Interview with Michael Forester

Read time: 15 mins

Having published books on a wide range of subjects, including business strategy, epic fantasy poetry and spiritual inspiration, writer Michael Forester, describes his writing life.

He passes on his tips for new writers and finishes by reading a short extract from his recently published Forest Pathways (2023).

Click to start the video and turn CC on for subtitles (run time 28.42 mins).

Forest Pathways, book


Jill: Thank you for this interview, Michael. I was delighted to workwith you on your ‘Forest Pathways’ book. You have a series of books. How did publishing your first book change how you viewed your writing?

Michael: It’s an extended answer, Jill, in so far as I was traditionally published in business writing in the last century. I used two different traditional publishers of business books and both were quite successful, but there was a complete change of direction in both life and business in the millennium year. I started writing creatively and my life changed fundamentally, it took me out of the business world over a period of time. I expected to sail into traditional publication with creative writing in the same way as I more or less had with business writing and it was a major surprise when I found out how much more difficult it is to get creative books published so I came from a stable where I knew I could write books and I knew publishers wanted them into an environment where there was vastly more scepticism. ‘Oh, you think you’re a writer, do you? Oh, let’s take a look, oh no that’s not going to work.’ And over the course of my first independently published book, which is this one ‘If It Wasn’t for That Dog’ I think I approached, in the plan to publish, something of the order of forty agents and forty publishers.  

It’s a book that is perceived to be about disability. Everybody has to be very polite to you. ‘Oh, yes looks really good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite fit our lists.’ And I had this repeated eighty times over. So in the end I approached Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and said ‘I’m going to self-publish this book.’ And we were fortunate in so far as it was the beginning of Print On Demand and the Arts Council gave me a grant for the initial publication of the book so we went, with considerable inexperience, through the process and ended up with a whole stack of books. And it changed fundamental my belief that I needed a traditional publisher. Because there I was sitting with my book, which I was more than pleased with. The problem then was distribution.  

Jill: It sounds like you certainly learnt the art of persistence.  

Michael: I think tenacity is probably the single most important watch word of creative writing you get on with it. You don’t listen to your own internal editor which tells you ‘You are writing rubbish today’. You don’t listen to all the naysayers who say ‘… terribly difficult to do.’ You just do write. And then when you have got the book then we work on how we’re going to do something with that book. Until you overcome that unbelief in yourself you don’t have anything to start with.  

Jill: I have got a couple of your books here and you’ve already shown one on the screen there so out of all of the books you have written,in recent years, which was the easiest would you say to write?  

Michael: A very difficult question because the were easy and hard, in their respective ways, at the same time. I think it’s the overcoming of that unbelief that changes everything you know it’s like climbing and extremely challenging mountain. Until you get to that point where you believe what you can do and then it becomes easy, in the case of my second self-published book, ‘Dragonsong’ it actually took me only three months to write, I was in a very different frame of mind from the usual. I’d just gone through a profound nervous breakdown, which is detailed with a bit more information in my book ‘Forest Rain’ but it put me in a mentally very different space and this thing whatever it was started to come to me I wrote a poem, a , 3,000-word poem about dragons and magicians. I was well pleased with that. My goodness , 3,000 words of rhyming poetry that’s something. I was lying in bed one night thinking, hang on it’s not finished and I went and wrote the next stage and in the end I had a , 32,000-word book. An epic fantasy in the tradition of ‘Garwain and the Green Knight’, ‘Beowulf’ or perhaps ‘Homer’ and I had a book that was like nothing else I had never seen before in the twentieth or twenty-first century, so that was a joy to write because I was totally and utterly absorbed in it. I was on a different planet you might say.  

Jill: So that’s the one that was the quickest and presumably that you enjoyed the most writing.  

Michael: I enjoyed them in different ways. In a sense writing this one, my first self-published novel ‘Viscious’, was the most enjoyable. Once I had got hold of the fact that I was writing a book then I just let the characters tell their stories. It started lying on a sunbed in Tenerife, and I began to formulate the idea for a short story and then a completely different short story appeared and for then another and eventually there were four of them, jumbled about in my head all at once. Until it clicked that I was writing about four characters who shared the same journey, or overlapping journey and at that point I allowed the story then to take over and for the characters to tell their own story. So that was probably the most enjoyable in that sense.  

Jill: Really insightful, how the characters take over. So, in the process I think from what you’re saying it’s very creative and you go as you feel but do you have a plan, a structure before you start? Are you a pantser or a plotter?  

Michael: I’m not very organised in that respect. If you go to university of writing school or something they’ll tell you this is what you need – you need to plot your novel. It didn’t work that way for me, in fact it still doesn’t, it takes me a while to realise that I’m working on a new book and I’m just, at that point, writing. I allow writing, my creativity, to have complete freedom and then at some point it will click, I realise, ‘Ah, this is what I’m writing’. And at that point I start to start to formulate a bit more of a plan but in my opinion, you’ve got to be a bit careful how quickly you introduce that because once your internal editor starts speaking to you first of all they’ll tell you, ‘You know you’re not writing very well today. Cross all that out throw that away.’ And then they’ll tell you to go in a given direction. I want to say today, in my opinion, the most effective way of writing, the best communication, is to let go and let your storyteller tell their story first, all of the editing can come back later. You can tear out 0% if you want to but you need that freedom before you start to begin to control it. So I have a minimum amount of planning at the early stages and then I undertake whatever revisions are necessary when I come to that first review of the text.  

Jill: This reminds me of a quote, that I think was from Stephen King, where he says, ‘The first draft is you telling yourself the story.’ So kill the internal editor at that stage completely and do the editing afterwards, just so you get the production. Have you any superstitions, or magic thoughts perhaps even, about creativity and inspiration?  

Michael: I wouldn’t use the word superstition. I think more in terms of being aware of what is unseen around us. And I know that creativity comes to me when I let go when I stop trying to control things. Normally we’ll write a line or two and then a voice will cut in as I say, and tell you it’s no good. That’s the editor tell him to be quiet tell her to be quiet, they’ll get their chance later on, what you need first of all is let your creative flow sounds. However daft it sounds to you, however rubbish you think you’re writing today, write through that, wherever you are and then the flow comes and then you have something creative that you can work with. Until you break through that barrier of unbelief, you don’t have anything worthwhile, in my opinion. So, not superstition but awareness of the spirit of writing perhaps if I can put it that way.  

Jill: I don’t know if you’ve seen this one but Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in a similar way, that it’s something you need to get out of the way of rather than control.  

Michael: That’s very well put indeed. We have to stop impeding our creativity.  

Jill: Can you put your finger on what the inspiration was for your most recent publication, ‘Forest Pathways’?  

Michael: The secret’s in the title, Jill. The New Forest has been my biggest inspiration for twenty-five years and, in the case of ‘Forest Pathways’, in particular, which you were kind enough to proofread for me, I went out into the forest and allowed my inspiration to come, allowed the forest to connect with me and it was by solitary walking and using the silence, particularly during lockdown or the part of lockdown when we were allowed to be out locally. Fortunately, living where I do, in the New Forest District Council area, is that everybody in the area can go into the forest   so, I had the forest almost to myself. It was a luxury I had not known in many years. And I walked and I walked and I walked and I allowed the spirit of the forest to talk to me, and it resulted in ‘Forest Pathways’.  

Jill: It’s a positive that’s come out of all that pandemic.  

Michael: I think a lot of people did a lot of writing in the pandemic. Certainly, if you were working on a project, it gave you time that you wouldn’t otherwise have had. It hit all of us emotionally and I certainly at the beginning found myself floundering because at that moment I was not working on anything and it took a while for me to get into what was a different way of being that we were all facing and then came the opportunity to get out and get the job.  

Jill: What do you like the most then about writing a story?  

Michael: I think the earlier part of it when the creativity is flowing really at some point you do have to let that editor get to work and then it becomes a bit more drudgery and I think ‘Oh no, I’ve got four hundred pages to cut down to two-hundred and fifty, or whatever it’s going to be and that then becomes a job of work but it’s a joyful job because I know what I will end up with at the end of the project.  

Jill: So, the mundane side of it I suppose, and what novice writers are always really intrigued by. What is your process, your writing schedule? Do you have a preferred location for example?  

Michael: Embarrassingly chaotic. I have been a little bit more disciplined this year my partner the poet, Jackie Haskell and I, have been going to the cafe together to do what we refer to as writing practise not practice in the sense of trying to get better but practising writing. So, on a nearly daily basis now I will go and spend twenty minutes just free flow writing but my normal pattern over twenty-five years has not been organised it must be said. I tend to write very, very intensively for short periods of time. So if I’m working on a book it can be up to sixteen hours a day. I wouldn’t say it’s a very healthy way of spending your day. I gave myself sciatica by doing that unfortunately. So I am aware I mustn’t overdo it but I become very focused, very absorbed and write intensively and then I will not write for a period of time. Particularly being not only self-published but also a self-distributing author of course a large proportion of my year is already devoted to distribution of books in one way or another.  

Jill: And what about software choice, do you work in Word?  

Michael: It depends on where originate, so walking out in the forest to write ‘Forest Pathways’ I dictated onto my iPhone into Notes and I guess it was 70 to 80% accurate so I would then email that to myself download from the email into Word and there would be a lot of errors to correct at that point. But working at the cafe, I’m writing longhand now and then I will dictate that simply because it’s faster than typing. Once then I’ve got a body of text is relatively easier to work on that for a non-trained typist like me.  

Jill: So all sorts of different ways then.  

Michael: Oh I think as many different ways as there are authors, you find the way that works for you.  

Jill: So have you got a superfan? Who’s the biggest supporter of your writing?  

Michael: I’ve got two people who support my belief in my writing. One is Jacqueline Haskell, my partner who regularly pushes me and convinces me, yes, you’re doing something good or work on this a bit more or whatever. And then there is the person that so faithfully helps me when I’m doing event work, distributing books, my friend and former business partner, Susan Aldworth, she knows my books very well indeed and she’s a complete faithful believer in what I’m doing. So if I need pepping up at one time or another then one of those two will be the useful person to talk to.

Jill: If you were now able to speak to your teenage self, what sort of advice would you pass on to that person, about your writing, about writing?  

Michael: I think it would be, write, write, write right now. Write it, write it, write it. Don’t show anybody don’t accept any criticism don’t listen to what anybody else thinks. All that matters is that you get into that habit and process of writing everything else can come later. Criticism, the technique of learning how to do it. You might be learning bad habits but until you get the opportunity to go to writing school university whatever it happens to be, whichever route you choose, the writing I would say as a habit needs to become established first so I say, ‘Get off the screen. Get away from the television. Get out there and write. Go and sit somewhere where nobody’s talking to you and get on with the job. It doesn’t matter if it never sees the light of day. What matters is that you are doing it’.  

Jill: That’s powerful advice, thank you.  So, the strongest influences in your writing? I can see nature very strongly.  

Michael: I have to ask you to repeat the question, Jill. I’m sorry, I didn’t see that.  

Jill: The strongest influences I’m asking for in your writing. I see it as being nature but that may be simplistic.  

Michael: I think that’s certainly part of the picture but perhaps it’ll help that if I tell you when I decided that I was going to commit to creative writing there were two people who were my sources of inspiration, two authors. One was Isabel Allende but not for the fictional books that she writes and not even for ‘House of Spirits’ her very famous book but she wrote a book about the death of her daughter called ‘Paula’, and I recommend everybody to read that book, it’s one of the most profoundly emotional books I’ve ever come across. She takes this most challenging of subjects and she just writes faithfully about how the process happened and what the effect was on her, her living family, her passed-on family she writes a particular scene where the family gathers in the room where the young woman is about to pass and the dead relatives arrive first. Bearing in mind, Isabel Allende is Chilean and comes from a tradition where spirit is seen visibly in a way we don’t do so much in the West. And her living family came and joined her. I was just so utterly blown away by this book and this scene in particularly, and I thought, ‘If I can write emotionally half as well as that I’ll be a very happy author.’ 

The other person and a book, probably largely forgotten by now. In the 1970s one Robert Pirsig, wrote a book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. It was a cult book in the 0s when I was at university and it’s a book I have never really drifted away from, I’ve read it several times over. So, when I came to creative writing as opposed to business writing I said, ‘If I can write intellectually half as well as Robert Pirsig, I’ll be a happy author.’

So I guess now, I’m a happy author I write, I would say about half as well as Isabel Allende and about half as well as Robert Pirsig.    

Jill: So, another question then but you’ve probably answered it already in that question. Do you have favourite authors?    

Michael: I do and once I’ve read those books they are there, I refer back to them. Probably my single most favourite author is Kazuo Ishiguro. There are a suite of books out there most of which have been shortlisted for the Booker, Man Booker and so on. These books are so insightful it’s easy to miss the depths that are in there, you could call on any one of them but I suppose the one that comes to mind particularly is ‘The Buried Giant’. Which I’ve read perhaps four times now. Apparently, it’s this innocent-looking little lightweight fantasy book but once you understand what he’s doing, there’s something happening at a totally different level here. Profound, profound insightful man.

Cormac McCarthy is another favourite and the book everybody shies away from, the first one he wrote, ‘Blood Meridian’ I think is one of the most powerful and honest books I’ve ever come across and the stylistic aspects of the book the writing capability is superb. So, I would say face the stuff we don’t want to read. It’s the history of what happened in the American West. And it’s faithful and it’s honest and it’s very, very painful indeed to read. George Orwell, a guru of mine, non-fiction as well as fiction, yes ‘1984’, yes ‘Animal Farm’ but the book that turned around my life totally was ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ which I read when I was twenty-one.

Two others I guess just come to mind, Yann Martel. Everybody knows ‘Life of Pi’ which won the Booker in the early part of the century, or perhaps it was even but I would say he got better after that. He’s not, in my opinion, properly recognised for his insightfulness, I would say try ‘The High Mountains of Portugal’ which is one of the most avant-garde insightful, profound books that that I’ve some across.   These words keep coming up in my discourse, don’t they? Insightful, profound, that is what I’m looking for in reading. I’m not looking for lightweight. Which is fine if you’re lying on a beach, two weeks in the sunshine and you want a doorstep novel yes, I’m not decrying any of that. But I’m looking for people, writers who help me develop and help me grow. I’m looking for insight. I’m looking for depth. I’m looking for what is profound.

And finally, possibly my favourite author of all, a less well-known writer by the name of, Geoff Dyer, a British author and I would simply say, read a book of his called ‘But Beautiful’. In my opinion it is possibly the most beautiful book ever written.  

Jill: Thank you, really great recommendations. And now for a reading of yours.  

‘Forest Pathways’

Michael: Here is ‘Forest Pathways’ which you were kind enough to proofread for me very effectively. Thank you for making my book a better book, Jill.  

I want read the first off, I think we’ve got about thirty pieces in this book, if I remember correctly, yes. This is the first of thirty pieces and it’s called ‘When I Am Sleeping’. Perhaps I should say the book is a collection of fiction, non-fiction and poetry inspired by walks in the forest and we start with ‘When I Am Sleeping’. 

‘When I Am Sleeping’

‘It’s been a long time,’ she said. Then she paused, waiting for my reply. ‘I was ready for you,’ she continued, when I didn’t answer. ‘I dressed special for you – put on my finest. You always say autumnal colours suit me best. But you didn’t come.’

It was an expression more of disappointment than accusation. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, feeling uncomfortable as I looked down at the decaying leaves. ‘Now look,’ she said in her sadness, gesturing about herself. ‘It’s almost all gone.’ I looked up, knowing she was right. There was a quiet, muted sleepiness about her, as if her mind was elsewhere.  

‘I wanted to come,’ I began. ‘I intended to come – really.’ She waited for more but embarrassment made the words stick in my throat. I was in the wrong, without excuse.

‘But you had more important things to do?’ she ventured. I drew my breath in sharply. ‘No,’ I replied, not that. Never that. Nothing is more important than coming to be with you.’ ‘Why then?’

I fell silent again. ‘It’s hard to explain,’ I said, eventually. ‘There’s been a listlessness about me. A drop in my energy. I’ve not been able to motivate myself. I can’t say why.’  

‘I know what you mean,’ she said, gesturing to the waning colour of late autumn. The branches of the trees were becoming visible, where just a week or so ago they would have been wrapped in a coat of colour.

‘All right, I was depressed,’ I confessed finally. ‘I couldn’t motivate myself to come to you.’ I knew how weak it sounded. She waited for more but I had nothing else to add. The silence stood between us like a barrier, a wall, forbidding me to step across.  

‘I’m still here for you,’ she responded, finally. ‘I will always be here for you. You do know that don’t you? Just like you know you always feel better when you come to me.’   She was right.

Whenever I shake off the bonds of lethargy to walk with her, it’s like she wakens my soul. I become aware, not just of her and the creatures that she tends to, but of the Spirit that moves the heart in her and beyond. And when I’m lucky enough, or open enough, or maybe just ready enough, that Spirit begins to move me too and, if I’m willing to listen, to open up to the truth that dwells behind the illusion.

So, I walked her paths again and the silence that had been a wall became a lovers’ bridge, as I watched her prepare her children and herself for sleep. When it was time for me to go, I turned to walk away.

Then she spoke again. ‘Don’t leave it so long next time,’ she said. ‘Come back when I am sleeping, when the snow hangs heavy on my boughs. Come and be with me in the silence. You know that it is in the silence that you find yourself again.’  

And we both knew she was right.    

Jill: That’s lovely, thank you. Thank you.    

Michael: All I can say – is may you be happy Jill, may all beings be happy and free from suffering. Take the time to go on a walk in nature, be it the empty seashore, be it on the plains, be it in the forest and if you can’t find anywhere else walk through the streets as if they were the forest and feel, reach out for what you connect to.

Jill: That’s wonderful. Thank you Michael, what an inspiration.  

Michael: Thank you.  

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Book Review: ‘Small Things Like These’ by Claire Keegan

Read time: < 1 min

Claire Keegan sets Small Things Like These in 1985 where Bill Furlong, a loving husband and caring father, with five daughters, delivers fuel in County Wexford, Ireland. One of his customers is a convent on the outskirts of New Ross. One day, he notices that there is a poor girl seemingly living in the coal store there. She has no shoes and is asking for her baby but appears to be uncared for and in a terrible state. It becomes clear that the activities of the convent are an open secret, and it is what became known as a Magdalene Laundry.

There But For The Grace …

The approximately 30,000 unfortunate young women who were sent to these establishments were those who became pregnant out of wedlock and, due to this, were ostracised. Indeed, Bill’s own mother could have suffered this fate had she not been taken in by a wealthy and caring woman in the area back when he came into the world. The recollection of this gives Bill a deep appreciation of the knife-edge that can divide a good life and a miserable one.

The Dilemma

In 1985, Bill and his wife are not well-off and struggle to provide for their family as Bill ponders the plight of the girl he saw in the coal cellar at the convent. As the novella progresses, will Bill get on with his life or somehow make room in it to help the girl who his community would regard as ‘of low character’ and ‘common’?

Bill is a delightful and relatable character, very well-drawn, relatable and with compelling compassion. This book is a joy to read, and I found the characters stayed with me long after my first reading.

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Book Review: ‘Foster’ by Claire Keegan

Read time: 2 mins

This is a wholehearted recommendation. I enjoy novellas, they are quick to read compared to a novel, but have the scope to be more involving than a short story. Having finished a novella, I often think about the characters for a long time, mulling over the story and careful wordcraft of the author. One excellent example is Foster by Wicklow author, Claire Keegan.

Point of view

This short book packs real emotional impact and is delicately wrought. Set in rural Wexford, Ireland, in 1981, the story plays out over the school summer holidays when the 9-year-old child of a poor family is cared for by a distantly related child-less couple. Keegan has chosen to write the story in the continuous present tense and in a first-person omniscient narrative voice. This choice gives access to the child’s perspective and inner world, but without full access to the thoughts and feelings of all the characters.

The story is about love and loss within the family setting, and how tenderness and kindness can restore hope in the neglected. In literary criticism it would be classified as a bildungsroman novella, as it is a coming-of-age story and focusses on the psychological and moral growth of a child.

Fine lines

There are many beautiful lines in the story, including early on ‘I was a new creature who had climbed out of the dark, who had found her own voice, her own way.’

And wonderful description like ‘The light was warm and honey-coloured and it spilled itself like syrup over everything.’

The novella has been a great success since its publication in 2009, when it won the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award.

In a 2010 interview Keegan said, ‘It’s essentially about trusting in the reader’s intelligence rather than labouring a point. To work on the level of suggestion is what I aim for in all my writing.’

In my opinion she has achieved this most admirably and this highly evocative and heart-warming story is best read slowly as there is much left unsaid giving a depth best appreciated with mulling and consideration.

If you prefer to watch the story, it is a film The Quiet Girl, directed by Colm Bairéad, shot in 2020. It was the first-ever film in the Irish language to be short listed for an Oscar and became the highest-grossing Irish-language film.

Beginning, Middle and End

Read time: 4 mins

Stories have been an integral part of human culture for centuries. From ancient myths to modern-day novels, stories have entertained, educated and inspired people across time and place. A key element of a good story is its structure, which typically includes a beginning, a middle and an end. I would argue that, for a compelling narrative, stories need a balance with their beginning, middle and end and within each section change needs to occur.


The beginning of a story sets the stage for what is to come. It introduces the main characters, establishes the setting and provides the reader with a sense of the story’s tone and mood. In many ways, the beginning of a story is like a first impression: it sets the reader’s expectations for what is to come. You may like to consider including a prologue.

The beginning gives you the proposal for the story you are going to read. Without a beginning a story has no context.

he first line of a novel is espcially important to spark interest and intrigue so the reader is engaged. If the beginning is slow, confusing or uninteresting, the reader may lose interest and stop reading. To avoid this, writers often employ various techniques to hook the reader in from the very beginning. This might include starting with a dramatic event, a vivid description or an intriguing question. For example, the opening sentence of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.’ This seemingly mundane sentence immediately raises questions in the reader’s mind: Why couldn’t they take a walk? What’s going to happen instead? By the end of the first paragraph, the reader is fully invested in the story and eager to find out what happens next.

Another fine first line is in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where he writes: ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ This line prompts many questions!


The middle of a story is where the action happens. This is where the characters face challenges and obstacles, where the plot thickens and where the tension builds. The middle – the heart of the story is where the reader should become more emotionally invested in the characters and the outcome of the story. This is where the arguement of the story plays out. Here the writer has the most opportunity to show their storytelling skills, using vivid language, suspenseful pacing and well-thought out plot twists to keep the reader involved.

Care needs to be taken in the middle section to avoid getting bogged down in too much detail or losing sight of the main plot. To avoid this, writers often plan using outlines or storyboards to keep the plot on track and to make sure each scene serves a purpose.

Bestselling author, James Scott Bell, has written a book on the unusual approach of writing a novel by starting with the middle of the story and, having studied the structure of stories in movies and books, he writes:

What I found was that this midpoint … is the moment that tells us what the novel or movie is really all about.

You see, the character is going to have to face a death of some kind in the story. There are three kinds of death and one or more will confront the character, in bold relief, right smack dab in the middle of your novel.

James Scott Bell Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between (Bell on Writing), 2014

The middle section of the story can be made more engaging by including tests or challenges for characters and heightening conflict.


The end of a story is where everything comes together and where a conclusion is given. Here the main plot is resolved, loose ends are tied in and the reader should get a sense of closure. The ending is often the most memorable part of a story and is what the reader will be left with long after they’ve finished reading.

To write a satisfying ending can be challenging. It’s important to strike the right balance between resolution and ambiguity, between closure and open-endedness. A good ending should leave the reader feeling satisfied, although not necessarily comfortable. The end should seem true to the story and the characters, rather than forced or contrived.

One technique that many writers use to create a satisfying ending is a twist. This is where the reader’s expectations are subverted in some way, and the ending takes an unexpected turn. For example, in the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, the reader expects a pleasant town event, but the twist ending reveals a dark and disturbing ritual. This type of ending can be very effective, but it should be used sparingly and only when it serves the story.

In conclusion, the structure of a story with a beginning, middle and end is a time-tested approach for creating a compelling narrative. The beginning sets the stage, the middle builds the tension, and the end provides closure and resolution. However, there are many options for a successful story and this structure is by no means a rigid formula. Some writers will play with the order of events or experiment with non-linear narratives. Others may use different techniques, such as multiple perspectives or stream-of-consciousness narration, to tell their stories. Some authors choose to round off their story ending with an epilogue. The key is to find the structure that best serves the story and to use it to create a narrative that is engaging, meaningful and memorable.

Ultimately, a good story is about more than just its structure. It’s about the characters, the setting, the themes and the emotions it evokes in the reader. From a basic structure with a beginning, middle and end, writers can create a solid foundation on which to build a great story. The beginning hooks the reader in, the middle keeps them engaged and the end leaves them satisfied. With these elements in place, a writer can craft a story that resonates with readers and can have them seeking out more of the author’s stories.

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Book Review: ‘The Map of Leaves’ by Yarrow Townsend

Read time: 2 mins

At the front of the YA title, A Map of Leaves by Yarrow Townsend (published by Chicken House) is a delightful map, with places like Roaring Weir and Dead Elm Strand. The inclusion of a map often promises an adventurous journey, and that is the case here.

Plants matter

We soon meet twelve-year-old Orla Carson, and her horse Captain, but already we are launched into a world where the interconnectedness of humans and nature, especially plants, is clear. Orla was introduced to the magic of the plant world by her mother, who passed on a profound understanding of the properties, uses and unique qualities of the plants in their garden and beyond. Orla lives alone now and magically; plants speak to her. She is using different plants to treat Captain’s hoof.

Avoiding spoilers here. Changes lead to Orla’s way of life being threatened, and with fierce independence and bravery she sets out to discover what disease is damaging the plants. The problem has also led to people getting sick and dying, so the stakes are high.

Adventurous journey

On her travels Orla meets Idris and Ariana, who work to help her overcome some of the difficulties, at times despite Orla’s impatience and drive to correct the wrong impression many have of her mother, who also tried to counter the threat to the plants and villagers. The map is brought into good use as the journey takes Orla far up river and into areas she does not remember ever having been before. On the journey she gets to know Haulers, who she was rightly suspicious of, and she works against the interests of the Warden. She finds more about her mother’s efforts to find solutions.

Plant knowledge

A well-paced and exciting tale, this book is a joy. Inventively told in chapters which each begin with a description of a plant that has significance within the chapter. The language choice is fresh with well-observed descriptions of plants within their settings, including gardens, fields, dark forests, fast-flowing rivers and underwater. To give you a flavour, here is a quote:

‘Some had leaves that curled and twisted against the glass. Others draped strings of red berries like jewels from hidden vines. Flowers like angels’ trumpets gathered high in the rafters, while creeping roots ran down like claws into the earth.’

— Yarrow Townsend, The Map of Leaves

The themes are of friendship and courage, with a strong appreciation of the importance of valuing and nurturing the environment. The story also shows how different characters can work for a common good, even when their goals do not completely align.

A page-turner of a tale with well-crafted characters and beautiful illustrations. It is hard to believe this is Yarrow Townsend’s debut, certainly an author to follow, whether the next book has a map at the front or not.

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Should My Book Have An Epilogue?

Read time: 3 mins

An epilogue – the final section of a story – brings closure and ties in loose ends. It can be an essential part of a narrative, helping to connect different elements of a story and give the reader some sense of resolution. But is an epilogue needed? There are pros and cons of including an epilogue in your story, and you’ll need to consider whether it’s right for your story.

Pros of an epilogue

  • Closure: An epilogue can provide closure, and resolution to a tale. This can be especially important in a longer story, where the reader has invested more time following the narrative and its characters.
  • Future insight: An epilogue can give the reader a glimpse into the future, showing what happens to the characters after the main events have taken place. As well as closure, this can provide a deeper understanding of the characters and their experiences.
  • Aesthetic appeal: An epilogue can be a beautiful and moving way to end a story. It can provide a sense of nostalgia and evoke emotions, helping the story and its characters be remembered long into the future.

Cons of an epilogue

  • Unnecessary information: Wrongly applied an epilogue may introduce information that seems unnecessary or irrelevant to the main story. This can reduce the impact of the narrative and detract from the reader’s experience.
  • Predictable: An epilogue can be predictable and formulaic, which gives a stereotypical ending to a story. This could be disappointing for readers who expect a more original and creative conclusion.
  • Detachment from the main story: An epilogue can sometimes feel detached from the main story, as if it is separate and unrelated. This can be distracting and detract from the overall flow and cohesiveness of the narrative. It could appear to be a clumsy trail for a follow-on story to come.

Good examples

Here are some examples of stories with well-crafted epilogues and what they add to the book:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – here the epilogue provides a glimpse into the future of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, showing how the author sees their relationship would develop.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – this epilogue gives a view of where Scout, the narrator, gets to beyond the story, this adds interest and serves as a strong conclusion.

The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – includes a commentary from the far future within an epilogue which discloses the nature of the medium used in of the rest of the book. This ending brings details of enormous impact about the protagonist (no spoilers, but a great example if you are considering a high-impact closing section to your story).

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – this epilogue unites different elements of the story and gives the reader an idea of what the characters go on to do after their main adventure.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald – here the epilogue again shows the future of the characters and allows the readers to gain a deeper understanding of the story’s themes, including wealth, love and decadence.


Whether you include an epilogue in your story depends on your narrative. It can provide closure, more information on the characters and evoke emotions in the reader, but it can also be unnecessary, predictable and detached from the main story – lots to consider. Whatever you decide about using an epilogue, a well-balanced story will have a beginning, a middle and an end.

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The Joy of Stories

Read time: 2 mins

Stories have been a part of human culture for as long as we can remember. From ancient cave paintings to modern-day novels, storytelling has how we have preserved and passed on our cultural traditions, beliefs, and values between one another and from one generation to the next. But why do we find so much joy in stories? The answer lies in the power of imagination and empathy.

The power of imagination and empathy

Imagination is a crucial feature of the human experience. It allows us to escape a mundane reality and enter into new worlds filled with endless possibilities. When we read a good book, our minds become completely absorbed in the story. We visualize the characters, their surroundings, and the events that unfold, allowing us to experience the story in a way that feels real to us. This form of escapism is enjoyable and may also be therapeutic. It allows us to take a break from the stresses of our daily life and experience emotions and situations that we may never encounter in our own lives.

Increased compassion

Stories also have the power to evoke empathy. When we read or hear a story, we become emotionally invested in the characters and their experiences. We may laugh, cry or become angry along with them, allowing us to better understand and relate to the emotions they are feeling. This form of emotional connection helps us develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexities of human experience, and can even lead to increased compassion and understanding for others.

Another aspect of the joy of stories is their ability to provide comfort and solace. Many of us have memories of being read to as children, or of losing ourselves in a good book during difficult times. The familiarity of a well-loved story can bring us comfort and a sense of security. The themes of hope, perseverance and triumph over adversity that are often found in stories can provide inspiration and encouragement, reminding us that no matter how difficult life may seem, there is always the possibility of a hopeful outcome.

Encouraging critical thinking

Stories also can challenge us, pushing us to think critically and expand our perspectives. They can introduce us to new ideas and experiences and challenge our preconceived notions about the world. For example, a story set in a different time or culture can help us better understand and appreciate the experiences of others, and can broaden our understanding of what it means to be human.

In conclusion, the joy of stories lies in their ability to transport us to new worlds, evoke empathy, provide comfort, and challenge us to think more critically. Whether we are reading a book, hearing an audiobook or listening to a friend’s tale, stories have the power to captivate and inspire us – they bring us closer together as human beings. So next time you find yourself lost in a good book, whether as a reader or as a writer, you’re sharing the joy of stories and the power they have to enrich our lives.

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Book Review: ‘A Saint in Swindon’ by Alice Jolly

Read time: 2 mins

How A Saint in Swindon by Alice Jolly, published by Fairlight Books, was written was most unusual and it is an unusual novella. It came from a writing exercise in which the author and the Swindon Artswords Reading Group met, before the book was written, and the book group contributed ideas and suggestions for the story. In this way, the readers became the commissioners of new literature, and the details are set out in the book’s foreword and afterword.


A dystopian tale set in 2035, where there remains a human need for stories and a strange man, Jack MacKafka, comes to checks into a B&B run by Janey and Phil. Ensconced in his room, he reads. He asks for meals in his room and later for books to be fetched from the library, specific books. As his stay extends, he becomes a local celebrity and others are influences to increase their own reading with an unusual fervour and urgency.

The times are changed by advances with climate change and by an anarchical breakdown of current norms. There are people camping in the street of the B&B speculating on the reader’s book choices. The list of twenty-nine books requested by Jack included classics and great works such as The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, 1984, Cider with Rosie and Heart of Darkness.

Gentle humour

Some towns people took the event very seriously, particularly Carmen. And, to avoid spoilers, a crime is committed. Written with gentle humour and observing everyday-folk reacting to unusual events leads us to consider reading choices characters make and whether patterns can be determined within the choices.

Read the lines

Having stirred a great deal of intrigue, the stranger eventually leaves, having prompted many more questions than he has answered. Janey and her friends now have more books they’d like to read, and Janey reflects that, “We were so busy reading between the lines that we forgot to read the lines themselves.” An intriguing ending leaves the suggestion that we cannot live on facts alone and need something beyond the everyday. Near the end, the question hangs, ‘… how can you build the future if you do not dream?’

An interesting example of experimental writing and its reach, this short read won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but most will find it unusual. For me, an intriguing creative collaboration that could have gone in a myriad of different ways.

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Book Review: ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

Read time: 3 mins


In Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015) Bloomsbury, Elizabeth Gilbert details what creative living involves and encourages courage, enchantment, persistence and trust in its pursuit.


Gilbert starts, Big Magic, by describing a great poet who wrote poetry with a life-long commitment to searching for grace and transcendence, but he never much cared about being known. Within the advice he gave to aspiring writers, Gilbert points to, what she considers, the central question on which creative living hinges – ‘Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?’ In the first part of Big Magic, that creative living is described as ‘…living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear’ and the need for courage is made clear. Fears are identified, and they are seen as being bound with creativity, needing to be accepted within the creative process but not permitted to take control of it.


The second part of the book considers enchantment and how ideas present themselves, with a discussion of making yourself available to ideas. It is necessary is to show up, day after day, and do your work. Sometimes inspiration will be difficult to find, and at other times it may come easily. We are urged to ‘let it come and go’. Gilbert describes great mystery in the process of collaborating with the forces of inspiration.

Keeping good physical health is acknowledged as being good for your art. There is no necessity to suffer, as the stereotypical Tormented Artist or a martyr might suffer, but instead, to dedicate yourself to your path. This will lead to ‘… a charmed, interesting, passionate existence’.

The feeling of needing permission is described, with suggestions of how to overcome it. Gilbert recommends striving not for originality so much but for authenticity. To do what you want, trumping the motive of helping others. This point is highlighted with the delightful quote from ‘… Katherine Whitehorn: “You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others.”’ On racking up student loans to study within art schools, Gilbert warns people to be careful with themselves and to ‘… push yourself deeper into the world, to explore more bravely. Or go more deeply and bravely inward.’


The importance of persistence is examined, and the recommendation is a sensible approach, keeping pressure for financial success off the creation of art, to reduce feeling the need for continuous inspiration. This approach is a good way to avoid quitting entirely. Being wary of perfectionism is stated as ‘Done is better than good.’


Trust is the subject of the penultimate section, and approaching work from a place of ‘stubborn gladness’ (rather than from suffering) is what Gilbert favours. Taking a persona of a martyr is unhelpful, but trying instead to be like the trickster, is suggested, seeing life as interesting: ‘… the trickster trusts the universe.’

When it comes to passion versus curiosity, Gilbert is somewhat against passion. Rather than follow your passion, she prefers, follow your curiosity. ‘Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living … Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times … But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity. The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion.’

I’d like to think this review has piqued your curiosity to find a copy and read it, as it has inspiration, compassion and signposts to creative living.

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Interview with Peter Howard

Read time: < 1 min

Acclaimed published thriller writer, Peter Howard, describes his writing, shares where he finds inspiration and compares the challenge of writing novels to that of running a business with around a hundred staff. Peter includes generous tips on his writing process and insights into projects which are in the pipeline. Click the button to start the video (run time 23 mins).

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