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.