POETRY POST: Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’

Here’s another of my favourite poems, by one of my favourite poets, the wonderful Robert Frost. There are several I could have chosen - The Road Not Taken; Departmental; A Considerable Speck; Fire and Ice; Birches - if you don’t know these, I urge you to seek them out. 


Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

This beautiful and deceptively simple poem has a hypnotic quality, like that of a dream. A lone rider pauses in a long journey to look at snow falling in the woods. There is a sense of isolation from the fact there is ‘no farmhouse near’, and the rider has stopped beside a ‘frozen lake’. There is even a sense of threat as it is ‘the darkest evening of the year’, which suggests it is deep winter and will be a long, cold night; not one in which most of us would like to be out in the wilds. The rider’s ‘little horse’ seems uncomprehending of a pause in such a frozen, unpromising place. An animal, the narrator claims, would not understand why they have stopped here, but I think I do.

The scene is mesmerising, with ‘downy flakes’ blanketing the beautiful woods in pure snow, in a quietude only snowfall can create. If a person stayed here too long, on this freezing night, he or she could freeze to death. And there is something deathly about this scene - the ‘darkest evening’, the woods being ‘lovely, dark, and deep’ - those commas after ‘lovely’ and ‘dark’ pacing the reader to space out those three adjectives, giving the impression of long steps forward into those beckoning woods.

But why do these winter woods beckon the rider, on this freezing night when any sensible person would be home and safe? This rider has ‘promises to keep’ - such a mysterious line which fills the reader with questions, what promises? and to whom? - and ‘miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep.’ The simple yet beautiful repetition of that last line gives the emphasis of the rider’s heavy responsibilities elsewhere - where, what and to whom we will never know - but we feel the weight of them by hearing them twice. There is no time to sit and stare at snow when the night draws in, the weather is dangerously cold, and the rider is expected elsewhere, miles and miles from here. But the rider does not heed the practical nature of all these facts, and instead gazes upon these lovely woods instead. Perhaps the deep, dark woods represent death, a wish for death even. But they are also lovely - so maybe they could be a path one wishes to take, one yearns to take, away from life’s responsibilities, just for a moment, just this once; the lure of the open road on the repetitive journey to work, the idea of escape from one’s promises, into something wild, untouched by the world of people, away from villages, farms and safety, escape into the unknown. Haven’t we all felt like that, from time to time? 

I’ve read that Frost didn’t like his poems to be analysed too closely, so I hope I haven’t done that, but just given a flavour of why I feel this poem is so beautiful and so disarmingly mysterious and lovely, just like those dark, deep woods.



I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve just agreed a 2-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton. My new novel will appear in 2015 and another book will follow. The new book is about an C18th orphan girl who is educated through a benefactor. She becomes a scientist - or in the parlance of the time, a Natural Philosopher. She travels abroad and makes a remarkable discovery…

I’m very excited about continuing to work with the brilliant team at Hodder, especially my wonderful editor, Suzie Dooré. I’m also extremely grateful to my marvellous agent, Jane Conway-Gordon, for negotiating the waters of the publishing world for me and all her support.

Very happy days!



Today on http://misschaptersreviews.blogspot.co.uk/ there is a super interview with me by Georgina Tranter and a chance to win a signed hardback copy of THE VISITORS. 

All you need to do to enter the giveaway is FOLLOW the blog by clicking on the Bloglovin’ link on the right-hand side of the page, or clicking on the Follow by email link here too. Georgina’s blog updates regularly with great reviews of a wide range of books and includes interviews with authors too.

Giveaway ends Sunday.

Enter now to get your hands on a SIGNED FIRST-EDITION HARDBACK of  THE VISITORS!


Here’s the link again:



On sale today: Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting by Kevin Powers.


I’m very happy to announce that I am now an Author Allsort! You can check out their site here -


There are some interesting posts,and information about their lovely authors, such as Sarah Crossnan, CJ Daugherty, Laura Lam, Emma Pass, Fletcher Moss, Holly…


BRILLIANT BOOK REVIEWS! Martine Bailey & Louise Walters


Martine Bailey’s first novel is a tour de force set in eighteenth-century Europe. Its heroine is plain-talking Biddy, an under-cook at an English mansion. We are brought into her world through a cookery journal named ‘The Cook’s Jewel’, full of recipes jotted down through the years by a succession of women. When a new mistress arrives at the house, Biddy is soon drawn into intrigue and the heart of a mystery, the roots of which are not fully revealed until the very end of the book. There are many other interesting characters in this story, some of whom contribute their own perspectives, through letters and viewpoint; in particular, a slave renamed Loveday from Batavia (present day Indonesia), whose memories of his homeland were particularly fascinating to this reader. This novel is about rulers and the ruled, cookery and the emergence of restaurants, sugar-craft, slavery, all kinds of love and companionship and also a great mystery story. The writing itself is beautifully fluent and quirky in its use of eighteenth-century parlance, yet this latter element was used charmingly and never overdone. It’s full of twists and turns with marvellous moments of drama and some super revelations I never saw coming! I’d recommend this novel to anyone wanting an insight into the period and a jolly good read with satisfying and very real depths.



This dual-narrative novel follows present-day Roberta - who works in a bookshop and finds letters and cards inside the old books – and 1940s Dorothy who meets a Polish pilot during the Battle of Britain. Secrets from the past resurface chapter by chapter as the relationship between Roberta and Dorothy is gradually revealed. The lives of these two women and the conflict between their inner feelings and the outer world – and for both, a reluctance to fully engage with that outer world, looking in from outside, always on the edge of things – are beautifully rendered by the writer. Traditional aspects of women’s lives - such as childbirth, relationships with parents, marriage, adultery, cookery and laundry – are explored in a sensitive and careful way, all the while the central mystery unfolding and drawing the reader onwards. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Dorothy and Jan, her Polish pilot, which achieved a kind of timeless quality which I did not want to end and was eager to return to. I’m trying to avoid giving away any plot spoilers, but suffice to say there is a central scene recollected by Dorothy – told in flawless stream of consciousness – which was devastating and harrowing to read, brilliantly done – you’ll know what I mean when you get there. The characters will live on long in the memory, and the scenes in Dorothy’s kitchen and in the fields surrounding her farm are etched in my mind. A lovely book, touching and very moving.


Happy reading!


"Fear and wonder pulled me toward both astronomy and writing. If the world does not create awe in us, we will neuter the beautiful and complex. The profound becomes prosaic." On non-traditional paths to the writing life.


"Fear and wonder pulled me toward both astronomy and writing. If the world does not create awe in us, we will neuter the beautiful and complex. The profound becomes prosaic." On non-traditional paths to the writing life.


POETRY POST: Philip Larkin’s ‘Here’

An occasional blog post on my favourite poems, starting with ‘HERE’ by Philip Larkin.


Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows

And traffic all night north; swerving through fields

Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,

And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields

Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude

Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,

And the widening river’s slow presence,

The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,

Gathers to the surprise of a large town;

Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster

Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,

And residents from raw estates, brought down

The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,

Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires -

Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies, 

Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers - 

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling

Where only salesmen and relations come 

Within a terminate and fishy-smelling

Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,

Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarfed wives;

And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges

Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges

Isolate villages, where removed lives

Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands

Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,

Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,

Luminously-peopled air ascends;

And past the poppies bluish neutral distance

Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach

Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence;

Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

There is a train journey here, a swaying observer watching the changing landscape. It might be Hull, but could stand for anywhere similar - the jumble and clutter of the central stanzas are spiky and uncomfortable to read, perhaps even a little snobby - but maybe many of us have cast a tired eye over Saturday shopping and longed to escape town at that moment, and escape all those jostling people, to quiet, to space.

I’ve driven into Hull many times. I know those shining sands, that wide river’s ‘slow presence’. It’s beautiful. When you cross the Humber Bridge, it’s best to be a passenger, as you long to gaze out of your window down the long view of the river stretching away impossibly broad, There is an indefinable need to leave that car, that bridge and soar away downstream to…somewhere. 

But what makes Larkin’s final vision so perfect is that he knows this is not possible, that there is no one ‘Here’, and that’s what makes it so lovely - ‘leaves unnoticed thicken’, ‘Hidden weeds flower’, ‘neglected waters quicken’ - these are separate from and utterly disengaged from us. The air is inhabited only by light. Unlike people, it is ‘untalkative’ and as much as we yearn, it is perpetually beyond us, beyond our understanding, ‘out of reach’. 

It’s not easy to explain how much this poem means to me. The final stanza is something I read over and over, to see if I can ever fathom how it works, how on earth he did it, that magic. Sometimes I just read it to prepare myself for a day’s writing, to put myself in that place, of ‘unfenced existence’, where every writer wants to be. 



1. The question: “Where do you get your ideas from?" The fact is, there’s no real answer to this, except for (a) nobody knows (b) goblins bring them during the night and (c) if you don’t know, I can’t tell you….

2. The absence of days off; holidays; weekends; Friday feelings. To paraphrase…



Not sorted your mum’s present yet? Buy her THE VISITORS and I’ll send you an exclusive LIZA POSTCARD to accompany the book. I can write a personalised message to her on it & of course, my author signature!


All you need to do is go on my Facebook page:


or on Twitter:


and you can private message or DM your address & whatever message you want for your mum to accompany her book gift.

Last posting Friday!

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or ask at your local bookshop.

THE VISITORS was Book of the Month in Choice magazine, so be assured that your mum will love it!

So what are you waiting for?!

Thanks & Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday to mums everywhere xx