Stella Hurst's


The debut novel from Stella Hurst. 

Jane, was nineteen and yearning to leave Christopher Yard, the wretched slum where she lived and worked as a straw plaiter. ‘The Christ’, a hotbox of crime, poverty and disease held a tight grip on its pitiful occupants only releasing them to prison, workhouse or death. Jane was determined to be an exception and became entangled with two men who changed her life in ways that she could never have envisaged.

Inspired by an extraordinary true story and a heinous crime.


After Christmas 2020 and as we entered a third lockdown I thought about what I’d achieved in terms of creative work during the 10 months I’d been shielding. The answer was not much. So I decided to focus my attention on finishing a novel.  

I’ve been working on this particular book for several years, (seventeen!) sometimes on ‘paper’ and more often in my head.  I knew most of the story but had no real idea how to cope with the practicalities of arranging 70,000 or 80,000 words of fiction in the right order. UPDATE: The Last Straw is finished. On to the next project.

Over the last four months I’ve immersed myself in writing courses, explored writing software and listened to writerly podcasts.  I’ve learnt a lot and hopefully honed my skills. Now, as I’m coming to the end of the journey I’m going to use this blog to document all the resources I’ve found indispensable along the way.


Blank Sheet Of Paper And Pen

Day 3 of NaNoWriMo and it’s early days but so far, it’s going well. I’ve been a member of NaNo since 2004, how crazy is that? During that time I’ve finished four or five times and I figured a few years ago that this method of getting through a first draft really didn’t suit my style. I ‘pantstered’ it with only a rough idea of a story (no plot, no problem, eh?), powered my way through and often ended up with 50,000 words of such nonsense that the thought of editing it was too overwhelming. One of the iterations of my first novel, The Last Straw, was started in NaNo in 2017 and it almost broke me to edit it. Nightmare! So this year a new approach.

  1. A detailed outline. 10 chapters broken down into 3 scenes per chapter, which coincidentally is 1,667 words per scene. Notes for every scene.
  2. I’m writing a scene very early in the morning. Then getting up, showering, breakfasting, then back to the MS and editing what I’ve just written.


I’m not imagining that I will have a totally edited and polished MS at the end of the month. No doubt it will be cut, added to, moved around. But at least each scene, as I’m writing it, will make sense and I’m not going to be overwhelmed with 50,000 words to edit from scratch. Maybe this approach could work for you too?

Research For Authors

I love to research. Honestly, for me, it’s second only to holding the first copy of a finished book. So I was excited to see that this week’s episode of  Joanna Penn’s podcast focussed on research for authors. I wasn’t disappointed. Joanna’s guest was Vikki Carter discussing her book Research Like a Librarian: Research Help and Tips for Writers for Researching in the Digital Age. I’m reading it at the moment and I feel this will greatly contribute to my knowledge of how to research effectively rather than falling into  rabbit holes of distraction. Just one tip that I picked up from the podcast was to try out YouTube for research. Wow, that was an eye-opener. YouTube led me to books relevant to my subject area that I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.


The one about finishing

I’ve had my head down for the last few months concentrating on editing and tweaking my first novel, in what seemed like a never ending re-write.

Finally it’s done and published. Phew! The story has been rattling round in my head for seventeen years, ever since I discovered, during an Open University Family History course, that one of my ancestors had committed a horrible crime.  I’ve tried to structure the story in various ways during that time but never succeeded because there were so many gaps.  Rather late in the day it occurred to me (I may be a bit slow!) that I could fictionalise the holes, so here it is.  Half truth, half lies and available at an Amazon store near you. 


Play On

this place does not exist

I’m on holiday from editing my book and I’m taking this week to play around with some of the other ideas floating around my head. Here’s what I came up with. 

Inspired by AI for words I’m now exploring AI for images.  I began with Nvidia Gaugan, this allows you to draw like a toddler and create (almost) photographic landscapes. The downloadable app is restricted to Windows machines running an Nvidia card but the web version is accessible to most everyone. It’s pretty rudimentary – the app is a little more sophisticated and gave me a good background for my image. I exported the resulting image to Photoshop and ran it through ON1 Raw to enlarge it to a more workable size.

I searched for a photo of a village on Envato Elements cut out the village, blended and matched the colour temperature. 

I used Photoshop brushes to stamp the trees in the foreground, picking the darkest brown out of the shadows in the image.

I copied and merged the layers and ran the image through Luminar 4. With this I was able to change the sky, clouds and add the distant mountains.

Finally I added a layer on top and with a reduced opacity brush painted in some shadows around the landscape.

I’m happy with the overall result and I’ve got a couple of projects in mind.  Map making software and inventing a fantasy world, with ‘photos’ of the actual places. Or maybe a fake travel book about the journeys in my head during the pandemic!

cropped shot of robot working with laptop on wooden surface

Artificial intelligence for writers

How does that even work? 

I’m fascinated by this topic but like many writers I dismissed it out of hand initially. AI for writing? First impossible, second cheating. Then I learnt, that like most new technology it was more nuanced than that.  It isn’t click a button and produce a book.

Most of us are already familiar with AI in our writing if we use spellcheck. Then we have software like Grammarly that looks for errors in grammar. Take another step forward and say hello to Pro Writing Aid which can check for errors such as passive writing, overuse of adverbs and a raft of other writerly goofs.

Last year GPT-3 was announced.  At its most basic this is a language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. And it’s good. I first heard about it via writer Joanna Penn’s occasional podcast about technology for writers and the publishing industry. Joanna is a self described “techno-optimist”, a term I have quickly stolen to describe my own attitude towards the wonderful inventions that surround us. These are exciting times!!  I digress though… back to writing and AI.

On top of the GPT-3 engine developers are creating software to make it user friendly and accessible to non-techies.  This week Joanna interviewed Amin Gupta. Amin has developed Sudowrite , software that’s built on the GP3 engine and can help writers by suggesting characters, expanding plot even writing poetry, all based on your own work. It’s in beta at the moment but you can apply to get on the list to try it out. I was lucky enough to get on the beta and I was blown away by the capabilities. A couple of examples:

I’m writing Victorian historical fiction so I put in a few sentences but carefully avoided anything that I thought would give away the time period.  Sudowrite suggested several ways I could continue with this piece of writing and one of them had a character ‘hailing a hansom.’  What kind of witchcraft is this?  I scanned through the initial sentences again and found mention of a shawl which had presumably given a clue to the time period. Mind blown! It can even attempt poetry: put the topic and a few lines of poetry in and it will produce a few more stanzas.  I played around with this and managed to produce poems that had totally different meanings just be altering a few words in the initial lines.  And it wasn’t poetry in the sense that it can follow rhyming schemes or scan correctly but it could definitely make you think differently about a subject and give you some word combinations that you might not have thought of.

Does this software write for you? No, but it can generate ideas that look at your writing from another perspective. Joanna’s summation was imagine sitting and brainstorming with a writing buddy.  They might give you a great idea but, of course, you then you have to go away and write it yourself.

Is it cheating? Is using a spellcheck cheating, is hiring an editor cheating?  That’s for you to decide but I’m embracing  a new writing partner helping me out when I get stuck. 

There are some concerns surrounding AI to do with copyright and plagiarism, that’s too big a subject to explore here but there is further information in the links below. At the moment the only downside I can see is that it’s way too much fun and hours can be lost down the rabbit hole of generating prose and poetry.

This is a huge subject and my knowledge  is limited to the research I’ve carried out over the last few months.  If you’re interested I’ll list some resources where you can find explanations that are more informed than mine. 

GPT-3 – Wiki

AI for Authors – Practical and Ethical Guidelines

GPT-3 Creative Fiction

Play On

Play on

I’ve had my head down and started editing.  This seems to consist mainly of adding two hundred words then deleting three hundred.  Saying that I do feel as though I’m making some progress. Slow and steady.

What has helped lately is discovering a secret weapon. Drum roll……noise cancelling headphones!  I tend to get distracted easily and I know I’m not alone with that problem.  Emails, text messages, even the everyday noises around the house can take me out of my writing.  Then my lovely husband bought me these headphones and wow, what a difference.  I can get ‘into the zone’ and nothing disturbs me. I listen to instrumental tracks because I don’t want lyrics to creep into my writing.  Cinema music is my favourite genre at the moment and I was lucky enough to find ‘Alex’s Essay Writing Playlist’ on Spotify.  Thirty five hours of cinema music.  I put it on shuffle and fast forward to dramatic, sad or whatever suits the tone of the writing.

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

About the author

Stella Hurst is the pen name of Paula Jeffery, a writer living in the middle of England.  

As an indie writer she published her first non-fiction book in 2009 and since then has added to her collection with non-fiction, art and children’s books. 

The Last Straw is her first foray into fiction for grown ups. 

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