Friday, 30 August 2013

I love a four-day working week

Happy Friday, folks. Time to Celebrate The Small Things. If you want to join in, check out the link from VikLit here. Here are my highlights of the week.
  • I had a very successful meeting with fellow yoga teacher Penny. On 21 September, we are running a workshop on 'Yoga for Positive Living'. Planning is going well and bookings have started to come in.
  • I've broken the back of a massive proofreading job.
  • I've crept into the Top Free Downloads chart at number 24. Woo-hoo! Now, if I could only convert them into sales.
  • We have finally started to decorate our spare bedroom. Over the 12 years since we moved in we have done some superficial touching up, but this time we are going to do it properly, which means stripping off decades of paint and woodchip. Inevitably, since this is an old house, chunks of plaster have come away, too. On a particularly challenging part of the sloping ceiling we found the signature of, presumably, a previous occupant, Mr Lovell, dated 1952!
  • Made some more jam - courgette, rhubarb and ginger. 
  • My son's band has a new song on Soundcloud, called 'Is That You?' Please listen and like here, if you have a moment. 
Have a lovely weekend, everyone.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A review, of sorts

I find myself coming late to the magical realism party. I've just read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I'd heard of him, of course, but this is the first of his books I've actually read. I heard a little snippet when it was Radio 4's Book At Bedtime and was intrigued, so when my son said he'd got the book I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane - HardcoverMy son is an avid reader. When I think back to famly holidays one of my principal memories is the rest of us having to stop and wait for him to catch up with us: because you can't walk and read at the same time and expect to do both of them efficiently. His book always won over his feet. We have some favourite authors in common, but he hates Wuthering Heights, which I'm taking with me on Desert Island Discs, and I can't abide full-on fantasy, which is his favourite genre. I was not a little surprised, therefore, to find The Ocean at the End of the Lane so good. I couldn't put it down. This week we've had lumpy sauce because I've tried to stir and read at the same time and  cups of tea have gone undrunk.

Most of the story is told from a child's point of view, but it's not a children's book. It's scary and bewildering and uplifing, with wonderful decriptions of scenery and sensation. I'm converted. I can't really tell you what the story is about, because that would spoil it, suffice to say that a young boy escapes from a horror in the real world only to be taken on an adventure elsewhere with a friend and her curious family.

I see there is a textbook on my shelf called Magic(al) Realism by Maggie Ann Bowers, which my son had as part of his studies for his creative writing degree. I might give it a read - or I might seek out another Neil Gaiman book, which, I suspect, would be much more fun. I like the look of Neverwhere, which is set in a world below London and has an angel in it called Islington. Any other suggestions?


Just had a text from my other son on his way back from the Reading festival. 'Awesome weeked. Very tired, smelly and disgusting!' Ah, to be 19.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Celebrate the small things - already?

I can't believe it's Friday again already. The week has gone by so fast, probably because I've had my head down working hard. Celebrate the Small Things with VikLit here.
Typical A14 traffic
Nothing specific to celebrate this week, other than having survived. There have been a couple of horrible crashes on the A14 today, a road I use quite regularly, and my heart goes out to all those people who have been involved. This is the road that connects the M1 to the A1, so it is heavily used by lorries going to and from the east coast ports. There's talk of widening it to three lanes in places and while I'm sad that this means we shall lose more fields, I think it will improve the safety. Time will tell.

Well, that was cheerful! Must try harder next Friday.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Family Favourites

'With a Song In My Heart'
I'm showing my age a bit here, but does anyone else remember (or remember their parents telling them about) Two-Way Family Favourites on the radio? Hosted by Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore (pictured), it was a cheesy Sunday morning show through which families on opposite sides of the world could send greetings and a tune to one another via the BBC. All very worthy! In our house, we used to call it 'The Yorkshire Pudding Show', because Mum would be preparing the Sunday roast while it was on. Ah, those were the days.

Last weekend I was up in the Staffordshire hills at a family do to mark the Golden Wedding of the son (and his wife, of course) of a woman who was my mum's cousin on her father's side: at least I think that's who it was. The details probably aren't important. Suffice to say I was surrounded by almost a hundred people who are related to me in some way or another, many of whom knew who I was because I was with Mum. It was a splendid occasion: pie and pea supper and homegrown entertainment in a most convivial atmosphere.

There's literary gold in them there hills
I want to say these are simple folk, but that sounds patronising and I don't mean it to. These were some of the most welcoming people I've met in a long time. OK, so I could have done with some subtitles - I've got a Staffordshire twang, but wow! - but all in all it was a lovely evening.

Then on Sunday I had a nice lunch with my brother and his family, where my little niece confounded all dietary advice my insisting that jacket potato with chips was a perfectly fine choice.

As if that wasn't enough, I've been in touch with another of my mum's cousins, but this time from the other side of the family. She now lives in America and has had the sort of life that would make a fabulous film. She has recently discovered that her son has a half-brother, and there is a whole adventure unveiling itself there, too.

The names would need to be changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty), but there's enough material in everyone's family for a mini-series. Downton Abbey? You ain't got nothin' on my kin!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Here comes the weekend!

Let's celebrate the small things with VikLit and Co. Details here. I'm celebrating:
  • A four-day week because I was away in Chester and didn't come home until Monday
  • Managing to get all my work done on time
  • A nice email from someone who'd read something I'd written and enjoyed it
  • Live music: off to another house concert this evening
  • Family: off to Staffordshire in the morning for the gathering of the clans
Just had this from the mumsnet academy (who knew there was such a thing). Haven't explored it: might be worth a look,might not.

Looking to take your writing to the next level, and perhaps even make a living from it? Then do check out MN Academy’s Starting Out As A Freelance Writer course, which is designed to help kickstart your writing career. Joanna Moorhead, who freelances for the Guardian, the Independent, Good Housekeeping and more, will guide you through the entire process - from coming up with sellable ideas, to working out your market, to the somewhat scary prospect of pitching to commissioning editors.

Or, if you think you’ve got a novel in you but find yourself blocked when you sit down to write, do have a look at MN Academy’s Start Writing course. It's a 2-day workshop course, held at MN Towers, and is led by best-selling authors Esther Freud and Raffaela Barker. They'll help you find your authorial voice - offering tips on character creation, marking out a plot line and creating a convincing story - in the supportive and collaborative company of other aspiring writers and journos.
Incidentally, am I the only person who HATES the use of 'looking to' (see above). 'Are you looking to take your writing to the next level?' No. Am I wanting to? YES. Grrr.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A trip to Chester; and guest blogging

Four days of fun and frivolity in Chester have left me more tired than when I went away - but in a good way. The city itself was not what I was expecting, but thanks to a fantastic tour guide called June I learned an awful lot of stuff while I was there.

Who doesn't love a meerkat!
Tiger cubs - aah!
Jeremy Fisher at Tatton Park
Of course, the stay had to include a trip to the zoo amid the history and culture. There are no bars, which makes it feel as though you could reach out and touch the animals - yes, even the fierce ones. The keepers assured me that the clever use of trees and water, plus some discreet wire fencing, meant we were all safe.

I also took a drive over to Tatton Park, where there is a bit of a Beatrix Potter vibe at the moment. There were loads of children scampering about with activity sheets and looking for Squirrel Nutkin and the like. Wonder how many of them have read the books.
In other news, I have been a guest blogger on Charl Harrison's blog: A Place on the Bookshelf. She is a fellow Ether Books writer. Whether or not you are interested in my 'Top 10 ways to annoy an editor', why not pop over and say hello? Click here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

I'm going to Cheltenham

Just a quickie, as I'm about to set off for a few days away up north - which is one thing I'm celebrating. (Click here for more on Celebrate the small things)

The main thing, though, is that I've been chosen as a volunteer for the Cheltenham Literature Festival!

Must dash. Have a great weekend, folks.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Writing monologues

American Barber Institute
The Barber Institute
At the suggestion of my fellow blogger Helen at Blog About Writing (click here), on Saturday I went to a workshop on writing monologues. It was held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, which is part of the University of Birmingham, and run by its writer in residence Jacqui Rowe. I'd never been to the Barber before, but I was very impressed. It's a lovely little gallery, and the building is worth a look in itself (see right and click here).

We took our inspiration from the pictures in the gallery. Our first task was to have a good look at the faces and, without being swayed by clothing, setting or knowledge of the subjects, to choose someone we would like to have a drink with, someone we were suspicious of, someone for a mentor, and so on: you get the idea.

After discussion on the psychology of the face and making judgements based on appearance, we then had three minutes to write a response to the question: how would you react if you opened the door and saw THIS face - at which point Jacqui revealed the image of our mystery caller. We did this three times, and it was interesting how quickly I could decided whether he/she was a goody or a baddy.

'Paternal Love' by Etienne Aubrey - Pic from
After a bit of tuition, we then had to put ourselves in the place of two of our chosen 'faces' and pose questions: What is your favourite place? What food do you never eat? Do you believe people are born either good or bad? There were 10 different questions for each subject. This material formed the material of our eventual monologue.

Jacqui guided our discussion of what makes a good monologue and what makes it different from a simple first-person narration, the important points being that SOMETHING MUST HAPPEN and the words must reveal something of the speaker that he or she doesn't know is being revealed.

I was rather alarmed to find that I wrote something very miserable, in which my subject's husband went out looking for work and didn't come back. However, we have a few weeks to finish and rework a piece for submission to Jacqui and her team, should we wish to, so I'm going to cheer it up a bit before I send it in. I took my inspiration from the young mother at the centre of the picture above.

All this for just £6! There are other workshops to come before the year's end and I would definitely recommend them.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Celebrating lots of work

  • I have just to come to the end of one of the busiest weeks I've had for a long time, which is definitely a cause for celebration.
  • Also, my free sweetpeas continue.
  • And the quote from the garage was lower than expected.
'Morning' by Sir Alfred East, a man who loved a good tree
I was part of a bigger celebration on Wednesday, when I went to the events marking the centenary of the Alfred East Art Gallery here in town. There were performances and speeches and marching bands and church bells and all manner of pomp and circumstance. Splendid stuff. Part of the celebration was the 'appearance' of Sir Alfred East as performed by Geoff Hales, who regaled us with tales of 'his' life and left us with some advice for would-be artists: allways sit comfortably to avoid indigestion caused by hunching on a low stool - but remember that no one ever painted a decent sky while sitting down; get up as early as you can, and be prepared to miss your supper if you are in creative mood; and if you think a tree would suit your painting better if it were on the other side of the river, move it - it's only there because someone chose to plant it there, so an artist must be free to plant it elsewhere.

How's your week been?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Happy Lammas Day!

A pagan friend sent me this greeting today. Lammas Day is an old feast-day celebrating the first fruits of the harvest. According to Wikipedia:

'On this day it was customary to bring to church a loaf made from the new crop, which began to be harvested at Lammastide. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic. A book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called 'the feast of first fruits'. The blessing of first fruits was performed annually in both the Eastern and Western Churches on the first or the sixth of August (the latter being the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ).'
This is not the best pic I've ever posted, but that black splodge is a snail that has spent the day crawling up the window of my office. It is now about 7ft above the ground. I wonder where it thinks it's going?