This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.

Monday, 31 May 2010


I said I'd spend today answering your questions from the post on Friday.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
At some point during school, I knew I wanted to be published, but I didn't immediately think of this as a job or career. I can't explain why that was. At university I got some bits published in newspapers and magazines, and I knew I wanted to do this much, much more, but I still didn't think of it as a career, though I did consider being a journalist. (Which sounds the same but isn't.) In my final year at uni, I decided, grandly, "I want to be A Novelist". (I wrote a letter to my parents saying this, and my father kept the letter!) I started trying straightaway, and 21 years later I succeeded...

As a kid, did you have a teacher or aunt or someone like that who continues to inspire you today?
No. No one ever, ever suggested that I become a writer. The people who inspire me now are the friends I've made as a writer, the readers who say nice things, and my husband who continues to allow me to earn a pathetic income doing what I want to do. When I was failing the get a novel published for so long, my mother-in-law was hugely supportive and used to get terribly annoyed on my behalf every time I failed again. She was dying in hospital when the news started to come through that my first novel might be published. I think she understood and knew before she died, and my first novel, Mondays are Red is dedicated to her. I wish she were here now to see what happened next.

Which novel or author has influenced you the most?
Reading Skellig by David Almoond is what made me decide to write for teenagers. I've never looked back. And now I know him!

What's your favourite kind of weather?
Warm (but not too hot) and breezy, with me sitting in the shade of a huge tree.

What thing would you use to describe yourself and why?
I think I'm quite like a cat. I can be aloof; I'm independent; you don't know what I'm thinking; some people are frightened of me but others like me (I hope).

Can you sing?
Not well. A lot of people think that from my descriptions of Jess's feelings while she sings, I must be a singer. No. I used to sing in choirs, reasonably well, and was also in madrigal groups, which requires a fair amount of skill, but I was never good enough to be a soloist, and never confident enough. I never wanted to, either. And now my voice has gone - I'm pretty rubbish now!

What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
I have strong tastes in foods, so I love anchovies, strong stinky cheese, pickles, olives, and Brussels sprouts. Probably the oddest thing (to you) is that during the winter, when Brussels sprouts are in season, if my husband is away (because he hates them) I will have as my evening meal a plate of sprouts, doused with a little lemon juice, butter and black pepper, and then sprinkled with cheese!

If you could bring one character to life from one of your books, who would it be?
Jack, in Wasted. I'd tell him that he's a wonderful guy but that he mustn't think so much. I'd tell him he had nothing to feel guilty about. I'd tell him just to live his live.

If you joined the circus, what act would you perform?
Something on horseback. Except that I don't like animals in the circus. So, maybe fire-eating. Or juggling. Except that I can't juggle. Mind you, I can't fire-eat either.

Do you collect anything?
Shoes! And boots.

Did any of your characters give you a lot of trouble? i.e. did they just refuse to do what you wanted them to?
The bad girls, the Kelly Gang, were difficult at first because I couldn't get what they looked like in my mind. In the end, I had to resort to looking at pictures on the internet, after googling the phrase "bad girls". I found some that looked just as I wanted, and then I was fine. But otherwise, no, my characters ALWAYS do what I tell them!

What is immediately to your right hand side at the moment?
The computer mouse and a cup of coffee. As always.

Catdownunder, who is actually a cat, wants to ask some questions of Spike, the cat in Wasted. So, Spike will answer.

How do you feel about being such an important part of Wasted? 
Can't you hear me purring?

Was it a comfortable experience fitting in to a book? 
It was my idea to be in the book, because I am brave and inquisitive, but I found it strangely disconcerting how much I cared about Jess. I worried for her a lot, even though I kept telling myself she wasn't real. I admire the human for making it feel so real. [Spike, you are lovely. Have a sardine - NM.]

Did you have problems getting that human to understand you as a cat?
The human is incredibly clever [thanks again, Spike] and really understood my feelings very well. I think she has known cats herself and she tuned in remarkably well, disconcertingly so, in fact. I tried to hide my feelings from her most of the time but it was impossible, so I decided just to relax and go with the flow.

Do you think it is difficult for humans to portray animals in books in this way?
It is very annoying when humans make them wear clothes or speak in human language and so often we are portrayed as having human characteristics because humans are so narrow-minded and think the universe revolves around them. So, I think this human did a wonderful job [oh, Spike... NM] in not falling into that trap. I'd actually be quite happy to live with her. [Spike, that's a lovely idea but I'm terribly sorry: I currently have a ... ahem ... *whispers* with me, so I'm not sure you'd be happy.]

Spike turned away at this point and began washing himself, so we cut the interview short.

Thanks everyone for your questions. If you have any more, just add them here and I'll answer them another day.

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Nowhere - I've finished! In real life I'm going to Dunbar this evening, to talk to a group of teenage readers about Deathwatch. I may also find a way to talk about Wasted...

Everyone, this has been such fun. We've come to the end of the main blog marathon, but, as I said the other day, I'll still blog here, just not every day. In fact, very soon I'm going to talk about something that a lot of people have been wrong about when they've talked about Wasted...

Come back every now and then for news and competitions. And when you read Wasted and have anything to ask or say, just say it! Add your reviews to the link on the reviews page above, and/or to Amazon.

Be bold in your lives. Don't be afraid of failure - next step: success. Good luck and take care but not too much care. Life is for living and it's yours to live.

Sunday, 30 May 2010


We're getting so near the end of this 39-day blogathon. I said I'd be posting something new every day from April 23rd till the end of May and I have enjoyed every bit of it (except the few days when I was away from internet access - grrrrrr - and I couldn't join in comments).

Let me tell you what's going to happen next.

Tomorrow, the last day of the main show, I will answer the questions that you started asking me yesterday. If you'd like to add your questions, go here and see what other people have asked, then add your questions to that post. Those that I don't manage to answer tomorrow, I will come to another day.

After tomorrow, I will still keep blogging here but more occasionally. Do stick around, because sometimes I will have news, reviews, thoughts and opportunities for you.

When I do school events, I will blog about these.If you'd like me to visit your school, ask your librarian or English department. I travel a lot and am delighted to visit anywhere I can. I can do (and have done) overseas trips, too, but obviously the finances of that may be difficult.

What can you do?
  • If you liked Wasted, tell people about it. Adding a nice review somewhere like Amazon or Goodreads is always hugely appreciated.
  • Tell people about this blog.
  • Stick around and leave comments - then I know you're out there! It's lonely being an author sometimes!
  • Keep buying and recommending and valuing books of all sorts - not just mine. Writers need you! We need you to buy, borrow from libraries and talk about our books. The recession is hitting writers very hard - and not just the recession: the habit of slashing prices, the pirating of books, illegal downloading, and the difficulties that we have in continuing to earn in an environment when too many people think that words should be free. Violins, please!
Back to today...

...and I have a little snippet for you now. I thought I'd tell you my favourite lines from Wasted. I think all writers have their favourite lines in a book. Here are mine - they made me think or cry or laugh.

"He feels so small now. A fractional part of something vast and unknowable. Because everyone, everyone in the world, has an equal loss. Everyone has a billion things that haven't happened. He is nothing special."

"It is the sound the future would make if it slipped through a gap in the skin of time."

"...frankly I'd rather be kissed by an eel."

"She'd puked on a gnome..."

THE WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Nowhere, but tomorrow I will be in South Africa, at Absolute Vanilla. Sunshine!

Saturday, 29 May 2010


Which is your favourite bit of Wasted, and why?

If you would like to win a signed copy of any of my other in-print books, just answer that question in no more than 60 words and email it to with the words FAV SCENE COMP in the subject line.

Closing date: June 30th 2010
I will email the winner and ask for an address and your choice of prize after June 30th.

I'll tell you my favourite scene, but you don't get extra points for having the same favourite as mine! The competition is all about how you explain why your favourite is your favourite. And I'm looking for a perceptive take on the scene, something that gets under its skin a bit.

My favourite is the beach scene near the end. For those who haven't read it: it's after the Leavers' Prom and Jack, Jess and lots of friends go to the beach for a late night party. They light fires, toast marshmallows and drink. They talk and mess around. I love the atmosphere, the wood smoke, the dizziness, the euphoria of the end of their schooldays, the feeling as Jess and Jack wrap their arms around each other; and the readers' horrible knowledge that something terrible is about to happen, that this is the end of innocence, the end of peace. They are hanging onto every moment of pleasure, and I hope the reader does, too. I was when I was writing it. I could hardly bear to end it. But end it I did. I'm sorry.

I'm dying to hear what your favourite bit is.

Good luck!

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Over at Fairyhedghog's place, talking about cats. Join us.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Pick ME!

Sometimes what we call luck is about being noticed. People who are too pushy can be really irritating and that makes others not want to choose them or do good things for them. These over-pushy people can sometimes be really successful at first, but they fall hard and painfully when people cotton on to the fact that their heads and mouths are bigger than their talent. But not being pushy enough means you don't get noticed. A lot of the whole art of "getting on" in life is about treading the line between being too pushy and not pushy enough.

What is my point? My point is that I'm giving you a chance to attract luck by being just the right amount of pushy. I'm asking you to ask me to pick you to receive a free copy of Wasted. So, if you'd like to win a signed copy, sent** anywhere in the UK, (sorry!), then add a comment to the bottom of this post, a comment which must include the words "pick me". So, wow me, amuse me, impress me, tell me something I won't forget, intrigue me, lie to me, persuade me, bribe me - it's your choice. Push the right buttons.

Also, whether or not you're entering the pick me comp, I NEED YOUR HELP to fill a space in my diary for May 31st. So, what I'd like you to do is ask me some questions. I'll answer them all in a post on May 31st. I'll need tham by Sunday, please. Hurry!!

** or possibly handed over personally - see below...

Over to you!

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? At Iffath's place - and I was nearly late - sorry, Iffath!

In real life, I'm at home, partly writing - I've got two books on the go, one fiction and one non-fiction - and partly indulging in my favourite hobby: cooking. I'm having a lunch party for Wasted next Tuesday and I want to get some puds in the freezer. My patent lemon cheesecake and a tiramisu gateau, plus some meringues marbled with raspberries. (Experiment suggested by my agent, who is one of the guests).

Yesterday, I found myself on Talli Roland's blog, accidentally. Talli's blog is amazing and she is a lovely person and a talented writer. I met her recently, when I handed over a copy of Wasted that she had won. It turned out to be very lucky for me that she won it, because she loved it and wrote about it. She was also, over on my other blog, my first blog baby.

And, inspired by my meeting with Talli, here's a suggestion for you:

EXTRA: If by any chance you live in London and can manage to meet me on June 8th (as long as we can agree a time and place that will suit us both) I will actually hand over your copy to you personally and buy you a coffee! (If you are under 18, this might not be appropriate - we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)

Thursday, 27 May 2010


What about other books where chance plays a big part? Do you know any?

Here are some I thought of (with a little help from my Twitter friends). I haven't read them all but I'd like to. So many books, so little time...

The classic - aimed at adults, though likely to be enjoyed by keen teenagers, too

The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. I'm definitely going to read this. I know there's some kind of similarity with the premise of Wasted. From all the reviews, it's obviously different though - the only similarity is a character who lets an object rule his life; but for very different reasons, in totally different circumstances, with different intention and different results. Here's the product description from Amazon: "The cult classic that can still change your life! Let the dice decide! This is the philosophy that changes the life of bored psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart -- and in some ways changes the world as well. Because once you hand over your life to the dice, anything can happen. Entertaining, humorous, scary, shocking, subversive, The Dice Man is one of the cult bestsellers of our time."

For younger readers - 10+ as a guideline, though I believe readers should read whatever they want whenever they want...

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet was a book your children (older children and young teenagers, I think) that did really well. I haven't read it but I know it was regarded as interesting and unusual and had some excellent reviews - and there's a puzzle to solve. Actually, it was the puzzle that stopped me wanting to read it but don't let that put you off - that's just me! The book plays with the theme of chance and coincidences.

Romantic fiction - aimed at adults

Fortunate Wager by Jan Jones - Jan is a romantic novelist who I know through Twitter. And her regency romance, Fortunate Wager, looks a lot of fun. I loved Georgette Heyer and I think Jan can fairly be called a writer in that tradition, but with extra feistiness to her heroines. What's it got to do with luck, chance or fate? Well, the central character is called Caroline Fortune, for a start; then there's the title itself ... does what it says on the tin, folks! And I'm looking forward to reading it.

Definitely aimed at adults, or at least older teenagers...

Atonement by Ian McEwan - the tragedies of this story hinge on several tiny chance events: an act  accidenttally witnessed, a letter mis-directed, a remark misunderstood. A fabulous read, but quite shocking in lots of ways, so be prepared. One of my favourite books and one of the few where I've felt compelled to go back and read it again as soon as I got to the last page.

And here's one for teenagers and older children

A Crack in the Line by Michael Lawrence. I haven't read it but I've  met Michael a couple of times and he's lovely, which is one way to encourage me to read a book. But also, MUCH more importantly, it sounds really good. Here's a review on Chicklish. AND it's part of a trilogy so if you like it, it will keep you going for a while.

But now - over to you. what books have you read and loved where chance or luck play an important part? Tell us the title and author and maybe say something about the part that chance plays.

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Over at lovely Cat Clarke's blog, This Counts as Writing, Right? Yes, it certainly does.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010


I got chatting to a children's author, Andrew Strong, recently. I'd seen something he wrote on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure blog and I was attracted by the title of the post, GOOD LUCK. And if you've been reading about Wasted, you'll know just why that struck me. He talks about coincidences, chance, luck, and miracles.

I thought: here's a man who is fascinated by chance, just like me, and he's talking about a book, so what's his book like? Well, it's aimed at quite young children and it's called Oswald and the End of the World. I thought I'd ask Andrew about it. Let's have a bit of a rest from heavy teenage stuff and relax with a beautiful picture book. We deserve it after all our deep philosophy and science. (Mind you, Andrew's book is still deep - never make the mistake of thinking that simple can't be deep...)

NM: Hello, Andrew, and thanks for dropping by. Can you tell us what gave you the idea for Oswald? Is this something that's fascinated you for a long time? 
AS: Part of me is like Oswald's father - I want to be able to predict the future. It's a very childish way to be: that instead of working to make the future better, just cross your fingers, or touch wood. When I realised Oswald's father was going to be so childish, then it became obvious that Oswald himself had to be the rational adult. And so the idea for the book was born - a clear thinking, practical boy, with a fortune telling, slightly unhinged father.
NM: Do you think people "make their own luck"? Or is it entirely "random", pure chance?
AS: It's both. People who work at things don't always succeed, but it is much rarer that people who choose to do nothing ever get what they want. I think there is a third option, however. That like migrating birds, or spawning salmon returning home, we have instincts that make us do things that later we try to see as being thought through, but probably weren't. [NM: Mmm, I think that's what Jack does in Wasted.]
NM: Have you ever had your fortune told / would you ever? Do you know anyone who has and who has changed something they've done because of it?
AS:My grandmother used to read tea leaves. My father used to use dowsing rods to predict the winners of horse races. I once met a clairvoyant who told me I had an aura, and that I could see the future if I wanted to. I'm not sure I do.
NM: In "Oswald and the End of the World" Oswald's father believes he can control the future. He sees signs in snail trails and seaweed. Do you do things like this yourself - see signs in things?
AS: Yes, all the time, although I have learnt to ignore them. I think we often choose which signs to take notice of and which to ignore.[NM: Very true!]
NM: So, do you think you're mostly a scientist / rationalist or mostly a dreamer / wonderer?
AS: I'm both, absolutely. I swing from one to the other and am sometimes both, or neither, at the same time. I refuse to make up my mind.
NM: I'm asking everyone to think about small "chance" events or decisions that have changed their lives in big / unpredicted ways - do you have any examples form your own life?
AS: When my children were quite small I decided to move us all out of the city and into a rambling old house in the middle of nowhere. I thought it would be good fun. I thought less about this decision than when I've bought a new jacket. It was a good decision, however, and we've lived in this house for over ten years. My mother grew up in the war and was told she would have to be evacuated to Canada. On the day she was due to leave she had toothache and wasn't allowed to go. The ship she was to sail on was torpedoed and sunk. If it wasn't for that toothache, me, nor brothers or sisters, nor my children, would be here today.
Wow. That was one important toothache. Incredible story.

Thank you, Andrew - really, really interesting. Just shows how much goes into a picture book - and there's something for us all in there.

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE TODAY? Over at Rhianareads and I can't remember for the life of me what I was talking about so I'll have to head over there myself...

Also, yesterday I was on Vanessa Robertson's blog at the Edinburgh Children's Bookshop, talking about how horrible it can be for an author going into a bookshop. She said I could be snarky - hooray!

Please do visit them and leave comments. And do tell me what you think of Oswald and the End of the World.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Yesterday, I went to St Thomas of Aquin's School in Edinburgh and did an event for some S2s (that's Year 8 / second year of high school if you're not Scottish) and was then interviewed by some of them for Teen Titles. I had a lovely time and heard loads of their lucky escape stories and "how did your parents meet" stories - the point of that being that if your parents hadn't met, you wouldn't exist...

Anyway, I also want to tell you about Teen Titles. It's a remarkable magazine, which began its life in Edinburgh and is still produced here, funded by the Edinburgh City Council, but you'll find it in schools all across the UK now. Its selling point is that every single review is written by a teenage reader and all the interviews are done by teenage readers. Since the whole magazine is reviews and interviews, this means that the entire content is provided by teenagers.

For YA authors, this is a) wonderful and b) absolutely terrifying. Because when teenagers don't like your books, they say so. And we cry.

Another fab thing about Teen Titles is the annual party, held during the Edinburgh Book Festival, when as many authors as possible will be available. A couple of huge rooms heave with milling authors and teenage readers hunting autographs and pouncing with amazing questions. And the food is the best, most plentiful and most appreciated party food of all the festival parties. 

What is my point? My point is that people who say that teenagers don't read haven't read Teen Titles. People who says that teenagers can't hold a conversation haven't been to the Teen Titles party. It's a fabulous atmosphere and the conversations you can have about books and what they mean are just wonderful. I come away from it every year feeling better and reminded of the point of what I do.

I have to mention as well that a couple of years ago Teen Titles got schools to come up with their 40 Best Books Ever and I was thrilled to find Fleshmarket named there - so, yes, I have a bit of a soft spot for them!

So, hats off to Teen Titles and the dedicated adults behind it and if you're interested in getting it for your school or library or for yourself, contact the address you'll find on this website.

And thanks to St Thom's for interviewing me for it - I just hope I said something sensible. I do seem to remember that several times I said, "Hmmm, I think you shouldn't put that bit in..."

Monday, 24 May 2010


Extraordinary weirdness about the consequences of quantum physics in this video. We're all connected? I'm touching you? Help - run away now: I've got chocolate on my fingers!

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Was supposed to be over at the Edinburgh Children's Bookshop / Fidra Blog talking about the horrible feeling for an author having to go into a bookshop. Vanessa even told me I could be snarky... But there was a technical glitch and I'm going there another day.

In real life, I'm visiting St Thomas of Aquin's school, to be interviewed for Teen Titles and also do a school talk for them. Really looking forward to it!

Sunday, 23 May 2010


I'm having a little rest today but you'll find me over at Kath Eastman's lovely blog, The Nut Press, where I did an interview.

Also, if you haven't entered any of the competitions in the blog, why not do that today? The Flash Fiction comp has lots of fab entries in both age categories - goodness knows how the judge is going to decide the winners. But the other easier competitions have only a very few correct entries so you have a real chance. Click here for all the comps so far.

Good luck!

Saturday, 22 May 2010


I do loads of school visits - I couldn't really guess how many different schools I've visited but we're talking hundreds. And some stand out as being exceptionally exciting.

One school like that is St John's Catholic School and Sixth Form Centre in County Durham. I did a school visit there a few years ago as part of the Northern Children's Book Festival and the response from the pupils was really special. They had incredible ideas and dynamism and the questions were fantastic. Actually, one boy asked my favourite question ever:

"How does someone as nice as you write such nasty books?" Love it!

Anyway, as I went back home on the train, I got thinking about how I could respond to their enthusiasm. To cut a long story short, I handed over the promotion of my next book, The Highwayman's Footsteps, to them. They did the most amazing job, involving the English, art and history departments for the whole of Years 7 and 8, and it culminated in a launch in front of 700 pupils, with press and photographers and all sorts of coverage. The project was led by two remarkable pupils, Brogan and George, and Brogan even mentioned it in her personal statement when applying to Oxford University - she got a place, she told me recently!

What has this got to do with Wasted? Well, the connection continued and about a year ago I had a vibrant and excited email from another pupil there, Amy, who had remembered being in Year 7 and in the audience when HF was launched. We got chatting. (You can't not get chatting with Amy...) And I thought, hmmm, it would be wrong to ignore such enthusiasm - what could we do? I asked Amy if she'd like to be my teenage marketing person (along with another vibrant teenager from the other side of the country, Iffath at lovereadingx). Amy is known for her enthusiasm and her reply kind of went off the scale of excitement.

Amy and her friends have been reading and planning and talking and thinking and getting their school involved. I'm going to report on that later - but for now, suffice it to say that I am in awe of them and St John's.

But there are some interesting chance happenings to do with this, and since Wasted is about Chance, I thought you should know them.
The St John's librarian, who has been hugely important in all this, is called Miss Heads. Considering this is about a game with a coin, don't you think that's quite a coincidence?

It gets more spooky.

The pupils and Miss Heads were trying to think of a game involving a coin that they could get the whole school to play, as a way of sparking interest in the book. At this stage, most of them hadn't read it so they were a bit in the dark, but they kept thinking. The night before the copies of the book were due to arrive, Miss Heads's husband went to a fund-raising event of some sort and there they played a game called ... Heads or Tails.

Result! And that is the game they played in assembly for the whole school on Publication Day for Wasted.

Here's the game. You need a room full of people, and one coin.
  1. Everyone stands up.
  2. On the count of three everyone puts their hands either on their heads or on their hips / buttocks / whatever. 
  3. Everyone keeps their hands where they've chosen until the leader tosses the coin and calls out the result.
  4. If the coin landed heads up, all those with hands on head remain standing. Everyone else sits down.
  5. This is repeated until only one person is left standing. That person wins a copy of the book!
Do you fancy doing this in your school? If so, the school could win a signed copy. All you need to do is get your school librarian or teacher to contact me if your school would like to do this. I have three books to give away as priazes. If more than 3 schools sign up, I will pick 3 at random. The only conditions are: that you agree to spend a few minutes explaining to the assembly / class why you are doing this; that you agree to receive some posters of Wasted and recommend Wasted to readers who you think will like it. The book will be bought and posted at my expense so I hope you don't mind my asking this.

Pass it on!

Meanwhile, if you'd like me to come to talk to your school about Wasted and my other books, the page about my events is here. I love doing events so I'd love to hear from you. I have some vacancies in the autumn and lots of space next year but I do tend to be booked far in advance so don't delay!

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY?  Over at the remarkable Jesse Owens's blog - Books4Teens - where, by chance, you'll see a picture of me after a school event.

Friday, 21 May 2010


A double interview here today, with two brand new YA authors, both of whom I know through Twitter. The first is Keris Stainton, author of Della Says: OMG! and the second is Tamsyn Murray, author of My So-Called Afterlife. I've read both books and loved them. They are very different from Wasted and very different from each other, but I link them in my mind because they are both what I call "fresh new voices", they both show how much YA fcition has broadened and moved on in the last few years and they both tackle tough topics in a deceptively light way.

Later today, I'm also over on Keris's blog - come and join us there, but DO first take a peek into their minds and comment below.

Hello Keris!

Do you have an examples of how an unpredictable "random" event has changed your life?

Years ago I read a magazine article that really resonated with me. It was called Get What You Really Want. It was fairly typical 'seize the day' type stuff, but so funny and inspiring that I googled the writer, Martha Beck, and read that she had a book coming out called Finding Your Own North Star: How to Claim the Life You Were Meant to Live. At the time, I totally felt that I'd taken a wrong turn and was living the wrong life and so I couldn't read it fast enough. It not only made me realise I wanted to be a writer, but it also convinced me that I could be a writer, that I SHOULD be a writer. I started taking steps towards my "right life" and now I'm living it.

I read a lot of magazines, but I hardly ever even finish articles (short attention span) let alone tear them out and get googling. I'm sure I would have heard about Martha Beck at some point, but I truly trace the transformation of my life to reading that one article.
Did luck play any part in you getting your publishing deal?
I actually pitched a different agent at the agency I'm with now and she passed me on to Alice, who was just starting out with her own list. And then when Alice sent my book to Orchard they'd just started expanding their teen list. So, yes, I definitely feel like my manuscript was in the right place at the right time... twice.
Do you think we can affect our own luck? A lot or a little or not at all? Can you give an example of something that's happened to you that might look like luck but was actually based on good decisions?
My journalism career probably looks like luck to many. I gave up my job after selling just two articles (both to the same magazine) and then had (and continue to have, I hope) a moderately successful freelance career. I'd always believed you needed to have worked on staff and made lots of contacts to make it as a freelancer, but I just threw myself in and hoped for the best. As to whether we an affect our own luck... I tend to believe the Seneca quote: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Would you ever be tempted (or have you ever been) to have your fortune told? If a fortune-teller gave you a warning, would it change how you behaved??
No. I have no interest in fortune telling really. I don't believe a word of it and yet I'm scared of it at the same time.
What three things do you "thank your lucky stars" for?

1. My husband, David. Not only is he funny and lovely, he cooks, does the washing and, er, contributed to my two amazing and gorgeous sons.

2. My health. And I really wanted to say "touch wood" then, even though I don't believe in that either. And I've deleted this twice since I don't want to "jinx" it. Ha.

3. Martha Beck. Really. She set me on the right path and continues to inspire me every day.
Thanks, Keris and good luck with Della - may you and she go places!

Now, over to Tamsyn. Same questions, otherwise it wouldn't be fair and they might fight each other. Or me.

Do you have an examples of how an unpredictable "random" event has changed your life?
I do. A few years ago, I was looking for a part-time job and got chatting to a stranger about work. She told me her friend owned a pub and was looking for a barmaid. I went to the pub and the owner gave me a job. A few days later, I met the man who would become the father of my daughter.
Did luck play any part in you getting your publishing deal?
I think it played a part in getting my agent, which in turn influenced my publishing deal. A friend pointed out that a new agent had started up around the same time that I'd finished my manuscript. I queried the agent and she asked to see the full MS. A couple of months later, following her heavy-duty editorial advice, she signed me to her agency and a few months after that I had a publishing deal. If my friend hadn't told me about that agent, my book would have looked very different and might not have been published at all.
[I think you're wrong in assigning this to luck: if your book hadn't been good enough or promising enough, the agent would have utterly ignored you!]

Do you think we can affect our own luck? A lot or a little or not at all? can you give an example of something that's happened to you that might look like luck but was actually based on good decisions?

Yes, to a certain extent I do think we make our own luck. I tend to be optimistic and expect things to work out for the best. I've been known to give up jobs I didn't like, for example, and have the perfect job drop into my lap within days. I've had a lot of success with my writing in a relatively short period of time, too, which on the surface looks like luck but is actually a case of understanding the market and writing something publishers are looking for. [YES!]
Would you ever be tempted (or have you ever been) to have your fortune told? If a fortune-teller gave you a warning, would it change how you behaved??
When I was twenty-one, I went to a group reading with two psychics. I didn't know many people there but listened as one of the psychics worked his around the circle, making comments to people at random. When he got to me, he studied me for a minute, then said, "Why did you give up writing? You have something to say." No one in that room knew I wanted to be a writer, I don't think I even knew I wanted to write. It stayed with me all my adult life until the day I picked up a how to write book and realised it was what I was meant to do. That was two years ago and I think I'm now a writer. Whether or not I have anything to say is another matter...
What three things do you "thank your lucky stars" for?
My health, my family and my empathy.
Thanks, both and may we all have luck with our books!

Thursday, 20 May 2010


Jack plays a game of risk. Often. And very dangerously.

Warning: do not try this at home! There are plenty of games you can play with a coin which will not risk anything dangerous happening to you. Jack means no harm - he's somewhat damaged by stuff that happened to him when he was younger. Also, Wasted is a story, not real life... So, if you choose to play games with a coin, use your common sense and don't do anything dangerous to yourself or anyone else. (Sorry to sound like a boring adult, but I have to say this otherwise I'll be in trouble!)

Jack's Game is simple. Every now and then he decides to sacrifice himself to "luck". Although he was very unlucky as a baby and small child, he's pretty lucky now - and a bit cocky about it. He thinks that the reason he's lucky now is that he makes sacrifices to luck. He promises to do what the coin says, and if the coin brings him a bad result, he is fine with this because it means (he thinks) that this increases his chance of good luck next time.

One night, for example, he goes out of his house in the middle of the night (BAD idea!) and uses the coin to tell him whether to go left or right; then, at every corner he spins it again. This random journey takes him into huge danger and will affect the rest of the story.

Have you ever let a coin help you make a decision? If you have, or if you would, tell me about it. It's easy to imagine situations where it would be a good way to choose. For example, suppose you can't decide between two different garments in a shop, or your family is arguing about what to do on holiday, or about whether it's going to be chicken or fish. But you wouldn't get obsessed about it. Or would you?? I've had readers of Wasted tell me that they now look at coins differently, see a power in them they never saw before, think of luck and chance in an entirely new light.

Tomorrow, I'm going to show you what the pupils of St John's RC Community School in County Durham have been doing, using Wasted as a prompt for ideas. They came up with a way of playing Jack's Game in school assembly!

WHERE IS THE WASTED BLOG TOUR TODAY? Hop over to ace YA writer Keren David's blog and find me there. I absolutely massively loved her debut book, When I Was Joe, and I'm lucky enough to have read the sequel, Almost True, before publication. It's so gripping, so gritty, and SO good. It's just the sort of YA book I'm naturally drawn to.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


A couple of weeks ago, on election day in fact, I met some real readers to talk about Wasted. It was the first time I'd met a Wasted reader (so to speak) and seen the whites of their eyes, so I was a little bit nervous. Also, they were teenagers and some younger kids, and young people are well-known for being very very honest. Sometimes too honest. But I needn't have worried. They were lovely and sparky and we had a great time.

They were the Cat's Rrar reading group, run by the wonderful Cat Anderson, who works in the Edinburgh Children's Bookshop.

And actually, I'm going to give today's platform to them, because they interviewed me and the gist of it is over on the Cat's Rrar blog. So, all I'll do is thank them very much and also publish Douglas's incredibly perceptive and well-written review. You'll be amazed that he's only 16.

Do head over to the Cat's Rrar and add some comments to encourage the great readers in the group.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


Do you study chemistry at school? Well, I gave up when I was 12. Useless. Didn't understand it at all. Still don't.

In fact, you might like to know what my last science report said, before I gave up physics and chemistry and focused on biology for O-levels. (The old-fashioned version of GCSE  - and yes, I did start O-levels young, in case you think I'm exaggerating. There was a reason, but I won't go into that now.)

My report said, "Nicola has no aptitude for science subjects." Thanks, mate. Obviously, he was wrong, since I went on to write two books about the brain, but sometimes teachers don't know everything.

Anyway, back to chemistry. You know the periodic table? All those odd symbols you have to learn for all the elements? Yes, well, I'm very glad I don't need to know it but I am aware that without understanding it you cannot understand what the world is made of. And what we are made of. That's you on the right, that is - a pretty pattern of symbols.

Anyway, the guy who discovered the periodic table had an easy time of it. What, you thought he had to work it out? No - it all came to him in a dream. Apparently. I have my doubts but I'm an old cynic. On the other hand, I do sometimes work out plot problems for my novels in my sleep, so maybe he did.

So, grumpy old Dimitri Mendeleyev was working late one night, trying to work out what the world was made of, as you do, and he fell asleep. And he dreamt the periodic table. And thereby changed history. (Obviously, someone else would have got there eventually, by the more normal route of damned hard work, but lucky old DM just dreamt it.)

There's a good book that tells this story - Mendeleyev's Dream: The Quest for the Elements by Paul Strathearn.

Actually, there's an interesting and relevant point to this, which no one has mentioned, so I will. Because I'm so interested in the human brain, I keep up to date with new research. There's fascinating new evidence of how our brains work while we're asleep. It seems that they focus, while we're asleep, on the things we were doing during that day, especially - and here's where I think the whole human brain thing is utter MAGIC - on the things we found difficult.

So, if you focus on the things you find difficult today, chances are your brain will rehearse them when you go to sleep tonight. Isn't that fantastic?

Gah - 've just realised. This means I should spend my day doing maths and chemistry and physics.... Noooooo!

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? Over at lovely Iffath's place at lovereadingx - join us there.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Today, I'm over at Chicklish talking about five films that feature chance, luck or fate. Thanks to Luisa Plaja for inviting me!

Meanwhile, since Luisa has a book of her own out, I thought I'd get her to guest for me here. After all, you're probably sick of hearing from me now. No, no, I hear you say...

Over to Luisa:

Diary of a Random Writer
by Luisa Plaja, author of teen novels including Swapped by a Kiss – out now!

"The premise of Nicola Morgan’s Wasted has somehow reminded me of the blog I used to keep back in 2006, when I was an unpublished dreamer with two small children and very little time to write. To get myself in the right mood for writing as quickly as possible, I’d pick a word at random from one of my dictionaries.  I’d free-write about something – anything – that popped into my head to do with that word. My one constraint was that I had to write for an imaginary audience. Then I’d post the results on my blog (which did have a real-life audience, but a tiny one.) After that, I’d usually find I was in the right frame of mind to get stuck into the novel, even if it was only for a few minutes. I’d also find that the random word exercise would influence my writing, which was no bad thing. I wrote the first draft of my second novel (Extreme Kissing) almost entirely using the random method, although I used a pile of teen magazines for that instead of a dictionary. It needed a lot of editing afterwards, but it was fun.
In the hopes of showing that this can be an exercise worth doing, even when time is short, here are a few of the old entries from my ‘Random Word’ blog.


Date: 11th January
Subject: Keeping it Surreal
Random Word: 'shake'.
OK. I was shaken awake this morning with a little voice screaming in my ear. "My flannel, mummy, my flannel!" It was my 21-month-old, thankfully back to health at last, but obviously having had a bad dream about someone taking her flannel, which has a picture of a fish on it and is firmly and resolutely HERS. Nobody touches my little girl's flannel, no way no how. I can understand anxiety dreams about flannels, though. I have similar ones about my manuscript. Anyway, I'm exhausted because this happened after a night of being woken up a few times by my son, who was also having bad dreams. "If dinosaurs try to eat me in the night -" "That won’t happen. There are no dinosaurs anymore. They're extinct." "Yes yes, they're ess-tint, but IF they try to eat me, I won't let them. I'll throw my cars at them." "Good. You do that. Go back to sleep." "But mummy, if dinosaurs try to eat YOU, what will you do? You haven't got cars in your room, mummy. What will you DO?"

When you have a baby you think nothing could possibly shake up your life as much ever again, and maybe that's true, but as they grow they seem to keep right on shakin' in lots of little ways.

Date: 2nd February
Subject: I am unwordy
Random Word: 'drain'. So... I used to be a lexicographer. I wrote dictionary definitions for a living. I’d spend my time poring over thousands of examples of word usage, trying to pin words down with only  other words as tools. Working on 'S' was exhausting. It's a big letter. 'B' was mostly a cheery letter - those were happy days. 'D' was a bit depressing - many more 'dis-' words than 'delight'. The worst letter was probably 'U'. We all got stuck for days in a swamp of words beginning with 'un', finding ourselves getting more and more negative by the day. But nothing beat the heady days of working on an idioms dictionary, and working out the difference between phrases like 'laughing your head off' and 'laughing like a drain'. My colleagues and I had to try it out loud en masse, just for the sake of accuracy. If you're feeling down at all, I'd recommend it. Laugh like a drain. Do it now! Just don't laugh your head off, OK?

Date: 10th Feburary
Subject: Child-led editing
Random Word: 'involve'. I've found that the only way to do anything at all with kids around is to involve them. My boy is very good at dusting and my girl sweeps the floor, all Cinderella-like. (Yes, wearing rags and everything.) In fact, they do it better than I ever could, I'm sure. My kids can wash vegetables so well that they need a complete change of clothes afterwards. I was wondering whether, today, my children might try some new, fun activities. For example, I'll read out a page of my manuscript and they'll comment, reminding me that I've already said 'smile' twice in that paragraph and isn't Jake behaving a little out of character? I wonder if this could work with pre-schoolers, or whether it would result in the wordy equivalent of water all over the floor?

Date: 16th February
Subject: Empty mailbox
Random Word: 'empty'. Here's a conversation from the breakfast table.
ME: I can't believe I've been asleep for six whole HOURS, on and off, and not one person has sent me an email.
HIM: (Weary) Hmm.
ME: I mean, what's the point of friends in different time zones if they're not going to send me emails while I'm asleep?
HIM: Mmm.
ME: You know?
 HIM: Mm.
ME: I didn't even get any junk mail. Hey, can you imagine when the REAL post arrives and my big brown envelope is there with my manuscript in it? I'm going to be so upset, I'm not even going to want to look at it!
HIM: But you never know...
ME: What? If it's a fat brown self-addressed envelope, it can only be one thing.
HIM: Not necessarily. It could be stuffed with money. And a note saying, "We've kept your manuscript, here is your payment."
ME: Do you think?
HIM: Definitely. In unmarked notes. Hundred pound notes.
ME (hopeful): Or maybe pages of letters from people who've read it and loved it?
HIM (nodding): Who knows?
ME: I think I'm looking forward to seeing that envelope now. (RUNS OFF TO CHECK WHETHER POST HAS ARRIVED)
My empty mailbox is full of possibilities.

Date: 24th February
Subject: Rambling Cupid
Random Word: 'ramble'. Instead of writing some anecdote about a ramble, I think I'll just ramble a bit. I should be able to manage that. I like a good ramble. (With words, I mean. Not so sure about walking.) Oh. But my son just came in and told me about a friend of his having a girlfriend. (They're four years old.) So I asked if he had a girlfriend, and he said no. "First you have to get an arrow in your bottom," he informed me, "and then you fall in love. So that's how it works." And now I really can't think of anything to ramble about. Cupid has struck me speechless.


I don’t blog anymore – unless you count Chicklish, the teen fiction site I edit, where you can find Nicola Morgan’s guest post today. I still sometimes kick-start my writing in a similar random way, though. I highly recommend it.

P.S. The big brown envelope never arrived. Instead, I was offered representation and eventually a book deal. Dinosaurs never invaded my son’s bedroom though he still has a car or two by his bed, and my daughter’s flannel is lying forlorn and forgotten in the bathroom cupboard. I retain the ability to laugh like a drain.

Luisa Plaja’s latest teen novel is Swapped by a Kiss, published by Random House Children’s Books and available from all bookshops.


ME AGAIN: Thanks, Luisa! That was fascinating. I love the idea of the random word prompts. And it fits with the ideas behind Wasted, that it's the tiny things we do that make the difference, in unpredictable ways.

And now, follow me over to Chicklish where I (or possibly my film-mad daughter) talk about films that you might like if you like the idea of randomness and chance. (Is there any such thing as either??)

Sunday, 16 May 2010


What is randomness? We take it to mean something like "without physical cause or mechanical explanation". We say, for example, that tossing a coin or rolling dice shows randomness, but it actually doesn't. Because, as Jack knows, the coin lands one way or the other depending on physical reasons. Just because we can't see them, doesn't mean they're not there.

When I was at university I was a member of the Psychic Research Society, and our aim was to set out to try to prove or disprove, find evidence for or against, various supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts or clairvoyance. We even tried to test a ouija board. "Amazingly", we did get some actual answers from the ouija board - the glass really did move around and spell out letters.

Erm, actually it wasn't that amazing. I know perfectly well that someone round that table was making it move. How do I know? Well, it was me. I just couldn't help myself. (Which you might call being possessed but I'd call just being a trouble-maker.) And if it hadn't been me it would have been someone else.

Anyway, forget ouija boards. And don't mess around with them - either there'll be some idiot like me trying to freak everyone out, or nothing will happen, or something will happen which you won't be able to explain.

So, what's this got to  do with randomness? For various bits of scientific research we had to find a way to generate random numbers. So that we could make sure psychology didn't come into it and it was pure unbiased science. Now, I am no mathematician - trust me - and I thought it would be easy: you could maybe stick a pin in a list, blind-folded; or you could ask a computer to generate "any old numbers"; or you could write numbers on bits of paper, throw them in the air and see which landed face up. Or something.

But the clever people explained to me that those methods would not create true randomness. All those things are like tossing a coin: they depend on physical cuases, not randomness. Unless we redefine randomness to include quantum uncertainty, but I don't know how that would work and I certainly didn't know about quantum mechanics then. (Not much new there.)

Now, frankly, I became very bored with this and pretty much gave up and left the Psychic Research Soc. But it did get me thinking about randomness, in a vaguely interested way. I never came to any conclusions and I'd quite like to know what you clever mathsy people think.

Meanwhile, let's apply some pseudo-randomness and let's have a competition. If you'd like to win a signed copy of one of my books (sent anywhere in the world because I've had a good day and am feeling happy), simply add a comment below, with your name. Then, suggest how I will apply some kind of randomness to picking a winner. There's no prize for the person who gives me the best suggestion but I will then apply it and we'll see whose name wins the book!

Deadline 30th May.

Saturday, 15 May 2010


I've been asking for your stories of chance events and how tiny unpredicted decisions have affected your lives. You've sent me loads of great ones and some are already on the blog. I have one for you here, sent by Helen Hunt, which is very chilling. It's also incredibly similar to something that happened to me last year.

Helen's story:
It was a Friday afternoon, a few years ago now. I was at work and knew I had a long journey down the motorway to get home.  It was winter, so it was dark and it was also pouring with rain.

As anyone who has read ‘Wasted’ will know, the exact time you set off on a journey can have huge repercussions on the outcome of that journey.  So when a colleague came to discuss a work-related problem with me, things could have gone in one of two ways.

I could have said, ‘You know what, it’s Friday, it’s late and I’ve got a long journey home.  Let’s discuss this on Monday morning.’

But it was quite a serious problem.  So I didn’t say that.  I decided to stay and discuss the problem and decide a course of action.  I left the office nearly an hour later than usual and set off down the motorway for home.

I have no idea what sort of day everyone else on the motorway had been having.  Maybe some of them were running late as well.  Maybe that had an effect on what happened next.

My car shouldn’t have been on the exact stretch of motorway a lorry driver decided to pull over on to without looking.  But it was.  I should have been sitting safely at home with a cup of coffee.  But I wasn’t.

As my car bounced off the lorry into the path of a car in the fast lane, then did a 180 degree turn which sent me skidding across three lanes of traffic and finally left me in the fast lane facing the wrong way, I was convinced I was going to die. 

The phrase ‘lucky to be alive’ is an interesting one.  Yes, I was lucky that none of the other vehicles hit me, lucky that the driver of the car coming towards me in the fast lane was able to stop and lucky that I walked away without a scratch.  But surely more ‘lucky’ would have been not being there at all?

At any point from when the lorry hit me, to when my car ran out of steam and stopped of its own accord, something could have happened which would have resulted in me being killed.  For many weeks afterwards, I felt like I was living in one of two parallel universes. As I walked around my house I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t really be there because in that other universe, that alternative reality, I was dead.
I so know how Helen felt. It took me quite a while to get over what happened to me. In my case, our car was hit by a lorry and ended up at the very tiny end of the tapering bit between two motorways, with cars whizzing past on both sides. I thought one must surely hit us, and that we wouldn't survive.

But Helen's point about whether we call it lucky or unlucky is very interesting, and one of the things that crops up in Wasted. Jack thinks that Jess was lucky not to have been seriously damaged when her drink was spiked but what he doesn't know (but we do) is how in fact she was very unlucky that the drink was spiked in the first place.

We don't know half the things that nearly happen to us. If we'd gone down that street instead of the one we did, something bad might have happened. We'll never know.

One thing's for sure: when something like Helen's story happens to us, it does make us think, for a while, about just how lucky we are. But I think we need to keep a lid on those thoughts and don't let them have too much air or too often: other than that we just need to get on and enjoy our lives, grabbing every opportunity, believing in free will and throw ourselves at life with enthusiasm. This is not a rehearsal.

WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY? I'm delighted to be over at the blog of Catherine Hughes, though I can't remember what I said. Catherine is an example of luck for me: I haven't met her in real life, though I'm going to very soon, but I "met" her through blogging, from ther very early days of my Help! I Need a Publisher! blog. Catherine is now my assistant, and very amazing she is too. I count myself very lucky to have found her. Anyway, she has two blogs, that one about her life and thoughts as a writer and another one about her daily fight against what life throws at her. Go follow both!

ALSO, THERE'S A GREAT COMP TO WIN A COPY over at Sammee's I Want To Read That blog. Sammee works in a bookshop and she loves YA books especially - do head over there and try your luck at winning a copy.

Friday, 14 May 2010


Two different things for you today. First, a big thank you to the S1 pupils of George Watson's College where I went on Tuesday. Actually, I need to tell you about this event, as it was pretty special. For me, anyway.

It was the first time I'd stood up in public and talked about Wasted. I didn't know how it would go or what I would say. Well, thanks to the pupils, it was amazing and if ever I had worried about whether this book would really grab teenagers, I suddenly realised the truth: this book would absolutely grab them.

Near the beginning, I asked them a question. I'd never asked this before and I had no idea what would happen. My question was, "How many of you know how your parents met?" More than half put their hands up. And then I asked if anyone would like to tell us what happened.

The first one was the most perfect example of what I wanted to talk about. The boy's father had been on a plane and his mother was the stewardess. He had asked for some water and she'd brought it to him. Love at first sight! I asked the boy, if his father hadn't been on that plane or his mother hadn't been the stewardess on duty, what would that mean for him? "I wouldn't exist." Bingo!

Then lots of others chimed in with stories, all different, all fascinating, all relevant, and we thought for a bit about that unthinkable thing: not existing.

I then moved them on to my next question. "Imagine you were walking along the street and a piece of roof tile or a slate or a piece of masonry fell off and landed at your feet. If you'd been a few centimetres further on, it would have hit you." I was about to ask them how they'd feel, but I could just see them all nodding and then a load of hands went up. They told me stories, unasked, of chilling things that had happened to them, near misses, car crashes that they should have been in, times when they were babies when they should have died; they talked about their parents never forgetting the moments when something bad nearly happened; they showed insight and fascination; they were excited by their stories, by the thought of how lucky they were; but it was scary to think about, too, and often quite moving.

I was also aware, very aware, that there could be someone in the room who had an example of very bad luck - any of them could, for example, know someone who'd died very unluckily; they could have lost a parent, or friend, or sibling. I am aware of that and am ready to deal with it; I will be sensitive, but I am also talking about real life and the world we all have to live in

I told them about how we all think about these things sometimes, but that it can screw us up if we think too much about "what ifs": we have to let the what ifs stay in a safe place inside us; we have to get on with our lives without thinking too much. And then I told them about Jack in Wasted, and what happened to his mothers and how it messes with his mind.

We talked about fortune-tellers and I told them the Oedipus story - they laughed at the bit where he pokes his eyes out with a stick...

And then they asked questions and were lovely. But two other important things happened - first, masses of them bought Wasted. I'd been talking about Deathwatch and Fleshmarket too, which are my usual good sellers, but no, they wanted Wasted. And that made me happy not because it means I earn a few pence, but because it proved to me that there was a point to my writing it.

Secondly, when I got home, I found 22 - twenty-two! - entries to my Flash Fiction competition on this blog. The wonderful English teacher had immediately taken me up on the suggestion that they have a shot and she must have used the English lesson that afternoon to talk about flash fiction. Good for her, I say! THAT's what school talks are meant to do - not tick boxes and make the government happy. They are meant to engage teachers and most of all, pupils.

So, thank you, George Watson's College, and well done for your amazing, varied and talented entries. And thank you to the fab librarian, Jane Shankland, for inviting me.


And second, I am bringing you a wonderful true story from Kate Kelly, about how she once used a dart to make a decision in just the same way as Jack uses a coin. Kate has a blog and, by pure chance (or not) I am over there today doing an interview. So, read her story below and then hop on over and get to know Kate, too. Oh, and Kate did a lovely review of Wasted here.

Kate's Story:
The toss of a coin or the throw of a dart

I'm not normally one for spur of the moment decisions, or acting on the toss of a coin. I'm too logical I guess, probably something to do with being a scientist by trade. But there was one time, many years ago, when I made a decision based on the throw of a dart.

I was a simple scenario, four skint students in a flat in Dundee, and a few weeks left before the start of term, the summer drawing to a close. Our various vacation jobs had come to an end, and we wanted to take off into the Highlands for a spot of hill walking. The only problem was, we couldn't agree where.

I wanted to go to Skye and 'do' the Ridge. Rob reckoned the walking around Glencoe was our best option. Jackie didn't want to go any further than the Cairngorms whilst Hamish was determined that we should go to Islay - but we all knew that he really only wanted the check out the distilleries.

And so we decided to plan our holiday on the throw of a dart.

Rob pinned a map of Scotland to the wall of the living room and we each took aim.

Well Hamish's landed somewhere in England, much to his disgust, and mine landed in the middle of the North Sea, so that was a bit of a non starter too. Rob missed the map completely, his dart jutting, wobbling out from the wallpaper, before dropping to the carpet with a thud.

Only Jackie's found its mark.

We crept closer to the map and peered at the point of her dart, and just to the side of it was the name of a place.

"Poolewe," said Jackie. "Guess that's where we're going camping."

And so we did.

To the north of Poolewe we found a wide raised beach where we pitched our tents. In front of us was a beautiful sandy beach and the sea stretching out in a wide bay. There was  a pub in the village and we found a nearby spring with sweet fresh water. We cooked our sausages on an open fire and drank beer into the early hours. The sea breeze kept the midges away, but the best thing about this raised beach was that there was nobody else there.

A magical place we would never have found if it hadn't been for the throw of a dart. In fact, some years later I took my husband back there and it was still just as lovely and just as deserted, just as magic.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


After I blogged about fortune-telling and Fantastic Farantella at the weekend, a reader sent me an amazing story. She doesn't know how to explain it and she's not saying it proves anything. I also don't know how to explain it. It doesn't shake my conviction that the future isn't like this, but I still don't know how to explain it. If I didn't respect the person who gave me the story, I'd say that there was a degree of mis-remembering, but I can't really say that. But I do think that when we tell stories, even when we tell true stories, we tell them in a way that sometimes does what magicians do: makes you focus on the bit the magician wants you to see by hiding the rest. When a fortune-teller tells something that turns out to be true, I want to know how many times they have turned out not to be true.

However, this is indeed a remarkable story and I believe that the teller is telling it honestly.

I'd love to know what you think. More to the point, in view of the Oedipus story I talked about yesterday, what would have happened if the clairvoyant in this story had actually told the girl and the girl had told her brother not to get out of bed?

Now that is the really interesting question, in my view.

Here is the story, exactly as told to me:
As a postgraduate student from Australia I lived in an international student hall of residence in London. One Sunday afternoon a Chinese friend invited a number of us to afternoon tea in her room.  This was because she had an Indian friend visiting from Singapore.  Su had already told us that her friend Parimala had a reputation for being able to ‘see the future’.

About nine of us sat (rather like sardines) drinking cups of tea and chatting for sometime before someone inevitably asked if Parimala was going to tell our fortunes.  Although the others seemed eager and even light hearted about this it made me feel very uncomfortable.  I therefore just said, “Thankyou but I would rather not know.”

Parimala gave me a rather odd look but she accepted it without comment. She then proceeded to go around the other girls in the room until she came to an American student. She was silent for a moment and then shook her head and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you anything.” The other students seemed to find this rather amusing but I sensed Parimala was feeling uncomfortable too.

A little later the party broke up but I stayed behind for a moment because Su wanted me to look at something. When all the other students had gone Parimala closed the door quietly and said,
“I could not tell her anything because her brother will be killed in an accident riding his motorbike tomorrow.”
Parimala had never met the American before and knew nothing about her family. I don’t believe any of us were aware that the girl had a brother or that he rode a motorbike.

She looked at me again and asked, “Did you know too?”

I shook my head and said, “No. I just felt very uncomfortable.” I felt I could not tell her that I did not believe it was possible to foretell the future.

I still felt uncomfortable but my extreme discomfort lifted with the knowledge she had given me.

There was a telephone call the next morning to say that the American girl’s brother had been killed riding his motorbike along a highway in South America. 

I have no explanation for this, nor have I had another experience like it.

So, what do you think?

I should stress, by the way, especially for the benefit of younger readers who might be very spooked by this: I personally don't believe that the future is laid down in this way. I don't believe that it was inevitable that the brother would be killed by a motor-bike. And I do not recommend that you ever go to a fortune-teller if you even believe a little bit. I have no explanation for this story but I do know how many fortune-tellers and apparent psychics often appear to get things right. They also very often get things wrong....

Meanwhile, don't forget to enter Farantella's competition. All you have to do is guess! By the skill of my psychic powers, I predict that someone will win...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


Recently, I talked about Richard Wiseman and his book The Luck Factor. Well, Richard has written other books on psychology and how to get the most out of life. One of them, a fascinating one, is called 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot.

He gives quick and very simple ways of drawing success towards us and he explains the psychology behind each. And if we think that success is at least partly about luck, then he shows that we make our own success and luck. Which is what Jack thinks in Wasted, though for different reasons.

I want to tell you one of the fascinating bits in 59 Seconds. It suggests that if you smile, the world smiles with you. In other words, people are more likely to help you, like you and respond well to you if you smile. Actually, that's not what Wiseman says - he says put a picture of a cute, smiley baby in your wallet if you want your wallet returned to you when it's lost!

Let me explain about the baby and the wallet.

Wiseman wanted to discover the best way to ensure that a lost wallet was returned. What would be the best thing to put inside it? He bought 240 wallets and "filled them with the same set of everyday items, including raffle tickets, discount vouchers and fake membership cards."

He also added one of four photos to some wallets. Forty wallets got a photo of a smiling baby, forty got a puppy, forty a happy family and forty a contented elderly couple. Forty more wallets got a card saying the owener had contributed to charity. And forty got no extra item. All the wallets were then randomly dropped in public places around Edinburgh .

A week later, 52 wallets had been returned. And these were the results:
  • no extra item - 6%
  • charity card - 8%
  • elderly couple photo - 11%
  • puppy - 19%
  • happy family - 21%
  • smiling baby - 35%
So, smile like a baby and people will help you?? Well, OK, not quite as simple as that. But it does suggest something about luck, because surely having your wallet returned when you've dropped it is a matter of luck? That's what you'd say, isn't it? "Yay, I was lucky to have my purse returned."

The thing is that we think of luck as being something we can't affect. But luck is often about whether other people choose to help us and what we do can make a difference to how people treat us. Being endearing, smiling and unthreatening, could make people more likely to be on your side.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting you go round sucking your thumb or making cooing baby noises, but we can still think about ways to make our faces soft, open, friendly, and happy, when we want to influence people in our direction.

My problem is with photos - I CANNOT smile nicely in photos.

Meanwhile, I recommend 59 Seconds to you and suggest you follow Richard on Twitter - he is @RichardWiseman  Oh, and tell him I sent you.  

THE WASTED BLOG TOUR - WHERE AM I TODAY?  Over with Claire Marriot at The View From My Garret. Join us there. She did a fab review of Wasted, too.

In real life, I'm at George Watson's College doing a school event for some S1 pupils (Year 8 if you're English). I will report!!