All posts by Mai

I've been leading creative writing sessions in Suffolk for the past seven years. I currently run regular Wednesday and Thursday sessions which attract writers at a varying level of abilities and literary interests. Three times a year I also run short courses aimed at intermediate level writers. I've had a range of work published in magazines and newspapers, won short fiction competitions and am a regular contributor to CGP's educational resources. I have written two children's novel for which I am seeking representation.

Intermediate Level Creative Writing Course (Ipswich)

This creative writing course is designed for people with a story to tell. It could be a true story from your life, an unfinished novel or just an idea that came to you whilst chopping onions last week.

The ideal participant is someone who already has some creative writing experience but feels that they would benefit from revisiting the basics in order to sharpen up their skills and move forward in their writing.

The course takes place over four Tuesday evenings in June 2019 and is hosted from my home in Ipswich (IP3 9TS).

Mai Black – Course Tutor

Each session lasts two hours including a fifteen minute break for chatting and refreshments. People usually arrive at approximately 7.15pm for a start time of 7.30pm. Sessions end promptly at 9.30pm.

The course costs £30, payable in advance. As soon as I receive payment, your place on the course is guaranteed. If the course is cancelled, you will, of course, get a full refund. Please note that I am unable to refund your £30 if you decide not to attend.

To pay, either ask for my address to post me a cheque or request my bank details via text (07943 068033).

Here are the topics for each week. Don’t worry if you have to miss the odd session, just let me know in advance.

4th June      Structuring your story

11th June    Making your reader emotionally invest in your characters

18th June    Weaving dialogue naturally into a scene

25th June    Practical reasons for writing and how to seek publication

For each session you’ll need to bring a pen, a notebook and (if possible) a folder to keep your A4 handouts in.

Homework is optional on the course but you may like to bring roughly one hundred words to share each week. To the first week, bring whatever you like – a short poem, the introductory paragraph of a novel or a one hundred word story outline are all good options.

Introductory Creative Writing Course – March 2019

If you’d like to know more, email me at and/or visit my website

If you’d like to chat about the course by telephone, it’s best to send me an email to arrange a mutually agreeable time. My phone number is 07943 068033.

Beginners and Intermediate Creative Writing Course

Did you love writing stories at school but never find the time these days?

Would you like to be inspired to work more creatively?

Do you dream of having a book published?

This course is a great place to start as it’s suitable for beginners as well as anyone who would like to improve their creative skills.

Venue: Ipswich (IP3 9TS)

Dates/times: Every Tuesday evening in March 2019. (7.30pm to 9.30pm)

What you’ll need: notebook, pen and a folder for A4 handouts.

The focuses  for the sessions will be:

Tuesday March 5th – Close character observation

Tuesday March 12th – How to put your character in a setting

Tuesday March 19th – Writing from different points of view

Tuesday March 26th – Writing a  dramatic scene

The course costs a total of £30, payable in advance.

For further details, email Mai Black at

Visit the website at

Or call/text me on 07943 068033

Homework is optional on the course although it would be great if everyone could bring a 100 word (approx) description of a character to the first session.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing you might bring along. I searched in Google Images for ‘Lady in a Cafe’ and used the picture for inspiration.

Woman Sat at Cafe Table by Andy Lloyd

She has a heart-shaped face, pale and flawless in its complexion, framed by a curtain of long dark hair, loosely gathered to one side. The eyebrows are arched and penciled in, maybe just a shade too heavy for her face. Her eyes are a light grey, and are staring fixedly at nothing, or maybe it’s simply the light she is looking at, the way it gleams on the dark oak counter. The woman is wearing a dress is of pale cream silk or satin and she has thigh-high velvet boots. She is easily the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. – MB

How to Write a Love Letter

Suffolk Writers Group’s Tips for Writing a Love Letter

1. Say what inspired you to write the letter
2. List the things you love about them
3. Describe a particular moment – use the senses
4. Say how your life would be without them
5.  Say something about the future.


I was thinking earlier how much you mean to me. I was working hard on the computer and I looked over to see that you’d left me a cup of coffee. I’d not asked for one, and you’d not waited for me to say thank you. This is my thank you.

You are the most amazing person I have ever met – so beautiful, so intelligent and you are always so thoughtful. Just three of the reasons why I love you so much. You are so wonderfully kind and good. Not only to me. Everyone who meets you feels the warmth of your beautiful spirit.

I remember our first holiday together. How we’d saved up ages to afford to go to Paris one August bank holiday. We were walking down the banks of the River Seine, sun shining down on our heads, the smell of blossom in the air and you told me how silly you felt. You said that you felt out of place with all the glamorous women around. I laughed, of course. You couldn’t see that you were more beautiful than any of them.

Without you, my darling, the world would be a sad, strange, confusing place.

I want to be with you always and if you ever think I’m taking you for granted or if I haven’t told you I love you often enough, take me by the arm, look me directly in the eye and say, ‘Stop!’ and I’ll drop everything, right then, and I’ll do everything I can to make you feel as loved and as happy as you make me feel every day.

Love Always,

Me xxx

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.


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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