Wednesday, 16 August 2017

How honest evaluation can lead to success

Following my recent blogpost about the value of feedback, author Gill Arthey shares the story of how her first book came to be published - and how it nearly didn't happen. Gill and I would both value your comments, if you have a moment. 

"I had reached that magic age, 50, which for some reason seemed to be a very significant milestone for me. My four children had all but left home, give or take a few weeks here and there when the need arose, so life for me had changed significantly. Twenty-five years of mothering four boys had been all consuming and looking after their animals, mainly horses, had taken up pretty much all of my time. With the boys gone and the horses reduced, I suddenly had time to spare – but what could I do with it? For some reason I had a really strong urge to create something I could be proud of. After musings about making bespoke dog beds, trendy horse rugs and posh perches for chickens (all of which required skills I didn't have), I decided to have a go at something I had always loved doing: writing.

"My first fumbled attempts were some pretty dreadful children's stories, using some of the characters my husband had invented at story time. Well, J K Rowling had done it, so why not me? I failed miserably! Then a close friend suggested I write about my first three babies, who were a set of natural triplets – not something everyone can write about. (Their baby brother arrived three years later.)

"Once the book was finished, an author friend advised me to use a literary consultancy for an honest evaluation. The report arrived four weeks later and I have to say it wasn't quite what I wanted to read: my punctuation was poor – no surprise there, as I had been moved to many different schools, even living in Africa for a time, so my education was sadly lacking; at no point did I make it clear how old the boys; nowhere was there a description of how they looked. My spirits fell, until I read the very last page: ‘However, having said all of this, I really love your style of writing and your sense of humour. You have some lovely stories to tell and I really think if you can face the challenge of rewriting it, and addressing the punctuation issues with a good editor, this book will lend itself to an autobiographical novel written a la James Herriot style, with your words painting the picture.' 

"At that point I thought probably not. But later, walking past the British Heart Foundation shop I saw a tome balanced at the pinnacle of a book display: The Works of James Herriot. Could this be a sign? Of course I had to buy it, and after reading the first chapter I started to see how it could be done. A year and 300 more pages later, my novel was ready for the publisher."

 A Masters in Motherhood is available from Amazon here.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Is it possible that my house is cross with me?
I don't really believe that the answer could be yes, but there's been some oddness at home of late.

First, we lost our garden keys: specifically two for the shed and one for the back gate. Annoying, but not noteworthy. A week later my spare car keys disappeared - the last time I definitely had them was to drive to Staffordshire last weekend. We found a dead frog just hanging in the pond, which my nature-savvy friends tell me is unusual. The birds have stopped coming to the feeders. There has been a strange smell coming and going. The washing-machine is making funny noises. There has definitely been a kind of oppression in the house: a sort of pre-headache malaise that lifts when I go out. Like I say, it's as though I've annoyed the house.

Clearly there is a rational explanation for this. The shed keys have been engulfed by the Flymo; I've simply forgotten where my car keys are; the neighbours' cat has done for the frog and seen off the birds; my dustbin needs sanitising. I need a new washing-machine,  and I've simply had a headache (and perhaps I should check the carbon monoxide levels coming out of the boiler).

I have a lot of friends who reckon to have contacts in the spirit world, friendly ghosts at their beck and call and all sorts of similar malarkey. Just for fun this morning I asked them for their help via Facebook. Could they possibly twirl their pendulums and ask for aid on my behalf?

Back came the answer, so feeling extremely stupid, I got myself comfy and then held out my hands, palms upwards (obviously) and said out loud that I was sorry if I had offended the house, but could it please reveal where it had hidden my keys? Answer came there none. I went off for a shower.

All of a sudden I had the strangest feeling that my keys were in my green rucksack. Sure enough, there they were. How forgetful am I! The thing is, though, that I haven't used that particular bag for nearly a month. Oo-er!

Thursday, 10 August 2017


What is art? Yes, I know that's a big question, but do you have an answer?

When we were in Northumberland a few weeks ago, we happened upon The Gymnasium Gallery, which is part of Berwick Barracks. The signs outside were advertising 'Bethan Huws: Singing for the Sea', described as an 'Installation' a word that can be intriguing or terrifying, depending on your point of view.

The place was in almost complete darkness. We were the only people there, apart from a little man behind a desk who was wearing earplugs. 'Take a seat,' he said. It's just about to start.' We fumbled our way towards a sofa, which seemed the only option, and waited. The installation was a film made in 1993 featuring eight female Bulgarian singers performing traditional songs on Sugar Sands on the coast off the North Sea. I can't say we enjoyed it, but it was extraordinary, and we both kept mentioning it for the rest of the day. Was it art? Well, Berwick Visual Arts certainly thought so.

Last weekend we were at a more conventional art event, the private view evening of the Fellowship of  Professional & Amateur Artists Annual Art Exhibition held at a local museum, where the fare was not only more traditional, but also to my mind more accessible. If part of the function of art is to communicate, I'd say this wins hands down over wailing women (no disrespect intended).

Last night it was my turn to be the artist, when I went to a Paint Like Pollock event at Corby Rooftop Arts Centre. I was so far out of my comfort zone it was but a distant memory. Nevertheless, armed with a plastic pinny and a generous supply of paint, I went for it with gusto, and d'you know what? It was great fun!

The whole floor in the working area had been covered with plastic sheets and we had to take our shoes off, so we didn't paddle paint on to the unprotected carpet in the rest of the gallery. We had been instructed to take along a pair of old shoes to paint - I'd taken some silk wedding shoes I'd picked up at a charity shop  - and we put them on a canvas and just splattered away! The result of my efforts is pictured at the top of this post.

Then we had a go at painting shoes with a brush, in a more conventional style. These are mine:

And these are my feet by the end of the evening.

So, did I create a work of art?

Monday, 7 August 2017


Let's give a big round of applause to the customer service team at Amazon who have managed to sort out my problem, sanitise my account (whatever that means) and put a stop to any potential damage. Access has been restored.

I thought it was fixed yesterday, but when I went to my Kindle account it was saying I didn't have anything published, which was a bit worrying. I've only got two things there, but even so... I had a long conversation with an operative, who was very patient and, well, I don't know what she did behind the scenes, but everything is now back as it should be.

It's a bit of an odd day today. I have stopped teaching yoga on a Monday morning and this is the first week when I didn't have to rise at the crack of dawn in order to eat and digest my breakfast before class. I still woke up very early, though, so I've already written an article for Smallholder, broken the back of a monthly subbing job for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, and polished and posted a competition entry - and it's barely lunchtime. I may have peaked too soon.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Accepting feedback

I sent a selection of stories that I've written to two of my friends for their opinion. They are both keen readers and they have each been a source of advice and inspiration in their own way over the years. I trust them and value their honesty. Even so, it was a bit of  a 'gulp - here goes' moment when I posted the envelopes.

Well, the results are in and I know what I have to do to improve what I've written. What I found interesting was that while Reader 1 gave me some honest feedback on the actual writing from a technical perspective, Reader 2 had a much more emotional response. As a result, while there was a clear favourite with both of them (the same story), the ones they didn't like so much were different. On these grounds it gives me comfort that the reason I have varied success in competitions is not always because what I'd submitted wasn't any good: it could just be that it wasn't to the judge's taste.

This week's task is to rework as necessary. I was going to publish on Kindle again. However, I had an email from Amazon this afternoon informing me that the email address linked to my account has been changed. Not by me it hasn't! Amazon has frozen my account while this is investigated, which is reassuring, but not a little annoying. I just hope the rogue who has invaded hasn't ordered anything embarrassing in my name.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Places and pareidolia

I was delighted to hear on the Beeb yesterday that the village of Dull in Perthshire is to be twinned with Boring in Oregon. There is also a place in Australia called Bland. Now, this is a nice story in its own right: but it also gives me the opportunity to share this picture with you, taken last week in Northumberland.

Can you actually take a footpath to Tiptoe? Can Twizel be real? And isn't Grindon a character in Harry Potter? I suspect these might be fake names put up by the natives to confuse we visitors.

Mind you, I know that Duddo is real, because I've been there. It has a circle of standing stones that local tourism information leaflets describe as 'North Northumberland's equivalent to Stonehenge'. That might be over-egging it a bit, but on the day we went it was very misty-murky, and not a little spooky. There are five stones and geophys has revealed the sockets for two more.

The stones have been carbon dated at 4,200 years old and they are made of sandstone, so time and erosion have created some amazing images. Can you see the face - or even the face within the face?

Back to place names. Here in Northants we have Cogenhoe, which is pronounced 'cook-no' and the always amusing Tittyho. Can you do better?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sensory overload

While number two son and his girlfriend and her extended family are lounging round the pool in Tenerife, and hundreds of strangers endure horrific delays at Britain's airport, Mr Thorley and I have returned, smug faced, from a glorious week in - well, if I tell you, do you promise to keep it a secret? I don't really want anyone else to know how peaceful and spacious and crowd free it is in - Northumberland. Pictured is the view from Dunstanburgh Castle: can there be a finer one anywhere?

I could wax lyrical about our adventures, but other people's holiday memories, like their dreams, aren't really that interesting. Indulge me, though, as I share a few snippets that made us smile and ponder while we were away:

  • Overheard: an oh-so-posh mother at The Alnwick Garden calling to her toddler son, 'Noah, sweetheart, come and see the water features!'
  • Overheard: 'He can't be a dwarf, he's eating a banana.'
  • Also overheard: 'Well, it doesn't bother me, I've got no sense of smell.'
  • At Ford and Etal, we learnt about the fighting at Flodden Field in 1513: 10,000 Scottish soldiers were killed in the two hours that the entire battle lasted. Their king, James IV, was among them.
  • Courtesy of performers Andy and Maggie Watchorn (great name), I now know that the Northumberland pipes are so much easier on the ears than Highland pipes.
  • The lanes on the approach to Holy Island smell of garden peas.
  • A northern Gay Pride event route mentioned on local radio was going down Percy Street.
  • Grace Darling was an amazing young woman. On 7 September 1838, aged 22, she risked her life to rescue the stranded survivors of the wrecked SS Forfarshire
  • It is impossible to enter a National Trust gift shop without buying either (a) a notebook or (b) a book mark.

Back to the grindstone tomorrow.