Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Forever Fabulous

Aunt Shirley
1938 - Christmas Day 2010


Sadly my glamorous aunt, whose early photograph graces the header of this blog, lost her battle with cancer on Christmas day. I’d known she was very ill for some time, and it was so hard to pick out a card to send to her, something that would sum up how very much she meant to me and yet something in those last weeks that would be purposefully light and would make her smile. After a good search I found a beautiful card of a stylish Art Deco lady, which just said two words - ‘Forever Fabulous’. Perfect, I thought, and I am so glad to say she thought so too.

XxX

If this is the last card you’ll see
Will you see it and think of me?
I hope so much that it makes you smile
And you can forget the pain for a little while
I wanted to let you know I care
That if you need me I’d always be there,
And that thoughts of you will sparkle bright
In my heart, throughout my life
I won’t be sad - I’ll think with fond laughter
About you forever fabulous in the ever after

Jayne, December 2010.
I didn't put this verse in the card, as that was deliberately kept light-hearted, but it was in my heart.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

What Writers Want for Christmas

Families and friends of wannabe writers! This post is for you. This is what the aspiring author in your circle would love for Christmas and the New Year.

  1. Start random conversations and drop in ‘when you’re an author’ as many times as you possibly can. Some examples: ‘Do you have to get that early train to work? Never mind, when you’re an author you can work from home.’ Or: ‘Won’t it be lovely this time next year when you’re an author?’ And even: ‘Let’s go into this book shop and see where your books will be placed on the shelves when you’re an author.’

  2. A fancy, gorgeous, beautiful notebook. And then a plain, bog-standard, scruffy notebook that they will actually use.

  3. An hour of quiet every single day for them to write with no interruptions.

  4. A ream of plain white A4 printer paper. And another. And another.

  5. Ink cartridges for their printer. Back up ink cartridges for when the printer runs out halfway through something bloody important.

  6. The promise that you will gently steer them away from whatever procrastinating activity they have desperately embarked on (colour co-ordinating sock drawer, preoccupation with ironing napkins) back to their computer / writing desk.

  7. No complaints, yawns, tapping of watches, or general Look of Gloom when they disappear into a book shop for hours. Instead greet them afterwards with the same enthusiastic welcome as a triumphant marathon runner.

  8. If they care to share with you a plot point, do not let your gaze slide past them to Top Gear. Listen to them; support them; and make them a cup of tea.

  9. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’; The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2011; a subscription to a writing magazine; and bookshop vouchers.

  10. And finally, the most important thing: Your belief that they can do it. Hooray!


Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow Cats!

Abigail and Ginger are very curious about these bold white cats who have mysteriously taken up residence on the window ledge.




Sadly I have no pictures of the real Abigail and Ginger playing in the snow to share with you as the look they gave me when I tried to coax them outside would have withered Little Miss Sunshine. So instead let me take you on a little magical journey...

Down a road, not very far away, is a tea shop. It is the most wonderful tea shop ever, but the way to it had been blurred around the edges.



The news person on the television said 'Do not make any unnecessary journeys in the snow', but walking to a tea shop to eat a cupcake was suddenly deemed a very necessary journey to make. So the girl layered up until she was one foot taller and three foot wider, and set off down the road.

In her imagination she went this way...



...and fearlessly tracked snow leopards through jungles and fields...



In reality she walked along here - careful cars breaking the soft silence.



But it wasn't long before she was snugly tucked into her favourite seat, notebook open, tea brewing, and cupcake eaten.



You'd have to be as quick as a snow leopard to photograph this girl with a intact cupcake. But imagine the most loveliest red velvet cupcake - light, fresh, and just plain mmm-delicious, and you will know why the girl was smiling as she scribbled in her note-book.

Friday, 17 December 2010

My morning

I didn’t sleep a wink,
As the heating’s on the blink,
And there’s no hot water for my morning shower.

We called the boiler man,
Who will pop round in his van,
I hope he isn’t lying when he says within the hour.

I legged it for my train,
Although my boots are such a pain,
And squeezed myself into a space on the carriage.

Squashed as a human block,
Listening to tinny hip hop and noisy rock,
Any closer I’ll wear white and call it marriage.

The tube is suffering a delay,
Because the signal has gone awry,
But I don’t care as at least I’ve got a seat.

The person next to me,
Has pulled out of his briefcase for all to see,
A giant fruit cake that he begins to eat.

We change tubes en masse at King’s Cross,
Once I have signal I text the boss,
Explaining the exciting morning that I’ve had.

Emerging from the station into the light,
The office building a welcome sight,
When I get to my desk I’ll actually be glad!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Book reviews: Anita Brookner and Roald Dahl

Am in midst of Christmas bustle, so, like Santa’s reindeer, I’m dashing in with the next two reviews:

Latecomers, by Anita Brookner
Switch Bitch, by Roald Dahl


Latecomers, by Anita Brookner
First published by Jonathan Cape, 1988
This edition published by Grafton Books (a division of Collins Publishing Group) 1989

Elegant prose tells the story of two men who, as young boys during the Second World War, were thrust away from their previous lives into a new country. Both now in their sixties, they have very different attitudes to life - one always looking ahead and the other afraid to stop searching the past. They, and their families, are the latecomers – all of them late to life in some way, be it security or happiness.

There is no real drama in this book. It is a quiet tale told with loving dignity, with thoughtful character studies and a heightened awareness to surroundings and mood. Although at first I was waiting for something to happen, very soon I just enjoyed the calm pace, luxuriated in the rich descriptions and wallowed in the words. The depth of understanding in this book is immense, especially as I recognise some of these traits within myself. It is very easy to identify with the characters, and to wish them well as they pass out of our lives when we close the book. From one latecomer to another, you could say.


Switch Bitch, by Roald Dahl
Stories originally published in Playboy magazine, no date although copyright date is 1965
This edition published by Penguin Books, 1976


Roald Dahl’s children’s fiction is a bit dark and twisted in places (and didn’t we just love it!) so it’s no surprise to find his stories for adults play out in much the same way, although you wouldn’t want a child searching for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to stumble across Switch Bitch. The clue is that these tales were written for the one-handed audience of Playboy, although they are not exactly sexy (or even vaguely attractive). Rather they deal with moral questions regarding sex –and in nearly all of them the joke is on the person who thinks they are in control.

There are four stories in this little collection – The Visitor, The Great Switcheroo, The Last Act, and Bitch. Although they are well-written tales, there seems to be a streak of misogyny through them as the attitudes to women seem rather callous. However, considering he was writing for a specific audience (the 1960s Playboy audience) maybe this isn’t too surprising. Not my favourite collection of his, but worth seeking out all the same.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Oh no! (Revised)

I sent a submission to a wonderful agency in September and heard nothing. The email didn’t bounce back, or report as undelivered, so I presumed it got there safe and well. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t have a ping back email letting me know it had arrived but didn’t think too much of it. Perhaps, and very likely, they were inundated with email submissions.

Not wishing to pry, annoy, pester, or do anything at all to ruin my chances, I observed the rule of thumb and sat on them for two months. (Obviously sat on fingers as well, in fact sat on both hands to be exact.) Then did the same for another month just in case. I now have just sent a polite follow up, wondering whether it is still under consideration, and received a ping back message saying thank you. I never got this thank you before! Does this mean they never received my initial submission? Was that silence not the silence of careful consideration of my novel, but in fact the silence of never heard from me in the first place?

Nooo... *falls to knees sobbing, or at least would if not at real work and pretending to look Very Involved and Clever*

All those months of hoping... what if it never sent? What if now the only communication this agency has received from me is a polite follow up, with nothing attached? Will I have to wait another two months for their reply, which understandably will be What are you talking about? Will I now just look like a dumb arse?

Nooo... *beats floor with hands, or at least would if not at real work and pretending to Purse Lips at Important Document*

I am gutted. All because of a ping back email. Never under-estimate the power of the ping. So what can I learn from this?

One: When sending email submissions, if you do not receive an indication that your submission arrived then follow up and politely ask.

Two:Perhaps, and I know this is a shocker, but perhaps if there is no indication then another option is calling them to ask if it arrived. (Check their guidelines and make sure they won't automatically hate you for calling them though.) This submission might be my whole life, so to speak, but also should be treated as business.

But STOP!

Revised after nine comments

The thing about being a novice is that there is always something to learn, and the thing about blogging is that there are other writers out there who are willing to share advice from their experiences along the way. The consensus is have patience, my friends, no matter if you get a ping or not! Some shared good advice from the comments is:

Maria and Anne: The little nudge note could nudge your 'maybe' submission into a rejection (eeep!)
Christine: If you didn't receive an undeliverable message then your submission was probably safely receieved
Angela: Don't call - agents are busy and don't need anything else to add to their plate

So here is the revised guide of what to do when situations like this happen, when virtually you are rolling around the office floor in agony while the real you is Poised with a Brave Little Smile (which has no place on my face whatsoever, as I am about to click open an excel spreadsheet and those things should never be approached with a brave little smile but with a stoic Look of Doom.)

One: Read guidelines. Send email submission. Mark in diary correct date of when they say it is appropriate to contact them again (two - three months is usual). Sit on hands. Do not worry about getting a ping back email. Do not worry if it seems email has been sent into a void, fate unknown. Concentrate on next story and if you have heard nothing by the time the correct date comes around, send polite little follow up email. Sit on hands again. Continue submitting and querying elsewhere. If you really and truly hear nothing months later then it's probably safe to assume that the agency just wasn't the right fit for you and your story. Chin up!

Two: Just like there is no spoon in the Matrix, there is no Two.

Friday, 3 December 2010

My UnFavourite Things

Raindrops on windows; not-working pens
Spreadsheets I have to read over and over again
Boring brown jumpers and voices that grate
These are a few of the things that I hate

Organic oatcakes and dry plain ryvita
Trying so hard to avoid something sweeter
Work diaries that groan and trains that don’t wait
These are a few of the things that I hate

When the sun shines
And I feel fine
When I’m feeling great
I always forget my unfavorite things,
Until the next grumpy day when I hate...

Realising your tights have a long-running ladder
Being stuck in a meeting with a really full bladder
Silver white hair that appears on my head
These are the things that I really dread

Cream-coloured ponies should stay in their stables
Doorbells and sleigh bells should be quiet, not enabled
Grumpy cold Jaynes should be flown home on goose wings
So they can feel happy again focusing on favourite things!


With thanks to Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, The Sound of Music

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Being dynamic vs. being...well...not

Every day at work I hope that something amazing will happen to change my life. I obsessively check my email (work, personal, random web-mails that no one knows anyway), check my phone in case I have missed The Call (ever hopeful there will be a call), and check my blog. What am I waiting for? Well – like many of us here – I am waiting to hear that someone likes my novel, my ideas, and my fiction competition entry (go on, I'm nice; the stories are nice - please!) But am I creating enough opportunities for any of this to happen or am I just being passive?

I fear the latter. I always think there is more I can be doing, more I should be doing, to promote myself and my writing. I should be snuffling around every opportunity like a pig with a truffle (or like a girl with a Twirl chocolate bar). I should be hell for leather going for it, instead of sitting here waiting. So let’s see what I am actually doing and if anything can be improved.

1. Novel. Friends are reading it and giving advice on some small changes. I am working on these edits (mainly with dialogue contractions) and am doing more on my synopsis. I am also plotting another book with some of these characters and am reading back through the original to see what I can play with next time around. (So much fun!) This redraft (have lost count how many) should be finished in a few days. It will be then be shiny and ready for a fabulous agent to enjoy.

2. Ideas. I have sent two follow-up emails about something I hoped to work on, and sadly both seem to have fallen into a black hole. I am gutted as it was something I really wanted to happen but there is only so much I can pester without turning into, well, a pest. But it is a busy time of year so I must be patient, continue thinking positive, and come up with some more ideas just in case it goes ahead after all.

3. Competition Entry. People are due to be notified in December and I’m only two days in. Winners are not announced until March anyway so I should not be thinking about this at all. Oh but I wanna! I want it so bad. I want everything so bad!

So now I have listed things I can see that I am doing quite a few things already. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like anything is happening as there are no physical results but, under the surface, everything is ticking on nicely!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Book review: The Hating Game

This book gets a review post all of its own as it is Talli Roland’s debut novel, and today is her web splash – hoorah! Come on – get wet!

The Hating Game, by Talli Roland
Published by Prospera Publishing (e-book Dec 1, 2010)

The Hating Game zings along at a cracking pace, with humour to match. Mattie Johns, her recruitment business teetering on the brink of despair, is seduced into appearing on a dating show for a dizzying amount of prize money. Unbeknownst to her, the conniving folk behind the reality show, SiniStar Productions, have lined up four of her ex-boyfriends to star as the contestants. The contestants could be looking for love or revenge, but SiniStar Productions are only looking for ratings – and will stop at nothing to get them.

Author Talli weaves great humour with her playful take on names – SiniStar Productions just one of them – and each chapter accelerates the action, highlighting the dark side of reality television. Some of my favourite lines:


A faded sign with greying letters spelled out ‘Cliff Top Holiday Park’. Scrawled underneath was a demented-looking happy face beside the words ‘is shit’.

***

She expected him to be in servitude somewhere along the M25, asking: ‘Do you want fries with that?’

***

Her mocking eyes and dismissive tone reminded Nate of his Granny Edith, who was forever grabbing handfuls of his puppy fat and cackling.

***

The Hating Game is a fun, escapist read, and you find yourself rooting for Mattie, hoping that once the reality show is over, her real life can begin.


And now over to you, folks!
Subtitle: How You Can Help A Fellow Blogger!

Help Talli Roland's debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.

No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.

The Hating Game is coming soon in paperback. Keep up with the latest at www.talliroland.com and at her blog.

Good luck, Talli!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Book reviews: George Orwell and Muriel Spark

Reviewing all the books I read in a year is a nice record of my reading habits but hard to keep up with the amount of books I seem to get through! Without further ado, here are the latest two to be reviewed…

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
First published by Secker & Warburg, 1945
This edition published by Penguin, 1973

Books that were on the school curriculum suffered as much as I did from forced reading. I still shudder when thinking of metaphysical poetry, for example. But slowly I am returning to the fiction made dusty in classrooms, and this is one of them – George Orwell’s ‘fairy story’ of a tainted revolution.

The book’s premise is achingly simple and oh-so clever. The animals stage a coup and drive out the farmer, proposing to work for themselves. Their success hides the fact someone has to be the leader, a mantle assumed by the pigs, and over time a terrible transformation takes place.

This is the sort of fairy story of which the Grimm brothers would have been proud. Each animal has a role that reflects our society – whether it is the honest everyman of Boxer the horse or the blind obedience of the sheep. It’s not a mirror one cares to linger in front of for too long in fear of what you may see.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark
First published in Great Britain by Macmillan, presume 1961
This edition published by Penguin, 1969

This is a fascinating story of a woman teacher desperate to make an impression, to appear cultured and charming, and the impressionable girls who she taught at school. We are told early on that one of ‘the Brodie set’ betrayed her by bringing about her dismissal as a teacher. But which one?

Is Miss Jean Brodie in her prime? You’d never know from the prose. It’s only repeated about a hundred times, but Muriel Spark likes to hang tags on her cast of characters and invokes them with nearly every mention. In this way the characters become slightly two-dimensional as we only ever see one trait – Sandy’s small peering eyes, Rose ‘famous for sex’. But knowing one trait opens our eyes to details that surround the characters - 1930s Edinburgh, the era preluding the Second World War.

The novel unfolds making good use of prolepsis / flash forward – this technique allows us to know events before they happened and gives a sense of fatality to the story even before we pass the first chapter. But what we lose with suspense we gain with attention to detail, and try to pick up on clues as to why the story unfolds like it does. At first Miss Brodie’s influence over ‘her girls’ seems beneficial but as they grow older it is revealed as manipulation.

Incidentally, great cover, isn't it? It shows Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie in the 1969 film, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Contractions in Dialogue

Popping in very quickly as today I have a day off ‘real’ work to do what I like to think of as my personal real work – work on my novel. As per, sometimes my body forgets that these days off are not proper days off and likes instead to lie about slovenly and watch random television. I have to bribe it with biscuits to sit here and write/redraft. And today would be the day when I have no chocolate whatsoever and am reduced to eating biscuits from the back of the bread bin. Yup, the Biscuits That Taste Forgot.

I still eat them though.

Today one of the things I am checking within my novel is the dialogue. What I am looking out for is things like ‘I am’ rather than ‘I’m’ – when speaking, unless there is a reason to say it precisely, mostly folk would use a contraction and say ‘I’m taking the dog for a walk’ rather than ‘I am taking the dog for a walk’. The latter brings a whole new stress to the tone of the dialogue – if you say it out loud it sounds like the person speaking is highly exasperated with the person asking, i.e.

Parent (asking even though is watching teenage son fixing dog leash to dog): What are you doing?
Teenage son: I am taking the dog for a walk. (Optional ‘durr’ on the end.)

It is more natural to use contractions within dialogue – it’s for it is, I’m for I am, that’s for that is, etc. I’m taking advantage of a quiet house to declaim my dialogue to the cats (they are thrilled) so I can listen to my speech. The trick is reading aloud exactly what I have written and not what I ‘think’ I have written!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Business Speak

I bloody hate it. Here are my pet peeves:

Elevate. What am I, a lift? This just means asking someone higher up, which leads us to:

The food chain. Nice. This is the sort of thing mentioned by people who rate themselves as sharks or tigers as opposed to plankton. No one would rate themselves as plankton. Even plankton itself, if it had an option, probably wouldn’t rate itself as plankton. People that use ‘the food chain’ often also use:

Cascade. E.g. cascading information up and down ‘the food chain’. (Although usually 'down' as, from what we have seen above, folk who use this like to think of themselves as sharks rather than mere worker plankton.) Whenever I hear the word 'cascade' I wonder what happened to the word ‘tell’? How about ‘distribute’? But people like to cascade information in relation to:

Forward Planning. How can planning be anything other than forward? Backward planning doesn’t really work. I wish I could backward plan not to have drank quite so much on Saturday night but wishing it won’t make the Day of Woe (Sunday) go away. This is also linked in with:

Pre-planning. Please don’t ever go there, either. A plan before the plan? Purlease. Although maybe they are making sure they are:

Sweating the Asset. What a pretty picture this conjures in my mind. A big hairy sweaty ass (arse). Thanks for that. When it comes to assets, people may also think about:

Leverage. For the love of plain speaking, why can’t folk say they are going to ‘use’ or ‘take advantage’ of their contacts as opposed to ‘leveraging’ them? Leverage sounds like something people do with a crow bar. Although when it comes to plain speaking, it appears business speak folk do not have:

Visibility. Used in sentences such as ‘I don’t have visibility of that issue/email/system/thing.’ Actually means ‘I don’t know’. Whenever someone says they don’t have visibility, my head will automatically translate this to mean they know nothing at all about anything. This will be further reinforced if they proceed to:

Speak in abbreviations. WTF?

Any more for any more?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Resolutions, of sorts

And so she’s back!
From Lanzarote!
She swam in the sea
And it really wasn’t grotty
I should have packed my second sun-dress
I should have drank Sangria 'til I was sick
If I’d known for just one second
I’d be back so very quick!


My word. Holidays just fly, don’t they? I managed to read two books from my enormous pile (okay, that was a tad ambitious) and made the mistake of starting the whopper book breezeblock, Stephen King’s Under The Dome, on the last day. This meant I have been glued to it ever since – folks, it is a good one. I barely noticed the plane ride. This is the book I wanted Duma Key to be. Anyway, there shall be more of it in a review when I get my act together (looks under chocolate wrappers for Act; finds it cowering away with mahoosive To Do list).

Mahoosive. Anyone remember that word from school? A cross between massive and...hm. Moose? Yes, that was it. Our school had such a way with words. I remember one of our teachers, a youngish chap but not young enough to be down with all the slang, flying into our classroom to ask us what ‘chief’ meant when aimed as a verbal arrow. We laughed, told him it wasn’t complimentary, and he went flying out of the classroom again in a rage.

Where was I? Ah yes. Act. I made a list (and I am checking it twice) full of things I need to crack on with, and most of it involves actually writing something. I feel like I have reverted into being a person with ideas for stories without actually committing them to paper/screen/software programme. This makes me a very sad girl indeed, so I am full of new resolutions to widen the cracks of space around full-time work so I can drip-feed in some stories. That is, if I can stay out from Under the Dome long enough.

What was the last book you fell into?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Holiday Packing

Whenever I think of holiday packing, the thought uppermost in my mind is holiday reading. I have amassed a small light portable collection here.



Surely that little lot will fit into my suitcase?


Oh.

Perhaps if I...

Oh.
Hm. Surely I need clothes and things? Maybe I should rethink my books?

*quivers*


Ah sod it. Who needs anything else?!


Jx

Monday, 8 November 2010

Interview with Maria Zannini

Today I am hosting author Maria Zannini on her World Blog Tour. Please give her a warm welcome and enjoy the interview below!

Ps: There is an Important Update at the end of the interview. Don't miss it!



=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Due to circumstances beyond our control, this interview has been hijacked by the author's husband. He's threatened to hold Maria's computer hostage until this interview has aired.

Normally, we wouldn't condescend to threats—especially from husbands, but there is something deliciously scandalous about getting insider information.

Greg Tells All

Favourite author: I'm going to say Anne McCaffrey. It's the first author we read together as a couple.

Favourite guy: Me, of course! Maria is very hard to please, so obviously when I came along she snapped me up.
(Editor's note: Hey, wait a minute. I didn't ask that question.)

Favourite animal: Definitely dogs. But Maria has an amazing affinity with all animals. She can actually tell when they're about to get sick. I call it animal ESP, but she says it's just simple observation. What a liar! Maria can read minds. Her super mind powers are so intense, I've resorted to humming the national anthem to keep her from knowing too much. The last time she read my mind I was in trouble for a week. Observation, my foot!

Favourite season: You've heard of Spring Fever? Maria has a fatal case every year. She's literally bouncing off the walls waiting for the world to thaw so she can get outside. In the meantime she alleviates her insanity by cleaning house, organizing closets, and starting seedlings. That wouldn't be so bad, but she insists I help her. There's got to a be a support group for poor abused husbands.

Favourite colour: Brilliant, fiery, blood RED. Believe me, it matches her personality. Her closet is full of red. Her flowers are red. Her eyes are… I better stop there. I notice there's smoke coming out of her ears.

Favourite way to relax: Relax? Maria? She doesn't know how to relax. Her idea of relaxing is WORKING. There is definitely something wrong with that woman.

Favourite artist: Ah, an easy question. Caravaggio. She spent so much time studying him for her thesis, I was starting to get jealous. Lucky for him, he died four hundred years ago. Otherwise it would've been paintbrushes at high noon.

Favourite shop: Maria does not like to shop. (Am I not the luckiest husband ever?) But she loves browsing antique shops, forever on the prowl for elusive dog figurines and animal paintings.

Favourite way to procrastinate: :groan: This is an ongoing feud with us. She never procrastinates—but she says she does. You couldn't tell it by the way she gets me up at the crack of noon. The woman is a slave driver (with cleavage).

Favourite thing about your home of Texas: It would have to be the trees. She insisted when we were house hunting that our future house be surrounded by trees. I aim to please, so I found her a house in a forest. She had to take my word on it too. Maria was recovering from eye surgery and nearly blind for several weeks. Bwahahaha…she was entirely dependent on me. Drove her nuts!

Favourite character from your upcoming book ‘True Believers': She has a book coming out? I was wondering why she was in her office for so long. I thought she was killing zombies on a computer game.

Favourite scene from 'True Believers': Oh, great. Now I have to open the book. :scanning pages: Well what do you know, this isn't half bad.

His head jerked back and he gasped as she seared the wound shut. He was saying something in his native tongue, but she didn't understand him. It was either a curse or a prayer. Considering their circumstances, either one seemed like a good idea.

She should've pulled back, but when her essence touched his, she flinched. They were more alike than she suspected. As her na'hala wandered inside his body, it absorbed strange images and feelings of inadequacy from this man.

Who was he? What was he? He was hiding something. Even now she could feel him close himself off to her as she ventured deeper into his consciousness. Whatever he was holding back had to be big.

She pulled out of him and felt the drain of bolstering his shell. He was out of danger, but still weak.

Rachel shook him gently. “Taelen. Can you hear me? I didn't know you were so hurt.”

He opened his eyes and mumbled something under his breath.

“What?” She leaned in closer.

“You are heavier than you look.” He groaned and closed his eyes again.


(Editor's note: Ooo sounds good!)

From Maria:
Finally! I have my computer back. Tell me gentle readers. Should I beat the husband for his Kiss and Tell or cut him some slack for being so clever? Your votes will decide his fate.



=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Maria Zannini's latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS.

Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.





You can follow Maria here:

Blog
Facebook
Goodreads
Twitter

She is also holding a contest! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention "Maria Zannini" anywhere with a link to her blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.

Thank you so much, Maria (and Greg!) Good luck with True Believers!

The Important Update: Maria needs your votes and your tweets! She has moved on to the second round for the Kensington Brava contest. Vote for her novel, Mistress Of The Stone. The grand prize at the end of this contest is a contract with Kensington. P.S. Maria is the one with the very cute dog!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Book reviews: Mark Haddon, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Nell Dunn

Poor little book reviews. They have really fallen by the way-side! I keep stacking the books up for when I have time to review them, as I do like keeping a record of what I am reading, but the pile is starting to look the same size as my printer. So here are the latest four…

Up the Junction, by Nell Dunn
Blaze, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
Appointment with Death, by Agatha Christie

Up the Junction, by Nell Dunn
First published by MacGibbon & Kee Ltd, 1963
This edition published by Pan Books Ltd, 1966

‘Up the Junction’ is a slice of gritty sixties realism, far from the beautiful people. Nell Dunn uses colloquial speech of the time in her sketchy portraits of Battersea residents – girls with scuffed shoes and messy beehives, boys with leather jackets and crow-bars in their back pocket. There is no real story as such, but each chapter works as a vignette, giving us a glimpse into working-class life.

This book still has the power to shock now, so I can well imagine it was a bit of an eye-opener back when it was published. Controversial subjects are brought into the light, such as back-street abortions, slum clearances, living on higher purchase, casual sex, and teenagers with no prospects. Nell Dunn made her name from writing such truisms, alarming the Establishment. ‘Up the Junction’ was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, adapted for television, and made into a film. To say it touched a nerve for entire generation is an under-statement.

Blaze, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
First published in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton
This edition published in 2008

As much as we are Stephen King’s Constant Readers, he is our Constant Writer, a prolific author who can bring out a book under his name and that of his pseudonym in the same year. This is what happened with Blaze, released alongside Stephen King’s novel ‘Desperation’.

Richard Bachman books nearly always see life from the bitter slice of the lemon. Blaze is about a mentally challenged man who hasn’t had much luck in life. He pairs up with a con-artist called George who plans to kidnap a millionaire’s baby and live off the reward money. After George dies Blaze attempts to continue the kidnapping, all the while asking George for guidance. And eventually, George starts speaking to him again…

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
Published by Jonathan Cape, 2003
This edition published by Vintage, 2004

This novel won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book. After reading it you can see why – it is a refreshingly unusual story. It is told in the first person perspective of Christopher, a fifteen-year old with Asperger’s Syndrome and the tight viewpoint mirrors his condition. The story starts with his investigation of who killed a neighbour’s dog but reveals far much more than anyone intended.

I found it a clever book that is more of a galloping read than a story to linger over, although curiously (how apt) the impression of the story, and what isn’t told, is something to ponder long after the book is closed. It really gives you an idea of what it is like living with a child who sees the world in such literal terms – you feel for him and his parents. The only note that jarred for me was when Christopher hides in the luggage compartment of a train. On trains these are simply tiny, a small shelf in which to stow suitcases, and try as I might I cannot see how a fifteen-year old could possibly hide and be undetected in such a small space, not on a busy train to London. But then again we see things from Christopher’s perspective, so maybe because he didn’t notice anyone, we didn’t as well. It’s that sort of book!

Appointment with Death, by Agatha Christie
First published by William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, 1938
This edition published by Fontana Books, 1980

Oh how I love Agatha Christie books – she leads us neatly up the garden path when all along we should have been looking in the house, or rather, at the red cliffs of Petra. Appointment with Death takes us on a journey to Jordan where we meet the monstrous Mrs Boynton, a woman who likes to pull the reins of power tight around her family. Too tight, perhaps?

Poirot shines as ever, despite the dust and the heat wilting his magnificent moustache. I find Agatha Christie books are ‘comfort-reads’ for me – odd considering they are murder mysteries!




Want to read more of my book reviews? Click here

Monday, 1 November 2010

Forget your troubles come on get happy

Today I am channelling Judy Garland. I am missing the following items though:

Some sort of gingham checked material
A small dog called Toto
Magical ruby slippers

Instead I have:

Black office attire (including annoying hip-circling-with-every-step black skirt)
A small handbag (unnamed)
Scuffed black boots that have no magic about them whatsoever

I can now see where I have been going wrong. Wallace & Gromit had the wrong trousers, and it appears I have saddled myself with the wrong wardrobe.

Oh boy. A wandering lassitude has taken residence in my soul and it’s not shifting for toffee. Hence being quiet... it’s only my own pressure I know, but I like to be cheerful here on the blog, if I can, and when I feel like this it just doesn’t happen. Chocolate will only rectify a few ills, then the concentration (and obsession) moves to the lack of waist. But I so hate feeling negative – surely that energy can be put to better use. The problem with negative is that it is so solid an emotion and positive can feel so flimsy.

Today I decided at lunch that the cure may be found in hair dye. This will be the wash in/wash out variety as I quite like my natural hair colour (until of course the day comes where silver out-threads the red, and then I will go positively bonkers. Blue? Bring it on!) It’s not really so much the hair dye, but this sort of thing shows a commitment to caring about yourself, in a funny way. Today my soul feels a bit unkempt. Tomorrow it may feel a bit pampered, and who knows what that will do to my creativity? It shall Unleash The Tiger. Or something.


What do you mean, unleash the tiger?!


Best get spruced up. Thanks sis.

While we are waiting for tigers, we are going to have a snooze. You didn't want this arm back again any time soon, did you? Good.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

My Garden

I’ve not yet had a garden to call my own, so I like to improvise.



My trusty corkboard has been my garden for over ten years. I change the photos depending on the seasons. I often take random ‘stock’ photos, if you like, of shapes and scenery which pleases me, a habit that has lasted since I was an Art student. These now live tucked under the bed in various collections, waiting for the day I bring them out for a moment of corkboard glory.


My cat Abigail rather likes gardens and doesn’t mind if they are fake. She will sit in them, or in front of them, regardless. She considers any surface to be hers, especially if I am taking an interest in it, more so if there is a keyboard on which to lounge.


Once parked, so to speak, Abigail will survey her kingdom (or is that queendom?) until I move her away. Then she will give me A Look (and cat owners especially will know the one I mean) and retreat until the next opportunity presents itself.

So sorry I have not been around much recently. I would like to blame it on the following: crisp autumn days, dark mornings, busy bee work, lindy hop, the Victoria line, the silly new trains on the Victoria line that break down if anyone breathes on the doors, collecting conkers, a preoccupation with walking, Hi-De-Hi, Agatha Christie on the Telly, dark evenings, lack of Twirl bars, rubbish home computer, searching for various items in the Room Time Forgot, Disaronno, and eating cupcakes in Westfield shopping centre. Normal service shall resume soon.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Seeds as Snacks

I really feel I need to explain about the seeds.

Usually one would not have leftovers from the budgie as the only sustenance to last through a morning until lunch, but I have recently signed up to a company who, once a week, deliver a little box full of healthy things to snack on. These healthy things are in small little portions, designed to stave off hunger but keep you slim.

Of course, it probably doesn’t quite work like that if you tick the box to receive flapjacks. But they are good flapjacks! And they are tiny little bite-size bits of flapjack. So really it is a lot healthier than me buying a Twirl bar every day or being seduced by the twisted genius of franchise cookie sellers.

Along with flapjacks, there are portions of dried fruit, olives, and crackers. Usually one little portion in the box will be of seeds. Mostly I take them home to add to salads. Seeds are only snacks in extreme desperation.

While we are talking office snacks, have you heard of Feeders? Beware the office feeders my friends. These are slim folk who bring in an awful lot of cakes and biscuits to ‘share’ and never seem to tuck in themselves. It is all part of an evil plot to make them the slimmest in the room.

Then there are the office swoopers. I am afraid to say that I can be, on occasion, a swooper. We have three kitchens in our large office building, and me and my fellow swoopers will migrate anywhere for a coffee should there be a rumour of sweeties. We sidle in, exclaim in pretend surprise at the cakes, swoop, and then exit with a little clutch of goodies. We don’t care whose birthday it is. We just want cake.

I think I would actually go on strike if sugar was banned. I wouldn’t do the same for seeds, which defines their importance in my snack world.

What is your office snack?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Miserable Mugs

The only mug left in the office cupboard was one printed with ‘I Love Spreadsheets’. You can rather see why it was unloved.

Why are all office mugs so bloody miserable? Open the kitchen cupboards of any establishment and you will see mugs printed with corporate messages, mugs with patterns too hideous to go in normal homes, chipped mugs, stained mugs, and mugs with evil falsely jocular work-related slogans. These are the sort of mugs I would like to see:

Mugs with the number for Saneline
Mugs printed with ‘Cheer up, it’s not forever’
Mugs with flower patterns
Mugs that say ‘Think of the money’
The ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mug

Do you reckon there is a shop out there that only sells sad mugs? And don’t get me started on the office fridge. Every time I put yoghurt in there it disappears from view, only to re-emerge slightly swollen three months later. I swear there is a false door, a secret draw somewhere in its grubby white interior that gobbles my things and spits them out past the sell-by date. Also someone always tries to cram their week’s worth of shopping in there, don’t they?

I’d also like to mention that the most pointless office snack of all is seeds. Yes, you heard it right, a little mixed bag of seeds that makes me a) feel like a parrot, and b) scatters everywhere each time I go for a handful. I may yet be the only person who manages to grow sunflowers around their office chair.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Hello World

I picked up my new glasses yesterday morning and have spent most of my time since then knee deep in books. Oh books! Glorious books! The weekend hours have so far found me slouched in various places reading, occasionally with a cat, equally slouched. But now I have to emerge and do some writing work, as there is an Exciting Thing afoot.

This is all good as I started the week feeling terribly dejected – one of those Why-Is-My-Life-So-Sucky feelings that were last seen flailing around when aged fifteen. It involved a fair amount of flumping around the house until I forced myself to snap out of it/go to bed early and sulk. But then Exciting Thing popped up and made me smile at everything - despite work challenges, London transport, and woollen jumpers with annoying elbow-length sleeves.

I won’t say anymore about Exciting Thing yet in case it doesn’t go ahead, but it is amazing how a week can turn itself around. However, you do have to keep putting yourself out there in order for things to happen, exciting or not, so today I am polishing a short story in order to submit it to a magazine. I am also polishing off a tin of Roses. It seems one form of polishing cannot take place without the other.

In other exciting news, while out yesterday I bought yet another random plate to add to the various items of ancient crockery lurking under my bed. I don’t know how it happens – I go to the shops on a perfectly straight-forward normal exercise and return with a tea cup. I sleep at night on a bed of saucers, uncomfortably aware that in Narnia sleeping on treasures turns one into a dragon. But that was gold and silver… would 1960s china do the same? Perhaps I will become a ferocious tea maker.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Kew Gardens in autumn








Sunday was a perfect day for a picnic at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (which we all know as Kew Gardens). Although don't spend so long admiring the plants and trees that you lose track of time and end up getting accidentally locked in. Whoops.

Friday, 8 October 2010

First-time buyer in London

Estate agent’s blurb: ‘Property has its own door’. Now there’s a relief. What next – ‘delighted to say property has its own toilet’, ‘proud to present this car parking space that could be converted into a three bed if you are all really, really good friends’?

I desperately want a little pad to call my own, somewhere I can feel settled, paint the walls, dig in a garden (or window-box – let’s be realistic), put up shelves, have a desk (oh the dream), and just potter about surrounded by everything that makes me ‘me’. So I have been saving desperately and foregoing treats for what seems like years. I now think I may be able to buy a potting shed. If I’m lucky.

I find myself clicking through property websites, and think that copywriters for estate agents have a really hard job. All the cheery exclamation marks in the world cannot hide the fact the property they are trying to market is a dump. ‘Look at the wondrous views,' they trill bravely as they try to flog a high-rise flat. ‘Close to all transport amenities,' they say about properties choking in fumes alongside the busy North Circular ring-road.

And why do they all ‘boast’ or are ‘proud’ to present properties? Why just settle on those two adjectives – they could brag, declare, even swank a little (we are swanking with delight to tell you about this flat). Actually I don’t know if I want to think about estate agents swanking with delight. Do you?

Sometimes I get bored with the sort of results my price range throws up in the London areas that I am looking in, and extend the search to Cornwall. I then look longingly at the sort of place I could get if I wasn’t attached by a monetary umbilical cord to a job in London, and sigh. Of course, it is thanks to the fact I am so attached that allows me to even dream of owning my own place. I’m in a weird catch-22 when all I really want to do is live like an artist and skip around with a leaf.

Do you think we ever grow up and become the people we want to be, or do you think people settle for less than ideal? Gosh that is philosophical for a Friday. Let’s go back to talking about swanking.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The October Plan (amongst other things)

For some reason today I have re-strung the words from annoying song ‘Bad Babysitter’:

I’m a real bad blogger
Get my ideas in the shower
(Whoop Whoop)
Forget them the next hour

I often think of blog posts when I am nowhere near a computer and am scampering from Place of Work A to Home B via C, awful commuter experience. Today’s ACE (the aforementioned awful commuter experience) involved a game of sardines. Twenty-three people and a buggy were crushed into the little space on a train by the doors. Not even in the aisle of the train (fifteen people were squished standing up along there), but between the doors. I know the exact number as when you are propped upright in a stranger’s armpit the only thing you can do is count heads as a distraction.

I often feel that wannabe authors should use their commute time to scribble down ideas. However, this depends if you can move more than your eye-lids on a day-to-day basis. National Express trains and the Victoria line are ruining my opportunity! The highpoint was when one disgruntled commuter who couldn’t fit on the train told us all ‘don’t you know I have places to go?’ which was greeted with a burst of sardonic laughter (appropriate for human sardines) throughout our squashed little corner. Like the rest of us were just there for the morning thrill!

The last thing I managed to scribble in my battered shorthand notepad was my October Plan. I often come up with a monthly plan, which could have anything on it from the nicely vague ‘write more’ to the greedy ‘buy flapjacks’. My October Plan is as follows:


  • Write up article idea (Oh yes, I Haz One)
  • Research magazines and papers for article idea (as article will need an article home)
  • Research magazines that accept unsolicited short story submissions (as I Haz One of those as well)
  • Open new bank account (most marvellously practical)
  • Don’t let desk look like a chemist’s shop (Ah. Oops.)

My desk, at work, is turning into a mini outpost of Holland & Barrett. H&B, for those who don’t know, sell HEALTH in all its glowing forms – juices and potions and vitamins and oats. I am addicted to H&B. Somewhere in those aisles is surely a magic elixir that will make me:

A) Energetic and bouncy (like Tigger. Full of the joys of Spring. In Autumn.)
B) Keen to Get On (The Mantra being Every Day is a Day of Joy)
C) Not eat chocolate (It must sell something that looks/tastes/smells like chocolate but has zero calories)
D) Thin-calved (Oh come on – something must surely work?!)
E) Focused (as opposed to Very Easily Distracted).

The problem with VED (being Very Easily Distracted) is that... sorry... train was going past the window. What was that? Oh yes. Veg.

Veg?

This is how the day begins with a plan to get things done and ends coming home with a cauliflower.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Book reviews: Bernard Ashley, Stephen King, William Trevor

These are overdue reviews from books read way back in July. It seems July was a book-reading bonanza month for me!

Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
The Running Man, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, by Joyce Lankester Brisley


Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
Illustrations by Charles Keeping
First published by Oxford University Press, 1980
This edition published by Puffin Books, 1981


‘Break in the Sun’ was serialised by the BBC and shown in schools, at least I watched it in my junior school. Thirty years later, I buy the book. Is it because the story stayed with me throughout those years or because I saw the cover and felt nostalgic? In a way it is a curious combination of both.

The story is about Patsy, an eleven-year old girl who feels displaced living with her mum, step-father, and their new baby. Her step-father is cruel and lazy; her mother harried and exhausted, and they have recently left behind a nicer life in Margate to live in a small flat in London. Walking home from school, Patsy gets into conversation with the theatrical owners of a barge. They need a young girl for a touring stage play that is heading to Margate. Patsy sees a chance to escape and convinces them she is a budding actress. When she runs away her step-father is forced to look at himself and re-evaluate the real reasons for his cruelty.

This story is a kitchen-sink drama updated to the 1980s, reflecting those troubled times of unemployment, as well as new family dynamics and the universal issues associated with being eleven-years old. Patsy is gutsy and fearless, and you feel for her so much, struggling to find a sense of belonging.

The Running Man, by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
First published by New American Library Inc. 1982
This edition published by New English Library 1988

Stephen King’s Richard Bachman books usually concentrate on a dystopian futuristic society. (Or should that be Richard Bachman’s Stephen King books? The author himself would probably like that sentence!) ‘The Running Man’ continues in this vein, twisting elements of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ alongside a scary vision of gruesome reality television shows aimed to subdue the masses. These shows in the book play on people’s desperation, greed, and fascination with horrific spectacle - akin to those who picnicked around the gallows on the day of a hanging. Sadly the reality shows on our television screens now don’t seem a million miles away. Maybe this book should be read in schools alongside George Orwell.

It is the law that every apartment has a ‘Free-Vee’ – a television bolted to the wall – and every day it shows big money game shows such as Treadmill to Bucks, a show that only accepts chronically ill patients in the hope that they will die on air before the payout. But the real prize money can be found on ‘The Running Man’ contest – where contestants run and are hunted down, by both officials and members of the public. Forget the image of the muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film version of this book, the real ‘running man’ is lanky, lean and clever enough to realise the truth behind the shows.

The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
Cover designed by Zandra Rhodes, part of Penguin Decades celebrating seventy-five years of Penguin Books.
First published by The Bodley Head, 1976
This edition published by Penguin Books, 2010


This book follows awkward teenage loner Timothy Gedge on his wanderings around the seaside town of Dynmouth. Timothy enjoys spying on his neighbours, who only realise the true purpose of his interest when it is too late.

The story is delightfully unsettling. You feel deeply sorry for Timothy’s lack of social understanding and yet at the same time appalled and repulsed by his selfishness, his single-minded view of life. He is so desperately alone and that is the crux of the matter – as without this you would hate him, and yet with it he is curiously vulnerable. The neighbours, several of whom he blackmails, each emerge from their encounter with him saddened by the mirror Timothy holds up to reflect their lives. Tension builds throughout the book but the quiet finale is not what you’d expect, leaving the disturbing notion of having glimpsed the under-belly of real life, where a million Timothy Gedges await, as opposed to a dramatic film.

This novel won the Whitbread Award in 1976, and reading it you can see why – brilliant characterisation and description every step of the way.

More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, told and drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley
First published by the Christian Science Monitor, 1929
This edition published by George G Harrap & Co, 22nd impression, No 2.
It’s a hardback with dust jacket, but I cannot find a date. I suspect 1962 or earlier.


Milly-Molly-Mandy books have a special place in my heart. I have written before about the author, but this collection follows again in the small-village adventures of a small girl and her friends. What is lovely is that the adventures are the sort that means so much to a five-year old – getting stuck climbing a tree, going for a picnic, going to the seaside. Joyce never talks down to her small audience, either, but seemingly captures their delight for the small pleasures in life and her stories feel like such an antidote to our materialistic society.


Scanner broke, so am missing two pictures! Will add them if I can fix scanner. *ponders scanners innards*
Update - November. Fixed printer!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

What to do when waiting to hear from a short story competition

  1. Check primary email. Every five minutes
  2. Check second email as well in case you gave out the wrong one
  3. Check old hotmail email you had when a student in case you had a memory black out on the competition form
  4. Check phone. Every ten minutes
  5. Check voice mail just in case phone has mysteriously malfunctioned
  6. Curse the skies
  7. Compulsively eat sweet things
  8. Stare into space looking tragic
  9. Lurk around WH Smith’s surreptitiously researching magazines that publish short stories as Plan B
  10. Write the next idea

While I am currently zinging through all stages 1 – 10, I seem to be lingering most on looking tragic. This could also be because I have caught the cold of doom that seems to be wafting around the office, and feel like I need to lie down on a bed of tissues.

So to cheer me up, what creative things are you doing? Working on the main novel – if so, what stage? Stuck on an edit? Researching the 18th century? Compulsively eating Dolly Mixtures (hey, that could be just me).

And for gorgeous inspiring autumn-ness, check out these pictures:



Picture credit: Denis Collette - gorgeous photography on Flickr.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Okay, who ate my scarf?

Do you ever have a day when you cannot even control your own clothes, let alone be expected to manage Life with all its whimsy? I am having such a day. It started when I woke from being semi-smothered by my pillow. You know the day bodes badly when your own bedding is conspiring to kill you.

My cardigan on the tube turned into a giant flopping beast, determined to make friends with my tube-dwelling neighbours. Somewhere under Islington my ear-phone wire (what is that called? I somehow suspect not 'ear-phone wire') did something funky with the buttons and the whole shaboodle tied me in a knot while I was trying to get off at Kings Cross. Getting off the tube in the rush hour requires nerves of steel at the best of times; let alone when I have somehow constructed a reef knot from my clothes.

My gloves fell out of my bag as I dug deep for my travel-card; my socks keep bunching down into my trainers, and my top has decided to saucily wink a small crescent of tummy just when I least expect it. Look, clothes, I have work to do today, and I cannot keep checking if you are in the same place as you were this morning. Don’t do this to me! I am supposed to be looking corporate and business-like, despite the fact a conker* dropped out of my bag as I walked in the office. Whoops.

Sometimes I wish I was a monk. They seem to be so sorted in the fashion sense of things. Just a big brown sack – what can go wrong? Although you know I’d have problems roping it in the middle. It is my dream in life to own a slanket.** Seen them yet? A giant blanket with a head hole and sleeves. If I Were an Author (sung to the tune of ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ from Fiddler on the Roof), then magazines would picture me in my gorgeous home, notebook in hand, draped in my slanket. I would be at the forefront of slovenly female author fashion. Until those heady days, however, I am stuck with the evil cardigan and the top of doom.

*A conker is a horse-chestnut. They fall from the sky! Well, trees. Children of Old (sorry, mum) used to drill a hole through them, string them up, and bash them together to see who had the strongest conker. Cheats used to bake them in the oven first so they were like little round bricks.

**This is a slanket. My continuing laughter doesn't halt my desire, strangely.

Monday, 20 September 2010

It

Some days I find it hard to write.
The paper is blank; inspiration has taken flight.
I ponder and wonder where it has gone.
Did it pack a bag; will it be too long?
Did it reel out string when it went away?
Has it gone for good or just today?
Did it take a watch; can it tell the time?
Did it chalk the walls; can it read the signs?

Why did it choose now to slip away?
Just when I have time to sit and play?
Can’t I choose? Can’t I be the one?
Who decides when things get done?
Is this revenge for yesterday in fact?
When I tidied my room and fed the cat?
We had all the time in the world back then.
And it was willing to be my friend.
But I was fickle; distracted and tired.
I failed to pay it the attention it required.
So now I have to learn again,
To listen anew and coax it in.
To block out time and let the words play free,
So once again inspiration will work for me.

It taps me on the shoulder; I turn around and smile.
Today it appears poetry was its style.
It doesn’t always do as it ought;
It doesn’t always appear when it’s sought.
But it never goes far; me and it are a team.
We both work together to achieve our dreams.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Awards and Mentions

I have been burrowing behind the scenes of this week, but had to pop up in order to highlight some excellent ‘new-to-me’ blogs, and to give out an award I have been storing in an airing cupboard.

Excellent ‘new-to-me’ Blogs

S J Watson
Those of you who follow book publishing news will know there is a huge buzz around author S J Watson’s debut novel, coming next year, called Before I Go to Sleep. He is fairly new to blogging, and his posts are all about what life has been like for him since he signed with an agent. His book already has a film deal – it is going to be huge. Make friends with him now before the rush!
S J Watson’s blog: Before I Go to Sleep

My Villa Life
Ann’s blog comes to us from Auckland, New Zealand, and she also loves chocolate, like me. She writes about discovering a new city and turning it into home for her family, and punctuates her posts with lovely photographs of life around her. I loved the post about her five-year old boy taking charge and writing his wish-list for the day – a water-slide and sushi! Pop over and say hello.
Ann’s blog: My Villa Life

Scribble and Edit
Madeleine blogs from South Devon in England, and has only been here in blog-land a month. Give her a warm welcome! Her ‘micro-fiction Monday’ posts are lovely, as are her thoughts on the writing process.
Madeleine’s blog: Scribble and Edit

An Award!



I’ve been lucky enough to receive this Award a few times, but life crept in the way of collecting and passing it on. However, the lovely Krista Lynne Jensen passed it over to me recently, so thank you, Krista! The rules are you have to reveal seven things about yourself, and nominate fifteen folk to receive the Award – then let them know in a comment that they have an award to collect. Fifteen! I shall be linking for hours.

Seven things about Me
1.
If no-one else is in ear-shot then I reckon I can sing.
2. An ideal day for me involves rummaging in a musty second-hand bookshop.
3. My current favourite ice-lolly is called a Nobbly Bobbly. Trying ordering that in a newsagent and sounding sophisticated.
4. I’m a city girl with a country heart.
5. There will always be a forgotten conker in my pockets.
6. I once danced a lindy-hop with Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger in Only Fools and Horses / Mr Crouch in Harry Potter).
7. I think the world is always full of potential, even when I feel sad.


I’d like to pass this one on to the following fabulous fifteen for the following reasons:

The Magpie's Fancy
Gigi takes gorgeous photographs, and nearly all of her posts start with this amazing imagery leading to her amazing writing.
Dyche Designs
Blogs like Kathryn's remind me of when I was an Art student, and how much fun it is to be creative and make pretty things.
Katie Anderson Writer
Katie posts about her writing; life in Glasgow; and she often has fantastic photos to go with her words, including her gorgeous dog Hugo.
Being Me
I love Fran's blog. I love her writing and how much fun she has with words. You must go now and read her brilliant post about 'What happens to fairy-tales when your typing is not up to scratch'.
Creepy Query Girl
As her profile made me laugh so much. I think there is an element of creepy query girl in everyone who starts the process of querying, be it for manuscripts or magazine articles.
Coffee Rings Everywhere
Rayna often posts in drabbles, a perfect 100-word story, and her posts have a way of making you think. Always thoughtful and interesting.
From the House of Edward
I love Pamela's blog - her posts often start with a lovely illustration, or picture of her gorgeous dog Edward, and each post weaves a delightful tale.
Inwardly Digesting
Christine's posts are a pleasure to read, often under-scored with a subtle sense of humour. She posts about her writing; life around around her; and often punctuates her posts with pictures.
Happy Frog and I
Happy Frog shares memories with us, and tickles my nostalgic funny-bone by every so often posting about children's television. Love her Sesame Street posts!
Paper Clippings of a Wandering Artist
Carla's blog is lovely - she posts about what inspires her creativity and it makes me inspired, too!
Wilf the PON discovers France
Wilf the dog has a fabulous sense of humour - daily pictures of Wilf, whose expressions are so heartfelt, as he takes to his owner's new life in France.
Maynard Greenhouse
Gorgeous photographs - Carole takes old things and turns them into wonderous new things, often incorporating plants into her designs.
Nuts in May
I am loving Maggie's blog - she posts about daily life, and often uploads photographs of where she lives and what she sees along the way.
Garden full of Lily
Jennie's blog is a lot of fun - she writes about her animals and writing, as well as sharing the occasional anecdote from her teaching classes.
Lake Mary Musings
Cheryl posts from Minnesota, and often shares photos from her part of the world with 'Photo Finish Friday'.

And there we have it! Link-o-rama! Have a lovely weekend, folks.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Fluffy Plan of Happiness

Sometimes I gaze out of the window and wonder where I am heading. There may have been a birthday lurking around the weekend, hence staring at the grey sky in a rather grey mood. I need to put into action a new life plan. This plan shall be called the Fluffy Plan of Happiness. Or something.

The Fluffy Plan of Happiness

  1. Buy a top. You cannot start the fluffy plan of happiness without a new top.
  2. Book out evenings / weekends again for New Writing Project (very exciting!)
  3. Continue saving money for dream of owning own shoe-box
  4. Start some sort of exercise venture more vigorous than walking up escalators
  5. Never let the house be empty of chocolate ever again

The thing with fluffy plans is that you cannot over-load them or be too specific; otherwise they stop being fluffy and start becoming Concrete Plans of Exacting Particulars. Fluffy plans tend to give you a bit of a cuddle halfway through. C-Pep plans sound like they come in a fussy bottle from the chemist to be taken when experiencing a blockage.

“Feeling stuck in life? Take some C-Pep!”

You just know C-Pep would taste a bit murky, although perhaps it is useful for everyone to have a bottle on the shelf just in case.

Birthdays are funny things – your own personal New Year. While they should always be celebrated and enjoyed (and I did, very much, thank you!), they also bring on feelings of ‘what have I accomplished’, ‘what is next for me’, and ‘where on earth am I going and did anyone bring a map?’

So with that in mind, I have already made good in-roads with the fluffy plan, in that I have bought a new top.

What would be on your fluffy plan?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Bah to Boots

It happened again last night. There I was, in Westfield shopping centre, trying to squish my calf into a new-season boot. Why do I think my curvy calves will have somehow shrunk in the wash of August? Each year I seem to completely forget and get seduced by leather and buckles. Oh the folly.

Even if I get said calf into said boot, there are two problems. Namely:

  1. How to get calf out again. A tug of war with me, calf, boot, and sales assistant may be very entertaining for thin-calved onlookers, but rather demoralising for the one who is being winched out of nice footwear.

  2. Calf bulge. This is where the calf blossoms like a mushroom over a particularly sturdy stalk, and it is not the type of look one tends to aim for in life.
As much as I love autumn, it does come with a boot-shaped shadow.

Even boots that look massive don’t fit me. This of course does nothing for the self-esteem as I lurk around the ‘wide-leg’ aisle. I find myself suffering from acute symptoms of ‘calf envy’ as I watch others pulling on boots with ease, not needing to tuck and tug at the zip. They look so happy! So carefree! They have so much choice!

Yesterday’s foray into the depressing world of fat-boot shopping was just a small taste of what is to come. Sadly current boots are on their way out, so I do have to find another pair. I promise I will love you and take care of you! The only thing you have to do to make me happy is to fit.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Culture or Bubbles

Yesterday after work me and good friend R stomped through the pouring rain to see the magnificent maps on display at the British Library. At least, we would have if it wasn’t shut.

A map we didn't see.

Ah, we thought. Oops, we thought. Shall we go and have a glass of champagne instead at St Pancras station?

Well, it was either expand our mind with culture, or with bubbles. We chose bubbles.

Ten minutes later saw us installed at the longest champagne bar ever to be found in a train station, indeed, apparently in Europe.

Not us.

Did I say before I am rather fond of large train stations? I like that expectant excitement, the energy of all the people passing by with smart clothes and suitcases on wheels, the hurried footsteps, the tap of busy fingers on laptops. I occasionally like to go there with a notebook and sit with a coffee, watching all the to-ing and fro-ing. It gives me ideas.


I especially like St Pancras now it has been redesigned, as I love the beautiful amazing ceiling, and the Dent clock with the statue of the two lovers meeting underneath.



Maybe we did find some culture after all. Hic.


Magnificent Map image from the British Library
St Pancras images from St Pancras website