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?

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Part One: A 1940s weekend with helicopter

Well, I am so clued up about 1940s stuff now that I may as well draw seams down my legs and be done with it. As you know, when I left you with that tantalising teaser on Thursday, I was heading over to Rougham Air Field for the Ploughs and Propellers 1940s weekend. Except it wasn’t, quite, as advertised…

The first clue should have been there was precious little information available about what was going to actually happen at what time, things that are surely useful to know. So we plumped for midday, and turned up to a varied mishmash of stalls and styles, with barely a nod to the era they were supposed to be representing. There was a tea tent with a lady singer trying bravely to sing songs from the 40s over the rap music blazing from the modern fairground. There were stalls selling the usual air field dooberries – incredibly large overalls, spitfire mugs, plane books, an assortment of what looked like plane parts (or lawnmower insides) dumped on a tarpaulin for people to pick over. An orchestra started up opposite two stationary Merlin engines, just when the Merlin engines were scheduled to start twirling and I guess you can guess the result (Merlin Engines 1, Orchestra 0). But no actual air show or proper 40s anything at all, so we were about to leave…

Then we saw a helicopter.

There were two lonely looking people manning a lonely looking table way over the side of the field, so we thought we would stroll over, and see how much a flight cost. Most of the times these are quite expensive, so we decided no more than £20 each. Well, bored people said it was £50 for two, so I asked if, since there was not much happening, whether they’d accept £20 each and they said yes. Woo-hoo! So there I was, waiting to go up in a helicopter, except…

...except is now the time I mention I’m not that keen on heights?

No, now is not the time, I thought, as we bound across to the helicopter a bit like the President of the United States but not quite. No, now is not the time at all, I thought, as I sat in the back and found my seat belt and the door was slammed. Oh goodie, I thought. A helicopter. I fumbled for my camera with trembling hands, cursing myself for being so weak. Yay helicopters… (said weakly).

The pilot was a grumpy old sausage who walked over in full complaint mode about some car parking mistake, and he didn’t even bother to acknowledge he had guests, just started the propellers and suddenly, up we went.

Oh wow – what can I tell you? Me and my pal later decided that planes are all about the ‘along’ but a helicopter is all about the ‘up’. We were up in seconds, and for at least 30 of them I was trying to stop being such a wuss with red teary eyes and everything! Oh dear… can I blame an adrenalin rush? Still, after a bit I allowed myself to relax (i.e not sit bolt upright squeezing my hands so tight together my knuckles had gone white) and just enjoy it, and I did! It was fab! It lasted all of five minutes, but we were buzzing all weekend from it, and I would definitely do it again. Maybe next time I would use waterproof mascara just in case though.

Will post part two of the 1940s weekend tomorrow!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Thursday thoughts

The writing has been cracking on at pace this week, 6,000 words so far, chapter five is done, and six is almost in the bag, which makes up for my tardiness last week. I think the Dig for Victory visit helped, so this weekend I am going to Ploughs and Propellers, which is a 1940s weekend at Rougham air field. Yup, more planes… but all for the greater good this time – research, see? And surely a whole weekend of *coughs* research will mean chapter 7 next week will motor ahead like Jeremy Clarkson with anything that has an engine.

I got good feedback from the first person I sent the book to, which gave me a boost. This is a lass is a cracking writer, although not yet published. It is really hairy sending your baby, as it is, out there to be criticised. Everyone I have sent it to has promised to be honest, and I trust them enough to be true to that. I haven’t given it to family or close friends just in case they’d find it hard to be harsh with me, especially if I am under their nose with a hopeful smile on my face.

I’m not sure when to send it out to agents and publishers… I know you can send books out there into the world with 3 chapters and a synopsis, but part of me wants to delay that process. What if I send it out and it is promptly returned by all and sundry as rubbish? I doubt I’d continue with it… and although some people might think that is better to know now before I waste any more time or money, part of me thinks I should finish it just for my sake, even if nothing more happens to it, I can rest easy thinking at least it is done.

I guess what I will do, is wait for the wizard editing, and then do a re-write myself of the first three, and then possibly send it out maybe November, as I will be 10 chapters down then, and nothing surely would make me want to stop? And maybe, just maybe someone will like it? Eek..

On another note, I watched the One Life documentary last night with the Another Brick In The Wall kids. How funny that one of the kids that sang on that record ended up being a bricklayer. There is something rather amusing in that… However, the documentary mainly ended up as a tribute to the music teacher who got the kids the gig, so to speak. What an inspiring man! He taught from his heart, sharing his passion for music in all shapes and forms. So it was a brilliant teacher that was the star, and the kids that ended up the bricklayers (well, one of them)… That made me chuckle as well.

Autumn joke
Q. What do you call a man with leaves on his head?
A. Russell.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Come and Praise books

If you went to primary school in the UK, there is a good chance you will remember being handed a blue Come and Praise book on your way to assembly. If you went to my primary school, there was an even higher chance of being handed both the book and its cover, the latter having fallen off as the books were so old and shoddy.

The cover had a picture of children singing joyfully (or shouting angrily, hard to tell) and inside were mainly hymns, although there were apparently some songs within ‘for everyone’. And on page four, this might have been one of them…

Autumn DaysAutumn days, when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell.
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled
All the things I love so well.
So I mustn’t forget…
No I mustn’t forget…
To say a great big thank you I mustn’t forget.

I ended up with a vague notion that jet planes only refuelled in the autumn months and there is another part of the song that continues:

Shoes so comfy though they’re worn out and they’re battered
And the taste of apple pie

Which we sung (joyfully) as ‘and they taste of apple pie,’ something that amused us greatly.

Did primary schools employ teachers who could play the piano or guitar, or was it just a bonus skill that was shared over coffee at break time, I wonder? Were they wannabe musicians, suddenly discovering they had a captive audience for their strumming? Or were they hastily shoved a tambourine on their way to assembly and told they must shake it in time with ‘Jubilate’?

We had both sorts in my school, an over-keen guitar player who used to bring his acoustic in and sing ‘Streets of London’ whilst tapping his sandals, and a reluctant deputy head who used to bang the tambourine crossly in a corner. The whole of the morning assembly would giggle in embarrassment if ‘When I Needed A Neighbour’ was chosen as the lyrics went ‘I was cold I was naked – were you there, were you there?’ which of course we thought was very naughty indeed.

But I liked singing in assembly, we sang songs from The Beatles (When I'm Sixty Four) and Simon and Garfunkel (Feelin' Groovy) - much of these thanks to our sandal-tapping teacher. Other songs I liked were One More Step and Kookaburra, where one half of the hall would start and then the next half start when the original lot were on the second line.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh, Kookaburra!
Gay your life must be

(sound of music teacher counting ‘one, two, three, four!’)

I wonder if they still sing songs like those in assembly?

Slight update - I just noticed a lot of people are coming here looking for the lyrics to the Autumn days song - so here they are in full:

Autumn DaysAutumn days, when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell.
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled
All the things I love so well.
So I mustn’t forget…
No I mustn’t forget…
To say a great big thank you I mustn’t forget.

Clouds that look like familiar faces
And winter's moon with frosted rings
Smell of bacon as I fasten up my laces
And the song the milkman sings.
So I mustn't forget...
No, I mustn't forget...
To say a great big thank you
No, I mustn't forget.

Whipped-up spray that is rainbow-scattered
And a swallow curving in the sky
Shoes so comfy though they're worn out and they're battered
And the taste of apple pie.
So I mustn't forget...
No, I mustn't forget...
To say a great big thank you
No, I mustn't forget.

Scent of gardens when the rain's been falling
And a minnow darting down a stream
Picked-up engine that's been stuttering and stalling
And a win for my home team.
So I mustn't forget...
No, I mustn't forget...
To say a great big thank you
No, I mustn't forget.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Public Information Films

Do these still get shown in schools I wonder? They were short scary little films designed to scare junior school children rigid just after registration. According to Public Information Films, everything is dangerous! Beware your coffee!

Even though seeing a teacher roll the wheeled cabinet hiding a heavy television into the classroom was rather exciting when I was at junior school, all laughter would soon stop as you watched children being electrified on pylons, drowned in murky ponds, hit by cars or being blinded by fireworks. We’d end up starting the first lesson in shocked silence… and some of these films were so Hammer Horror-esque, that you’d have nightmares about them. Certainly The Lonely Water was rather terrifying…

Just as bad were the ones with celebrities of the day. In one clip, called Teach Your Children to Swim or They’ll Drown! (or some such cheery title), we are treated to a nearly naked Rolf Harris in a swimming pool waving his bare foot at the viewer. At least Sir Jimmy Saville’s ‘Clunk Click’ campaign was fully clothed…

This website here has the collection of Public Information films online, available for your viewing pleasure, or should you wish to torture yourself all over again in your spare time. However, it doesn’t have some of the ones I remember, but this is because British Transport Films put out some gory little messages of their own – The Finishing Line was apparently pretty notorious. I have just watched it now and yes, it does pack a punch – sort of a Grange Hill goes to Hi-De-Hi and meets Stephen King. And Apaches is awful! Don't go to the farm, children! In fact, don't go anywhere... and beware rugs.

And to think I wasn’t allowed to watch Sapphire and Steel when I was younger! Little did my parents know I was being treated to a little slice of horror at school. Still, I never did go near pylons, lonely ponds or play on train tracks, and to this day I’m not even that keen on holding a sparkler. So they certainly worked for me...