This is the year

It’s been more than six years since my debut novel was published.

That’s a long time. So many things have happened to me since then and though there have been challenges, most of those things are good. I’ve had three children, moved house, changed jobs several times and ended up starting and running a successful freelance business.

There is one reality I cannot escape: I have not written a second novel.

On the Write for Your Life podcast, me and Donna Sørensen would joke about our lack of writing progress . We were both new parents and I like to think that, for our listeners, we were able to show that being a published author isn’t quite as glamorous as it can sometimes seem or be sold. It was a conscious choice – and came naturally – for us to laugh at ourselves.

It’s not been funny for ages.

Most sensible debut authors, when their novel comes out, will spend the next few months writing a follow up. These opportunities do not come around often. You need to make the most of them.

But I did things a little differently. A is for Angelica was published in the same month we had our identical twin boys, which was five days before I was made redundant from a job I’d been happy in for more than six years. I wrote about it at the time and reading back, I can’t believe how calm I sound.

As you might imagine, I was not calm at all. In fact, those initial months – years, really – were spent flailing and doing whatever I could to keep me and my family on an even keel. It was difficult. Really difficult.

It’s only with hindsight and an older, wiser head that I am able to look back on that period and forgive myself for not being able to write a second novel. Because at the time, for all my best efforts, I just couldn’t make it happen. Whenever I found a small writing-shaped hole in the day, almost always last thing at night, the words weren’t there.

I would get cross. I would feel guilty. And occasionally I would stare at an empty screen and have a little cry, knowing that it would be several days before the opportunity to write would come again.

Thankfully, things have changed.

I can now accept that although I wasn’t able to prioritise writing fiction, and as much as it really does hurt, I have achieved a lot in the last six years. I can recognise that some of the decisions I made were the only ones available, and that includes spending the last two years establishing a stable business that I hope will grow and last.

So, why share this now? Because I feel like I need to draw a line in the sand and that I should say some of these words out loud. I also know that it seems weird for it to have been so long and for me to have said so little about it. And lastly, though I’m not a well-known author, I do know that there are people who really loved my first book and would like to read another. I’ve been a bit rude in my silence.

Of course, I would love to end this post with an announcement that a second novel is imminent, but I’m afraid that’s not the case.

Yet there is good news – I am back to writing on a regular basis. There is one big novel idea in the works and one shorter piece that might become something too. I am making the time and feeling positive. That’s a huge step forward from where I have been for quite a while.

One of my favourite things about my old podcast was that it (accidentally) documented the process of me writing Angelica and then it being published. I’m not sure how yet, but I would like to share my progress with you again. Could be here on the blog. The newsletter. Even another podcast. I think that shouting about what I am doing helps me. The when and how doesn’t really matter that much.

The important thing is that I am writing again. I’ve regretted setting targets before, so I won’t do it now. But I hope that this is the year. It feels like this is the year.

This from the writing shed

My newsletter is back. Starting up again. Here’s issue one.

It’s not called Shelflife anymore, almost entirely because there are 1,000,000 other things in the world called Shelflife. I know this because I have counted. And tried to buy domain names.

Instead it’s called This from the writing shed, almost entirely because I have a shed in which I work, write and send newsletters from. But it doesn’t really matter what it’s called. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?

And inside my newsletter will be new writing from me as well as links to some of the best reading, writing and publishing related stuff I can find. That includes articles, books, apps, videos, podcasts and even tweets. Imagine!

The biggest change is in the platform I’m using. I’ve switched away from the Goliath-sized Mailchimp with all its fancy whatnots and not-needed complexity, and instead I’m using the David-like Revue, which comes with all the things I need for this kind of newsletter, including a catapult.

What else do you need to know? Oh, I’ll be sending these out weekly – on Tuesdays. Or at least that’s the plan at the moment. If it turns out another day works better for you or for me, then I will change it.

And yes, finally, one of the great things about Revue is that you get a fancy website for your newsletter. If you want to go through old editions or send a pal on over to sign up too, that’s the place to do it.

Deleting Twitter

I’m going to give myself a Twitter break for at least two weeks.

In doing so, I realise I join a long list of people who have left Twitter to recover some sort of sanity. The endless stream of news and nonsense has finally got to me and this seems like a good time to step away.

First of all, I’m going to be in a cabin with little access to the internet for a while. So that will help. But I’m also extremely busy with work and there is no getting around the fact that Twitter is a time suck. It’s always been that way, of course. But it has previously felt useful too. Not at the moment.

In reality, I’ve been retreating for a while. With no book or podcast to promote, I’ve found myself tweeting less over the last couple of years. I can go a few days without posting to Twitter at all. And overwhelmed by the constant negative news stream, late last year I muted the words ‘Trump’ and ‘Brexit’.

Doing that did make my timeline a little easier to manage. However, despite not tweeting much, I’m still on there all the time. I read the same curated Twitter Lists I’ve had going for years. It’s where I go in moments of boredom and procrastination. And honestly, I don’t think it’s especially good for my wellbeing.

So basically, I’ve removed Tweetbot from my laptop. And on my phone, I am going to remove my personal Twitter account. I’ll keep the app itself because I need to access a client’s profile. But that’s fine. I will just pop on and do what I need to do then buzz off again.

I expect to be back on Twitter in mid-August, but you never know how these things will turn out. I’ve been using the platform daily for about 10 years, which is absolutely bonkers. And as they say, a change is as good a rest.

Let’s see how it goes.

Clever Content Podcast

As you perhaps know, these days I run my own freelance content studio. That means lots of writing for clients, but also a fair bit of podcasting, video making and workshop running too.

One of my current projects is for a Sheffield agency called Content OD. I’m helping them out with their own marketing and communications and, as part of that, recently helped them launch the Clever Content Podcast.

We’ve recorded three episodes so far (two are published) and as with all new podcasts, we’re still finding our feet. The format is purposely simple. We find three or four content-related news items or things of interest and talk about them on the show.

For those of you who used to listen to my Write for Your Life podcast, which ran for 150+ episodes, this is probably the nearest thing I’ve done since. Give it a listen and see what you think. I think it has potential.

How to convert a Google Doc to Markdown or HTML

There is no easy way to quickly convert a Google Doc into Markdown or HTML using Google’s built-in tools.

This reality previously made me sad on a near-daily basis. Just thinking about all those hours lost to copy and pasting into other apps, fixing formatting problems and reinserting links brings a tear to my eye. It was a terrible state of affairs, for sure.

But then I found a Google Docs add on called Docs to Markdown and my life changed forever. It’s easy to install. It’s completely free. And it converts perfectly every time.

How does it work?

First of all, you need to open a Google Doc and write something brilliant.

Then you need to go back and make sure that you’ve applied your styles correctly. That means no using bold for headings. Use headings instead. That’s what headings are for. Add your links and any other formatting until you’re happy that your brilliant writing is also styled correctly.

Now go to the menu and follow Add-ons > Docs to Markdown > Convert. You’ll see a window slide in on the right-hand side of the screen. From there, you can choose to convert your document to Markdown or HTML using the handy buttons that say those two things on them.

Now in the space below those handy buttons, you should see the converted version of your document. You’ll probably need to scroll past the how-to advice and conversion notes first. Select your text. Copy it. And now the converted version is yours forever. Assuming you remember to paste it wherever it needs to be pasted.

What the hell is the point of all this?

I’m sure there are plenty of reasons you might want to convert a Google Doc to Markdown or HTML. In my case, Google Docs lets me share and work on documents with pals and clients. It’s fantastic for that.

But to publish those documents to the web – think blog posts, newsletters etc – I need them in HTML format. Mac apps like Ulysses, Bear and Byword are great at the converting part of the process, but they don’t have the collaboration features of Google Docs.

And so this is the problem that Docs to Markdown solves. You can use Google Docs to work with other people and still quickly convert a document into a format that you can publish on the internet.

Ever thought it might be nice to convert a Google Doc into HTML? This is how you do it. 

Ultimately, it means you don’t have to copy and paste rich text into WordPress, Squarespace or whatever CMS floats your web-boat. Because that always (always!) leads to faffing on an industrial scale and all your brilliant writing getting broken into bits.

Where do I get this magic from?

Again, this is an add-on for Google Docs. It doesn’t come built in, so you’re going to have to install it. I suggest you check out the GitHub page and then head to Google’s add-on store to install Docs to Markdown from there.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year and my goodness, it felt more pertinent and devastating this time around. It is brilliant. Beautifully written. A powerful and painful experience that I highly recommend.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale – ooh, what? – almost 20 years ago. It was one of the texts on my English degree and for two now-obvious reasons, much of it washed over me.

First, I was cramming so many novels, scripts and poetry collections into my bonce that book-fatigue made it hard to fully engage after a while. Second, let’s face it, I was a daft 19-year-old with all the privilege in the world who, at that point, had been through very little in the way of crap life things.

In some ways, The Handmaid’s Tale was just another book I had to read. That meant the seriousness and significance of the novel’s plot and premise passed me by. I suspect that goes for quite a lot of my reading when I was at university. My shelves are still full of books that I read at that time. But how many can I truly remember? Not sure.

Anyway, though my memory of The Handmaid’s Tale was pretty sketchy, I did remember how much I admired Atwood’s writing. One of her earlier novels, Cat’s Eye, which I read when I was still at school, was one of the key moments in me wanting to write fiction of my own. I just loved the way she ended chapters. The single sentences that knocked the wind out of you.

And of course, that’s all there in The Handmaid’s Tale too. The TV series and current political climate has brought the novel to a much wider audience and a new generation of readers. It is very much an important book. But it was always an important book. I just wasn’t paying enough attention.


It was National Flash Fiction Day over the weekend. Apparently. I don’t really know what that means, but it does give me an excuse to publish this piece of tiny fiction that I wrote a while ago.

It was brought to life by my designer-pal, drawer-friend and all-round maker of things, Rich Wells. He tricked me into sending him the words and then produced the artwork as a surprise Secret Santa gift for me.

I really rather like the end result.

My dad made me a pen

Like many 70-year-old men from the north of England, my dad isn’t one for emotions. I don’t recall him ever telling me that he loves me. Compliments are always thin on the ground.

So like many children of 70-year-old men from the north of England, I have to assume that a) he does, and b) he thinks I’m doing all right.

A couple of years ago, my dad bought a woodturning lathe. He started out by making small wooden pots, coat hooks and vases, that type of thing. Being long-retired, he’s had plenty of time to practise and now, his shed looks like a fully-fledged joiner’s workshop. He bloody loves it.

And he’s made me a pen. Out of wood. A lump of cherry that he found lying about in the garden. At my childhood home.

This is about as close as I’m ever going to get to an emotional outpouring. I know that he’s been quietly impressed that I’ve been able to turn a pretty shitty situation into a rather better one.

I run my own writing business. So he made me a pen. Pretty cool.

Some habits for 2018

Last year, the title of this new year post was ‘Some goals for 2017’. This year I’ve replaced the word goals with habits as they are far more meaningful. If I form certain habits, I will achieve certain goals. It makes far more sense.

I’ll use the same categories though. Here we go.


When I wrote last year’s post, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Reading it back I am amazed at how calm I sound. I was not calm at all.

I was about to lose my job and had nothing else lined up. There were no suitable jobs on the market and I had no freelance clients. I’d warned my parents we may need help with the mortgage. Honestly, I was terrified.

What a difference a year makes.

Shortly after writing that post, I managed to bag my first freelance client. As I type this now, I have worked with 10 other companies in the last 12 months and currently have a thriving copywriting and content production business.

It has not been easy. I have said yes to every opportunity and worked most days and evenings, especially in the last six months. This has been all around increased childcare duties too.

But I love it. The independence. The responsibility. The challenge. I’ve met and worked with some great people and put myself out there more than ever before. So far, it’s worked out well and I hope it continues.

I don’t have many changes for 2018. I’d just like to organise my workload in a way that frees up my evenings again. Well, as many evenings as possible.


Through necessity, I’ve thrown everything into my business, which means that my fiction has suffered. Last year, I said I hoped to have a first draft of a second novel finished by December. I am nowhere near, sadly.

But I am still confident and I do really like what I’m working on. I have a couple of habits that I would like to form that will hopefully get things moving.

First, I aim to work on my fiction for an hour a day. I’ve never been good with daily word counts, no matter how low I’ve set the number. I’m not the sort of writer who bangs out 2000 words regardless of quality. I often wish I was.

But so much of writing is not about the writing. The habit I need to form is not about the number of words I write, it’s committing to and protecting a time slot. If I ‘write’ for an hour, t will be time well spent, whatever the outcome. I know that eventually, the words will come, one way or another.

The second habit is around planning and outlining. I did not have an outline when I wrote A is for Angelica and it’s never felt like a very useful exercise. But I think the problem is with me. I think I need to loosen up and accept the help that having an outline would provide.

That said, I’m not really sure how to do it. If you have any outlining tips or advice, please do get in touch and share your wisdom.


As the freelance work mounted up last year, I decided to put the Shelflife newsletter on hiatus before starting it up again in December. People like it and I think I’ve found a way to streamline the process of putting it together. So a habit for 2018 is to publish Shelflife consistently over the year.

Also, I have so many podcast ideas and I am desperate to act on one of them. I really miss doing the Write for Your Life podcast and having produced three shows for clients in 2017, I’ve rather got the bug back.

I’d like to do something that’s very much my own thing. It would need to fit into a busy schedule and not negatively affect my work and writing. Ideally, it would complement those things. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.

There are two other things that I can’t stop thinking about.

One, setting up a Patreon account for my short fiction. I’m a strong advocate of the patronage model and would love to make this a reality. It would take an awful lot of work, but if I could make money earned from writing fiction part of my regular income, I’d be literally living the dream.

Two, I wasn’t joking in my last post when I said I was tempted to set up a social network for writers. I think it’s totally doable. But it’s also hard to justify the time I’d need to put in if it didn’t pay its way. How many platforms and apps have disappeared because they weren’t financially sustainable? Loads of them.

Would writers pay a small monthly fee to join a social network that was just for them? I don’t know. If I could find the courage, I’d love to take the risk of finding out.


There’s not much to say here. I need to read more. I want to read more.

I’ve always read last thing at night, but since having kids that’s proved a particularly terrible tactic. I can’t keep my eyes open and I usually fall asleep within minutes. It’s really annoying, actually.

In 2017, I said I was going to try and read 25 pages a day. That went well for a while. But then I struggled with a couple of books that I didn’t like very much and the freelance work started to pile up. I let things slip. And of course, I got nowhere near my target of 30 books for the year.

I’m not setting a target number of books this year. But I am going to try the 25-pages-a-day tactic again. I’m also going to try and get into the habit of reading more shorter books. Oh, and I aim to keep track of them better too.

Anything else?

Two more things to make a note of here.

Last year I said I wanted to reduce the amount of noise I let into my brain. After Brexit and Trump, I said I would use technology less to read the news. My goodness, it’s been difficult. And I don’t think I’ve done a very good job.

Here is the reality. I run a full-time, one-person company and I put a lot of time and effort into it. But whenever I stop working, the first thing I do – almost always – is use my phone or laptop to see what latest nonsense is in the news. And rest assured, there is always nonsense.

I don’t expect that I’ll be able to shut myself away from what’s happening in the world. But that trigger – to check the news when I get the chance – is not healthy and all those seconds and minutes build up. I could be doing something more useful instead. Like everything I’ve mentioned in this post.

So my new habit for 2018? Break that habit.

Lastly, this year I want to relax a little. For so long, if I’ve not been with family, I’ve been working or writing (or thinking about working and writing). In 2018, I would like to give myself permission to do more sitting on the sofa. Watching films. Reading books. Playing video games.

And that’s it.

It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

All the time and often

I ran a workshop last week where I asked participants to choose words that they felt summed up their attitude towards technology. The words they chose were overwhelmingly negative. I was a bit surprised.

In the follow-up activity, I asked the same people to say how often they used technology. They had a scale with five options on it. All but one person chose the option at the very end of the scale, which was all the time. The other person chose the next one down, often.

It was really a interesting outcome in the context of the workshop. But it’s had me thinking more widely since, in no small part because I could entirely understand where the participants were coming from.

How come those of us who are most tech-savvy seem to be so frustrated by and critical of technology? Why do we use technology all the time if we feel so negatively about what it is and does to us?

There are obvious answers. Obligation. Compulsion. Addiction. And of course, it brings benefits along with its problems.

I’ve been thinking about how I use social media. There is a disconnect between how I’d like to use social media and how I actually use it.

I’d like to connect with writers, readers and publishing folk. I’d like to find interesting news, articles and videos about the things I’m into. I’d like to share those things and show my work.

It’s true that I do those things a little. I used to do them a lot more.

Instead I get lost in and angry about petty politics. I go down rabbit holes that seem interesting and important, but lead absolutely nowhere. And I spend time – far too much time – scrolling and searching for golden nuggets in an endless stream of crap and cruft.

Of course, I can choose what I read and who I follow on Twitter. I could make changes so that the people and content that fills my feed is far more tailored and narrow. Lists, mute filters and hashtags.

But Twitter is Twitter. There is no agreed subject matter. We’re free to say what we want about whatever we want. I could narrow my feed, but unless everyone else does the same, little would change.

So I can’t help wondering if niche networks might be the future.

For example, what if there was a social network just for writers, where people could talk shop, share stuff and learn from one another? I’d find that far more useful and meaningful than any platform I currently know about.

In fact, if I knew that 100 people felt the same way, I’d probably have a go at setting one up myself. I mean, how hard could it be?