenagers and young women. The book is a first person narrative from the perspective of a young girl, Evie, who becomes involved in a similar type of set-up, after becoming entranced by one of the older girls in the group, named Suzanne. (Suzanne has echoes of Cordelia in Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood).

Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore.The book is a lot of fun, but is relatively superficial in addressing the theme of friendship, the author preferring to entertain than illuminate. [I ♥ Lorrie Moore’s short story collection Birds of America! She’s fantastic.]

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. The book reminds me more of a theatre script, as ‘ol Sparkie doesn’t delve very deeply into character. It does, however, feature a dramatic climax that is quite shocking.

On My To Read Shelf

I’ll update this post once I’ve completed them:

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

NW by Zadie Smith, and Swing Time by Zadie Smith

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

The Group by Mary McCarthy

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien

[Comment below if you’ve come across a proper friendship literary novel featuring women, that isn’t Sex and the City. It would be really useful for my thesis! Thanks.]

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.Buy it now!

 

Choosing Audiobooks: Some Things To Consider

They say the best stories are the ones you see on the radio. That is to say, when we hear a story, our imagination does the world building for us. I’ve been signed up to Audible for about a year now, and I’ve had a grand old time listening to a wide range of stories that have really captured my imagination, and enhanced my life overall (may as well be honest). The major advantage of audiobooks, IMO, is that you can listen when you’re on the move. They make long car journeys, or any sort of commute, tolerable, even enjoyable. If you’ve got physical work to do around the house, like organizing shelves or attacking a stack of laundry, listening to an audiobook makes the dreary task infinitely more pleasurable. [So pleasurable, in fact, that I listened to over 10,000 audiobook minutes in 2016. I got an email from Audible to let me know that I was one of their biggest listeners. Bit miffed I didn’t get a prize though.] And there’s really no excuse to be a TV loving couch potato anymore, now that audiobooks are available to us. You can saunter out for a two hour walk with Chelsea Handler, or Amy Schumer, or whoever your favourite comedian is (they’re all doing audiobooks now) in your ears. It’s like an auditory paradise, and it’s yours for the taking. If you’re tired of traffic updates, political debates that never seem to come to any conclusion, and radio jingles that make you want to chew your own face off, switch off that dial because there’s an audiobook out there waiting for you (entirely free from advertisements too! Sigh.)

If you’re new to audiobooks, or sort of ‘Oh, I don’t really know if that’s for me’ about the whole thing, here are some pointers for choosing the right audiobook for you:

  1. Choose something that is well paced, with a strong narrative thread. (These are often the books that are recommended through word of mouth, or described as ‘page turners’.) It’s primarily the plot that will keep you listening. Turgid tales with excessive, complex detail don’t translate well to audiobooks, because it’s simply too easy to lose your concentration. You’re likely to be carrying out other tasks while you’re listening, and if the story becomes heavy and morose, you’ll just tune out. (And you can’t just flick back a couple of pages to find your place, because this is not a book. Sure, you can re-start the chapter, or rewind a couple of minutes, but it’s not so easy to pick up where you left off.) My guilty pleasure is the true crime genre. I always want to know if they caught the killer, and how they went about it, and so I listen right to the end. You could try something by Ann Rule, America’s best known crime writer. You could consider audiobooks that are strung together by various anecdotes that work well on their own, such as those found in ‘The Best Advice I Ever Got’ by Katie Couric, ‘The Examined Life’ by Stephen Grosz, the personal essays of David Sedaris, such as ‘When You Are Engulfed In Flames’, and ‘If I Could Tell You Just One Thing’ by Richard Reed. It allows you to dip in and out of the audiobook, and not feel like you’re completely out of sync with a story.
  1. The narrator’s voice will make a big difference to your enjoyment of the audiobook, so make sure to listen to the audio sample provided before you make your purchase. My pet hate is a slow speaker. Oh God. I just wish they’d get on with it. (You can actually increase the speed of the narrator’s voice within the Audible app, but sometimes this sounds really awful.) There are plenty of well-known actors and public figures who’ve narrated audiobooks, and if you’re a fan of any of these individuals, you’re far more likely to commit to the story. People like Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Joan Rivers, Leah Rimini, Jane Fonda, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling have all narrated their own autobiographies and/or novels written by other authors.
  1. The audiobook you choose is going to be your background noise for quite some time, so choose wisely. A story that gets into your head will have an impact on your mood and thoughts. img_4073If you’re having a rough time, you should think carefully about the kind of story that’s best for you right now. I listened to ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand, about the story of Louis Zamperini, a man who went to hell and back, and lived to tell the tale. This is an astonishing story of resilience, and the triumph of the human spirit. You’ll experience the anguish and the terror, and you’ll come out the other end of it feeling transformed. The right story can revitalize us. Non-fiction self development audiobooks have their value too. If you’re preparing for an interview or a situation that’s going to test you, ‘Presence’ by Amy Cuddy could be the perfect choice: it’s about rising to any occasion with confidence, and doing yourself justice in stressful situations.

I firmly recommend audiobooks. Audible does a 30 day free trial and you can cancel any time.

 

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

You say you have nothing to write about? We’ll see about that.

“I just wouldn’t know where to start. I wouldn’t know what to write about.”

WHAT.

I’ve heard this so many times from people who profess to being really interested in writing something: a short story, a play, a novel. I try to hide my incredulity but… You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Everyone’s got a hundred stories in them – at least! Of course, stories do not always arrive to us in their full-form, ready to flow from our fair hand…more often than not, they begin with a central idea. The most obvious place to find an idea to write about is the great repository that is your memory bank. Think back over your life and write down your 10 Life Changing Incidents. Any one of those incidents could make for a scenario to write about. Consider the emotions you felt at that time, the twists and turns that took place, the Before and the After of the incident. [I’m sure things didn’t go as you expected them to. See how you can adapt the incident somewhat, change a few things around. Change the location, the circumstances of the person at the centre of it, raise the stakes. Ramp it up by choosing an alternate ending.]

thumb_img_2413_1024You can also make the most of any existing knowledge or experience you have had in environments that many people have never been exposed to. If you have worked in the medical field, as a member of the emergency services, in politics, in technology development, then your ability to depict certain types of people, places and scenarios will be advantageous.

You can also explore a pre-existing interest in archaeology, astronomy, criminal profiling, your country’s history etc. by reading up on these subjects and having them feature in your story. Doesn’t that sound like fun? (Research is so fun.)

An off-the-wall technique that’s worked well for me in the past is using word combinations as a first step; an example would be the novel I’m developing, called The Shadow Sister, where I took the words ‘shadow’ and ‘sister’ and contemplated what kind of concept might match with the word combination. In the end, I selected a concept related to human cloning. If you were to combine an adjective with a noun, or an adverb with a noun, what kinds of combinations might you come up with? This exercise is not intended as a method for coming up a title, just a starting point. Try to come up with a list of 10 Word Combinations, and choose the one that appeals to you the most.

You can also set aside some time to actively think up ideas. The generation of ideas can become habitual, if you want it to be. Shower time, time spent driving or housekeeping (seriously) are opportunities to set your mind to work. I’ve heard of a practice called ‘worry time’, where people set an alarm and carefully consider any worries they have in the minutes or hours before the alarm goes off, at which point they return to everyday mode. The same approach works with creativity. Make room for your creativity to flood in and you will be rewarded.

Finally, you must commit to writing down anything with potential: a snatch of conversation, a news story that captured your imagination, an odd dream. These are the weird little gems that come along every once in a while and they’re powerful and fleeting (oh so fleeting so you HAVE TO WRITE THEM DOWN). I normally tap these into the Notes on my iPhone because I tend to get my best ideas just as I’m about to fall asleep. (Sometimes I reread these little scraps the next day and they make absolutely no sense, but more often than not they’re incredibly useful.)

Once you’ve chosen an ‘idea’ – big or small – it’s fermentation time. Churn the idea over in your mind. Consider it from different angles. Who will be the participants? What happens to them? What’s the aesthetic, what’s the tone, what’s the tense, what’s the setting? Who is best placed to tell this story? Will you choose a first person narrative voice, third person or ‘omniscient’ narrator?

Also worth trying:

Reddit Writing Prompts

Write a List of 100

In the current age, we spend much of our time entertaining ourselves through watching, hearing or reading the creations of other people. Wouldn’t it be fun to have other people enjoy your ideas for a change? When it comes down to it, all you need to do is write one line. Follow it with another. And another. And keep going. Until you’re done. The sense of satisfaction you’ll feel once you’re finished is absolutely priceless.

I wish you luck.

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

My Creative Hit List of 2016

I’m getting in early to carry out a Creative Round Up 2016 Hit List ClickBaity Endeavour. It goes without saying that 2016 had plenty of flaws. I immersed myself in a lot of reading material and music during the year, because art helps me to escape and find solace. It is elevating and pure. *Leaky eye*. I find it’s helpful to end a year by listing what was positive about it, and that’s why I feel it’s important to reminisce about the art I’ve enjoyed. So I’ve gone and done it.

Books:

Disclaimer: Most of these weren’t published in 2016.
We Learn Nothing: Essays by Tim Kreider. Awesome, powerful and funny essays about human relationships.
The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale. A riveting tale that’s a proper page turner.
The Circle by Dave Eggers. The coolest premise, and ridiculously entertaining.
– A second attempt to finish The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (it’s much better the second time around actually) has failed, but I will get there, I swear.
The Bad Seed by William March. It’s about a psychotic child on the rampage and was written in 1954. Compelling, written simply and impactfully. A super read. I read it on my Kindle at night in bed and it was worth the migraines.
The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell. Insights into Denmark and why the people are so happy. It’s a lot about hygge, it’s a lot about open-mindedness and being progressive. Unsurprisingly.
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. Because there’s no right or wrong way to set about creating, just as long as it gets done.
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. A refreshing perspective on the forced positivity that’s infecting every discourse nowadays.
– I listened to some audiobooks too, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ made for easy listening, but best of all was Stephen Grosz’s ‘The Examined Life’. It was a fantastic listen (can I say that, is that a thing that people say?) I use the Audible app which is money well spent for people who cannot tolerate silence (me). I tried to listen to The Secret History by Donna Tartt but it was just too long, and I already know the story inside out. What was I thinking? I also listened to lots of stuff from Ann Rule, America’s original true crime author.

[Most of my reading this year – unlisted here – was related to my Masters in Creative Writing, so I haven’t been reading purely for pleasure. RACKING SOBS. My summer thesis was about John McGahern’s management of female dialogue in his short stories, I’ll post about it some other time. In 2017, I’m looking at the nuances of female friendship in literature, a pretty wide subject with a great deal of reading.]

Music:

This album was divisive, but I loved it. Junk by M83. (It even became the writing soundtrack to a novel I’ve been working on, and I normally don’t listen to music as I write). Other musicians I’ve really appreciated this year are Andy Shauf and Thundercat, and Lady Gaga’s album Joanne really took me by surprise, I haven’t much cared for her avant-garde ways up to now, but songs like ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ really hit the mark for me. I also loved ‘Wolves’ from Kanye West, ‘Peace’ from Kenton Slash Demon, and ‘Catapult’ from Jack Savoretti. I took a deep dive into some old time crooners like Frank Sinatra (!) following on from a Netflix documentary I watched about his life, and ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ found their way onto my Spotify playlist. I don’t know if that’s cool or not but I don’t really care. They’re like lullabies for grown-ups, and grown-ups need lullabies too. Oh, and I had huge fun listening to Tame Impala ‘Let It Happen’ and ‘The Less I Know The Better’. I find their lyrics most amusing:

Someone said they left together
I ran out the door to get her
She was holding hands with Trevor
Not the greatest feeling ever
She said, “Pull yourself together
You should try your luck with Heather”
Then I heard they slept together
Oh, the less I know the better

Whatever happens in the year to come, here’s hoping that it brings us lots of great books and music to help keep us sane. This is the kind of stuff that helps make life worth living. Creators, you’ve got a very worthy job to do. Do carry on with it.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

Good reasons to study Creative Writing

Good art often takes patience and determination. It can even be gruelling, maddening, and heartbreaking. When we neglect skill, we can toil for a lifetime and remain mediocre. People often quip that writing is one of those skills that is inherent. “You’ve either got it or you don’t.” Hmm. It’s true that people have inclinations and abilities in specific areas, but everyone has the potential to be better.

Successful and invested creators are in it for the long haul. They have a vision for how good their art can be, and they find ways to improve and evolve. Right now, I’m midway through a Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University. Here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced in studying creative writing at postgraduate level.

1. I’ve explored my passion with like-minded people, enriching my writing – and my life – considerably.
2. I’ve found out what I am capable of when I rise to a challenge. Literary criticism? Sure! I guess i can do that now…!
3. I’ve surprised myself by writing poetry and dark comedy, turning my hand to genres I’ve never considered in the past. It’s exciting to explore new creative territory.
4. I’ve been inspired and moved by the writers I’ve met. We struggle and we celebrate together. Writing can be hard work and mutual support is invaluable.
5. I’ve gained discipline in my writerly practice in order to meet the demands of the programme. I know that this will stand to me.
6. I’ve identified my strengths and weaknesses and I’m more sharply tuned as to how to improve my work.
7. I’ve received valuable, high level feedback on my writing from esteemed tutors and well read fellow students.
8. I’ve been exposed to inspiring, experimental literature that I just wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

A structured and mentored creative writing programme, such as the one I am involved in, can be a powerful and life-affirming experience.

Writing is precious to me. It drives me. With one life to live, we should throw ourselves in at the deep end as often as we can; the more we give to our passion, the higher the return.

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

My short story The Shadow Sister featured on Reddit’s NoSleep podcast. YES.

no-sleep-podcastI was so totally stoked (!) to have my short story The Shadow Sister featured on a recent episode of the NoSleep podcast. This podcast was one of iTunes Top 100 podcasts in 2015 and has a significant listenership. Each story is produced using talented voice artists, music and sounds effects. I just listened to the episode today, called Suddenly Shocking Vol. 4, and my story starts at 42 minutes in. It sounds so damn cool produced in this way and I got such a thrill to listen to it. The Shadow Sister is an unsettling, subtle horror tale with a human cloning theme. Sign up for a Season Pass to the NoSleep podcast to listen to the story.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

I have published a very scary novella called ‘The Diary of Natalya Zlota’ and I would very much like you to read it.

I’ll cut to the chase. I have written a very scary story that you will enjoy very much. The Diary of Natalya Zlota is now available on Amazon!

The Diary of Natalya Zlota - eBook Original Cover.jpg

Now seeking 5 ★★★★★ reviews and stellar ratings, so get to it!

“What’s this story about, then?”

Here’s the summary:

Natalya Zlota is missing. Nobody knows. Nobody cares.
Castledaly is populated by haves and have-nots. Sharp-witted student Nora may not have the same resources as some of the townsfolk but she’s a pragmatic young woman, doing what she can to get herself through college. There’s something about the Calder House that has always intrigued Nora. When Nora is asked to babysit for Marianne and Colin Calder, she gets her wish to spend some time inside the old mansion. Over the course of Nora’s visits, it becomes apparent that the house has an interfering entity. And this entity refuses to leave Nora alone.
When Nora comes across the diary of the Calder’s former housekeeper, Natalya Zlota, she learns the unsettling truth about the Calders and what exactly what has been happening behind closed doors. These people have a sheen of respectability but are dogged by rumours and gossip.

Marianne left her society life in Dublin to move to Castledaly with her husband. Since then, life has been unsatisfactory and she struggles to find her purpose. The neighbours poke fun at the grand opinion she has of herself. Colin owns a property company, and business has been up and down. He’s got a wandering eye and there’s talk that he’s committed insurance fraud.
“How boring life must be, to have so much money but not to know what to do with your life. I unfortunately have not much money but a huge passion for life!”

Natalya reveals her true character through her diary entries. She has a deep hatred of Marianne.
“I want to barge down there and knock her off her white throne.”
And she lusts over Colin, the man who can give her what she wants.
“He has a certain smile. I know what it means.”
The lifestyle and money that she’s never had, and will never have with boyfriend Joe.
“I’ve taken a box of Marianne’s mother’s jewellery too, she will never miss it. It’s ugly and old-fashioned but valuable.”
Nora summons up the courage to investigate the diary further and try to learn what has happened to Natalya. There was a peculiar arrangement made between Natalya and the Calders, but, as the reader will learn, somebody lost out. Big time. Will justice prevail? And will Natalya’s ghost ever leave Nora in peace?

There’s just one way to find out! Buy the ebook now for just £1.99 or $2.95.

Wrap that duvet tightly about your shoulders and allow yourself a little creepy time.

http://www.amazon.com/Diary-Natalya-Zlota-Frances-Macken-ebook/dp/B018VB6RG0

So I’m now studying Creative Writing at Oxford University. Who’d have thunk it?

About this time last year, I was preparing my application for Oxford University to take part in their Masters in Creative Writing. There were many redrafts of my Personal Statement, valiant attempts to track down the appropriate referees, a scrabble to put savings together. I really, really, really wanted it. Anyway, I got all of my paperwork sorted out and became very singleminded. The course is competitive with up to 200 applicants for 30 places. I tried not to trouble myself with that and just focused on doing myself justice.

I got in. That was a Very. Good. Day.

So what’s it like? Speaking in very general terms…

It’s challenging. And you have to keep up. I’ve had to dig deep at times, particularly because of my job. It requires a great deal of discipline.

It is intellectually stimulating. I’m writing things that I never thought I could. I am meeting fellow writers from all over the world. I am realising how much my identity and culture and background play a part in my writing. I once thought that my perspective on the world was not unique but have realised that this is not the case. I am taking myself more seriously and paying closer attention to my ideas. In one word, it is expansive. Damn it, I didn’t intend to be so gushy.

I think it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. And the photo opportunities are immense.

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[Selfie taken at the Sheldonian Theatre]

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[Matriculation Ceremony at the Sheldonian Theatre]

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[Just one of the very many beautiful college buildings, not sure which one this is. Seems there’s something to gape at around every corner.]

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[Spot the pigeon mid-flight! Here’s the very grand Ashmolean Museum, just around the corner from where I have my workshops.]

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[A filthy, coffee and lipgloss stained cup – sorry. But I do rather like the fabbo insignia.]

What I want from the programme is Challenge and Discipline. I have to rise to the great challenges presented to me. I have to find the discipline to work very hard at my ideas and get the words onto the page. Writers need to train like athletes, and we need to reach for something. We either set the goal ourselves or someone else creates the challenge for us.

I’m very glad to be at the beginning of something that I know is going to be life-changing.

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!