Why does rejection hurt? Like, really hurt?

We all know that rejection is part of writing life.

We’ve been told that even the most well-renowned authors suffered setbacks on their journey to publication, but whilst this knowledge might register in the head, it often doesn’t lessen the pain in the heart.

Why not? There’s a good reason.

When we experience writing rejection, we’re not just dealing with a rejection of our story – something we have lovingly crafted and made ourselves vulnerable to bring into being.

That would be bad enough.

We’re also grappling with the way our brains are wired.

In evolutionary terms, human beings have a fundamental need to belong to a group. In a hunter-gatherer society, being ostracized effectively meant death, so we developed an ‘early warning system’ to warn us when this was about to happen: rejection.

And that’s not all. To ensure that we took this threat seriously, rejection began to piggy-back on physical pain pathways in the brain.

fMRI studies show that rejection activates the same parts of the brain as when we experience physical pain.

And those who experienced rejection as the most painful (our ancestors) gained an evolutionary advantage and remained to pass on their genes.

Sorry, but it gets worse.

Our natural response to rejection is to damage our own self-esteem further. For writers, who may be working in isolation, and may not be surrounded with people who understand this kind of pain, this can lead to giving up or even to self-destructive behaviours.

So, how does this knowledge help with the pain of rejection?

We know that reasoning will only take us so far.

  1. Firstly, we need to recognise and acknowledge our emotional pain – and that it feels overwhelming because it is a primal one. When a baby cries, we know it is an evolutionary response – a need for care, comfort and protection, and not an expression of dissatisfaction with their caregiver. This understanding helps us to be patient and caring, even when we feel flooded with negative emotions.
  2. Secondly, we can identify punitive and self-critical behaviours and try to address these. It might not be easy, but awareness is key. We can choose to boost our self-worth by focusing on new projects – or different outlets for creativity altogether.
  3. Lastly, we can connect with others. Rejection destabilises our feeling of belonging and restoring this need is crucial. 

We’re not really adrift. There are hordes of writers out there in the same boat, experiencing rejection every day.

Reach out to your network and others through social media (private groups) and start talking with others who are going through it too.

If you’re dealing with writing rejection at the moment, I hope this understanding helps in some small way.

For more research and tips around the writing process, plus the occasional book review, pop your email address in the sidebar and let’s stay in touch.

You can find more about rejection and physical pain at:


Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Fall back in love with your library

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Did you know that February is National Library Lovers’ Month?

Visiting the library every weekend is one of my most vivid childhood memories.

I loved the whole deal – having my very own library card, choosing brand new stories, watching the librarian scan and stamp the books… You name it, I was hooked. I would trot home and start reading.

My mum always said it didn’t matter too much what we read. It was all about cultivating a love of books and giving us confidence in our reading abilities.

Libraries are for all of us

The library is one of the only public spaces we can occupy without an expectation that we’ll buy something, without a timer on our table.

Libraries bring people together and offer crucial resources on wellbeing, mental health and finance, to name but a few.

When I take my children to the library, something magical happens. They explore the type of books they might not pick up at home. They’re overjoyed to find new books in a beloved series or to revisit a forgotten favourite from when they were younger.

It’s incredible to watch them fall under the unique spell of books and to be lost in a good story without the distraction of screens or time pressures.

And when they see adults browsing and enjoying books too, it shows them that this is something worthwhile, worth emulating.

But with new books one click away online, it’s easy to fall out of the habit of using the library.

Here are 5 reasons to fall back in love with libraries

  1. The free Libby app (UK) allows you to borrow ebooks, audiobooks and magazines from your library. You can stream titles or download them to read offline. All you need is your library card and an internet connection.
  2. Many libraries have online collections, some of which are accessible from anywhere. You can find the British Library’s digital collections here.
  3. Author events are a fantastic way to learn more about your favourite books and authors. We recently had Elly Griffiths, author of the Dr Ruth Galloway series, at a sell-out event.
  4. Can’t find a new release? Many libraries will let you order newer titles online and then notify you when the book is ready for collection.
  5. The Public Lending Right (PLR) remunerates authors for books borrowed from public libraries. In many cases, this is comparable to book sales from the larger distributors. And every author I knew grew up in a library(!) and is delighted that their book can be borrowed and enjoyed.

Do you love your library? Do you think it’s time to renew your library card and head back through the magical doors? Let me know! You can find me talking books on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Are you a writer or an author?

Do you call yourself a writer or an author? Or do you use the two interchangeably?

I tend to refer to myself as a writer. I’ve always said I’ll call myself an author if and when I get published.

But what if the way we refer to ourselves is holding us back?

Check out this simple illustration. I searched, ‘Why are writers…’ and – bar a few exceptions – the results are pretty negative.

Swap in the word ‘author’ and look what happens…

It made me wonder…

How often do we limit our own narratives?

How does our own language shape our perceptions of our own abilities?

Perhaps we don’t want to make assumptions, to take up space. Maybe we don’t want other people to think we’re above our station.

Perhaps it’s imposter syndrome getting the upper hand. Perhaps we don’t want to be challenged and admit that no, I’m not published… yet.

So what does ‘author’ really mean?

The word ‘author’ comes from the Latin, augere, meaning to increase, originate or promote. I love that it also picks up a little of the English ‘authentic’ along the way.

So, there you have it. If you’re creating stories and worlds and people, you’re an author.

You’re authentic.

Yes, you.

So no more standing in your own way!

Book review: Wrong Place Wrong Time

Cover of Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

Every now and again, a book comes along that changes the game for the whole genre.

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister is one such book. 

One night, Jen Brotherhood witnesses something dreadful: her beloved teenage son killing a stranger outside their house. She doesn’t know why or who the man is, all she knows is that’ Todd’s future is over.

But when Jen wakes up the next morning, it’s the day before and the murder hasn’t yet happened. Every morning, Jen travels back in time. Is she being given a chance to play detective and stop the murder in its tracks?

This book is a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller and Reese’s book club pick, and it’s easy to see why.

It’s a masterclass in plotting – although we’re going backwards, information is revealed and clues seeded meticulously. Every time you think you’re one step ahead, everything you thought you knew is thrown up in the air all over again. The physics was obviously carefully researched and manages to be mind-blowing without being too heavy-going.

And if that weren’t enough, it’s a beautiful, heartrending portrait of motherhood, guilt, regret and righting past wrongs. The writing is like melted butter.

This book absolutely deserves every accolade.

This was my first Gillian McAllister… and it certainly won’t be my last!

If you like clever thrillers with plenty of heart, and you pride yourself in figuring out the ending, look no further!

Book review: Summer People

A little later than planned (because I have been bashing my way through a structural rewrite of my book!), a review of Summer People by Julie Cohen.

Cohen’s Together is one of my all-time favourite books. Not only is the writing sublime and the love story breathtaking, but the structure is incredible. The story is told backwards, which – for a love story with a jaw-dropping twist – is the writerly equivalent of tight-rope walking on a unicycle while standing on your head.

So I was already excited for the release of Summer People. Then I found out it has bi rep… So basically it bypassed my entire TBR pile the second it crashed through the letterbox.

Despite the ‘Summer’ in the title (and the cover), this book isn’t a light, summery read. It’s intense, gripping and moving.

The story takes place on Unity Island, off the coast of Maine, and the location is an important character in its own right.

Vee is a returning native, who left the island long ago, hence she returns with the tourists – the ‘Summer People’ and finds that she doesn’t quite belong in either camp anymore.

For one thing, there’s the ongoing feud with her oldest friend, Sterling, who felt abandoned by Vee’s departure. And then there’s his wife, the irresistible Rachel.

The book has a very intense and claustrophobic feel, and yet there’s room for the evocative writing that, in my view, sets Julie Cohen apart.

These characters were flawed and selfish at times, but honestly and realistically so – they felt nuanced and rang utterly true to me.

Cohen never takes the easy way out and there was lots to reflect on here, from the power of secrets to past choices and forbidden love.

All in all, a fantastic read.

Page Turner Awards — two books, two shortlists!

I’m delighted to have two thrillers on shortlists for the Page Turner Awards.

Darling Girl, which also won the ‘I Am In Print’ Thriller competition this year, is shortlisted for the Page Turner Writing Award.

My work-in-progress, While She Lay Sleeping, is shortlisted for the Page Turner Mentorship Award.

You can find out a bit more about each of these stories below.

Whatever the outcome, entering the Page Turner Awards has been a really positive experience.

Here’s a little more about the stories…

Darling Girl — Elisabeth was the love of Leni’s life. But Elisabeth was pure fiction. A manipulator. A troubled soul. And the day after she left Leni with a Dear John letter and a broken heart, Elisabeth’s husband turned up on Leni’s doorstep, looking for her.
Eight months on, something feels very, very wrong. A traumatised Leni receives a parcel that can only be from her former lover. Believing Elisabeth to be in danger, Leni will stop at nothing to follow the clues within and find her. But Elisabeth left to protect Leni from a dark secret – and from someone who would kill to keep them apart.

While She Lay Sleeping — Kate keeps dreaming that her baby is kidnapped. One morning, she wakes to find that her nightmare is reality, and her partner, Anna, is behaving suspiciously.

Each woman knows more than she’s letting on, but can they trust one another? If they want their daughter back, they’ll have to find a way through the secrets and lies that threaten to break them.

Book review: Small Pleasures

Image of Small Pleasures - a book by Clare Chambers
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers – such a beautiful cover!

This book has been on my radar for some time, but when I listened to the author speaking on Francesca Steele’s podcast, I bumped it to the top of the TBR pile.

Small Pleasures is the story of Joan Swinney, a journalist investigating a claim of immaculate conception in 1950s London.

Joan’s existence consists of ‘small pleasures’ – she cares for her mother, tends her garden and writes tips for the local paper.

All that changes when she meets Gretchen Tilbury, who contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth.

As Jean investigates, she becomes entangled with the Tilbury family – Gretchen, her husband, Howard, and Margaret, the child at the centre of the controversy.

Small Pleasures is a slow burn – it’s beautifully written, tender and understated, with plenty of period detail and shrewd observations. It isn’t difficult to see why it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.

I was drawn to Jean’s character – she’s a pragmatic, down-to-earth type who perhaps finds it difficult to consider her own needs. The relationships in the novel are well drawn and moving, and whilst I saw the ending coming, it still packed a substantial emotional punch.

Lastly, I noticed that this book was featured amongst the “Most read of LGBT” on Goodreads. I’d struggle to describe it as a sapphic book – there are sapphic characters, but it’s not a big part of the plot.

Overall, a great read if you like a slow burn that examines the complexities of relationships and the possibility of a second chance at happiness.

Book review: In at the Deep End

In at the Deep End by Kate Davies

Julia has been celibate for three years and when the dry spell breaks, it isn’t anything to write home about, to put it mildly. And it isn’t just her sex life that’s lacking. No longer able to pursue her dream of dancing professionally, she’s stuck in a dead-end job. When she meets Sam, Julia is in at the deep end as a new lesbian – introduced to a world of gay bars, BDSM and polyamory.

I read somewhere that Kate Davies set out to write a version of ‘Girls’ for lesbians, and I think she’s realised her goal. Julia’s voice is unique, warm, hilarious and utterly relatable. Whilst the sex, drugs and parties are all plentiful and no holds barred, the voyage of self-discovery in this novel goes far beyond sex and sexuality. It’s a nuanced and at times heart-rending exploration of the intensity of first loves, coercion, guilt and jealousy.

The changes in Julia’s life touch every corner of it – from her relationships with her family to her job, her past and her ambitions for the future. We see a woman not only getting to grips with a new understanding of her sexuality, but settling into a life which is altogether changing shape to meet the person she is becoming.

This book is as frank, filthy and funny as billed and I read it in a couple of days flat. An abundance of laugh-out-loud moments, a rounded cast of characters and a tangled central relationship is a winning combination that kept me coming back for more.

Book review: That Green Eyed Girl

Book cover: That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan
That Green Eyed Girl by Julie Owen Moylan

It’s 1955 in New York and school teachers, Dovie and Gillian, live together in a small apartment on the Lower East Side. Out of necessity, their private life has always been a closely-guarded secret… until now.

Twenty years on, young Ava Winters lives in the same apartment, struggling to cope with her mother’s deteriorating mental health, without much help from her absent father.

One morning, Ava’s mother disappears and Ava receives a parcel. It contains, amongst other things, a photo of a woman with the word ‘LIAR’ scribbled across her face.

In a bid to escape from her own difficulties, Ava tries to track down the apartment’s former occupants in a bid to discover what happened.

This book was beautifully written, gripping and immersive – I think I devoured it in two or three sittings, which is no mean feat when you have small children.

I loved spending time in Gillian and Dovie’s world. The characters were immensely relatable across time and geography and the historical setting was well realised, from smoky jazz clubs of 50s New York to a quiet Parisian apartment.

At risk of spoilers, I feel obliged to point out that this book couldn’t be categorised as a romance. It had a Hardy-esque inevitability of tragedy, with a happier outcome close enough to touch, but constantly slipping from reach. The two women’s happiness at the beginning feels like a vignette with something heavy already creeping around the edges, and the book is taut with tension throughout.

It’s really exciting to see a f/f book in the mainstream, and as a major title for Michael Joseph this year. Long may this trend continue!

Book review: Tell Me Everything

Book: Tell Me Everything by Laura Kay

I’m a big fan of Laura Kay’s writing. I really enjoyed her first book, ‘The Split’ and liked this latest one even more.

 ‘Tell Me Everything’ is a sapphic story set in Brighton. I hesitate to call it a rom-com, because it treats so much more than the romance.

Natasha is a therapist – but despite how it may appear to her clients, she doesn’t have her life together. She’s still living with her ex, Georgia, and it’s beginning to get messy. Then she meets the free-spirited, capricious Margot, who makes her question where she’s going in life and what she’s looking for.

She is surrounded by family (her twin sister, Natalie and friend, Charlie are great cameos) but troubled by issues from her past that she’s never fully addressed. When Natasha’s friends take her on holiday to the States, she has the chance to heal old wounds and discover what’s important to her.

What I loved most about this book? First, I didn’t know who was going to end up winning Natasha’s heart, and really enjoyed that unpredictability. And second, Natasha is an adorable character who doesn’t realise how lovable she is. Conveying that whilst maintaining a single viewpoint (Natasha’s) is no mean feat, and from a writerly perspective, I was taking notes!

This novel has Kay’s trademark blend of comedy, lump-in-throat moments and plenty of tension. There’s so much warmth in the writing. Kay is gifted at creating characters you just want to spend time with, and in writing f/f fiction that’s upbeat but not fluffy, moving but never maudlin. Bring on the next book!*

My thanks to Laura, Quercus and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

*Ooh… Wild Things by Laura Kay is out next year and you can preorder here.