Feature Post: Writing about families: how to strike a balance between your personal life and fictionby S.D. Robertson

Feature Post: Writing about families: how to strike a balance between your personal life and fictionby S.D. Robertson

Writing about families: how to strike a balance between your personal life and fictionby S.D. Robertson

I seem to find myself writing about families a lot.

My first novel, Time to Say Goodbye, was all about the close bond between a single father and his young daughter.

Now my new book, If Ever I Fall, looks at how a marriage has been devastated by a horrific incident from the past. (Sorry, I can’t tell you much more than that without giving too much away.)

The point is that families and the various relationships that exist within them are at the heart of my fiction. Why? I suppose it’s because they offer a rich seam of possibilities for an author to mine, including the potential for lots of conflict, which is what drives narratives forward.

I can’t say that I specifically set out to write about families. It just happened that way. I’m a big believer that as a writer you don’t always get to consciously choose your topics. Often they seem to choose you, although in fact they’ve probably been simmering away in your subconscious, waiting for the right moment to appear.

One tricky thing when it comes writing about families is gauging how much to tap into your personal life for ideas.

How do you strike the balance between real experiences and fiction?

Mostly, I go with my gut. If something feels a little too close to home, I either change it there and then or I ask for someone else’s opinion – most often my wife. If I’m still in doubt after that, I change it. Your nearest and dearest won’t thank you for recreating their private moments letter for letter in a story.

It’s also worth pointing out that real life is rarely as exciting as fiction. However, readers need to be able to associate with your characters and what they go through; using genuine experiences really helps with that.

So I’m not suggesting for an instant that an author shouldn’t use their personal experiences. They absolutely should, but more for inspiration than reproduction.

A good example is Time to Say Goodbye. It was inspired by my own close relationship with my daughter after I gave up my day job and became a stay-at-home dad.

However, that’s not the story I told. Instead, I imagined a terrible scenario in which my protagonist got killed in a road accident and became a spirit unable to tear himself away from his child’s side. I made him a single father, unlike me, to ramp the stakes up even higher. And then, with my fictional world in place, I was able to weave in bits and pieces of real experiences to add colour.

It’s a similar story with If Ever I Fall. I placed my two central characters in an impossible situation unlike anything, thankfully, that my wife and I have ever been through. And then I tapped into situations we have experienced and used these, in combination with my imagination, to craft something that I hope feels genuine.

To conclude then, I’d say the key is to try to use your personal experiences rather than to copy them. You could remember how one thing made you feel, for example, and then channel that into something else – something fictional. All you should really lift directly from real life, in my view, are the little details you pepper throughout your story to help make your imagined world jump off the page and come to life in the reader’s mind.

*Former journalist S.D. Robertson quit his job as a local newspaper editor to pursue a lifelong ambition of becoming an author and to spend more time with his wife and daughter. If Ever I Fall (Avon HarperCollins, £7.99) is his second novel. A heart-rending story of family tragedy, it is published on 9 February 2017.



Blog Tour: A Boy Made of Blocks – Keith Stuart

Blog Tour: A Boy Made of Blocks – Keith Stuart

MEET THIRTY SOMETHING DAD, ALEX… He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

MEET EIGHT-YEAR-OLD SAM… To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other… When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful and heart warming novel that really opened my eyes to the struggles of having and looking after a child with autism. I’ve had little experience with children and adults with autism and I felt that this book touched sensitively on the problems and difficulties faced.

Keith Stuart has written a truly magnificent novel that left me mesmerised and meant I could not put it down. I loved watching the relationship between Alex and Sam evolve and grow. I loved discovering and learning more about both Alex and Sam and their relationships with other characters in the book and how all of this combined to the discovery and understanding of autism that finally bonded and reunited a father and son. I was taken on a roller coaster ride of discovery and understanding, life can be difficult but sometimes the hard times can be what help us to discover the good we are missing.

While there were moments I disliked Alex and wanted to do nothing more than shake him and shout at him, the moments of realisation had me in tears and wanting to hug Alex. As for Sam, this little boy has got to be one of my favourite characters ever. Sam is such a beautiful character well developed and full of life and character, who felt very real. I was delighted to discover more about him and join him on his journey, I loved watching him evolve and come out of his shell. 

The use of Minecraft was superb and I felt really added to the journey and discovery, and was a pivotal part of the novel. The attention to detail was fantastic and I certainly felt as though I learnt something throughout this novel, not just about autism, but Minecraft too. I shall now be prepared for when my children are older.

A Boy Made of Blocks is a raw and genuine read. Humour is used sensitively and appropriately, making this a warm and lighthearted read which touches on the uniqueness of a child with autism, whilst not being bogged down on the negatives but highlighting the beautiful, insightful and empathetic traits of someone with autism. This is a beautiful and honest book and I can not recommend it highly enough. This book offers a glimpse into the beautiful mind of a child with autism and is something that will stay with me for a long time to come.


About the author:

In 2012 one of KEITH STUART‘s two sons was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The ramifications felt huge. But then Keith and both boys started playing videogames together – especially Minecraft. Keith had always played games and, since 1995, has been writing about them, first for specialist magazines like Edge and PC Gamer then, for the last ten years, as games editor for the Guardian. The powerful creative sharing as a family and the blossoming of communication that followed informed his debut novel.

A Boy Made of Blocks Book Cover A Boy Made of Blocks
Keith Stuart

A beautiful, funny and surprising story of family and love, perfect for fans of The Rosie Project, David Nicholls’ Us and Nick Hornby’s About a Boy.

MEET THIRTY SOMETHING DAD, ALEX… He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn't understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

MEET EIGHT-YEAR-OLD SAM… To him the world is a puzzle he can't solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other… When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author’s own experiences with his autistic son.

Blog Tour: Christmas without Santa – Christmas Cheer – Bella Osborne

Blog Tour: Christmas without Santa – Christmas Cheer – Bella Osborne

Today we are joined by the lovely Bella Osborne as she contemplates a Christmas without Santa…..

Hi , Thank you for having me on your blog today. Can you imagine Christmas without Santa? Well, very soon I am going to have to face up to this as my daughter is ten years old and I feel I have done very well for her to have believed in Santa this long. However, I know it won’t be for much longer and I am dreading the day it happens. But why? Surely it’s all part of growing up? I used to have perfectly happy Christmases as an adult before my daughter came along – so why do I hate the idea of her not believing? I think it’s because it is at this point that the magic of childhood starts to fade when they realise that the impossible is no longer possible, that magical worlds don’t actually exist* and evil cannot be conquered with special powers. Also, if I’m being honest, for the last few years I have been able to indulge my love of Christmas, make it extra special and go slightly overboard on the silliness.

In our house we have a visit from the elves who stay for most of December and do something naughty every night before Santa picks them up on Christmas Eve. I think this has helped to keep the magic alive as my daughter totally believes that the elves come to life and get up to all sorts of things because each morning the evidence is indisputable – paper chains hung everywhere, marshmallows strewn across the kitchen and two elves holding more aloft ready to throw, elves in her remote control car and a makeshift race track in the living room and one of my all time favourites: green elf wee in the toilet and toilet roll unraveled all around the bathroom. I mean no grown up would do this so it has to be the elves, right?

I fear the elves will soon have to find another house to visit and create mayhem in and perhaps I will replace them with a treasure hunt, which just won’t be the same. We also put out our stockings on Christmas Eve (yes we all do this) because who doesn’t like a stocking full of presents on Christmas morning? My husband and I open our stocking presents with as much glee as the child to see what silly things we’ve bought each other – it’s a great excuse to go a bit daft.

I will still continue to fill a stocking with all the small items I know she’ll love but perhaps knowing that I’ve done it won’t be quite the same as the magic of the elves gathering all the information to get her these much wanted gifts or Father Christmas making his journey around the world in one night to deliver them in person. Or, as my husband points out, perhaps she will understand on another level how much she is totally adored by two adults who will go to great lengths to make her life as magical as possible for as long as we can. That or she has plenty of evidence to get us both sectioned!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

*I do still harbour a hope that there are magical worlds that are hidden from us, most likely for our own safety.


Willow Cottage - Christmas Cheer (part 2) Book Cover Willow Cottage - Christmas Cheer (part 2)
Willow Cottage
Bella Osborne

Part two of a cosy and heartwarming seasonal romance, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley.

Beth is running away. With her young son Leo to protect, Willow Cottage is the lifeline she so desperately needs. Overlooking the village green in a beautiful Cotswolds idyll, Beth sees a safe place for little Leo.

When she finally uncovers the cottage from underneath the boughs of a weeping willow tree, Beth realises this is far more of a project than she bargained for and the locals are more than a little eccentric! A chance encounter with gruff Jack, who appears to be the only male in the village under thirty, leaves the two of them at odds but it’s not long before Beth realises that Jack has hidden talents that could help her repair more than just Willow Cottage.

Over the course of four seasons, Beth realises that broken hearts can be mended, and sometimes love can be right under your nose…

Willow Cottage is part of a serialized novel told in four parts, following the journey of Beth and her new life in the Cotswolds. The full book will be out next June, but for now, enjoy Willow Cottage seasonally!

Meet The Cast – #1: Matilda ‘Mattie’ Bell

Meet The Cast – #1: Matilda ‘Mattie’ Bell

I love Mattie Bell. She arrived very quickly on the page when I started to write Searching for a Silver Lining. Sometimes in the first draft of a novel the main character’s voice takes a while to find, but Mattie was right there from the beginning. It helps that in Chapter One we’re sitting beside her in the pews of a cold stone church as she waits for her beloved grandfather’s funeral, filled with regret about the argument that robbed her of her last precious months with him. I felt like hugging her and I hope that readers will want to hug her, too!

Despite the sad beginning to Mattie’s story, I wanted to show a woman who has ambitions and great passions in her life, who takes the risk to embark on what is, quite frankly, a bit of a bonkers road trip with an elderly lady who courts chaos! Mattie owns Bell Be-Bop, a vintage shop in the picturesque Shropshire village of Kings Sunbury, where she has lived all her life. She adores the 1950s particularly, and so the trip revolves around people and places that found fame during the decade. She’s someone who doesn’t realise her own strength and self-belief until she heads out on the biggest adventure of her life.

My dream casting for Mattie Bell if Searching for a Silver Lining is made into a film would be Morven Christie, who most recently was in The A Word. She would be perfect for Mattie because she is a brilliant actor who can convey both comedy and heart-wrenching emotion. Film directors, take note, please!

Thanks so much for reading this blog exclusive! For more, follow my Searching for a Silver Lining blog tour. I really hope you enjoy Mattie’s story!

Don’t forget to check out our review for Searching for a Silver Lining before you leave 🙂

About Miranda:

Miranda Dickinson has always had a head full of stories. From an early age she dreamed of writing a book that would make the heady heights of Kingswinford Library and today she is a bestselling author. She began to write in earnest when a friend gave her The World’s Slowest PC, and has subsequently written the bestselling novelsFairytale of New York, Welcome to My World, It Started With a Kiss, When I Fall in Love, Take A Look At Me Now,I’ll Take New York and A Parcel for Anna Browne. Miranda lives with her husband Bob and daughter Flo in Dudley.



Searching for a Silver Lining – Miranda Dickinson

Searching for a Silver Lining – Miranda Dickinson

Searching for a silver lining is the latest novel from best selling author Miranda Dickinson.

This time we follow Matilda “Mattie” Bell as she deals with the consequences of her fall out with her beloved grandad Joe Bell and his death. Mattie’s whole world begins to fall apart around her and she wants nothing more than to reconcile with her grandad, he was right all along and she wishes she had listened to him. But grandad Joe has passed away and Mattie will never get the chance to mend the rift caused by her choices.

But then Mattie meets the enigmatic former singing star Reenie Silver, lead singer of her beloved granddads favourite band from the 50s. An era which holds a special place in Mattie’s heart and is the inspiration behind her vintage shop.

Mattie visits Reenie and is taken on a roller coaster ride of discovery and emotions to finally make amends with her beloved grandad Joe.

Searching for a silver lining has got to be Miranda’s best novel yet. It is a truly emotional read from start to finish. This was a beautiful novel and the passion with which it was written clearly shines through. The research that went in to this book is outstanding, even the most minute of details were included. I could imagine what life in 50s must have been like. As for the song titles, that was pure brilliance.

The characters in SFASL are beautifully formed and quirky, I love Mattie and Reenie, enjoying the opportunities to learn more about them both and discover some of the emotional heart break they have both endured. And then the elusive grandad Joe, what a brilliant journey of discovery as we learnt more about this much loved man. It really makes you think about the past of those close to you and the lives they lived before. My heart wept for Mattie, Reenie and even grandad Joe.

This is a book which will stay with me for a long time, it is a rare and truly special read which took me to some incredible places. The plot flows beautifully and is full of surprises which kept me reading into the small hours. Miranda has a magical ability to write and create a world in which the myself as the reader became fully encapsulated.

This is a masterpiece and a book to treasure, I only wish I could unread it so I could discover the magic all over again!

Searching for a silver lining Book Cover Searching for a silver lining
Miranda Dickinson
20th October 2016

It began with a promise . . .

Matilda Bell is left heartbroken when she falls out with her beloved grandfather just before he dies. Haunted by regret, she makes a promise that will soon change everything . . .

When spirited former singing star Reenie Silver enters her life, Mattie seizes the opportunity to make amends. Together, Mattie and Reenie embark on an incredible journey that will find lost friends, uncover secrets from the glamorous 1950s and put right a sixty-year wrong.

Touchingly funny, warm and life-affirming, this is a sparkling story of second chances. Perfect for fans of Cecelia Ahern, Searching for a Silver Lining will take you on a trip you'll never forget.

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