Take the ten book challenge

Six of my top ten books

Have you come across the Facebook ten book challenge? The idea is to list the ten volumes that have stayed with you over the years. They don’t have to be great literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.

My friend Suzi posted her top ten the other day and challenged me to share mine. As I compiled my list, I realised that whether they were novels or autobiographies, all the books I’d chosen were about wonderful characters involved in amazing stories.

What more could any writer offer? It’s certainly what I want to do. So what are your ten most memorable books? I’d love to know. Here, in no particular order, are mine:

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger Holden Caulfield has stayed with me since my teenage years and there are echoes of him in Sanders, one of the central characters in my novel Tandem.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Another one from my teens. Sadly, the novel that cemented my love of Austen’s unparalleled powers of characterisation has long since vanished from my bookshelves.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin I read and adored this series in my 20s. Mary Ann Singleton and Michael “Mouse” Tolliver are two of my favourite characters. Great storytelling too. Unfortunately, I lent the whole lot to a friend years ago and never got them back.

Growing up in the Gorbals by Ralph Glasser The omnibus edition tells the story of Glasser’s childhood spent in desperate poverty and his escape, against the odds, to Oxford University. Truly inspiring. Not sure where it went, but it’s no longer on my shelves either.

The Shipping News by Annie E Proulx I’ve loved this book for two decades. Again, characters are key, reinforcing a powerful lesson that I’ve tried to apply to my own writing.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg Another one that has stayed with me since I first read it 20 years ago. More wonderful storytelling woven around a great central character.

Toast by Nigel Slater My favourite autobiography. I can identify very strongly with many of the food memories that provide the framework for this deeply affecting story. I’m hoping whoever I leant it to will read this and let me have it back soon – it’s the second copy of this book I’ve lost!

This is Not About Me by Janice Galloway Another stonking autobiography that – along with its sequel All Made Up – contains some unforgettable characters.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel My favourite book of all time. Thomas Cromwell? What’s not to love – there is no greater character, real or imagined.

Tandem by Alex Morgan I’ve included my own first book not because it’s great literature, but because it contains the characters and story that launched my career as a novelist – and, for that, it will be with me forever.

How many writers can fit in a caravan?


The answer is 31, if they’re taking part in a collaborative novel writing project like the one I’ve just been involved with.

New Writing Cumbria set local writers the following challenge: “One person writes the opening chapter of a novel, with a limited prompt – in this case: a couple are on their honeymoon, travelling around Cumbria in a caravan.

“They then email this to the next person, who writes their own chapter, carrying on from where the first left off. Collaboratively, we write a novel. What follows is anyone’s guess!”

Like 30 others, I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I applied. We were each allowed a maximum of 2,000 words and given a deadline of 72 hours after receiving the preceding chapters.

I was assigned the final one, so had the fun of pulling the strands together and wrapping them all up. Find out how it turned out here.

Or why not get together with some writing colleagues and create your own collaborative novel? It’s much quicker and easier than writing one alone!

Tandem spoiler alert!

Tricycle engraving

If you enjoyed Tandem, read on to find out about the sequel; if you haven’t read it yet, leave the page now as there’s a spoiler coming up!

I’m planning to pick up the story of Paula, Andy, Sanders, Nora and Terry in a few years. At the moment, I’m thinking the book might be called Tricycle, after Terry and Andy’s business – taxis for when you’re in a hurry; vans for when you need to move stuff, and bike hire for when you want to take it slow.

Sanders will be involved in a project of his own, but telling you about that would be a spoiler too far. If you want to know what he’s up to and who with, you’ll have to wait until it’s published!

By the way, if you did like Tandem and haven’t voted for it yet in the Reading Agency’s “Hidden Gem” competition – depending on when you’re reading this – there may still be time. Voting closes on June 18, with the winner announced on June 28, which is National Reading Group Day.

To vote click here. Thank you!

Every novel needs a spreadsheet

Recommended reading

I’ve just spent a very productive week on the lovely Galloway House Estate in south-west Scotland working on my new novel – and I’ve learned three things I think are worth sharing.

1) Excel is the novelist’s friend. It wasn’t until I was deep in the process of revising my first novel, Tandem, that I realised how useful it would have been to have a plan listing the main events of each chapter, who was involved and where to find it in the manuscript. One of the first things I did this week was to create just such a spreadsheet for Pressmennan – and it’s already proving invaluable.

2) My reading brain is easily fooled. When I’m immersed in writing my own fiction, I don’t like to fill my head with other people’s. Not because I think it’ll somehow “influence” me, but because I’ve only got so much space for stories and I need to focus on creating my own. I want to read something for a change of scene, but I find a lot of non-fiction heavy going. I’ve discovered the answer: autobiography. I get the satisfaction of reading something really interesting, and my brain’s happy because it isn’t fiction. My top choice this week was Liza Campbell’s Title Deeds, the riveting story of her dysfunctional upbringing in a Scottish castle.

3) Every book needs at least one dog. My other reading matter was Terry Darlington’s Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, the wonderful tale of his travels by narrow boat through England, Belgium and France accompanied by his wife Monica and Jim, their pork-scratching-loving whippet. Jim is a star. As Terry says, he is “cowardly, thieving and disrespectful and hates boating” – and the book wouldn’t be half so much fun without him. There are several dogs in Title Deeds, and Tandem features a greyhound called Bovis. Pressmennan, although only five chapters long so far, already has its quota of dogs – dachshunds Oscar and Peterson, aka the Wee Buggers. I think Jim would like them!

Please vote for Tandem!

National Reading Group Day logo

Book lovers, I need your help urgently! My novel Tandem, winner of the Hookline Novel Competition, has been long-listed in National Reading Group Day’s search for a “hidden gem”. Voting has opened and the winner will be announced on June 28.

Please visit the site and vote for it asap – you don’t have to be in a reading group. Also, please spread the word far and wide, and encourage everyone you know to vote.


Thank you!

Journeys with strangers


There are only two basic novel plots. This is something I remember reading years ago, and it has floated to the front of my mind over the past few days as I’ve started thinking seriously about my new novel.

It was the American novelist John Gardner who said it all boiled down to this: the central character goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

It may seem simplistic but I think it’s true. All novels are about change. Something must happen to the main character, otherwise there is no story. And that change must be prompted by something they do themselves – a physical or emotional journey of discovery – or by someone else – the stranger – who does something to affect their life.

Think about the books you love and see which category they fall into. Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, revolves around the arrival of several (male) strangers. Wolf Hall is about Thomas Cromwell’s journey from poverty to power.

My first novel, Tandem, is actually about both. The Amazon blurb says: “Paula abandons her London life and travels through the night to a Scottish village where she once spent a childhood holiday. Desperate to avoid a painful loss, she tries to hide away. However, the locals are keen to know more about their unhappy visitor and she is soon tangled in the life of 12-year-old Sanders. Can Paula help her new friend? Can we ever run away from the past?”

So Paula embarks on what turns out to be both a physical and an emotional journey, while for the villagers of Craskferry, particularly Sanders, she is the stranger who comes to town and changes lives.

My new novel, Pressmennan, has just one plot theme: it’s all about strangers. What will your novel be about?

Beginning with the blurb

The cover of Tandem by Alex Morgan
One of the hardest tasks I faced when Tandem was accepted for publication was trying to write an intriguing, spoiler-free summary of the story to use on the back cover, in press releases and so on.

In the end, after many false starts, my editor Yvonne and I agreed it was too difficult to sum up and we’d simply do without, going instead with the plaudits I received from “real” writers Sara Maitland and Cleo Gray.

This time round, as a way of focussing my mind on what I want Pressmennan to be about, I’ve decided to start with the blurb. So, here goes with Version One of what I’m guessing will be many…

Grace Hendry leads an enviable life. She runs one of Edinburgh’s top tourist attractions, is married to a successful journalist and is surrounded by friends and relatives she can rely on. When a series of unexpected events reveal that the people and places she has built her world around are not what they seem, she must choose how to respond.

I can also disclose that there will be dachshunds, provisionally entitled Oscar and Peterson.

What do you think of it so far?

Welcome to my “next novel” blog


My first novel, Tandem, was published last month after I won the Hookline Novel Competition, judged by book groups from around the UK. It’s about love, loss, a celebrity penguin and riding a bicycle built for two – plus a lot more besides – and has had a great reception so far. (You can read all about it on my website.)

So now it’s onto that tricky second novel. I have the story ready in my head so that’s not the problem. The issue is that I’m struggling to find the hours I need to write it. But it is time to make time.

Why not join me on the journey?

Follow The next novel on WordPress.com
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