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Welcome to my writer's log. I'm using this blog as my writer's notebook to keep a record of my writing and research activities. You're quite welcome to swing by and have a look.

By Helen Steadman, Oct 14 2017 07:05PM

Well, what a morning!


Some time in mid-July, I realised I need to write a sequel to Widdershins. When I sent off the final proof, I immediately stopped thinking about it. But when the magical period of publication came round, it was always on my mind. Then the characters started bothering me and hanging around in my mind late at night when I was trying to get some (much-needed) sleep.


Eventually, I decided that the only way to get them out of my head was to write them out. Then I had all sorts of panics, and bombarded myself with so many 'what if?' questions that I could barely hold pen to paper. Yes, writer's block, performance anxiety, that difficult second book, whatever you want to call it, had struck.


Whenever I feel stuck with my writing, I turn to morning pages to get me unstuck. That's when I had my brilliant idea: what if I wrote the whole novel by doing morning pages? It was a brilliant idea in theory. It was much less brilliant on the first Monday morning when I had to wake up at 5.45 am.


Normally, I like a gradual awakening. I have three gentle alarms set on my phone, five minutes apart. I also have a dawn simulator and then a loud klaxon-like alarm just in case all else fails. This way, I drift gradually into consciousness and feel reasonably sensible and calm when I wake up.


For morning pages to work properly, it's important to still be in the hypnopompic dream state. That means no more gentle wake-up call. So, all the nice, gentle, soothing alarms were turned off. The lovely dawn simulator and its soft, golden sunrise was turned off. That left the klaxon.


I stored my work in progress to the left of my pillow, along with pen and glasses. The second the alarm went off, I'd turn on the lamp, put on my specs, pick up the pen and start writing. Easier said than done when your eyes aren't focused and you still have sleep paralysis in your hands. Still, it really gets the job done.


So, fast-forward a few months... I started doing my morning pages today, and because it was Saturday and I didn't have to stop for anything (like ordering kids in and out of the shower, or rushing off to work), I just kept going. And then suddenly, I realised, that's it. It's done!


I started writing on 11th July and I finished today on 14th October. So, 95 days and 76,375 words later, the first draft is done. That would be about a hundred hours' worth of writing. But now the real work begins. I'll type it up (least favourite part because I can't read my own writing at the best of times, let alone when it's been written using hands that can't grip a pen properly). Then I'll leave it to brew for a while before I start rewriting and editing. The typing, rewriting and editing part will take me 20 times longer than the writing part. But it's easier in many ways. I can only write in very short bursts of an hour or so a day before my brain hurts, but I can edit for ten hours a day without too many tears (as long as I have regular eye and leg breaks).


All being well, I hope the Widdershins sequel will see the light of day some time in 2018 (fingers crossed)! It might be called Deiseal, or Deosil, or Sunwise, or something completely different...we'll see.


If you've not tried morning pages, I heartily recommend them as a top writing tip. They were first mentioned by Dorothea Brande in her excellent book, Becoming a Writer, and they were popularised by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. They're extremely hard to do, especially if you're not a morning person, but give them a try and you'll find they improve your work enormously. As an added bonus, your writing is done for the day, so that's a massive tick on the to-do list and one less thing to worry about.


Best wishes, Helen


PS According to Hilary Mantel, Dorothea Brande's book is the only 'how-to' book you need to read. And she knows what she's talking about! (I wonder if Dame HIlary does morning pages. Will add to list of questions to ask next time I see her!)

By Helen Steadman, Oct 13 2017 09:17AM

Hello everyone,


Friday the thirteenth has turned out to be quite an auspicious day for me. I don't suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia, but there's always a tiny fear lurking at the back of my mind saying, 'What if...'.


Anyway, kindly old Facebook reminded me that a year ago on 13th October 2016, Impress Books sent me THAT email saying they would be interested in publishing my story. I was sitting at my desk and saw the email pop up, and almost fell off my chair when I read it. I had a publishing deal!


So, then I remembered pretty quickly that 13th October is officially one of my favourite days of the year!


The last year has been brilliant. Thanks to the fantastic team at Impress Books, my debut novel was published (wearing a beautiful cover and embellished with amazing illustrations). And to put the icing on an already delicious cake, the e-book of Widdershins broke the Kindle Top 100 Books and became a bestseller earlier this week. (If you've not already bought it, the e-book is available for 99p throughout October on Kindle, Kobo and iTunes).


So, a huge thank you to everyone at Impress Books, and to everyone who has helped me and Widdershins along the way.


Best wishes, Helen

By Helen Steadman, Oct 10 2017 08:55PM

Hello everyone,


Well, today has been a funny sort of day. As of yesterday (9 October 2017), my publisher, Impress Books, announced a 99p special offer on the ebook version of Widdershins (my historical novel about the Newcastle witch trials). When I went to bed, I noticed that it had entered the top thousand Kindle books. This was so exciting that I could barely sleep.


When I woke up in the morning, I had another little peek and was shocked to see it was #89. My book had made it into the Top 100 Kindle books...


Convinced I was still dreaming, I went to make some coffee and feed the dogs. When I came back a bit later, I noticed it had slipped a little. But there it was, still in the Top 100 Kindle books, nestled between JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.



And then I noticed my novel was wearing a very special orange badge to say it was a bestseller. Well, I didn't need any coffee after that!



All I know is that the book fairies must have been very busy while I was sleeping. Even if being in the Top 100 books only lasts for a day, today has been one of the most exciting days of my writerly life (apart from the day that Impress Books got in touch to say they would like to publish my novel)!


So, I would just like to say thank you very much to everyone who supported me during the writing of Widdershins, and to each and every person who bought it, reviewed it, shared it on social media and told their friends about it. And of course, I am eternally grateful to all the wonderful people at Impress Books for the way they have nurtured my work and the creative ways they have told the wider world about it.


Best wishes, Helen



By Helen Steadman, Oct 7 2017 03:30PM

Hello everyone,


I thought I'd take a few minutes to say thank you to everyone who has ever taken the time and trouble to write a review of my historical novel, Widdershins. It really is the most generous gift that you can give to any writer.


As a writer, I really appreciate each and every review - even the more critical ones - because I'm always deeply touched that someone has taken valuable time from their busy day to write about my book. And as a reader, I always appreciate thoughtful book reviews because they can help me find my way to more enjoyable books.


So, by way of expressing my thanks, I have listed all your Widdershins reviews on my website on a new review page. To each and every one of you, I say thank you!


Best wishes, Helen



By Helen Steadman, Oct 3 2017 08:42PM

Hello all,


Just to let you know about some forthcoming readings planned in north east venues. I'll be reading from my novel, Widdershins, and I'll be talking about the Newcastle witch trials, as well as about witches and witchfinders more generally.


(Full details available on my Events Page.)


17th October 2017 at 7pm


Gateshead Central Library


Tickets from: https://gateshead.gov.uk/EventTicketsOnline


(Please note there is a £3 charge, which goes to support the library)



31st October 2017 at 2pm


Consett Library


Tickets from: 01207 505 509



28th November at 4pm


Newcastle City Library (part of the Books on Tyne Literature Festival)


Tickets from: www.booksontyne.co.uk/events/item/widdershins



6th December 2017 at 7pm


Rowlands Gill LIbrary


Tickets from: https://online.gateshead.gov.uk


(Please note, there is a £2 charge, which goes to support the library.)



If you've already bought a copy of Widdershins, please bring it along, and I'll be delighted to sign it for you!


Best wishes, Helen

By Helen Steadman, Oct 3 2017 07:44PM

Hello all,


On Saturday, I drove down to a beautiful part of the world - Bakewell in the Peak District. I'd been invited down to read from my historical novel, Widdershins, and to talk about witch trials.



The Bakewell Bookshop is a small, independent bookshop in the centre of Bakewell, and if you're passing through (and even if you're not), I strongly recommend a visit. As well as an excellent selection of books and an enthusiastic and helpful staff, there is also a cafe serving the most amazing looking cakes!



It was a small audience, and I am thankful to each and every one who came for braving the elements and coming out to see me. We talked about witches, witchfinders, witch trials, and whether the devil really ever sat on the church spire in Chesterfield and made it crooked. (Definitely worth a look!)


As an added bonus, I came away with a lovely gift from the bookshop - a large Bakewell pudding, which was gratefully eaten for breakfast by the resident pudding monster.


Thank you to Emma and to all the lovely ladies who came along for making me feel so welcome, and I do hope you enjoy reading Widdershins.


(All photos courtesy of the Bakewell Bookshop.)


Best wishes, Helen



By Helen Steadman, Sep 17 2017 05:05PM

Hello everyone,


If it ever stops raining, why not pop down to the nearest hedgerow and pick some berries to make a lovely elder linctus? It's very easy to make and tastes delicious on its own or mixed with sparkling water, or even with cider or gin.


Many moons ago, elder was referred to as the medicine chest of country folk and was often used as a general strengthener. Traditionally, it was used for coughs and colds. On the basis of most sympathetic magic where 'like cures like' elder was used for lung conditions as the bare sprigs resemble the inside of lungs.


                              Elder wand, sprig and leaves
Elder wand, sprig and leaves

When I carried out research for my historical novel, Widdershins, which is about herbalists who end up being tried as witches, I went to Dilston Physic Garden to learn how to identify trees and plants and make herbal remedies from them.


Below is the recipe for elder linctus that I usually use, and it's the same one that I adapted for use by Annie and Jane Chandler and Meg Wetherby in Widdershins.


                                                     Elder linctus recipe
Elder linctus recipe


The most important aspect of foraging for any wild food is making sure you know what you're picking. I attach some pictures below that should help with identification, but if you're in any doubt whatsoever, please seek advice from a professional herbalist, or from a tree expert.


                                        Elder linctus, berries and leaves
Elder linctus, berries and leaves

As with all herbs, avoid giving elder to babies and children without seeking medical advice first. And if you're pregnant, taking any medication, or have any medical condition, please seek medical advice before taking elder linctus.


Happy foraging!


Helen




By Helen Steadman, Aug 28 2017 10:01AM

Hello everyone,


In the run-up to my historical novel being published, a host of lovely book bloggers reviewed Widdershins, shared articles about the Newcastle witch trials and interviewed me about my writing and research process. I'd like to thank each and every one of them for taking the time to read my book and then write about it.




If you'd like to read these reviews and interviews, they're all listed here, just click on the appropriate link.


What Cathy Read Next

https://whatcathyreadnext.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/blog-tourguest-post-widdershins-by-helen-steadman/


The Book Magnet

http://www.thebookmagnet.co.uk/2017/06/blog-tour-widdershins-helen-steadman.html


Book Fever

http://bookfever11.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/blog-tour-widdershins-by-helen-steadman.html


Page Turners Nook

https://pageturnersnook.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/widdershins-helen-steadman-blogtour/


Love Books Group

https://lovebooksgroup.blog/widdershins-blog-tour-2/


Lisa Reads Books

http://lisareadsbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/widdershins-blog-tour-books-that-made-me.html


Jera's Jamboree

http://www.jerasjamboree.co.uk/2017/06/historical-fiction-widdershins-by-helen-steadman.html


Jaffa Reads Too

http://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/blog-tour-widdershins-by-helen-steadman.html


Food for Bookworms

http://www.foodforbookworms.com/2017/06/widdershins-blog-tour/


A Book and Tea

https://abookandtea.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/widdershins-witchcraft/


Linda's Book Bag

https://lindasbookbag.com/2017/05/13/widdershins-by-helen-steadman/


Paperback Piano

https://thepaperbackpiano.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/widdershins-spoiler-free-review/


Beady Jan's Books

https://beadyjansbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/review-of-widdershins-by-helen-steadman.html


The Cosy Reader

https://thecosyreader.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/widdershins-spoiler-free-review/


Book and Brew

http://bookandbrew.net/five-minutes-with-helen-steadman/


The Book Trail

http://www.thebooktrail.com/book-trails/widdershins/


Read by Jess

http://readbyjess.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/review-widdershins-helen-steadman.html


Amy McLean

http://mcleanamy.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/inspiring-writers-guest-blogging-with.html


Nudge Book Magazine

http://nudge-book.com/blog/2017/06/widdershins-by-helen-steadman/?platform=hootsuite


I think I've remembered all the bloggers, but if I've missed you off, it's because I have a terrible memory, so just tell me and I'll make it up to you!



Happy reading!


Best wishes, Helen

By Helen Steadman, Aug 27 2017 10:38AM

Thank you very much to Dawn at Book and Brew for having me along to talk about how I researched and wrote Widdershins, and also for asking some thought-provoking questions.


You can read the interview on the Book and Brew website at http://bookandbrew.net/five-minutes-with-helen-steadman/




In this interview, you can find out:


- What inspired me to write Widdershins

- What my research process involved

- Whether there are any parallels between the persecution in Widdershins and in the 21st century

- Whether being an editor and proofreader makes it easier or harder to write a book

- What I'm working on next


Book and Brew is a literary fiction blog for readers, writers and book lovers. It's a great place to read reviews of new books and pick up some writing tips. If you enjoy reviewing literary fiction, you might like to contact Book and Brew and volunteer your services in exchange for regular visits from the book fairy...


Best wishes, Helen




By Helen Steadman, Aug 11 2017 09:42PM

Just to kick off the football season, I thought I'd get away from witches, witchfinders and swordmakers, and write about the beautiful game. Now anyone who knows me will be a bit surprised, as my usual response to being asked whether I want to watch football is, 'No thank you, I'd rather have my ovaries removed with hot spoons'. However, love will make you do strange things...


Back in the mists of time (well, the mid-nineties, if you must know) my boyfriend du jour suggested a jaunt to see his team, Derby County. We lived in Forest Gate at the time, in East London. Full of cold, I reluctantly agreed, cheered slightly by the prospect of pre-match drinks.


During said pre-match drinks, I learned that the match was against Millwall. And it was going to be played at the Lions' Den. My knees trembled. I had something called a Rusty Nail to steady my nerves and fettle my flu. Then I learned that this match would determine which team went up into the Premier League. And that Sunderland had gone up the week before. Great.


But a few more Rusty Nails later, it all seemed like a grand idea. What could possibly go wrong?


We set off for the bus (Forest Gate being inconveniently situated nowhere near a Tube station). As we got onto the bus, a rather harassed-looking mother was trying to wrestle her infant out of the pushchair so she could fold it in half (pushchair, not infant - this was in the days before pushchair spaces on buses). Being helpful, and not nearly as drunk as I've led you to believe, I offered to help. The mother explained there was a special knack to collapsing the pushchair and gratefully passed me the baby.


At that point, the bus doors closed and the bus drove off down the Romford Road. Suddenly, I was no longer a reluctant football fan with a snotty nose. I was an unwitting kidnapper. Much frantic bell-ringing later, the oblivious bus driver pulled in at the next stop and we started walking back to the original bus stop while the frantic mother came haring towards us.


Once mother and baby were reunited, we realised it was too late to make our way to Millwall by public transport, so we opted for a taxi. Or, in London speak, a minicab (ie, not a London black cab). The driver advised us that he'd just come out of prison and that today was his first day. Still, he seemed nice. He didn't know the way, and this was in the days before SatNav, but with some collective effort and much asking of directions, we made it to the general vicinity.


As we drew near, the driver became increasingly nervous, and quarter of a mile away, refused to take us any further. We got out of the minicab to find ourselves marooned in what looked like some kind of post-apocalyptic film set. Deserted, silent and scattered with bungalow-sized lumps of concrete that were maybe some kind of road block. I gulped. Everyone else had gone in. We snuck into the Derby end.


I remember very little of the match, except being cold, gripped by fear and alarmed by some of the football chants. I wasn't especially comforted to learn that I was now part of something called the 'sheep-shag army'. 'Did lions eat sheep?', I wondered more than once. I was possibly more horrified than the Millwall fans when Derby won. They were going up to the Premiership. Millwall... was not.


All the horror stories I'd ever heard about football-related violence mentioned Millwall fans in hushed, almost hallowed tones. I started to worry about who would feed the five cats (yes, Syd, Rufus, Corky, Megan and Mimi would be orphans). Still, I felt certain that the fans would be let out separately...


But the gates opened, and everyone flooded out together, with all the Derby fans wearing their hats and scarves, and proudly carrying inflatable sheep aloft. (Actually, I might have imagined that last bit - false memory syndrome, or wishful thinking, maybe.) As we walked to the station, I braced myself for a sudden outburst of ultraviolence, watching out for the flash of razor on unsuspecting flesh.


Suddenly, we were all on the train, Rams and Lions together; the former cheerful, the latter less so. And that was it. We trundled towards the nearest Tube station without so much as a harsh word, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.


So, after my first and last major football match, Derby went up, the five cats got fed, and I never drank another Rusty Nail from that day to this. (That was also the end of my kidnapping career.)


For those of you who enjoy footy, have a great season! (I expect the rest of us will be reading, or something.)


Best wishes, Helen



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