Flash Fiction: The SS Ayr


Cara lay on the bunk, the baby asleep beside her, his arms thrown wide as if surprised to be falling. From far below, in the ship’s hold she felt as much as heard, the melancholic bleat of a cow – the sound travelled through steel, along the gangways, up the posts of her bed and into her skull. Cara wondered if the animals ever stopped missing their calves.

She woke later, with the baby on her chest, both of them tipped against the ship’s hull, the bunk no longer horizontal. The engine wailed, gears shrieking. But no, not the engine. The cows.


This week I thought it might be fun to also post a recording of me reading my story. (And in the odd way that minds work, I only realised that this story bears the same name as the writer, C.E. Ayr, who gave me the idea to record it, after I’d written and titled my story.)


This is a Friday Fictioneers very short story inspired by the picture above (this week the image was provided by Jan Wayne Fields). Friday Fictioneers, which is hosted by the lovely Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, is a weekly group, where lots of writers from around the world write a 100-word (or so) story inspired by a picture, post them on their own websites and read each other’s. Click here to join in, or here to read some more stories.

Indie Bookshop Love: P&G Wells


P&G Wells is my local independent bookshop, and I love it. Not only because of the atmospheric building and (of course) the great books, but because the owner (Crispin) and all of the booksellers there, especially David and Ben have been incredibly supportive of me and my books. I highly recommended having a browse on a Sunday afternoon, choosing and buying a book, and taking it for a pint to the Wykeham Arms just around the DSCF4213corner.

Can you tell me something about the history of P&G Wells?
Founded in the early 1700s, P&G Wells was one of several bookshops in this quarter of
Winchester.  In the early days, the area was a literary centre, with publishing, printing, the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper and the county’s first lending library: all of which activities took place on the shop’s premises.  Originally the shop was owned by the Burton family, with the Wells family being in charge during the shop’s College-centred heyday.  The last Wells left in the mid 1970s but is still living in Winchester.

In modern times, Wells expanded to cover school supply throughout Hampshire, and to PG2serve the new University of Winchester.  Its centrepiece however, remains its original shop in College Street, by now the oldest bookshop in the country.

What’s your favourite section?
The oak windows looking onto the street date from Edwardian times, and permit us to show a variety of lovely new books to passersby.  I enjoy seeing dog-walkers, joggers and family walkers distracted from their journeys as they stop and respond to the dreams that emanate from the covers of unexpected books.

If you had infinite space what would you add?
I’d like to have a larger reference section, full of earlier works by current writers, and prequels to the history, the travel and the natural history that is published today.

What’s the hardest thing about running an independent bookshop?

Who is your favourite customer?
Anyone who is curious, open-minded and keen to find out all there is to know about their chosen topic.

What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?
Shoplifters who take a book, deface it, and come back to ask for a ‘refund’.

What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
Being stuck in a foreign country on a rainy weekend, and finding in the local shop an old novel that reminded me of home.

What would you like your customers to do differently?
Be more experimental.

What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
Think outside the box.

What’s been the biggest surprise of owning an independent bookshop?
How generous-hearted are the different people in the industry – writers, publishers and 51FVh7XPjZL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_reps obviously, but also the accounts departments, warehousemen and delivery drivers.

What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
Anything by Patrick Modiano.

What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling9780008152079?
Hitman Anders.

How can people visit / get in touch with you? (Address, Twitter, Facebook, Website, Instagram etc)
All of these are possible, but the best is to visit.

(11 College Street, Winchester, SO23 9LZ, 01962 852016, pgwells@btconnect.com www.bookwells.co.uk @BookWells )


Other bookshops in this series:

Read about Book-ish in Crickhowell
Read about Mr B’s in Bath
Read about Lutyens & Rubinstein in London
Read about The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough
Read about The Little Ripon Bookshop in Ripon
Read about Chepstow Books in Chepstow
Read about Chorleywood Bookshop in Chorleywood

Flash Fiction: Add but don’t subtract


Her body sank to the cobbles, each bony vertebra grazing skin against whitewashed wall. In slow motion she slid sideways into the shade, eyes glassy and the taste of dirt and leather in her mouth from a million sandals that had trod the alley before her. It was empty now, everyone indoors – away from the midday sun. As sleep, or something greater overtook her, she saw her mother pouring homemade lemonade from a pitcher she had never owned.


This is a Friday Fictioneers story. A re-run (because it’s summer and we’re all busy) of an FF story I wrote in 2012. It became a Continue reading

Revealing the Cover Design for Swimming Lessons

I’ve reached one of the most exciting parts of having a book published – revealing the covers. I’ve known about them for some time, and I’m absolutely delighted with how they look. Here are the UK, US and Canadian covers for my second novel, Swimming Lessons. The original US jacket (on the right) was designed by Diane Chonette, the Art Director at Tin House (my US publisher).

My Canadian publisher (House of Anansi) has decided to use Tin House’s cover as it stands, while Fig Tree / Penguin in the UK has decided to tweak it a little (on the left). I love both of them.

The novel will be published late January / early Feb 2017, and you can read what it’s about here.

And although it’s still many months until publication, you can already pre-order it on Amazon: UK, US and Canada. Or you could wait and buy it from your lovely local independent bookshop.

I’d love to know what you think. Do leave me a comment.



Flash Fiction: Fear of Flying


The plane is full. The fat man spills over his seat into mine. I count tiny houses from the window, a blue tear behind each one.
‘Going to England on vacation?’ The man asks.
‘Going home with my Dad,’ I say.
‘You couldn’t get a seat next to him?’
Something in his voice makes me turn. He’s gripping the arm-rests, sweat beading his top lip. ‘Scared of flying, he says, teeth gritted.

We hold hands for the rest of the flight, while he tells me about his holiday and I try not to think about my father’s body in the hold.


This is a Friday Fictioneers story, inspired by the picture above. Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, our host is doing a few re-runs of previous pictures, and this one is from February 2013, as is my story (although slightly edited). The picture was supplied by Rich Voza. You should go to Rochelle’s website to read her joint story (with Doug Macllroy) which is incredibly moving, and there you can also see how you can join in with Friday Fictioneers or read other people’s stories.


Indie Bookshop Love: Chepstow Books

Chepstow outside

This Saturday sees the start of Independent Bookshop Week (18th to 26th June), and there are lots of events at independent bookshops around the UK and Ireland. Visit the website to find out what’s going on near you, or follow the organisation on Twitter.

My celebration of independent bookshops continues with The Chepstow Bookshop. I visited the shop earlier this year, where I met a couple of lovely booksellers, but didn’t get to say hello to Matt Taylor, the owner, who was out visiting a school. But he kindly answered my questions:

Can you tell me something about the history of Chepstow Books? Matt Taylor Chepstow
There has been a bookshop on this site for at least 50 years. It became a “new” bookshop (selling new rather than second hand books) 20 years ago. I took over 10 years ago after moving from London (where I worked for Borders Books). Continue reading

Two Days, Five Events in France


Festival du Premier Roman

A couple of weeks ago I was went to Chambéry in France, where I had been invited to speak at the Festival du Premier Roman, an annual literary festival all about debut novels. The organisers bring together 15 French authors, as well as writers from Spain, Portugal, Romania, Italy, Germany and Great Britain.

desmond-elliott-prize-logoThe list of British first novels is provided for the festival organisers by the literary director of the Desmond Elliott Prize (the premier UK prize for debut fiction), who adds another two books to the prize’s ten-strong long-list, bringing the Chambéry reading list up to twelve books. Although my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015, that was no guarantee that it would be one of those selected.

The Chambéry reading groups have about six months to read all twelve books before they debate and vote on their favourite. At the same time, schools in France, Portugal, Italy and Germany are also deciding on their favourite. The authors of the winning books are invited to the festival, and I was lucky enough to be one of them, with Carys Bray (one of the three short-listed authors of the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize) being the other from Great Britain.

IMG_0782Before I visited, students from France, Germany, Italy and Portugal read and studied Our Endless Numbered Days in English, so that when they came together for the festival in Chambéry they were able to use the novel for inspiration for an Erasmus project about innovation in literature.

It was an intensive two days. I spoke to four groups of students  (with up to 60 people inDSCF7686 each group), as well as one group of adults where I joined Carys to talk about our books to the English book club readers.

Chambéry is a beautiful town, and I and my husband, were made really welcome. We were given a guided tour, taken out for drinks and coffees, invited to an art exhibition, met up with the Desmond Elliott Prize’s literary director for lunch, went out to dinner, and DSCF7683generally packed everything in that we could.

The students worked on designing alternative covers of Our Endless Numbered Days (you can see them here), asked me lots of amazing (and difficult) questions in English, and then went off to act out some of the scenes from my book which were videoed and edited.


If you’re interested in the whole Erasmus project you can see a video about it here (click on
the picture), including a short clip of me being interviewed.

The videos the students made of them acting scenes from Our Endless Numbered Days are available online. Here are a couple (click on the images to view).








It was a wonderful experience; all they need now is a festival for second novels.