Sunday, 30 November 2008

Being there

Really odd today.

I went for a walk through my novel.

By that I mean I visited the actual place where it is set - the North York Moors around Farndale and Rosedale. It’s been a long time since I had a good wander around up there, although it was a major part of my growing up. I have been writing it into my novel this year purely from memory and from similar (but not really) scenery in my now local South Pennines.

As we drove across the moors this morning I began to have second thoughts. Was this really such a good idea? Would my fiction crumble to dust when confronted with the reality? Would my plot become a geographical impossibility? Would I have to relocate it to Devon?

When we arrived I was overwhelmed, partly by how much I had accurately remembered (including the location of roads and markers) but also by how much I had forgotten. The place in heavy fog is even more atmospheric than I recalled and is completely fitting for the magical realism elements of my novel. I spent a long time in the freezing fog scribbling in my notebook and touching the real things - such as the waymark stones - that have been fiction for me for twelve months. In the shifting mist and silence (broken only by the maniacal cackling of the grouse) I lost track of what was real and what was fiction and I just knew that I had chosen the right location.

One of the central elements of my story (yes this super secretive writer is actually going to give something away here!) is the waymark stone known as Fat Betty.

I have this picture of it pinned above my desk and I have strong memories of visiting it as a teenager but actually being there was fantastic. I even got hubby to re-enact one of the scenes there - with partial success. (Interestingly the stone is about half as tall as I remembered it - chest height on a man not head height (maybe my boyfriends were smaller then :o)).

So definitely a successful reconnaissance and we rounded it off with lunch in one of my favourite pubs- The Red Lion at Blakey Ridge. It doesn’t feature properly in the novel, but its car park does and amazingly it was just as I’ve described it (amazingly as my memories are based around teenage trips up there on Friday nights with a designated driver while the rest of us drank cider.)

Very glad I took the plunge and did some proper research. Can’t wait to get on with the edit tomorrow.

Friday, 14 November 2008


I’ve been bitten by a bug - of the drama variety. As part of Children in Need parents were invited to attended my daughter’s Friday drama class tonight. The improvisation was about cowboys and of course we all were encouraged to come in costume. As usual we left it until the last minute but managed to scrabble together something vaguely appropriate. As I looked at myself in the mirror in my jeans tucked into boots + checked shirt + tassly neckerchief/scarf combo I had a major flashback and realised that this was how I dressed for most of the ‘80s.

When we arrived at the drama class it was like a sixth form disco circa 1986. Lots of mums revisiting their wardrobes and quite liking what they found (majority of dads had made their excuses, hubby had an optician’s appointment for exactly the same time as the class. Funnily enough)

As we got started (yes we had to join in the class not just sit on the side) I found myself wishing I’d had an early evening drinky. I felt horribly self conscious as we were asked to play out being a pilot in a plane that suddenly experienced engine problems (this was a warm up before the cowboy stuff got going). It wasn’t the zooming around I couldn’t cope with, I’m OK at a bit of mime, it was the dialogue that was supposed to accompany it. “No screaming,”we were told, as we hit emergency buttons and wrestled with joy sticks, “I want to hear big fat sentences” While the children articulated the fear, panic and capability of pilots in a mid air crisis, the parents jostled around mumbling ‘oh dear, oh dear.” What made it even more embarrassing was the mum and dad who had turned up without a costume between them but with a video camera. Mortifying. Desperately hoping they haven’t heard of YouTube.

But, as the session progressed I really got into it, and well, ended up getting a bit carried away. If there was an award for overacting I think I would have won it for my fainting fit at the point in the saloon bar scene (yes we’re onto the cowboy bit now) when a cowhand was gored by a bull (or ‘bored by a gull’ as one of the parent-actors enunciated)

I did however get three stickers (Creative Work, Good Movement and Beautiful Voice if you’re interested) and ooh how I wore then with pride (still wearing them actually)

It was a really good fun event and raised lots of money (especially from sticky bun sale and raffle (prize - a free term of classes (worth gazillions).)

So now I’m dreaming of greasepaint and bright lights and have been googling the local am dram group. Hubby has been muttering darkly that if I take up acting “something will have to go” and I don’t think he means the cat. Still, having giving up knitting for the sake of me health I’m sure I can squeeze in a bit of board treading. I will be there next week with my stickers and my red sparkly cowboy hat - how can they not let me in?

Friday, 7 November 2008


I have been taught how to knit lots of times - by my mum, my Gran and a couple of years ago even did a course on knitting with wire and plastic bags at Art College. I've never really taken to it though. I have a problem with wool. The thought of wet wool -yeesh, it just makes my teeth go all fizzy. (And knitting with wire was really tough)

But when a couple of friends said they wished they had more time for knitting I suggested we start a knitting club. So now ten or so of us meet every Monday morning in a café with squishy sofas and - we knit. Actually the knitting bit isn’t compulsory, some people just turn up for a chat. But four weeks in I have made the obligatory scarf (thin wool on ginormously fat needles so it's sort of lacy (and you can’t see the unintentional holes)) and a bag.

(My bag being modelled by someone who is not me)

Very chuffed with myself and manage to grit teeth whenever thought of damp wool enters my head. Hurrah I am a born again knitter, there will be cardigans and hats and scary clowns…

Except, last week, I was suddenly struck down by agonising pain in my back and cramps in my arm. The doctor prescribed super strength pain killers and sent me to see a physio.

“Done anything different in the last few weeks?” physio asked.
“No,” I said thinking hard. “Same old, same old.”
Just as I was leaving she commented on my bag.
“I made it myself,” I said proudly.
“Recently?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said still proud, “Just finished it, and you know what, I’ve never knitted before.”

Her diagnosis was swift and decisive - ‘tis the knitting what’s done it. After 30+ years of avoiding wool based craft activities my month of ribbing and gartering has done for me. I may never knit again!

Will have to start new club - paper maché anyone?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Adolescent muse

Some days my writing is like a truculent teenager. I have to coax it out of its fetid den with promises of biscuits and cake.

Today was like that. I avoided looking it directly in the eye, just let it amble at its own pace across the page. I edited tentatively around it, made sure it was fed and watered, brushed the crumbs off its jumper, and resisted the urge to smooth down its hair. Kept my critical lip buttoned up.

And it worked. 2,000 words crept onto the page. Then it said "Can I go now?" and I let it slink back to its room taking the last of the chocolate hobnobs with it. Hope its in a better mood next time I knock on its door.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

It's That Time Again

Aaah eight o’clock on a Thursday night! My favourite time of the week.

I love being a Woodcraft Folk leader but I find preparing for and running the sessions a bit of a stress (especially as I have a day job doing something else and no child-wrangling training what-so-ever). Tonight was our Halloween party and it all went really well (Fancy dress, Zombie Games, a Pumpkin Assault course, Apple Bobbing (“You have to hold his face under” “No you don’t!”) and a Baba Yaga story at the end. Now I can relax with a glass of wine and not think about the darling little Woodies again ‘til after half-term.

This time last week I was still on a high from our writing group’s night of “public readings of our stuff” at a local wine bar. It was fab. A couple of hours before it started I was having big concerns - I knew that half the group weren’t actually that keen on doing it and I was worried that they either wouldn’t turn up or would have a horrible time. I was asking myself "Why are we doing this?” and couldn’t remember the answer.

In the end everyone turned up and did brilliantly. Having to read to an audience had really made us focus on our writing and the pieces were all polished to their shiniest best. We started with a couple of poems about pants then went on to ‘Duelling Haiku” - two men reading out alternate haiku - to great effect. We had stories, poems and excerpts from novels (one of which is to be published next year).

I read one of my SAF stories (about a woman dancing naked in her conservatory) and a micro-fiction piece published in a Leaf Books anthology last year, about a woman who gambles away her lover. I was also the compere and I was in my element. It was my birthday, I was wearing my favourite floaty green nylon vintage dress (how did they manage in the ‘70s with all that smoking in close proximity to flammable material?) and I had a microphone.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves and we had some wonderful feedback from the audience. We all ended up on a big high, feeling really confident about our writing. And that’s when I remembered why we had done it.

Friday, 17 October 2008

There are more questions than answers

Actually in this case that's not true, I have answered all the questions below as required. But I remember hearing a homeless man singing the above in a bus stop late one night - very poignant (and totally beside the point, get on with it girl).
Okay, thank you, thank you to Tam, Sally Q and Helen MH for this lovely award.

And in return here's a bit about me:

1) Where is your mobile phone? Downstairs, I just heard it go ping.

2)Where is your significant other? At work and possibly reading this

3)Your hair colour? Ask my hairdresser - I just known that it's a number not a name

4)Your mother? B&B landlady is her latest incarnation, which I can't wait to see

5) Your father? In Italy (and possibly reading this)

6) Your favorite thing? My daughter (is it alright to call her a thing?)

7) Your dream last night? Being exposed in a public toilet. A recurring theme, this time the walls collapsed around me one by one.

8) Your dream/goal? To have a novel published.

9) The room you're in? We call it 'the study, but its really a glorified landing that is also home to drying washing, stuff that needs to go up to the next floor and our harmonium

10)Your hobby? Writing, running, making stuff

11) Your fear? Illness (in me and in others)

12) Where do you want to be in 6 years? On the shelves in Waterstones

13) Where were you last night? Woodcraft Folk - We had an Australian themed night - Had a serious discussion about land rights and emigration, then painted our faces, made boomerangs, and told stories

Edited to add: This is a kids group that I help to run, just in case you were thinking it was some bizarre cult

14) What you're not? Patient

15) One of your wish-list items? A gadget that will give me (genuinely) free unlimited access to the internet and will fit in my pocket, yet will also magically have a (genuinely) usable keyboard for me to tip tap on.

16) Where you grew up? North Yorkshire and North East coast

17) The last thing you did? Coffee and chat with friends this morning after we'd dropped the kids at school

18) What are you wearing? My favourite stripey velevet skirt and a purple top and socks with holes in

19) Your TV? Very small

20) Your pets? Old saggy cat

21) Your computer? Temperamental

22) Your mood? Up. It's Friday. Enjoyed my coffee time this morning, looking forward to writing all day then people coming round this evening for supper

23) Missing someone? Often

24) Your car? Smells

25) Something you're not wearing? Sunglasses

26) Favorite store? Charity shop

27) Your summer? Gorgeous. Relaxed, fun, but too short

28) Love someone? Lots

29) Your favorite colour? Blue, unless it's food

30) When is the last time you laughed? This morning over coffee

31) Last time you cried? I'm prone to tears spilling over all sorts of stuff but I haven't had a full on bawling session for ages.

I need to pass this on and having had a look around realised that most of the blogs I read have already been awarded it. I love lots of blogs and could just give it to you all but I've narrowed it down to the five that I always read as soon as Google Reader tells me they've posted something new - Spiral Skies, Karen, Womag, Helen MH and Sally

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Oh Happy Day!

Mmm pain au chocolat for breakfast, a pile of new books and DVDs, a beautiful silver ring, a bottle of homemade perfume that smells of bubble gum and something cake-shaped hidden in the cupboard for later - it must be my birthday!

I'm having a lovely time so far and I'm planning to spend the next couple of hours walking in the woods. I went for a run there yesterday morning with the idea of clearing my head and came back with it full of words. So I'm going back again today and this time I'm taking my notebook and pen.

In the heart of the woods is an old cotton mill, now belonging to the National Trust. It has a fascinating history, first as a working mill, then an 'entertainment emporium' with dining saloons, a dancing hall, a roller skating rink, refreshments kiosks and boating on the mill pond and now as a 'model of sustainable development', with working models of water power and other green technologies.

Standing in the mill yard on a cold damp day when there is nobody else around you can just about here the footsteps: the clogs ringing on the cobbles, the dancing shoes slipping across the wooden floor, the thunder of the wheels on the rink. All the lives that have passed through there, the long hours and hard labour of women and children, the links with the wider world as cotton was brought in and fabric sent out, the courtships and friendships of Sunday and Bank Holiday jollies by the river and the pond, and the stories that must have blossomed on the dance floor and in the tea rooms. In the still and the quiet the place seems noisy and bustling with the past.

A good place to spend a birthday day I think.

My birthday night will be spent firmly in the present. My writing group is having a 'showcase' at a local wine bar as part of a Readers' and Writers' festival. I enjoy reading out loud (I'm a performer at heart) and have chosen two pieces that I'm pretty confident with, so I'm really looking forward to it, although it will mean holding off on the birthday cocktails until I've finished.

And finally (you can tell it's my birthday, I just can't shut up!). Thank you to Tam for this lovely award which added an extra smile to my day.

There are conditions attached to it - ie a questionnaire to complete and blogs to nominate, but this post is long enough - I promise to do it tomorrow.

Monday, 13 October 2008

But that's not me!

A few years ago some friends from Uni that I thought knew me pretty well got all excited about me meeting up with another friend of theirs.

“She’s just like you,” they said. “It's uncanny, you just won’t believe it.”

I didn’t. She was the most annoying person I’ve ever met. An over the top loud mouth, whom I basically wanted to slap. I didn’t. But I also didn’t spend quite as much time with those friends anymore, and when I did, I was very quiet.

So, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky last night. Three separate people had commented that the central character Poppy - “is just like you”. Given that I am not a primary school teacher and am about ten years older than she is, I knew they meant something a bit deeper.

At various points through the film hubby nudged me, raised his eyebrows and gave me a “you do that” look (When she piled all of her materials for her art and craft preparation on the living room floor, talked inanities to uninterested shop assistants, babbled hysterically to the commuters she was squashed with on the bus, fell backwards off a chair, seemed oblivious to the fact that not everyone was on her wavelength etc.).

“Am I really like that?” I had to ask at the end.

“Well,” said hubby, “You’re not quite so breathy and your laugh is less high pitched”

I waited for more.

“And you’re clothes aren’t quite as bright?” He was looking a bit desperate at this point so I let him off.

Of course no-one is ever 'just like' anyone else, but I decided that after all that there are worse things than being compared to an easy-come , easy-go optimist with a love of high heels. And at least I didn’t want to slap her.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Virtual Headpoppingness

At about 2pm last Friday I really did think my head was going to pop. Surrounded by books and paper and envelopes and a flashing email box and a hungry cat, a half packed suitcase and a pile of washing I'd forgotten to wash. I just wanted to throw my hands in the air and shout , "Ok, Ok, I give in . You're right I can't Do it All."

But I didn't because I would have been letting too many people down. So somehow, by five o'clock, I met all three work deadlines that had horribly coincided; I packed the daughter's rucksack for her weekend away in the Dales and my suitcase for my working weekend in Cardiff; I paid my credit card bills, fed the cat and sent out my CV to three prospective new employers. And. I finished the first draft of my novel.

It was only when I was standing on the train platform saying goodbye to hubby and daughter that it sank in. It was when the daughter said 'Mummy have you really written a whole novel?' just before waving goodbye. I sat on the train in shock. I'd done it. The one thing I have really wanted to do ever since I could first cobble together a sentence. I've written a novel. It's a first draft and it needs soooo much work. But I've done it. Milestone reached. Tick. I spent the rest of the five and a half hour journey in a bit of a daze.

I'm really keen to get get on with the rewrite but fortunately have an enforced time/space away from it, first the weekend in Cardiff and now a couple of days working in London. Next Monday should be just right for taking a fresh look. It's been months since I looked at the first chapters - I almost have no idea what I'm going to find!

Meanwhile I did have a sneaky peak this morning at the the chapters I hurriedly sent off to my mentor on Friday (just catching the last post) and was horrified by the number of typos, some of which made a couple of passages difficult to understand (gulp) - I have sent her an apologetic email. Looking forward to hearing what she has to say about 'The End' at our meeting on Wednesday.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Bowie Fest

Yesterday and today I've been researching David Bowie for work and, oh dear, just had to watch all his videos on YouTube. Bliss.

This is particularly wonderful

Might just have to watch it again :o)

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Wordless Wednesdays

Pinched this idea from GreenJello (I landed on her via the Black Box) who freely admits to having borrowed it from elsewehere. Yes I know I've used words this time but there won't be any on future Wednesdays - they're Wordless you see :o) (But feel free to suggest a caption)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

How to Write

Anyone else collecting this week's give-away in the Guardian - a series of 'How to Write' booklets?

I've really enjoyed the Fiction one (Saturday's) and today's Plays and Screenplays. Interesting and useful info by experienced writers - its got to be a good thing. If you've missed them Sunday's was Poetry, Monday's Comedy and there's Memoirs, Journalism and Books for Children to come) they're all available on-line too at

I haven't read many 'how to write' books (I'm not great with non-fiction) but I'm mainly enjoying the Guardian ones because they're well written and very readable. The same can be said of Teach Yourself Creative Writing of which there is a recent new edition by Stephen May.
An enjoyable read and bang up to date with useful exercises and tips from published writers. It covers a broad scope - feature writing, poetry, short stories, plays and screenplays, novels, blogging, travel writing - so it's not massively in depth, but it manages to pack a lot in.
Excellent if you are starting to write and a good comprehensive recap if you've been writing for a while. Stephen is the current Director of the Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank, conveniently located just up the hill from where I live. He's had tons of experience as a writer - of plays and a novel - and of working with other writers and would-be writers at Arvon. It really shows in this book (and no I'm not on commission, but I am looking forward to going to the launch of his novel Tag next month (there has been promise of cake :o))

While I'm on the subject - I'm also looking forward to this Saturday - I'm going to a 'Short Stories Day' organised by Manchester Libraries. I've booked in for a couple of workshops - and there are speakers and discussions and a bookstall and - cakes. Fab.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Feathered friends

Found a website today listing all the bird names of the world.

There are some gorgeously poetic ones and some ridiculously odd ones; some that sound like endearments ("My little Dusky Antbird") and others that sound like insults ("You Scaly-breasted Honeyeater!"). It's worth reading through for the loveliness of the words. No images, but the names are pictures enough.

I had no trouble envisioning a Lattice-tailed Trogon, and a Cinnamon Frogmouth and a Rufous Potoo, although in my head they were more fantastical than a living bird could possibly be.

But can’t you just imagine the expression on the face of an Enigmatic Owlet-Nightjar as she is approached by a Moustached Treeswift. Though I reckon they would both be bedazzled by the Sparkling Violetear and the Glittering-bellied Emerald.

I was going to Google Image some of them but didn’t want to spoil my imaginings. Might try to turn it into a drawing game with the daughter - lots of bright coloured crayons I think.

Meanwhile my favourite bird poem:

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Christopher Isherwood

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

I Saw Esau

I took time off from work and writing yesterday to spend the day with my Dad who is over from Italy for a couple of weeks and travelling around visiting the geographically disparate members of our family.

We headed off to Saltaire to visit Salt's Mill, which has a fasciniating place in the history of textiles and philanthropy, and which is now mainly a huge bookshop, cum David Hockney gallery cum café.

Spent ages browsing through the books which was lovely, and helped Dad choose birthday pressies for my niece, hubby and me (hurrah - the much longed for Little Black Book of Stories by A S Byatt and a gorgeous writing diary for next year)

I also spotted a hardback copy of I Saw Esau: the schoolchild's pocket book edited by Iona and Peter Opie with ills. by Maurice Sendak (pictured above). I was tempted but feeling a bit skint gave it a miss. Well, hurrah again, because I found a copy of it on the market this morning for a pound.

It’s fab. Beautifully printed on thick creamy pages, and with the original 1947 text. Lots of playground songs, skipping and clapping rhymes, riddles and apparent nonsense all accompanied by Sendak’s fantastically disturbing pictures.

Parts of it reminded me of the meanness and horror that can be present in the school playground (gulp, where my daughter is right now) but also the innocence and fun, and the sense of belonging that comes with all knowing the same songs.

The editors aimed to cover the whole gamut of playground songs (as Iona Opie says in the intro, not the ones 'a grandmother might sing to the grandchild child on her knee'), and to capture the 'oomph and zoom' of the rhymes, so they haven't censored out the ones that reference murder, or fighting, or boiling naughty children (see below).

I particularly like:

I saw Esau kissing Kate
The fact is we all three saw;
For I saw him,
And he saw me,
And she saw I saw Esau


Don’t care was made to care,
Don’t care was hung
Don’t care was put in a pot
And boiled till he was done


Charlie, Charlie, in the tub,
Charlie, Charlie pulled out the plug.
Oh my goodness, oh my soul,
There goes Charlie down the hole.

And finally

Truth, Truth, nobody’s daughter,
Took of her clothes
And jumped in the water.

Which I fancy as a quote at the beginning of my novel (the one I haven’t finished writing yet)

Favourite illustration has to be this one

I one my mother
I two my mother
I three my mother
I four my mother
I five my mother
I six my mother
I seven my mother
I ate my mother

Which apparently isn't a hideous warning of the perils of breast feeding :o)

My daughter and her friends have a whole selection of songs with accompanying actions that they share in the playground. It always amazes me when we meet other kids that these songs are known all over the country. Maybe they will make it into a modern version of I Saw Esau. (I would reprint some of them here but I always forget the words (which both exasperates and, I think, secretly pleases my daughter).

Friday, 12 September 2008

Procrastinating Acts

Doing some research today I found myself scrolling through Wikipedia’s lists of ‘Acts of Parliament 1800-1899’. It gives an intriguing insight into 19th century life and also sparked off some ideas for historical story writing.

Some of the titles that tickled my fancy were the

Smugglers' Families Act
Anatomy Act
Hanging in Chains Act
Piracy Act
Bastard Children Act
Rogue Money Act
Burning of Houses Act
Madhouses Act
Relief of Certain Bishops Act
Coalwhippers Act
Threatening Letters Act
Aliens Act
Absconding Debtors Arrest Act,
Arsenic Act
Baths and Wash Houses Act

The actual texts of most of these would probably prove v. dull, but fortunately (as I haven't started my 'If you like Sarah Walters and Michel Faber you'll love this' masterwork) I didn’t have to read them.

My absolute favourites however are the

Frivolous Suits Act 1841
Unlawful Combinations Act 1848
Petty Bag Act 1849

- surely crimes against fashion that we’ve all been guilty of ;o)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


My widget has melted. It is now a black box (hmmm interesting)

Is this supposed to happen? Oh no I've just checked and everyone elses has melted too. I need my widget fix!

Bet it's the fault of that bloomin hadron collider. Never mind the end of the world - we have black holes on our blogs

Hope it comes back soon. Missing it already

Ten Minutes Later: Hurrah its back Hurrah. Let the procrastination continue til bedtime

I'm Addicted

To Caroline's Black Boxes widget. What a great way to travel blogland. I've ended up in some truly lovely places - fab.

I've added it on the right here - why not see where it takes you!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Books etc

I had a lovely meeting with my mentor Mavis today (no she's not one of the Wurzels, that's for later).

We met in the cafe in the British Library for a change as I was in London anyway. There were at least three people reading those new-fangled ibook things, which I thought at first was a bit odd as we sat surrounded by books written on vellum, parchment and various forms of paper. But then I realised it made perfect sense, it's just another medium after all.

I used to work in the BL when it was in the British Museum and I remember feeling both comforted and overwhelmed by the tall toweredness and plump stackedness of the book shelves. I tried to imagine today how many ibook thingies you would need to store the contents of the library and then thought how boring they would look all stacked in a metallic row and how they wouldn't have that special smell or be nice to stroke, and I found myself hoping that printed books stay around long enough for my own novel to be available as one.

Because yes, I am believing in my novel now. Maybe it was the fact that Mavis mentioned the word 'publishable' three times in relation to it today and started talking about agents and whatnot. She's not an agent or a publisher but her faith in what I'm doing is a huge boost. I've got miles to go yet (still haven't finished writing the bloomin’ thing) - but I intend to send her the final instalment before our meeting in October, then there'll be the mega rewrite to take into account the fact that I've completely rethought the plot half way through, but there's definitely a speck of light ahead, and if it's the on-switch of an ibook then that's OK with me.

I felt a bit guilty when I turned up to our meeting this morning as I was nursing a tired and addled head. It was our end of series ‘party’ last night - which amounted to an excess of Becks and Rose wine and a gathering around an ipod, which amongst other things had the The Wurzels Greatest Hits on it (see above) . You can't say we don't know how to have a good time (well you can but I won't believe you).

At some point in my life I may decide that dancing and drinking (and there may have been some singing) until 4am is a bad idea but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Let's Move To...

Every now and then someone out there spots how fab the town where I live is.

In the past it's won awards / hit the headlines for being funky, having independent shops, being the 'lesbian capital of Yorkshire', saying no to plastic bags etc.

It's always fun to see the place as others see it. So I enjoyed this in the Guardian this weekend. It's almost recognisable as the place I know and love - not sure about the 'clog museum' though and there's no mention of our lovely National Trust woods or the surrounding hills and moors, but then if they made it sound too attractive everyone would want to move here and then we really would have to mention the parking.

At this point I really should say 'of course its nothing special at all, just an ordinary town that the Guardian gets excited about every now and again." But when I tried to write that I realised it wasn't true, or at least I didn't believe it. It's got as many problems as any small town but overall it is pretty special, so I think I'll just enjoy being proud of it a little bit longer.

The HB Handmade Parade

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


OK, so hubby liked the new idea for the novel. And after writing a whole chapter yesterday so, I've decided, do I. The section I'm writing at the moment is building towards the tippy most peak on my story arc. Just hope I can do justice to it when I get there.

In a couple of weeks time I will find out what my writing mentor thinks. I haven't mentioned her before now, but thought it was about time I did in case you all think I've managed to write almost 60,000 words without someone regularly whipping me.

Plenty of people manage to write entire novels without the help of a mentor/ whip wielding person but being a major procrastinator and having blinding moments of self doubt where I decide everything I've written is rubbish and have to start all over agiain , I decided I needed a helping hand / boot up the bum.

I considered doing an MA - I've a couple of friends who completed novels on an MA course and one of them has just found a publisher. But the cost and time commitment made that a no-go. When I heard about mentoring I realised it was just what I was after. There are various schemes out there. I chose this one - Gold Dust -because I wanted a particular mentor ( I love her books and was taught by her on an Arvon course).

We meet about once a month and discuss the 10,000 or so words of the novel that I've sent her in between. I've found it amazingly useful and inspiring having such an experienced writer to talk to. The deadline thing has worked a treat too- I have written 50,000+ words of my novel in five months - which is about 45,000 more than I've managed in the preceeding several years.

I'm not guaranteed a publishable book at the end of the 12 month scheme but even if this novel doesn't make it into the shops , I think the experience will have massively helped my writing.

Of course the downside is that there are very few free mentoring places out there. I applied for a grant for mine but didn't get one. I couldn't afford the course myself but was helped out by someone very wonderful and generous who believes in what what I'm doing (and to whom I am very grateful and will of course dedicate the novel if it ever does get onto the shelves in Smiths).

Anyway what with holidays and festivals and other such glorious stuff on the horizon I appear to have a deadline of tomorrow evening to get my next couple of chapters sent off to Mavis (not her real name but it will do for now), complete with new developments and an explanatory note about why several characters have completely disappeared and a brand new one has merged.

So I'd best get writing.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Premenstrual woman tries to hoover room that she can't stand up-right in.

It was never a good idea. Especially when said room had corners that haven't seen the light of day for months. The daughter sat a safe distance away and after ten minutes of watching me huff and swear and growl said "It's really sunny outside, why don't we go to the park?"

The park was lovely - I stood tall, breathed fresh air and ate ice cream, and crucially, didn't have to lug a hoover about. Now it is dark and nobody can see the dust anyway. The daughter really does have much better ideas than me.

I may have to consult her on the novel. As of yesterday morning I have 'completely rewritten' the central bit of my plot - there are new characters and everything. it seems a bit radical at this point - 50K words, but I just felt it was lacking something, that it was a bit 'so-what'. Tonight I am going to present the case for the new story line to hubby , who is very objective and incisive yet kind about these things.

Meanwhile I have been inspired by Tam, whose output on the womag story front has made me determined to try to increase my own. As have the successes of Calistro, womagwriter, Helen MH, Maddie Moon , Sally Q and Bernadette. Well done everyone.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Harlem River Blues

Is the title of the Fish Anthology 2008 - and I'm in it! Five copies arrived on my doormat this morning (well actually I had to open the door to the postman cos they were too bulky to fit thorough the letterbox, but you know what I mean) along with my Runner-up prize of 100 Euros. Hurrah!

The book is lovely - packed with short stories, poems and flashes. I haven't dared read my story yet, I'll save it til I've had a glass of wine or two. I've got a biog at the back too, which compared to everyone elses is a bit dull and straightforward, but I think my thrill at having made it to the anthology is pretty clear. The accompanying photo makes me look like I'm away with the fairies, but then maybe that day I was.

One quibble. It's not a big one, really, and I am honoured etc to be in the book and very grateful for my prize - but, they've spelled my surname wrong.

It was spelled right on the website and in all our correspondence, but has somehow lost an 'n' when it came to the printing of the book. Ah well, hubby says it will make the copies even more valuable when I'm a rich and famous author.

What to do with the five copies? Well there's one for me, obviously, and one each for mum and dad (after warning them about subject matter of story, although the title - The Job of Sex - might be a bit of a give-away). My local library is also getting a copy - the librarian is keen on short story collections and has already said she would like to add this one to the shelves. I think I will make the fifth one a generally borrowable copy - not that I think people will be queuing outside my front door desperate to read my story, but I know my writing group will be interested to see the stories that made the anthology and I might risk passing it round at book club, as long as they don't give me the forthright/incisive/no nonsense and usually spot on criticisms they give on the books we read (I'm published, it's enough, I'm not ready for reviews yet :o))

Also to be celebrated on the writing front, yet another day passes without the six stories I have sent out to womags being returned rejected - hurrah (again)

Shoe warning of the day - Don't let your children go paddling in rivers in crocs (or even fake crocs). They float far too well (the crocs that is not the children). One of Daughter's lovely streaky blue fakeys slipped off mid-paddle and disappeared downstream. It is currently caught in an eddy unreachable by arm or stick or oar from any bank. Unwadable to cos of steep drops on every side. Lost forever. Hoping it will become home/boat to small creature. Suspect it will become plastic pollution. We are going to grow cress in the remaining shoe in an attempt to redeem ourselves.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Running in Birkenstocks

Is not recommended. Not even when they are the flowery blue funky kind

Running in Birkenstocks is a bad idea, especially when your route takes you over cobbles still wet from the rain and you catch sight of a him and a her that you didn't realise had become a 'them' and you fail to see the cobblestone that is slightly bigger than all the rest. There is little consolation in being the owner of a juicy piece of gossip when you are prostrate on the floor with a bruised knee while the subjects of your gossip float by oblivious.

Running in Birkenstocks is particularly to be avoided at train stations. I was waiting patiently for my delayed train when there was a platform alteration at the last minute. Forgetting what was on my feet I ran, an extra-large not-yet-even-sipped cappucino in one hand, a stuffed to busting suitcase on wheels in the other. It had been raining (again). One minute I was running, the next I was flying - all limbs in the air suspended above the ground, then whoompf. The platform was very hard, and covered in hot coffee, and one of my sandals had disappeared. The guard blew his whistle and suddenly strangers appeared bundling me onto the train, mopping at my skirt with hankies, heaving my suitcase after me and, thankfully, one of them handing over the missing Birkie. They oohed and aahed at the blood oozing from my knee, but all avoided my eyes. I think they suspected I was drunk.

Ah well love them though I do I won't be running in my Birkies again soon. I did however find them very useful on my hols at the seaside. I clambered over rocks in them, played tennis, cycled, did a spot of archery and practiced handstands with my daughter (it's the modern Birkenstock pentathlon!). They also came in very useful as an anchor for a bodyboard on a windy day at the beach (anchored on the sand not the in the sea :o)) and as a holder for my cup of tea in the morning and my glass of cider at night (we were camping, if that makes that bit make more sense).

No more shoes in my next post I promise. I have things to say about writing . I really do. Honest.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Shoes and other important stuff

On my to-do list this evening I had 'make outfit for Sex and the City Night on Friday.' Our lovely independent cinema has finally got hold of a copy of the Sex and the City film and are having a special 'theme night' with cocktails and costumes.

Now, I'm a bit scruffy generally, but I do love dressing up. Have a bit of a reputation for it in fact. There will be expectations for Friday night. I can't just turn up in my jeans and a t-shirt. Well I could, but where would be the fun in that?

So I had a plan. It involved my bestest pink shoes,

a bridesmaids dress (pink silk and lots of net petticoats) age 11 and found at a jumbly (definitely a story in there somewhere), a pair of scissors and lots of sewing. I gave it half an hour after which I decided to pour myself a glass of wine and see what I had in my wardrobe that didn't require any effort.

I ended up with three options.

Fab and flouncy orange and green silk skirt with ultra high green stilettos

Vintage dress made out of sort of curtain material with big blue roses on it, with bestest pink shoes

Silky satiny long crimson skirt with bizarre straps-and-buckles shoes

Had to reject one and two as - I can't stand up never mind walk in ultra high green stilettos (a charity shop 'bargain' that I am destined never to wear) and can only just manage to sit down and certainly can't laugh in figure-clenching vintage dress (one for posing in not spending night in cinema watching potentially humourous film)

So it looks like option 3 with the odd shoes. I bought them twenty years ago (gulp) at yet another jumbly and I have never worn them. They have lived under my various beds since then (another story there I think, thank goodness they can't talk ;o). Friday night is going to be their big night. Will have to buff my feet with a brillo pad to get them up to scratch, but what's a bit of pain?

So a big tick on my to-do list and an evening free to edit some stories, make a start on the next chapter of the novel etc. Except I've now noticed it's 10 oclock and I fancy reading not writing now. A friend lent me Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman yesterday so I think I will give it a go.

This post was supposed to be about something sensible and writing related - I will put it on my to-do list for tomorrow.

Monday, 30 June 2008

A meme

Thanks for this Spiral Skies and Karen. I've not been able to focus on blogging for days but I can just about manage a meme

What were you doing 10 years ago?
Same job, same town, same man. I'm not a big one for change, although daughter is a wonderful addition. This week ten years ago my feet were covered in blisters and I was half way along the Coast to Coast walk. Feet covered in blisters again today, this time from overexcited barefoot dancing at party on Saturday night

Five things on your to-do list for today:
Pamper feet and wear comfy shoes
Watch lots of Blake's 7 episodes back to back (this is one of the days when I love my job)
Print out latest three chapters of the novel and see if they make sense
Make Victorian outfit for daughter in time for school trip to museum
Ring swimming pool and rant about, I mean discuss, their proposed timetable changes

What are three of your bad habits?
Arguing for the sake of it (usually after drinking too much coffee - watch out Mr Swimming Pool man I've just had a large cappuccino)
Leaving clothes, books, dirty crockery lying round all over the place and then nagging my daughter about the state of her bedroom
Never being able to say no to free alcohol (or even the stuff you have to pay for)

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
Buy a ginormous house with lots of separate 'wings' and acres of land. My little family would have one wing and I'd invite my friends and their families to move into the others. There would be a big party room in the middle. I'd write all morning and grow chickens and herd cabbages in the afternoon, and go horse-riding with hubby and daughter and any one else who wanted to join us of an evening. It would be like a commune but without actually having to live with other people, which I've always thought was a bit of a drawback.

What are some snacks you enjoy?
Salt and Pepper cashews
Green and Black's Butterscotch choc (Spiral snap!)
Olives of all shapes and sizes

What were the last five books you read?
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler - Just started it but I've loved all of her other books so am expecting to enjoy it
Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore - can't quite make up my mind about this one, looking forward to discussing it at book club
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood - amazing, one of those 'I might as well give up writing now' books
Watch Me Disappear by Jill Dawson - excellent writing but I preferred her Trick of the Light
Tracy Beaker trilogy - moving, funny, brilliantly written, wish Jacqueline Wilson had been writing when I was a kid.

What are five jobs you have had?
Sausage packer
Education officer in a cemetery
Gardener/Decorator/Child minder/General Handyperson in Tuscany
TV Researcher

Five places that you have lived?
Tuscany (it seemed then and still does now, like a garden of Eden - stuff just grew and grew, unlike here where apart from the spuds everything has to be mollycoddled from seed to harvest (sorry to sound grumpy but the allotment is looking a bit sad this year))
York (gorgeous, I'd happily live there again)
Manchester (as a penniless student, the best way to do it I reckon)
Harrow (my missed opportunity to live in London!)
Redcar (where they filmed Atonement)

That's me! Anyone else not done this? Go on, you know you want to :o)

Friday, 20 June 2008

My novel wandering as a word cloud

I couldn't resist pinching this from Calistro's blog. It's my novel (or at least the first 40,000 words) as a word cloud

My main character is obviously grabbing all the attention but I'm a bit alarmed about the size of 'said' - maybe my characters talk too much. Also interesting to see 'back' so huge as it was big on Cal's cloud too - what are they all doing 'looking back'? thinking back'? 'lying on their back'?- I'm going to check it out and maybe do a bit of search and replace.

If you want to submit your writing to the same go to: Wordle where there are also lots of example of stories that are much more balanced word wise than mine :o)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Buy this Book

It's fab, it really is. And Lovely Leigh is in it and so is Spiral Skies. I love it even though it has already made me cry. It's not all sad, or even mostly, there are lots of uplifting heartwarming stories too.

If you buy the £12.50 paperback £6-7 goes to the charity WarChild - an international charity that works with children affected by war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. They work with former child soldiers, children in prison and children living and working on the streets to give them support, protection and opportunities.
If you go for the download they get a whole £10 ('fraid I opted for the pb as I have yet to read any book that I have downloaded except of course for Disraeli Avenue which somehow worked that way (buy that too!))

Short post but it is Thursday and I was on Woodcraft Folk duty tonight. Helping to supervise twelve children as they leapt shrieking into the murky pools of a woodland river seems to have exhausted me for some reason.
They did look lovely and carefree though - I wanted to photograph them and send the picture to those Grumpy Olds who say children don't know how to have fun anymore. But my phone memory was full because of the videos hubby took of him and daughter faking skateboarding accidents for You've Been Framed. If I had the right sort of brain I would upload said vids here and you could rate their chances of ever making it on to the show. Let's just saying I'm not making plans for spending the £250

Saturday, 7 June 2008


Have I got too many in the Novel?

If I feel like I have then maybe it's true. I've just introduced a couple more and I'm feeling that I have to really justify their presence. Maybe it's nothing to worry about too much at this point though (half way through first draft) I'm still just trying to write the story down and see what comes.

I had a lovely conversation with another writer this weekend (he's written two novels, unpublished, and ghost written several others, published). When I said that I had reached the half way point and felt that the rest of the novel was, if not writing itself (I wish!) then at least letting itself be seen - he said he remembered that moment exactly with his most recent novel and had the good fortune for it to happen at a time when he was doing nothing but writing and could easily clock up 6-8,000 words a day! I was very jealous, knowing that I will have to do my best with my two hours / 1,000 words each morning (no let up in work for the forseeable future - financially good news, creatively a bit of a bummer). It did inspire me though.

Is it really June already? Blog has been neglected partly because of work (which recently included a week of fourteen hour days made bearable only by the company of lovely people and a plentiful supply of tasty treats, and I suppose the fact that I love my job really :@))

And then a much needed holiday in Italy visiting family and friends. A gorgeously relaxing week with lots of splashing in the pool, eating amazing food, and meeting several new people with connections both in my present and my past. The latter filled my head with ideas for stories which between the sunshine and the wine I somehow failed to write down. I really must try to make some sense of in the next couple of days before the intensity of it fades.

Holiday included one of those 'perfect moments' that keeps you glowing through the tougher times - cycling round the walls of Lucca, hubby and daughter just ahead on a tandem, the air filled with the scent of jasmine and the sound of church bells. That should keep me going through the next couple of months of work madness at least.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008


I have one! A title that is, for The Novel (note that I now capitalise it instead of putting it in inverted commas, a step forward I think)

I’m hopeless at titles, even for short stories. I always worry that I’m either being too obscure or giving too much away. Karen had a great post about some of her spare titles recently and I would have been tempted to pinch one of them but sadly although there are both lettuces and jellyfish in my book neither Whistling for Lettuce or Truth for the Jellyfish quite hit the spot :o)

One of my favourite books from ages ago is The Abortion: an historical romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan. It is about a public library in California where authors can bring their unpublished manuscripts, ‘the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing.’ The shelves are stacked with works such as My Trike, Leather Clothes and the History of Man, Bacon Death and my absolute favourite Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms. All titles that perfectly fitted the books they were meant for.

I was hoping a title would just present itself in my writing - an obvious theme or a unforgettable line - sadly this hasn’t happened yet. So instead I had a brainstorming session with my writing buddy Mavis who has read all my completed chapters. We discussed trends in titles especially the long titles that are sort of sentences The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and the one I can never remember in the right order - A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius (?). I decided I couldn’t go down that route as I would have trouble remembering it myself, never mind anyone else. Also pondered on the need to have a title that people could pronounce so they wouldn’t be afraid to ask for in a book shop (Having stumbled myself over Sepulchre, The Algebraist and even Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow).

All other options having been struck off we were finally left with a single word title - the name of one of my central characters, and I suddenly realised that was It. It sums the book up, says what its about, has a hint of ambiguity about it AND is easy to pronounce. Unfortunately to reveal it here would be to give too much away (how paranoid am I?) but The Novel is hereafter to be called E***

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Hooked on haiku

After failing miserably at my haiku homework for my writer's group and feeling fazed and befuddled at the prospect of writing a sonnet for next time, I was suddenly seized yesterday afternoon by poetic inspiration.

Watching my daughter having her swimming lesson a haiku appeared in my head. Then and another and another. It's like Maltesers, once you start you just can't stop. I was joined by the friend who had produced several haiku the night before and he confessed that he was addicted. We found that for the rest of the day every turn in the conversation had us counting syllables on our fingers - 5-7-5 - It's a haiku! Now I know there is more to a haiku than getting the right number of syllables (and apparently some people have dispensed with the whole syllable thing and just write three lines of any length) but it helps you focus and limit your word usage. A good general writing exercise I reckon.

I was going to post up my efforts here but have discovered via Sally Q's fab competitions calender a Haiku comp that will donate half its profits to literacy projects for kids in developing countries and in the UK. It's £10 for ten haiku so I only need to write another four :0).

Meanwhile here is one I won't be entering in the comp but which I enjoyed writing:

"Does it?" she asked me
"It does" I replied sadly
"Bigger than a bus."

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Story prompts

Had an inspirational night last night at our monthly writer's group. (We are the group with no name at the moment, something that will have to be rectified when we get our new (private) blog up and running.)

Our assignment last month was to write haiku. I tried and failed miserably, as did most of the group but the three who managed it put us to shame, producing haiku that were funny, thoughtful and witty. My aim this month is to write at least one decent haiku (not necessairly one that is funny, thoughtful or witty, it just has to make sense) to put up on our new blog (and maybe to share with the wider world).

Lost as I was in thoughts of haiku I managed to miss the discussion about this month's 'homework' and returned to reality only when I heard the phrase "Ok so it's sonnets then". We have to write a bloomin' sonnet! Everyone else seemed very cheerful at the thought, and they were all supportive of my suggestion a couple of months ago of writing pieces on 'Pants and other underwear' so not wanting to be a wet blanket I had to agree. My previous attempts at poetry have been fairly lamentable - they tend to be soppy or rude - hmm a rude sonnet, there's a thought.

Spent the rest of the session doing a writing exercise that got us all scribbling furiously. Between us we came up with a list of 12 nouns, then each wrote a piece containing as many of them as possible. It's amazing what you can do after a large glass of Rioja in the company of fellow writers. My effort, 'Obadiah Plum and the Case of the Diamond in the Custard', managed to incorporate all of the following:

Diamond, Custard, Sign, Cenotaph, Plum, Cavalier,Petit Pois, Earth, Cloak, Diary, Photograph, Hedge

with minimal cheating ;o)

... Obadiah turned and looked out of the window. A poster advertising Laughing Cavalier Mouthwash mocked him from the wall opposite.
"Tell me," he said. "Who was this letter from?"
"That's the strangest thing," said Mrs Hedge-Simpson. "It was written in dark green ink and signed simply with two letters - P.P."
Damn it. He should have known. Petit Pois was back in the game

Monday, 12 May 2008

I'm Back!

Though to be honest I never actually went away. I just didn't blog, for a whole two whole weeks. Then today I realised how much I was missing it so have returned with vigour and vim and - a moan. I know it’s been said before, and to a better tune, but I Hate Mondays. No matter how hard I try to think positively and ignore the fact that it’s the first day of the week, I just never get very much done. It’s so frustrating when I'm overloaded with work, and want to get on with my writing and have seven tonnes of washing to do from camping holiday (OK so I was a way for a bit). I sat down this morning at 9.30 determined to get all of today’s work done by three so I could get on with Other Stuff. Here I am at ten to six and I have just finished the barest minimum of what I'd hoped to get through. I just know that tomorrow, being Tuesday will be better.

On a happier note, since I last blogged I have written another 5,000 words of my novel, sent off a story to the Momaya SS competition and got a very nice 'sorry you didn't win but we gave your story serious consideration' note from the Story Quarterly people. I also wrote my Story a Fortnight blog contribution - my first attempt at a womag story. I am going to spend my early morning sessions this week brushing up the latter for submission to a magazine and also working on a couple of other stories I found lurking on the computer which might also be suitable for sending off. I know from reading about the submissions and rejections of my fellow bloggers that the womag market is a tough one to get into but I'm excited at the prospect of giving it a try.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Three sentences meme

Found this on Karen's blog and decided to have a quick break from work

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

Well, I'm researching Christina Rossetti at the moment and the following is from the biography of her by Frances Thomas (and is about Christina's brother Dante Gabriel and Lizzie Siddal)

Cathy Brown remembered Gabriel sitting in an armchair, murmuring 'Guggums, Guggums, Guggums,' in a kind of trance. Brown calling at Chatham Place one day in 1855 found Lizzie looking thinner and more deathlike and more ragged than ever, a real artist, a woman without parallel.' Gabriel was drawing 'wonderful and lovely "Guggums" one after another each one a fresh charm each one stamped with immortality.'

How sad that their friend thought Lizzie's emaciation made her a 'real artist', unless she was being tongue in cheek, in which case, still very sad, and how annoying was Dante Gabriel! I just want to shout at him - she's dying you idiot! (She actually lived for another seven years but was very very ill)

I would like to tag Calistro, A. Writer, Moondreamer, Leigh and Maddie Moon.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Life is a Cabaret

At least it was last night, when Cabaret Heaven came to town. It's a monthly event and is always a good excuse to get dressed up and drink too much cider.

Last night was particularly fine - we started off with a game of bingo (the house speciality) and then five amazing acts including
Mik Artistik who was fantastic - had us all crying laughing (and buying his CD at the end). He's at Glastonbury and a couple of other festivals this year, so catch him if you can. (If this doesnt make you smile then try it after a couple of bottles of Westons Organic cider - it's a winning combination.)

Also on the bill was Mr Tundra who did an amazing 'tongue throwing' thing (had to be there) and seemed to be able to hypnotise members of the audience to do his will (like a silent Derren Brown).

All of this rounded off with a foot stomping disco and some wierd and wonderful encounters with people we didn't know we knew. One of the best things about the cabaret nights is that they attract a whole range of ages - so as overexcited teenagers pranced around on the stage, old men smooched together on the dance floor, a wild eyed beauty waved her arms like a windmill and everyone else danced like it was the last school disco ever.

Even better, I woke up without a hangover AND with two story ideas and the fourth charatcer that I need for novel #2 (he wasn't in the bed with me you understand, just in my head.)
Quality stuff, which made up for me having to work all day today. I did manage to shut my books up at 4 though and slope off to the cinema with the daughter to watch Spiderwick Chronicles- (mini review - very enjoyable, good effects, beautiful flower fairies but it felt at times like they were trying to cram too much in to a short time (but hey maybe its aimed at faster paced minds than mine). The little one enjoyed it- though she found it a bit too scarey).

Also today I compiled a 'story table'. This was brought on by me finding a story the other day that I had forgotten I had written and which hadn't yet been sent out looking for a home. I decided I needed to get organised. I now have a table of all my stories, where I have sent them, how they fared and colour coded according to their current availabilty. OK, so I was procrastinating, but in a positive way, and I felt very pleased with myself as at the end of it all I had three stories in need of a home - they will be dispatched forthwith.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Story arcs

At least I think that's what they are called. Anway I plotted one this morning. I thought it was about time as there is lots of stuff coming up in The Novel (ooh very excited that I may have come up with a title too!) and I was getting a bit bogged down in what was going to be revealed when and where and to who, and it was getting in the way of the writing.

I've used a lumpy parabola-shaped one with a gradual climb dotted with crises up to a climax at about 65,000 words and then a steep descent in the aftermath. Sort of like this

Having never written a novel before I am only just getting to grips with large scale plotting and I have found this has really helped. I was very relieved, I have to say, to discover that my novel does have a plot! And it's one that, according to my story arc, can be sustained over 80,000 words without, hopefully, peaking too soon.

The details of the arc may change of course (I did it in pencil just in case) but for now it looks lovely in my notebook with stars along its curve marking significant events and the whole thing neatly divided up into chapters. Now that I've got it in down in grey and white I can get on with writing the bloomin' thing, which is the bit I enjoy

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Where do stories come from?

I got a story idea from a dream this morning . I jumped out of bed when my alarm went off at six in the middle of a fairly lucid, if a bit weird, dream. As I was making my cup of tea to drink while I got stuck back into The Novel I was still thinking about it and it formed itself into a story idea - a short story maybe or a segment of something longer (novel #3?). Anyway I typed it up straight away and have it now for future reference.

I introduced a new character into my novel this morning. He is key to the whole thing so I want to get him right and I was really pleased how parts of his character unearthed themselves as I wrote. The next chapter is looking a bit blank in YWriter at the moment but its going to be a biggy story-wise so I'm looking forward to getting stuck in - I'm going to go for the "just write it all down and see what happens" approach and see if I can surprise myself!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

by Jon McGregor is wonderful. A fantastic example of keeping your reader guessing but tying everything up beautifully at the end so that you think 'but of course'. Gorgeous writing too - I found myself copying down some of his images in my notebook. I finished the last three chapters tonight while My Man was making tea - I just couldn't put it down. Definitely a recommended read.

My Man let me off my unhelpful-at-teatime behaviour because I am in recovery - from a weekend away with 20 children, only one of which was mine. I help run a local Woodcraft Folk group and we had a residential weekend at a camping barn. It was, to copy the thread of a popular meme, in six words - inspiring, heartwarming, energetic, exhausting, friend-making, cold. The 'cold' bit was particular noticeable in the middle of Friday night when my sleeping bag was proving inadequate

and the 'exhausting' hit when I got home and realised I only had to be concerned with the needs and energies of one child not twenty and suddenly felt my body collapse with the relief. I wasn't on my own with them all of course, there were five other adults there who were all fantastic and we had a really good time. The kids were amazing, as was the location, the food, the company and the campfire on Saturday night with the beautiful lanterns and apple crumble we had made that morning. And yes we did sing.

I think it's been good for my head having a weekend of no writing at all and very little reading (until teatime today). I'm really looking forward to hitting the novel again tomorrow - but tonight I'm settling for a warm bath, a glass of wine and catching up on Doctor Who.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Six Word Autobiography

Thanks for this challenge Calistro, although the results may be just the product of a long day rather than a meaningful insight into my life:

Me in six words:

Is tired, would like to sleep


Tries to do to much and...

or, on a more upbeat note

Optimist, will not give up, yet


Loves family, friends, writing and parties

and, now that I've had a cup of tea, written a to-do-list and decided that everthing is really going to be pretty fab:

Let's dance, eat chocolate, drink wine

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


Daniel Clay: How I escaped the Slush-Pile

Found the above article by the author of Broken following a link from Sally Qs post about the "How To Get Published" masterclass at the London Book Fair. I haven't yet reached the sending my novel out to agents point yet but I have reached the bit where I can imagining it happening at some time in the near future.

This, and Sally's link to an account of the Conference certainly gave me stuff to think about.

Monday, 14 April 2008

I'm here!

Well done if you have found me in my new home. I haven't changed the decor just the name. It feels exciting to be anonymous - I can say anything I like! But not yet, not while there is still a link from my named blog (don't know who I'm kidding myself is reading this stuff!)

Anyway, I thought that as I had made the move I should at least write a new post for anyone who finds their way here.

Being doing lots of the writing stuff. In fact the still-to-be-named novel is moving along so merrily that I have reinstalled my word-ometer, I am now using one designed by the Lovely Leigh and I am looking forward to watching it fill up. I also sent off an entry for the Harpers Bazaar / Orange short story comp. Was a bit shocked to discover, almost too late, that I had to send a 'passport photograph' along with my entry. I'm not a great one for photos, especially of the passport kind, but I eventually found one that I hope will satisfy their requirements. One friend suggested that they ask for a photo to prove that you are female - I'm not convinced that the photo I sent will do that!

I then received an email from Fish Publishing asking for a short biog to accompany my story in their anthology and, yup you've guessed it, a photo. What to do? I'd already sent off my best one to Harper's Bazaar (and yes it was a real photo not a digital one so I don't have a copy)

I decided to take action and so spent yesterday afternoon and early this morning in the garden with My Man having a 'shoot'. Took the 36 results (some of which may even include me looking at the camera/ having my eyes open/ not looking like a man) off to the shop today and will be able to pick them up on a CD tomorrow. Now that I am anonymous I may even include one of them on this blog.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The number you have dialled is engaged ....

Has it really been a week since I last posted. Oh dear, I knew something had to give in the new regime. I'm managing to fit in writing and working into the day but at the expense of my blog. I haven't even been reading other people's blogs and feel quite out of the loop. Never mind hopefully I can catch up.

I actually spent most of today neither writing nor working but frustratingly trying to buy tickets for a lovely festival up on the Solway Firth. Not much point me promoting it here as the ticket sales web site has crashed (in fact it crashed within minutes of it being wound up/ prodded awake this morning and it takes on average nine hours to get through on the phone (seriously folks!)). But at 5.30 this afternoon I became the proud owner of two and half tickets and we will be there August Bank Holiday, rain or shine. Good luck to any one else out there still pressing the redial button.

(not a very relevant cartoon but it made me smile)

Got up for my early morning writing session today and - didn't write a word of my novel! No it wasn't the delights of Spider Solitaire or the pile of dirty washing begging to be stuffed into the machine that distracted me - it was my planned entry for the Harper's Bazaar / Orange Short Story comp.

I already have a story on the theme (Ambition). I've had it for a while, it's never been submitted anywhere else and I really like it, BUT - it needs some tinkering. Quite a bit of tinkering actually, besmattered as it is with my trademark [,,,,] and [????]s which stand for 'something brilliant will be inserted here, at some point, I just don't know what it is yet'. It might be something as irrelevant as the name of the cat or as important as the whole reason why somebody has acted the way they have. Sometimes I find the right words, other times I just give up and delete the brackets, neatly sew up the sentence and hope nobody spots the join.

Anyway I tinkered away quite happily for a couple of hours this morning. It felt really good to be working on a short story for a change and I plan to do the same tomorrow, when I might just get it finished- deadline is Friday and I don't particularly want to hear this one wooshing past.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Flying penguins

This is gorgeous!
You will believe that penguins can fly

Happy April Fools!

Monday, 31 March 2008

I'm a runner up!

In the Fish Short Story comp. I am so, so pleased. I get published in the anthology + 100 euros. I'm especially pleased as I really like the story - The Job of Sex - and I'm thrilled at the thought of other people reading it. Its not quite as risque as it's title sounds, but I was a bit daunted at the thought of reading it out at the launch event in Ireland if I had made it to the final three. Now I just have the dubious honour of my name and the words 'job of sex' being googleable together. Talking of which, somone landed on my blog a couple of weeks ago having googled "karen's dog sex story" - hope they weren't too disappointed.

I had a good two hours writing this morning before the family descended for breakfast. I've been really struggling with one scene that happens quite early on and had left it fairly blank with lots of ???? and ..... Somehow this morning it all just clicked and I thought 'of course that's what she would do'. I think moving on with the rest of the story and developing the characters has really helped. That and the large mug of tea and the peanut butter and jam on toast that fuelled my scribbling.

Today is the deadline for the Fish One-Page Story comp, so I think I might just roll with it and send a story that I've been working on recently - it just happens to be the right size!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Chocolate and coal

Well that was nice. Two lovely weeks of Easter hols. Not that it was all play. I had to do a bit of work here and there, including two 14 hour days in 'the office'. I didn't mind the long days though. As a freelancer who works on my own I really like the rare opportunities I have to work face to face with people and be part of a team - also there is always great food on offer and lots of choccies and jelly babies, so no complaints at all. Rest of hols was sea, sand, chocolate and a smidging of sunshine in Anglesey, very relaxing.

Back at the desk in earnest now though. I've found the hols really inspiring writing wise. Things are moving on nicely with the novel and I have completed a couple of shorts that have been hanging around looking impatiently at me for a while. I even managed to send off three flashes to the Biscuit competition, with which feat I was mighty pleased.

Also pleased after spending a couple of days of hols with my brother and his wife to discover that they are nothing like the brother and sister-in-law in my novel, phew what a relief, though I was going to have to change my name and deny my authorship to my family.

Talking of changing my name I am planning to make like a womble in the near future and go underground. Various reasons, mainly work related, but I think it will make sense. My name is seriously unique (my great grand-dad's teacher made up the spelling of our surname and everyone with that name is descended from him.) Anyway as soon as I can think up a decent pseudonym I will make the move (Cal has kindly given me the know how).

Got a nice parcel in the post from Leaf Books just before we went away:

Very nicely produced and with my story 'A Strong Hand' in it. There's something very lovely about being in print in a book with a glossy cover.

Still waiting to hear the results of the Fish Short Story competition of which I am on the short list. They have delayed the announcement until 'after Easter' Which I reckon to be about now.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Books etc

Nearly two weeks in and the new getting up early regime is going well. Which is good, as I have so much work on at the moment that I don't see how else I could have got any writing done.

I'm really getting into my characters and I'm loving how the story is flowing from them - I put them in a situation and they react, and they react the way they do because of who they are not because I think that's what they should do. And so new unexpected elements of the story are developing, but it all seems to be making sense, and sometimes there are connections between things that I hadn't intended but which have just happened and again, it seems to be making sense. I dunno maybe one morning I will wake up, read through what I have written and realise that it is all nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of a half-awake tea-sodden wretch - but for now I am happy.

Have you ever read a book, decided you hate it then been shocked and dismayed when all your friends think it's great? I am in a book club, in fact I am in two. Which is odd as I'm not really a book club person - I hate being told what to read and when, and will always leave the book club(s) book(s) at the bottom of my TBR pile and wait til I am good and ready to read it (ie a couple of days before the meet up.) Also I get very protective of books I like and don't like people criticising them. So, not ideal book club material. Anyway last week I finally got round to reading this month's book. It was a novel written by a well known comedian. The person who chose it said it was 'hilarious', 'witty', 'profound'. I was quite looking forward to it.

I hated it. It was one of the most badly written books I have ever read. In fact at one point I thought that he had written it so badly on purpose to annoy wannabe writers like me. Reading it in bed, I kept My Man awake by harrumphing - "but he's changed POV mid-paragraph", "he's just used the same word four times", "nobody speaks like that!" To each of which he sleepily replied "Well I liked it', "That bit made laugh out loud" and "You just don't get it."

The actual story was really strong but I couldn't concentrate on it because I kept getting thrown out of it by a sudden lengthy piece of exposition in the middle of the action or the introduction of a character with their complete backstory, who then disappears and isn't mentioned again.

Everyone at Book Club loved it and was full of the reasons why. The room rang with praise and enthusiasm. It was all very jolly. My Man kept looking over at me as I sheltered behind my wine glass. At last there was a silence and I said "I really didn't like it at all".
Ever popped some one's balloon? Ever took the last piece of cake that everyone was leaving for the hostess? Ever said a rude word in front of a vicar? That was me. I could almost hear the room deflate. As I tried to explain why I didn't like it I realised I was sounding more and more pedantic as if writing was just about rules, rules, rules and if you break them you shouldn't get a book deal - which wasn't my point at all (I like breaking rules, look I'm doing it now!!!!!).

I was outnumbered 7 to 1 (actually at least 17 to 1 as all the reviews I have read of it said it was great too). I gave up. "Maybe," I said at last, "maybe I just didn't get it." The room sighed with relief. There were nods all round, a refilling of glasses, and some agreement that bits of the dialogue were weak and that the ending was disappointing. "It was shit," I bubbled into my wine glass. Like I said book clubs are probably not my thing.

And finally, I read a review of a book the other day which sounded like a good read and one I might get out of the library - Shadowing the Sun by Lily Dunn. It was a generally very positive review but I was really struck by the final paragraph which seemed like a warning about my own writing - so I tore it out of the paper (the Metro of course!) and have copied it here in case it rings any alarm bells with equally guilty fellow writers

"The observations are acute, the characters well-drawn and the story engrossing, but there are times when the language, which at times feels self-consciously writerly, slows down an atmospherically sinister story."

"self-conciously writerly", who me? Yup I've spotted at least a couple of bits in my novel where everything is getting very tense and exciting and then a bit of the old purple comes wafting in all lyrical like and before you know it you've forgotten what everyone was getting so excited about. Well those bits have been struck out now and I promise not to do it again.

Writing this novel is turning out to be an amazing learning process, which I think will have been worth it for itself, no matter what else comes of it.

Friday, 14 March 2008

A new regime

I have decided that it's time to kick ass on my novel. None of this trying to write it after work malarkey (I'm freelance, I work from home - just when exactly is 'after work'). And evenings (which seem to be starting later and later these days) only occasionally work for me as writing slots. I was in despair as obviously what I needed was a time machine - one that could make more of the stuff for me. Then a comment by Jen at Spiral Skies about the loss of her 5am writing slot made me realise that I have been wasting two hours a day - lying in bed, sometimes asleep but mainly thinking about getting up and wondering what the weather's like. So, for the past week I have been getting up at 6 and writing until 8, at which point the family descends the stairs and the rest of my life kicks in.

And you know what? - it's really working. Getting out of bed has been no problem - it's not as if I'm having to don dubiously whiffy running gear and sprint out into the streets (which I have been known to do at that hour) and I'm not having to catch a train, get dressed up smart or apply make-up (especially not in that order). I just sit down at the computer in my dressing gown with a cup of tea and - write!

I've noticed three major advantages of writing at this time of day:

As I have only just stepped out of bed the world has not had time to intrude and my mind is in that blissful optimistic 'new day' state (just before I remember the hundreds of things i have to do before its bedtime again). I am more focussed and less woolly.

I have got up early specifically to write so I don't do any of my usual procrastinating, otherwise I know I could have just as well stayed in bed.

Starting the day with my novel means that it stays with me for the rest of the day - I am becoming more absorbed in it and this has really helped with my characters and the plot development

Result - lots of words, many of which I am very pleased with. Am I tired? No, not really - six isn't that early really. I have been going to bed slightly earlier but not by much. Ok so this is week one and maybe it's like the first week of anything new - you say you can do it for ever but by week three you're wishing you hadn't been so rash, and could everybody please just forget that you ever mentioned it. But we'll see. I know it's worked for lots of other people - one friend wrote her entire novel between 5-7am over eight months - so I'm prepared to give it a try (But if this post does mysteriously disappear in the middle of April you'll know why).