Saturday, 1 December 2012

Pen Pushers

The end of the year is nigh! End of a year when I've been able to devote more than the usual allotted time to writerly pursuits, I finished the novel adaptation and been published and paid (squirming with delight at that one!) for a couple of feature articles in a local magazine. I started a new story for young adults which has me skipping merrily through the annals of memory, embellishing and inventing situations and characters aplenty.

I've set the story in Blackpool, a place I need to go back and 'research'. Blazac said of Lancashire women that they 'die of love', the historian, A.J.P. Taylor thought this unlikely,

"In reality a Lancashire woman would reply, 'come on lad. Let's get it over!'

My main character is a bit of a romantic, but the people around her are grounded in reality, most of the time. Hence I shall carry on regardless, despite the lack of publishing deals or agents, writing is what I do, it's what I would always like to do. What's the harm in dreaming? As Wilde put it:
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars" (Saw Rupert Everett as Wilde in 'The Judas Kiss' - brilliant)

One of the most rewarding writing exploits this year has been the MA module: Writing for Young Adults, at Birbeck. I'd love to see some of the stories we've shared get published - the murder and occult occurrences in a boarding school, the feisty girl with two dads in a seaside supernatural thriller, the rarified antics of the super-rich psychotic, neurotic and tattooed kids. Strong female characters, inventive and streetwise London boys, they all deserve a place on the shelves or Kindles.

I'll miss the people, I'll miss the tutorials in The Harrison (plus the Guinness, and the after session drinks), the discussions, the sharing of work and the critiques. I'll miss our brilliant, blunt and inspiring tutor - Julia Bell. I've realised I need the input of others, writing is lonely work. Good luck to all pen pushers out there!

Monday, 12 November 2012

And I promise...

To blog more often, well, I have been writing for MWAAH magazine

and trying to write another novel as well. This one's set in Blackpool. Why can't I set my work in the caribbean and do some research there? Even the illuminations have been turned off in the Northern town now.

I did manage to get as far up as The People's Republic of Liverpool last month with teen one. She drifted past the culture along to the bright lights of Liverpool One. Well, I tried.

Dealing with Disappointment

Disappointment, it's not really a disaster, it's just the steep climb then the plateau on the rollercoaster of life. You're expecting the thrill, the excitement after all the build up, but there's nothing. There's a sinking feeling, yet before the undertow drags you down you have to shake it off, swim out of it fast before disappointment leads to bitterness and regret.

Example: Hubby and I travelled to New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, incredulous that the marathon he had trained 10 months for could still be taking place, but reassured by the organisation when we got there. Dressed and ready for a birthday dinner in Sardi's on the Friday night, we swung by the hotel bar for a quick drink with other runners before we went out. Then we heard the news, the marathon was cancelled. The big guy was crushed. Momentarily. As the barman stated in true New York style, "Whadda you gonna do about it?" and poured us a compensatory beer.

Well, shake off the disappointment and look on the bright side, we could drink, we could sightsee, we could shop! We could see a show (never done that before - Nice Work If You Can Get It was a lovely escape, Matthew Broderick brilliant). We could help, where we could, we could talk to New Yorkers, In five visits I've never had so many conversations with these proud city folk. We were disappointed, but not on the scale of returning to a devastated home, that puts things in perspective. The hurricane hit the Caribbean too, Cuba, another one of our favourite places, which doesn't have the infrastructure of New York to deal with the aftermath, nor the huge consumption the great engine of a city creates (which probably contributes in no small part to the global warming that causes more extreme weather patterns) but it does have resilient people. Disappointment's a small thing.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

She Who Dares Writes: Finished the NOVEL!! Flow

She Who Dares Writes: Finished the NOVEL!! Flow: I expected to feel a sense of relief, of abandonment, euphoria even, but I just feel quietly pleased, bit of an understated reaction. It's d...

Finished the NOVEL!! Flow

I expected to feel a sense of relief, of abandonment, euphoria even, but I just feel quietly pleased, bit of an understated reaction. It's done, the last line is written, the last word noted, the full stop in place. There are tweaks, there are sections I'm not sure of, there are spelling errors, but the story has been rattling around in my head for so long, I'm glad it's finally out. Some authors celebrate with champagne, a party, a meal. I made a cup of tea and went for a swim.

So, if any publishers are looking for a young adult coming of age novel, about Evie, her akward relationship with her mother, her resentment of her surroundings and desrire to escape, coupled with a little local romance and a mysterious old man, set against the backdrop of the wild Cornish coast - let me know.

Next question is? Do I use this for the next section of my MA course, or should I plunge forward with a new project? It's useful for dissertation dissection next year anyway.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

She Who Dares Writes: Ain't No Cure for The Summertime Blues

She Who Dares Writes: Ain't No Cure for The Summertime Blues: Well, there is really. What started as a rainy and dismal summer, the first where I've been working through the holidays for over twenty ...

Ain't No Cure for The Summertime Blues

Well, there is really. What started as a rainy and dismal summer, the first where I've been working through the holidays for over twenty years, has turned into quite an optimistic celebration of all things inspirational, dare I say, British? For a general pessimist, who'd like to be an optimist, but doesn't think I'll quite make it, there were moments of sparkle despite the rain.

I was meant to be writing, finishing the novel, using holidays as inspiration for the final chapters with a visit to Cornwall. But I never made it beyond the pasties of Padstow to the wilds of Zennor, so the place will have to stay within my imagination. I tried to write under a parasol on the beach in Tenerife, with a pad balanced on knees slimy from sunscreen, but it was hard to summon up the setting of my second book, a rainy Northern town, under the blazing Canary sun.

It's hardly a hardship all this distraction, but it does feed the imagination, maybe delaying the writing, but not stopping it. I have had some deadlines and freelance work to keep me going, but the summer and the occasional holiday have afforded me the space to read, to doze, daydream and imagine, inspiration lurks in the corners of my brain. I've been taking the advice of my tutor and trying to stick to reading YA fiction, so I've discovered Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games (that one even got my book phobic son reading on holiday), the wonderful Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, sought out some Lynne Reid Banks from my early teens, and Paul Zimmerman's The Pig Man and diverted a little to Submarine. I've strayed from the path a little, after all, holidays were meant for re-reading The Great Gatsby. I must have been the only female in a long line of sunbeds not reading a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.

All the ideas are simmering in my head, the long winter months will give me the time to write it down. I hope.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Dahl Day

Nostalgia, that tweak of pleasure from something remembered, something felt, something rekindled. The nostalgia for 'lost' childhood has fed a whole literary movement, a whole market that is based on adults writing from remembered childhoods, I'm one of them. I sought inspiration from a visit to the home of Roald Dahl in the search for the true voice in my novel.

The Dahl museum and story centre in Great Missenden is a confection of stories and stirred memories, it's bright, loud, fizzbinglingly wonderful. Slipped in between the old buildings on the high street, it sings out its presence with a candy frontage, the shadow of the BFG slipping behind the giant lettering that shouts 'Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious'.

In the car on the way there, my daughter and I reminisced over our favourite Dahl stories. Hers was Esio Trot, that was the first story I ever read aloud to my first class, in my first teaching post, swiftly followed by The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me. My childhood contact with Dahl was shaped by the 1971 film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I was more thrilled to see Johhny Depps wine velvet jacket and cane from the more recent Tim Burton version.

I didn't really read Dahls stories until I had children to read them to, then they came alive, the tenacity and cunning of Mr. Fox, the horror of The Witches, the sheer horribleness of Mr. and Mrs.Twit.

I must have been about 4 when an adult read my first Dahl to me. Our exotic next door neighbour, Zelia Fox read Danny Champion of the World to her son, Daniel (of course) and me. Older, I remember the undulating female and the music for Tales of The Unexpected meant it was time for bed. The museum made realise what a prolific writer Dahl was, all produced from his famous writing chair, by hand, cut and pasted with notes, to be typed up afterwards.

The interior of his writing hut is carefully recreated inside the museum, a table of trinkets and oddities that he kept, spine shavings from his many operations, a ball of silver foil formed from daily doses of Cadbury's milk chocolate bars, a part of a hip joint, a bright painting from his granddaughter, Sophie.

I remembered Dahl as a cantankerous character, perhaps in later life, the pain from his injuries and advancing age made him so, perhaps it was a myth circulated by the media.

For me, the highlight of the trip was a visit to Gipsy House, where the gardens are only open few days of the year. A rare summer sun pushed through the clouds as we explored the children's maze, the writing hut, the giant jars in the summer house.

We drifted past meadows and borders scattered with giant nodding orange poppies, drooping lavender and purple iris. Then my the ultimate childhood fantasy; nestled behind the orchard, beautifully restored, the gipsy caravan.

We climbed inside, the table was set for tea, Beatrix Potter bed linen on the bed. I was ready for the off, transported back to a summer, aged three, when I had climbed in the empty hen house in a neighbours overgrown garden, hidden from the world, making up my own. I left, fuelled by nostalgia and inspired by a genius, ready to make up more worlds of my own.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rain, Rain go Away

Rain, Rain go away, come again another day

It's all over the news, our national obsession, the weather. We continue, stoic and tenacious but it's beginning to wilt the spirit. Working outdoors, I can't avoid the rain, there's trees for shelter in the forest, but little else, and I traipse home most days damp and mud splattered, aching for a lie down and a hot shower.

I had envisioned frolicking in buttercup meadows in the bright sunshine, not to be. The upside is, everything is green and lush, the trees pulse with life, squirrels shake their tails of water and the cows mooch in the scrub. Once you embrace it, you enjoy it, but I am looking forward to some Spanish warmth next month.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Welsh Wales

Another successful weekend away with the She Who Dares girls, reliving some memories and creating some new ones. This time the accommodation was luxurious, no more outside or shared showers, comfy beds and clean linen, bliss, and compensation for the long haul down there. Laugharne was as lovely as ever, and after weeks of rain, the sun emerged, the sea sparkled and we set off for our first activity, coasteering. The water was bone numbingly cold, a shock to the system after the first jump, but still inviting. So much so that when land yachting was cancelled due to lack of wind and we were offered the choice of a walk or coasteering again on the second day, we opted for coasteering. Maybe next time we'll learn our lesson and go for the walk. Despite the chill, the scenery was spectacular, the caves secret and dark, and the jumps exhilarating.

On our one night out on the town (we were informed Laugharne was prepared) we enjoyed a sumptuous three course meal and wine at The Portreeth and live music from a young man - perched on a stool, hiding behind his Buddy Holly glasses, his mum and dad his roadies. He was good, and even after all that activity, a few of us managed a dance. Proves there's still life in the old girls yet, which reminds me, must get off to practice the new burlesque routine - blow kiss, bite glove, shoe on glove, pull off. Could prove to be an interesting maneuver.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

When outdoor swimming, there comes a point when you're treading water out in the briny or in the middle of lake, and you think, "Is it just me, or does everyone wonder if there's a great white swimming beneath them?" It might just be me, but It felt a little like that at the London Book Fair, swimming against the tide, alone in a sea of publishers, agents, authors and international conglomerates. It's a pretty fazing experience. Trying to negotiate the map, the app and the website was one thing, and getting there was no easy task either.

Enduring the tube, I made up back stories for my fellow passengers. I always like to play that game - "Who else is going to the same place?" Could it be the woman who changed her flats for pointy Jimmy Choos and changed her scarf twice? I was right about that one, but not about the perfectly groomed gentleman who stood ramrod straight, his briefcase by his feet and right in front of the doors at every station as if he were just about to meet the queen - ex-army I'm sure. I was wrong about the woman with the worn shoes and the M&S plastic bag stuffed with sheaves of paper,she got off at another stop.

I tried to look the part, and kept my cards and extracts concealed within my bag, moving my 'Author' badge at least 10 times over the day. I didn't realise you needed an appointment to see an agent, and hovered near the tables as if I were at an overcrowded parents evening. How you make this appointment is a bit of a Catch 22, direct, I've been told, but how do you find out who to email at your agency of choice? I did talk to a couple of independent publishers and left my cards with some agents, maybe next year I'll be better prepared. Celia Rees spoke sense about YA fiction, but made me think I should re-write the novel in first person, there's an awful lot of it about. Thank you to She Who Dares for bringing me back down to earth with a water polo match a few days later.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sunny saturday morning

It's what weekends were made for, waking to the sun seeping through the curtains, the sound of birdsong and the promise of spring. Yet its 8am, and feels indecent to rise this early when a lie in of delicious lethargy promises to be so satisfying. I compile a list of what I SHOULD get up for:
Paint the bathroom
Finish a 5,000 word essay
Clean the patio before the hosepipe ban
Clear out the garage
Clean upstairs
Raise the children and make breakfast
But here's what I WOULD get up for:

Get in the car and drive to the coast to feel the numbing cold sea water washing over my toes
Stand under the wide blue sky with seagulls wheeling overhead clutching a mug of tea and slice of cake

It's space we need, domestic life is too restrictive, although the space in the bed is luxurious, the space outside promises more. I'm enjoying that space in my new place of work - Hatfield Forest, the familiar and new landscapes opening up. Working with children I see it fresh through their eyes, the wide sweeps of sky punctuated by ancient stauesque trees, plains of rolling grass and the smooth surface of the lake, ripples breaking as a lone moorhen skuds across the surface. Our minibeast hunts reveal the detail of the forest floor, the minutae of teeming life all around. One of the teachers said, "The children look so small out here". We're all small in this place, just a blip on the 1200 year timeline of the forest, dwarfed by the giant trees and blast wide sky. Even the incessant planes are tiny from down here.

Its a place of character and characters, friendly people and welcoming landscapes, a place to explore and discover the detail behind the space.

A place to get out of bed for.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Vintage Va Va Voom!

Copy for an article I submitted to Vintage Life magazine recently:

One of the attractions of vintage is the glamour. Lets be honest, not many of us lead a glamorous life these days, time pressures of modern life mean a quick wash and blow dry for the hair, a slick of make-up and we’re off. There’s no careful layering of exquisite underwear, perfect application of the reddest pout, no curling and pinning of glossy hair. Feminists shout ‘huzzah!’ why should we be restrained by the time consuming pursuit of vanity. But, hang on; sometimes we all need a little glamour, a little fun, a little fantasy, and the license to play in our lives.

If you don’t lead a full-on vintage lifestyle, where can you get your glamour fix, where can you enjoy dressing up and strutting your stuff? The answer might be in the rising popularity of burlesque.

When I was little I dreamed of being a dancer, of having the power to keep an audience captive while I whirled and twirled on stage. I dabbled in pink for ballet, black for modern dance, everything in my teens when I flung myself round the dance floor, strutting my funky stuff into the small hours. Organized dance and I parted company until I was invited to the Haworth 1940’s weekend and took a series of swing jive classes in preparation for the evening wartime-welcome dance. A few days before we travelled North, I twisted my knee, and spent most of the day confined to an American Jeep, I may not have spun around the dance floor as much as I’d hoped, but boy, did I look the part. I sourced a vintage suit on line, slept in rollers the night before, arched my brows and perfected my pout. Dressing up gave me the opportunity to be someone else, I felt confident, powerful.

So when I heard the rumour that burlesque classes were coming to our town, I thought what better way to regain that confidence, dress up and enjoy dance again. Which is how I found myself at the first class of ‘Burlesque Jems’. Run by the chief Feathered and Fabulous Facilitator, Jem Ayres, from the Ministry of Mischief and Mayhem in our local arts centre. That first week we gathered, nervous and uncertain dressed in vests and joggers, by week two the vests had got frillier and there were flicks of eyeliner and curls, by week three the feather boas were in full swing, on week four, the corsets came out. After that, there was no going back. When Missy Malone brought her burlesque revue to town, we rehearsed a routine to perform at the interval. Nervous and exposed we still strutted when the music started, fabulous creatures of every age and size, keeping the audience captivated.

No matter what the day job might be, Burlesque helps you find your inner glamourpuss. When you’re primped and powdered, corseted and confident, you get your legs kicking and hair flicking and pout, shimmy and sizzle through the routine.

Jems philosophy for burlesque is that; “We all need to feel beautiful and sumptuous, and set aside time to revel in and celebrate our womanhood, every woman should have the opportunity to feel fabulous and own her curves.”

To fulfill the burlesque lifestyle, Jem has organized inspirational trips to shows and revues and run vintage hair and beauty workshops, building a sense of camaraderie among her dance groups.

Find burlesque dance classes with Jem at:

Haworth 1940’s weekend, West Yorkshire:

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Back of the drawer blog

My mother had a particularly glamorous pair of cat eye sunglasses circa 1950-something. There are old black and white snaps of her wearing them, a la Grace Kelly, flaming auburn hair contained by a whips of chiffon scarf, smiling in the Canadian sunshine. She lived there for a time in the late 50's, steaming away from dreary post war England on an assisted passage across the Atlantic, indulging in deck quoits on board ship. I'm sure she wore the sunglasses then, later they were passed to me and stored in the trunk she used for her voyage.

A trunk that now resides deep in the recesses of our loft, almost inaccessible behind the piles of christmas decorations. Reluctant to check if the glasses were still there, I hoped I stored them at the back of my drawer, but found other tresures instead. It's strange how we hold on to fragments of things to define our lives. I discovered an worn leather wallet with a receipt for a restaurant in Port Douglas, Queensland, it brought back memoreies of swaying palms, long golden beaches and outdoor cinemas. In another old purse was a yellow taxi card for the Poconos, USA, memories of a late night car trip through the forests after dancing on the bar in a local hotel. A little picute from my daughter, a drawing of her mother, sitting, wine glass in hand (not much changes) with a photo of her in bright yellow dungareess and a sun hat, eyes squinting against the sunshine. She could have done with those cat eye sunglasses, perhaps I should resume the search.