Sunday, 30 December 2007

Very Floody Funny

What a sorry looking blog this has been for December! I swear I can see dust building up on the words below and to everyone (anyone?) that has clicked here wondering if I’d ever update I promise all will soon return to normal!

Although probably not until January 15th… basically we have had a huge plumber type crisis over Christmas involving drips and leaks behind tiled walls and the downstairs neighbour banging on the door in her dressing gown at 3am saying she was experiencing a waterfall. It looks like the plumbers will have to dig up the bathroom and hallway (both floors are concrete) to find if an old pipe is leaking, and until then the water is off, so sadly the flat isn’t really liveable at the moment. And of course, that is the only place I have broadband… luckily we have other living arrangements if necessary, but until this is cleared up for certain I think my time on here is going to be limited.

So in the immortal words of the Governor of California, I vill be back, and I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas, and that 2008 is your year when all dreams can be a possibility. Looking forward to catching up with you all very soon (and a dry flat!).

Jayne x

Friday, 14 December 2007

Labour of Love

Not a post praising Gordon Brown’s political party, but a post instead about that band from Birmingham, UB40.

My brother had the VHS of Labour of Love, which was a series of UB40 songs linked with a back story of love and life in Thatcher’s Britain, acted out by the band. For some odd reason I loved it when I was growing up. I think it was because I had a secret crush on lead singer Ali Campbell, and the story highlighted by the songs was this gritty world far away from me, populated by boxers and boozers, building sites and Brummies.

The VHS tape died a death years ago, and since then I have kept an eye out for another copy, although now it would have to be on DVD as I no longer own a video. It looked like a lost cause… until a random youtube surf earlier today revealed some kind person has uploaded the four parts of the film! I have put them all here so I can find them again... and it seems some 'not so secret' crushes never fade away...!







Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Coffee Shop of Wonder

Although it is rather hard to ‘pop’ anywhere at this time of year, yesterday I managed to pop to Stoke Newington in North London in the hunt for Christmas presents. Although there is really just one place a person has in mind if they are popping to Stoke Newington, and that is of course Church Street.

Church Street is a winding lane (bear with me) off the main High Road that leads all the way to Clissold Park, which is cemented in my memory as the park where my Nan fainted one hot summers day when I was but a nipper, and that while she was recovering with a ciggie in the shade of the porter’s cabin, the porter very kindly bought me an ice-cream. Oh happy days… apart from the Nan fainting bit.

Anyway, Church Street itself is where every yoga bendy bean munching individual that cannot afford N1 aspires to live, ‘so close to all that culture, darling’ as they look towards the high road and shudder at the close proximity of winking neon, promising kebabs and cheap phone calls to Nigeria.

It is very strange, this influx of trendies to the area. I do wonder if they think they are being very ‘right on’ by having an N16 address, especially the ones you see pushing super power baby buggies, or with expensive Meccano-like fold up bicycles. But that’s London for you – in one direction rich, the other poor! And people that live in the Church Street vicinity are definitely rich, the food shop Fresh and Wild do not plonk their organic roots into the ground otherwise.

I was in Church Street as one of the shops is my secret weapon when buying presents for the J, although one quick poke at the parcel will reveal the present is of the material persuasion, as opposed to containing a Wii. And what does J want? A big fat Wii, of course. The budget doesn’t extend to things like that; I absolutely cannot spare a penny for a Wii. (I've done it again, made myself chuckle. Oh dear.)

But this post was called The Coffee Shop of Wonder and yes, this is a real place, a real coffee shop, called The Blue Legume. The front of the cafe/restaurant is nearly always busy, but the mosaic tables around the back are a place to dream over a coffee, to write wishes and scribble secrets.

It is my happy place. The coffee is pretty decent as well.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Back with a Tall Tale

Hello! Sorry about going AWOL, been feeling a little grotty lately, although much better now (waits for the collective sigh of relief…) and hopefully back to regale you with tales of daring deeds on the run up to Christmas. Oh the tales I can tell! Shall we take a moment to ponder The Tale of the Marvellous Map Reader? Ah, I know, what about The Tale of the Phantom Bus? Hmm, not to your liking? You are a tricksy customer but come closer, I have a story that will please you… *blows dust of tale book*... it is called When The Ladybirds Come Home

Once upon a time there was a wannabe author freezing in her garret spare bedroom, feverishly typing a novel of the darkest comedy (and sadly making herself chuckle every so often, as she is that sort of person). A mirror hangs to the right of her, and she catches herself in the act of winding yet another scarf around her neck. For a moment she wonders who let the bag lady in, before she realises that the poor unfortunate is herself. “Enough of this!” she cries, casting off scarves, woolly hat and gloves aplenty, “it is time for the BIG heater!”

The BIG heater lives in the main room. It is the source of all joy and wonder to the freezing author, as although she knows it gobbles money, it also produces goodly amounts of heat. The BIG heater is only turned on in dire emergency (which currently happens everyday around 3pm) and HAS to be turned off in about 20 minutes max as otherwise the freezing author and her partner J will be very poor very quickly. However today the author clicks it on and basks for a while in the main room before her phone rings and it is good friend R, calling for a chat. The result of the chat is that 20 minutes later the author is once again ensconced in her small garret spare bedroom… and the BIG heater has been forgotten.

Oh dear, this is bad. Still, the author is blissfully unaware of the heat piling on in the main room, as she has shut her garret door. An hour goes past, and she starts to feel a bit warm, but all that happens is that she takes off her second jumper and gets down to work again. More time passes and she is now down to a t-shirt and jeans. “Funny, must be rather mild today,” she tells her printer (sadly she does talk to odd things like that) before a look of horror crosses her face. The BIG heater!

She dashes in the main room and turns it off, but it is too late. The entire flat is a sauna. And even worse, J is due home any minute and the author will be discovered basking like a lizard. Never has the author moved so fast in her life, not even when she won the 100m sprint in the 3rd year of junior school. She runs around flinging open all the windows she can see in the hope that some of the heat will disperse to breathable levels, and it is then she notices the smaller window above the dining table, the one that is never usually opened. “Must open more windows!” she cries, and clambers on the table, undoes the catch, pushes it wide…

…and a nest of hibernating ladybirds fall down onto the dining table. The author shrieks to high heaven as ladybirds scatter all over the place, and then the timer on the cooker goes for dinner.

**interlude for brief panic**

J comes home at around 15 minutes later, but by then things are under control. The ladybirds nest window is shut, giving those that escaped the Day The Window Opened some much needed rest. Dinner is served ladybird free, and luckily J doesn’t notice the strangeness of open windows as the author has the ultimate distraction up her sleeve, which isn't usually where she hides the remote control but today exceptions can be made.

“Oh look, Top Gear!” she says. Works every time.


Thursday, 6 December 2007

Practical Criticism

If someone told you your hat looked awful, then that is really quite rude. If someone said your hat looked awful as the colour clashed with your hair, then at least there is a reason for the rudeness. If someone said your hat looked awful as the colour clashed with your hair but if you wore a green one it would look lovely, then that is what you want – rude, reason and solution!

Practical criticism isn’t rude though, it’s helpful and very much needed. Most people don’t like to think they could do something better, they like to think whatever they have submitted or done is already the best as wouldn’t that be nice – perfect again Miss Ferst! Why thank you *collects bouquets, blows kisses*

But I still have so much to learn about writing. I am beginning to think I am not a natural (how arrogant was I – a natural, darling!) but it is true! All my life I thought I was pretty good at writing and I think the potential is there definitely, but I struggle with grammar. We were never taught it at school – English was writing stories and reading books, not dissecting how or why sentences are formed. I was never taught it at home either – my family are from the east end – proper cockney! No one bothered with books except me. Studying for English ‘A’ Level was like a slap in the face with a comma. I passed, but after years of being the top person in English because it was just writing stories, and then suddenly being pretty average as now it was all about ‘how’ you write, came as a bit of a shock.

Nowadays, I think I have more of an idea of what goes where but my word it has been an uphill journey, and boy does it ever continue! I am going to have to go over this novel with a fine tooth comb when it is finished. But at least I know my weaknesses, so I know what to look for (plucks stray ellipses, punches irregular tenses) which is always a bonus.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Bach Flower Remedies

To write, I need to be able to focus on that and nothing else. Ages ago, I explained how I like to tidy the flat so everything is clean and shiny before I sit down at the computer, this is so I don’t write two paragraphs and groan about the washing up. Same with my thoughts, if I have any other article ideas or work to do, then I need to get it out of the way before I can get into a story. I like to clear the decks so it’s easier to see the whole picture.

To pitch ideas especially, I need to feel confident and happy. It sometimes feels like you are working out a sequence of code, the right combination of letters that will form the best email to make editors out there think ‘what a fab idea!’ I cannot find this code when I am not in the right frame of mind, I write bog standard boring emails that even I wouldn’t answer. There is no point pitching anything when not confident and happy.

To feel confident and happy, I need to feel calm and at peace with myself. And that is just impossible at the moment. I wish I could confide in you further! Anyone got any good relaxation techniques? I find it impossible to meditate, if I sit still for longer than 10 minutes all that happens is I get cold. And I haven’t had a chance to get to my yoga class recently – I do have a yoga DVD, but the worst thing about doing it at home is that if you get the stretches just a little wrong it can really make you ache, and not in a good way.

I’ve been reading up about the Bach Flower Remedies – lots of little potions you can combine that will hopefully do something. I notice their ‘remedy of the month’ is Elm for stress. Handy… and that’s on their homepage, so it’s obviously a stressful time of year for all.

Hmm, let’s see – they have a little quiz to find out which one to buy (and these are not cheap, so you have to make sure you buy the right ones). But what do I chose – Find Joy and Hope? Well, yes, but don’t we all want that? Live and Let Live – hmm, let bygones be bygones, accept what has happened… nah. Live The Day – um, in theory… Reach Out To Others – aww, nice sentiment but… Know Your Own Mind – well, yes that would be nice. Face Your Fears – oh that could be it. Stand Your Ground – Maybe! So then you do a mini quiz… answer a couple of questions… Right, apparently I need Mimulus. Possibly Walnut, possibly Agrimony... White Chestnut... Can I mix them I wonder? Will I turn purple?

Okay, I’m going to give them a bash, even if my friend said her work colleague got tipsy drinking Bach’s Rescue Remedy throughout the day. Surely they don’t have alcohol in them… oh, well they do a bit. But it’s not like proper alcohol… its special flower alcohol. And since I'm not aiming to swig it... it may just do the trick!

Friday, 30 November 2007

Chapter 13

Someone asked me how many chapters I have left to do and I replied ‘six’ and then really thought about it. Blimey, just six left? To me, that sounds like the end is nigh. And really, having a squiz at the chapter plan, I can probably bin one off as it’s not relevant anymore, and then I only have five to go! Oh my giddy aunt, how exciting!

Of course though, there is still a fair amount of writing to do, and lots happen in these chapters, especially the grand finale, so a little way to go yet. I am still on schedule to finish in January, and if I squint at the budget and poke it with a stick from a distance, that still looks like it’s on schedule too, which is rather nice.

My friends were wondering how I manage to keep to my budget; until I pointed out I was wearing my mum’s old jumper. See, the trick is to have a mother that views Saturdays as wasted unless she comes home with a new top. This means the only daughter (me, in other words) gets first choice for anything mum no longer wants, and in my current predicament that can only be a good thing. (A year ago? ‘Mum – Oxfam is thatta way’. Now? ‘Yup, bring it over, whatever it is. Even if it is peach-coloured’. Sigh…)

Although, saying that, there was only one peach-coloured jumper incident, yet it was one I remembered as it was what I was wearing when I chose to get my ten-year passport done ten years ago funnily enough. Oh wasn’t that a great choice? For ten years I had to put up with boyfriends, friends and work colleagues in airports comparing passport pictures, and feeling vague embarrassment that I had chosen to wear that awful top. You’d think I’d learn, wouldn’t you?

But no – I needed to send off for a new passport as the old one had run out, and Tuesday found me at the post office poised in front of the photo booth wearing a nasty polo neck. And what do passport pictures of people in polo necks look like? They look like you should be in Cluedo, that’s what. Miss Navy, that is what I am. Yet another ten years of passport joy coming up…

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Feeling charitable

Yesterday I had a meeting with that charity I was talking about, and we clarified what I thought I could help with. One way is getting them in the local paper, the other is me writing / subbing their newsletters. I told them it was absolutely ok however they want to do it, even if they just want to throw some thoughts randomly on an email, as I’d be able to scrub up an article from that. And of course, most importantly, be free to tell me if they didn’t like anything! The upshot was we all left the meeting feeling rather pleased, and I even felt a little jaunty of step heading back here.

Before I sound too ‘holier than thou’ which isn’t my intention, this idea totally works both ways. Writing is like drawing, one of the key most important things is to practise every day, and if possible, out of your comfort zone every so often. Even better if it’s published writing, as, regardless of being paid, there is something about it that gets you in a discipline of deadlines and the fact that your words will have an audience helps you fine-tune and polish. It also helps with spotting weaknesses, such as I know I have to be extra vigilant with tenses or one sentence will happily roam through all three and do a twirl.

Writing a blog is good, with the additional pleasure of comments, but if you are thinking about seriously getting into writing, why not contact your local charity and see if they need an extra pair of hands on the keyboard? Guaranteed they will be pleased to hear from you no matter what you can do, and ok, it doesn’t (shouldn’t!) pay, but for something that could take you as a writer two hours, it might take the charity two days or longer, so it helps them doubly by freeing up their time to help others. And if you haven’t been published before, there is that thrill of being ‘the writer’ – the thrill us wannabe’s live for! Anyway, just a thought!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

It Seemed a Good Idea at the Time

A couple of weeks ago I went to St Albans for a spot of early Christmas shopping, and popped into my fave shop, which is a weirdy beardy hippy shop full of crystals, tarots, healing books and the like. Wandering around, I spied a box full of big lumps of amethyst, and on enquiry, they were selling the whole lot off for £45.

Well, this seemed like Christmas was a job done. My friends and I rather like crystals and, well, weirdy beardy hippy things, so it was with a smug but happy heart that I handed over the cash. All my friends Christmas presents were in the bag; I’d buy nice gift boxes, a yard or two of purple silky stuff and sew little cushion type things on which to sit my marvellous amethyst. I had, in fact, saved money as anyone I missed at Christmas could get amethyst birthday presents in 2008. Hooray for being original and on a budget!

Except…

The more I look at the amethyst, the more I see large lumps of rock. I have, in effect, bought my lovely friends heavy stones for their presents. Okay, pretty crystal stones, granted, but not the prettiest they could be, after all, amethyst is usually quite expensive, and the people that run that shop know what they are selling. I am now wondering if this is such a good idea.

I can’t even sew.

Well, I can, but I am not going to win Miss Neat Sewing 2007. I’d win Miss 'Bugger I’ve Dropped another Stitch Where Oh Where Has the End of the Thread Gone' 2007. That award has had my name on it every year.

So lumps of rock on badly stitched silky material stuffed with cotton wool, disguised in a pretty box. I hope my friends still love me. And that they each open their presents in different houses.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Age Concern

Waitrose for me is becoming like that mermaid on the rocks winking to sailors. I really shouldn’t, mustn’t, cannot go in there – the budget really doesn’t extend to sodding £4 on blackberries, however lovely and plump they appear to look. But there is something about the supermarket that lures me in every time, as it is just there, and so handy, and so clean, and so I ended up popping in to buy friend C a bottle of wine for cooking up a feast for everyone last night.

Now, the background to this story is that I used to get ID’d all the time for really silly things – I was told I needed my parents signature for an adult bus pass when I was 20, I was refused a lottery scratch card (16 and over) when I was 24. Needless to say when I smoked, buying cigarettes could be a trial, as was sometimes getting served in a bar. But the last time I had been ID’d for anything was a fair few years ago, and finally I was beginning to think my age had caught up with me. Fair do’s, I thought, it had been a good run.

So it was a surprise when the lady behind the till asked me how old I was. I laughed; feeling flattered, and said oh I’m 32. She gave me a quizzical look and asked if I had any ID, at which point I thought if I was 17 and trying to sneak a bottle of Rioja, surely it’s a bit of a stretch to say you are 32? Out loud I explained I only had my debit card, and she said she’d have to get her supervisor. I was like, o-kay… as the queue behind me shifted and murmured.

The worse thing was I was actually starting to feel a bit shifty, like I really was under-age and trying it on. I did that sort of wan smile you give to the queue when it is being held up due to your transaction. No one smiled back, I noticed.

The supervisor came over, asked my age, and again I said 32, thinking surely here be the voice of reason. But still she asked me for supporting ID, which I explained I had stopped carrying about ten years ago. We sort of looked at each other a bit and then she said it was ok to go ahead. She must have spied a wrinkle.

I was still packing up with a bit of a red face when the old boy behind me in the queue moved down the conveyor belt to pack his own purchases away. “I’d have served you,” he said with a smile, and I did an answering grin of thanks before getting out of the shop and thinking hang on a minute, that wasn’t exactly a compliment!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Back to the Forties

Chapter 12 this week has sent me back to 1948, and any writing I do about that era means I have to do a ton of research to get my head in the right space, so its slow work. You can’t go make yourself a coffee, turn on the washing machine, and listen to miscellaneous music – (The Rolling Stones - Miss You, Bananarama - Robert De Niro’s Waiting and E.L.O - Mr Blue Sky) and then think right, 1948. Or at least I can’t. So I have a CD called Number Ones of the Forties and am currently listening to Tuxedo Junction, a slow swing band tune by Glenn Miller. It would be even better if it didn’t have the underlying hum of the computer twirling the disc. I could go and play it on J’s mega boom stereo thing but turning that beast on means the whole flat vibrates, and I quite like our neighbours.

It sounds so silly, but the main thing that has stumped me this week is what shoes my female character would have been wearing. Normal everyday shoes and I cannot picture them, which means in the bit I am writing; I can see everything in that scene apart from her feet. And because I cannot picture everything, I find it impossible to write about. But I am behind, so I really need to crack on today.

Attack of the Doubts

I had an attack of the doubts (like the clones, but worse) last night. This last year my confidence has plummeted, not on the book or writing side of things, but on the real world and being a non-nervous, secure part of it. I keep doing things to try and challenge this state, such as my writing for the local paper, this forces me in a way to go out there and try new things, to try and join in. If you met me, you wouldn’t think I have a problem with this at all. But left to my own devices I do have a tremendous problem with self-confidence; I really am my own worst enemy and I know this, yet I cannot stop listening to that little poisonous voice inside that whispers worries to me.

Being at home alone writing probably doesn’t help… yet it is the only thing I have ever wanted to do, so I just have to work through it, I think. And then I read other people’s blogs about their very real concerns over the health of their family, or they are ambulance drivers or physician's responsible for others, and I feel a bit humbled and annoyed with myself. I’m only really responsible for my own state of happiness and ok, I’m a bit wobbly at managing that, but I am relatively healthy and have a great opportunity here (even if it is flushing away my life savings!), so really I should zip it. Consider it zipped.

I find it hard to commit to things beyond deadlines, even my yoga class and me only manage to combine once every three weeks. But I am really considering volunteering some time to a charity, or seeing if there is anyway I can help somewhere down the line. It needs a bit of thought, but even if it is just cleaning, perhaps knowing I was helping a little would in a funny sort of way help me. Or perhaps I could volunteer with writing/editing/subbing a charity’s newsletter or something… Hmm, now there’s a thought…

Update

There is a local cancer charity that helps people in the community with that illness, and I got in touch with their main fund raiser this afternoon. The result is I'm going to pop over for a chat next Tuesday, and hopefully I will be able to help not only with their newsletter, but in a few other ways as well. Excellent!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Help!

This is something that is driving me mad, and perhaps you can help me. Have a look at my little picture below – does that arched wall thing that my arrows point to have a real name?


It’s like a stone arched border/edging around a patio, but I am sure it has a proper architectural term for it, as opposed to me fudging around with arched balcony wall thing. I've been searching for this for ages, and it is beginning to send me loopy. Please forgive the bad illustration – but hey, I threw in a few potted plants!

Yours hopefully,
Jayne

Monday, 19 November 2007

Angry Washing Up

I must be the angriest washer upper known to man. We don’t have a dish-washer (my brain just went then, I was going to type ‘drying machine’), so everything gets its turn in the sink and it is not a happy experience for human or plate. For a start, everything is so darn heavy, plates slip out of my grasp to splash back wetly at me, and saucepans refuse to be lifted. Scrubbing baking trays causes a tidal wave that cascades over the sink; I invariably lose a spoon that only comes to light after I have put something really greasy in the water. I end up aiming everything with force at the drainer, and it’s only the bravest that survive. Today’s casualty was a small tumbler that was only too adept at living up to its name. It’s a war out there I tell you, a war.

Novel wise, I have been hard at it all day on chapter 11, with only a short moral boosting visit to Starbucks to buy a chocolate cornflake cake… okay, two chocolate cornflake cakes. My nutritionist visit has been put back for another week, which means I am free of the dreaded food diary for a little while longer, hence I can surely eat what I like, no? Isn’t that how it works? Anyway, chapter 11 first draft is done, so surely that proves how good the power of chocolate is. I wish I could convince myself fruit had the same effect...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Which car?

People keep asking me when I am going to get a car. ‘Oh you don’t want to leave it too long’, is the general consensus, I hear this so much that I now expect wizened old crones to sidle up to me when out shopping, hissing it out of the corner of frail mouths, perhaps battering me on the leg with a walking stick.

Of course, the reason I am leaving it is as I have no money in the budget for a car, and buying one now seems a little foolhardy. But I do see the wisdom of ‘keeping my eye in’ driving wise, I took J’s car out for a small run the other day and it was frankly terrifying. It was the first time I had driven since passing my test in September, and I scraped his wheel when parking (cue long examination of wheel) – we eventually decided it would be good for me to get my own car to scrape. And possibly sooner rather than later, so I can get used to it all over again.

Everyone keeps telling me (again) that I should go for some practical little car as I will crash it (it’s a given, apparently, with first time drivers) and mention words like Fiesta and Honda. A nice bog standard sort of car, economical, easy to run... boring, dull… Personally, I have always loved VW Camper vans, Morris Minor Travellers – cars with a bit of character to them. These are the sort of things I dreamt about when I imagined being a driver, not a Fiesta. But I agreed with everyone, somewhat reluctantly, thinking it made sense. I scoured Loot wondering what I should be looking at; they all look the same, these little practical cars…

And then I went on eBay.

Ooo… See, J is rather nifty with cars, especially older types with less electrical innards. And he thinks there is nothing wrong with me getting an older car if he can fix it and I can drive it, he just thinks if I crash it so what, get another! (I wanted to remind him of the Wheel Episode at this point, but decided it went against the moment). Well, the imagination just soared… Picnic baskets, driver's gloves, perhaps scarf for hair – oh, practicality and budget went flying out the (split-screen, original fittings) window.

The result is I think I might be getting an MGB GT.

It is so not practical, it is a two-seater, it won’t have power steering – but it is gorgeous, it is what I would pay for a car anyway, and it might be exempt from tax. Nothing is decided or bid upon yet, but we have a couple to go and see and J knows what to look out for. I dunno though, it is really a silly idea? The only problem is I think I have fallen in love with these cars!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Welcome!

I notice I have gone over the 1,000 mark with visitors to this blog, so hello to you all! I think most of you will be bypassing this to go straight to the lyrics for Autumn Days, but never mind, you are more than welcome where-ever you go.

When I started the stat counter, I set it at 50, just so it didn’t start from zero, and I turned off the bit that would count every time I log in, just to keep things fair. The free stat counter software offers a few things that you can click on – for example I can see what people come here looking for from google – ‘wellies slippy’ bizarrely garnered two individual searches. I can click on a map that shows what country everyone is from, or I can see how long you spend here, even though that could be the same as what I do on other blogs – eg read something and then get up and wander off, pondering the words of wisdom I had just read. (Of course that is what I do with all your blogs – they are all marvellous). I don't understand the rest of what the stat counter stuff can do, but rest assured I cannot use it to find out where/who you are! You can remain happily anonymous, or pop by to say hello, up to you!

I bought my local paper today, wondering what this time they will do with the picture beside my article, and hoping against hope they have lost it. But no… this time they did shrink it (phew) but they have stretched it horizontally instead, so I look like I have put on a good 2 stone since last week. AGH! Why – why?! Still, it serves to make my mum giggle every time she sees it, so there’s a good thing.

Talking of food – I am seeing a nutritionist on Monday, courtesy of an article I shall be writing afterwards. I have been asked to keep a food diary for five days beforehand, and I have promised to be honest. Oh my – have you ever kept a food diary? Listing every single thing that you put in your body is awful – I am beginning to see a pattern here, the pattern being that I like to eat all the bleeding time! I’m not overweight, I’m 5’5, about the top end of 8 stone, with occasional small forays into 9 stone territory, but I do know that being sedentary and doing little exercise is no good for me at all, especially with my love of food. It will be interesting what she says though… *hides mini-rolls*

Novel-wise, it was like that effort of finishing chapter ten just did me over. I have instead spent time editing, polishing and gently buffing the last three chapters. Every look at the words ‘Chapter Eleven’ has sent me scurrying back in the arms of its previous cousins. I will start it soon, I will…

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Runaway Train

Some music videos stay in your head forever…

The band Soul Asylum released a song called Runaway Train in 1992, and the music video that accompanied it flashed up pictures of real children / teenagers that were missing from home, along with the year they disappeared. These were haunting images, considering no-one knew what had happened to them, and I couldn’t watch that video without crying and becoming so angry with the world.

Out today, I recognised a picture of a schoolgirl on the cover of a few newspapers and picked them up, curious as to where I’d seen that face before. As soon as I looked closer I realised it was one of the girls from Runaway Train, and it appears her body has just been found buried in a back garden in Margate. My heart goes out to her poor family. That girl was my age at the time of her disappearance (1991), yet she never had the chance to go on and see where her life could have led her. I’m not sure what justice can be achieved, but I do hope her family eventually gain some peace.

The link to Runaway Train is here, and it still makes me cry. I hope some of the others made it back.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Get in!

I am happy to report chapter ten is in the bag! My eyes might fall out due to staring at the computer non-stop for what feels like forever, but it’s done and I can finally move on – yay!

This has been my biggest chapter so far – nearly 10,000 words so I might have to chop it down at a later date but it is a real pivotal scene – lots of things happen and, well, I think I like it, which is nice and somewhat encouraging! Also chapters 1 to 3 were really setting the scene, 4 – 10 were building up in one direction, and now I have one chapter (11) that is like the balance, and then it all soars off on a different tangent. I am looking forward to the different viewpoint I’ll be writing from, it will be another challenge for me.

And (whispers) overall I am very nearly at the 50,000 word mark – that’s novel length that is (big grin). If I had any alcohol left in this flat I would toast myself… not quite the same with lemon squash but oh well...

I shall leave you tonight with this offering from youtube - it has some meaning to chapter ten, so it is a nice note on which to finally down tools for this evening.

Perry Como and the Buffalo Bills
If You Were The Only Girl (In The World)

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

On not actually writing

Am I actually a typer rather than a writer?

I have been browsing those proper writer rooms on the Guardian online again (cannot tear myself away) and am struck at how the majority of them write in long-hand. Oh no, is this where I am going wrong?

As although I jot the initial idea down in pen, mostly I ‘write’ straight onto the computer. If an idea seems particularly sticky, or I want to see it more clearly, I do write that bit out – usually a side of A4 with my untidy sprawl will do the trick – and then it is back to the keyboard.

The main reason I type everything straight up is that my hand gets tired after only a page of writing long-hand. This is dreadful, it means my handwriting skills are slowly going down the pan, and of course, I do little to no actual writing in a day. Even ‘writing’ a letter these days is typed. But I do get a lot of comfort from typing my words – I can type pages upon pages for a start, and all I have to sacrifice is growing my nails long (you cannot type with long nails!). I also like the linear quality of it, of seeing actual words on the screen, of being able to read my own words without wincing at my untidy lettering and the fact that when actual writing I do tend to misspell words or join the wrong ones – typing is much neater. I also think it is quicker to see mistakes and edits – although you cannot see the whole big picture as easily as you can in ink. At least I can’t, for some strange reason.

But I don’t want to be a typer (she wails) I want to be a writer! Maybe if this book didn’t seem so frighteningly urgent, I’d kick back and get a quill or something. And the urgency is all of my own doing, I know. It’s like my happiness is starting to depend upon it - now that’s not scary at all, is it? And chapter ten is still causing me problems… *kicks chapter ten*

Monday, 12 November 2007

Where do you write?

There is a great special report in the Guardian online called Writers’ Rooms – a collection of photographs and thoughts on their little worlds. I am fascinated for two reasons – mostly everyone’s writing space looks like they are hugely rich (tapestries, one or two heirlooms, huge windows, two or more computers) and of course, these are real proper authors, and it is where real proper authors work. How does my space match up, I wondered…

Through the Chair


I work out of the spare bedroom, so it’s not ideal – there is a wardrobe behind me that I do my level best to ignore, and we are not allowed to put up anything on the walls unless there already is a nail there (and they check this, the pedantic so and so’s). See, ideally I would like more pictures on the wall, more colours around me, but heigh ho. This flat came with furniture, so I happily appropriated our old dining table and chair to work on – they are both made of solid wood and are huge and heavy. I cannot sit straight to save my life, so am forever twisting about forgetting the chair does not, and end up with a ton of bruises – that table is not forgiving. I have speakers, and whenever am stuck I play a range of music that I have on the computer. Next songs up are Rod Stewart (Maggie May), The Kinks (Waterloo Sunset) and various Slade tunes - I know these sort of tunes so well that they are comforting and I can work through them, as well as sing along every so often.

To the right of the computer I have my printer, on top of that is my Top Twenty book (I like to listen to music from the month I am writing about if possible), and some research books. Propped up is my Flower Fairies of the winter book, invaluable for a bit of chilly garden research. You can hardly see it, but my chapter plan is beside my mouse, I mostly resist the urge to rest my coffee cup on it, although a few tell tale circles beg a different story.
And that is all the story this picture tells us, I could widen the camera's gaze but then you would see untidy stacks of research, tons of books banked against the wall, a sort of glitter glo-lamp thing that spins around, and my collection of old annuals, books and records. See, where I actually write is sort of the boring bit...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Weekend Transport

What happens to my local train line on a Sunday? Does it stay out too late the previous night? Is it sulking with a hangover back in the yard? All I know is no matter what weekend you want to travel; my local trains will have transformed into a bus replacement service which will thoughtfully add an extra hour or two to your journey for you to admire the scenery.

It all started so well…

I had stayed with my good friend R the previous night; we had drank mulled wine and let off some small fireworks in her garden in a totally girlie sort of way (‘eek! Is it lit? It’s not lighting… ooo it’s fizzing – RUN!’ We stampede to the other end of the garden and turn to watch a tiny little fizzy thing shoot little stars a foot high.). It was great fun, and today we stomped around a heath-y park near her, managed with luck more than judgement to be silent at 11am for Remembrance Sunday, and a little while later she waved me off on a bus.

And there it began.

The bus went approximately four stops down the road, and then the police stopped it, as there was a Remembrance Sunday parade coming down the road we wanted, and therefore all traffic was suspended for the foreseeable future. This was fine, I didn’t mind about that, but what I did mind was that the bus driver parked and told us we might as well get off. There was no alternative route planned, no diversion; the bus company was not prepared for this in the slightest. That was that, as far as this bus was concerned. Hometime. See ya, losers.

So, since no other bus went anywhere near where I needed to go, I ended up having to walk all the way back to the train station, and catch a train into Kings Cross in London, so I could get another train back out to where I live. Only there wasn’t one, as per. If anyone heard a deep sigh at around 1pm today it was me, as I descended the stairs to the underground. I ended up getting a tube as near as I could to where I live, and then had to wait for another bus to take me further, and finally I had a nice 20 minute stomp to my flat. All in all, a journey that should have taken me an hour took me three! I was not a happy bunny.

But maybe this is London transport’s revenge since I no longer commute in the week… ‘get her at the weekend’, it mutters. Okay, I hold my hand up, London Transport. I have been truly got. Can bygones be bygones? Please?

Thursday, 8 November 2007

There she goes!

Not the song by The La’s, but finally the ball has started rolling on chapter ten. It was like pushing really hard at something poised to go downhill all day, and then finally, I can feel it shift and sway. I can’t say it’s rolling with speed, but I have added something nice to chapter nine, and managed to do 2,000 words on ten so far, and the night is young. I work so much better at night… trouble is, I rather like sleeping as well. Maybe I need to think of myself as a shift worker…

There are still fireworks going off randomly outside, once people make one big bang, it’s obviously a hard habit to break. I walked to town today to mingle with real people and learnt a few things:

1 – It is nigh on impossible for me to walk past a Starbucks and not buy a Belgian chocolate cornflake cake, since being initiated into their delights last week. This is bad.

2 – That no matter what day or what time, H&M will always be crowded full of desperate looking women.

3 – That I am developing an irrational fear of shop alarms going off when I walk through the exit. I’m not a shop lifter or anything (well, I once attempted to steal a penny sweet by dropping it down my school jumper, and then felt so bad I wiggled it out and put it back, with added jumper fluff. And it was a fizzy cola bottle, I had sugar everywhere…) so there is no rhyme or reason for this, I just feel weirdly guilty.

4 – For some reason I always end up in the middle of Monsoon wondering whether £50 for a T-shirt is a bargain. I remain to be convinced (and the budget gives a huge sigh of relief).

5 – WH Smiths gives me the creeps. I mean, be a book shop, or be a stationary shop, or be newsagents… stop morphing into other shops!

Right, back to it… Where was I? Oh yes, the smog of December 1962…

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Stalled

This is awful, I know what I want to write, and it’s good, it’s fun…and I just cannot do it. Yesterday I managed a grand total of 500 words – that is pathetic! And I don’t think they are even good words, as I have been growling at them today. In fact, my lovely story is now annoying me immensely. Is this what happens, do you think? There’s no point taking a break from it, as technically I haven’t wrote anything of value for over a week, so I have had a break already. I have come to realise that there it is really hard to write when you are worrying over something… It’s nothing major, just something that depresses me in the back of my mind. I think this feeling is going to stay for a while, sadly, so I need to work out a way to keep writing through it. Ah well…

Anyway, moving on swiftly to research. If in doubt – research! Even though I pull my hair out and obsess a bit too much over it, I do love getting everything as correct as I can. As a reader, I totally appreciate it, and if I ever get that far, I am determined not to short change anyone lovely enough to read this novel. Today my google history says: Holly hocks winter, December plants, 1960’s cars, Alice through the looking glass, Italian boy names, sewing machine 1963, winter jasmine, the Queen’s Golden State Coach, and styles of houses in Islington. Sounds, erm, fascinating, eh?

The Internet is great for initial research, but so far the best thing I have found is going to the nearest research library to look in actual reference books. So when this is nearer the end, I think I will camp for a few days in the local library and polish everything to make sure it’s as good as I can get it. That is, of course, assuming I can kick this chapter ten a bit further down the road… Right, c’mon Jayne, just two pages at least?

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Darn

Not a post about knitting, but instead a post about how late I am with chapter ten. The last piece of actual novel writing I did was a whole week ago – there were a few things going on last week that put my head in a completely different space, sadly. It all seems fine now though... *looks suspiciously around*

So with that in mind, today I got up at 6 ish, got all the boring washing up / washing machine / tidying annoying stuff out of the way, and am ready to crack on. Outlook appears to have broken on me over night, but I tell myself this is a good thing, as no longer will I check it every 5 minutes to see who is saying what. Although Outlook did that really crap thing of telling me I have mail, but then crashing, so I have a tantalising envelope icon down there *points* and no way to retrieve the email until Outlook decides it likes my server again. I like to think they have had a lovers tiff.

So, here I am, flexing fingers and ready to crack on. I think I have to read over the previous chapter to get in the right mood, and then hopefully I have all day to at least get 2000 words on the table. Anything would be a start! So here I go…

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Stephen King

Given that I am not your usual candidate for horror stories, I love and adore any book by Stephen King.

This addiction started with the book ‘IT’, in 1997 on a surfing holiday to Cornwall. I borrowed it from our B&B to sit and read on the beach in-between attempts to catch a wave, and got so engrossed in it that the proprietor said I could take the book home. After IT, I quickly began working my way through his back catalogue, and was pleased to discover there were tons out there to choose from. It is hard to say which are my favourites, but IT, Firestarter, The Shining and Needful Things are definitely in the top ten.

Stephen King is the sort of storyteller whose tales linger, way after you put down the book and step back into your own world. They creep, they wake you up at night, and they have the power to instantly take me out of my surroundings and put me wherever he wants me. This ability is priceless, especially when you commute for three hours a day on trains and tubes, like I used to. Books are our equivalent to time travel, I think, blue police boxes and flashing lights not necessary.

It is the way he writes as well, not just the actual story. He makes good use of italics, brackets, breaking rules such as starting sentences with lower case letters, and short paragraphs to denote something creepy. Let’s use The Shining as an example.

Brackets

He would just walk right past that old fire extinguisher and go downstairs. He started towards it, moving closer to the wall until his right arm was brushing the expensive silk paper. Twenty steps away. Fifteen. A dozen.
When he was ten steps away, the brass nozzle suddenly rolled off the fat loop it had been lying
(sleeping?)
on and fell to the hall carpet with a dull thump.

Italics

‘Listen to me Danny. It wasn’t your daddy trying to hurt me. And I didn’t want to hurt him. The hotel has gotten into him, Danny. The Overlook has gotten into your daddy. Do you understand me?’

Short sentences / paragraphs

The lions were closer to the path. The two on his right had subtly changed positions, had drawn closer together. The tail of the one on the left now almost jutted over the path. When he had come past them and through the gate, that lion had been on the right and he was quite sure its tail had been curled around it.

They were no longer protecting the path; they were blocking it.

The whole shebang

(You promised.)
(Promises were made to be broken.)
He jumped at that. It was as if that thought had come from outside, insectile. Buzzing, softly cajoling.
(Promises were made to be broken my dear redrum, to be broken. splintered. shattered. hammered apart. FORE!)

***

The combination of stilted sentences and different styles seem to help heighten any tension, and it is a great way to play the reader’s emotions, especially with creepy tales. A good thing to remember when writing, methinks!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

On this day…

If you are a potential ghost hunter based in London, then you should get yourself down to Bruce Castle in Tottenham to hang around and wait for the ghost of Lady Coleraine.

A 16th century manor house is one of the last things you’d expect to find in Tottenham, along with possibly a new branch of Fresh and Wild. But Bruce Castle harks back to the days when Tottenham was a desirable parish on the edge of London. It was built by Sir William Compton, who held the rather dubious and intriguing sounding title of ‘squire of the bedchamber’ to Henry VIII, on lands that originally belonged to the Bruis, or Bruce family.

The Coleraine family acquired the house and several stories circulate about the first Lord Coleraine, and his lady wife. One, is that she jumped to her death from the balcony with their baby son after her husband turned against her. Two, is that the husband wanted to marry his mistress, so imprisoned his wife in the room below the clock tower until the ticking drove her mad, causing her to leap to her death. The third story is that the husband was obsessed with the fear that his young beautiful wife would run off with another man, and so kept her locked away under the clock tower, until she decided to kill herself by jumping… yes you get the idea.

Whatever the facts, it appears she certainly died by falling from the balcony on November 3rd 1680. And she is not going to let anyone forget it… every year, on the anniversary of her death, the sound of a scream can apparently be heard as she takes her fatal plunge.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Noises in the Night

Don’t you just love it when you can watch fireworks for free? My flat has large windows that overlook a playing field, and they have an organised fireworks show. So I have just sat back with a glass of wine in the warm and enjoyed some spectacular fireworks, all on the cheap. Marvellous!

This leads us to things that go boom, or rather bump, in the night. As a young child, I was scared stiff of the Smash Makes Mash robots. Seriously! I had a horrible nightmare when they were marching around my house with swords laughing their evil manic cackle, and that put me off them for life.

Equally chilling for me was the ghost from the credits in Scooby Doo. You know the one, it had green arms and a white mantle, and tried to drag Daphne into a dark alcove – re-watching this, and the figure is barely on screen yet was there long enough to give me nightmares.

I was convinced Jaws could somehow live at the bottom of my bed, and spent hours conjuring up elaborate anti-burglar plans – these consisted of hollow spaces under beds where I could flick a switch and everyone in my family would stay safely asleep but they would descend into the hollow space and a new mattress / bedding would go on top, like there was no one there. I also was scared of car headlights flashing through my curtains, and really hated clowns with a passion.

However this was nothing, nothing I tell you, compared to the day I watched my first horror film. I was perhaps 11, it was Oct 31st, and my older cousins decided it would be fun to make me watch A Nightmare on Elm Street. Hiding behind a pillow was apparently very babyish, so I watched it all, laughed politely with the cousins and came home.

I didn’t sleep again for about a month.

It was horrendous, I wasn’t allowed to sleep with my light on, so I would wait until I thought everyone in the house was asleep and try to sneak it on, only to be shouted at to ‘turn that bloody light off!’ But with it off I couldn’t watch the walls in case Freddy was peering over… it was a lose-lose situation, until I discovered the merits of radio. I had a small portable, and discovered if I put that on quietly and held it to my ear, the sound of presenters talking somewhere in the night made me feel so much better. For some reason knowing someone else was awake helped – I was mostly cured listening to LBC.

But a dream gave the final solution. In it, I was in the house by myself, and heard a noise in the garden. Going to the back door, I saw it was Freddy, who asked me if I’d mind if he stayed on the sofa for the night. I wagged my finger at him and said oh-ho! I’ll say yes, and then what happens eh? And he promised he would never get me, so I let him in and then realised the back door was broken. I worried out loud about burglars, and Freddy just waggled his glove at me and said don't worry, I can handle it, and we laughed together knowingly, and I went upstairs to get some much needed kip. It was great! I had the best night's sleep ever, all thanks to my new spikey-gloved friend. Hoorah!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Cursed Films

Films with a 'supposed' curse - whether you believe them or not, you cannot deny some spooky goings on...

The Omen

John Richardson was the special effects consultant on The Omen. Driving in Holland on Friday 13th he was in a car accident that killed his passenger. The manner of death, decapitation, was eerily similar to the one he had masterminded on The Omen. And the road sign pointing the way to the nearest Dutch town read: Ommen, 66.6 km.


Poltergeist

Each of the three Poltergeist films were marked by a death. A year after the release of the first film, lead actress Dominique Dunn was murdered. Actor Julian Beck died in 1985, as production on Poltergeist II began; and 12-year-old actress Heather O’Rourke died from septic shock less than a year after the release of Poltergeist III.

Rosemary’s Baby

The 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby is about a young Manhattan wife whose husband trades their unborn child with a group of devil worshippers. A year after its release, Roman Polanski’s wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Californian religious sect the Manson family. She was pregnant at the time.

The Crow

Like father, like son? Bruce Lee died in 1973 of ‘death by misadventure’, although plenty think differently. A film made the year he died has a scene where he is shot with a gun he thinks is unloaded. Fast forward 20 years and Bruce’s son, Brandon Lee, was killed on the set of The Crow, when a gun supposed to be loaded with blanks actually contained live bullets. Coincidence?


Rebel Without A Cause

James Dean filmed an advert asking car-owners to drive safely, “because the next life you save may be mine.” A few weeks later he died in a car crash, the same weekend as the film opened. Troy McHenry, a Beverly Hills doctor, bought the engine from Dean’s Porsche and had it installed in his own car, and was killed the first time he drove it. Years later co-star Natalie Wood drowned in unusual circumstances in November 1981.

Superman
Actor George Reeves played the superhero on television in the Fifties but died in the same decade of a single gunshot wound in mysterious circumstances. Christopher Reeve next played the superhero but was later paralysed after a riding accident and died in 2004. And the director of the first film? Richard Donner, fresh from filming The Omen.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

All Hallow’s Eve

The day sparks a promise, the night glistens blackly – happy Halloween, everyone!

Halloween or rather, Samhain, is my favourite time of year. I have always been interested in the Celtic calendar, and Samhain celebrates the end of the harvest season, and the entering of the ‘dark half’ – that time of year when you close the doors and tell stories around a blazing hearth (or turn up the thermostat and watch Top Gear – not quite the same, eh?). Traditionally, as well as marking the change of season, it was a festival for the dead, so you’d set an extra place at the table for Great Aunt Maude, and only hope she doesn’t take you up on it. I prefer to light a candle myself...

Flames, or bonfires, are very important at Samhain. Traditionally again, there would be a central fire lit in the middle of the village, and all the villagers would extinguish their hearth fire and re-light it using a brand from the central fire, thus uniting the village against the coming winter. Fortune telling at this time of year was very popular, with everything and anything considered a symbol of the coming months.

The Christians got their hands on this festival and transformed it to All Hallows’ Day on November 1st, and then All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Oct 31st became known as All Hallow’s Eve, finally morphing into the all-out commercialism of Halloween as we know it today. The moment Clinton Cards get their hands on a festival you know it is doomed, doomed I tell you!

In celebration of my favourite time of year, I am going to spend from now until Bonfire Night regaling you with spooky tales and facts. But for now, I leave you with this little gem from youtube, from The Nightmare Before Christmas…

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Time warp

How the dickens can it be Tuesday evening already? I don’t understand where the time has gone this week… oh, yes I do. I entered the time warp of my childhood bedroom…

My old bedroom at my mum’s looks as though I never left. In part this was contrived so as my mum would not get despondent that I had left home, but it was also because I never had enough space to house 16 million books, photo albums, art work, scraps of writing, art materials, diaries, cards and old magazines. Although I have since gone through and trimmed it down slightly, I still have an awful amount of tat that I am loathe to throw away (and a very understanding mother, it has to be said).

Today I needed to find a few things that were rather important, so set off to my mum’s telling myself sternly that it would be a fleeting, duck in, dive out visit, and I wouldn’t start reading anything at all. Or poking at anything. I would just find what I wanted and be gone, back to chapter ten.

Of course, once I was encased in the old room with a mug of frothy coffee and a cat by my side, time ceased to have any meaning. I pounced on old books like they were dear long-lost friends, re-discovered shoeboxes full of correspondence, essays, school books… I again pondered on the now defunct magazine Blah Blah Blah (looked terrific, was a pain in the butt to read), laughed at knitting patterns from the 1960s and got way too carried away reading my old copies of Smash Hits, back from the days when Neil Tennant was just a bloke that used to write for them, rather than a pop star in the Pet Shop Boys. I found what I wanted in the end, but it took me several hours to unearth it, considering I stopped every few seconds (and had to disengage the cat from my lap every so often).

Finally, I pulled back from my past into my present, as the future won’t write itself. Still, I am so set up for the day I set my next novel in the 80’s or 90’s. Hmm, did I say ‘my next novel’? Blimey, that’s optimistic!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

John Everett Millais

Today I went to the Tate Britain gallery (that I still call the Tate, even though there have been two in London for quite a while), to see an exhibition on that most popular of Victorian painters, John Everett Millais.

Needless to say it was packed, well, what else is there to do on a rainy Sunday in London? The cast of usual suspects were all present and correct – the gaggle of foreign students, the earnest retired man, the asymmetric hairstyles of the self-consciously arty, and the middle aged artist types with interesting jumpers. Myself and friend Z fell into the normal person category, a rare and canny breed within these hallowed walls.

The Pre-Raphaelites and their associates is my favourite artistic period, and judging from the many people shuffling around the walls, a fair few others think so as well. I guess it is romantic, with subjects taken from mythology and poetry, themes such as unrequited love, and above all lovely dresses. Millais was one of the founders of the PRB, with Holman Hunt and Rossetti, and was considered very anti-establishment, although in later years he became the establishment, finally resulting in presidency of the Royal Academy of Arts. Needless to say, my favourite period of his career is to be found within the PRB, and my favourite piece is Mariana, pictured here.

He was a wonderful artist - he was the youngest person to be accepted to the Royal Academy of Arts at age 11, and to this day still holds that title. Sadly I haven't got an image of the chalk drawing he did aged 11, the one that assured his acceptance into the Academy, but you cannot imagine a child being able to produce that piece of work. He was a genius, fair to say, although his later work did not appeal to me so much... although this could have been because I was thinking fond thoughts of lunch.

Sadly the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood didn't last, although their influences remained through artists such as Burne-Jones and Waterhouse taking up the disgarded gauntlet. This poem by Rossetti's sister Christina says it all...


The P.R.B is in its decadence: –
For Woolner in Australia cooks his chops;
And Hunt is yearning for the land of Cheops;
D.G. Rossetti shuns the vulgar optic;
While William M. Rossetti merely lops
His B.s in English disesteemed as Coptic
Calm Stephens in the twilight smokes his pipe
But long the dawning of his public day;
And he at last, the champion, great Millais
Attaining academic opulence
Winds up his signature with A.R.A.: –
So rivers merge in the perpetual sea,
So luscious fruit must fall when over ripe,
And so the consummated P.R.B.


Saturday, 27 October 2007

A twist in the tale

I sent my chapter nine off to my project manager friend at 10pm Friday night, happy I cracked it. And then, since I wasn’t tired, I decided to read back what I had written, taking advantage of the fact J is on a night shift, and that because I was out Thursday night (at a karaoke rock club, but I promise I didn't sing) I don't feel that inclined to do anything else but write.

And then something happened.

It's hard to describe, but I'll take a stab - it's like a light goes off in my mind and suddenly I am again writing away, seeing the story as a film and just trying to type as fast as I can to keep up with the moving image. A scene has basically sketched itself in my mind, and it is a corker (if I say so myself). The only problem is that it has slightly skewed the rest of the chapter, so I have to go over it and adjust the settings again (as it were). But it is worth doing as it is so fab, I love it to pieces, and it makes so much sense to the story that it fits into my chapter plan without a murmur.

This means chapter 9, which was shaping up to be rather long, now needs to be split into two chapters. I had sort of garnered this anyway, so hadn’t wrote the second bit, as in my head that was already chapter ten, and therefore to be started from Monday. This means I have two extra chapters on my hands, but since October and November are long months, it still all looks set to be finished for January.

I love writing, I love it when an idea clicks and it turns out not only plausible, but it is, well, it’s like it is the truth, and as soon as you write it down you are like yes, that is the only way that story could have gone.

The downside is I think I will be up all night, unless J comes home early. I think I’ll go make a cup of tea… *flexes typing fingers*

Friday, 26 October 2007

Chapter Nine

I have been deep in chapter nine for the last two days, which has been fab as I have felt really motivated with this one. It’s a long old chapter as well, so I might have to edit it down afterwards, but am determined to just write it, and worry about that afterwards.

This chapter is set in October 1962, so I am listening to music like Telstar (The Tornados), Loco-Motion (Little Eva) and Sherry (The Four Seasons), and writing about people that look like Marlon Brando out of the film The Wild One (which I know was in 53, but the rockers of the early 60's still based their look on his character from that film, and anyway, he looked gorgeous!). Oh it’s fun, interspersed with a ton of research. Just today, I have ceased writing and looked for (among others), a TV show called ‘The Rag Trade’, 1962 films, 1962 hairstyles, 1962 jukebox, clothing factories in the sixties, east end clothing factory, English surnames, fashion 1962, girl’s name Dolly, school leaving age 1960, working as a seamstress, and Lyons corner houses. My google history is pretty random.

I have cleared the majority of this weekend to work on this some more, and hopefully all will be done in time to start chapter ten on Monday. By the looks of the chapter plan, chapters ten and eleven can possibly blend together, depending how I write it, as they discuss something similar. Ooo how exciting… and since I have had this practically on repeat all day, I share with you the glory of Telstar…Nice knitwear, lads.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Ways We Might Have Gone

I could tell you about the fact that I spent far too long on my ‘age plan’ today (think am obsessed), my long msn chat with good friend P in France, the hunt for good friend A’s birthday present, an incredibly long wait to see a doctor (nothing serious) and the way I clicked open chapter 9 and just looked at it for a while, before slinking away. But all that sounds a bit dull, so I am going to share with you my favourite poem instead, (not written by me, I hasten to add).

I have three favourite poems in fact, but this, well, this may have just leap-frogged Tennyson, and that is saying something. It won The Literary Review’s prize for poetry in 2003, and is by a retired teacher, Frank McDonald. I love the simplicity of it, and the sweet rhythms the words make. I love the point it is making, the gravity of the end line, it’s the sort of poem that makes you think and, well, read for yourself…

Ways We Might Have Gone
Two roads are on offer, and what will it matter
If this one or that one is chosen today?
Who has a globe to look into the future?
What will it mean if we choose the wrong way?
Who knows the reason for making decisions
That decades from now may condemn us to hell?
Lights that entice - are they simple illusions?
Will happiness follow? Or pain? Who can tell?
A lifetime is over - we look back in wonder
At roads we neglected to journey along;
But who is to say that we could have fared better,
That we opted to go where we did not belong?
A tradesman, a teacher, a Cromwell, a Caesar,
The highways they followed all finish in dust;
Now fate in its mercy has made us an offer
That needs no decision- for take it we must.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Halfway house

I may have got chapter 8 done and dusted yesterday, as ended up writing until past midnight on a bit of a roll. It’s a short chapter though, as it really sets the scene for chapter 9, which is a bit more long and involved. This week I really should be on chapter 9 already according to the grand plan, so hopefully I am now back on schedule.

Overall I’ve wrote 32,000 words (exactly, which I was rather excited about last night, but then again it was pretty late), and am on page 71, so its beginning to look like a proper novel now. The white board behind me has post it notes stuck to the top reminding me of things I should pop back and add to earlier chapters, and I am surrounded in general by old newspapers, Picture Posts, books from the 40’s and 50’s, my Top Twenty book with charts from 1955 onwards (I love this book, it is so helpful) and of course, my notebooks and other papers with the Chapter Plan and other helpful bits on them.

Here is a snapshot of my whiteboard,
as you can see chapter 7 turned into a bit of a bugger.


One thing I love creating with any story is an ‘age’ plan – it is like a giant table with all the characters, even the peripheral ones, and how old they are ‘in relation to each other’ in any given year. I have always done this plan with everything I have ever wrote, I love doing it for some reason. I love to know exactly how old the characters are at any given moment in time. This plan also has birthdays on, and usually I go so far to put months, eg Florence is 23 and 4 months whilst Arthur is 25 and 6 months, for example. It helps me so much to keep track of everyone, and I guess helps me build a complete picture of the character. I also add in the book’s important events to the age plan, just so I can see at a glance how old everyone is at that particular time.

So, all in all, I guess I am halfway. I would say it is harder than I thought to be continually motivated to write, even though I use plenty of tricks such as my project manager pal keeping me inline, other friends reading it as it goes – but this is more to do with uncertainty about what happens after, I suppose. I am guessing it is probably easier once you are commissioned, as then its part of a process, which sounds horribly factory like, but that is fine with me as long as it’s a creative process, and the creativity part isn’t compromised. It would probably also help if I wasn’t so stressed with something, completely unrelated, but this whole year has been a bit of an anxious time for me, in many ways… anyway, enough of that, back to book. I also worry a bit about exercise, and getting headaches from staring at the computer – my problem sometimes can be finding a balance. But don’t get me wrong, I love this, and I cannot think of anywhere else I would rather be, or anything else I would rather be doing. Hooray!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Favourite words

People always laugh at me when I say that one of my favourite words in the whole wide world is rhododendron. Go on, say it out-loud now (no one’s looking) ‘rhod-dod-den-dron’. Isn’t it just lovely to say? It might in fact be my very favourite word, with ‘shimmy’ a close second, were it not for the racing drivers of Formula One.

Okay, they might be ‘names’ rather than ‘words’ as such, but in my book they still count as marvellous words to say out-loud. Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Räikkönen. These names are gorgeous, they simply roll off the tongue, and they are glorious to say aloud! Never mind who drives what and who has just won what, I love them to bits (the names, that is), and welcome any opportunity to repeat them, at length, sometimes even in context.

The Grand Prix yesterday gave me many happy Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Räikkönen opportunities, as well as reaffirming my belief that Formula One racing drivers destiny is set the moment they are christened. I mean they all sound like racing drivers for a start; you just wouldn’t get a Jenson Button working in a call centre, or a Rubens Barrichello at the desk next to you balancing paper clips.

Formula One, and its lullaby of names, is for me the equivalent of Radio Four’s shipping forecast, or the old Saturday afternoon football results, all famous for their hypnotic qualities.

The shipping forecast is much loved by many that don’t have ships for example. The waters around Britain are split into different areas, and all have a strange poetic appeal – Viking, Hebrides, Fair Isle, FitzRoy, Biscay… It becomes almost hypnotic as you listen to broadcasts such as:

Viking, Fair Isle, southeast veering southwest 4 or 5. Rockall, Shannon, southwest gale 8 to storm 10, veering west, severe gale 9 to violent storm 11. Rain, then squally showers.

Especially when you don’t know what any of it means, but what you do know is that you are safe tucked up in bed and not out there in ‘Shannon’ battling a squally shower.

As for Grandstand’s Saturday afternoon football results, Final Score I think it was. This may be a thing of the past now, but I remember well my dad and brother watching to see if Spurs had won, while I was counting down the minutes to The A Team. But I was soon lulled in by the warmth of announcer Len Martin’s voice, as you could try and guess from his tone who had won. The results would be read like this, with little pauses for the other team’s score, and occasional rising tones suggesting a mild surprise that Nottingham Forest got 3 goals, for example.

Tottenham Hotspur 3, Middlesbrough… 1
West Bromwich Albion 2, Nottingham Forest… 3
Aston Villa 1, Crystal Palace… 1

And onwards he would read, giving all the Divisions results and placements so those at home that did the Football Pools would know if they were millionaires (or whatever it was in the early 80’s). Apparently Len Martin said that his worst result to read out was: Forfar 5, East Fife 4. I love that.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Jack the Ripper

While the whole world and his bored wife was watching the rugby (ouch for England), I was instead one of a pack of people attending a Jack the Ripper walk through the City of London.

It appears that the City of London is home to several scurrying packs of walkers come the weekend. I spied at least four separate walks criss-crossing between Tower Hill and Liverpool Street, and those were just the ones we bumped into, who knows how many others were infecting the city? It is all rather odd…

The tour was organised by London Walks, and is on the premise that you don’t book, you just turn up exactly at the right time at the meeting point. Of course, you wonder what happens if no one shows, but this is obviously not a problem for this successful company, as we rounded the corner at 7pm sharp and there were bleeding hundreds of people milling around waiting to walk in a serial killer’s shoes. Okay, there were about sixty, but that is still a goodly number of people just showing up on the off chance. It was so many that the tour guide summoned another tour guide up, as if by magic, and we were split in two, and off into the misty night…

Or rather, off into the well-lit and non-misty night, heralded by the happy cheers of South Africans watching the rugby accompanied by a few jugs of lager. The main problem is that the area has changed so much in almost 120 years that it is pretty unrecognisable as the area the infamous Jack the Ripper once stalked. It was hard to paint the impression of smog choked alleyways on top of sanitised and shiny office blocks. Still, our tour guide gave it a good go, and the moment he described the first murder, the audience fell silent, perhaps as everyone remembered this wasn’t actually an attraction, but once a real story.

It made me feel a bit strange to be honest, as these poor women were killed, yet here were we all, using their grisly murders as a Saturday night diversion between pub one and pub two. Does more than a hundred years difference make it less meaningful? It shouldn’t at all, but the distance of time and the fact the area is so changed does make things feel less real. However, there are places along the walk where old London still breathes, and when you happen upon these old buildings and shop fronts you do stop and wonder at it all.

'Jack' would have seen this building

Lots of theories were advanced and retreated as to who the real ripper was during the walk. I have no idea (like I would! Obviously one walk in and I’m an expert!), but to imagine what that part of London was like, dark as pitch apart from flickers of gaslight, looming buildings, riddled with tiny alleys, most people blotting out their existence on gin… to walk the streets must have been truly terrifying, let alone have the spectre of a killer hanging over the city.



The Gerkin, view from the walk


Oh, and I cannot sleep (funny that, eh?), so I decided to write some more of chapter 8, in case you are wondering. Might as well strike while the fire’s hot, eh?

Friday, 19 October 2007

Friday nights

The one thing I have noticed about being at home writing away is that my liver is a lot healthier. There once was a time when Friday nights meant the whole office would be checking the time wondering if 4pm was too early to crack open the beer, and as soon as it was home time you would be out, and in the nearest boozer. How times have changed…

See, Friday nights were traditionally the night you go for a drink with work colleagues, and then you would end up blearily calling your normal pals at around 10pm, roughly at that point when you realise that all your work colleagues are idiots and talk about work, of all things. Slurry conversations would take place shouted over the backdrop of loud pubs, as everyone tries to work out where to meet, since all of us worked from all over London. We'd finally get together around pub closing time in various degrees of sobriety, and roll into the nearest club we could find to dance like looneys.

But to tell the truth, times changed a good two years ago. We all gave up smoking, which was really the watershed for saying goodbye to bad behaviour and growing up at long last. And I don’t miss it a jot, as long as I don’t completely forget what the world is like out there while I am in here, tapping away on the keyboard. But I leave Friday nights now to the rest of you, safe in the knowledge that it is in good, slightly shaky hands.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Saved by the bell

You might not know it, but you were saved today. Earlier I had written a rather depressing blog entry in Word, all ready to whack up on this site when I had a chance. Well now is the first chance I have had and I have just re-read it and whacked it firmly back into the dark where it belongs.

This obviously leaves me without a subject, so I will instead share my shock that apparently literary agency PFD is on the brink of collapse. Perhaps it would be better to explain… five years ago I thought I had THE novel idea (not this one, did I tell you I have a few up my sleeve?) and embarked on a feverish 20,000 word outpouring of mainly gloop to be honest. The main problem was that the story had a nice beginning and middle, but no ending – but hey, that didn’t stop me! I also hope I have improved my writing style since then, but on the whole (she says, striving for objectivity) it had some funny moments and still holds my attention, if only I knew where it was supposed to be going. Oh, and it fell into the genre of 'chick lit', books of which were flooding the shelves at that point in time.

I sent it to literary agent Simon Trewin from PFD and I actually got a reply, which said ‘this was very well done indeed, and I would certainly have been very interested in this a couple of years back but the market for this genre is rapidly contracting alas’. How’s that for a nice encouraging rejection? I also got a personal reply from publishers Hodder and Stoughton which was spot on - ‘the synopsis seems bright but it doesn’t have such a good ending…’ Too right, it had no ending to be fair.

Going back to PFD, I also did an illustrated children’s book a while back, and sent it to children’s list agent Alison Kain. Her response was even better, ‘I discussed your book with my colleague and I’m afraid we were not quite convinced by the text although we like the idea. You seem to be bursting with story ideas so maybe you’d like to send a couple of texts to us – up to you!’

Now that is a lovely perfect rejection, that is. Sadly I was giddy with delight and rushed a few ideas towards her, when I should have taken more time to be honest, which she again rejected in a very charming and encouraging manner. I decided I rather liked PFD if all its agents were so nice to unpublished authors.

But now – gulp. See, the plan was always to get back in touch with Simon and PFD when this novel is roadworthy, give them first chance to either love me or hate me. But now, according to this feature in The Independent, he appears to have left, and the future in general seems a bit rocky for PFD, although I am sure they'll pull through. There is also talk of a new agency being formed by some of those that left PFD, United Agents, although this is just what other articles say, nothing having been announced, or so I can find. I'd still like to stay loyal to my original idea though, I guess I shall just wait and see what way the wind is blowing by the time I get to agent stage... if I ever will, says the voice from the dark.

Oh bother it... Tomorrow I will write something on the novel, even if not feeling right. I can just copy the amazingly talented sadly missed Douglas Adams and write 'I am a fish' over and over again if I am stuck.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Ugly mug

I opened the local paper yesterday to see an even larger picture of myself beside my little article. This is getting ridiculous; they seem to get larger each time I get an article printed. What will be next, a whole side of newspaper given over to my grinning face? Oh the embarrassment, I should think my whole borough knows what I look like now, there must be thousands of people (presuming they read the local paper) going ‘oh God, it’s that bloody girl again’. It’s not even like it is some proper author type picture, it is me in my best frock at my friend’s wedding, except the paper keep printing a close up of my face. Agh!

When they originally said they wanted a pic for a byline, I thought they would print it in a small square beside the article, not a massive overshadowing giant whopper. I know they think they are doing me a favour, and I am pleased they are printing the articles, and yes, I am chuffed that they want to print my pic really, but it’s the size that is scaring me! I tried to shield myself from it with my hand yesterday when re-reading the article (and yes, I do re-read once in print, still gives me a thrill to get anything printed!) and the darn thing wouldn’t be covered, it was that big.

And it is surprising who reads it… one of my friend’s got a text from an old school pal I haven’t seen in years excitedly saying she had seen me in the paper. Friends mums have been visiting their daughters with the paper in tow, my mum’s circle of friends were rather excited when I turned up at their local Tai Chi class (next article, that is), and more than anything, it is a fun column to write! So I am enjoying it tons, just got to ask them if they’d mind shrinking the pic before it rampages unchecked across a double page.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Am back!

You lucky, lucky people that live in Wales! I have just been there on a long weekend, and it is beautiful – rolling hills, autumn spilling into every corner, gorgeous stone houses and tiny villages. We stayed near Knighton, in a cottage that was advertised as ‘mid-Wales’, although it was within vowel-spitting distance from Shropshire, but that was fine as John sees all distances as relative when he is behind a car wheel. So we explored many a place that made our cottage owner exclaim ‘you went where?’ in disbelief as we recounted how far we had got that day.

Our cottage had a gas stove heater that was thoughtfully (or so I presumed) left on for when we arrived. Yay heating! So I was basking happily until I noticed John was turning lobster pink, so I decided that yes, I could put on a jumper and we could turn the lovely heater thing off, as it was getting a bit too toasty even for me. But the next day we noticed that there was a huge smell of petrol, so we nipped over to the farm (yes, the cottage was on a farm) to tell the owner-man, and he told us that the heater has to stay on, but he will fix it tomorrow.

No need to worry, says he, little knowing I am the type that is already wondering if we will die in our sleep from fumes. Cue first sleepless night. The day after that, owner-man switched the heater back on and said to leave the side window open overnight, to get rid of any remaining petrol smell. Cue second sleepless night with me alternating between thoughts of cottage burning down or mad axe man creeping in the side window. Ho hum...

The first day we went to Lake Vyrnwy to have a wander around, and this was one of the locations used to film The Dam Busters (yes, another wartime connection!), and oh my God, it is a breath-taking view.




We decided to walk around the lake (little knowing at this point this would be a 12 mile hike) and a good way in, we were joined by a dog. We couldn’t see his owners anywhere, but he seemed the sort of dog that knew where he was going and perhaps he often took up with people walking around the road by the lake. Except he had an annoying habit…

He liked to stop cars by standing in front of them, and then trying to bite their tyres off.

The first time he did this, we got a frown from the car owner. ‘It’s not our dog!’ we tried to signal to the dwindling tail lights. The twentieth time this happened, it was like we were in some horrible dog comedy farce. We tried to walk away from the dog, we didn’t even look at him for about a mile in case we were inadvertently encouraging him, we then tried to get him to sit every time a car came along... But still the dog would play its own game of chicken and we would get glared at by car owners for looking like exceedingly irresponsible dog owners, not to say that every time I heard a car I was scared stiff the dog would get run over. It wasn't like there was anywhere else to walk apart from the road, there were no pavements, trees either side, bends, no houses to knock and say hello, is this liability yours? Eventually we tried to make a lead out of my camera strap for our Littlest Hobo, but he saw that noose coming and ran off, hopefully safely back to wherever he came from.

The next day… ever get one of those days where nothing is as it seems? We drove into Snowdonia on the promise of a leaflet that proclaimed its village had the greatest slate mine. Hmm… we got there eventually and was met by something that looked like a fairground ghost train ride, with Health and Safety notices crayoned by the local primary school and a shell-suited teenager picking his nose like he was digging for treasure behind the ticket counter. We stayed precisely 5 seconds, and then were off, on increasingly funnier adventures.

We stopped at an advertised mill that wasn’t really a mill, just a shop for pensioners to buy each other woollen jumpers. We walked down a muddy path to see ‘King Arthur’s Stone’, a sight that was so hilarious I wish I had taken a picture of it (imagine a small lump of rock down the bottom of your Nan’s garden with a plaque on it saying laid in 1994). We stopped in an area that said there was a castle there to find no castle, not a one, and then we drove to find a waterfall and realised it must have been that trickle we saw off the main road ten miles back. Eventually we decided that we’d done our best but the day was not having it, so we drove back through gorgeous scenery and had the world’s loveliest dinner instead.

However, all was not entirely lost as we had spotted a castle (a real one, which was where it was supposed to be) and spent our last day exploring it.


Powis Castle is set in beautiful grounds, all of which were whispering autumn, with magnificent trees and plants, clipped yews and huge holly-hocks. We spent a happy day wandering around, ate lunch in the castle, and then tiptoed around its stately rooms. The main state bedroom was covered wall to wall in musty dusty tapestries, with rich velvet brocade curtains blocking out the light. How did people breathe in those sort of places? It felt grand, but claustrophobic, and of course, all I could think about was tripping with a candle and whom!

All too soon it was time to come back, for me to start feverishly tap-tap-tapping the keyboard with the realisation I really should be on chapter 8 by now, and I’m not quite there. But we did have a lovely time, and I have a feeling it won’t be too long before we go back to Wales, as we kept spotting some lovely houses with For Sale signs... and I know that 'araf' means 'slow' so surely its not too long before I get a handle on the language?

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Part two: A 1940s weekend on the Holme front

Feeling a bit disgruntled that so far our 1940s weekend had less ‘1940s’ and more ‘weekend’ about it, we were thrilled to discover that a nearby village was also doing a 1940s weekend. It sounded great, but then again, that is what I thought about Rougham… However, this was the real 1940s deal.

The village of Holme (near Peterborough) gave itself a thorough 1940s make over, that included re-enactors strolling through the streets, vintage and military vehicles driving through, the Home Guard occasionally marching past and stalls selling pure 1940s nostalgia. Nearly everyone we looked at was in 1940s costume, whether soldier or civilian, and were clearly enjoying themselves greatly.

I engaged the owner of one stall in conversation about what brand headache pills 1940s people would use, and his style of conversation threw me a little, until I realised he was staying true to character and pretending he was back in the past. I only realised this when he said he hadn’t had a banana for ever so long, I was about to helpfully point out the direction of Tesco’s before it dawned on me. Ah, I said. Righty-ho.

I also sidled into a conversation about lawnmowers with a man who had a display of 1940s lawn-cutters whirling and cranking in his garden. One in particular looked lethal if it was started, sort of like a spinning circular disc on the base that apparently used to ‘whiz off’’ occasionally, to the detriment of limbs. I can see why that one didn’t become too popular… Of course, the reason for the sidling was to find out whether normal folk (i.e non rich) would have motorised lawnmowers, as I needed something to cover a conversation in a garden. However, it turns out they wouldn't, so I am sticking to my gramophone, which is even better now, as I can use a song to help create the mood. The only mood conjured by those lawnmowers would have been something like fearful anxiety for my wellbeing.

I took some photographs on the slow non-digital camera, so it will be a while yet before they appear, but needless to say, it was a great place to go to see some living history and get a feel for the era. I also loved the fact that when some of the re-enactors talked to me, I could talk knowledgeably back at them, oh yes, I am beginning to think I know my 1940s stuff.

Shame this week (chapter 7 no less) has skipped on to 1956… Fifties anyone?