Writing fiction

I’m off again, having another crack at longer fiction. Writing novel length fiction is very demanding. It takes around 3 months (minimum) to write a novel. It takes endurance and stamina and large helpings of self belief or delusion to get there.

A novel is around 80,000 to 100,000 words typically, hence 1,000 words a day for 3 months. That’s just the first draft. Then the fun really starts.

Is it believable? Is it a page turner? Does the story flow? And a thousand other nagging worries circling.

I have a novel of 98000 words under consideration and I’m 20,000 words in to the next one. We’ll see what happens. I expect nothing. I’m glad to write again after a very difficult few years. As AL Kennedy would say, Onwards.

Away from it all in Sherbrook Valley

I’ve written, sketched and photographed this place so often. It’s a beautiful and favourite tranquil spot on Cannock Chase. Horses pass by, and walkers and mountain-bikers, but often at mid-week at least you have it to yourself. I can it and listen to the water rushing over the pebbles here. It’s a great place to think and develop ideas. Cannock Chase is within easy reach of millions of people and only around 26 square miles, but you can escape the grind. For locals, this is not close to the usual, well-known set of stepping stones – they are further downstream.

Molly Leigh – a Staffordshire witch?

St John’s, Burslem

There is no inscription on the grave. Other than a small roadside plaque, which perhaps understandably commemorates Wedgwood and has only a footnote for Molly, there is little trace here of Molly Leigh. Only the transport cafe – Molly’s Cafe (the sign is pictured below) – celebrates this famous north Staffordshire story. A week or so ago I travelled to Burslem – the Mother Town of the Potteries – to see Molly’s resting place.

Molly Leigh’s grave

Molly was born in 1685 and back then, long before the industrialisation of north Staffordshire, Burslem would have been an out of the way village surrounded by woodland. It’s hard to imagine as the church of St John’s is surrounded by a neat line of seventies houses, a breaker’s yard, wasteland and a busy cut-through road leading down to the A500 and M6. Just across the road from the church are three magnificent bottle kilns pictured below. It may be difficult to imagine how the landscape was 300 years ago, but there is definitely an atmosphere in the churchyard. When I visited I had to take photos between heavy downpours. The sky was black and a crow sat on a nearby headstone.

I heard a rustling and turned to see a white carrier bag floating and drifting in the breeze.

Perhaps Molly is not celebrated as the local authority is worried about Satanists or rituals being performed. She was an outsider almost from birth, marked for taking solids as a baby and preferring the milk of animals. Poor Molly was said to be ugly and she lived alone in a cottage on the edge of a wood. She sold milk but locals accused her of watering it down. She went about with a blackbird or crow on her shoulder, singing. She might be what we’d now call an eccentric. She was certainly a strong character and, in a God-fearing age, got on the wrong side of the local clergy by refusing to attend church. When she died her spirit was restless and she was seen sitting in people’s houses. She lived to a good age but when buried in St John’s churchyard (her tabletop tomb is above) she continued to haunt folk. Her spirit was forced into the trough beside the grave and her grave was moved to be set down at right angles to all the other graves.

Molly’s snacks

She was been an inspiration to many, including another daughter of Staffordshire Sybil Leek. Sybil went about with a black crow on her shoulder and claimed to be a descendant of Molly. She emigrated to America and published many books on astrology and witchcraft.

Molly’s story has many versions and it’s difficult to separate myth and rumour from fact. What is fascinating is that unlike many other mythical figures in folklore and storytelling Molly was a real person. She had a will and there are other documents bearing her name.

I’ve written a short story involving Molly and can’t understand why more isn’t made of her.

Post industrial Potteries


It’s a forgotten corner of the garden and the turf between is wetter than a car wash sponge.

But the snowdrops are beautiful. Their whiteness is perfect. They’re elegant and simple.

We’re no gardeners and the dog is no respecter of squirrels, lawns or shrubs. But the snowdrops continue to thrive.

They bring cheer and concentrate the mind, even for a few moments. There is beauty all around us if only we will stop to look for it.