Most people know me today as an author, both of contemporary novels as Miranda Dickinson, and most recently as a debut crime novelist, writing as MJ White. But there is another great love in my life that has been around longer than the words: my music.
I grew up with a pair of folk singers as parents. Consequently my early years were spent being taken to Mum and Dad’s gigs across the West Midlands, in village halls and W.I. meetings, harvest festivals and church events, singing with them and playing guitar for my ‘turns’. From there I joined bands in my teens, singing with the band at my church and then doing vocals for friends’ bands. I joined the band RAiN in the late 1990s, first as a songwriter and then as lead vocalist, and we recorded two EPs as well as touring across the UK.
I’ve performed with bands of all shapes and sizes, from duos to nine-piece event bands, and recorded with local, national and international producers including Chris Smith, Reuben Halsey and Chris Eaton. Until the pandemic hit, I sang with events band The Peppermints and did regular session singing work, in addition to writing my own music. I recorded my self-funded debut solo album, About Time in 2010, and in 2011 wrote and recorded a book soundtrack EP for my third novel, It Started With a Kiss, with The Peppermints (aka The Pinstripes in the book). My music has been heard as far afield as Australia, Africa, the USA and even on cruise ships! (no idea how that happened!)
Below are some images from my gigs around the UK…
TAKE A LITTLE TOUR THROUGH MY TUNES!
Below are some of my songs for you to enjoy. Scroll down to see them and some videos, too.
About Time also featured two of the songs I co-wrote with internationally renowned chill-out composer and producer Reuben Halsey. Here’s Running Home – the first song we worked on together. Roo wrote the music and I wrote the melody and lyrics. All of the vocals you can hear are me!
If you’ve ever watched any of my vlogs, you will have heard the title track from my album, About Time – it’s the story of my life in 1 minute and 24 seconds!
Years after all those folk gigs with Mum and Dad, I’ve found a new love for folk music. This video was recorded on Porthmeor Beach in Cornwall, when the sea fog rolled in and I had the beach to myself!
And finally, here is the film about the making of the It Started With a Kiss book soundtrack – including my band and, right at the end, the song my protagonist Romily writes with her bandmate and studio owner Jack, in the book…
When the pandemic hit, all of my gigs and session work ended. During the last two years, I’ve been writing a lot of new songs and my hope is to get to record them. I’d also love to start gigging again – nothing beats playing live and I miss it so much. I’m going to try to find more session singing work and pursue my music more. It’s been neglected for too long…
If you enjoyed this, let me know in the comments! x
As part of my weekly Facebook Live show, Fab Night In Chatty Thing, I am writing and sharing chapters of my third New York/Kowalski’s novel, In A New York Minute. This week I had to cancel the show because I’ve lost my voice, but I promised to share the latest chapter I’ve written.
In A New York Minute follows the eldest Steinmann brother, Daniel (we met middle brother Ed in Fairytale of New York and youngest brother Jake in I’ll Take New York and readers always ask me what Daniel Steinmann’s story is). On the day he sells his successful psychiatry practice in Manhattan, he chickens out of going to the formal sale meeting (leaving his lawyer to complete it), flees into New York’s Upper West Side, gets caught in a rainstorm and takes shelter in the closest store – a tiny cupcake bakery a few blocks away from a certain magical New York florists, Kowalski’s. Here he meets Maya Christie, working in her sister’s business, wandering when her life is going to start… They become friends and agree to help one another find whatever it is they want the next season of their lives to be.
So, here is the latest chapter: Maya has promised to take Daniel to ‘the best place in New York City’ – and Daniel is about to discover a Big Apple delight you may not find in any guide book…
THE BEST PLACE IN NEW YORK CITY – by Miranda Dickinson
‘This is the best place in New York?’
Beside me, Maya nods.
Until now, I haven’t once questioned anything Maya Christie has told me. But now, standing in the doorway of this small, unassuming space somewhere in the depths of West Village, I’m suddenly on shaky ground.
‘But it’s a—’ I pause, not sure how to express aloud what my eyes are still not certain they’re seeing. ‘—a hair salon.’
I look over from the three overhead hair dryers that look like they landed from space somewhere around 1964, to the next section of the store. ‘And a shoe repairers…’
‘Yup. Best one in the West Village.’
The enormous guy behind the counter grins in our direction and goes back to fixing a heel on a scuffed pair of brogues.
‘And a… what is that at the back?’ There’s another counter there that, like everything else in this place, looks as if it’s been hiding here for decades. Three faded green vinyl stools line the counter, the shine that once graced the chrome of their bases a long distant memory. Beyond the stools and the dusty wood lie shelves of boxes, reaching almost to the ceiling.
‘Well now, that,’ she throws me a happy smile and skips away from the entrance towards the mystery counter, ‘is the absolute best bit!’
She’s halfway across the peach and grey check linoleum when she turns to beckon me. Bewildered, I follow.
A lady under the middle drier scans my progress beneath her row of pink curlers. The shoe repairer pretends he isn’t watching either.
Clearly, I’m missing something. And now I feel like I’m intruding on a gathering of time-frozen ghosts of Manhattan as I scurry after Maya through the dimly lit store. Even the place smells old, like the homes of ancient relatives my dad always farmed me, Ed and Jake out to during the summer break. Sandalwood, floral bleach, old lavender and dust.
When Maya had promised the first stop on our adventure would be the best place in New York, I’d imagined the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station with its star-strewn ceiling, or one of the rooftop viewing platforms scattered across the city. I’d considered it might be a special diner or bookstore or park Maya had grown up loving – I was hoping for that, in fact, to give me a glimpse into the girl I haven’t been able to get out of my head for days. I know what she’s told me. I know what my trained eye as a former psychiatrist suggests – much as I’m trying to ignore the signs now I’m no longer in that profession. But there’s so much more I want to know about Maya.
Is that what this is? It makes literally no sense to me whatsoever, but does this kooky triple-threat store hold a key to who Maya is?
We’ve reached the far counter now and Maya has already hopped onto a stool, patting the frayed seat of the one next to her as she invites me to sit. She looks utterly at ease here, I think. Not like I’ve seen her anywhere else; not even her workplace or the park where we met by chance a few days ago when I rescued her sister’s dog.
I’m fascinated. And I need to know more.
Obediently, I take my seat on the stool next to hers. ‘The best bit, huh?’
‘The very best bit.’ She leans across the counter and taps a brass bell with all the thrill of a kid being allowed to ring it.
As if from nowhere, a middle-aged guy pops up. He’s wearing a striped green and white apron, white open-necked shirt and black jeans and is sporting the most impressive moustache, which could almost have been bequeathed to him by a famous circus showman. Behind his left ear the stub of a yellow pencil nestles against the shock of silver at his temples. He smiles at me and then, when he turns to Maya, he lets out a squeal of delight and leans across the counter to hug her.
‘Bambina! You’re here!’
Maya giggles from somewhere between his arms and his chest. ‘I was missing you, Ciro.’
‘I should hope you were,’ Ciro grins, his eyes sliding to me as he lets Maya breathe again. ‘And you brought someone.’
‘Ciro, this is my good friend Dan Steinmann.’
‘Dan, welcome.’ His handshake is warm as he greets me. ‘I expect Maya’s told you…’
‘I haven’t yet,’ she interrupts.
For a moment I wonder if they’ve done this for other good friends – if I’m just the latest in a line of waifs and strays Maya Christie has rescued from the streets of Manhattan. But then I check myself: clearly this place means something to her. She could have chosen the New York Public Library, or Central Park, or any one of countless wonders New York offers everyone, but she chose this place.
‘What’s the secret?’ I ask, pushing my doubts away.
Maya leans across the counter and pulls a dark green cover off a vertical object shrouded on the counter end nearest the back wall.
My breath catches in my throat.
‘A soda fountain,’ I breathe, taking in the elaborate decoration, the nineteenth century elegance of its design. ‘Is that original?’
Ciro beams. ‘My great-grandfather installed it in 1902, when this place was a neighbourhood drugstore. It’s been serving us here ever since.’
‘Can we get two strawberry and peach sodas?’ Maya asks, turning to me when Ciro sets to work. ‘Welcome to the best place in the New York City.’
‘How did you find it?’
She beams, the thrill of surprising me lighting her from the inside out. ‘My mom rented that middle chair.’
I follow her pointed finger to the three hair salon chairs with sixties’ dryers. ‘She was a hair stylist?’
Maya nods. ‘All the years we were at school. Lucy and I would come in to help her set up in the morning, then come straight back here after school to do homework and help out.’
‘And drink sodas?’
‘That too.’ She laughs. ‘But the sodas aren’t all that make this place special.’
‘Nope. This is where I discovered stories.’ She takes a breath as if breathing a scent from her childhood, savouring it for a moment before she continues. ‘Mom was the only person not related to the Bianchis– everyone else was and is part of one enormous, happy, loud, opinionated family. They couldn’t afford to have their own separate premises for their individual businesses, so they put them all in here. And somehow, despite New York changing the moment you blink, it’s survived.’
Ciro slides two perfect pastel-coloured sodas across to us. Each one has a striped red, white and green straw, a crown of cream and a glossy maraschino cherry, the chill of the drink frosting the sides of the traditional glass.
It’s magical. And, also, crazy. But sipping my soda, exchanging identically gleeful grins with Maya Christie, I can’t imagine anywhere else in New York I’d rather be.
‘So, why are we staring our journey here?’ I ask.
Maya smiles. ‘Because this is the place so many people have figured out what it is they really want. Most of them Bianchi’s, but I think it can help you, too.’
‘Us,’ I say, quickly.
A patter of pink dances across her cheekbones. ‘Us.’
Watch the Friday Night Special edition of my weekly FB Live show, Fab Night In Chatty Thing!
This week, three amazing Books of the Week you can win, plus an exclusive new chapter of In A New York Minute – my third New York-set Kowalski’s novel. If you loved Fairytale Of New Yorkand I’ll Take New York, you’ll love this!
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Happy Halloween! Whether you’re relishing the prospect of a spooky night or (like me) a total wuss who’d much prefer treats to tricks, I have something to make you smile…
Here’s a free short story with not very scary ghouls, monsters and a very lovely zombie wench, a sprinkling of magic and a sparkle of romance – welcome to Halloween Café!
It‘s Halloweenat Tony & Frank’s, a fading Fifties’ themed diner on the outskirts of Dudley and the poor overworked staff face a day dressed in ‘spooktacular’ costumes, thanks to an unwelcome memo from Head Office. Lonely waiter Jon is secretly in lovewith new waitress Lily, but in their awful costumes and with his own shyness, how will he ever let her know?
But Jon is about to get a Halloween treat – because way above their heads, two unseen observers are watching and hatching a plan to help him. Will the magic work before the end of the spookiest shift of the year?
I’m often asked who you should write for. Is it for a market, for yourself, for an audience? It’s taken me a long time to find the right answer because of course you should write for yourself and keep readers in mind, too. But I think I’ve finally worked out who I’m writing for: it’s all about this tiny photo I keep on my desk:
It’s a very blurry photo of me, taken around 1990 when I was seventeen. I was at sixth-form college in Stourbridge studying for my English, History and Theatre Studies A-levels – and evenings and weekends at home I was working on my very first book.
I hadn’t told anyone I wrote. My family knew I was doing something because I was writing on a travel typewriter I’d been given for Christmas (remember those?) – the kind that became a rather heavy mini-suitcase when you closed the lid. They didn’t know the story I was writing, only the noise it made.
I loved drama and wanted to be an actress. I had a vision of myself as a confident woman one day, striding off into the world chasing after her dreams. On stage I was confident: in person I apologised, worried, played down my own achievements. I thought I was fat. (I wasn’t fat). I had a strong voice but whispered in choir because I’d been told it stood out too much. (It did stand out, that’s what made it awesome). But when I wrote, I could believe anything was possible – even if the many splodges of Tipp-Ex on the pages told a different story.
And then I decided to tell the guy I had a crush on that I wrote.
(You know a story that begins like this isn’t going to end well…)
He was the leading light in my Theatre Studies class and in the amateur theatre group I performed with on Saturdays. I was a T-Bird to his Danny Zuko, the Ugly Sister to his Prince Charming. He agreed to partner with me for a duologue piece as part of our course – the Inspector from J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls grilling Sheila Birling over her mistreatment of Eva Smith. While we were rehearsing alone one lunchtime in the drama studio, I seized my chance.
‘I’m writing a book, actually.’
What I imagined would happen next proves I’m both a writer to my core and a hopeless romantic: I imagined him taking my hand, my hair blowing around my shoulders, the London Philharmonic Orchestra wheeling into the background to accompany my confession with suitably sweeping strings. He would gaze into my eyes, murmuring, ‘I’ve waited my whole life for a woman who writes…’
What he actually said was a little different.
‘You write stories? Shouldn’t you have given that up at primary school?’
And that was when I quit as a writer.
I went home, binned the many sheets of my book, shelved my typewriter and sobbed into my duvet. I didn’t write another story for ten years.
I write for her.
I write for the teenager who believed one idiot instead of following her heart. I write for the young woman setting out into her life longing for adventure who came home and cowered instead. I write for her – because every chapter I write, every draft I finish, every book I edit and see through to publication, is proof she was right. It was possible. It is possible. It’s happening now.
She’s on my desk (flanked by the Tenth Doctor because she’s awesome and deserves it) and I see her every time I sit down to write. I want her to know that she gets to write books for a living. Books that have gone around the world, translated into fifteen languages, read by over a million people. I want her to believe in herself and stop hiding.
The story I started to write after the ten-year hiatus went on to become Fairytale of New York, after years of secret writing. I’m currently writing my twelfth novel and my eleventh, Our Story, publishes on 3rd September. It’s about two people chasing their dream of writing. And the male protagonist is called Joe – which is the name seventeen-year-old me chose for her very first male lead in the book she was dreaming about.
My latest vlog is here and it’s packed with new things!
There’s news about where I’m at with Book 11 (out later this year), my revamped newsletterand brand new Book Club, plus my online shop and exciting things coming later this year, which I’m very chuffed about…
Ask me a question for the next vlog! What would you like to know about writing, publishing, editing and books? Do you have a burning question about my novels, or a writing problem you’d like some help with? You can leave a comment below this post or contact me on Twitter @wurdsmyth, on Instagram @wurdsmyth, on Facebook at MirandaDickinsonAuthor, or via email: email@example.com If I answer your question, I’ll give you a shout out in my vlog.
Happy Christmas, lovelies! I wanted to give you all a little something to say thank you for your support in 2019, so read on for an EXCLUSIVE SHORT STORY…
Click the link below to read the story!
It’s been a bit of a year this year and there have been lots of challenges both personally and professionally. I celebrated a decade as a published author and saw the publication of my tenth novel, The Day We MeetAgain. I won an award from wonderful writing collective 26 – the first award of my career – and I wrote what I hope will be a career-defining novel that will publish in 2020. I also battled illness, faced scary money worries and had to re-evaluate how I see myself. I’m going into the next decade understanding where I am and believing for better.
So here’s a gift from me to you, to thank you for all of your wonderful messages, book love and support this year and throughout my writing career. I promise you so many more stories to come – and this is the first.
THE CHRISTMAS WINDOWis a short story with snow, love and just a little bit of Christmas magic and I hope you enjoy it. Click the link below to read it.
To celebrate reaching 10,000 followers, I’m doing a seven-day extravaganza of freebies, giveaways and competitions. Keep watching my tweets to see all of them! For DAY THREE, I have a very special prize and a big announcement for writers…
First up, I have a prize for one published writer (traditional or self-published) and one not-yet-published writer.
For A PUBLISHED WRITER I am offering a free one-hour Skype chat where we can talk about your writing. Whatever you need – whether it’s encouragement, advice, or help – we can cover it during our chat. I want to support authors at all stages of their careers and help you stay in love with your words. However I can help, I will.
For AN UNPUBLISHED WRITER I am offering a free three-chapter critique of the book you are are writing or have completed. I can offer advice on tightening up the prose, creating an opening chapter that will have readers turning the pages to read more and crafting a novel opening that will grab the attention of agents, publishers and readers alike.
To be in with a chance of winning these prizes, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about yourself and your work – and why you would like to win. The closing date for entries is 30th November 2019.
And here’s my BIG ANNOUNCEMENT for everyone: On THURSDAY 7th NOVEMBER I am hosting the very first WriteFoxyLIVE!
WriteFoxyLIVE will be aone-hour Facebook Live event where you can ask any question about writing, editing and publishing. I’ll have lots of encouragement for you and best of all this is totally free! No registration needed, just join me on my FB author page: facebook.com/MirandaDickinsonAuthor. For five years my WriteFoxy events have been loved and enjoyed by writers at all stages of writing, from brand new writers to established authors. It’s a place where you can be encouraged, fall back in love with your words and hang out with fellow wordsmiths. I’ve wanted to make it available to everyone for a long time, so I’m thrilled to be bringing you WriteFoxyLIVE on THURSDAY 7th NOVEMBER, 7.30pm-8.30pm. It’s going to be so much fun!
On my blog I love to bring you authors I love who I think you’ll love too. Today I’m thrilled to welcome the brilliant TOBY FROST into the Author Spotlight. Author of the utterly fab Space Captain Smith series, he is now writing a new, darker fantasy series, the first book of which – Up To The Throne – has just been published.
When did you first decide that you wanted to write?
I first started writing when I was about 12. I can’t remember why, or what it was that pushed me from reading novels to writing them. My first efforts were scribbled in a small blue notebook, along with illustrations. I don’t remember either the text or the story being especially good!
What interests you as a writer?
So many things! Firstly, there’s a sense of exploring and creating. You’re showing the reader people and places, but you’re also creating them, so in a way you’re discovering them as well. I often find myself thinking “What if this happened?” and then following the story from there.
And then there’s characters. People are just fascinating, whether your book is set now, in the past or in the distant future. You’ve got to have strong characters that the reader cares about. That means that, whoever they are, what they’re doing has to make sense. I love seeing what happens when two very different characters clash.
For me, concepts like theme and subtext take second place to the story and characters. Because I write fantastical stories, I’m often writing about something in the real world through a surreal, magical lens. But it’s always got to feel convincing. I find history fascinating, and I often steal bits and pieces to make my writing more believable. Whether you’re talking about a trip to the shops or a journey to Mars, the reader has to think, “Yes, that’s what it would be like.”
Are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants?
I never know how to answer this question! I think about what I’m going to write for a long time before I start. I’m often pondering a second book while I’m writing a first one. I think I’m probably more a plotter, but I do sometimes have moments where I stop and think “Hey! Wouldn’t it by better if I just did something completely different?”. So maybe 75% plotter.
Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?
I don’t, really. I don’t find it difficult to write, and I’m lucky in that. I don’t have to be in a particular mood or even a place. Having a day job, I tend to work in the lunchtimes and evenings, but I’d be just as happy writing at other times. Preferably on a luxury yacht or my own private spacecraft.
What inspires you as a writer?
Pretty much everything! I’ve come to think that writing is a way of interpreting and processing the things I experience, albeit in a metaphorical and indirect way. Also, I’m influenced by history, by places and by other fiction, written and visual. So I’m always soaking up ideas and influences, although a lot get discarded. I don’t think I can switch that off – not that I’d want to!
What are the best things about being a writer?
One of the best things must be seeing my own work in bookshops. To see your own novel for sale with a great cover is amazing. A few years ago, I did a reading at a steampunk event and a man came up to me afterwards. He said that a friend of his had got very depressed after a death in the family, and my books had helped cheer him up. That was a pretty excellent moment, too.
And the worst?
It’s hard to think of any. Maybe the expectation that some people have that you’re extremely wealthy? If I had to point to one moment, it would be a couple of years ago at a writing convention, where I was on a panel with another author who I was trying to impress with my literary knowledge. I climbed up onto the stage and whacked my head on a low-hanging beam. After I’d finished staggering around clutching my head, I went on to do the panel, but my aura of genius was gone (if it had ever been there!). Goodness only knows what I said after being hit on the head.
It’s a fantasy story set in an imaginary city in a magically-enhanced version of the Renaissance. Giulia, the lead character, returns to her home city after several years, to take revenge on the man who tried to kill her. She’s clever, skilled and still burning with anger, but the world has moved on, and her enemy is no longer a criminal but a rising politician with designs on the throne. Killing him could throw the principality into chaos. As she closes in on him, she starts to realise just what taking her revenge will do to the people she cares about, and has to make hard choices.
How have you found writing a darker fantasy series? Has it required a different approach to your Space Captain Smith books?
It is different, because it stresses different things. Usually, I worry if I’ve gone for very long without telling a joke. Here, it’s more that I’ve got to keep the atmosphere up, and keep the story moving. The same basics of character and storytelling are still there, but a more serious story needs a more engrossing plot. However, in terms of actually writing it, it’s been very similar. Things have inspired the writing in much the same way, and the characters and setting of Giulia’s fantastical Renaissance come together in much the same way as the Space Empire does in Space Captain Smith.
If you could have a dream cover quote from any author, living or dead, who would it be?
“It filled me with laughter, joy and hope for the future.” – George Orwell.
What are your top three tips for writers?
Well, first up, a disclaimer: the more I write, the less comfortable I am in telling other people how to do it. I don’t think there’s a set route to good writing, much less to getting published. But, since you asked…
1) Practice. Get used to the experience of turning thoughts into words. The main cause of books never getting into print is that they’re never finished. Practice not only improves your writing, but gets you into the habits of writing and editing. The task of putting words down becomes much less daunting once you’ve got accustomed to it.
2) Learn about writing. In the past, I would have said “Read more books” here, but it’s not just reading: it’s understanding and learning from books, TV shows, films, real life and anything else. You can learn a lot reading good-quality novels outside your usual genre. Personally, I get a lot out of reading how-to books (Stephen King’s On Writing is particularly good), but it varies from person to person. One very good way of learning is to go to events or join a writing group. My own writing improved vastly after joining the St Albans writing group.
3) Persist! It’s easy to be put off by your first few rejections, but you have to get used to it and carry on. If the first book you write isn’t a massive success, don’t give up. Start work on another project (but don’t throw the first one away! You never know, after all). Keep learning, keep going to events, making contacts, finding out new things. You might find that something you couldn’t get traditionally published works well as a self-published book, or vice versa. The important thing is to stay enthusiastic about your writing and always keep trying to improve and succeed.
Do you have a dream project you’d love to write?
I’ve got two! The first is a series of epic fantasy novels set in the same world as Up To The Throne. They’d have a wider setting and be about more powerful characters, but they’d tie into the Giulia stories and tell a grander, longer story. The other project is a set of linked novellas with an ensemble cast, about the futuristic secret service glimpsed in the Space Captain Smith books. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve started work on both…
Thanks so much for braving the Author Spotlight! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Only that Up To The Throne is available on Kindle and in paperback. Just click this link!
How fab was that?! I’m a huge fan of Toby’s writing and can’t wait to read Up To The Throne. You can find out more about Toby at his website, on Facebook at tobyfrostauthor and follow him on Twitter @isambardsmith. Watch out for more Author Spotlights coming soon!