All posts by Mai

I run Suffolk Writers Group and lead two workshops in Ipswich on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I've had a few things published over the years and have recently completed draft one hundred of my Young Adult novel 'Where Dead Things Go'.

Author Ian Andrew Visits 19/4/18

Author - Ian (2)

This successful crime/thriller author is the creator of the Wright & Tran series of detective novels, the first of which, Face Value, was awarded the 2017 Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Ian joined the Royal Air Force at eighteen as an aircraft technician and subsequently served as an Intelligence Officer. Having been a long term resident of East Anglia, he now lives in the rural south west of Western Australia.

He’ll be talking about his writing journey from putting those first few words onto paper up to the present day, delivering his story with great humour and warmth.

After hearing Ian speak and an have opportunity to ask questions, everyone will also get a chance to do a little writing of their own based on some of Ian’s character descriptions. Beforehand, try to think of a person you might like to describe physically. A photo of your chosen person could be helpful but you may prefer to work from memory.

If you’d like to book a place at the session or ask any questions, email or ring ‘Mai’ on 01473 711639.

The session costs the usual group fee of £10 and takes place in my home in Ravenswood, Ipswich.

It starts at 7.30pm and ends at 9.30pm.

Cakes, tea and coffee are provided free of charge.


Back to Home Page







My Own Personal Ghost

Zeke and Jacob

This picture was a big inspiration for my children’s novel: ‘My Own Personal Ghost’. It’s about Ezekiel (third from the left) who died whilst committing a robbery.

One hundred years later, his ghost possesses a modern-day teenager (Ben) and the two battle it out for supremacy.

Ezekiel is hard-working, life-loving, family-minded and God-fearing.

He sees Ben as dull, unappreciative and rude. Ben is also an agnostic which Ezekiel thinks is ridiculous.

Ezekiel believes it is his right to take over Ben’s body and so uses every trick he can to achieve domination.

Ben is forced to question what it means to be alive and begins to understand the potential he has to be generous, popular, happy and successful. With every ounce of strength he fights back. But will it be too little, too late?


I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved with this story so if you happen to be a publisher or literary agent – and I know that hundreds of you cruise this site on a daily basis – please get in touch.


Chapter 1

It all started one evening last March with me and Rick sitting in the graveyard at the back of his house. I was trying to ignore the cold, creeping damp of the stone coffin we were sitting on when suddenly Rick snapped his fingers in front of my face. ‘You listening or what?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, even though I wasn’t. ‘You were talking about your birthday present – the drum kit.’

It was a guess but a good one. He’d spent most of the week moaning about how his birthday present had been rubbish, even though it had cost his dad nearly £600.

‘All I wanted was a proper acoustic drum kit,’ Rick grumbled for the billionth time.

So as he carried blathering on about ‘ tom-tom bounce’ and the ‘zingyness’ of cymbals, I stared at the small marble gravestone just in front of us. It’s much smaller than all the others and, where the rest are a dirty grey colour, this one is pure white. Carved into the top is an angel with two wings feathering out from either side. Their tips stick slightly above the rest of the stone.

Even though there was almost no sun left, the gold lettering gleamed bright: ‘Ezekiel Parthingate 1870 – 1884.’

Rick stopped talking, gave a small grunt and shifted his weight. After a few seconds he said, ‘What sort of name is Ezekiel anyway?’

‘It’s probably from the— ’


I stared straight ahead.

‘Where’s it from?’

He wasn’t going to let it drop. I had to finish. ‘The Bible,’ I said in a small voice.

‘Oh, it’s from the Bible. Aren’t you clever! My Daddy would be so impressed!’ he said clapping his palms together. Then he let his hands drop to his lap.

‘Ezekiel,’ he muttered, drew his knee back and kicked the top part, where the angel was. Then he did it again, this time aiming for a wing.

‘You want to go back inside?’ I said.

He kicked once more and then jumped down to take a look.

‘I think there’s a crack. Go on. Your turn.’

‘Nah,’ I said casually. ‘You’re all right.’

‘What’s the matter? What you scared of?’

I knew he’d keep on at me and I was bored and freezing and wanted to go inside so I did what he told me. I tapped my trainer against the angel’s wing.

‘That’s rubbish. Do it properly.’

A cold wind blew across the back of my neck and I looked longingly towards the lights of Rick’s house. Then I drew my foot back and tapped the stone again, a little harder this time. There was a loud snap and a piece broke off, jolting me forward.

‘Cool!’ He jumped down and crouched in the long grass. When he stood up he was holding a triangle of white stone. The carved feathers were just visible. Pushing his hair away from his face, he gave a wide grin. ‘I’m telling Dad.’


He put on a high-pitched, innocent-sounding voice. ‘Well, you did break it.’

I swore under my breath, not expecting him to hear. But he did. He put the piece of stone in his pocket and moved closer.

‘What did you say?’

Rick swears all the time but for some reason he hates it when people do it back to him.


The church clock started to chime as I glared at him, wishing he wasn’t my friend, wishing he wasn’t such an idiot, wishing I wasn’t such a wimp.

‘Nothing,’ I said.

‘Yes, you did.’ He smiled and for a moment I thought he was just going to laugh it off, maybe it’s all going to be OK, I thought, but then he closed a hand round each of my ankles and pulled them towards him.

I kicked out but he held so tight I could only twitch against his grip. I couldn’t reach forward, he was too quick. All I could do was dig my nails into the mossy surface of the stone and try to hold on but just as the clock sounded its last chime, my skull hit granite.





Ed Parnell Visit

Ed Parnell Visit 2

Here we are at Arlington’s Brasserie in the centre of Ipswich being visited by author Ed Parnell.

First Ed answered some of our questions about his book ‘The Listeners’ and then we did a couple of writing exercises.

Initially, we wrote joint poems, each contributing one line. If you have ever played ‘Consequences’, it’s a bit like that, although in our version you can read what everyone has written before adding your own contribution.

This is the best of them:-

Year Six Art Class

Scissors, glue and yoghurt pots,

Daisies and Forget-me-nots.

All these things we used to know,

When down the stairs was far to go.

Football boots and conkers,

I bet you love Willy Wonka.

Verruca Salt gave up her Golden Ticket,

And the factory gate slammed shut.

Childhood was behind us.


Next, we wrote short pieces in pairs. Tracey Skirrow was Ed’s partner and together they wrote this:-

I love it when he tells me a story. We sit side by side, blanket heaped over us, yellow lamplight slanting over our shoulders. I follow his finger down the page, trying to say the words in my head. His voice is clear, and I am there, there in the words, there in the pages and it’s like the sky and everything else all around us has folded over and there’s just me and him and the sound of his words.

My head is full of the pictures, both the ones on the page and the extra ones his voice summons up for me.

Night and day, shadows and sunshine.

the listeners

Ed Parnell will be judging our first chapter competition, the results of which will be announced on our Facebook Page and the website.

What we want from a first chapter



I asked the writing groups what they want from the first chapter in a novel.

Here is a selection of the answers:-

I need to feel pulled into the story, dropped into the middle of the action and convinced that I don’t want to climb back out again! I like an immediate sense of action and character. I want to be intrigued, surprised even, but not confused. l like prose that is effortless to read but has emotional resonance and rhythm. I want the writer to make me feel – to make me connect – from the very first page.



Intrigue and engagement. If it is a writer I know I am likely to settle in confidently. If it is a new one he or she will need to engage with me by the thoughts and ideas which I am reading. These provide the intrigue for the story development however slow or fast that may be.



The reader’s attention must be arrested by the first sentence. The lead need not necessarily appear, but should certainly in the chapter that follows. There must be movement. Not necessarily physical, for example someone running or swimming, but a sense of movement towards danger, or the unknown. The reader must immediately care about the character in play, enough to wish to know what happens next. Lack of movement, in other words stasis, is death to the opening chapter, and therefore the book.



I tend to prefer a first chapter that falls into one of two categories.

The first is fully dimensional scene that involves action or activity that intrigues me. It should be related blow by blow with almost no exposition or flashbacks. There should be two or more characters, conflict and foreshadowing.

The second category has a strong authorial voice, maybe in first person, which summarises the lead character’s life up to that point. The style is similar to a fairy tale, draws me in and arouses my curiosity.



Here’s a list of other things people are looking for in a first chapter:-


  • An original, intriguing hook
  • Clever/beautiful language (eg. alliteration, metaphor)
  • Shock tactics
  • An original voice
  • Contrast/conflict
  • An engaging, welcoming voice
  • An endearing character
  • A cliff hanger
  • A feeling of forward momentum
  • The desire to continue reading
  • Empathy
  • Believability
  • Questions that need answering



Here are some of the things that would put us off a novel


  • Bad grammar or spelling
  • A setting I can’t identify with
  • A character I can’t identify with
  • Cliché



What about you?

Send me your thoughts about what you like or don’t like in a first chapter and I’ll add it to the page.

Good Openers for Novels

Head lamp
Head lamp

I just had to publish these story openers from Dan, Gem and Kelly. Fantastic work, you three!

A Little Known Story of Graeme Le Saux

Graeme Le Saux liked to pretend he was a lampshade. After all, he had to find something to fill the time after he couldn’t make football punditry work. He felt much more suited to this. And every Sunday in the quiet of his Surrey home, he’d put a lampshade on his head and sit perfectly still for a few hours or so.

He’d really come along since he’d first started. Having fashioned a proper shade out of one of his wife’s old dresses, and running electrical wires to his head to actually make light. “I’m going to be the best lampshade ever,” he thought to himself.

He remembered back when he’d first started and his old Southampton teammate James Beattie had called him a homo and a complete tit when he told him of his new hobby but he didn’t care, he was beautiful. And that’s all he really wanted to be. He’d tried to show it in his marauding runs and kicking David Batty whenever he played him in his football career. Only now did he really feel he had brought light into the world in a way he never had before.

He was running from room to room one day. Trying different places and generally giggling like a crushing schoolgirl, when there were his friends. Gathered round with sombre looks on their faces. Graeme would never forget this day as the day that he ran and never looked back. Some say that if you look in the mirror and say his name three times he appears, and that he still lights the darkest places. The truth is, no one really knows.

By Dan


Busy Hands

Truly Furlow’s hook wove the wool deftly. She’d first learned to crochet as a young child at her grandmother’s insistence – “The Devil finds work for idle hands” she always said. Trudy, being only small at the time, thought that as her grandmother always found work for her hands, the old woman must be the Devil. Her wide blue eyes would squint away in fear as the hook and wool were handed to her. Being only small, she dare not disobey.
Twenty years of daily crochet had turned her into a pro; she could whip up a wooden extravaganza wherever she was. But her favourite place was here – the graveyard of St Mary’s on the Quay. It was a graveyard love had long since left. The only flowers were thistles and the stones were crumbling like hobnobs dunked in tea for too long. A soupy mist would often sneak in from the nearby river and tug at her ankles as she sat on the bench. It was an atmosphere most would find creepy but Trudy felt safe here. Safe from the Devil.
Purple strands stirred through the black as the hooded cloak she was crocheting grew. Soon she would start on an edging of silver thread – but not yet. She needed to do it under the light of the full moon so it would soak up the moons protection and cast it over her when she wore it. But the moon had not yet risen and she needed that protection. Today was her 27th birthday. Her grandmother would be coming for her.”

By Gem


Claire Morris liked watching black and white movies. At 42 she was past caring about having company. She preferred to go on her own, submersing herself in worlds of handsome heroes. She would imagine herself to be the beauty they fought over, instead of the short, mousy haired woman she really was.

It was Sunday afternoon and she was at the Playhouse Cinema, row ‘h’, centre seat. It was her place of worship. As the glow of the screen shrouded her, she felt truly happy. Far removed from the realities of life, from the disappointment it contained. Occasionally the outside world would try and worm it’s way into her consciousness. Why couldn’t her husband be as chivalrous as Cary Grant? She would feel the familiar knot of anxiety stir in her chest, but she pushed it back down. She refused to think about him. Not here.

By Kelly

Where Dead People Go

Zeke and Jacob

Hurray!  I’ve just finished editing my novel ‘Where Dead People Go.’

It’s about a Victorian boy thief intent on possessing a modern-day teenager.

The above picture was a big inspiration. The ghost, Ezekiel Parthingate, is the boy third from the left . The boy at the front is his younger brother Jacob.

Ezekiel grew up on the brink of starvation and worked hard to support his whole family until his death in a robbery at the age of fourteen. One hundred years later, when he is able to possess a modern boy of the same age, he feels he is justified in taking control.

Ben, lead-singer in a school rock band, doesn’t quite agree and determines to fight for his life…..

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

….So now I just need to find an agent and a publisher. Easy right?

Luckily someone gave me a link to a great website that’ll help speed up the process considerably.

Deep breath.

Fingers Crossed.

Here I go.

Damselfly’s Winner of the Doorway Competition



I hear a creak and look up. She is coming downstairs, singing under her breath. Already rehearsing for choir practice. Cheerful.

Her favourite night of the week.

She hovers.

I wait.

I know there is no point in speaking. When she has remembered she will let me know what she came in for.

As she came into the room something left her eyes. A sense of purpose, vanishing with the crossing of the threshold. It is eerie to witness. As if the strip of wood on the floor holds the power to wipe memory and the as the foot passes over a surge of energy floods upwards and wipes her thoughts.

She looks at me and frowns, as if irritation with me will bring back the memory. She tuts and leaves the room. The sun catches her silver fox hair, slanting redly from the horizon, across the fields and through the hazy window. She lifts her head, sniffing the air, it always seems to me. As if memory is a smell, lingering.

She hesitates in the glow. There is a pause and then, “Where are my shoes?”

By Anna Max


Congratulations Anna and thanks to everyone who entered.

Our next competition will be for the first chapter of a novel. (2000 words maximum)

The winner of Arlington’s ‘Doorway’ competition



It’s been two years since my dreams first started to echo my nightmares and now the two have become inseparable. They can be long, deep and torturous or staccato sharp, broken and shattered but, in timbre at least, they are always the same.

We were deployed to Hermal, a town in the north east of Lebanon, to try to keep the peace after months of civil unrest. Here, the children would play football in the streets as the women offered scarves, crafts and tea from stalls in the market. The men would relax with games of backgammon or cards and drink and smoke until the smoke clouds hung low with heady smells of molasses, damson and date.

When we knocked on the door to our rendezvous, there was no reply. We had to wait and there was never a wait we didn’t expect.


Then the blast.

The white light, the heat and, looking back, a quietness.

My first thought was not of the pain or even any immediate danger but of the betrayal from something I’d relied on and a constant in everyone’s lives.

It’s a simple threshold I’d passed seamlessly through a million times but that single doorway will stay with me.

Two years after all my travels and after all my years there are now only two things I wish to find behind any closed door.

The first is my family and friends peaceful, safe and sound.

The other, quite simply, is nothing at all.