Five reasons why writing a novel is like Game of Thrones (Season 1 spoilers alert!)

(Please note this post contains spoilers for the first book/season of Game of Thrones! Proceed with caution.)

Who’s hooked on the latest series of Game of Thrones? I’m watching with a mixed group of readers and non-readers, so it’s been thrilling to see how we all approach the storyline – some, completely fresh – others analysing their reactions to seeing the novels’ various plots unfold on screen. I was actually pretty disappointed to be spoiled on Twitter as to a recent major event – and even MORE disappointed by the reactions I saw stating: ‘Well, if you don’t want to be spoiled then read the books!’ For me, the TV carries its own momentum and even though I know the events I don’t know when in the TV they will appear.

Anyway, minor gripe over – time for a bit of fun. How about five ways that writing a novel is like the Game of Thrones…?

1. There are lots of characters and plotlines to keep up with.

Whether you’re writing fantasy or contemporary, historical or crime, you’ve got to keep your characters and plots straight. George R.R. Martin holds them all in his head but he also has the fab Elio & Linda of to help him out if he forgets the colour of a knight’s horse. If only we could all have our own personal archivists, that’d be great!


2. The big six versus Houses of Westeros


Like the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens, the big publishers all vie to rule the book realm. So, who do you pledge your allegiance to – the powerhouse Penguin Random House? Crafty HarperCollins? Heavyweight Hachette? Mighty Macmillan?

3. Brutal cuts must be made.

To your manuscript.


Or someone’s head.

4. You must take a cue from the mother of dragons and rise from the ashes 

bad review

We all have those bad days. The days when you ‘stumble’ onto Goodreads only to see your writing eviscerated  by a bad review. But there’s only one thing for it – to get up, dust yourself off, and hopefully have a pet dragon to show for it. Or at least, skin as thick as dragon hide.

5. Creativity run dry? Sometimes, one word is enough:



Gong Hei Fat Choi! and my first recipe


The McCullochs take Beijing

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Happy Year of the Horse (my dad’s year) and what a very special one it will be indeed.

It’s been almost four years since my trip to China with my family. It still remains one of the best trips I’ve ever done – not least because I was able to visit Shanghai (where my grandparents were from). What an amazing city – I’d love to go back there one day.

Shanghai sunset

Shanghai sunset

In honour of Chinese New Year, I made spring rolls and steamed some char sui pork buns (pork buns not from scratch, mind!). I thought I’d share the spring roll recipe for anyone wanting to make their own… it’s very easy and I thoroughly recommend giving it a go yourself! That way you can stuff them with as much delicious filling as you want (clearly the way forward). This is my first stab at a recipe posting, so any comments/tips would be greatly appreciated. My food photography also greatly needs work – probably need to move on from the iPhone – but I can promise that the finished product gets a big thumbs up 🙂

Homemade spring rolls and not-so-homemade char sui boa for Chinese New Year!

Homemade spring rolls and not-so-homemade char sui boa for Chinese New Year!

Recipe after the jump…

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#Inspiration series… Travelling, part 2

Travel has always formed a big part of my life. My parents were not the sort to leave their children at home, or who avoided long travel until we got older, and we often went to distant places together as a family. They trained me well – even now, I can’t get on moving transport without falling asleep almost immediately (it makes it awkward on those long tube journeys home, though).

So two things were prevalent in my life: travel, and carpets. The latter won’t be a surprise if you’ve been following the blog, but for those of you who don’t know, my parents own an oriental carpet store in Ottawa, Canada, and when I was a child he worked as the carpet buyer for Harrods, and later Bentalls department stores. As a result, my sister and I spent a lot of time playing hide and seek through stacks of carpets. And, yes, dealing with all the requisite high school jokes later on.

20 CRT 1997

Me and my sister, hanging out at my parent’s store

There’s no doubt that accompanying my parents on trips while I was young shaped and influenced me as a writer. One of the most influential trips I went on came in 1995, when I was 9, and we had the privilege of being invited to a huge, 10-day wedding celebration in New Delhi, India.

12 India wedding 1995

At a Hindu wedding in New Dehli, 1995

The wedding was lavish and spectacular, and my sister and I both loved dressing up for the occasion in our saris chosen especially for the colour of each particular day. But India also equalled enormous culture shock. It was the first time I can vividly remember witnessing extreme poverty: we were driving in the car from the hotel to the wedding venue, and when we were stopped in traffic, dozens of children surrounded the car, banging on the windows and begging. The driver just pulled away. After that I remember being shocked into stunned silence – partly fear, but also partly curiosity. I asked my parents why children had to live like that. Children ask the most difficult questions, I feel.

18 India wedding  1995

All the bangles you could ask for!

But there were other abiding memories too – the wedding was also a riot of colour and ritual and amazing food. I wore bangles up to my elbows, and had henna designs drawn on my hands. I managed to irritate the woman doing mine, and so I was bestowed a (what I remember to be) hideous henna pattern, with thick blobs like a chessboard, where everyone else had delicate vines and flowers. The jealousy still stings.

19 India wedding  1995

During the mendhi session, having henna painted on my hands

We managed to see some of Northern India too – taking the train down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. There, we spotted snake charmers lining the street up towards the beautiful marble building. I was obsessed with snakes at the time (so much so, that even now when it came to killing a snake in a scene in my book, I couldn’t do it!) and so I watched on, intrigued.

14 India 1995

Okay, maybe I look a little bit scared… But look at that rocking jumper

We also visited places like the Red Fort, which no doubt subtly planted the seeds in my mind of a vast, red castle, surrounded by heat and sand.

16 India 1995

My sister and me at the Red Fort, New Delhi

But no greater moment stayed with me longer than the main wedding day, where we walked alongside a procession of musicians, dancers and – wait for it – elephants, as the groom rode astride a beautiful white stallion covered in red and gold cloth. There were garlands of flowers everywhere, all in deep, rich colours: marigold, crimson and indigo. The bride was absolutely stunning, and both my sister and I watched with mouths agape throughout the entire ceremony.

When I look at the below picture, I can picture exactly a scene from The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, right near the end – so I won’t spoil it by saying too much more. It makes me wonder just how much I was influenced by what I had seen as a child, and why it was so natural for me to want to set my book in that particular environment. I’m going to be exploring this even more in a later post, but for now, I leave you with a painted elephant…

13 India wedding 1995

Beautiful painted elephant during the Hindu wedding

#Inspiration series… Travelling

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is out in the world now (well, the parts of the world where the rights have sold!), so I thought I’d continue my blogging tradition by talking about different things that inspire the book and my writing, and hopefully give some useful tips along the way.

This week’s inspiration theme is: Travel!

To start things off, one of the Totally Random Tour stops last week was with Sable Caught, a lovely vlogger who I met at the Random House UK blogger brunch. Karen, Emma and I all provided her with a list of the top 5 places which inspire us. Check out her vlog to see our answers:

Did any of those places resonate with you? Check back tomorrow for more travel-inspiration, where I will delve a bit deeper into how it helps my writing and why I love it! And not just for the sunshine!