Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A moment from my window

Tube trains rattle past the busy junction, some baring battle wounds of faded graffiti, the name tags of owners having long since dropped the can and picked up a suit and tie. The sun catches and shines on the carriage, signalling a lost message from the heavens. The moving trains capture my gaze, my mind travelling for a quick second along the same rail, and then the tube is beyond the window frame, out of my world.

I count buses – seven today caressing the kerb, all with adverts for a male deodorant telling us that it is ‘new, dry and sensitive’, conjuring images of metrosexual men with floppy hair, men who wouldn’t be seen dead on the bus.

A helicopter goes past, cutting the clouds in two. Criminals or traffic, I think, as it disappears behind the office blocks that gather and crowd the station. Blank windows stare back at me, reflecting yet more glass panes until you forget which is real and which is false. Some have strip lighting; some show the backs of a computer monitor. Most look completely empty, the recession clearly announced on the ‘To Let’ signs sagging from the exterior.

I can see two trees from my window – both sporting the grey green worn by vegetation close to industry. They seem marooned in amongst all the brick, glass and concrete. Birds occasionally circle and swoop from the tree nearest me – pigeons and magpies, scroungers and thieves. A plane rumbles high above, coming or going? Departing or arriving? I make a stab at the direction, arriving, I think, and then an email flashes and my moment is over.

What is life like from your window?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Contest to celebrate!

I’ve finally sent my query out into the world, and am holding my first ever contest to celebrate, or rather, Ginger’s contest to celebrate I’ll have time to feed him again (he does rather well for food I hasten to say, but look at that sweet little grumpy face). A strange but sweet serendipity means that this week I am also celebrating three whole years in blog-land, and finally (but no means least) this is a contest to celebrate you. Yup, you over there, behind your monitor (looking mighty fine today, may I add). I appreciate and read every comment you leave me, and love knowing you like this blog – it really warms my heart. So please enjoy this contest – I had a lot of fun collecting and contemplating the prizes.

There are four prizes to be won, in the order of below. All the prizes reflect me and my vintage / hoarding interests, or are dear to me (and my novel-to-be) in some way. As some of you already know, I collect second-hand Great Pan and Fontana imprints of Agatha Christie books as I adore the cover art (as well as the gorgeous stories). I also collect elderly Puffin children’s books, and am somewhat fascinated by old Ladybird books. I have a burgeoning china tea cup collection (now depleted by one cup!) and more than a healthy interest in vintage broaches. Have I whetted your appetite yet? *grins*

Click through on the pictures to see them in all their glory.

Prize One

China tea cup trio (Paragon) stamped ‘By Appointment of Her Majesty the Queen’
1950s broach (at least, antique dealer said 1950s!)
Agatha Christie ‘The Big Four’ (This edition 2nd printing Pan Books Ltd 1962)
Ladybird Books ‘What to Look for in Winter’ (This edition 1959)
Agatha Christie ‘A Murder is Announced’ (This edition 14th impression Fontana June 1980)
Mary Norton ‘Bedknob and Broomstick’ (This edition Puffin Books 1974)
Wild Flowers Cigarette Card Album (This is complete, dates from 1918 - 1939)

Prize Two

China cream jug (was told it dates from 1930s)
Agatha Christie ‘The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding’ (This edition Fontana 1963)
Agatha Christie ‘A Pocket full of Rye’ (This edition 19th impression Fontana 1975)
George Orwell ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ (This edition Penguin Modern Classics 1969)
Ladybird Books ‘Fun and Games’ (This edition is 7b in the Key Words Reading Scheme, 1966)

Prize Three

‘Sweet William’ magnet (bought in Glastonbury)
John Wyndham ‘The Day of the Triffids’ (This edition published by Penguin 1981)
Agatha Christie ‘Evil Under the Sun’ (This edition 21st impression Fontana 1978)
Ladybird Books ‘The Story of Lighthouses, Lightships, and Lifeboats’ (This edition 1968)

Prize Four

Daphne du Maurier ‘The Birds, and Other Stories’ (This edition published by Penguin Books 1975, read my review here)
Agatha Christie ‘Five Little Pigs’ (This edition 14th impression Fontana 1975)
Ladybird Books ‘The Runaway’ (This edition 1948)

I will also be writing little notes about each prize, why I chose it, and what it means to me (and possibly the novel-to-be). Each prize-winner will also get a postcard about the novel-to-be, which reveals a secret! And that is all I am saying about that (zips mouth).


This competition is open to everyone no matter where you live in the world
You must be a follower of this blog. Be a ‘lovely folk’ and click the follow button!
You must leave a comment on this blog post

Extra entries can be gained by:
Linking to this blog post from your blog (+1)
Linking to this blog post by using the picture of Ginger on your side-bar or where-ever it fits! (+1)
Tweeting about this contest (+1)
Nb - if you do any of these things please let me know in case I miss them. Thanks!

Deadline is August 8th to give folk enough time to see it. Wish me luck with my query! And good luck to you too.

PS - I did originally put 'four' years being in blog-land, but that is because I am a muppet who cannot count. Hee!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Almost there!

It’s a beautiful day, hey hey… Good morning world! I am feeling positively chipper today despite the grey moody sky and have a list of things as long as my arm to crack on with.

(Incidentally, is it just me or do you also hate ending sentences with a preposition? In my eyes it makes a sentence look unfinished, weak, and a bit needy, like it wants a cuddle. What do you think?)

I also have to say that I’m struggling slightly as my internet connection is pants and my elderly computer is showing signs of early circuit dementia. I am frantically bailing memory hogging applications so I can continue the finishing touches to the novel, but it’s a bit touch and go. I fear this computer will soon have to be retired and start its new life as a dust covered ‘ornament’ adorning the spare room. Somewhere in the spare room (the Spare Room of Doom) is my old iMac computer which cannot even remember its own name. I am terrified of binning it in case identify theft bastards somehow pounce on it in the local dump and manage to chisel out my bank details. They surely would have to be Neo from The Matrix, but in this day and age it’s a legitimate (but paranoid) worry, isn’t it?

The local ‘dump’…I never thought about it before (probably because I thankfully don’t spend much time musing on the word ‘dump’) but it is slightly onomatopoeic, not that it is going to be added to my favourite word list any time soon. I wonder if our local dump has a real name - perhaps something like ‘Neighbourhood Household Refuse Too Big to Get Away with Concealing in a Black Bin Bag’. Although God knows folk around here like to chance their arm – I walked past what looked like half a tree sticking out of a pile of bin bags the other day.

Anyway where was I? Ah yes. Doddery computers. So currently my internet connection is on a drip.

What you can see there is masking tape holding my broadband in place. So if anything looks shonky around here (great word invented by the lovely Kit Courteney) then you know the reason why.

And now I really do have to prise myself away – got two days off real work in order to work my fingers off getting the novel ready. Almost there, folks! In fact, I rather think this weekend will be It. Eek!

And on that happy note – I shall leave you with Abigail and Ginger. I think you can guess which is which!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Book worm reviews: June 2010

In each 'Book worm' post, I review all the books I have read the previous month, no matter how varied! I am looking forward to discovering what takes my attention in a year. Coming up are the books devoured in June (although two are really from May, and one has been an ongoing process since April. Guess which!).

The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
The E before Christmas, by Matt Beaumont
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (audio)
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (also known as Agatha Christie)
Inside the Whale, by Jennie Rooney

June 2010

The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
First published as The Apple Tree by Gollancz 1952
This edition published by Penguin Books 1975

It seems my fate with Daphne du Maurier books is to be forever left leaving the table hungry. There are six short stories within this collection, and each of them makes me pause at the last page, before I flick back and re-read, curious to know more, to wonder how I didn’t guess the build up, to pick through the words for any vital clues.

I actually read this book straight after reading the H.G.Wells classic ‘The War of the Worlds’, and it was quite strange to plunge straight into the story of The Birds, yet another way to purge the human race. The Birds of course inspired film director Alfred Hitchcock, but the film is completely different from the quiet menace of the book. It ends abruptly, but sometimes in life there is no explanation, and this story reflects that beautifully. The other stories are equally memorable – the call of austere nature in Monte Verità, the trap weaved from greed in The Little Photographer, the mysterious usherette in Kiss Me Again, Stranger and finally The Old Man, a brilliantly told tale of family history. This latter story stayed in my mind for a long time – I did not guess the ending, and so had to re-read to see the story with new eyes. I love it when a story manages to do that, pull you in so deeply that you believe everything the author says, and then at the end you laugh as you realise how you were duped – it is the work of a conjurer, and I am a delighted child watching the magic. Perfect.

The E Before Christmas, by Matt Beaumont
Published by HarperCollins Publishers 2000
This edition the same

This book is a quick read, an addendum to Matt’s debut novel ‘e’, and revisits the same characters and setting that made ‘e’ so memorable.

When ‘e’ first came out, it was very revolutionary. Composed entirely of emails, we very quickly get to know the characters through their correspondence with each other. It’s very interesting how the way people use punctuation gives a good idea of their character, and this is what ‘e’ does so brilliantly. There is the secretary who overuses exclamation marks and the hippy art director whose every communication involves a smiley face. There is also the back-stabbing – gushing emails of praise to the boss while behind their back emails of vitriol do the rounds. If you have worked for an advertising agency you will definitely smile and nod knowingly at the characters, but even if you haven’t there is recognition of certain types to be found in every office - put-upon Nigel in accounts, the harassed office manager who worries about air conditioning, the creative team who are always to be found in the bar next door.

The e before Christmas bounces you straight into the days leading up to the office Christmas party. Most enjoyable.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Published by Fourth Estate, 2009
This version is an unabridged audio book, released in March 2010, purchased via itunes

Wolf Hall won author Hilary Mantel the Man Booker prize in 2009, and I was eager to read it, although decided the audio version would be kinder on my ancient handbag. I am very glad I went for audio, as the narrator, Simon Slater, really brings each character alive with a different voice for each, and since there are so many characters I think this definitely gives the reader (or listener, rather) a helping hand.

The book plunges you into the events of the 1520s with such precision and knowledge that you feel this is the only way things could have unfolded, and the characters – King Henry VIII and his court – are exactly as Hilary maintains. Yet thankfully she does not wield her historic research with too heavy a hand – I am given enough detail to be able to see the clogged Thames, feel the political intrigue, and wonder at life in London so long ago. There is also a nice touch of clever humour here and there – it doesn’t come often, but when it does it will make you smile.

Having said that, this book does require a certain amount of focus to keep up with what is happening. I found the allegorical title of the book to be a bit odd, as I was waiting for a bigger connection with Wolf Hall, as opposed to a few spoken references. It is very heavy in dialogue, with a slight confusion over who is actually speaking (the audio helps here), and I found it hard to reconcile Thomas More of the book with Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. But I did enjoy listening to it, as well as feeling very much in awe over her command of melding fact with fiction.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
First published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1999 (UK)
This edition by Hodder & Stoughton, 2000

Whether or not you like the horror genre, Stephen King is a master story-teller, and many of his books play on the psychologically creepy rather than the gore so beloved by certain crime fiction writers, for example. He really knows how to send that shiver down your spine, how to make his words linger long after you have closed the book, and how to paint pictures in your mind.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is such a simple premise – a young girl gets lost out walking in the woods with her family. This doesn’t seem enough to power a 290 page book, but the girl in question has a long journey ahead of her, and the state she is lost in is large and full of dangers. Our heroine in the book is very resourceful, much more than I would be at nine years old, and yet the empty woods loom close, and as a reader you can feel them press and settle at your back. Highly recommended.

Other book reviews will be liberally scattered in the week. Wishing you all a happy Sunday!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

A Hot Hopper

Last night I swung to the sound of a swing band, and did my best ‘I don’t know how to lindy-hop but will do a bit of mad hopping anyway’ at the Royal Albert Hall. This was the scene:

How do other ladies dance with such energy and still look immaculate? After my wildly enthusiastic but clueless freestyle I looked as though I had been busting moves in a sauna. But oh the dances! Fifties skirts swirled, vintage headscarves quivered, baggy trousers and braces rock-stepped – the floor was a whirl of people. Half the fun was watching them (and then trying to join in!)

Lindy hop fuses the Charleston with the jazz era. It is mainly a partner dance, and can be highly energetic as ladies are swung around in the air, men jump over each other, and all sorts of dance shenanigans carry on at high speed. But there are lots of different moves that allow people of all ages and ability to enjoy the music – and what music! Songs like Happy Feet, music from the Glenn Miller era, Duke Ellington – fantastic to hear in such a wonderful venue.

For a bit of pure frantic lindy-hopping, here is the youtube snippet from the 1941 film Hellzapoppin’.

And since we are currently feeling so hot here in London, a big warm welcome to new followers – 202 of you lovely folk have now clicked the follow button! Picture me doing the Snoopy dance of happiness, with a little lindy circle thrown in. Thank you!

Snoopy pic credit: Charles M. Schulz

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Sights seen at lunchtime

If I could write a letter,
To people who should know better;
I would say, ‘remember that leggings are mainly tights.’
Worn with a short top,
Especially if it’s cropped;
Gives everyone around such a fright.

I’d also further suggest,
To people who should know best;
That pink shiny leggings may not be very kind.
If you are short and stumpy,
Or rather round and dumpy;
A sausage is the only thing that really springs to mind.

Normal posts will resume soon!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Playing catch up

Do you feel bad for all the blog posts you miss? I do – hugely! Like last night – I was about to shut down the computer (or collapse asleep over the keyboard) and noticed a slew of new blog posts on my roll of honour, and each looked lovely and interesting, but I just knew by the time I slept, woke, got to work, did work-stuff, and then got to blogging, the new posts would have been superseded by equally lovely posts and I might miss them forever.

So this led me to thinking, how do you do it? Do you check out folk who comment on your blog first, and then if you have any time spare click on your blog list (which is pretty much what I do), or do you just click around where the fancy takes you?

I’ve also noticed that I now have 185 followers – blimey! Wow! Hooray! Welcome! It is very good to see you, and in your honour I am going to share a secret. I have been, for some time, planning a fabulous contest in order to say ‘thanks blogging buddies!’ I have been having a ball collecting things for the prizes and planning what to include. Not quite ready yet, but soon! Am rather excited, can you tell?

It’s been a while since I did a shout out about new followers – so here are five of the latest lovely folk to press the follow button.

Patricia Stoltey
Amber at I Still Got This Dream That You Just Can't Shake
Valerie at As The Moon Climbs
Christina Lee at Write-brained
MaryAnn Miller at It's Not All Gravy

Over the weekend I’ll be posting book reviews of the books read in June – although I have to warn you, I found this the other day:

The 'bwhahahahaa' is added in Photoshop, by the way, in case it looks like I search for cardboard boxes to chuckle evilly at me once opened.

The sad fact is most of my lovely gorgeous book collection is in boxes waiting for the day I buy my own little place (whenever that will be) and they will once again be able to proudly adorn shelves. Every so often though I crack and open another box. This time it was the Stephen King novels – lookee them! Oh books, glorious books.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Short story

I sent a little story out into the world to swing for itself the other day – how absolutely terrifying! I am now nervously sitting on my hands. The temptation to read through the story again and again bemoaning why I put that, why I chose those words, why-oh-why – I need to somehow delete this story from my mind. But I cannot! It is so new and shiny. We’re still on honeymoon and I’ve sent it packing.

It almost didn’t come to life at all. I had been playing with a blog post idea for a while, patting it around the computer. As it grew flesh and bones, turning into a story, I wondered whether it was good enough to send away somewhere, like maybe a competition. I am very aware of the fact that I have no fiction credits to my name (yet!) - maybe they are not needed, but I can’t help thinking that they help, that it all helps – especially when you are a bit brand new. So I carried on worrying at the story... but thinking it was turning into the wrong story, more of an essay... and then last week came this flash of inspiration about a completely different idea.

This was a fully fledged little story, no swollen blog post, this. So then I played with that instead for a week and got some paragraphs down, and last Friday night went hell for leather and wrote the whole thing before midnight. Saturday morning I hated it, Saturday afternoon I was okay with it, and then Saturday evening good friend C read it through and liked it. Sunday I picked it over and printed it out to read in the garden. Monday I read it on the train. Tuesday I emailed the revised effort to good friend R (who liked it too, hooray) and yesterday I sat in a coffee shop at lunchtime and went over it with a red pen. I even spoke it aloud over my latte and earned myself a few looks of ‘woah, I see mad woman’. And now I have sent it away. Blimey.

It is for a competition, and I won’t know anything about it at all until October, so now I have to forget about it completely. But I feel so fired up! I don’t particularly like the phrase ‘creative juices’ (as eugh, ick) but me river’s a-flowing. EUGH!