Thursday, 15 June 2017

Wild Words

morguefile.com
The first event of my splendid last weekend was a '"New" Nature Writing Workshop' on Friday with Bridget Holding from Wild Words. We gathered in the Kingfisher Cafe at Barnwell Country Park, a beautiful setting on a beautiful evening.

There is a new take on writing about the natural world that eschews the romantic view and instead connects with the grit of it - see, for example,  H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald, The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks or the work of Robert Macfarlane. This was the springboard for our two-hour workshop (which wasn't long enough - more please, Bridget!).

We discussed ways into writing - using the five senses; sensations in the body; emotion; movement; and rhythm - then we went off into the park to write. Back in the cafe there was more discussion, but no obligation to share. One of our group remarked on how much more relaxed we all were after our first stint outside, and it's true: we all started to unfurl. It's corny, I know, but it really was as though allowing ourselves to connect with nature opened up something inside us.

Anyway, I came away feeling inspired and with pages of notes that I shall 'do something with one day'. Do check out the Wild Words website here.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Still not convinced we've much to celebrate

Politics, eh? It's a funny old game. Well, I say funny, but I'm not laughing today. I was SO hoping for a change of MP. Hey ho. If you've found something in the election to celebrate, then good luck to you.

Moving on...

On the one dry day of the week, the Women's Tour came to town again on Wednesday, and the crowds turned out to watch the cyclists hurtle around the county and then finish here in Kettering. Amazing stuff.

This weekend it's KettFest, our annual drug-dealer convention - no, sorry, arts festival. You know how you hear yourself agree to something and then when you get home you think, 'Hang on a minute!'? Well, that happened to me last week, which is how come I shall be performing a monologue in the Market Street Mews tomorrow as part of the festival events. Scared? Me? What do you think?! There's so much going on in town this weekend, it will tough to know what to go to; but I'll definitely be dropping in on the comedy festival, where we have eight Edinburgh preview shows on.

I'm patronising a festival in nearby Oundle this evening, by going to something called a 'New Nature Writing Workshop'. I'm not sure what to expect, but we're meeting in a country park - and then I don't know what will happen. I'll let you know how it went.

'Till then, have a good weekend, folks.

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

Monday, 5 June 2017

Just saying

I don't post much on Facebook, but I put a couple of bits up last week that got quite a good response.

Number 1
"In the copy I've edited today was this gem: 'The evening’s presentation by xxx gave a fascinating insight into the application and calibration of electronic torque wrenches.' One can only imagine."

This got more comments/likes/reactions that almost anything else I've ever posted.

Number 2

"There is no excuse for the word 'mentee'."

This also got a reasonable response. When the world eventually comes to its senses and puts me in charge, I shall forbid this word. There is a perfectly fine word to describe someone who is mentored and that word is protege (with accents, but I couldn't get them to appear here). I also hate attendee. What's wrong with 'delegate', 'participant' or 'person who attended'?

What words would you like to banish?


Monday, 29 May 2017

Music and poetry

There have been mutterings in the ukulele ranks recently about the sort of music we should be playing. I'm not a fan of George Formby, but I don't mind playing the occasional down-up-down-up song as long as it's tempered with something modern. However, there are some in our group who steadfastly refuse to play anything written in the 21st century (I kid you not), so when 'House of Gold' by 21 Pilots was introduced to our set list they took umbrage. Some sit stony-faced and won't join in, and one man has actually left the group in protest! This notwithstanding that the song was written for the uke. Whatever: lots of potential story material, methinks.

***
On an entirely unrelated note, those of you who live, study or work in the West Midlands might like to have a go at Poetry On Loan's competition, where the prize for adults is a paid performance in a library. Details here. Good luck


Friday, 26 May 2017

Is it OK to celebrate today?

My principal celebration today isn't really mine, but I'm happy to cling to its coat tails. Some of you might recall that I had a piece of writing in a  local guide book about the Montagu Monuments in St Edmund's Church in Warkton, a village just outside Kettering. (Read more here.) Well, this lovely little publication has received a national award for the best church monument guidebook in the country, which I'll admit is quite niche but worth raising a glass of bubbly to. Sadly, I shan't be able to go the presentation do as I'll be away.

On the same weekend, I've also been invited to a writing competition prize-giving evening, because I'm on the shortlist, which is rather pleasing. I shan't be able to go to that either, not least but it's in Taunton, which is a tidy step from Northamptonshire. The organisers have said they'll let me know if I win: I'm not holding my breath.

Apart from playing my uke in a concert on Saturday night - a church fundraiser in aid of a new roof (aren't they always?) - I have nothing planned for the Bank Holiday weekend, so maybe I'll just sit about and do nothing. Yeah, right.

Have a good weekend, folks.

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

Footnote. I am, of course, mindful of the recent terrible events in Manchester, but have nothing fresh to add to the conversation, other than to say that if you heard the moving Pause for Thought by Remona Aly on the Chris Evans show and were wondering about the Shams of Tabriz quote she used, you can find it on Goodreads here.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Feeding the soul

A scene from 'Dreaming Our Woods'
I don't have much of a daily routine, because my work is different each day; I rise and retire at varying times, depending on what the day promises; and I eat when I'm hungry, not at set times. However, even I'm feeling out of kilter at the moment. The 'Dreaming Our Woods' performances were wonderful, although I say it as shouldn't, but the post-show comedown has been bleak. What on earth am I going to do with myself now it's all over?

Well, one thing I've done today is to attend 'Continuum', the last event of the Our Woods festival, postponed from March when storm Doris was in town, so once again I found myself in the Corby woods thinking, 'I've never done this before!' A fabulous walk led by artists Carol Miles and Jo Dacome found me lying on my back looking at the tree canopy through a mirror-prism device to mesmerising kaleidoscopic effect; and making a show of human bluebells with sheets of Perspex. All great fun.

They say that if you want to be creative you should mix with other creative types, and I've certainly been doing that recently. Early fruits include a short story in the current issue of Ireland's Own magazine.

I really must get back to normal, though - or as normal as I ever am. This week I shall get more exercise, eat better and, as a result, I hope, sleep better. So much to do, so little time.

Monday, 1 May 2017

This week I shall be mostly trying to stay calm

I am about to embark on a week of full-on rehearsals for The Show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (tech week, the professionals in the cast are calling it). I'm most concerned about the fact that we are in the theatre until 10pm each night and that is usually bedtime.

This means you probably won't hear much out of me until next Monday, apart from the occasional warbled song line and the soft shuffle of my shoes as I practise in the kitchen; so here is a book recommendation to keep you going.

I entered a competition recently for which Lauren Collins was judge. In the interests of research and as an excuse to go into Waterstones again, I bought her book When in French, subtitled 'Love in a second language'. I was expecting some kind of romance, with translation jokes and, yes, there is a bit of that: but this book is actually a love note to linguistics. As the jacket blurb says: '. . . sharp, funny tale of bilingual romance and learning to speak French. Part acerbic love letter to that language and part meditation on language itself, When in French is so charming it made me want to learn french, too.'

If you have any interest at all in how language works - and I know I'm preaching to the converted here - you need to read this book.

That is all.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Celebrate the small things 28.4.17

On Monday I promised myself to take things a little easier this week. The best laid plans...

It's been a good week, though. Lots of extra rehearsals for the show next week (eek!) and plenty of work to keep me busy. I even managed to put together a couple of competition entries.

Having had a bit of a mental breakdown on Sunday when out clothes shopping, I actually managed to buy some jeans this morning. When did that get to be such a complicated task? When did they start giving styles names? And are we really wearing high waistlines and tiny ankle cuffs? Anyhoo, I shall take them out for a test run this evening: I'm playing my uke at a ceilidh, and there will be dancing.

Also this week, I have a letter in Leisure Painter magazine titled 'Yoga for Creativity, as a reward for which I have been sent a copy of Places of the Mind, a beautiful art book that I would never have thought of buying, but that I can see I'm going to enjoy.

Have a good weekend, folks.

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

Monday, 24 April 2017

Taking things a little easier?

Good morning, world. It's only just starting to get light and it's so cold I've had to switch on my little radiator to take the chill off.I always have an early start on Mondays, because I teach a half-nine yoga class, so I have to be up, fed and digested in good time.

It's no hardship, really. My desk faces the window that overlooks my garden, so I've just been watching the birds having their breakfast while a visiting squirrel tried to join in. We have a family of blackbirds, and despite the fact that the babies are now quite chunky, it's still the parents that are running around chasing mealworms and other tasty morsels.

Last week was tough, but only in a first-world-problems kind of way. Am I now at the age when I must remind myself not to do too much? Surely not! And yet, by Friday teatime I was feeling quite trembly. This week I shall practise what I preach, and be kinder to myself.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

My first webinar

Call me old-fashioned ('You're old-fashioned!'), but I've only just taken part in my first webinar - and what a delightful portmanteau word that is. Despite by newbie status, the tech element was very straightforward and it was a pleasing way to spend an hour.

I was alerted to 'What Happened Next? Plotting a Story' by Helen Yendall on her excellent Blog About Writing. The free webinar was presented by Barbara Henderson of Penguin/Random House’s The Writers’ Academy, and while it didn't really tell me anything I hadn't heard before it was a useful reminder of the basics of story, plot and narrative. Of course, it was actually a taster for its forthcoming online course 'Constructing A Novel', also with Barbara Henderson, but at £799 that's a bit out of my reach.

There were a couple of writing books recommend: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Writer With a Day Job by Aine Greaney, plus the novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I'd be interested to know if any of you has these and whether they're worth buying.

And remember, folks: if there's no conflict, there's no story.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Celebrate the small things, and other snippets

Despite the fact that I've worked my wotsits off this week, I'm still basking in a little post-Wales glow. On our way home we popped into Bodnant Gardens. We're National Trust members, so we always try to visit a property when away. We were there quite early, so it was relatively quiet and still. The grounds are fabulous (there's no house to visit) and we came away quite determined that we need a rill and a watermill in our suburban patch - not to mention a sequoia (see pic). Dream on!


Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum', Bodnant
And so to this Friday's  celebrations. Chief among them is that someone close to me has had good news relating to a health issue; and elsewhere, a friend seems to have overcome some issues that have been plaguing her for months. On a less significant level, but still worth celebrating, the hop seeds I gave to Clive as a joke Christmas present (he brews his own beer) have germinated and are poking their leafy heads above the compost. There are other plants bursting forth, too, all of the potentially edible variety, so there'll be some serious allotmenting to do in the coming weeks.

This brings me back to Bodnant Gardens, where a Kipling quote on one of the information boards reminded us that:

'Gardens are not made by singing "Oh, how beautiful!" and sitting in the shade.'

Happy Easter, folks. 

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

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sea breezes

Feel free to suggest your own caption!
As luck would have it, we caught a break with the lovely weather at the weekend when we took a combined birthday/wedding anniversary jaunt to Llandudno. You can keep Lanzarote: give me a bit of British seaside any time. We walked and mooched, and laughed and ate, and generally had a splendid time. If you've never been, don't be put off by its reputation for being an old folks' resort. It's absolutely beautiful.

One of the many hilarious moments came when we were strolling along the pier, ice-creams in hand. As soon as we stepped out of the shelter of the awnings, poor Clive had his cornet whipped from his grasp by an enthusiastic gull - possibly one of those in the photo above, which we took a short while later.

Tweedles Dee and Dum
There were moments of literary reference, too. The excellent Snooze restaurant had Dylan Thomas quotes here and there on the walls. Clive was delighted to see from the menu that my Arancini rice dish included Panko breadcrumbs, which are produced in the bakery where he works. Small world - a point emphasised by the fact that he was in an Italian restaurant in Wales eating a Polish pork dish.

Back to the literature. I didn't know this, but apparently Llandudno was a favourite holiday destination for Alice Liddell, the real-life Alice from Lewis Carroll's stories, and to this end there is a Wonderland trail through the town (see above). The town's website says that the Walrus and the Carpenter are the names of two big rocks off the West Shore. And as if that wasn't enough, there is also a plaque as part of the North Wales Film and Television Trail (who knew!) commemorating the fact that The Forsyte Saga was filmed in the town.


I wrote lots of notes for use in future writings. Do think this means I can claim this as a business trip?

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Trust God and Sally Forth!

Kettering: Progress and Concord
At Weaving Words this week, we learnt that the town motto of Newark in Nottinghamshire is Deo Fretus Erumpe, meaning Trust God and Sally Forth. Isn't that splendid?

Of course, there was a round of jokes about who this Sally Forth woman was and why she was so trustworthy; but isn't erumpe a fabulous word? It sounds a bit Carry On, Councillor to me, as though it should be the root of 'rumpus', but it is actually the word from which 'erupt' is derived.

Needless to say, we used this as a prompt to devise some town mottoes of our own. We only had a couple of minutes on this, but I came up with:

Kettering (where the local football team plays in red and black): Look to the Poppies
Northampton (home of the shoe-making industry): Put Your Best Foot Forward
Corby (famous for its steel works): Steel Yourself and Forge Ahead
Uttoxeter (my home town in rural Staffordshire): Plough Your Own Furrow

It was great fun - and I'm sure you can come up with something for your own town. However, if you go to www.civicheraldry.co.uk you can discover, amongst other things, the genuine mottoes.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Seeing the trees in the woods

I went for a lovely walk yesterday under the guidance of local historian Dr Peter Hill. He took a group of us to Thoroughsale and Hazel Woods in Corby, regaling us with the myths, legends and histories that have shaped the town. We showed us where to find a piece of Roman Road (preserved by the council from buildings and roads)  and a haunted gamekeeper's cottage, as well as pointing out 'faces' in tree trunks. This is the phenomenon of simulacrum (plural: simulacra), from the Latin for likeness. It's related to pareidolia, which is the psychologist's term for the brain's tendency to detect forms and faces in nature where none exists.

Peter explained about the four types of trees we saw: standards, those that were coppiced, those that had been pollarded and, a new term to me, stag trees, like the one pictured above. Hard to believe, but this is a dead tree, stripped of foliage and showing signs of having been burned at the base, but still standing with its 'antlers' held high.

Elsewhere, we saw a Gemini tree (right), made from two tree trunks apparently kissing. Legend has it that this was a popular courting place for a pair of star-crossed lovers. The boy was murdered and the grief-stricken girl killed herself on the same spot. Their souls were reunited forever in this tree.

If you ever need inspiration for a piece of writing, you could do a lot worse than visit the woods.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Writing matters

I know, I know: I've missed two opportunities to Celebrate the Small Things, and numerous other days when I should have had something to share with you all. I've just been snied out with work, as they say: or perhaps they don't say where you live. 'Snied out' - and that's probably not how it's written - is one of those phrases that my current husband brought with him. It means 'snowed under', and the audible connection is there, I think.

I do love a bit of well-placed dialect, so long as it doesn't muddy the waters of understanding. Where, for instance, do you stand on the word 'bint'? I've always understood it simply to mean a young girl, perhaps one who was rather naive, but not an especially offensive word. I used it this afternoon at Weaving Words and only one person agreed with me; the others thought it was at best derogatory and at worst downright insulting. The question is: do I replace it in my piece of writing?

We went round the circle today offering a piece of work each for supportive critiquing. My contribution was something I'd written for a competition (deadline looming) and I was grateful for the input of my fellow Weavers. It was a useful exercise, not least because the more we practise scrutinising the work of others, the better we get at self-editing. I'll let you know if their suggestions bear fruit, of course.

On the topic of competitions, my winning entry in the Association of Freelance Writers love poem comp has been published in the latest issue of the AFW newsletter, and I've written something for the association's blog here.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Celebrate the small things, 10 March

Today I'd like to celebrate the arts in all their glory.

First, I'd like to reiterate my celebration of Vicky Bultitude's contribution to ebook Strength Becomes Her - more here.

Second, I ran across an old acquaintance when out browsing in Uppingham a few days ago. I wandered into the North Street East Gallery and realised that I knew its owners, Hilary Salomon (whom I originally met at Zumba class) and her husband Michael Moralee. If you're ever at a loose end in Rutland, the gallery is definitely worth a look.

Third, I'm off to an intriguing event on at Kettering Arts Centre this evening: The Harry & Chris Show, which is described thus:

Having played together in various forms for over 10 years, World Poetry Slam Champion Harry Baker teams up with BFF/Jazz Musician Chris Read as the imaginatively titled ‘Harry and Chris’. After a debut sell-out run of ‘The Harry and Chris Show’ at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016, they are bringing their brand of poetry, music, love and laughter all around the country.

They will be apparently be supported by Gecko, but there is no mention of what his/her/their/its talents might be, so your guess is as good as mine But honestly, poetry slam meets jazz - what's not to like!

Have a good weekend, folks.

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

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Who are the strong women in your life?

I could have saved this snippet until Friday, because it's a celebration, but I couldn't wait.

My fellow Weaving Words writer Vicky Bultitude has an essay in a book published today. It's called Strength Becomes Her and Vicky contribution is 'Sacrifice' a reminiscence about her Nan. If you got a couple of quid spare, you could do worse than pop along to the Kindle Store and treat  yourself a copy - a great way to mark International Women's Day.

Enjoy!

Friday, 3 March 2017

Celebrate the small things, 3 March

Looking out of the window into my windswept and rain-soaked garden, it's quite hard to find something to celebrate today, but here goes.

I have lots of freelance work on at the moment, which is good news. It all helps to bring me closer to the day when the mortgage will be paid off. Another submission has been greeted with 'Not sure, let me think about it,' which is better than 'No thanks.' Also, my son has landed another music teaching contract to boost what he's already doing.

Finally, I have a couple of stories available on Smashwords. Briefs Encounter is free anyway, but next week the site is running a promotion: Read an eBook Week, during which my other story, Robbing Hoodies, will be available for just 49cents (usually 99cents). If you were tempted to pop over next week and have a look here, I'd be interested to know (a) if the promotion code is actually there, (b) whether you found the site easy to use and (c) what you thought of my story (there is a facility to leave a review). Thanks.

Have a great weekend, folks.

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

Thursday, 2 March 2017

'I talk to the trees'

www.rogerhancefrps.com
If you're short of inspiration this morning, might I suggest that you take a walk into the woods?

I went on another Our Woods event in Corby on Sunday, and while the leader wasn't the best we'd had over the course of the festival, some of the other people proved very knowledgeable about the history of our particular patch and of woodland in general and the things that grow there. I get a bit annoyed with folk whose view of nature is overly romantic, but it's hard not to be moved when you see the tiny flowers and buds starting to appear on the hawthorn.

One of our group was a fungus expert and he pointed out the new season's Scarlet Elf Caps, brilliant red growths that almost look artificial, poking their heads above the leaf litter (pictured above). Then there was King Alfred's Cakes, so called because they look like burnt buns - until you break them in half to reveal concentric rings, like those inside a tree. Some people reckon they smell of charcoal, but I could only smell 'outsideness'.
A piece of King Alfred's Cake, about the size of a 10p piece

So if you've got a moment today, pop out and stand amongst the trees. Push your feet down into the ground like roots and turn yoru face up to the canopy. Close your eyes and listen. Breathe deeply and taste the air. Enjoy the textures and look for shapes in the bark (pareidolia). And let your imagine run wild.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Celebrate the small things, 24 February

Right, let's take a look back over February and see what's been achieved on the work front. Hm, nothing in particular to celebrate, except that's another month successfully survived as a freelance. There isn't anything that would tempt me back into a 'proper' job - not even the prospect of paid holidays. I'm happy to trade the occasional meagre month for all the freedom.

I've entered three writing competitions this month; and submitted a letter to a magazine, which has been accepted for publication, and the same magazine has expressed an interest in an idea for a feature; but on the down side I've had a womag rejection. Hey ho.

I'm celebrating the success of a friend's operation. She had something done under local anaesthetic and texted me shortly afterwards to say all was well and that she'd used her yoga breathing to keep herself calm - so calm, in fact, that she fell asleep!

This evening I'm off to an evening of love poetry with the Fellowship of Professional and Amateur Artists, with John Clare tucked under my arm.

Have a good weekend, folks.

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

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Could you write a weekly column?

If you bought the current issue of The Lady (pictured, dated 17 February), you might have noticed a new column called 'The Tech Doctor' by Miles Waghorn. I'm delighted to see this, because Miles is the son of one of my friends and he's worked hard for his success. I didn't know he was a writer, but he certainly knows his technology, so I'm sure he'll have lots of useful information to pass on.

I just hope he realises what he's let himself in for, because a weekly column is a huge commitment. I used to do a fortnightly 'my life and welcome to it' piece for our local paper, and that was a big enough challenge, because sometimes I just wasn't in the mood. Now I write a monthly feature for Smallholder and it's amazing how quickly the time flies; and in the past I've had other regular writing commitments, including compiling crosswords. Still, there's nothing like a deadline hurtling towards you to alleviate writer's block!

What do you think: could you write to order every week - or even every day?

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

House-hunting

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?

Image: morguefile.com
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?

Friday, 20 January 2017

Celebrate the small things, 20 January

This is a politics free post!

Today I'm celebrating what has been a pretty good week. I've done lots of editorial work and writing, enjoyed a fair bit of music-based activity and gone for a little walk every day. More specifically,  though, I'm celebrating the extraordinary courage of a couple of my yoga students who are facing difficult times with grace.

On a more mundane level, while I failed again to get a decent photo of the red kite that was circling tantalisingly close to my garden yesterday, I did get of shot of this fine fellow, who obliged by landing on next door's extension roof.

Best of all, I have nothing planned for this weekend: bliss!

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


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

'Behind the jug in Annie's room'

At our lovely Weaving Words writing group this week, one of the prompts we were given was 'Filter', to be interpreted any way we liked. Off you go! I wrote something about clearing space in my head, letting go of stuff that is no longer useful to me and so forth. Not worth sharing as it stands, but I might turn it into something (fabulous) at a later date.

Inevitably, we ended up talking about physical clutter in our homes. I'm not a hoarder, but I am married to one, so I share the pain of random boxes of curiosities that will 'come in for something one day'. One of our group has moved home many times and confessed she has some boxes that have been shifted from house to house without even being opened. My advice was to dump them. She also has a box that has lost its original label along the way and she was written on the outside: 'Lord knows!' Why doesn't she have a look? 'Too scared of what I might find,' she said. That would drive me crazy.

In our house we have a small plastic tub that we call the Kitchen Drawer Box, because when we moved from our previous house the contents of said drawer were tipped into a box and there they have stayed. It's full of things like the radiator key, a tin of 3-in-1, a football boot stud remover and silver polish (these last two being particularly redundant, yet somehow they stay). We've all got these ridiculous places - haven't we?

And the title of this post? That's a family saying. We have no Annie and therefore no such room or  jug, but it's where we say something that you can't find will be hiding.


Sunday, 15 January 2017

The way my mind works

Who is this?

For reasons that need not detain us here, I found myself saying the phrase: 'with a spoon in my hand' this morning. This fired up a connection in my brain somewhere and next thing I knew I was singing 'With a song in my heart' - which of course put me in mind of 'The Yorkshire Pudding Programme'. This is not, as Mr Thorley quipped, the latest recipe book to hit the shelves, but is the way I used to refer to the old radio programme Two Way Family Favourites.


Are you following? 'With a song...' was the theme tune to TWFF. Why the Yorkshires reference? Because in my memory bank this is what my mum was cooking whenever the show was on when I was a young lass.  Now, I'm sure this recollection has been distorted by the lens of time, because I can't imagine we had this savoury delight every week, or that Mum's timing was so impeccable. Nevertheless, that's how my mind jumped from one thing to another.

If you can remember this programme, then I'm sorry but you're older than you think you are - although checking the dates, I learned that although it began just after the end of the Second World War  it wasn't axed until 1984! It's heyday though, was definitely the 1950s, '60s and '70s. TWFF was broadcast on the Light Programme (which became Radio 2) and was hosted by real-life couple Cliff Michelmore and Jean Metcalfe (above). It was originally devised as a way for British families to keep in touch with relatives serving in the forces overseas, initially in Germany, but later extending to include Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. It's USP (although they didn't call it that then) was that it played mostly recorded music as opposed to live performances, which was the norm. Ah, different times. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Sods and bastards!

Image: morguefile.com
Did that take you by surprise? Was it not what you expected from my usually dignified blog?

I switched on Radio 4 at about 2.40 this afternoon to keep me company while I got changed for yoga and there was a drama on. Within seconds we'd had the above words, plus a couple of bollocks and a piss off. Well, really! I don't know what Jill Archer would say.

I'm not offended, actually. I'm quite partial to the occasional expletive when the need arises and there's nothing wrong with swearing in context. I mean, I don't think Trainspotting would be the same if Sick Boy started a conversation with:

 'I say, old chap, d'you happen to have anything about your person in the narcotic line, please?'

But it made me wonder if there is a watershed on radio. Are programmes allowed to contain any old words and themes, or is there consideration for the fact that there might be children listening? I know Radio 4 is aimed primarily at an adult audience, but if we can't turn on an afternoon play when there is a toddler in the room just in case there's something unsavoury going on - well, I think that's a shame.

Mind you, Father Brown on BBC 1 in the early afternoon was a bit cheeky last week, too, so maybe I'm out of step with what's acceptable. One of my mum's pet hates is that TV announcement: 'The following programme contains adult language.'

'No,' she says. 'What they mean is bad language.'

What do you think?

Friday, 6 January 2017

Back in the salad

The mistake in the heading (did you spot it?) is deliberate. I typed this in an email to a client and almost sent it, which wouldn't have been a good advert for my editorial skills since I meant, of course, back in the saddle after the Christmas break. Mind you, I am also back in the salad, after the quantity of food and drink I've consumed recently.

I was hoping that for the first CTST of the year I'd have something amazing to shout about, but my celebrations are modest - and none the worse for that:

1. Catching up with friends.
2. Ukulele group resuming.
3. Finishing my week's work by 5pm today.
4. A ridiculous number of goldfinches in the silver birch trees at the bottom of the garden (the photo doesn't do them justice).

Have a good weekend, folks.

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

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Onwards!

Programme from yesterday's show
It's all been said elsewhere: 2016 was rubbish, but 2017 will be better, so let's get started.

We've taken down the Christmas tree today and it feels as though the house has heaved a sigh of relief that everything is back in the right place. We're still on holiday, though, for another couple of days and there's Baileys and shortbread that need our attention.

I have mentioned before that I don't do New Year resolutions, but I do like to pick a word to bear in mind - a sankalpa, or intention, as we call it in yoga. This year I'm going with kindness, following on from the advent calendar I had on this theme. I think it did me good and I'm planning to keep it up, if I can. You can join in here.

In other news, there was excitement at the Royal Theatre in Northampton yesterday when in true 42 Street style one of the lead actors had been taken ill in the morning and a local actor (Jamal something, I think) was roped in at the 11th hour to take his place. He did the show script in hand, but made an excellent job and I think the book was more of a security blanket than a necessity. He got a huge round of applause at the end.

Finally, I wonder if Prince Charles is polishing his orb and sceptre. Get well soon, ma'am.