Saturday, 18 February 2017

Please welcome the judges!

It was real privilege to be a judge at the Open Stage Performing Arts Company Performance Awards today, where I was one of a panel of three sitting in awe of the talent of children from under five years old to 16 and adults, too, dancing, singing and performing dramatic monologues. Rachael, the wonderful woman behind the company, is doing a Good Thing here and has created a place with such warmth and creativity that it would be a cold heart that wasn't moved - and yes, there was one singer who brought a lump to our throats with his fabulous performance.

In her opening remarks, Rachael said that one of the aims of the organisation is to create 'brave people who can be brave for the rest of the lives' and that Open Stage is a bubble of creativity that can spread out into the world. All I can say is that I came home inspired.

The photo shows a selection from my judge's goodie bag (there was also some chocolate, but it wasn't available when this picture was taken). I was particularly pleased with the wand! And the red rose? That came from Exotic Dining who served us a lovely meal last night and who always give the ladies a rose on their way out. Nice touch.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Celebrate the small things, 17 February

Well, that was a week-and-a-half. Luckily, we have a family dinner out this evening to mark number one son's birthday. Cheers, Sam!
Sorry - nothing more to say today, except: have a good weekend, folks.

Want to join in and celebrate with us? Hop over to Lexa's blog here and sign up.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Chilly, but still time to Celebrate The Small Things

The flurry of snow we had this morning turned to water before it hit the ground, thank goodness, but it's still too cold for my liking. On the other hand, I do have fabulous central heating (she says, touching wood) - unlike the homeless guy Paul I was talking to on Wednesday morning. He and others like him sleep in The Cage, an area behind the library. The council will house them somewhere temperarily if the temperature drops below freezing, even if that means a school sports hall; but as he said, just because it's above freezing doesn't mean it's warm. Fortunately, there is a night shelter opening here in a couple of weeks' time. It's a drop in the ocean really, but it's a start. Remember, people, it might be a cliche, but we really are all only three pay cheques away from homelessness.

For me, in my comfortable middle class life, it's been a week of possiblities. Someone I met at the HE Bates awards night last week has invited to me to judge a competition, which is very flattering. I've also been asked to do a couple of sessions with a local sixth form on coping with exam stress. I've even had my photo taken to go alongside a guest blog I've written for the Association of Freelance Writers. Anyone who knows me in real life will appreciate what a big deal this is - the photo, I mean, not the blog. Blogs I can do: photos - not so much. Finally,  I've learned that a book proposal has moved one step closer to acceptance - still a way to go, but you never know.

Have a lovely weekend, folks.

Want to join in and celebrate with us? Hop over to Lexa's blog here and sign up.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017


All the coverage in the media at the moment about the housing shortage and dodgy landlords is ringing bells, as my two sons, both in their 20s, are convinced that they will never own their own homes. How can they save up for a deposit when they have to pay rent? There are times when I'm glad I'm not young now!  It reminds me of my own house-hunting days, which I wrote about in Best of British, reproduced below. Writers note: you don't have to be reminiscing about the war to get into this magazine.

Crouch End, 1979
In the 1970s, London was full of optimistic youngsters facing the future with open minds and good hearts. I was one of them, and, like many in that crowd, I was looking for somewhere to live.
I had left my family home in rural Staffordshire to take up my first job, just off Fleet Street. The start of this great adventure saw me sharing a room with a stranger in a YWCA hostel. This didn’t strike me as odd. During my six months there, a variety of people passed through my life and, with what I now realise was incredible luck, we always got along.
Breakfast was served in a communal dining room and clean bedding provided once a week. There were washing machines in the basement, two TV lounges (one BBC, one for ITV) and a reception area from where sour-faced advice could be sought.
But despite its lovely location opposite the British Museum, the hostel had its drawbacks. There was the small matter of the cockroaches, for instance. I had to make as much noise as possible on entering my room to make them scurry away. There was also the lack of privacy of shared bathrooms, and the tiny kitchens in which it was near impossible to cook anything more elaborate than Bachelors Cup-a-Soup. Then there was the creepy porter, looking as though he had stepped straight out of Scooby-Doo. He was the only male allowed over the threshold and, like Mrs Danvers, seemed to appear out of nowhere.
And let’s not forget the curfew. Anyone expecting to be out beyond lock-up at 11pm was required to say where she was going and whether she would be back at 1am or 3am. I found out the hard way that 11 meant 11. One night I was banging on the door at a couple of minutes past, but to no avail. I was forced to call on a friend for shelter. After that, I always said I wasn’t going to be in until 3, regardless of my actual plans.
It was clear that this situation was far from ideal for a girl about town, and so I began scouring notice boards and trawling through the local papers for something better. With what can best be described as a scant regard for my personal safety, I set about visiting prospective homes from where I could reach the City. My confidence was high.
First came the opportunity to share a flat with a chap from work. It seemed too good to be true: on the right Underground line, reasonable rent and shared use of the garden. But even in my naivety I could see that he had more in mind than a platonic housemate. I politely declined.
Looking further afield, I saw a place above a dry-cleaner’s premises where the landlord assured me I would get used to the smell of chemicals. No thanks.
Then I had a narrow escape when I viewed a room in a house in Tottenham. It seemed very nice and met all my criteria: clean, spacious, reasonable rent – hot water included! – and just round the corner from the Tube station. It would have been perfect, had the landlord not casually mentioned that he liked to keep a key to the rooms of all his tenants: ‘just in case I fancy dropping in’.
I began to realise that decent flats were scarce and those that were around were taken almost as soon as they were advertised. Often I had to submit myself to a selection process whereby I would be interviewed by the existing tenants to see if I had the right credentials to join them: How much do you earn? What hours do you keep? Do you have any noisy habits? Do you use a lot of garlic in your cooking? Do you mind snakes? What are your views on free love? And even: Would I be able to borrow your clothes sometimes?
I started to despair. Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life in a bug-infested room in the cheaper end of Bloomsbury? Then, at last, a friend of a friend had a bed-sit to rent in a house in Crouch End. Would I be interested? Would I ever!
These days an N8 postcode is quite the thing to have, but back then its glory days were still ahead of it. The room in question was at the top of an Edwardian house that had seen better days. The paintwork was peeling and for lack of a bottom hinge the front gate was wedged not quite open, not quite closed. And yet… I rang the bell.
Half an hour later, the deal was done and I had found my new home.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Celebrate the small things, 3 February

Welcome to my contribution to today's CTST. Want to join in and celebrate with us? Hop over to Lexa's blog here and sign up.
Today I'm celebrating the achievements of others, following my attendance at the HE Bates Short Story Writing Competition prize-giving ceremony yesterday evening. The top three stories were amazing and all worth winners; stories will appear on the competition website shortly. It was a lovely evening and I met some very interesting people. (If you want to be a writer, hang out with writers.)

I've only managed one submission this week, but I did hear that I've won a poetry competition. If I remember, I'll let you know more when it is announced. It's nothing fancy, but a real first for me.

I'd also like to celebrate the work of the team at Kettering Arts Centre. After hosting Tiff Stevenson last weekend, we have Josie Long to look forward to this evening.

What are you all celebrating?

Friday, 27 January 2017

Celebrate the small things: January round-up

I know there are still a few days to go, but this is the last Friday of the month: the day when I send out my invoices and pay my bills, which this month includes the dreaded Tax Bill. So this seems as good a day as any to look back and celebrate what I've done during January on the writing front.

As well as my day job editing and teaching, I have:
  • Written and submitted a commissioned article on aubergines
  • Entered four short story competitions
  • Submitted stories to three magazine - one of which has replied they'd like to keep my story for possible future use, which, while not a 'yes' is definitely not a 'no'
Last night I paid my first visit to a local poetry group. Well, I say poetry, but actually although poems are the foundation they welcome 'artists' in the broadest sense, so I crept in under the wire as a writer and appreciator. I was slightly nervous, because I'm not a poet and I feared it might have been a bit over my head, but everyone was very welcoming, the nibbles were excellent and a good time was had by all. I shall probably go again.

That's all for now. Have a good weekend, folks.

Join the celebration: share your news on the bloghop Celebrate the Small Things  hosted by  Lexa's Blog.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Counselling for writers?

It's a truth universally acknowledged that writers are an insecure bunch. We need constant reassurance that our work is brilliant - that is, if we ever let anyone outside of the family circle* read it. But assuming we venture out to a writing group at which we are expected to share our precious words, what do we think will happen? Is it more useful for people to say, 'Oh, that's lovely, you are clever,' which massages our ego; or is an honest appraisal better? Obviously no one wants to hear, 'That was rubbish, Don't give up the day job,' but something like, 'I enjoyed the start, but do you think you lost your way in the middle at bit?' is surely kind and useful.

Either is fine with me, as long as I know what I'm in for. The group I attend most often is a gathering of people who like to write for its own sake, rather than us having any burning ambition for domination of the publishing world. We've had a modest successes, but that's not what we're about. Other groups, though, have been divisive when the critique of the writing has turned into criticism of the writers. I have dropped out of such groups.

Similarly, the social side is important. These people with whom we share our innermost thoughts aren't friends as such, but they provide (or should provide)  a safe, supporting environment. The role of the group leader is key here, and it's not a job I'd like. How do you make sure everyone has a fair turn at reading and sharing? What do you do with those people who steadfastly refuse to work on the suggested topic, and who drag every activity back to their favourite subject, be it wartime reminiscence or a penchant for satire?

And then there are those people who turn the writing group into their private therapy clinic. We've all got baggage and troubles, but there's a time and a place. I know that sometimes people need to get something off their chest, and a piece of writing can trigger memories and emotions that we weren't expecting. Better out than in, as they say. But isn't it important to remember that first and foremost this is a writing group, and not an AA meeting or a Relate session?

#justsaying, as the Twits, would have it.

* Stream of consciousness sidetrack moment - who remembers Family Circle magazine?