Friday, 18 April 2014

A Literary Finchley Walk

Guest Blog from Paul Baker

I'm not a writer -- at least, I haven't written fiction or poetry for publication for thirty years. I'm a tour guide, and I couldn't imagine another job I would rather do. I've been doing it for ten years, since I became a City of London guide. I roam around the square mile, Spitalfields, Westminster, Soho, as well as my own beloved borough of Barnet. I do public walks, and walks to commission: Jack the Ripper, the Sinful City, Lovers' London, and yes, once or twice, literary walks. I must have dragged many thousands of people along the pavements of London in the past ten years, and I've met some memorable individuals: the fascinating, the lonely, the eccentric, the pretentious, the dangerous, the adorable, the unbalanced, the know-it-all, the beautiful, the tragic, and those that defy categorization. Wonderful copy for any writer -- what a pity I don't write fiction any more!

I was delighted to be asked to do a literary walk as part of the Finchley Literary Festival. I can't reveal which authors I'll be talking about along the way. But I can safely say that Finchley, like the rest of the modern-day borough of Barnet, has always been considered by writers and artists to be a quiet, peaceful place, conducive to reflection and literary endeavour. From the seventeenth century onwards, writers have flocked to Barnet and Finchley, some to live for long periods, and some just for short stays.

Three of the greatest novelists of the nineteenth century -- Dickens, Trollope and Thackeray -- knew Barnet extremely well. Dickens dined at the Red Lion pub on numerous occasions, set a chapter of Oliver Twist in Barnet, and wrote an excoriating essay about one of its schools for his magazine, Household Words. Thackeray bought his mother a house in nearby Monken Hadley, and visited her there regularly. Trollope and his mother -- Fanny Trollope, a very famous writer in her day -- lived in Monken Hadley in the 1830s. He set one of his novels, The Bertrams, there. Thackeray's and Trollope's houses still stand: Trollope's has a blue plaque. Pepys took the waters at Barnet, which was known as a spa town in the seventeenth century, and wrote about several visits there in his diary. Unsurprisingly, he flirted with the wench who served him. Kingsley Amis lived in Monken Hadley for nearly ten years with his wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard, author of the Cazalet novels, who died on January 2nd this year. His son Martin wrote his first two novels there. Cecil Day Lewis, Poet Laureate, died there. John Betjeman and Iris Murdoch visited him for boozy weekends. Betjeman also taught in a private school in East Barnet when he was a rootless young man. Bram Stoker drew much of his inspiration for Dracula from Hendon churchyard -- he had many artist friends in the village.

And finally, back to those three great novelist of the nineteenth century. Did I say three? Better make that four. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of The Last Days of Pompeii, stayed in Barnet when he was researching The Last of the Barons, his novel about the Battle of Barnet. Bulwer-Lytton is well-known for the excellent aphorism: 'The pen is mightier than the sword'. He's perhaps better known for the most derided first sentence of a published novel ever written. 'It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flare of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.' For over thirty years, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has offered an annual financial prize to the writer who can pen the worst first sentence. Suddenly, I feel a new urge to return to fiction.

Paul will be leading a Literary Finchley walk on Friday May 30th.
Meet outside Finchley Central Station 10.30am. Cost £5.00
Details of Paul's walks on

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Not a series, not a trilogy but a cycle of books - Greenacre Guest Blog

Guest Blog from Miriam Halahmy

When I started my first Young Adult novel, Hidden ( Albury Fiction) I had no idea that I would go on to write and publish three interlinking novels.

 I was quite clear in my mind that I didn’t want to write a trilogy where the story starts in the first book, continues in the second and concludes in the third. This structure had never appealed to me as a writer.

I also didn’t want to write a series with the same main character getting up to different adventures in each book.

But I did love my setting – Hayling Island, off the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. My family lived there for 25 years and I’ve been visiting the Island for 40 years. I was  beginning to build a group of teenagers in the same school and I had another character, Lindy, who popped up in Hidden.

The concept of the Hayling Cycle was born. A minor character in the previous book becomes the major character in the next, with familiar characters having little walk-on parts through the three books. But each book is stand- alone with a brand new story.

So here they are :-
Hidden : Alix and Samir pull an asylum seeker out of the water and hide him to save him from being deported.
Illegal: Lindy, a misfit in school, is being groomed by her older cousin to deal in drugs. Then Karl appears, another misfit and together they try to outwit the criminals.
Stuffed : Jess and Ryan are falling in love but each has a terrible secret from the other. Will their love survive or be crushed?
And yes – I do have an idea of 4th book, so watch this space!

You can meet Miriam at the Finchley Literary Festival on Tuesday 27th May from 2pm at Finchley Waterstone’s, along with fellow authors Gina Blaxill and Lil Chase. Miriam will also be taking part in the panel: Men writing as Women and Women Writing as Men - at the main event, Saturday 31st May at Stephens House & Gardens*

To find out more about Miriam visit: or 
follow her on twitter @MiriamHalahmy

*Formerly Avenue House

Friday, 4 April 2014

Why Festivals are not just for FUN! - Greenacre Guest Blog

Guest Blog from Lil Chase

This May I will be taking part in the wonderful Finchley Literary Festival, speaking with over twenty other authors and illustrators about all things book-like.

I’ve been involved with many festivals before, but I am particularly excited about this one. Why? Because it’s a local festival. All the authors taking part in the festival come from London and the surrounds. And I think that’s very important.

Festivals allow readers to meet authors and see them in action, reading and talking about books – putting a real face to the sparkly names printed on book spines. I think it’s nice for people – children especially – to know that we’re just normal folk. There are a few authors demand seven-figure advances. Some whose book launches take place in champagne filled rooms in Claridges. But most authors live in regular two-up-two-downs, our launches attended by close friends, delighted to receive a glass of wine and a handful of Pringles.

Festivals put authors up on stages as they talk to the crowd (how else are they going to see and hear them after all?) but rather than being on pedestals, the effect is that of normalising the author. To me this is hugely important. Because as well as getting people into reading, I think – I hope – literary festivals get people into writing.

I can’t remember the name of the author who came to visit my school when I was young, but I do remember him being enthusiastic about reading and writing. He was down-to-earth, encouraging, and scruffy. It made me believe that having a book published was something I could do myself.

Authors are not special, sparkly people, they are people who were inspired by someone or something to write down a story. I believe festivals such as the one in Finchley in May can be that inspirational something.

Lil Chase is the author of two books; Boys for Beginners and Secrets, Lies & Locker 62. Her latest series - The Boys' School Girls - will be out in July 2014. 

You can meet Lil at the Finchley Literary Festival on Tuesday 27th May from 2pm at Finchley Waterstone’s, along with fellow authors Miriam Halahmy and Gina Blaxill.

To find out more about Lil visit: or 
follow her on twitter @lilchasewriter

Friday, 28 March 2014

Bettina von Cossel - Abseiling for Literature!

How long have you been a Greenacre Writer?

I joined Greenacre Writers' 'Finish That Novel' group in August 2010 and never looked back. Usually I write in German, but the group gave me the confidence to write my first English novel which is currently in the publisher's slush pile, waiting to be discovered.

As well as a crime writing talk, what else are you doing for the 3rd ever Finchley Literary Festival?

I'll be doing something really scary in aid of this year's Finchley Literary Festival: a sponsored abseiling down Church Langley Water Tower, Harlow. That's the imposing water tower next to the M11 on the way towards Stansted Airport. I'm sure you've noticed it driving along the motorway because it's just HUGE!  I'm not really looking forward to my big day on May 4 because I've never abseiled before and I have this thing about heights. 

On the other hand, who would sponsor you if your task was easy?

Have you ever done anything like this before?

No, I never abseiled before but in aid of HAB (Homeless Action in Barnet) I spent a cold and spooky November night in the cemetery of St Mary's East Barnet, with a black bin bag shielding my borrowed sleeping bag from the wetness seeping up from the ground. Needless to say, I'm the only person in my family who peacefully rested on a graveyard and came back.

What has motivated you to do it?

A literary festival can't live from words alone. Helpers are needed, volunteers, organisers, professionals, goodwill, donations, you name it... My sponsored abseiling is just a small part but I hope the money raised will help the Finchley Literary Festival in any possible way.

How important do you think Literary Festivals are?

Nothing beats a literary festival. Not only do they bring literature into town but there are also workshops about writing, how to find a publisher, or how to make yourself known as an author. Visitors can mingle in a like-minded crowd and rub shoulders with authors, poets, and screen writers alike. Who knows? After all these helpful workshops, next year they might be the ones giving the autographs...

How can people sponsor you?

I'd be more than grateful for your help, and any amount will be much appreciated!  

You can donate via paypal and email the following details to

Full name,
Gift aid (yes / no)
Amount Sponsored

Alternatively just contact Greenacre Writers and let them know that you'd like to sponsor me: - Thank you so much!

Bettina von Cossel will be giving the following talk at The Finchley Literary Festival:

Crime Writing - How to Kill your Darlings?
Tuesday 27th May
Church End Library, N3 1TR 
Free of charge. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

10 Tips for Blogging - by Emily Benet

I'm a big fan of blogging. With a blog you can build your own readership, establish yourself within the online writing community and increase your chances of publication. Publishers take notice of proactive writers because  writers who already have a following pose less risk! 

 If I hadn't begun my weekly blog about working in my Mum's shop, my book, Shop Girl Diaries, would never have been commissioned. Since then, my blog has continued to open doors.   

Of course,  the surest way to getting published is to write a masterpiece, but while you're working on that, why not dedicate an hour a week to building up that following? Here are 10 tips to start you off!

1. Decide on a clear concept for your blog -  just because you're a writer doesn't mean you have to write about writing!

2. Write what you want not what you should - what excites you? what are your passions? If you blog about what you should instead of what you want, you'll soon run out steam.

3. Consider how your blog might add value to your readers - is it entertaining? informative? insightful?

4.  Be consistent - both in your theme and your voice!

5. Post regularly - once a week is great, once every two weeks might be more manageable.

6. Keep an eye on blogs you like - what do you like about them? what are they doing so well?

7. Visual appeal - use multimedia, add relevant photographs, illustrations, videos.   

8. Integrate your online presence -  make sure your blog link is on all your social networks and your social networks can be reached through your blog.

9. Spread the word - add your blog link to your email signature, mention new posts in your facebook status, tweet your posts using bite sized headlines and don't forgot word of mouth.

10. Don't spam - tell people about your blog but don't use social media solely for self-promotion. It won't work and you'll get on everyone's nerves. Engage, engage, engage!

My next workshop is at the Finchley Literary Festival:

Develop your Online Author Profile: 
A Blog & Twitter Workshop
When: Saturday 31st May  
Time:   10.30am -12.30pm
Tickets: £15.00

Eventbrite - Develop Your Online Author Profile - Blogging & Twitter Workshop

My Blogging for Beginners ebook is available to download from Amazon. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Importance of Creative Play in Writing - Greenacre Guest Blog

Guest Blog from A.L. Michael

I’ve been running writing workshops for children for quite a few years now, and what I’ve realised from seeing them interact with the props, play the games, create superheroes and  monsters, is that we have forgotten how to play.

Adults need creative play just as much as children do, but we tend to settle for passive imagination, watching movies, reading books. Being shown something, instead of creating it ourselves. Children become their stories, they act them out, change the rules, get excited. Writing is our chance to do that, to recreate and remember how to play.

It doesn’t mean you have to suddenly write a science fiction story if that’s not what you’re about, but consider how you like to make up stories. Perhaps there are things in your life you’d rewrite? Perhaps those daydreams of what you’d do if you won the lottery could be the start of an epic tale of luxury and drama? What superpower would you have if you could choose?

Stories originate in daydreams, in fantasy, and as adults we have shunned those fantasies for the real world, convinced they have no value, but they do! Children know this, they know that their fantasies can provide hours of fun, that they can draw other people into their worlds with the stories they create.

Take a moment to learn from your children, and whenever you get the chance to play, to be creative and silly and surprising, do so!

For more info on the importance of creative play, writing and wellbeing, click HERE
A.L. Michael will be running a Creative Writing for Children Workshop as part of TheFinchley Literary Festival, at Friern Barnet Community Library.

Wednesday 28th May
'Write Here, Write Now'
Creative Writing Lesson for Kids


Create some stories this half term with writer A.L.Michael! Come along and race against time to create a story with The Sixty Second Scribble. Create the scariest villain or most brilliant superhero with The Prop Detective! Then roll The Story Dice to find your setting and get ready to write! Two 45 min sessions of writing games and activities to get young minds imagining! 

Ages 6+ No need to book, just drop in!
(Limit of 20 kids per session)

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Baby Farmers - Greenacre Guest Blog

Guest Blog from Caitlin Davies

It’s a warm Sunday morning and I’m standing a little uncertainly on a street of handsome Edwardian houses in East Finchley. The sun seeps out between the clouds, delicate pink blossom falls from roadside trees; it’s a scene of quiet suburban respectability. Yet 100 years ago one of these houses was a lying in home for unmarried pregnant women, and the centre of an infamous murder case that captivated and repulsed the nation.

I’ve come here to meet 32-year-old Penninah Asher; a year ago we’d never heard of each other, now we’re united by a strange case of family history and a century old crime.

Like millions of others in the UK, Penninah is fascinated by genealogy and ten years ago she decided to study her paternal line, “I come from a fractured family on my father’s side; I’m estranged from my dad, I haven’t seen him since I was 16, and I’d never met my grandparents; I didn’t even know their first names. I knew nothing about the family at all.”

Nearly a third of Britons have researched their ancestors online, and in the process one in six have found an illegitimate child or a secret adoption. But Penninah was to find out something far more shocking.

One day she got an email from a man who’d seen her family tree. He asked if she was aware that she was related to a woman convicted for mass murder, “And I thought, oh my god, I went straight back to the tree and I went over and over and checked and double-checked, and he was right.”

Several years after Penninah’s discovery, I came across her forebear as well. In 2007 I moved into a new home in Holloway, a small terraced house built in the 1890s. I became interested in the history of the area, trawling the archives at a local history centre, immersing myself in workhouse records and spending hours Googling leads on the Internet.

Amelia Sach
Annie Walters

Then one day I stumbled across an Edwardian crime that had happened nearby; the case of two notorious baby farmers, Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the first women to be hanged at Holloway Prison, in 1903.

My first thought was, what was a baby farmer? And so began a year of research which I then turned into a novel, The Ghost of Lily Painter.

By the time the novel was finished, Penninah had got in touch to tell me her great grandmother was none other than Amelia Sach’s sister. It was then that we decided to meet up in East Finchley to try and find her forebear’s lying in home.

Sach and Walters in the dock

If you’re interested in hearing more about the Finchley baby farmers – what exactly was their crime and were they guilty? – come to The Finchley Literary Festival on May 31st at Stephens House and Gardens (formely Avenue House) where I’ll be explaining how I researched the Ghost of Lily Painter and whether we managed to locate the lying in home.

The Ghost of Lily Painter is published by Windmill, as is Caitlin’s latest novel Family Likeness. She is also the author of several non-fiction books, including Taking the Waters: a swim around Hampstead Heath and Camden Lock and the Market, both published by Frances Lincoln.

To find out more about Caitlin’s work visit or follow her on twitter @CaitlinDavies2