Book review – Casting Off by Emma Bamford

Casting Off coverWhen Emma Bamford gets frustrated with her life as London journalist, she answers an advert to live with a man and his cat on a boat in Borneo.

It’s a hell of a premise, and all the more so considering that it’s entirely true. What follows is part travelogue, part coming of age story, taking place on three very different vessels with three very different crews. The book is divided into three sections named for the three boats she takes residence aboard, but actually flagging up different stages of her personal development as she gradually sets aside her more damaging traits, such as a worrying compulsion to please others, and her reliance on planning and certainty.

Perhaps inevitably, I found myself comparing Casting off with Lucy Irvine‘s travel memoir Castaway, but while the pair undoubtedly share an adventurous spirit, the adventures themselves turn out very different.

Emma, while on the surface a romantic, is essentially a pragmatic soul with a clear knowledge of her own fallibilities as well as her hopes and goals. Continue reading

Curtis Brown Novel Writing Course

Lizard Point sea birds cr Judy DarleySecuring the services of a literary agent can be a real challenge, but it begins with writing the kind of novel they will get impassioned by and believe publishers will be falling over themselves to take on. Why not see if 2015 is the year you can make your writing soar?

Curtis Brown Creative is the only writing school in the UK run by a literary agency actively looking for new clients, and a prestigious one at that.

In the tail-end of 2014 they’re running an Online Three-Month Novel-Writing Course from Monday 3rd November 2014 to Sunday 22nd February 2015. And their track record is impressive – previous courses have seen ten students secure book deals with major publishers and several others find representation.

Places will be offered to 15 students, selected on the basis of ability as demonstrated in applications.

The course lead tutor is Lisa O’Donnell, with guest speakers including Clare Conville & Walsh, as well as  sessions on writing covering letters and perfecting your synopsis.

Writers born in Wales or currently residing in Wales can apply for a place funded by the Eluned Phillips Centenary Writing Bursary on this course.

All students will get:

• Weekly writing workshops with Lisa O’Donnell and your student peers, taking place in a secure group space, hosted on a tried-and-tested educational online platform.

• Two 30-minute one-to-one tutorials with Lisa, delivered on the phone or by Skype (depending on student’s choice), and scheduled in consultation with you.

• Weekly teaching sessions on key topics with Lisa, with video material, and homework to include writing exercises, discussion and preparing synopses.

• A day-long session for dialogue and Q&As with the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh literary-agent teams.

• A first-page workshop offering direct feedback for all students on their opening pages.

• Feedback on your essential one-page synopsis.

• A day-long opportunity to get feedback from the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh agents on the all-important pitch letter.

• The opportunity to have your 3,000 word opening and synopsis read by the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh book agent teams at the conclusion of the course

• A secure discussion space to share material and thoughts with your student peer group informally.

To find out more and apply, go to

How to write science fiction

The Mark of Man coverOwen H Lewis, author of the recently published The Mark of Man offers his tips for writing powerful science fiction.

Get to know your craft

The Mark of Man started out as three short stories which had been in development for quite some time. Following an extremely vivid dream that I woke up from believing I was truly in the world of The Mark of Man, I realised I’d finally found my premise to link the three together and was  able to embark on my triptych.

Decide on your themes

The result is a dizzying ride that provides a window into mankind’s soul, whilst casting a glance on our constant internal struggle with science vs. religion and nature vs. technology.

Aim to bring something new to the genre

Science fiction novels often break down into two distinct camps, with the cerebral and intelligent grouped on one side and with the laser battles and starships lined up on the other. I believe that my new novel The Mark of Man manages to bridge these views well whilst also inviting a new audience to the table; the cultural female!

Tackle big subjects

The central premise of The Mark of Man concerns a mark on the wrist which indicates the death age of the beholder and contrary to other tales of this type, this is a genetic anomaly. So the race to find a cure is not a simple chase and pursuit tale with evil overlords and an over reliance on the familiar clichés and tenets, but one that concerns the whole of humankind and compels everybody to try to find an answer to this ticking doomsday clock.

Challenge expectations

With most of the world clamouring for the next vampire saga or Game of Thrones clone, I’m of the conviction that the world is now ready for a more intelligent and challenging story. Science fiction shouldn’t just be about shiny spaceships or flesh eating aliens, it should challenge and create discussion; perhaps even arguments.

Be willing to think beyond the genre

The Mark of Man isn’t necessarily a sci-fi novel – in time it might be considered as the first of a long line of anti sci-fi’s. However, when using such a paradigm, I’d suggest that you must firstly forget the environment whilst you shape the story, then set up the premise based on your own views and experiences – then you insert the techno babble.

Relish both the genre and real life

Sci-fi provided me with a blank canvass to posit my theories and ideals. It gives me a clean slate to start over again; with our culture, our systems and the environment. I can challenge the reader without alienating them and I can keep them guessing because there are no rules.

I studied English at university and worked in TV & Film until family life took over and compelled me to move into Real Estate Investment. However one’s interests and skills never leave and with almost another 20 years living a varied existence, I hope that I have now acquired enough life experience to be a social commentator.

Consider the changing marketplace for novelists

It’s a hot topic right now in both literature and film. I guess, as we all broaden our horizons through our use of technology, we re-educate ourselves and therefore reach the point where it is acceptable to question our own beliefs and convictions; those that were formed before the advent of the web.

Seek publishers as well as agents

Not knowing the publishing world, I went through the usual painstaking route of researching the most appropriate, making contacting and then waiting for a positive response – over the succeeding months I received a lot of encouraging notes from a whole host of agents but no one wanted to wanted to take The Mark of Man any further until one day, out of the blue, I received two requests for the manuscript, direct from separate publishers.

Get to grips with promotion

I get support from my publisher and, contrary to my formerly naïve view of the marketplace, I have had to become quite the modern author with accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Shelfari, Facebook, Linkedin and Google. I’ve recently learnt that the writing of a novel maybe one thing but that the promotion is something entirely different – something that has to be done regularly and comprehensively.

I recently had a launch in Mayfair, London which was a huge success, where just prior to the occasion I momentarily reached the dizzy heights of number 3 in the Metaphysical & Visionary charts on Amazon.

The premise of The Mark of Man hinges on the date 14.12.14 and therefore I have no doubt that there will be another launch.

Be true to your story’s heart

Ensuring that there is a beating heart to the story – that it never waivers nor meanders. Much sci-fi involves a web of deception and hidden truths that makes it hard to keep control of your characters. Your job is to leave your readers enlightened by their journey, feeling as if they’re active participants in the tale.

Owen H Lewis authorAbout the author

After working in film and television in  London and Madrid, Owen H Lewis  settled in Los Angeles with his own production company. Outside pressures led him to adopt a more conformist career path and he moved instead into real estate investment before turning to writing. Coloured by his experiences, Lewis started work on what was to become The Mark of Man, his debut ‘anti-sci-fi’ novel. Owen lives in Kew, with his wife and two children, and is already writing a companion piece to his debut, which promises to be darker and even more contentious.

If you’d like to share your own writing journey on SkyLightRain, get in touch! Just send an email  to Judy(at)

Midweek writing prompt – reflections

Tree reflection cr Judy DarleyAs autumn rolls in with all its mists and dreaminess, I find myself feeling increasingly reflective, which gives me an idea for a writing prompt.

So many things in our lives show us pieces of ourselves, from literal reflective surfaces such as mirrors, ponds and puddles, to the expressions of those who see us, either as strangers or close friends.

I invite you to take this theme and use it to explore a character – and offer them a glimpse of themselves, of their personality or their appearance, that they didn’t expect. What do they learn about themselves through it? How, if at all, does this alter them?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket With your permission, I’d love to share it on