Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Season's greetings

Solstice, Christmas: whatever you're celebrating:

May you be happy and healthy,
May you be safe and free from harm,
May you live in joy and ease.

See you next year.


Friday, 16 December 2016

Celebrate the small things, 16 December

It's been another full week, but fairly uneventful: nothing amazing, but, thankfully, nothing awful. Today, let me celebrate a couple of clever women I know:

Last Saturday I went to the launch of Kezzabelle's fourth book (pictured), When You Say Yes. She has also recorded the poems and CDs are now available. Isn't that great?

Today's post brought me a 'reward' for contributing to a crowdfunding appeal for Screen Northants, a non-profit feature film studio that uses film-making to do great things for Northamptonshire and particularly for members of the community that are disadvantaged or feel disenfranchised in some way. Read more here. It's headed by Becky Carrier, who is a real powerhouse.

Tonight it's Girls' Night, when a bunch of old NCT friends get together to put the world to rights. Bring on the M&S nibbles!

Have a lovely weekend, folks.

Share your news on the bloghop Celebrate the Small Things  hosted by  Lexa's Blog.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Flushed with kindness

'Smile - you're beautiful!'
My kindness advent calendar is going well so far, and I've been able to reward my good intentions with a guilt-free chocolate from my other calendar for 10 days in a row. However, I was nearly beaten by logistics yesterday. The suggestion was:

Write a positive message on a post-it note and put in on your mirror at work...

Given that I work from home, this didn't seem feasible. However, it continued:

... or in a public place.

So while Mr Thorley was queuing at the checkout in Morrison's, I sneaked off and stuck a little message on the mirror in the Ladies. I was tempted to hide in one of the cubicles to see if there was any reaction from anyone, but I could see the headlines:

Local weirdo caught lurking in public toilets

So I just left it. I hope it made someone smile.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Celebrate the small things, 2 December

I've had an admin day today, starting with a check-up at the dentist, filling the car with petrol, running a few errands and restocking the fridge. One thing I had to do was pop into Majestic Wine to pick up a bottle of prosecco, which I won in a draw by virtue of being a British Gas customer. Cheers! That means I'm celebrating winning something often drunk in celebration.

I hope you have plenty to celebrate, too.

Share your news on the bloghop Celebrate the Small Things  hosted by  Lexa's Blog.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

*smug face*

I'm just back from town with a bag of goodies for Christmas. The benefit of having a small family is that a couple of trips usually sees all the presents bought, and I've made a really good start today. The shopping centre was full of women clutching lists, closely followed by men carrying bags. OK, I generalise: I know that the reverse is often true.

And actually, given what my local MP said recently in parliament I should be more careful about gender stereotyping. Oh yes, Philip Hollobone MP (Cons) - don't blame me: I didn't vote for him - told the House that in towns like Kettering it's the men who are the football coaches and the women who wash the kit. Chump!

But back to happier things. It's 1st December, so it's time to break out the advent calendar. This year, via FaceBook, I have a 'Kindness' version - take a look here - which encourages random acts of kindness throughout December, so I thought I'd give it a go. I'm particularly looking forward to next Monday, when I am encouraged to 'Smile at everyone, today, including strangers.' Cue funny looks, methinks.

Don't worry, though, I've got myself a tasty chocolate version, too. I'm not that good!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Creative outlets

I seem to be being offered outlets for creativity all over the place at the moment. Hot on the heels of the artist-led walkabout a couple of weeks ago, I went on a similar excursion on Sunday with storyteller Jo Blake Cave, who told us tales past and present about the Corby woods. I came home feeling inspired to write my own stories.

Prior to that, I was invited to take part in a dance taster session with choreographer Neil Paris -  'No pressure to commit to anything: just come along and have a bit of fun!' I was told. Well, I've been caught like that before! Of course, a taster is going to lead to something and sure enough there is a show in May, but before that we have to come together and create the piece. Actually, it was fun and I found I was able to throw myself into it pretty well, considering how controlling and controlled I  usually am. I wasn't entirely comfortable when asked to interpret four key words - fearless, empower, breathe and secret - through movement, but I did my best.

Elsewhere, the Weaving Words writing group came up trumps again with some fantastic stimuli (stimuluses?) for writing. I thought I was doing well. Then this morning, I was reading a couple of chapters of A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters and there on page 159 is the sentence:

'He mows the grass until it bleeds.'

How am I supposed to come up with something as fabulous as that?

Friday, 18 November 2016

Celebrate the small things, 18 November

I'm feeling decidedly more cheerful this Friday than last. As predicted, things have indeed got better.

It's been a good week on the work front: I've achieved a decent amount of writing - an article on leeks for one thing, but also a couple of fiction pieces. There's been a few nice social events, too. Last night, for instance, I went to see comedian Rich Hall here in town, and he was hilarious as always.

A more specific celebration is that I've won a flash fiction competition, which is pleasing.

Have a great weekend, folks.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us.   

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The bear facts

Yogi Bear
There was much hilarity at yoga yesterday. The room in which we hold our class is upstairs in the Methodist Church. Meanwhile, downstairs the Ladies' Fellowship meets for prayers and music, conversation and discussion, and sometimes a guest speaker. We have grown used to the gentle accompaniment of music floating up to us and they don't seem to mind us doing our thing in the Upper Room.

Of course, it's not always blissful. Sometimes the visiting speaker is a man with a deep, booming voice, and on one memorable occasion we were treated to the strident tones of the Duchess of Devonshire describing the wonders of Chatsworth at full volume - via a film, of course, not in the flesh.

Usually the ladies have a pianist, but yesterday's music was recorded - and loud. It began with a stirring rendition of 'Keep Me Travelling Along,' which was fine and made us smile. There was a pause, and some low murmuring before 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' filled the air, closely followed by 'Me and My Teddy Bear'. I'd been encouraging my ladies to focus on 'undisturbed calmness', but this was just too much. We just had to laugh. I can only guess at the theme of the afternoon!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Making good use of my time

My weekend
They say you're a long time dead, so with that in mind and given that much of what is going on in the world is beyond my control, this weekend I have been doing things that make me feel good.

On Friday evening, I ventured out for a walk in the dark around East Carlton Country Park, as part of the 'Our Woods' project that is going on in Corby at the moment. We were guided around by artist Carry Akroyd, observing the shape of the trees, the moonlight and its effects, the sounds, the smells, pausing every now and then for contemplation and discussion.

Then it was back to a hut for tea and cake and the chance to be creative. Well, I did my best at drawing, but in the end my writerly instincts took over and I crammed down as many words as I could think of inspired by what we had just experienced. I shall, I hope, turn them into something in due course. It was great fun and there was absolutely no pressure to do anything especially arty. It was an exercise in simply finding joy in creativity.

There were a few chores on Saturday, but I spent the afternoon doing some yoga with lovely teachers Jenny and Atim, focusing on boosting the immune system and nurturing ourselves in preparation for winter. There was flapjack and hot spiced apple tea, and a lovely supportive atmosphere. The hoop in the picture is made from newspaper and was employed in various balancing exercises!

Then it was a quick turnaround before dashing out to the Rolling In The Aisles comedy night, where headliner John Gordillo had us - you know - rolling in the aisles.

Today, I'm taking it easy. I've had a lovely walk and a good session with the Sunday papers - and I'm not planning on doing much else with the rest of the day.

Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

Friday, 11 November 2016

You want me to Celebrate the Small Things? Really?

 I mean, come on! What's going on? I was seriously tempted to post simply: Nah, I got nothing.

But then I realised that it is at times like this we need the small things more than ever. So here goes:
  •  I have family and friends
  • I woke up in a warm bed in a house I own
  • I have food in the fridge
  • I have work
  • And, things can only get better!
Have a good weekend, folks, if you can.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us.  

Saturday, 5 November 2016

'What Katy Did'

A Facebook post by Rachel, who runs Not Just Words bookshop in Kettering, sent me scurrying to my own shelves to check something. She has a copy of What Katy Did in stock at the moment - a first edition with an inscription:

 'To May from Mr Rice, Xmas 1909'

This is a very special volume because it contains all five stories in this series: What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, What Katy Did Next, Clover and In the High Valley

My copy is simply the first story, but it, too, has an inscription in it: 

'Nora Gertrude Pattinson with love from Auntie Jessie, Xmas 1938'

This, then, was a gift to my mum from her aunt. I'm struck by the formal way it is inscribed with her full name. She would have been nine, and since I know she hated* her middle name, I imagine she wouldn't have been best pleased to see it written out like this. I love coming across these little messages in old books, even - in fact, especially - when I don't know the story behind them. How about you?

* I say 'hated' because although my mum is very much still with us, she no longer has that awful middle name.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Celebrate the Small Things, 4 November

I didn't have time to post my celebrations last week because I was out and about all day celebrating my birthday, albeit a day early. This means I have taken delivery of another stack of books - thanks, everyone!

A selection of my birthday goodies
On the home front, I'm celebrating that we've finally had our living room carpet installed. Of course, the doors no longer fit and the carpenter will have to be called, but it's a small price to pay. On the plus side, because we had to shift all the furniture out of the room, including the bookcases, I have a pleasant weekend in prospect putting all my books back in the right place. Bliss!

It's Bonfire Night tomorrow here in the UK. Strange that an event that started as a way to warn us not to stand against the government - Guy Fawkes was not a hero at the time - has turned into just the opposite. Three cheers for the man who tried to destroy parliament! Funny thing, perspective.

Have a good weekend, folks - and careful with those fireworks!

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Facebook fury

OK, perhaps 'fury' is a bit strong, but I am a bit put out. You might have heard the discussion on the Today programme on Monday morning between Paul Fox, chair of the British Wheel of Yoga (of which I am a member) and Swami Ambikananda from the Traditional Yoga Association. The subject of the debate was the possible introduction of National Occupational Standards for yoga. This is not the place to go into the rights and wrongs of this; suffice to say it has been the hot topic in yoga forums in this country and beyond.

For many months now I have been in a closed group on Facebook just for  yoga teachers and with the aim of offering mentoring and support. It is supposed to be a nurturing, safe environment in which you can ask, for example, such and such happened in class and I didn't know what to do. Has anyone else experienced this? It is not supposed to be a general discussion forum, but understandably this BWY vs TYA topic has prompted a lot of interest. I put in my two-penn'orth, of course, but was responded to with such venom from some people that I have decided to leave the group completely. No great loss to them, but a huge relief to me.

The point of this story is that it made me realise how easy it would be to let this situation escalate into full-blown cyber-bullying. I'm sufficiently grown-up not to want to have the last word on this occasion, but I can quite see that once you start the ping-pong exchange of insults and abuse, matters could quickly get out of hand.

There is a saying oft quoted in yoga circles that we cannot control what other people do or say, we can only control our response to it. Good advice, no?

Friday, 21 October 2016

Celebrating the small things

Join the blog hop and share your celebrations with us. Here are mine.
  • An unexpected invitation from an old friend
  • An evening out with new friends
  • Work deadlines met
  • Draft manuscript completed
  • Plans made
How about you?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Who dunnit - and who shouldn't have?

As I mentioned in Friday's post, I spent the weekend at the Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton. It was, shall we say, a bit of a curate's egg; some of the music was wonderful, some of it not so wonderful. Arnold had various troubles in his life that are reflected in his works and I think some of the pieces we heard might have been written when he was having a bad day. However, it probably says more about me than him that I find that solo brass performances sound as though the player is running through his rudiments, rather than trying to entertain the audience.

One of the talks we sat through was equally challenging. It should have been fascinating - the role of the CIA in controlling the music scene - but it was just baffling. I'm not an idiot (quiet at the back!), but I found it rather demoralising to keep being told 'Of course, you all know that...' when I didn't!

I went to another less than satisfying talk last night, this time on the topic of Agatha Christie. There is an excellent exhibition in our town museum about this writer, and the woman behind the collection was at the art gallery to give us a talk. Trouble was that while she was undoubtedly a fan and clearly has a lot of memorabilia, a public speaker she was not. Now, as regular readers will know, I'm no public speaker either - but then I don't pretend to be.

I've edited enough books by subject experts to be able to say that knowing all there is to know about something doesn't mean you can write about it or, it seems, speak about it. Am I being harsh? Perhaps. I'm sorry: I have a cold.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Celebrate the small things

Join the blog hop and share your celebrations with us. Here are mine.

My day began with a text from a friend wishing me a happy day, for no reason other than that she was thinking of me. Isn't that nice?

Then I got an email from Smashwords to say someone had left me a 5-star review for my free short story 'Briefs Encounter'. Well, thank you!

I have a weekend of culture planned. It's the Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton, so I'm dusting off my opera glasses and intelligent conversation to go and mix with the musical cognoscenti of the county.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Making connections and weaving words

I was co-host at a yoga workshop yesterday, which is always a lovely way to spend an afternoon. What was particularly nice this time was that everyone there knew at least one other person; sitting in a circle, there was a complete chain link through the whole group. We did some bending and stretching, working through chakras and making the best of the autumn sunshine. (Apparently it rained at home, which was all of half an hour away.) We finished, as always, with deep relaxation. Bliss!

There was a nice connection this afternoon, too, when on the spur of the moment I went to the Weaving Words writing group run by Kezzabelle, our local performance poet and all round good egg. Who should open the door, but one of my former yoga students!

One of the exercises we did together was to write a list of all the things we'd done in our lives that we were proud of. I found this incredibly difficult - in fact, we all did. I could remember doing well in a primary school, but beyond that... After some discussion/therapy, we picked one thing off our preliminary list and worked it up into the beginnings of something literary. Because I'm not very good at it, and because Kezza is a poet, I thought I'd have a go at something verse-like. All I can say is, if they ever need someone to rework Rupert the Bear, I'm the woman for a job.

Work in progress? Definitely!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Celebrating autumn

Sometimes all you want to do is stand on top of a hill in the autumn sunshine with a good friend and let the wind blow away your cares. Well, I'm celebrating that I had the chance to do just that with my pal Steph, whom I've known since we were 11 and who has had the good sense to move to Skipton. There's nothing like a weekend in Yorkshire for lifting spirits.

We walked up Sharp Haw, where if you look one way you can see the Lake District; turn around and you can see the Yorkshire Dales. Perfect.

We've had birthday celebrations, too: my sister-in-law Melanie, my 'baby' Joe, who is now 23, and, tomorrow, my godson Chris. Good times all round.

Have a great weekend, folks.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Celebrate the Small Things

Just a quick one today: I'm celebrating shopping local. I went into Not Just Words bookshop+ to drop in a donation for the local food bank. Rachel who runs the shop is holding a music night there tomorrow to raise funds and I can't go because I'm off to Skipton for the weekend (because that's how I roll). Of course, I came home with a bag of books. Well, it would be rude not too!


Then I went into Waterstones and bought tickets for the next two comedy events at the Arts Centre, had a little browse around the market, bought something for tea and then came home. 

Simple pleasures.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Making space

Last night I taught a Wednesday evening yoga class for the last time. My other classes will carry on, but from next week this one will be in the capable hands of Claire.

I've been with this group for about seven years, which hardly seems possible. We've shared some good times. For instance, there was that memorable night in June when the council folk turned up at the school to set up for polling day and I forcibly evicted them for being noisy. Just because we're tranquil (ahem) doesn't mean you can push us around. Even last night, there was a funny moment when proceedings ground to a halt while a visiting spider was evicted, with considerably more care than the polling people, I might add.

Over the years, we've had news of new babies, weddings and other celebrations; and also some bereavements and other upsets. Through it all, my yogis have been loyal and turned up rain or shine to do some bending and stretching, some mindful breathing and some lying down.

I'm giving up this class to make space for other things, and it will free up quite a bit of time. It's not just the 90 minutes of the class itself, but also the half-hour either side for travelling and on-site admin: plus, of course the behind-scenes planning and follow-up paperwork. Perhaps I'll finally get round to writing that next yoga book. Watch this space.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I'm feeling inspired!

On Saturday morning, I met with a group of local authors at the premises of 3P Publishing, where our host author and publisher Andy Gibney treated us to another of his sessions on 'Inside the mind of the author'. This time he focused on Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie: fascinating stuff. He also gave us ideas for using social media for marketing and promotion. 'Linking' seems to be the keyword.

There was plenty of time for networking, too. The other people there had either already published their books through 3P or are about to. I came home with a copy of A Brush With Death ('Who is trying kill artist Harry Chase and why?') by Malcolm Parnell, who was there.  I'm looking forward to reading this and promised to review it for him.

On the topic of reviews, has any of you ever been paid to write them? We had a chat about the ethics of this on Saturday. (Malcolm isn't paying me, of course!)

I came home feeling inspired and have set to and done lots of work on a fiction project I've had lurking in a folder for some time. The first draft is complete and I have passed it on to my son so he can cast his expert eye over it. He's one person I know will give me an honest review, whether or not he likes what I've written.

I've had a non-fiction book with a publisher for a while, pending a decision, so I gave them a nudge and they've asked to see some copy, which I hope is a good sign.

I've also entered two writing competitions - and it's only Tuesday!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Causes for celebration

We might moan about the National Health Service here in Britain, but I'd like to celebrate it today. Several people in my life have had reason to be grateful for its existence recently and while there's no denying that it could do with a massive injection of cash and, perhaps, an overhaul, the fact remains that if you call an ambulance it will come; you will be taken to hospital and treated. No charge, no questions asked.

I'm also celebrating yet again the freedom that self-employment affords me. What a joy it was to be able to say this morning: 'I'm off for a walk in the autumn sunshine.'

Also on the work front, I'm celebrating that I've finally got my paperwork sorted for Smashwords, where I have a couple of short stories available for download. One of them, 'Briefs Encounter', is free at the moment; the other, 'Robbing Hoodies', is available for 99cents (which is about 77p).

Finally, the comedy club at the Arts Centre resumes tomorrow, which is always a good night out.

Have a splendid weekend, folks.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop. Visit Lexa's Blog for the rules, and then post every Friday about something you're grateful  for that week. Originated by VikLit) and co-hosted by L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits Blog.  

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

What's your creative outlet?

While regular readers will know I don't claim to be artistic, I do think I'm creative. After all, I write and I'm musical, and there are glimmers of design intention in my garden.

I've just been listening to Claire Balding's Radio 4 show Ramblings, where she was talking to writer David Nicholls (Starter for Ten, One Day, Us and much more). It's worth a listen on catchup.

As they tramp through Surrey to the Devil's Punchbowl, he discusses his need to walk. For him, walking is part of the creative process (though he admits that it sometimes feels like a bit of a skive) and he clings to the idea that it helps the imagination to be on your own out in the countryside. He quotes Wordsworth as saying walking is the same as writing, with elements of meter and rhythm. Nicholls is a proper walker who strides out at a good pace and likes to keep moving. He enjoys nothing more than a four or five-day hike, especially when he is between books and is waiting for the next idea to, as he put it, ‘drop from the sky’. 

And talking of being creative, what do you think of this clock? My son has fashioned it out of an old snare drum. I was hoping to put it up in my home office, but  he has taken it off to work to put on the wall in his teaching room. Clever lad - I don't know where he gets it from. Better call Dragons' Den.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Why 'Jekyll and Hyde' was a real horror

Over the weekend, we went to the theatre - the Core at Corby Cube - to see a performance of Jekyll and Hyde. This is a touring production by talking Scarlet; if you live in Tunbridge Wells, Dundee or Lowestoft, it's coming your way and it's worth a look.

We sat with a couple of friends, one of whom is a science teacher in what is generally accepted to be one of the better senior schools in the county. He told us that the original  RL Stevenson book on which this play is based is a set text for many students this time around, so he had pointed out this production to his English-teacher colleague, in case she or any of her classes were interested in going to see it.

Her response was: 'Oh no, they've already done the essay on that.'

Isn't that sad?

I've already had a bit of a rant on Face Book about the audience, but I'm still annoyed at the behaviour of some members. I know I'm pushing at an open door here, but honestly! When they weren't rustling their sweet wrappers, they were unscrewing (phsst) and then drinking from (slurp) their coke bottles, with obvious relish (burp); or they were fidgeting and sighing; or talking. At one crucial point (spoiler alert) the woman behind me said "Oo-er! It's the same handwriting!"

I know theatres are strapped for cash and that selling drinks and nibbles is just a way to boost their income - but Pringles? Really? Come on!

Maybe it's not their fault. I mean, if you're used to watching stuff on a 54in screen in your living room, perhaps it's easy to forget that what you're seeing on stage is, you know, live: that these are real people who've worked hard to learn their lines and are trying to put on a show. There's no pause button, no opportunity to rewind if you didn't catch what was said because the idiot next to you was KEEPING UP A RUNNING COMMENTARY! 

Or maybe it's just ignorance. Maybe it's the way they were brought up and they just don't know how to behave. We are reminded to turn off our phones in cinemas. May I suggest that we also remind theatre audiences to do the same and while they're at it to refrain from noisy eating and drinking or chattering?

It shouldn't be necessary, but it clearly is.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Hair today...

When I was a little girl, hair was either short or long, straight or curly, with or without dandruff,  clean or dirty. That was it. When did it all get so complicated? Way before Wash 'n' Go came in a bottle, that's all we did: we washed and we went.

Things started to go pear-shaped when someone in Marketing decided that it wasn't enough to break hair types into Normal, Dry and Greasy, but dreamt up Flyaway, Flat, Frizzy, Dull and Lifeless, Sun-damaged, Heat-damaged, Delinquent (OK, maybe not Delinquent). Then came special shampoos for specific hair colour, be it natural or chemically induced.

We needed not just shampoo, but also conditioner: twice the product, twice the profit. But still that wasn't enough. Now we have pre-conditioners, leave in, wash out, deep treatments applied like a face pack for the head, hot oils and serums, clays, volumisers, tamers, lotions to prevent damage from hair-dryers, heated brushes, tongs and straighteners - and more lotions to fix the damage, should you be wayward enough to use a gadget without protection. There are also luxury options, which are more costly, of course and self-styled 'professional' ranges, because no one wants to use anything an amateur would settle for. That's before we get on to perfumes and menus of added essentials that would send any chef worth his salt reaching for the Le Creuset. I  mean, who wouldn't want coconut curls with added vitamin B?  And when did shea butter become a a grooming essential?

But if you think that once you've managed to negotiate the minefield of shampoos and conditioners, you'll be home free, think again. There's waxes, gels, foams,  mousses, more oils and more serums to apply before you can leave the house. Don't think you can get away with a quick squirt of Harmony Hairspray: those days are long gone, my friend.

It isn't just the bewildering choice that gets my goat, it's also the ridiculous language: words that have no business being anyway near hair: words like botanical, rebalancing,  purifying, restorative - and what the hell is fibrology?

Someone once poured a pint of beer over my head as the final act in a heated debate (don't ask!). For days afterwards I had the sleekest, shiniest hair ever. Now, I'm not suggesting making a drunken brawl part of your beauty regime, but it makes me wonder why we don't just go back to basics. What's the worst that could happen?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Guest post: author Eliza B Hill

I've been chatting with local (to me) author Eliza B Hill who has just published her children's novel The Little Garden Gate - and as if writing the story wasn't enough, she has also illustrated it. Isn't the cover lovely? She shares her thoughts here:

'For six years I was fortunate and privileged to spend a lot of time with my two granddaughters and to be a part of their world of make-believe and imagination.

'Do you have fairies in your garden? Do they sit on your windowsill in the evening and listen to your problems? Ours did, or so I was told. I needed to remain proactive and ready for the girls' visits. What better way than to write a book about our imaginary friends, illustrate it and then publish it myself?

'In less than three months, the stories tumbled from my head and I stopped at around 20,000 words. What a jumble! I walked away for a few weeks then re-read the manuscript with a clearer mind. It wasn't good. In order to give the book structure yet retain a theme throughout, I returned to my finance days: accountancy errors are never found starting at the top of the balance sheet, but if you begin at the bottom and work back the error will appear.

'So, I completed the final story first. Now all I had to do was arrive there, so I created a spreadsheet listing the characters and where they could appear in the book. From here on, I was able to understand how many drawings would be required and on what pages the stories would begin and end. Simple infrastructure to connect the characters was the key. The strongest protagonists emerged and more changes were made to weed out the weakest characters. Their stories could be used another time.

'It worked for me (apart from some crazy grammatical mistakes that were ironed out by a competent, professional and trustworthy lady without whom this would not have been possible).

'My project has been a learning curve and next time it will be much better. Someone lit a fire in my belly and unwittingly gave me a second chance. All because, at the lowest point in my life, I picked up paper, paints and crayons and believed in two little girls.'

Two things struck me: Eliza's willingness to cut out superfluous characters; and her methodical approach to story structure and layout. Anyone else work like this?

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Arts and books follow-up

The new guidebook
What an extraordinary weekend I'm having. As I previewed in my last post, I went to an outdoor theatrical event last night as part of Corby's 'Our Woods' festival. It was astonishing, one of those truly weird and wonderful things that you can't quite believe you're seeing, not least because it was in - er - Corby. I mean no disrespect to this town where I used to live and where husband Clive still works, but honestly: Corby!

Then this afternoon I've been to a spoken word event in St Edmund's Church in the tiny village of Warkton. Back in February, I went to a  creative writing workshop that focused on the Montagu Monuments that are housed in the nave of the church - you can read more about that here - after which all the participants of this and other, similar events were invited to submit a few words for possible inclusion in the new guidebook.

Well, the guidebook is now out and this afternoon's event was to launch it. Those whose words have been included were invited to take part, and I'm pleased to say I was one such contributor. As you may remember from an earlier post, I'm not very brave when it comes to reading out my stuff in public, but I did it and people were kind enough not to throw rotten tomatoes at me. (We were in church, after all.)

What next, I wonder. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

One thing leads to another

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that a friend had lent me Staring at the sun: overcoming the dread of death by Irvin D Yalom. Well, one of the many references in it that caught my eye was to the story 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' by Leo Tolstoy. Naturally I had to seek it out and buy it. I was expecting much angst and Russian hand-wringing, and yes, it's about a dying man struggling to come to terms with what's happening to him; but it's actually quite an easy read and there are some lovely observations in it about the human condition (no surprise there, methinks).

Elsewhere, I have booked some tickets for a forthcoming festival in Corby and the first event I'm going to next Friday is a performance of 'The Man Who Planted Trees,' by theatre company Impronto Teatro, which the programme promises will be 'bold and beautiful puppetry, physical theatre and vibrant storytelling'. The piece is an adaptation of the story of the same name by Jean Giono of a secluded shepherd who plants a forest, one acorn at a time. Intriguing - especially since we are warned to 'wear stout footwear' if we are going to join the audience! Naturally, I've bought a copy of the book, in an edition that is adorned with beautiful woodcut illustrations.

I've recently finished reading Fragile Things, a Neil Gaiman short story collection that my son Sam lent to me. The final tale, 'The Monarch of the Glen', is a novella based on the character Shadow, who first appears in the novel American Gods. Yes, you've guessed it: I'm now reading American Gods - in which there are several references to Herodotus' The Histories

Do I need to say what I've just added to my 'must read' list?

Monday, 29 August 2016


A summer afternoon in Northamptonshire
I'm taking Wednesday off to go to Staffordshire to visit friends and family, so I shall treat that as my Bank Holiday and I'm working today. Writing a blog post counts as work, right?

Over the weekend, we braved the weather and went to the nearby village of Woodford for its regular late-August music festival, called WoodfordStock. Over two days, lots of local musicians gather in the pub garden to make merry and raise funds for Cransley Hospice. It rained, of course, it always does; but the crowds turned up as usual because (a) we all love Carol, who organises everything; (b) we all know someone who has benefited from the superb palliative care the hospice provides; and (c) we love the beer, burgers, cake and sideshows that go alongside the music.

So we stood there and tried to ignore the capillary action of trouser leg on wet grass and the trickle of water making its way inexorably down the back of the neck. This year, proceedings were almost brought to a halt by the most extraordinary sky - my picture doesn't really do it justice - with rolling cloud formations that looked more like a seascape. No one would have been surprised if a giant hand had reached down and lifted us up.

We didn't stay to the end. We had to go home to dry off, before heading out to see son Joe and his band playing in town - mercifully indoors - as part of another festival, called Ctr Alt-Fest Delete. As usual, Ivory Yardsale played a blinder and a good time was had by all. You can't beat loud music is a sweaty pub.

As at Woodford, there was a 'What the...?' moment, with the appearance of a dapper man wearing a white coat and carrying a basket of seafood for sale. Suddenly we were back in the 1960s. Even under normal circumstances there is nothing on this earth that could induce to me to eat a prawn; but an ambient cockle? That's really going too far.