The Bullet That Missed (Richard Osman)

“We were all looking through the files for a new Thursday Murder Club case. There was a spinster in Rye in the early eighties, for example, who had died, leaving three unidentified skeletons and a suitcase containing fifty thousand pounds in her cellar. That was Elizabeth’s favourite, and I agree, it would have been quite jolly, but…”

The Thursday Murder Club is back at it with a decade-old cold case—a murder with no body and no answers. The quartet unravels the mystery with the help of old friends and new, including a local news legend that has Joyce a bit starstruck. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has been given a deadly ultimatum by a shadowy new foe, and several burgeoning romances balance out the tension with some light-hearted fun.

Richard Osman’s third in this series is as charming and warm-hearted as the first two novels. The plot is satisfyingly complex, but the real power of the book lies in its characters. Osman’s grasp of his diverse cast’s unique concerns and inner voice is remarkable—he writes a very likeable group of people, none of whom are too sickeningly perfect. The characters seem so real, while the fantasy world they inhabit is layered with improbable crime and intrigue. The plot is slightly more unhinged and detached from reality than the other two books. Still, if you can suspend your disbelief enough to relish the banter and camaraderie, it’s a lovely entertaining read.

“The Thursday Murder Club?” says Mike. “Sounds made up.”

“Everything is made up, when you really think about it,” says Ibrahim.

The old gang is up to their regular tricks, although in this one, Elizabeth and Joyce take center stage more than ever, and Ibrahim and Ron seem relegated to supporting background players. They both have side quests that contribute to the plot, of course, but they don’t play quite as prominent a role as the two women. Admittedly, Ron going for his first-ever massage is possibly the funniest chapter in the book.

“That’s a cracking smile, to be fair to her. Is Pauline in his league? Late sixties, a bit young for him? What league is he in these days? It’s been a long time since he’d checked. Either way, what a smile.”

It’s fun to see elderly people portrayed vibrantly with sharp wits, vivid backgrounds, and real fears and flaws. Joyce’s diary entries are a highlight again; I adore her wide-eyed perspective and instant girlish crushes. And Bogdan. Bogdan has gradually become my favourite character of the series, and technically he’s not even part of the Thursday Murder Club. This book shows the more tender side of this outwardly-tough thug.

I will admit that the villains of the book are not exactly threatening, and it’s obvious throughout that our protagonists will prevail in the end, but hey, it’s a good bit of fun. It’s kind of amazing that a mystery with such a body count can still be considered feel-good. It’s jam-packed full of adventure, intrigue, humour, and genuine heart—and darned if it didn’t have me crying big soppy tears by the end. I’ll avoid the spoilers, but let it be known that Osman hasn’t shied away from the more heart-breaking side of aging, either.

“Angry waves batter the foot of the cliff, hundreds of feet below, the noise rising to greet them like a muffled argument from a downstairs flat.”

Although this book could stand alone, many of the in-jokes and references will go over your head if you haven’t read the first two books. Best to start at the beginning and follow the character development; then, by the time you come to this, the third book in this delightful series, it will feel like joining old friends on a new adventure.

“It’s the people, in the end, isn’t it?” says Viktor. “It’s always the people. You can move halfway around the world to find your perfect life, move to Australia if you like, but it always comes down to the people you meet.”

How to Revise Flash Fiction

I’m not going to lie—editing is the bane of my existence. I’ve got three novels on the go, and the editing and revision feel like a bottomless pit of quicksand. Flash fiction, on the other hand, should be relatively easy to edit, right? It’s short, it’s quick, so it shouldn’t be so hard to get it just right. Somehow, though, editing short-form fiction can be just as hard, and in some ways harder, than editing an entire novel.

With so much packed into so few words, every word has to earn its place. Somehow the piece has to move, needs to have conflict and shape and feeling. I often encounter two particular issues when trying to edit my flash fiction. First, I get attached to a particular line or phrase and struggle to cut it even if I realize it’s not working for the piece. Second, I over-explain. Not trusting the reader enough, I often go too far and lose the magic of the piece.

In February, I was absolutely delighted to [virtually] attend the Literary Cleveland Flash Fiction Festival. The week was chock full of workshops from big names in the flash fiction world. My favourite of the week was a revision workshop with Desiree Cooper. In this month’s How To blog, I’m going to share with you some of my takeaways from her workshop.

Questions to ask as you edit flash fiction:
  1. What is my story really about? Spend some time thinking about the meaning behind the story. What question are you answering? What is at stake? What is the central conflict?
  2. Does this piece have a turn? All flash fiction should have a turn, a climax, a punchline of sorts. Desiree compared it to the volta in poetry. It can be a change in any direction, but there needs to be a change.
  3. Did I go too far? This is my personal downfall. Check where your turning point is and see if you’ve gone a beat too far past that moment.
  4. Have I put the best words in the best order? Think about connotation—the emotional or personal associations a word carries beyond its literal definition. Consider the sound and rhythm of the piece, best accomplished by reading it aloud multiple times.
  5. Do I have any darlings I need to kill? Some phrases or lines may stand out, but not for a good reason. Think about whether a favourite line is too flashy for the piece and whether it is consistent with the intended tone.

The feeling is the truth. Mine that experience and impose it on a completely different situation. Don’t be wedded to what happened, the who, what, where, when, why. Be wedded to the truth, what it is really about, the meaning. You’re writing a story about the meaning.

Desiree Cooper

In applying these questions to your own writing, Desiree suggested using a “wash on, wash off” technique. In several passes, go over your piece looking at it in the light of each point in turn. You’ll likely “wash on” too much and have to “wash off” a little of it. Sometimes in the course of many revisions, it can feel like your story no longer resembles what it first was. This might not be a bad thing, though.

Editing might take the piece further from you but closer to the reader.

Desiree Cooper

What you want is for the story to resonate with the reader, to take them to an emotional space and leave them feeling something. Keep a boneyard of all the bits you’ve cut, knowing that you can reuse and recycle them into something another day.

Happy editing!

Guests in the Night

“Another wasted day. Just give up. You never do anything right.”

I slump. The edge of my bed is digging into the back of my thighs, and my neck aches where it meets my slouching shoulders. I deflate with a sigh. Defeat lowers himself down onto my rounded back and settles in, making his bulk comfortable. He’s heavy.

I pull my feet up into bed, retreating into a sort of fetal curl that brings no womblike comfort. Defeat spoons me, his arm heavy across me and his doughy body pressed against mine. His hot, smelly breath steams across my neck and up my nostrils. He reeks.

“You’re not good enough. You’re never going to succeed.”

A stronger smell wrinkles my nose, chasing sleep away. Is that Failure? He lays his head on my pillow, facing mine. His head is hard and sharp; it pokes my brow until I frown. I breathe his breath now—pungent, bitter, suffocating. He’s too close.

“Everyone is laughing at you. You’re such a disappointment.”

The blanket shifts. Shame and her sister Embarrassment wriggle from my toes up to my head. Shame peels off my pajamas and runs her frigid fingers up my spine. My scalp prickles. My face flushes. My hands are sweaty. They’ve laid me bare; they’re everywhere all at once, leaving me exposed.

“It’s too hard. You can’t do it. You’re going to get hurt.”

Fear pinches me with his mean talons. He won’t lie still; he’s kicking and elbowing all of us, carving out room for himself. I snuggle back a little closer to Defeat. His weight seems almost comforting now, soft compared with all his sharp and prickly friends. Sleep won’t come. The bed is crowded.

“You knew it was a bad idea, deep down. You always make the wrong decision.”

Doubt buzzes around my face and my ears with an annoying high-pitched drone. I try to swat her pesky whine away, but Failure has my arm pinned beneath his pointy head.

“You didn’t try hard enough. You should have done better.”

Guilt takes a running leap and thuds down across all of us. He plasters himself to my naked side, sticky and slimy all at once. I can’t shake him off and know no shower can wash this dirt away. His filth is seeping in through my pores and his cold toes send icy shivers down my legs.

“Is there room for me?”

A small voice. Who is this? Someone new. I groan. I can’t take one more.

She clambers over the edge of the mattress, her short legs kick-kick-kicking to get on the bed. Fear glares as she tucks herself between me and him, carving out a space where I thought there was none. Courage grins up at me and bites Defeat, right on his pudgy arm. The burden retreats, and I can breathe.

“I will try again tomorrow.”

Like an Eyelash in my Eye

Little star, nebulous 
You stay far outside of my reach
Lofty and twinkling
You were the light of my dreams
Cloudy nights, out of sight
Hide tearless eyes behind dark glasses
Missed chance left me behind
Not really sure it was mine
Everyone knows who you are
Your fame is bigger than who I
Had gotten used to
They carry pieces of you home
Worship your ghost on their smartphones
And they pay to see you
When I never see you

I broke the social script
Blurted out how mad I felt about you
Intrusive thoughts I said yes to
You’re still a mystery to me
How I wonder — did you forget me?
I’m still here baking and I’m still happy
Croissants and a cup of tea
Nothing but crumbs on your shirt
I pretend I don’t know who you are
Too cool to admit I fell hard
Now I never see you
I’m quite all right on my own
Got no one waiting at home
I don’t need to see you

A whole world screaming your name
Your every move in spotlights
While they pay to see you
I’m here scrolling through endless TikToks
Watching you shine through their eyes
But I still can't see you
I never see you

Simple Scones for Cream Tea

Suppose you haven’t sampled the delightful afternoon ritual that is an English cream tea. In that case, you have my wholehearted recommendation to scroll down to my scone recipe immediately and make it happen. I say ritual because this is more than a snack. It’s a tradition, a ceremony of sorts, that demands one to slow down and savour. The very nature of tea requires a slower approach—wait for the kettle to boil, wait for the leaves to steep, and wait for the tea to cool enough that it doesn’t immediately blister the roof of your mouth.

Pair your tea with a scone topped with a healthy dollop of cream and jam, and you’ve got a cream tea. Traditionally, the cream should be clotted, but that’s really hard to come by in Canada. We’ve got different dairy laws here that make it near-impossible even to make your own clotted cream. Alas, I settle for whipped cream—whipped within an inch of its life to extra-stiff peaks just a step before butter. I make up for that with only homemade jam and the freshest buttery scones I can bake.

You’ll notice in the photo with this post that my scones are terribly overbaked. Don’t do that. I got distracted and managed to cover up my mistake with some luscious homemade lemon curd and lots of cream, but you can do better. Set your timer for a few minutes less than recommended and check on them.

Carrying on with my series of small batch treats, this recipe makes 4 large or 6 medium scones. Enjoy!

Simple Scones for Cream Tea

  • 1 1/2 cups Flour (250 g)
  • 1/4 cup Sugar (50 g)
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/3 cup Butter (75 g)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk (118 mL) OR substitute milk soured with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 195°C/400°F.
  2. Line a small baking tray with parchment paper.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Cut butter into small cubes and work into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the butter resembles flakes like fish food.
  5. Beat the egg together with buttermilk and then pour into the dry mixture. Mix until just combined, with no dry flour visible. Don’t overmix, or the scones will be tough.
  6. Tip the dough out onto the counter and roll or press into a rectangle about 1 ½ inches thick. Cut into 4 or 6 even rectangles (yes, rectangles!), placing them on the baking sheet close together but not quite touching.
  7. Brush the tops with a bit of milk or cream. Bake for approximately 15-18 minutes. I usually end up cracking one open to be sure the middle is cooked through.
  8. Serve with cream and jam and a pot of tea.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

C.S. Lewis

How to Keep Writing When You Feel Like Giving Up

Writing is hard work. It’s a slog sometimes. It’s blissfully easy to come up with ideas and to pour them out with reckless abandon, stream-of-consciousness style. Where it gets painful is when you suddenly decide you might like someone to read what you’ve written one day. Enter a world full of struggle and toil, where every effort to improve your work feels like it might be making it so much worse. Cue the endless rejections, looming deadlines, complete dry spells (a.k.a. the dreaded writer’s block), and the ever-present desire to give up because everything is trash, and who cares anyway?

“A writer is one to whom writing comes harder than to anybody else.”

Thomas Mann

I get it. I feel you. The struggle is real. How to persevere? Here are ten suggestions. I hope some combination of these helps.

1. Let the discouragement happen.

Feel it, recognize it, and then let it go. You can’t just tell yourself not to be discouraged, but you shouldn’t sit in that emotion long enough for it to consume you.

2. Manage how you’re talking to yourself.

Negative self-talk is a very real enemy. We writers tend to be our own worst critics, but please stop telling yourself your novel is trash. There are enough people ready to hand you rejection and criticism without you pre-emptively doing it to yourself. Have a little compassion for yourself and look for the positive.

3. Take a deliberate break.

Intentional time away from the process, rather than doing something else and all the while beating yourself up because you “should be writing.” Give yourself permission to take a minute to recalibrate and rest.

4. Write something else.

If the problem is that you’ve become jaded with your WIP, a change can be as good as a rest. This might mean taking on a different project entirely, pounding out a quick flash fiction, or simply tackling a different part of your manuscript for now.

5. Ask yourself why you wanted to write this story.

Try to rekindle that first love of the idea, the excitement at the start of the project. Maybe even read back over some of your WIP—you might be surprised by sentences and paragraphs you forgot you wrote that really work.

6. Identify outside pressures.

Look at what other stresses you’re currently facing and see if something can be reduced, delegated, or eased somehow. Maybe you’re going through a difficult season in your life. Reassess, look at what you can control, and figure out what is realistic right now. Are you getting enough rest? Are you getting enough physical activity?

7. Remind yourself of past successes.

Take a look back at any stories you’ve had published, any decent feedback you’ve gotten from beta readers, and any lovely comments from your social media followers. Or even just revisit your favourite thing you’ve ever written to remind you that you can write, you love to write, you are a writer.

8. Visualize what you want for this book.

I’m not a huge believer in manifesting, as popular as it has become of late. But by picturing yourself already at the end goal, you might see enough light at the end of the tunnel to continue. If nothing else, it can get you thinking more positively. This does not mean setting massively unrealistic goals that may dishearten you further—just imagine where you would like your WIP to end up as if it’s already a reality.

9. Lean on a support network.

Find an accountability buddy or an online community. Writing is lonely work, but it doesn’t have to be. Recruit someone to cheer you on. Or if what you really need is emotional support, find a good listening ear and talk about the struggle.

10. Put your butt on a chair.

Show up for your writing. It is a slog, yes, but it’s the only way to get it done. Schedule time for your WIP and set it aside as if it’s your job. Sometimes all it takes to get over a slump is some strict self-discipline.

“A writer is a writer
not because she writes well and easily,
because she has amazing talent,
because everything she does is golden.
In my view, a writer is a writer
because even when there is no hope,
even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise,
you keep writing anyway.”

Junot Diaz

Love is Just One Side of a Two-Faced Coin

My path crossed with his when I had two years left in law school. His salt-and-pepper hair and crinkly eyes distracted me, and I distracted him. Our mutual attraction was transparent and soon became the talk of Constitutional Law 101. I mean, the class was super dull and the only thing that kept us from skipping was that our prof was so fine.

It wasn’t long before things crossed the line, and then there was no turning back. We’d buckle into his truck and drive to his hometown on weekends. I’d paint my toenails on the porch while he graded papers, and then we’d while away the afternoons horizontally.

Midweek, we’d steal moments between classes, adjourning to his office, door bolted, to debrief each other. We came close to getting caught more times than I can count, but people didn’t want to see what they didn’t want to see and so we carried on.

The day I graduated, he put a rock on my finger. I took him home to meet my dad—they had a ton in common—and mom who, I think, caught a little crush. In a quiet ceremony under the autumn stars, we vowed that to each other we would cleave right to the point of death.

I got a job at a little firm in his hometown, drafting lease agreements and reviewing title searches. It was as boring as it sounds. I was bored working, and he was bored teaching, and it was the boredom, I guess, that threatened to cleave us apart.

Before too long I started to see signs that would rock the boat. He’d come home late, and later, and sometimes not at all. His cell phone turned facedown, his email password changed, and I could sense the slightest inkling of his wanting to bolt.

He told me it was my imagination, swept everything under the rug, and brought me a sad bouquet from the grocery store. He said we’d have more time together once he had his grading done, and I thought back to how much time he used to have for me when my papers were in the stack that needed graded.  Our whole relationship was starting to buckle—had it been flimsy all along?

These days I say I’m good, but really I’m barely fine. I’ve gone transparent in his eyes, invisible. I know there’s talk around town that he’s been misbehaving, but people only see what they want to see.

Wouldn’t it just prove them right, if I just up and left?

January 2023 Editing Progress Update

If I really mean to finish my novel this year, that means keeping myself accountable. And in order to do that, I need some concrete dates attached to different steps in the process. This month my aim was to complete a read-through of my draft while making a list of all large story arc issues. In February, I would like to begin actually tackling these structural story edits.

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

Arthur Plotnik

I am a little behind schedule already, for no other reason than my own dawdling. I’m a chronic procrastinator. I had in my head that I’d like to print my manuscript and pass it on to the two beta readers I have lined up by March 1; four weeks seems far too short to handle all of the structural story edits, though. Can I do it? Only with a lot more discipline in my writing schedule. If I’m being realistic, it is far more likely that a printed manuscript can happen by March 31, giving me 8 weeks to plug away at tightening up the plot.

I have completed a read-through of the draft, and I have a LONG list of notes (I’m being optimistic here, as I’m writing this post on Sunday and hoping beyond hope that I finish reading the last 13,500 words before the time comes to post this on Tuesday—I did). I’ve identified scenes I need to add, chapters that need to be split, a couple of scenes that I may remove entirely, and some that are happening in the wrong place. I have a major decision I need to make about a pretty essential clue and some work to do on rounding out one of the subplots. It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming.

One thing that has been encouraging on this pass is that the thing is not in as bad of shape as I thought it was. I think I had forgotten that this is not a zero draft, or even a first draft. This thing has been fully rewritten once and has had one quick pass of tidying up when I ran it through the Plotstormers course over at Writers’ HQ. I was pleasantly surprised by how the first half reads. There’s a lot to be said for looking at a manuscript with fresh eyes.

“The first draft is black and white. Editing gives the story color.”

Emma Hill

In the past, the sheer size of the project has caused me to shove it aside and focus on other things (See: Reasons why this novel has been floundering since 2020). The pay-out with short fiction is faster, easier, less messy. But as my wise and wonderful gurus over at Writers’ HQ like to say: “The only way to do the thing is to do the thing.” I refuse to let myself look at the heap of work that is involved and give up before I begin. Instead, I’m going to print out my list and tackle one thing at a time. After all, I can do one thing. I may develop a pain in my neck and a knot in my stomach when I think about doing all the things, but I know I can do one thing.

So, I’ll do one, and then one more, and then one more, and one day this book will be a book.

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

Ernest Hemingway

Impossible Coconut Custard Mini Pies

Have you ever just been chilling at home and had a sudden craving for dessert? Sure, you could do the microwave mug thing and try to satisfy your sweet tooth with a rubbery “cake” that’s just marginally more appetizing than a kitchen sponge. Or grab a bowl of whatever nearly-stale cereal is open in the cupboard. But personally, I’m more inclined to crave something that tastes homemade, fills the kitchen with the smell of baking, and might take slightly more effort but will pay off big-time.

For 2023, I propose a series of quick and easy, make ’em with ingredients you already have in the pantry, small-batch desserts. Let’s kick it off with these custardy coconut mini-pies that somehow make their own “crust” in the oven. It’s a one-bowl recipe that requires minimal effort and few ingredients and pays off with something that tastes like hours of work.

Impossible Coconut Custard Mini Pies


  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1/3 cup Sugar (67 g)
  • 1/4 cup Flour (34 g)
  • 1 cup Milk (236 mL)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Shredded Coconut (48 g)


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.
  2. Grease 6 wells of a muffin tin.
  3. Combine eggs, sugar, flour, milk, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and whisk until well combined.
  4. Stir in coconut.
  5. Pour batter into muffin tin.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean/center of pies has only a slight wobble.
  7. Allow to cool to room temperature, then remove mini pies from the muffin tin. Transfer to the fridge to continue cooling.
  8. At this point, I usually dig in. I love the warm egginess of the custard. If you can wait, let them cool completely in the fridge, and the flavour will be sweeter and less eggy.

Makes six mini pies. Bet you can’t eat just one.

One Foot Out the Door

I've got one foot under the covers, 
The other just needs to breathe
It's not that I'm on my way out
But I'm always half planning to leave

I've got 14 things in my shopping cart
That I don't intend to buy
And my eye on a ticket to anywhere
A homebody with the urge to fly

I might seem a walking contradiction
But they're all just pieces of me
I won't be defined by one singular part
Just ’cause you’re scared of complexity

I’ve got clothes in my closet
I’ve never worn and probably won’t
If you’re tempted to freeze me in time
Or cling to the past, please don’t

I want quiet and chaos
To be alone in a crowd
To make home mean wherever I am
I want to be cozy but not in a rut
I won’t finish half of the things that I start
But I’ll never stop starting new things

I’ve got one hand hid in my pocket
The other is reaching out
It’s not that I’m scared to be alone
But I’ll never stop having doubts