Friday, 16 November 2012

Logging In

Username: LeggyLaura
Password: Sexonlegs

Wrong Username/Email and password combination

Of course, that's Gmail. Silly me...

Username: LeggyLaura

Wrong Username/Email and password combination

What? Wait a minute is that work? I know...

Username: LeggyLaura

Wrong Username/Email and password combination

You're kidding me? Facebook? It must be...


Wrong Username/Email and password combination

FFS. I am so stupid...


We've gotta check. Are you human?

Oh sod you twitter - I'm going to the pub

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

I feel a bit of a fraud with this…I am nowhere near being a published author, I haven’t got an agent and have yet to self publish anything. (Though I do have a few short story credits to my name - see sidebar) However, my dear lovely twin sister Julia Williams who IS a best selling author (25th on the best seller list this week!) kindly tagged me in this game of The Next Big Thing. And since the questions she has given me are simply irresistible, I’m delighted to be joining in.

What is the title of your book?

Echo Hall.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I was living in a remote hamlet in Northamptonshire a few years ago. Our home was a converted schoolhouse next to the parish church and graveyard. We were several hundred feet from our nearest neighbour and a quarter of a mile from the rest of the village. I’m a townie by birth and by nature, and (unsurprisingly for a writer) I’m blessed with an over-active imagination. I used to wake up in the pitch black night and imagine I heard voices, much to my husband’s amusement.* It used to scare the beejeesus out of me. In fact, I was such a scaredy cat, if Chris was away, I used to bring my then one year old son into bed to protect me. And one day I thought, what if you came to a remote country house, woke up in the middle of the night and such voices were real? What would they say and why? And that’s how it began.

*Though to be fair we once did wake up at 3am and there really were voices. It was the local police who'd been called out because the sheep from a neighbouring farm had escaped down the road and were holed up in our car park. Country life eh?

What genre does your book fall under?
I’m not a huge fan of pigeon holing writing, mine or anyone else’s. However, I’d say this book is unashamedly gothic, with a political twist. So I’d like to think I’ve invented a new genre – political gothic.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooh good good question. Hmm. I have three generations of a family (so I suppose it’s a bit of a family saga as well, see how much I don’t like pigeon-holing?) Let me think now.

Ruth, who is the 1990’s heroine is very calm and restrained. I think Carey Mulligan would be good. Her husband, Adam, is a little bit unreliable, Tom Felton, perhaps? Elsie in 1940’s is passionate and lively, and auburn, so definitely Karen Gilligan . Her husband Jack, as a young man could be Harry Lloyd. Jack is 76 in the 1990’s so the older version would have to be um Michael Gambon?  Jack’s cousin Daniel could be Daniel Radcliffe, though he’d wear a curly wig. I think Bonnie Wright would make a good Rachel in the previous generation, with maybe Benedict Cumberbatch as her husband Joseph (he too would need curly hair). Her sister Leah would be Emma Watson maybe, and Leah’s husband Jacob would be Skandar Keynes. And maybe their older versions would be Kate Winslet and David Morrisey?

Will your book be self-pubished or represented by an agency?

The aim is to get an agent and go the traditional route. However, if that fails I’ll definitely self-publish,

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Erm…dare I say 7.5 years? In my defence, for three of those years I was looking after pre-school kids. For the next 4.5 I was back at work with children aged 3-7. The kids are a lot older now, so the second draft has only taken just over a year. I’m optimistic I might finish a third draft in less time!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t dare do that. I would say I’ve definitely given a nod to Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. But I’ve been avoiding books like  The Little Stranger, or The Thirteenth Tale for fear of being influenced by them.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Well the original inspiration was imaginary ghosts, but after that I had to think about who the characters were and what they were doing in the house. And it quickly became about people living in times of war, so it is infused with the spirit of my grandmothers, my aunts and my mother who all lived during World War 1 and World War 2. My 1940's character Elsie shares a Liverpool background with my paternal grandmother, and like her, she was denied an education. It’s only a minor part of her story, but important to me none the less.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

My central theme is that unresolved conflicts spill over into the next generation and I have deliberately set family conflicts in times of war. So I hope it will appeal to anyone who is interested both in relationships and politics. I have a particular take on these issues, but  I hope that readers will be able to make their own minds up and disagree with me if they want.

I’ll be tagging the following writers for the Next Big Thing on their blogs next week....

Anne Booth, who is one of my oldest friends and who like me is unpublished. She’s a fine writer and I hope this will be rectified soon. She's written a brilliant (as yet unpublished) novel about nuns, and just completed her first young adult novel. The Hidden Hours is a great story about a young girl, her relationship with her grandma and Nazi Germany. And because she doesn’t have a blog, I’m giving her space to come here next week and tell you all about it.

Marc Nash is one of my Friday Flash compadres. He  has written and self published three novels AB,and E,
Not in My Name and Time after Time and 2 collections of Flash Fiction 52FF and 16FF. Marc is experimental, challenging, entertaining and has the widest grasp of the English language of anyone I know…Marc blogs over at Sulci Collective.

John Wiswell is another one of my fellow Friday Flash writers. He is currently working on a fantasy novel. John has the most surreal and creative imagination and his regular Bathroom Monologues are an absolute delight. He seems capable of writing in any genre and he always always makes me think.

I think I'm supposed to have four writers but one of the other people I asked had already done it, and the other wasn't ready to talk about her book. They're both great writers though so do look up Icy Sedgwick and Shelley Harris

Friday, 2 November 2012

The Jumper

The jumper is left draped over the futon with a casual familiarity. He notices it minutes after she has left. The jumper is turquoise flecked with green. It looks comfortable against the cushion, as if in this is the place it should be when not adorning her long slender back. He can't help feeling she has left it behind deliberately, as a message: get in touch.

He steps over to the sofa, picks it up, buries his face in the wool. He wrinkles his nose in anticipation of her smell, imagining  lily-of-the-valley, soft, subtle - his mother's favourite perfume. But the aroma exuding from the left-behind garment is less fragrant. Cigarette smoke and sweat. She hasn't washed it in weeks. Now he looks close up he can see red soup stains by the V-shaped neck, sugar crystals stuck to the mid-riff, and what appears to be chocolate on the hem. He hasn't expected this. For a moment he hesitates.

Then he remembers her smile as she left. He picks up his mobile and texts: You left your jumper behind. Shall I bring it to you? He sits back on the futon, hugging the jumper close to him. It is a little piece of her. Soon, he will have the rest.


She arrives at the bar and orders pernod and blackcurrant. Tiny Tempeh is blaring out from the music system. It is early still. Soon this place will be full of Friday night screeching, but right now she has time to nip out the back for a quick fag. She has her pick of tables, so she chooses one furthest from the door. She takes the cigarette packet from her back pocket, pulls out a slender cigarette, caresses it in her fingers. The lighter flares orange as she places the cigarette in her lips, lighting the tip. She drags in the sweet smell and breathes out a long sigh. The first fag of the evening is always the best - full of hope and desire, before a night's smoking causes her throat to rasp.

Though there are heaters in the courtyard, she has placed herself too far from them. That was stupid, it is November after all. She shivers, reaching in her bag for her jumper. It is not there. Where can she have left it?  She retraces her steps in her mind. The post office? No, she wasn't wearing it then. The tube. She definitely didn't have it then. She knew she was wearing it at lunchtime because  it was cold when she nipped out for a sandwich. She is still trying to work it out when a message blinks on her phone. You left your jumper behind. Shall I bring it to you? For a moment, she struggles to remember the number and then it comes to her. Jan's friend. The one who's DVDs she'd borrowed. She'd dropped them off earlier. She'd forgotten all about that.

She is about to text back, but the door into the patio opens. Her date for the evening. "I thought I'd find you out here." He smiles. She smiles back, shoving her phone in her bag. She'll phone wotsisname tomorrow. There's no rush.


It will take him three weeks of persistent texting to arrange a meeting which will last five minutes. His love will last for a few seconds more.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

At the top of the scree slope

If you've been paying any attention to my blog in recent months, you'll have noticed me banging on about the second draft of my novel. And how I intended to finish by the end of the summer. Or at least by the time I went to the Festival of Writing in York.

Well I didn't manage it. Of course, I didn't. My life is just too busy for that. But going to the Festival of Writing was so inspirational that, once I returned, I was possessed by a manic energy to race to the top of my particular novel mountain. For the whole of September, and most of October, despite an absolutely crazy workload and busy family life, I've been getting up at 6, and sometimes working to 11 just to revise , add to the word count and generally beat the book in submission. For several weeks this was an absolute exhiliarating joy. The kind of joy you get, when the air is in your lungs, the sky is blue, the breeze pleasant and the sun warms you on your way. I strode the slopes with energy, verve, each day finishing with me looking forward to the next

But as I began to near the end of my goal, with only a few chapters to go, I hit a nerve wracking scree slope. For every step up, I slid three down. The sun went behind a cloud, the wind whipped up, no longer exhiliarating but cold and hard. I was bone tired, and desperate to stop, but I knew that if I did, I might never start up again. Inch, by inch, I clambered over sharp pointy stones, now forward, now back, some days stuck at the same point, paralysed by the effort. Until, at last, this time last week, I found myself inches away from the ridge. There was half a chapter left and it literally raced off my fingers and on to a screen. And for the time being I was done.

The view from here is rather satisfying. I've printed my second draft off, satisfyingly twice the size of the feeble first draft I finished last year. I've read it twice, and though there are still places where the language makes me wince, where I've lost my thread, where I've been inconsistent, it's beginning to take the shape I want it to.

I'll be off again in a minute, pushing myself through a third draft which will no doubt be as painful as the last two. But I can see the summit now, and I know, without a doubt, that I can reach it. And after eight years, I can tell you, that's quite a sight.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

An experiment in twitter fiction

Very early on in my #fridayflash career, I wrote a story entirely told in tweets, based on the idea that if you looked at someone's timeline you are effectively reading the story backwards. The result which you can see here, had mixed responses. Some people felt I'd been a little too obscure with what had happened, others that it was very hard to read a story that way. I took the helpful critique and left it for a while till my good friends at Blank Media announced they were looking for submissions for a booklet to accompany their art exhibition "Inside". I re-jigged my Miss Piggy story, mocking up a twitter page to give  a bit more information about the other characters, who else she was following and what pictures she had recently posted. I was delighted that my story was selected (the first time I'd been paid!) and I floated the idea with the exhibition organisers that we could consider doing it live. They felt that was an interesting idea, but too much to organise, but ever since, I've been itching to do something similar.

It was on my game plan for next year, but the announcement of the first twitter fiction festival seemed to good an opportunity to miss. The festival takes place from 28th November to 2nd December. Submissions are required by 15th November.

So my proposal is this:

I will create a Miss Piggy like character  on twitter (I think the realmisspiggy is alas, now taken!).  You can be involved in two ways.

If you want to get involved as a writer, you can create your own character to interact with mine. In the two weeks before the festival we will speak to each other on twitter building up a network of relationships and discussions. Every now and then my character will be referring to her son in disparaging terms (as she did in the original story). Something will happen at some point during the festival which affects them both. Your characters can either be sympathetic or appalled at my character's response. I'd also like someone to play the part of the son who can give an alternative point of view.

If you want to get involved as a reader - you can be yourself, follow all the characters and interact as and when you wish.

We'll draw it to a conclusion on the Sunday & I'll then try and reproduce it on a specially created blog if it isn't too crazily out of control.

It's quite possible the twitter festival will reject the submission, so if it does and people are still interested, I'll find a good time for us all to do it next year as I'd originally planned.

Please feel free to invent your own characters, here's a little bit I came up with on characters for the story.

jollyjenny2 Jenny Hastings

I’m a kid at heart, up for all sorts of jolly japes…

laser_light Bob Morgan

DJ by night, Rock God by day, I follow the music wherever…

2nd_handman Harold Steptoe

Obsessive fan of all things Steptoe, handyman in my…

  So far we have two writers interested and two signed up.  If you are  interested please DM me your email on twitter and I'll sign you up.   Here's to an interesting experiment!

Friday, 26 October 2012

After she has gone

He stands at the door watching her taxi depart, the red brake lights blinking as the driver slows at the bend. And then the car disappears round the corner taking her towards Lincoln Road, the High Street to a life beyond him. From the conversation they have just had,  the life they have led, the people they have become he knows she won't be coming back. Not tonight. Not ever. Yet still he stands there, braving the November night in his "T" shirt, in the useless hope that perhaps she will stop the cab, turn around and give them one more chance. He waits and waits, till the goosepimples are perpendicular on his arms, and the cold is causing his teeth to chatter. Only when his whole body is shaking does he admit defeat, close the door and return to the living room.

The room is warm, but he still needs to pull a jumper on, march about and drink a cup of tea before he has totally defrosted. The lounge is filled with the detritus of their ending, the half eaten spaghetti bolognese, the bin full of tissues, the dirty coffee cups. There is at least this satisfaction to take from her departure, he won't have to clear up before bedtime. If it weren't for Jenny, he wouldn't have to clear up ever again. Jenny, his stomach lurches. What can he possibly say to Jenny that will make this right? Mummy has to go away with work for a while? Mummy has so many things she needs her own house? Mummy has a new friend she needs to spend some time with? All statements that will need to be made in a kind softening-the-blow voice in order to hide the truth that Mummy is a total bitch and she just doesn't love us enough to stay here.

There is a yell from upstairs. For a moment he has the fanciful notion that his emotions have entered his daughter's dreams, that her cry is a direct response to his thoughts. But when he enters the room and sees her in familiar pose, eyes glazed, body rigid, he recognises the night terrors.  "Get it away from me, get it away from me," she screams seeing some unimaginable horror. It is a relief to know that this is something he can handle. That all he needs to do is sit here, hold her hand, talk soothingly, till the fright and panic dissipate. As he watches her body begin to relax, her eyes close, her breathing to slow he helps her lie back down on the pillow. Soon she is sleeping peacefully, as if nothing has happened. In the morning she won't even remember she woke. He waits for a couple more minutes to be absolutely sure, before tiptoeing out of her room.

He picks up a random box set from the shelf. West Wing, that will do.  He settles in front of the TV and immerses himself in the problems of the Bartlett administration; a panacea to see him through the night - to delay the nightmare that is tomorrow.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Plug of the Month - A Merry Little Christmas by Julia Williams

Yes folks - she's done it again. My lovely twin has another novel out. Published tomorrow,  A Merry Little Christmas is a return to the inhabitants of Hope Christmas who enchanted us in Last Christmas. Marianne and Gabriel, now married, are contending with twins and the continuing clash with Steven's mother Eve. Catherine and Noel, having moved to Hope Christmas for a saner family life, find themselves grappling with teenagers and a mother with dementia. Whilst Pippa and Dan, have the toughest fight of their lives as they battle to keep their daughter's respite care service open. As usual, Julia weaves three stories effortlessly, as her characters cope with the demands of making marriage work in a tough and sometimes cold world. Christmas is coming, but with all the difficulties life is throwing them will it be merry for everyone?

Friday, 5 October 2012

The moves you make

"It's Sunday night, and your listening to Allen Greene's Sunday Smoochers. First up - it's  Gary...Who's your dedication for Gary?"
"Tell us about Annie."
"She's gorgeous. She has long brown hair, deep green eyes, I love her to bits."
"And where did you meet her?"
"At Leeds University, at the Freshers Ball. I saw her across the dancefloor and couldn't stop watching her..."
"So, it was love at first sight?"
"Exactly.I told her she belonged to me, and that was it."
"Aaah. That's the kind of smooching story we like on this  what do you want to me to play Gary?"
"For my wonderful Annie, for ten glorious years - The Police and Every Breath You Take...Cos, Annie, every single day, I'll be watching you."
"Great choice,thanks Gary, Police coming right up..."

Annie takes in a deep breath and fights back an urge to run to the door. It's locked as always, and the curtains are drawn. He can't get in. She's made sure he never get in. But...How did he know? How did he fucking know what radio station she listened to? That she'd be listening tonight? Was he hacking into her air waves? Was that even possible? She turns off the radio and hurtles it across the room. Every move she makes...That's another simple pleasure he's ruined.

She runs into her bedroom, and dives under the cover, as if the embrace of the duvet can fight off the cold that is seeping through her bones. She knows from bitter experience that she'll hardly sleep tonight. If she does, her dreams will be filled with his face gazing at her..

Every move she makes, every step she takes - he'll be watching her.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

National Poetry Day

It's National Poetry Day. So here's a very personal poem:

(for Chris)

You were half a world away, planning
peaceful revolutions. You lunched at
breakfast, slept at tea, woke as I fell
asleep. My wheels turned on daily
journeys, willing your return.

A two week sentence separated us
the day I got a puncture. I made
vows for this: still, revolution is hard.
There was no time to fix the bike –
without you, life gets complicated

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Post Festival World

A week after the Festival of Writing finished, one of the writers I met asked me how the post festival world was going. Busy, I said, manic, much as before really. In a way that's true. After the leisurely summer, the children are now in full term throttle. There are evening activities most nights, including Wednesday when one child needs dropping off and another picking up at the same time  in different places) which is leading to all sorts of complications.  The secondary school has instituted a new homework schedule, and the primary school homework seems more challenging for number three, which is upping the ante of parental support required. In the meantime Chris is entering his busy time of year, with an average of 2 talks a week, (10 in the next fortnight) which always changes the dynamic of home life. And if that wasn't enough, my own work is so busy that I am multitasking like there's no tomorrow as I try and juggle three simultaneous deadlines. None of which is terribly conducive to writing. Or that's the excuse I usually give myself.

And yet, and yet, I feel like something has shifted. I've always been a little bit obsessional about this story. (Well I have to be don't I? I've been living with these people in my head for 8 years now) But now my obsession has reached heights I never dreamt of. I go to bed thinking about what they're up to. I get up (several times at 6am) desperate to continue their story. On the bus, I force out all other thoughts as I try and progress their journeys that little bit further. And it's working. Five weeks ago, I wrote that I thought I had about 10,000 words  to complete Part 4. Tonight I realise I've written about 8,000 of them, at least 3,000 since York. Given what's going on in my life, that's absolutely staggering. I'm pretty confident that I can get to the end of Part 4 by the end of the week, though I'm making no predictions beyond then. And though the words are not good enough yet - they  need shaping and tuning, simplifying and expanding - I can see ways that I might do that.

I do know it won't take much to push me off balance. But for the moment, I'm flying.  No More Excuses. It's time to get the job done.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Telling the Family (Part 2)

The decision is made. In reality it was made a long time ago. Tonight was inevitable from the moment they met.  Now it has happened, there is one thing left to do.

"When are we going to let everyone know?" asks Matt

"You mean you haven't updated your facebook status yet?" Alex grins. Matt rarely lets a moment go by without telling the world. His enthusiasm for social media is one of the things she loves about him. He grins back at her, he loves her gentle teasing, it makes him feel part of their own special club. He pulls her closer to him on the sofa.

"Only Mum said to come over at the weekend. I thought we could tell them then."

"You've been planning this." Alex looks at him appreciatively. "I like a Man with a Plan."

He laughs, and gives her a peck. "No...not really...It just seems like a good time to do it." She kisses him back. "It is a good time to do it." She kisses him some more and soon they aren't thinking of anything except each other. Pretty soon they have rolled off the sofa against a pile of books waiting to be placed in the newly constructed shelf. Lolita,  Persuasion, Fifty Shades of Grey scatter in the path of their rampant bodies. At the time they barely  notice the book spines pressing on their backs, though they will feel the bruises later. And it takes them a day to spot the Dan Brown is so stained it has to be thrown in the bin. Afterwards, they lie on the blue pile rug stroking each others' skin as if for the first time. It is only hunger and Matt's urgent need to pee that forces them off the floor.

By the time he returns, she is already dressed and is in the kitchen rifling through boxes.

"What are you looking for?" he ask as he pulls up his trousers.

"The frying pan."

"What are we having?"

"Omelette...ah here it is," she finds it at the bottom of a blue crate.

"Yum. Champagne?"

"You really were prepared." She begins to chop vegetables. He takes the bottle from the fridge, carefully twisting the cork until the moment of release. Pop! It shoots up to the ceiling covering them both in the sticky spray.

"Cheers"  They clink glasses.

 "Here's to the rest of our lives."  Alex smiles. The future lies ahead of her. Everything she's ever dreamt of right here in front of her eyes. It's going to be great.

"I can't wait to tell my parents, " Matt smiles back, imagining the looks on their faces, the excitement they will feel. "I just can't wait."

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Telling the Family (Part 1)

The decision is made. In fact, it has been made a long time ago. Tonight is just confirmation of the inevitable. Now it has happened, there is one thing left to do.

"When are we going to let everyone know?" asks Shirley.

"You mean you haven't updated your facebook status yet?" To an outsider Jim's voice always appears jovial. The snide intention behind such comments is pitched at a level audible to Shirley alone. It is comments like that...Years of comments like that...she resists the inward fume and forces her mouth into a smile.
"Only the kids are coming this weekend. I thought we could tell them then."

"You've been planning this." It is Jim's turn to fume - manipulative as ever - she has forced this to happen exactly when it suits her.

"No...not really...Look we've both known...for a long time...haven't we?" but she's lost him already. He is staring at the  book case as if he is already calculating how to divide the spoils of thirty years. No doubt he will try to claim the heavy stuff - what he calls  "real literature" - Nabokov, Proust, Calvi - leaving her with the thriller collection, Francis, Grisham, Forsyth and the Dickens novels which he regards as over-rated soap opera. Perhaps she should let him, it seems to her,one of the more impossible acts of separation: dividing books that they've both enjoyed and given each other over the years. Then she thinks of how she was the one who introduced him to Will Self, to Borges, to Marquez, and sets her jaw in anticipation of the fight.

Jim continues his perusal of the shelves. He has some plastic boxes in his den. He has estimated their dimensions and now he is trying to work out how many books he will need per box. He cannot imagine how they will split the collection apart. He gave her half of  them. Should he claim them back? Doubtless, she will fight tooth and nail for the thrillers which she always enjoys on holiday, leaving him with the turgid books she thinks he likes- the  foreign writers with their overblown prose and complicated storytelling. Shirley interrupts his train of thought. "So, Saturday then? When the kids come?"  He grunts the grunt of resigned acceptance. The sooner he lets her have her own way, the sooner he can go his. He rises from the chair, departing upstairs for his den, where he will drink beer and watch Game of Thrones till the small hours.

Shirley watches his retreating back with relief. She has the evening to herself. She wanders into the kitchen, pours a glass of wine, and raises it silently: Here's to the rest of my life. After the weekend, she'll be on her own for good. She can't wait.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The morning after...

The morning after started early. Three am to be precise. I was woken by my youngest having a bad dream. Years of broken nights have taught me that the only way to get back to sleep quickly is if you can minister to the little darlings without waking up properly yourself. I was nearly there, till I realised that he was wheezy, and by the time I'd toddled downstairs to get his puffer, I was wide awake and my mind buzzing. Usually this is an extremely bad thing for me. It's the time of night when work anxieties crowd in and there is bugger all I can do about any of it. Sometimes, though, I strike lucky and the wee small hours prove fruitful as I churn out ideas, work out character's motives, come up with the perfect sentence. (The only downside is I don't always have pen and paper to hand, so sometimes fall asleep like Carrie in Homeland desperate to remember the vital breakthrough I've just made).  Fortunately, this morning, my mind was full of my 1:1's. Two out of three had commented I could strengthen the opening chapter by rewriting the first few paragraphs. I resisted it initially, I've worked so hard on that passage, and I liked what I'd done with it. But on the train I began to realise they were right, and lying in the darkness this morning, I began to see how to go about it.

At four am the writing was crystal clear and I was certain  I'd cracked it. But at seven when I managed to crawl out of bed, the details were a bit fuzzy. As I threw myself back into the rhythm of life before school, uniform, breakfast, packed lunch, the words came back. I'm still not sure whether I should use the word "supposed" or not, but my critics were right, it certainly feels a stronger beginning. Even better, on the way to work, I realised that a couple more throwaway lines would prove a perfect link to the central section of the novel. And for once, I got all the way to the office without work thoughts crowding in. Of course, I've had precious little time since then...Supervision, budget building and lots of stuff not for public consumption, was followed by rushing to meet number 2 to show her the way to her new drama group;  returning home to feed the others; back on the bus to collect her and have tea, whilst Chris is at a work meeting. I know from the lovely people I met at the conference, I am not alone in having such a whirlwind life, and so it's good to keep remembering JoJo Moyes' advice to write what you can, whenever you can to keep your projects moving.

This is going to me last post for a while, I have a novel to write after all. I wanted to end, however, by saying that a spectacular and unexpected pleasure at York was meeting so many people who know my lovely twin Julia Williams. I am sorry if I startled some of you by my more than passing resemblance to her, but as I said at the time, it happens rather a lot. So here's the poem, as promised.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Shall I forgive you? It happens quite a lot –

a stranger greets me in the street, or on a bus –

it causes confusion more often than not.

Did you suffer from such a delusion? What

were you thinking - that I wouldn’t make a fuss?

Should I forgive you, since it happens a lot?

Perhaps you understood at first, but then forgot

alike was not the same, that there are two of us.

I know it’s confusing, more often than not.

Maybe, I should try again, give you another shot.

Perhaps, after all, I’ve been making too much fuss.

Could I forgive you, since it happens such a lot?

It’s not surprising, really, that you’ve lost the plot,

you’re not the first to be bemused by two of us,

It can be confusing, more often than not.

Maybe, after all, I’ve been making too much fuss.

For, if I can forgive the person on the bus,

surely, I can pardon you? It happens such a lot -

causing confusion more often than not.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Homeward Bound

Despite a late night blogging, and general exhaustion from the intensity of yesterday, I was awake at 6.30am this morning. I lay in bed for a while pondering whether to run or write, until I decided that tight dresses withstanding, writing had to take priority. Besides I was desperate for a cup of tea. By 7.30 I tapped out another few hundred words and was able to go to breakfast full of smugness at my positive word count. After packing, I was able to grab another half hour  by the lake accompanied by two geese, one sleeping with it's head under it's wing, one standing sentinel. I seem to remember being warned not to worry the geese, as they could potentially break your arm, but these two seemed to tolerate the gaggle of writers sitting by the waterside. With the sun shining on the lake it was as perfect a spot for writing as you could find.

My 1:1's clashed with my workshop on acquisitions, so I had to leave while the speakers were getting in their stride. A bit unfortunate but inevitable with such a complex timetable to manage. I was a bit nervous about seeing the agent this morning as I had somehow failed to realise she was worked in the young adult market. Luckily she was totally forgiving  and full of good encouraging advice, finally laying to rest the ghost of a sneery tutor, who once said my writing was for "young adults" (nothing wrong with that but it's not what I'm after, and he meant it as an insult). My reader this morning was able to assure me she clearly saw it as an adult text and since she's a professional, and knows what she's talking about that's more than good enough for me.

My second 1:1 was a session with an editor - a "book doctor". I was even more nervous about this one. I'd chosen my editor carefully from the CVs provided, because I wanted someone very good, but with excellence comes the pressure of knowing my work might not be up to scratch.  Thankfully my "doctor" was absolutely brilliant, made wise comments, got me thinking about the chapter in a different way and provided more than enough positive statements to make me feel this project is worth pursuing. I came away knowing I'd got loads of work to do, but I knew that anyway. I also know that my book is very ambitious, but if I keep at it, keep listening, keep working to make it the best it can be, there's every chance I can achieve my aims.

Over coffee a chance conversation with an English woman who normally lives in San Francisco, was overheard by a second woman as she had once lived there too. The three of us hit it off and had a passionate discussion about the state of the nations, (probably a little too passionate in my case!) before I discovered the second woman is a neighbour in Oxford. So now I've made two new twitter friends and someone local to talk writing with. Result.

I caught most of a workshop on what agents want before I was lured out into the sunshine to take my final stroll round campus. This time I headed for the Derwent and Langwith Colleges, where I once spent freezing winter mornings observing duck behaviour. These are the quieter parts of the campus, .They were always beautiful when I lived there, but  now the willows and silver birches have doubled in size, and the bushes have spread out, they are even more so . Once again it reminded me that trees are a useful device for showing the passage of time through landscapes and glad I am already using this in "Echo Hall". As I wandered back to James College, I was besieged with memories again - the day my friend Karen disappeared for twenty four hours, and we searched campus high and low until she returned from a friend's just after we'd called the police; the time I had to look after several stroppy kids as part of a youth camp, and they'd run riot on top of the Biology building, scampered off in front of the Physics block until I uncharacteristically chased them down and turned the air blue, surprising them into compliance; and the computer lectures that sent me to sleep so often, my lecturer suggested I should bring a duvet. It has crossed my mind more than once this weekend, that perhaps if  I'd focussed my energies  a little bit more back then, when I had plenty of time to do so, I might have had a novel published by now...Youth is definitely wasted on the young.

Over lunch I was able to catch up with most of the people I'd met over the weekend, though if I missed you I'm sorry. I decided to leave a little early so I could have one final nostalgia tour of the city itself. Places you revisit are always supposed to be much smaller than you remember them, but today York actually felt much bigger. The river is wider, the streets more spread out, the shopping areas larger. But the medieval streets are still beautiful, Margaret Clitherow's shrine as moving as ever, and though it was disappointing the Minster charges a ridiculous amount to enter, it was extremely pleasant sitting by the river remembering evenings spent running along it's banks.

So now I'm homeward bound, basking in the afterglow of a  wonderful weekend spent amongst the nicest bunch of writing folk you could hope to meet; filled with a determination to plough on with my novel until it's finally done; and extremely grateful to the wonderful people in the Writer's Workshop who made it all happen.

I set myself a writing challenge this summer, to complete my second draft by this weekend. I may have failed in reaching my target, but at least I'm well on my way. And as JoJo Moyes reminded us yesterday, failure is part of the learning process.

I'm really looking forward to getting back to Chris and the kids - a weekend is far too long to be away, no matter how lovely the writing is. I know that once I'm back in the swing of home and work life, I'll struggle as I always do, to make the time to make my writing happen. But after this weekend, I'm more determined than ever to press on with "Echo Hall." I know it's a good idea, I've been told it's marketable. I've been told I can write. I'm the only person who can make it happen. So the biggest lesson I've learned this weekend, is - it's time to make sure I do.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A tight dress and case of mistaken identity

Day two of the Writer's Festival dawned with the campus wreathed in mist. Yet again, I felt right at home. Way back in 1983 when I came here for my interview, the place was shrouded in fog. In fact, I remember far more foggy days than sunny, so it was a real bonus for the mists to clear, and the sun to beat down on us all day.

After breakfast I had time to stroll round the bits of campus I missed on my run last night. This time I revisited Vanbrugh College, which hasn't changed that much, though it's a tad smarter than it was. My old corridor was being re-designed, and I managed to track down my room, though it looks like they are merging it with my neighbours to double the size. I stood at the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the Biology Lab clock, which was a critical aspect of my student days, as every morning I'd roll out bed, look out of the window and realise I was late for my 9am lecture. It took a moment to  realise the trees had grown so much they completely obscured the view. There was something really pleasing about that, as my novel, Echo Hall, is set in three periods of time, and the changing height of the trees is something I've used to mark the passage of time.

I then strolled back through Vanbrugh concourse where I cut my campaigning teeth persuading people to write letters for Amnesty International, and it was equally pleasing to see an excellent Amnesty poster on display. Nice to know York Students still have a bit of activism in them. I had time before the first talk to wander up to the JB Morell Library, one of my favourite places on campus. It's been tarted up a bit, but it still has the central conceit of four floors of books that you can view from every level, and still provides me with the sense of wonder of the  infinity of knowledge and how little of it we have time to master.

Then it was time for the 9am speech (I'd already been up 2 hours, how my life has changed since I was 19).  The keynote speech by the  wonderful JoJo  Moyes. I have to confess, I had heard the name, but didn't really know much about her, so my expectations weren't high. I'm pleased to say that she blew me away, first because she was instantly loveable, witty, humble, and absolutely honest. So much of what she said resonated with me: write the best book you can, write what you have to write, stay with your novel. And so much of her experience was laced with failure and disappointment, and yet she could so clearly demonstrate what she had learnt in such a self-deprecating manner, it was terribly heartening. It was totally and utterly inspiring and well worth the entire conference fee just to be there. I loved her so much I bought one of her books and had her sign it. She was  delightful, and an excellent example of how to be a writer at conferences, accessible, friendly and open to her readers. What a treat.

Over coffee, I had several more treats,  meeting  up with Shelly Harris (@shellywriter) the conference postergirl, who  won Literary Live two years ago and has just published her first novel Jubilee. Shelly met my friend Anne at a writing retreat and we'd promised to look out for each other, so it was fabulous to bump into her by chance. She too was delightful, and I bought her book as well. She introduced me to Julie Cohen (@Julie_Cohen), another conference star, (I completed my book purchases with one of hers). Julie happens to know my twin Julia Williams as they are both members of the RNA. Julie did the double take most people do, when they know my twin and then meet me(Julia and I are startling alike,though she's a lot more glamorous then I am). And then we had the perhaps inevitable moment of me running into another RNA writer, who Julia also knows but didn't know I was there. Susan Alison (@bordercollies)rushed to hug me, before realising that I wasn't quite the person she thought I was.  I always feel immensely sorry for people in this situation, it is so much more embarrassing for them than for me.It  has happened too many times to count.(In fact I've written a poem on the subject, but it's at home, so it'll have to wait for another blogpost). We luckily managed to recover ourselves as we worked  and it was fun to discuss with Julia on twitter later.

Inspired by JoJo's rule of thumb to write everywhere, and the fact that for this brief weekend I can do what I like, when I like. I returned to my room and attacked my novel with vigour.I'd intended to work for two hours, but I flaked at one and had a nap. Ah well, I don't get many of those in the daytime anymore, and I'm not as young as I was.

After lunch I queued up for my 1:1, at least 15 writers meeting  a similar number of agents/bookdoctors for 10 minute slots, managed with brilliant (if slightly scary) efficiency by a writing group in Hertfordshire. Waiting for my slot was  a bit nervewracking, reminding me of some of the less helpful tutorials on my writing course. But I needn't have worried. My chosen agent was encouraging, supportive, interested, picked up on some weaknesses I hadn't and gave me some useful pointers. The fact that she liked the premise, she liked the title, and appreciated some of the bits that worked well was more than enough, and I can immediately see a way to improving the material.

So that was enough to send me scurrying back to my room for a bit more writing. I broke for a workshop on landscape, and another snooze, but by 6.30pm I'd completed another couple of chapters. Given how slow I usually am, that was actually not bad going.

And then it was time for the Gala Dinner. They'd specified "cocktail dresses" and I don't really have many of those. So I'd brought the one dress that fitted the bill, a rather lovely Monsoon number I bought for a family party a couple of years ago. The trouble is, I always need my beloved to zip me up, and in the last 6 months I appear to have expanded as much as the York campus. I struggled and strained for twenty minutes before knocking on neighbour's doors to try and find someone to help. Luckily the first person I found was a woman, Jo, who tried her best for several minutes before we both gave up. I decided I'd have to just go partially zipped, but back in my room, I gave it one last shot. With a twisting of material, and losing of some underwear, I finally managed to get it zipped, and if that experience doesn't make me lose weight, I don't know what will.

Despite a bit of a mix up with the vegetarian food, I've had a marvellous evening. Jo, my neighbour happened to be on my table, and we had a great chat about her novel, which has a totally brilliant premise. (I won't spoil it because it will definitely get published). We also had the fabulous organisers of the 1:1 sessions, all writers themselves, who gave us the lowdown on a festival spent control hordes of anxious writers desperate to get at the agent's table. The other two people on our table had never met before, but discovered on talking to each other that they worked in the same building at work, which just goes to show what a small writing world it is. One of them had an excellent premise for a story set in 1963 Vietnam, and we had a fascinating chat about empire and colonialism.

The lovely children's writer I met last night was feted for winning the Greenhouse Literacy Agency Funny Awards and the Opening Chapter winner read his very funny and intriguing beginning, which featured, Prague, a challenging assignment and unicorns, and the wine flowed freely. I also managed to hook up with Debbie Alper (@DebbieAlper) and Emma Darwin (@EmmaDarwin) who both know Julia and who happen to live in the same road I lived in East Dulwich. (This small writing world is frankly not much bigger than a fishbowl). Just before I left for the evening, I bumped into Helen one of the Literary Live authors, who was great to talk to, as not only is she a marvellous writer, but she is temporarily living the writing life most of us aspire to, in Paris, and writing full time (at least for the time being).

I ended the evening sitting by the lake, remembering so many nights wandering around in the past, and thinking how life connects, and reconnects us in ways we cannot ever imagine.

 Life is complex and full of surprises, which is why writing about it, is such a lot of fun.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Never go back?

They say you should never go back.  But you know what? Sometimes, "they" are SO wrong. The minute I got on the train to York I was filled with good vibes. Not only did I manage to increase my word count by resisting the internet and writing for three solid hours, but the minute I stepped onto the platform and gazed up at the familiar iron arches on the ceilings I was right back at home. The taxi ride with a witty Yorkie took me round the town walls, close to my 3rd year house, glimpsing sights of a city that appears to have changed very little in nearly thirty years.  Not something you could say about the University which appears to have tripled in size since I was here, spreading so far out from the core six colleges, that there is now a North, South,East and West campus. James College, where I am staying is new, and has subsumed the old Goodrich College, which has been removed up the road, replaced by a snazzy conference centre, complete with a jazzy greenlit bar. A far far cry from the grotty formica tables of my youth.
         Still the lake is still as lovely as ever (if smellier than I remembered} and once I'd settled into a student room double the size of my rabbit hutch of 1984, I couldn't resist revisiting my old haunts by running round campus. It was a lovely nostalgia filled run:  there was the spot I fell of my bike and had to be rushed to hospital (a moment immortalised in one of my very poor poetry assignments); there was More House, the Catholic Chaplaincy, where my lovely friends Anne (@Bridgeanne), Judy and I used to spend many an evening discussing the novels we'd write; there was the turn off to my 2nd yr house at Badger Hill; Heslington Hall, the destination of the first run I ever took, leaving me red faced and breathless when I arrived; the dour Chemistry Department which has since morphed into a massive Science Park; Alcuin College site of the best disco on campus; the fabulous library which still has it's magic cafe underneath; my old room at Vanbrugh college; the Biology lab where I failed to become a scientist; and all the student halls, where I learnt that activism starts with a leaflet posted in a doorway. A lovely trot down memory lane that brought me back to my room glowing with energy.
           But nice as the nostalgia was, I haven't come here to relive my youth, I've come to network, to meet writers and agents and publishers. To garner a few tips and perhaps gather a bit of encouragement, and so far, so very very good.I've met a spread of conference participants, and from the publisher I  in the drinks queue, to the agent who's running 2 workshops and 33 one to ones, to the writers I chatted to over dinner  and in the bar(a crime writer from Wales, a young adults fantasy writer from London, a general fiction writer from Newbury whose crazy life mirrors mine, and a picture book rhyming writer who's just got been signed) everyone so far is friendly, welcoming, informative and passionate about writing. And if this wasn't enough, we were treated to Literary Live, as 6 brave souls read from their novels whilst we the audience selected our favourite. The standard was high, and it was so close we had to count, and it was nice to see the winner was an Indian woman of advanced years, not something you see every day.
    So tomorrow we have Jo-Jo Moyes and I have a workshop on landscape, and a 1:1 with an agent. I'm also hoping to get a bit of writing done, and maybe even toddle up to the East campus to try out the new swimming pool.

This writing life...hard sometimes isn't it?

Thursday, 6 September 2012


Oh dear...that last blog post wasn't just optimistic, it was totally deluded. In the  18 days since I posted I have managed one evening of writing. That's right. Just one. First of all work got a bit manic, so even on my theoretical days off I was tied to the computer, and rather knackered when I was done. Then came the bank holiday, which saw us camping at the Greenbelt festival for four days, surviving torrential rain and deep gloopy mud. I went to lots of great talks, (including my lovely hubby) did a reading with my eldest daughter and caught up with lots of friends, but it wasn't exactly conducive to writing. Last week was as manic at work as this, and several nights under canvas had left me too shattered to think. By Thursday I decided work had had too much of my time, so I hooked up with my lovely twin aka Julia Williams and her kids at a leisure centre half way between us.It was wonderful and necessary, but put paid to another evening's work.

I was hoping for a last blast of enthusiasm when I went to my mother's at the weekend, but a summer of early rising and whirlwind activity finally caught up with me. When I wasn't chasing my 82 year old Ma up Shropshire hills (she's a tad on the awesome side) I couldn't stop myself from falling asleep. I did visit the fabulous Burway Books a great indy bookshop where I had a lovely chat with Ros the owner (who is well stocked in Julia's books and also the lovely Kate Long (aka volewriter). I bought A Room with A View to remind myself what Edwardians sound like, but that was about as literary as it got.

It was so beautiful on Monday, I didn't get on the road till 7, and with the work, kids going back to school, and celebrations for my beloved's birthday I resigned myself to the fact this week has been a wash out too.

So it's all been a bit horribly pearshaped really. Still, I am a hopeful soul. I have a three hour train journey tomorrow that should be plenty of time to write shouldn't it? Once I get to York, with no family responsibilities and three days of writer mingling, I'm sure the words will flow once more. And even if they don't, I'm going to be staying at my old University. I am going to meet authors, agents and book doctors. I am going to hear interesting speakers, and hopefully pick up a ton of advice.

I can't wait.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Down to Earth with a bump

It was inevitable, really.  Post-holiday & Marathon excitement, returning to work and organising a sleepover for no 2's birthday. Face it, I wasn't going to get much done this week. On the upside, nothing too terrible waited for me in the office, and as you can see from the previous post, Brave was an excellent choice for birthday film. On the downside, Monday and Tuesday was a bombardment of meetings, emails and colleagues trying to bend my ear. Whilst Tuesday and Wednesday was filled with entertaining hyper twelve years, and trying to create the perfect Dr Who cake. It wasn't a complete disaster,  the icing was Tardis blue and it was sufficiently Tardis-like to be recognisable. But I mismanaged the building blocks so the sides bulged with crumbling sponge, and it ended up somewhat spherical. Luckily no 2 is easily pleased (even more so with the Fez I managed to get in my lunchbreak on Monday), but mother was totally exhausted by Wednesday evening, certainly too tired to write. With another full on work day on Thursday, it wasn't till Friday that I had a chance to look at Parts 2 and 4, before it was time to lighten my bank account by the annual trip to buy school uniform.

The good news is that Part 2 is actually beginning to work in parts. The narrative flow is strong enough and there are certainly sections where I feel I am almost translating my imaginary novel onto the page in the way I intend. The bad news is that not only is Part 4 a lot lighter on the word count then I imagined ( it needs another 10,000 at least), but oh dear, the words I wrote 2 summers ago, look a lot poorer today then they did back then. There's a LOT of work to do clearly.

With a little bit of application of the weekend, I've added 1,000 words to the first chapter, definitely is an improvement on the original. It's progress, but not enough. I have three weeks to go before the York Festival of Writing, and at this rate, I'm way off target.

Ever the optimist I'm aiming to pick up the pace this week. You never know I just might surprise myself.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Rave Review - Brave

It's ages since I've done a rave review, and usually I reserve them for books, but Brave was such a brilliant, brilliant film that I just have to, well, rave about it.

To be honest, I wasn't really expecting much. Pixar releases often coincide with no 2's birthday, and the last two we've seen at the cinema, Wall-E and Up, were only partly brilliant. The review I'd read in the Guardian suggested the film was bland and didn't have much of a feminist message. I've been beginning to wonder whether the glory days of A Bug's Life, Toy Story, Finding Nemo etc were well behind them. But no 2 was determined to see it, so that was that.

I needn't have worried. Within ten minutes, I knew a) they hadn't lost their magic touch and b) this was a REAL women's movie and one that passes the Bechdel Test triumphantly. I didn't need the credits to tell me that it was written by women (though with male involvement), and was pleased to see it was also directed and produced by women, which is not something you see very often.

Anyway, back to the movie. The story follows the travails of Princess Merida, daughter of the King Fergus and Queen Elinor. The film starts with Merida being given a bow and arrow by her father when she is small. She loves it, but her mother instantly disapproves. A bear attacks them, and whilst King Fergus defends them, Queen Elinor and Merida flee. Ten years later, Merida is a lively and opinionated teenager, her father has lost his leg to the bear and regales the tale incessantly. Her mother, casts Merida into the role of perfect princess, whilst her naughty triplet brothers infuriate her because they get away with everything. All Merida wants to do is shoot arrows and climb mountains, but the Queen wants her to sew, wear pretty dresses, and get ready for marriage. Much to Merida's disgust, the Queen organises the other three Lords of Scotland to bring their sons to compete for her hand. When Merida manages to outwit her mother chaos ensues, and the pair have a terrible argument. Merida flees to the forest where she meets a witch who provides her with the chance of a spell to change her mother. Like all good fairy stories, we know this is going to end badly and sure enough her mother does change, but into a bear. (How's that for a metaphor for what being a mother sometimes feels like!) Not only is this a terrible humiliation for such a feminine and delicate woman, but she is now in danger from her husband who has sworn to kill all bears in revenge for his injury. And like all good fairy tales, in order to save her mother, Merida must revert the spell before sun down in two days time, or the Queen will be a bear for ever.

It's a brilliant reworking of traditional fairy stories. We've had brave princesses before, of course, but miraculously on this occasion, the story DOESN'T end with Merida finding a prince she likes and getting married. Hallelujah. Instead, the narrative concentrates on the relationship she has with her mother - and they do it very well. The teenage strops and yearning for the simplicity of childhood will be familiar with mothers and daughters everywhere. The complexity of the relationship is enhanced by the fact that Merida isn't always right, Elinor isn't always wrong. We sympathise with Merida for the way her mother unintentionally smothers her and cheer when she literally breaks free of the overtight and hideously girly dress to outshoot her suitors. Yet we also love Elinor when she realises to her horror that she is naked, a bear and in big trouble. We love her even more when still manages to control her unruly triplets when escaping from the castle.

The story rattles along at breakneck speed, with Elinor and Merida racing to and from the castle in an attempt to break the spell, pursued by the King and his fellow Lords who think they're chasing a real bear. There's not as much humour as in previous Pixar movies, but is still funny enough. My only quibble is that the comedy element is mainly provided by the men, which is a bit of a shame. I don't mind the men being funny, but apart from King Fergus, they are all fighting buffoons, who need a good woman to keep them in hand. It would have enhanced the film a little, if they were a bit more rounded than that. That aside, the drinking, fighting, bear chasing scenes are fun, and whenever the naughty triplets appear they steal the show. Still Elinor and Merida's relationship is both the heart and resolution to this film and rightly so. Both mother and daughter have to be incredibly brave if they are going to put things right, and both have to be prepared to change to make that happen. I happened to be sitting next to my thirteen year old, at the climax and, well, let's just say, my face was more than a little wet.

So well done Pixar. Another excellent movie, with excellent role models for daughters AND their mothers. So much so that when I had a heart to heart with no 1 two days later, she asked if I'd been taking parenting lessons from Brave. I hadn't, but I'm humble enough to admit, it wouldn't be such a bad thing if I did.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


It was all going so well wasn't it? I really thought last time I wrote that I'd polish off the end of this section by last week, giving me a week to really get going on Part 4. As if...

Well, I have been on holiday, so I can't be expected to work that hard. But there has also been the distraction of the Olympics which has rather interfered with my sitting around and writing time. Friday 3rd  and Saturday 4th was all about British medals in rowing, cycling, swimming and astonishingly 3 golds for athletics in 40 mins on Super Saturday. Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, Mo Farah - simply awesome. Sunday morning should have been an ideal time to get tapping at the keyboard as the family were out at a car boot sale. But the lure of the women's marathon was just too much and I soon put my laptop down drawn into the fascinating race, where Kenyan Mary Keitany the front runner and favourite, ended up fading to fourth,  an unexpected surge from a Russian Archipova spoilt the usual Ethiopian/Kenyan 123 (though Tiki Gelani of Ethiopia got gold and Kenyan Prischa Jeptoo silver).

With all that excitement, our annual trip to Caldey Island, and a surprise outing to the Doctor Who Experience (highly recommended, preferably without vomity child), by Wednesday I was getting twitchy...I'd hardly written a word since the weekend, and my goal to finish part 3 was running away from me. Luckily Wednesday was quiet, and this time when the family went out, I kept away from the Olympics and just typed. It worked like a charm. I raced through my final chapter, finishing it triumphantly on Thursday morning. Well I say finished, I mean the narrative bit was completed. It needs a lot of fine tuning, the writing needs to be better, the pacing is off (4 deaths in about ten pages is going some), and still not sure about the "voice" for the whole section. But, it's enough for now. And although I have to start on Part 4, I do believe I  have a novel that's 2/3 of the way there.

So I felt I deserved 2 days on a beach swimming and reading an acclaimed novel by a famous author who will remain nameless as it didn't do anything for me. The holiday has rounded off nicely with Shakespeare at Pembroke Castle as the sun set making me fall in love with The Tempest, chips on Tenby beach. And with the Olympics coming to an end, decided to extend the writing break to watch another stunning Farah gold, and two fabulous relay races (Womens 4x400 won by US, Mens 4x100 by Jamaica, both world records. Yesterday I decided I  needed a bit of Olympic action myself and had a wonderful day at the Mall with my middle daughter, front row place without needing to pay. Last night's closing ceremony was a bit of a waste (particularly after the marvellous opening) but it kind of felt like it was important to see it through. (And my daughter and I did get a thrill out of the last medal ceremony and the chance to say "We were  THERE!")

Today, I go back to work. My brother is coming this evening, my daughter's birthday sleepover will  occupy tomorrow and Wednesday. My laptop is broken, and I will have to fight hard for writing time and headspace. But I'm in the latter stages of the race. With focus and determination, I should make it to the finish.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Leaping in the Dark

It was asking for trouble really, to start my writing challenge before my holidays had begun. I should never ever do that. The spirit was really willing, but I should know what I'm like when leaving the office for a fortnight. After my last post I was filled with enthusiasm. I went to bed on Monday night with my characters making conversations in my head. I rose on Tuesday and they were still at it. Alas, I was up too late to write any of it down, and as I got on the bus, work thoughts began to obtrude. By the time I was half way down the Cowley  Road my imaginary friends were smothered in an avalanche of concerns about spreadsheets, deadlines and letters to be sent by Wednesday. After two days of full on activity in the office, I was too worn out to do anything more than slob in front of the telly at night. And although I managed the odd hundred words here and there, it wasn't till we finally got away on Saturday that the writing began to flow.

Thankfully, it's been flowing since. We're staying in our usual holiday venue near Tenby, always  a great place for my writing. We've been coming ever since 2008. That year I nearly abandoned this novel. In fact I nearly gave up writing all together following a painful experience in a writing tutorial. (The moral of that particular story being, Never EVER enter a novel segment as a writing assignment...) I was exhausted and disheartened and spent the first few days sleeping. But as I sat in the sunshine with a notebook and pen, I remembered I loved to write. And Ann Gregson and Jo Davies' marvellous paintings in the on-site gallery on site soothed and inspired me to keep going. I love Ann's work so much that we bought a print home. "Leap in the Dark" is an abstract of reds, blues, oranges,greens that seems to me to form a cross that is alive and energetic. The colours jump in four directions, filling the dark edges with light and life. The painting sits above my writing desk as a reminder to me, that no matter how tough it gets, no matter what criticism I receive, I need to trust in my creative processes and keep leaping.

We've been here four days, and so far, so good.  I've been getting up relatively early and while the rest of the family have been sleeping I've been tapping away. I've managed 6,000 words and have three chapters left to go in this section. If I can keep up this pace, I will have filled in the big gaps that were missing from last year's draft, and may, just may ,be able to start editing Part 4, which is in slightly better shape.And my word count is hovering on 90,000  which means I've added another 30,000 words this year, and can definitely claim novel status. I still have a way to go before every word works as well as it should do, but I can feel the narrative strengthening, the character's behaviours becoming less inexplicable, and I'm leaping through the darkness making connections I've never made before
Leaping in the Dark - it works for me, perhaps it should be an Olympic sport.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Game On

A year ago, I returned from our annual holiday to Tenby, with a completed first draft of my novel "Echo Hall." Whilst 3/4 of it was complete tripe, it was a relief to know I'd come to the end of a narrative that had possessed me for 7 years. Completing the story gave me a huge boost and by the autumn I was well into my second draft. Work progessed at a fantastic rate in November when I escaped for a writing retreat here. Three days away in a splendidly Gothic house, complete with oak panel walls and Edwardian living room did wonders for my word count and gave me the impetus to write every evening till Christmas. Before I knew it, I was half way through my second draft, and had high hopes of completing it by Easter...

I should have known...after nearly 8 years of writing this novel...I should have bloody known. Life always always gets in the way. And this year has been no exception. A perfect storm of work and personal stuff (which I won't go into here, it's not that kind of blog) nearly blew me off the hillside. In January I stopped halfway through a chapter, and try as I might,  whenever I went back to it, I just couldn't move it on. I've been able to write other things - the odd #fridayflash, the start of a screenplay and contribute to a drama project - but every time I've returned to my character stuck in a park leafletting boys queuing to join the army, I've hit a brick wall.  This section of the novel was always the weakest, the blank bit that I always knew would need filling in and rewriting.  But I didn't anticipate it being so hard to get my character home to his wife...

It's been like that for months. Clinging on to mountain shrubs amidst tempestous squalls, thunder clouds and a foggy brain. But a few weeks ago, the  clouds began to clear, the gales to drop, the sky to lighten. The work and personal issues resolved themselves and as they did so, I found myself able to stand up straight, dust myself off and carry on upwards. I had a look at the chapter and found myself drawn to do more than look.  After a bit of procrastination I managed  200 words. I still couldn't write my way out of the park, but at least I'd moved him an inch further. And as I've made my way to and from work, in between sorting out children, cooking and cleaning, some ideas have begun to form. All of a sudden I'm back in the rhythm of the story. In the last two days I've written 1,000 words and finally, finally, the chapter has come to an end.

So to capitalise on the recovery of my writing mojo, I'm setting myself a summer challenge. We're off to Tenby again this week. There's no way I'm going to complete my second draft in a fortnight, but I might be able to finish Part 3, and even begin Part 4. Which gives me the thought by the end of the summer I might, I just might have got to the end of my second draft. I've given myself the deadline of 7th September, when I'm off to the York Festival of Writing where I'll have the opportunity to attend fascinating workshops and have 1 to 1's with publishers and agents. And to keep myself motivated I'm going to try and blog about it week by week.

The countdown to completion starts here. Game on.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Plug of the Month - Beauty in the Beast by Hugh Warwick

Our lovely friend Hugh Warwich aka "Hedgehog Hugh" has done it again. Another cracking book extolling the virtues of native wild animals, in the words of their passionate ambassadors. In an attempt to see if any animal can be an equal to his beloved hedgehogs, Hugh travels the length and breadth of UK meeting a diverse collection of animal mad Britons. There's Amy who loves moths, and Kate Long, the novelist, also known as "Vole woman" who can watch them for hours. 90 year old  Denis had a full time career in ICI but developed an expertise in sparrows on the way; Paul lives in a castle and has let beavers loose on Scottish estate with astonishing results; whilst Gareth, the mid Wales Badger man really sees badgers as part of his family. Mimi, the otter advocate swears by the smell of their droppings so much, she sends Hugh some in the post, Gordon the toad shaman dances with toad spirits. There are many more besides, a fascinating collection of characters and the animals they adore.

I once entertained aspirations to be an ecologist, but the nearest I got to it was traipsing round York misidentifying the local flora. This book makes me want to adopt a local mammal immediately and spend my nights in fields getting wet and close to nature. I probably won't but I enjoyed the inspiration.

Hugh's enthusiasm for the natural world, wit and knowledge make this an entertaining and accessible read. He's "a modern day Johnny Morris" according to the Hay Festival. I can't disagree.

Friday, 18 May 2012

That Special Someone

At first, like everyone who's been before, you succumb to her. You don't quite know how she does it, but there is something about her that makes you feel special,  needed, central to her concerns. Perhaps it is the softness of her speech that soothes your soul. Or the tilt of her head as she listens intently to your every word. Or is it the sincerity of her response to you - the way she makes you feel she's always on your side, the two of you against the world?

Other people, older and wiser than you, warn against her wiles. They point out the ways she has misled them in the past. They tell you tales of  broken promises, of roads to heaven paved with wilful deceptions. The lies built on so many lies that  truth is a long forgotten concept, buried deep beneath the ground. But you don't believe them. You won't believe them. How could you imagine that those wide brown eyes might be deceiving you? Or think her gentle voice is really full of guile?

It is only when your paths begin to diverge that the doubt creeps in. The moment you express an alternative point of view you detect a hardening tone of voice, a narrowing of her eyes. For months she has had you wrapped up warmly safe from bitterness and cold, but now you begin to sense a chill is in the air. Still you won't admit your fault. You don't want to admit your fault. Till even you begin to catch the faint criticism lingering behind her words of praise and your faith begins to weaken, your eyes to open.

It takes the arrival of the neophyte for you to finally succumb. To allow the truth to rise from the depths where it has lain buried under so many lies and broken promises. Your fall from grace is as rapid as his ascendancy, as the favours that were once bestowed on you are suddenly granted elsewhere. You try to warn him, but he doesn't listen. You tell him everything, but he doesn't believe you. He won't believe you. How could those wide brown eyes be decieving him, that beguiling voice be misleading him?

There is nothing you can do, except to join the others, older and wiser than you. They warned you once and  though you did not heed their warning they welcome you into their ranks. All you can do is watch and wait for paths to diverge, faith to weaken, eyes to open wide.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Woolf on Words

Oh this is marvellous. My heroine Virginia Woolf speaking about words in the only recording of her voice in existence Please take a moment to listen. Hat tip to the wonderful folk at Shakespeare and Company for posting it on twitter this morning.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

We're All Different and that's OK


I usually use this blog to celebrate writing - fiction, drama, poetry, my own and others. But I'm making an exception today to join in Bloggers Against Disablism Day.

I have worked for and with people with learning disabilities for nearly thirty years. Although we have come a long way since people with learning disabilities were locked in institutions they, and other people, with disabilities still face a lot of discrimination. So I'm delighted to be part of BADD which is a great way to tackle disablism.

A few years ago I gave an assembly at my daughters primary school about people with learning disabilities. I told the children (aged 5-9) We are all Different, We are all Equal, We are All Special. I explained that sometimes people with disabilities weren't treated equally or seen as being as special as others. It maybe a bit cliched but children really do have an innate sense of justice, and straight away they all recognised how unfair this is.

I told them that all it takes is understanding and a bit of adjustment from those of us who do not have disabilities, and everyone can shine. I used the children's story "Amelia Bedelia" to illustrate my point. Amelia Bedelia is hired to be a housekeeper.  She is keen to do well and impress her new employers, but when they go out and leave her a list of chores she is a little puzzled. "Draw the curtains," the list says, so after thinking about it, she draws them a picture of the curtains. "Dust the furniture", and she covers it with dust. She interprets "Change the towels," literally and cuts them to make them different. "Put out the lights," really stumps her till she decides, like washing, the lightbulbs need hanging out on the washing line. Her employers return and are horrified by her actions. They are on the point of sacking her until they smell her delicious lemon meringue pie. When they realise how wonderful the pie is, they ask her to stay. They are clever enough to work out how to ask her to do things her way. When she is told "Undraw the curtains" "Undust the furniture."  she gets it right. In other words, instead of expecting her to be like them, they celebrate her uniqueness and adapt their behaviour to match hers.

It's a simple message. Instead of letting disability be a problem,  we need to see people for who they are and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they can fully participate. The kids totally got it.  Why is it so difficult for grown ups?

If you would like to do something about disablism you might want to start by checking out these fine bloggers: Benefit Scrounging Scum (Kaliya Franklin) - shortlisted for the Orwell Prize; Diary of a Benefit Scrounger (Sue Marsh); Where's the Benefit? (Collective).

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Write until they pay you.

It was Mark Twain who said “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay". Which is exactly what I've been doing since I decided to take my writing seriously a few years ago. Like many a (better) writer before me, I've discovered it's a long old haul getting noticed, let alone published, and I've had plenty of moments where I've considered jacking it all in.

I haven't done so, because I realised (just about the time I started taking myself seriously) that I am a writer -I just have to write. And the more I write, the more I learn about how I write, why I write and tricks to improve my writing. In the last couple of years, this appears to have paid off, and I now have several on-line credits to my name, as well as some appearances in anthologies.  Up until now, I haven't been paid for any of them but it hasn't mattered. For there is nothing more heartening then receiving an email with the magic words: "We'd like to use your piece". It's a wonderful antidote to depressing tutorials, rejection slips and the many times when you look at your work in progress and decide it needs confining to the dustbin.

So I was delighted when the good folk at the Blank Media Collective accepted my piece "Following the Real Miss Piggy" as part of a publication to accompany their Inside Exhibition. They've published me in their fine magazine Blank Pages before and it was a thrill simply to be part of one of their shows. Imagine how excited I was to discover that not only was my little story in their collection, but this time round they are in a position to pay contributors. It's not much, but the experience of receiving my first cheque for a piece of fiction  is absolutely priceless to me.

And thanks to my lovely husband giving me a long weekend pass, I am taking the lunch time train to Manchester in time for the launch of the exhibition.

This writing life doesn't get much better than that.

Friday, 23 March 2012


I should leave now. I really should. There's nothing here to keep me. The party ended a long time ago. All that remains are the scattered crumbs of former pleasures: fading wine stains; crumpled beer cans; the faint scent of stale cigarettes.

I should leave. I  Should. Really. Leave. Now.

But still I hesitate. Pacing up and down our narrow hallway, rolling my black suitcase back and forth over the  red carpet. Occasionally a wheel snags on the frayed edges, causing me to pause in my pointless journey. As I stop to untangle it, I wonder why I am still here. It can't be out of any desire to stay.  To remain in the hangover of a now that has long past the point of no return to what once was.

Perhaps I am tempted by the tantalising illusion that what might be. That somehow we could still create a future where the bitterness of now is long forgotten, replaced by a magic that could be even better than what once was.

Or is it fear holding me back? The sense that what will be is bound to be a hell far worse than what is. The terror that if I leave, I will find myself  yearning for the life I endure now, as much as I now long for the life that what once was.

From the kitchen, the oven clock beeps - seven o'clock - reminding me that the time to choose is passing. Before your feet tramp up the path, before your key turns in the lock I must be unpacked or be gone.

Back or Forth? Once or Future? Now or Never? It is time to make up my mind.

I really should be going.  Really. I should.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Writing Heroes (2)

Last World Book Day I had the bright idea about writing about some of my writing heroes. I enjoyed it so much I suggested rather foolishly that it might be a regular feature of this blog. Alas, my life is never like that, and another year has whizzed by without me repeating the exercise. But last night, chatting to my cousin Christina on twitter, I got thinking about some more writing heroes. Maybe, this needs to be an annual event instead. So here, for 2012 (in no order of preference) are some more:

Jeanette Winterson Oh how I love Jeanette Winterson's writing. Oh how I wish I could write like that. She burst into my consciousness in the 1980's with her debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, surely the best rites of passage novel ever written. It's a longstanding favourite of mine (featuring as one of my rave reviews) recently enhanced by Winterson's brilliant memoir Why Be Happy When You Can be Normal which told the real (and somewhat more painful) story. After Oranges came a flurry of marvellous novels which I devoured eagerly:  The Passion, Sexing the Cherry, Boating for Beginners, loving the wit, the fabulism, use of myth, religious imagery and the quest for love and indepence that permeates these novels.  I drifted away from her for a bit after that, till I was given Lighthousekeeping - an extraordinary book about people living in fantastical situations on the edge of things - and I was back in the fan club. Shortly after that I  read Gut Symmetries which is quite simply a work of genius. Only Winterson would dare to write a book that connects Grand Unified Theory, the Ship of Fools, wormtunnels with stomach illnesses, love triangles and missing persons, all wrapped together with dazzling language, and word play. Gut Symmetries manages to be both a grand narrative that is funny and poignant and a book of ideas that I still think about four years later. So, if Winterson isn't on your bookshelves she should be. You really won't be disappointed.

David Mitchell is another writer I'd love to be. He's one of the rare authors that my beloved and I both adore in equal measure. Since we read his lauded debut novel Ghostwritten in 1999 we have been desperate to grab our hands on everything he's ever written. Ghostwritten appears at first glance to be a series of short stories, which at first seem to have little to do with each other, but gradually the reader notices that the Japanese lovers in the background of the first story about a terrorist, take centre stage in the second. The cheating cleaner who has an affair with the lost financier in Singapore, reemerges as the granddaughter of a Chinese peasant woman who survives the brutality of Japanese and Chinese soldiers on a lonely mountain. The tree that the Chinese woman thinks speaks to  her, is in fact a lost soul seeking rebirth. Altogether these stories lead us to consider what we believe, how can oppression be resisted, how do we survive pain, what are the consequences of our actions and what connects us in our humanity. Mitchell is a fine narrative writer, whose use of imagery is outstanding and like Winterson, is a master of wordplay. He is also experimental, as seen in Number 9 Dream where his hero, a Japanese jazz lover fantasises about finding his father as he drifts between reality and imaginary worlds, perhaps pursued by gangster, perhaps not. The book ends in a breathtakingly audacious fashion that I suspect only Mitchell could get away with.Cloud Atlas is my favourite - 6 interlocking novellas in completely different genres (adventure, 1920's cad, thriller, farce, scifi, apocalyptic) all dealing with similar themes to Ghostwritten, and written with skill and passion. Black Swan Green, Mitchell's rite of passage novel, is less interesting, but it is still way above the average writer, whilst The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, after a slightly slow first part, becomes unputdownable. Mitchell's prose is light and airy, his images linger, and his characters are brilliantly drawn. He's a pleasure to read, and on every re-reading, I always find something new. Best of all, he loves to treat his fans with in-jokes, bit characters in one book take a lead role in another, and half the fun of a new Mitchell is spotting the references to previous books. I can't get enough of him and, once you read  him, nor will you.

Salman Rushdie is the reason I'm writing this post tonight, on the back of my cousin Christina tweeting about Midnight's Children yesterday. Midnight's Children is a bit of a marmite book. It's been voted the Booker of Bookers. Its advocates adore the magic realism, the endless diversionary stories, the linking of the hero Saleem Sinai to the history of independent India, which allows Rushdie to shine a light on the country of his birth. Critics say it's wordy and I do have to say, on re-reading they have a point. I tend to love novelists who are spare (like Mitchell, Greene, Forster) and Rushdie's prose can seem florid and bombastic in contrast. However, for me it's part of the charm - Rushdie is deliberately writing as an Indian storyteller in the market place, weaving ever more fantastical elements in his tale. And I adore the central premise of the gifts of the children born in the midnight hour that India came to independence, and how such gifts inevitabley threaten the State. Shame, Rushdie's novel about Pakistan does a similar job about Pakistan by describing the terrible events that occur inthe country of P. Rushdie has a neat trick of counterposing his fable with the odd intercession of an ironic, detached narrator who is always relieved to note that in the real Pakistan, none of these things happen. It's a brilliant device, which cleverly underlines the point he is making. And of course there's The Satanic Verses, a brilliant treatise on what we believe and why, with angels and devils grappling for good and evil, to the ultimate conclusion we have a bit of both in us. I have to confess I haven't really liked much else Rushdie has written, but these three fine novels can't be bettered.

JRR Tolkien gets my vote for The Hobbit and, of course, The Lord of the Rings. I am not a fantasy fan really, but I have returned to Tolkien again and again, with The Lord of the Rings being the book I most love to re-read. I think I love Tolkien so much because I resisted him for so long. My many siblings kept going on about him to such an extent I refused to read him, till one half term when I was 13, I finally picked up The Hobbit out of boredom and found I couldn't put it down. It was one of the most intense reading experiences I've ever had, as when I'd finished, I immediately picked up The Lord of The Rings, reading the whole lot in 4 days. What's not to love about both books? The Hobbit, being intentionally written for children, is obviously much simpler, but it's well written, brilliantly paced, and packed with wonderful characters. Bilbo Baggins' journey from a nervous, ordinary hobbit who likes a quiet life, to a bold resourceful adventurer, whose wit and quick thinking saves his companions time and again, is a wonder to behold. The dwarves he journeys with are all memorable, as are Gandalf, the wizard, and, of course, Gollum, whose brief appearance here, is far more important than the reader first realises. The Hobbit is a brilliant read aloud book, and it's given me great pleasure to read it to my children, as we've all enjoyed the humour and regular cliff hangers. And though it's simpler than the follow  up, it is still full of moral complexity, which marks it out from most children's books. The Lord of the Rings is a worthy successor, with Frodo being an equally beguiling reluctant hero. One who chooses the worst of all task, though he does "not know the way" because it is the right thing to do. His journey alone, is a tale worth reading, as he is pursued into the wilderness, and dark places, tempted beyond all endurance to achieve his aim. But his fellow travellers are also a joy to journey with. The other hobbits, Sam, Pippin and Merry, often there for comic effect, but equally grow in stature as they deal with their own individual struggles. Strider, the Ranger, who is later revealed as Aragorn, the returning King. Not being a fan of royalty or soldiers, I should hate Strider, but he's so noble, so strong, yetvulnerable, I fall in love with him every single time. Gandalf makes a welcome return, as does Gollum, whose original ownership of the ring is the cause of all the trouble, and whose own journey is both terrifying and sad. I do find the Elves a little bit twee as I get older, and must confess to skipping over the poetry a lot of the time, but Tolkien's storytelling is masterly and as with The Hobbit, he just keeps you begging for more. In both books, his descriptions of landscape are so rich and sensuous that I have vivid pictures of Mirkwood, Moria, Rivendell, Lorien in my mind. And although there are a lot of battles in both books, Tolkien is clear that they're not from choice. His solution to the war is not for the heroes to destroy evil using the enemy's weapon, Sauron's ring, but to destroy the ring itself. I can't think of a better outcome for violence than that.  But, the best mark of a good book is whether you are disappointed when you finish. And I am. Every single time. I'm currently reading it to my 9  year old, his first and my thirty third reading, we're both completely entranced. As I  hope you will be.

So there you have it, 4 more heroes, who I hope you'll enjoy too. I doubt I'll get round to doing this again for a while. See you next year?