The Twisted Tree

The Twisted Tree - finished front cover

Set in the snows of Norway during the ‘dark time’, The Twisted Tree is a chilling ghost story inspired by Norse legend.

Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin and became blind in one eye.

Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha uncovers a disturbing family secret…

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Finding inspiration in the tarot


Inspiration can come from many places. For me, it was doing a tarot course with Maddy Elruna that gave me the idea to write a story inspired by Norse myth.

I admit I’d never really liked The Hanged Man before doing Maddy’s course. I always thought it signalled a time of waiting around (and who likes that?!) but this card has a much deeper meaning.

The Hanged Man is very much associated with Odin, the main Norse god. He wanted to learn the secrets of the Norns – the three women who weave fate in yggdrasil, the tree of life. When they wouldn’t tell him, Odin hung himself upon the tree for nine days and nights. He was close to death when at last he saw the runes in the well.

When you see the Hanged Man in a tarot reading it can mean that you need to ‘surrender to the process.’ Odin hung himself, not knowing that the runes would appear, just trusting that his sacrifice would lead to great reward. The card can mean that you need to make a decision based on feeling and not logic (when you hang upside down, your heart is literally higher than your head). It can signal that you need to give something, or a way of being, up. Or it might simply be telling you to look at a situation from a different perspective (standing on your head is optional!).

Sometimes, taking time out from ‘doing’ and looking at something in a new way can be exactly what you need. When I did Maddy’s course, I had a novel that I knew wasn’t working. I stopped trying to fix it, and instead looked at the story in a different way. What if I drew directly from Norse myth but kept the characters I loved and the contemporary settling? It was this change in perspective that led to a break through.

(The Hanged Man pictured is from The Druid Craft Tarot Deck – created by Phillip Carr-Gomm, the leader of  The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, who is based in my home town of Lewes, East Sussex.)


Working with a mentor

L-A-Weatherly2Knowing my book will be in shops next year is a dream come true. Getting to this point has taken much hard work (and a fair few tears), but I’ve also had a lot of help along the way. There’s one thing that really helped fast-track my writing career – and that’s having a mentor.

I started working with Lee Weatherly (shown left) at the end of 2015. Lee is the author of more than 50 books for children and young adults, including Angel and the Broken Sky trilogy. She also co-wrote How to Write a Blockbuster. If you’re thinking about working with a mentor, here’s a bit about why I found the experience so helpful…

A critical look at the whole of your novel 

While it’s great to receive feedback on an extract of your work via one-to-ones, there’s nothing like having a professional cast a critical eye over your entire novel. That way they can see what you’re aiming to achieve and identify which aspects aren’t working. There’s no point having a polished opening chapter if the plot or story idea isn’t strong enough.

I’d spent a year writing my first book, Blackbird in the Storm. The story is about a girl who’s washed up on a strange island where women spirit-journey with animals after the ship she’s on sinks in a storm.

Lee said lots of nice things about my writing, but had some big reservations about the story. You can see some of her feedback at the bottom of this article. Basically, my main character didn’t have a strong enough personality and goal, the world was too generic, the story not high concept enough and some of my ideas were a touch too derivative.

Ouch. At this point, I admit a few tears were shed..

While I was fully prepared to make changes, I wasn’t expecting to have to start from scratch. I chatted to Lee on the phone, and she asked me about the kind of stories I love to read, the themes and ideas that excite me and what kind of book I wanted to write. This part of the process was hugely important (and not something you usually get with a one-off critique) as it helped clarify where my interest and passion lie.

I found it hard to abandon my first book, simply because I’d invested so much time on it. What helped me to decide was going to the 2015 SCBWI conference. A talk by agents opened my eyes to the benefits of having a high-concept story. An editor needs to pitch your book to the sales and marketing team so that everyone instantly ‘gets it’. A book with a strong hook, a big idea or a unique setting is easier for people to buy into.

The agent also advised writers to be specific – if you’re going to set it in a city somewhere up north, tell us it’s in Manchester. Being specific helps draw the reader into the story. Candy Gourlay’s workshop on plotting also made me realise that my first story wasn’t strong enough. Candy illustrated the session with slides and quotes from Lee’s How to Write a Blockbuster – which seemed like a sign to take the hint!

Finding the big idea

Looking back on some of my previous story attempts, I came across an idea I’d had a few years ago – about a girl who could tell things about people by touching their clothes. Lee loved the short pitch I sent her, and felt it was high concept enough to work.

While my first book was loosely inspired by Norse mythology, I took Lee’s advice to be specific and decided to base it on a single myth. Instead of being set in a generic fantasy island, I would set it in the real world in Norway. And instead of a shy main character who reacted to others around her, she would have a burning desire from page one.

Feedback on outlines and drafts

I sent an outline to Lee and she pointed out where the plot was too rushed, or too complex. When I had the reasonable shape of a story, I started to write. Lee read my first draft (and second and third), marking up the manuscript each time. She pointed out where switching the order of events would increase tension and where I could give depth to characters.

Without Lee’s help, I’ve no doubt I would have written several more books without getting to the stage I am now. For me, being guided through the whole process has been invaluable. If you’re thinking of working with a mentor, I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Lunch with Amber and Jo of Skylark Literary Agency

amber jo

At the end of October 2017, I was lucky enough to be accepted by Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary Agency. Amber kindly took me to lunch with her partner, Joanna Moult, and I took the opportunity to ask them lots of questions about how they work and what they are currently looking for . . .

How quickly do you know if something is of interest to you?

Amber: I can usually tell from the opening page. Firstly, I am looking for fantastic writing. You also want a great concept of course, but I have taken on someone because I adored their writing, even though the story wasn’t quite right. We worked together on something new, and now they have a book published.

Jo: Sometimes the concept is amazing, and then you find that the writing isn’t there, which is such a shame. That’s the key thing: finding a great idea that’s brilliantly executed.

What percentage of submissions are an easy ‘no’?

Jo: I would say around 75-80% of submissions. The rest are not quite there for one reason or another, and they take a little longer for us to consider. In fact, if you haven’t heard back from us for a while, that can be a good sign, as it means we’re still mulling it over.

How closely do you work together?

Amber: We work together most days. We also keep in touch by phone and email. If there’s something one of us particularly loves, we will send it to the other.

Is it sometimes that one of you loves a writer’s work and the other doesn’t?

Jo: There have been times when Amber has fallen in love with a manuscript, but I haven’t and vice versa. Even then, we can tell what the other sees in it. I can’t think of a time when one us has loved a submission and the other hasn’t seen potential there.

What’s the best thing about working together?

Jo: It’s great having a partner because we can bounce ideas around. And Amber is a fantastic agent because she’s so tenacious and thorough. She’s the kind of person who always reads the terms and conditions. Nothing gets past her!

Amber: Working with Jo helps with all kinds of things. If I have a particularly tricky email to send, Jo will read it over and check I have got the tone just right. It’s great having a second opinion from someone you really trust.

Does having an editorial background help with agenting?

Amber: Yes, we only take on books that we think we can sell. Some agents ‘take a punt’ on a writer with the attitude that they’ve lost nothing if they can’t sell the book. For us, we have to feel that we can find a home for a manuscript. Because we’ve both worked as editorial directors, we have a good eye for what will get picked up.

Jo and I have worked at a number of different publishing houses, so we’re largely selling to our old friends and colleagues.  When we are considering an author, we are already thinking about which editors might like their work.

Jo: We love doing author events and one-to-ones (especially those organised by SCBWI!) but we also spend time with other agents and editors too. Publishing is a very small industry, and it’s part of our job to know what editors are looking for. That’s part of the reason we decided to specialise in children’s and YA – with a smaller sector, you can really build relationships and get a feel for what’s happening.

What’s the worst thing about the job?

Jo: Sending things out to publishers and then having to wait. It’s so hard when you’ve fallen in love with something and really believe in it. Waiting is tough on us as well as our authors – but, of course, editors are busy people, and it can take time for them to read and get back to us.

Amber: Having to say no to an author who has potential, but their work isn’t there yet. We’re a small company and simply can’t take on everyone.

Jo: I’ve met so many lovely authors, and sometimes I want to take them on because they are a wonderful person, but I can’t. I hate having to say no to anyone.

What’s the best thing about the job?

Amber: Working with talented authors and editors who are passionate about creating wonderful books. Editors aren’t in it for the money – they do it because they love what they do.

Have you ever thought about writing a book?

Jo: No, I just don’t have the time. Plus, I’d be so critical of every line I wrote, I don’t think I’d get very far!

Amber: Hmm. I love the idea. Maybe, who knows… one day.

What are you currently looking for?

Amber & Jo: Great writing! But some funny, heart-warming MG would be especially welcome.



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Lucky to be mentored by Lee Weatherly

lee-weatherlyAt the end of 2015, I was accepted onto the WoMentoring project by the hugely talented and lovely Lee Weatherly, bestselling author of Broken Sky and the Angel trilogy.

Lee is an impressive author (with more than 50 books for children to her name) and has literally written the book on writing: Write a BlockbusterAnd Get it Published, co-authored with Helen Corner.

So I was thrilled when Lee agreed to take me on and said lots of positive things about my manuscript. But – and there was a big BUT – she felt I had the potential to do better.

After much soul searching, I abandoned my first story and began a new project. Lee expertly steered me through the process of outlining the plot of The Twisted Tree and read through an early draft, pointing out where I could improve the story.

When Lee invited me to her seaside writer’s cottage for dinner I was hugely excited but also nervous. I needn’t have worried – she was lovely and we chatted about all kinds of things, including our mutual love of ghost stories.

As we were talking, I noticed what looked like a creepy face in the glass door of the wood burner – and it gave me an idea for my story. Talking about it made us both shiver, and we quickly decided to change the subject – Lee was sleeping there alone that night!

When my taxi arrived several hours late (it’s a long story, the first one got stuck in mud), Lee kindly walked me up to the main road. The night sky was alive with stars – and as we hugged goodbye, I thanked every one of them for bringing us together.

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Getting in the mood to write

Some authors prefer the sound of silence with only the clack of the keyboard. Personally, I like to write to music. Or if there’s a really great storm outside, the howl of the wind.

There were a few pieces of music I listened to on a loop while writing The Twisted Tree. If I’m working on a particularly scary scene, I like to work by candle light. Not only did it help set the mood, but the candles, incense, and horror music warned everyone in the house to stay away – which meant I could write in peace.

The only problem was when my boyfriend nudged open the door to pass me a cup of tea and I nearly leapt out of my skin with fright.

These were some of my favourite soundtracks while writing:

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Visual inspiration


I have come to learn that I am a very visual writer. Until I can picture a scene in my head, I don’t attempt to write it.

Whilst working on my current manuscript, I printed out dozens of images which I kept by my computer, as well as using Pinterest.

stigWhether I need to describe a remote cabin or the way a character looks, I will search for images online that capture the idea I have in mind.

I then simply write what I see in the photo. It works for me every time. Not only that, but many of the images I found gave me plot ideas I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Feel free to take a peek at my Pinterest boards.

… I couldn’t resist sharing a photo of Stig.