Thursday, 30 December 2010

In Conclusion

I have been deliberating about whether to set New Year's Resolutions for 2011, after having had many many years of them not really working for me and indeed making me disillusioned with myself. Thank you to everyone who has sent me advice and encouragement on this subject.

My conclusion is that I am going to have overall themes rather than resolutions for 2011 and then add to these monthly achievable goals to move myself forward. As I was typing those words this felt absolutely the right way to go.

So my overall themes will be:

Fitness - with the view to increasing my stamina and body tone.

Health - aimed at reducing my weight and sorting out niggly small health problems.

Writing - increasing my output, finishing projects and marketing my work.

This sounds much more positive than the resolution stick to beat myself with. What do you think?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Do I Need Them?

Do I need New Year's resolutions? I found myself straying to them when I woke this morning. Would I be better calling them goals for 2011? Or not having any at all?

They won't be too different from those of previous years even if I do have them. You know what I mean, they go along the lines of - 1. Lose weight, 2. Exercise more. 3. Write more.

Of course goals are supposed to be measurable and achievable, so I guess they should read - 1. Lose two stones in weight, 2. Go to the gym three times a week, 3. Write 2000 words a day. But am I motivating myself with these, or setting myself up to feel bad later in the year?

Maybe I could set myself monthly goals, or weekly goals, or daily goals.....

Help please. How do you approach this and what would you recommend?

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Memories

Merry Christmas to you all and best wishes for a happy and successful 2011.

In honour of the occasion, I thought I would note down a few Christmas memories.

1. Santa leaving our presents all over Mom and Dad’s bedroom and my parents were still asleep when we woke up.

2. Dad buying Mom a food processor and it wasn’t a popular choice.

3. The huge turkey which was Dad’s Christmas bonus from work. It sat in up in the fridge and turned us all off eating it.

4. The year I gave James a hamster and the rigmarole of getting the neighbours to hide it for me.

5. Mom’s ancient (70 plus years old) paper cottage that has always been on her Christmas trees.

6. The icicles I have hanging on my tree, which my Granddad obtained during the war.

7. The lovely huge chocolate boxes we used to get as children.

8. Boxing Day tea at my Pussy Nan’s.

9. My uncles plying my Nana Browning with Avocat.

10. My Dad’s abysmal attempts at charades.

11. Nana shaking the table cloth crumbs under the table when she thought no one was looking.

12. Huge family gatherings.

13. Boxing Day walks.

14. My sister being certain she had seen Santa with no clothes on!

Please add your own memories in comments.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Tribute to the Winter Solstice

Below are two pieces written in tribute to the solstice.

Solstice Celebration

We sat in a circle on small wooden stools. The fire burned at the centre of the group and made my face feel hot despite the chilly weather. All around us on the hillside was white sparkling snow. I loved the smell of the wood smoke and Sarah had perfumed it with herbs and pine cones. Flasks of mulled wine were shared amongst us to warm our bodies.

The drumming began low and slow. My beater against the goat skin seemed to take on a life of its own as my heart joined the rhythm. We drummed as one being, connected to earth and spirit. The hypnotic sounds echoed out into the hills as the moon rose slowly, majestically over the far peak. It was a perfect winter solstice moon, haloed with a blue shroud of glowing ice crystals. The sky was clear and dotted with brilliant stars. We sat in a hollow amongst the hills at a place where the ley lines converged and all of the spirits of this powerful place came together in a whirl of emotion and energy.

Wrapped warm against the cold, I realised that even my hat was gaining a coating of frost. It felt like a turning point. I felt part of this group and had never known such a belonging before. Even now I could see Andrew across the circle, his shy looks confirmed my feelings of connection and I wondered if this attraction could grow into something more promising.

Winter solstice, but not just any winter solstice, a solstice combined with a total eclipse of the moon. This pairing had not happened for four hundred years and I felt privileged to be here to witness the magical event.

Our leader, Sarah, cloaked magnificently in white with a fur edged hood was speaking and I drew my thoughts back to her. She thanked us for our support in 2010 and wished us well for the New Year. She acknowledged that the past year had been an intense journey of healing for many of us and boy was that true for me. During the year I had often felt extremely uncomfortable. It had been a big test of my trust in the unfolding of my life purpose. Sarah said it was now time for us to shed our old fears and to jump into the new with enthusiasm and knowing. I felt ready. I felt sure. My time was coming, I could feel it in my bones, like the chill in my toes. She told us to dream wildly and wisely, a sentiment that sent my active imagination into overdrive.

Our drumming increased in pace and intensity, encouragement for the moon and sun in their dance across the skies. My fingers were growing numb, but somehow my bodily comfort did not matter. I could see golden light around my companions as our auras joined and became one. My body swayed with the music of our tribute to the skies.

We fell silent as the sun began its passage across the face of the moon. It was as if it was slowly being eaten by a dark shadow, hidden from our view to take part in some mystical process of renewal. We collectively held our breath as the last fragment of shadow passed away and then we were cheering and drumming again with an otherworldly rhythm of togetherness, sending ripples of love out to the Universe and all of its beings. Our ceremony of prayer and healing became a glorious celebration of life and growth.

As we rose to make our way back to the farmhouse for a communal breakfast, Andrew fell into step by my side. He held my elbow when I stumbled a little on the uneven snowy ground and it felt right, so right.

© Morton Gray 2010

The Chosen Ones

Ancient ones feel closer.
Two score candles glow.
From the sacred beaker,
Blood drawn symbols flow.

Fire-lit red dolmens
Scented flower gowned.
Ceremonial tensions
Circle all around.

Power crystals twinkle.
Prophecy we seek.
Sacred water sprinkle.
Spirit energies peak.

Chanted incantations.
Trance provoking dance.
Soul remembered patterns.
Mistletoe enhanced.

Wode, chalk, red ochre
Painted on white faces.
Revere departed souls
Gathered in dark places.

Greet the wakening dawn
One with earth and sky.
Scanning misty heavens,
“Good harvests” we cry.

© Morton Gray 2010

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

I Only Met Him Once

We had only just arrived at the dance hall when I noticed him. Tall, with dark, closely cropped hair and a stature that suggested authority. All of the men were in uniform, it was after all a dance to celebrate the efforts of our forces. There was some indefinable difference that made him stand out.

My friends were giggling. We’d all tried to dress up as best we could given the restrictions of the war. Our well used frocks were embellished with ribbons, bows and flowers. Mary had dabbed cheap perfume behind our ears and it wafted around us like a group identity.

I was suddenly aware of how I might look to that man at the other side of the room. My cream dress with brown polka dots was borrowed and consequently it didn’t fit well. I’d added a red belt to pull in the waist and a red rose, which was already threatening to lose its petals. I didn’t possess stockings, so my legs were long and white. My shoes were practical and it pained me to see the high heels of others.

A group of men at the other side of the room were eying us up. The dance band struck up a tune and one by one my friends disappeared into the press on the dance floor. I started to feel self-conscious and analysed why I hadn’t been chosen. Tears sprang to my eyes and I blinked them away, praying that they would not dissolve the mascara applied from her precious black block earlier by my friend Marjorie.

I was just debating whether to leave or to hide in the ladies powder room when the tall man appeared at my side. He stood observing the dancers next to me.

‘We seem to be the only ones not dancing.’

It was a comment rather than a question. I felt I must reply, but all rational thought had deserted me. I managed a feeble, ‘Do you like dancing?’

‘Not particularly.’

‘I love it, but I rarely get the chance.’ I gazed at the dancers wistfully and then blushed as I realised he might think I was asking him to dance.

‘Do you live here?’

‘Yes, I was born in the village. Lived here all my life.’

‘So you know everyone and everything here?’

‘Painfully. I often dream of escape.’

‘Pastures new?’ He looked at me at last. His face was pale and his eyes dark.

‘I suppose so.’ I began to sway to a favourite tune.

‘Let me tell you something, er…’

‘Susie.’

‘Well Susie. I’m David by the way. Never underestimate belonging somewhere.’ He sighed.

‘That sounded heartfelt.’

‘I’ve never belonged anywhere. My father was in the army too. We never stayed in one place longer than six months. Now this war has meant I move even more. When it is over, I’m going to find myself a nice village like this and take root.’

The room had filled with cigarette smoke. I was thankful that I had never smoked as my eyes smarted. Pairs of dancers disappeared to the darkness. The band’s limited repertoire repeated often. We talked on. We never did dance. By the end of the evening, I had agreed to write to David and had his regimental address written on a matchbook.

I dutifully wrote, even though memories of his face blurred and I was writing to his upright image. I had letters from all over Britain and Europe in the next few years. They weren’t exciting letters, but it felt good to get them. I knew he kept most of the pain and gore from me.

One day they stopped. I mourned their loss. I never found out what happened to him, but in my heart of hearts I knew.

© Morton Gray 2010

Monday, 20 December 2010

Striking a Chord

I read Maisey Yates’ blog this morning http://www.maiseyyates.com/?p=847 and it struck a chord with me. My sister’s husband had a life improving operation on Sunday and I swear she had already written the eulogy for his funeral. He’s fine by the way. As Maisey says, why do we always imagine the worst?

As a trained Louise Hay teacher, http://www.louisehay.com/ a philosophy that advocates positive thinking, you would imagine that I would be better at this myself. I suppose the answer is, yes I am, most of the time. I accept that when it concerns your nearest and dearest it is more difficult. The thing is, as I’ve seen over the last few days with my sister, if you begin to think black thoughts, you seem to invite more in and then end up in a right stew.

Message for the day then? Let’s all make a concerted effort to look on the bright side this week, despite the restrictions imposed by the weather.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Present Dilemma

It is a bit disconcerting having a seven year old looking over your shoulder and reading out your manuscript. Thank fully I wasn’t working on a racy bit!

I’d forgotten how my time disappears when Daniel is on holiday. Hubbie is working from home at the moment too, so I seem to have become a washing and food preparation factory. Big son returns from university on Saturday with his girlfriend.

The cards are written, all 122 of them. I keep thinking that I have all the presents, but then today I realised I’d forgotten big son’s girlfriend and the gardener.

So to my dilemma. We have made an agreement between my sister, step-brother and step-sister, supposedly to simplify things, to buy a present for each family to the value of £15. This is instead of trying to cater for each individual in the four families. Sounded like a good idea at the time!

My sister is giving each family a photo calendar (she’s the photographer amongst us). My step-sister will probably (please Santa) bring beautiful chocolates from France. I haven’t got a clue what to get. Bearing in mind that step-brother’s family will be returning to Hong Kong before New Year and step-sister’s to Paris, so it has to be flat or consumable.

At the moment it will be a nice bottle of wine and home-made chocolate truffles or biscuits. What do you think or can you make a better suggestion please?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Quick Panic

In the warm summer days of 2010 when I agreed to do a talk to the local WI on 14 February 2011, it seemed ages away. I woke up this morning realising that it is not far away at all!

My subject is “You and Your Family History” and I have an hour. I’ve done talks on family history many times before and even taught adult education classes, but I decided that this time I want to stress the importance of our older generations recording their memories and family stories. Even a few thoughts in a notebook can be helpful. A family tree can be a dry thing, full of dates. Most people can construct one with a little research from birth, marriage and death certificates, and other readily available records, but for me the thing that makes it come alive is the colour from actual memories.

I am fortunate as my mother has now written two volumes of memoires from her diaries. These include all the stories about how she met my father and where, what her thoughts were on the day of my birth, descriptions of her childhood family home and the deprivations of the war years. Priceless! Maybe she should be the writer instead of me.

This Christmas maybe give a thought to recording the stories from your older relatives, even the ones that bore you to tears every year. You may not be very interested now, but there will come a time when you are and it may be too late to ask. The writers amongst you may even find some gems of inspiration for stories.

While I am on my high horse, please ask relatives to write on the back of family photographs to avoid being given a box of nameless faces. Meanwhile, I’d better get back to making some notes for my talk.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Rollercoaster

I managed to avoid it during November, as I was too busy with the Nanowrimo writing challenge, but now I feel firmly on the Christmas rollercoaster (and a little out of control!).

Little son breaks up from school next Friday (10 December), which feels obscenely early. While we will have fun though doing lots of Christmassy things, it feels as if I have one week to get Christmas organised.

I think we shall put up the trees and decorations when D has finished school. Meanwhile I have over a hundred Christmas cards to write. Thankfully managed to send the ones winging their way abroad last week. Present buying is virtually under control – I think!

It's Christmas lunch with the girlies tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that and have their little presents are already wrapped. It’s at our favourite café, of course.

My Christmas cake is going to have to be one of those last minute recipes this year. How had I used to find the time years ago to make mincemeat, Christmas puddings and a cake, whilst working full time and being a single parent? I suppose I was a lot younger in those days.

Which reminds me, I must take the layers of dust off big son’s bedroom and make his bed. His been at Uni since September. It will be great to catch up with him. Hope he has been working hard, as it’s his final year.

Don’t suppose I shall be getting much writing done this week, but you never know. My characters have a habit of nagging me when I am busy doing other things, so I'll keep a notebook handy.

Hope your Christmas preparations are going well.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

I Did It!

I completed my Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I actually rather enjoyed it and am still continuing to write the story. Whether anyone will ever want to read it is another matter. It was good to allow myself to write whatever I fancied, rather than trying to conform to writing guidelines. I also allowed the plot to develop organically rather than planning. The starting points were a song on a Celtic CD I had in the car and a very short story I wrote two years ago.

It turned into a time slip murder mystery. I am beginning to wonder if this is my genre, as I have another half completed manuscript of a similar type but in a totally different setting.

2,000 words a day are very possible. My ironing pile suffered, hence the five hour ironing marathon yesterday. In general, however, my housework still got done, as it was useful thinking time.

I already had a good practice of being a “waiting” writer. By that I mean I write when I am waiting at the doctor’s, dentist, hairdressers, outside school, during Daniel’s piano and swimming lessons and even if a friend is getting a coffee in the café and I am keeping the table. I think that Nano has focussed my mind and made me even more fastidious about this practice

The exercises at writing class could generally be adapted to be part of the plot of the Nano novel too. It will be interesting to see if my new word count regime continues. They say it takes 21 days of repetition to create a habit. (And yes I have written over a 1000 words today!)

I have to say that the word count could not have been achieved without the support of my family and friends. My husband was particularly helpful, showing an interest in my word count, cooking meals and even on occasion taking over my turn at reading the bedtime story to Daniel when I was in the flow.

My writing buddy, Ellie Swoop, was always there when I needed a moan or to talk through the plot. (I hope while I am writing this that she has written her last 2,000 words and achieved her Nano target too. I’m looking forward to the celebration!)

One of the best things has been the caring comments of my new friends on Facebook, many of whom were met because of the New Voices competition. You know who you are and thank you

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Writer’s Bottom

My friend Ellie Swoop and I have identified a problem with Nanowrimo. We are doing wonderfully well with our word count, keeping up to date and with lots of plot ideas, but we have both noticed an unforeseen consequence. Our bottoms are spreading with all this sitting down! In my case, at least, this is assisted with a higher than normal consumption of chocolate I'll admit. Something about writing makes me want to eat.

Now we have both tried to address this with walking. Yesterday, she went for a walk with her chocolate Labrador and my boys (husband and son) dragged me on a hike around the forest. I am beginning to wonder if this bottom effect could be an occupational hazard.

I can see that if I am going to continue being a serious writer, I am going to have to have some strategies to combat the spread. Suggestions please?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Memory From Schooldays

There I was, sat on the bank at the back of the school. It was a sweltering hot day. I mean really, really hot. Rivulets of sweat ran down the back of my least favourite school dress. (I was always told that ladies don’t sweat. “Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow”, but rivulets of glow, doesn’t quite give you the picture.) I was wearing my cardigan too. Madness, I hear you shout.

Our summer school uniform was a cotton dress. In those days you couldn’t just buy them from M&S or Asda. My mother had to buy yards of the school fabric and make it up herself. It was horrible material, turquoise blue with something reminiscent of a Greek key in navy all over it. Much too busy.

I had two dresses, one with long sleeves and one with short. They were both so short in length that I couldn’t sit on the material and laddered my tights with great regularity as there was so much leg exposed. In those days we used to just put nail varnish on the end of the ladder and sew it up in a long stripe when we got home.

So why was I sat there on such a hot day in my cardigan? Well you see puffed sleeves were in, but I don’t know what on earth my mother had done to the pattern. I suspect that the sleeve pattern piece was the whole piece, but she had taken it to be half, as I had nothing short of balloons, barrage balloons at that, at the top of my arms under the cardigan. I was so ashamed, that I would rather have sweated until reduced to a stick than take off that horrid itchy cardigan and expose my mortification.

I sat there with everyone else in their cool short sleeves, trying not to faint. If I even thought about taking off my cardigan, I could see those pointing fingers and hear the name calling, just as if it was happening.

The joy of schooldays! Do you have a memory to share?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Burned at the Stake

My latest production, Pendle Cottage, which is the working title for my Nanowrimo novel, involves a fair amount of witchcraft, herbal remedies and poison. I was a bit disconcerted to find the research books I wanted to buy filed under a big notice ‘Witchcraft’ in Waterstones. I stood there hoping no one would recognise me. I only wanted to identify a couple of herbs and poisons!

I eventually bought ‘Hedgerow Medicine' by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, Merlin Unwin Books, 2008, ISBN 9781873674994. It has been very helpful. We already had a copy of 'Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe' by Dieter Podlech, Bestsellers, 2001, ISBN 9780261674059 on the bookshelf. I was then lucky enough to come across another book ‘The Women’s Guide to Herbal Medicine’ by Carol Rogers, BCA, 1995, ISBN 9780241133477 in pristine condition for £2 in a charity shop.

This isn’t my first brush with herbs. When I was in my early teens I asked for a patch of my parents’ garden and grew them. I had a little herbal book then, but I lent it to someone and never got it back. I can remember putting lavender seeds into almond oil for my mother to massage onto her arthritic knees and insisting that my father had lemon balm in his tea.

Strange how when you research something, you suddenly notice things which were invisible before. On my walk into town the other day, I saw several ‘weeds’, which could be used in herbal remedies, growing out of the pavement and walls on the way.

I think my fate would have been sealed years ago; I would have been burned at the stake. Maybe I have been several times in past lives. After all I can imagine it very clearly with all of my senses! Or is that just my writer’s imagination?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Discovering David Whyte

Has anyone else discovered David Whyte? Ellie Swoop and I first met him at Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2008. He is an inspirational poet. During his performance, in which he read his poetry in a very different way, he captivated us both.

He reads his poems very slowly to give you time to digest them and he repeats lines which he wants to emphasise. He's also very charismatic and has a wonderful voice. He must have impressed me for me to shell out £20 on his book ‘River Flow – New and Selected Poems 1984-2007’, Many Rivers Press, 2007, ISBN 1932887172, which he signed for me. I have read this large volume word for word and highlighted my favourites with tabs.

In fact, I was so impressed I also purchased one of his audio books, ‘Midlife and the Great Unknown’ and I listen to it at the gym. His voice is so soothing and his words ring the right bells for me and leave me feeling uplifted. He does poetry workshops for businesses all over the world.

My favourite lines have to be:
                                               ‘anything or anyone
                                                that does not bring you alive
                                                is too small for you.’
Extract from Sweet Darkness.

You can read a selection of his poems at http://www.davidwhyte.com/english.html

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Big Question

I think that I have now proved to myself, by taking part in Nanowrimo, that I can write around 2000 words a day towards a novel fairly easily. My big question is – how do I do all of the other things I need to do in the day too?

Serious writers must be superhuman or else need little sleep. Focus on my Nano novel has meant that housework has all but ceased. Standards have definitely dropped. My husband has to keep reminding me about the things he needs ironing (like work trousers at 5.15 am this morning!). My ironing pile is huge. My ironing room, aka spare bedroom, is full. I just hope that we don’t have visitors soon, unless they are champion ironers.

I keep forgetting to get things out of the freezer for tea, resulting in last minute dashes to the supermarket or beans on toast. Luckily here, beans on toast are my hubbie’s favourite boiler fuel.

My hobbies are sadly neglected. Un-knitted wool glares at me from under the table. My family tree is wilting. The massive pile of unread magazines is threatening to take over one side of my study. I’ve bought my Christmas cards, despite having craft materials enough to stock Hobbycraft.

All I keep hoping is that I get faster at writing or else become desensitised to my to do list. Or of course earn a fortune from writing. So how do you do it all?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Writing Class Exercise

I went to my writing class today. The tutor passed round three envelopes and we had to take a piece of paper from each. I got ‘milkman’, ‘hotel’ and ‘bottle of perfume’. It never ceases to amaze me what my brain makes of some of these exercises. Here I was trying to write everything in the vein of my Nanowrimo project to save time, but this exercise refused. For a laugh, I share what I wrote below:-

Slow Burn

I was in love with the milkman. He wasn’t your average hero with his bald head (usually covered with a tweed cap), ruddy face and bow legs. Then, I wasn’t your average heroine, being the wrong side of fifty and rather plump to put it mildly. I worked as a cook in the little Barry Hotel in Broad Street and so, I had every excuse to talk to Alfred (the milkman). He arrived every morning wearing his white apron, breathing a little too heavily due to the weight of the crates.

I don’t know when I realised I was in love with him, but I’d been trying to move our relationship on from ‘Morning, Martha’, ‘Good Morning Alfred’, for a year now. He seemed to resist all of my attempts to be noticed. He didn’t say anything when I began to sleep in curling papers so that even at 6am I had tumbling curls under my cook’s hat, admittedly sugared with grey hairs. He didn’t notice when I began to wear more and more layers of make up or when my skirts got shorter. Maybe he just wasn’t interested.

Still living in hope, I continued with my beauty regime and always made sure I had a clean bright tent under my spruce white apron. Lovesick that is what my mother, God rest her soul, would have called me.

I’d all but given up, but one day as Alfred turned to leave, he said, ‘There be something for you in the bottom crate Martha. Be sure you find it.’ He winked and was gone before he saw I had turned puce.

Wrestling with the crates, I moved them until the last one was exposed. There nestling in amongst the white bottles with silver foil lids was a bottle of perfume.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

What Fun

I finally gave in to some new characters. They appeared in my head and demanded that I try Nanowrimo. For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo is an annual writing challenge held in November. The idea is that participants write a 50,000 word novel during the month. It isn’t a competition, rather a personal achievement. See http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/whatisnano for details.

If I am honest, I was dreading it, as I saw only the pressure to perform and the fear of failure. Three days in and I am loving it. The story is literally coming out of my ears. I think I am channelling! I had completed today’s target by 10am and have made numerous quick notes during the day to point me in the right direction for tomorrow's writing. I expect things might get a bit harder further in, but I’m not allowing myself to think of that for now. The great thing is that loads of my friends are taking part too, so there is plenty support and encouragement around.

The Nanowrimo website is rather annoying, as it does not seem to be able to cope with the volume of users and crashes frequently. It also seems to take forever to change something on your account.

The main thing for me is that I am having so much fun with the writing. Maybe my true voice is emerging at last. I am busy researching in between writing – ancient curses, talismans and herbal medicine. I’m going to pace myself, so I am aiming for 1,700 words a day. Giving myself a gold star for today’s performance.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Rome

We had seven days in Rome over half term. It wasn’t exactly planned, as little one’s passport only arrived on the Monday before! He loved flying. There was me with usual nerves, he was sat cross-legged on his seat and talking non-stop. It helped that hubbie used his air miles and we had Club class seats (real crockery and a lovely meal!)

I wasn’t quite prepared for how exhausting Rome is. The streets teem with traffic, including loads of mopeds. Crossing the road was a case of walking out with your eyes closed and praying, as the traffic dodged around you. We reckoned that we walked further than on our Lake District walking holiday earlier in the year. I have never seen so much graffiti, it was even on some monuments.

The sights are quite widely spread, with lots of modern-day Rome surrounding them. Queues to get into some sights such as the Colosseum were huge, to the extent we didn’t always wait. D got to throw his coin in the Trevi fountain and I got to eat some lovely ice cream – pistachio, coffee and tiramisu. Yum.

Colosseum

Ancient ruins


Constantine's Arch

Trevi Fountain

On the day we went to the Vatican, we got to St Peter’s Square to find the Pope on the dais outside St Peter's Basilica. Daniel was thrilled to see the Popemobile when he had finished his address. We then went inside St Peter's Basilica and I loved the different coloured marbles and the window above St Peter’s tomb.
St Peter's Square
Window above St Peter's Tomb

The weather was very kind, I even got sunburned a couple of times. I could get used to sitting in one of the many street side cafes with my coffee and writing. I did write quite a bit, mainly character sketches for future use.

Piazza del Popolo
Beautiful blue sky

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Back From Rome and Some Competitions

A quick post, as my head doesn't seem to have got back from Rome even if my body has! We had a good week. It was very tiring as we walked miles. The weather was very kind. We even saw the Pope and the Popemobile. I'll post some photos over the next few days.

Congratulations to my friend and tutor Sue Johnson on her publishing contract.

Sue's Flash fiction competition on the theme of STARS closes on 30 November 2010. Details at  www.writers-toolkit.co.uk

Another friend is holding a short story and poetry contest with the theme Domestic Violence. Closing date: 30th November. Further details from: ce.apps@tesco.net or http://www.writing-experiment.webs.com/

Back soon with photographs of Rome. Mx

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Home Grown

I love growing my own fruit and veg, even if it is time consuming watering the plants. This is the third year running we’ve grown tomatoes on the patio and we had a bumper crop. We tried broad beans, but only got one meal’s worth. My purple broccoli have mainly succumbed to the cabbage white butterflies. How do they find my few plants? They must smell or something, as the patio had been covered in white butterflies. Consequently, only one plant soldiers on supposedly to produce broccoli after Christmas.

Our main crop is chillies. My husband likes everything hot!! We have grown three types this year, long green ones, round ones, which are a vicious looking purple before they go red, and tiny red ones. Those tiny red ones had my husband and son red faced, fighting for breath when they tried them. Oh dear, I gave some of those plants to the school plant stall – someone will have a surprise!

For the last few weeks, I have been busy preserving my crops. We have jars everywhere of tomato and onion relish, red pepper chutney, green tomato chutney, tomato sauce, chilli jam and extra hot chilli jam (eat at your peril). Today I need to pickle the three different types of chilli. My house smells permanently of vinegar and I must have bought up the entire area stock of Kilner jars, but I reckon it will be worth it for all those lovely flavours throughout the year.

If you are one of the people who bought those chilli plants….oops! Sorry I didn’t realise they were quite that hot.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

History of Reading – Part 2

Or should that say – A history of MY reading part 2 - 2009? I give below a review of books I read in 2009.

Binchy, Maeve – Heart and Soul, Orion, 2009, ISBN: 1409102319

Clara Casey has more than enough on her plate. Her daughters Adi and Linda were no problem at all during the usually turbulent teens. Now in their twenties, Adi is always fighting for or against something: the environment or the whale or battery farming; while Linda lurches from one unsatisfactory relationship to the next. As if this wasn't enough, Clara, a senior cardiac specialist, has a new job to cope with. For Ania, meeting Clara Casey is a miracle: she had never intended to leave her beloved Poland, but after the love of her life has turned sour, her world seems rather empty. Perhaps a new job in a new country will mend her broken heart? Declan is looking forward to joining the clinic - but what should have been a straightforward six-month posting brings him far more than he expected. Then there's Father Brian Flynn, whose life is turned upside down when his reputation is threatened; and the beautiful, cheerful nurse, Fiona, who can't leave her troubled past behind. .

Usual Maeve Binchy formula (maybe I’ve read too many), but rather convoluted with so many characters.

Plot and characters **** Writing ****

Binchy, Maeve – The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club, Orion, 2008, ISBN: 0752883070


‘The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club’ gives an insight into how a No.1 bestselling author writes. Inspired by a course run by the National College of Ireland, it comprises 20 letters from Maeve. These offer advice, tips and her own take on the life of a writer, in addition to contributions from top writers, publishers and editors.

Interesting snippets for writers, but not really meaty enough.

Writing ***

Chadwick, Elizabeth – Daughters of the Grail, Sphere, 2006, ISBN: 075153899X

Thirteenth century France. Bridget has grown up mastering the mystical gifts of her ancestor, Mary Magdalene, whose unbroken female lineage has kept a legacy of wisdom alive for a thousand years. The all-powerful Catholic Church has sworn to destroy Bridget for using her healing talents and supernatural abilities. Bridget's duty to continue the bloodline leads her into the arms of Raoul de Montvallant - a Catholic. When the Church's savage religious intolerance causes Raoul to turn rebel, a terrible vengeance is exacted by Simon de Montfort, the unstoppable Catholic leader of a crusade against peaceful 'heretics'. As war rages on, it is the children of these passionate souls, Magda and Dominic, who must strive to preserve the ancient knowledge for future generations.

This had every potential, but some discrepancies in the middle of the book destroyed my interest and I struggled to read the rest. Convoluted plot, which was a bit predictable. Maybe it went wrong when she was padding it out to get enough words or re-writing for this edition.

Plot and Characters **** Writing **** (apart from the bit in the middle)

Chadwick, Elizabeth – Shields of Pride, Sphere, 2007, ISBN: 0751540277

This is the story of mercenary Joscelin de Gael, the illegitimate son of a prominent knight and Linnet de Montsorrel. Linnet's abusive husband dies in an accident and Joscelin is given the care of Linnet's holdings and young son. He marries her. The story then focuses on the after-effects of the abuse Linnet suffered at the hands of her now dead husband and father in law, along with the constant plotting of Joscelin's treacherous half-brother (the heir) and stepmother.

An enjoyable read. It was interesting to note how her writing had developed since writing ‘The Wild Hunt’.

Plot and Characters **** Writing ****

Chadwick, Elizabeth – The Wild Hunt, Michael Joseph Ltd, 1990, ISBN: 0718134230

In the wild Welsh marches a noble young lord rides homewards, embittered, angry and in danger. He is Guyon, lord of Ledworth, heir to threatened lands, husband-to-be of Judith of Ravenstow. Their union will save his lands. They are forced to face insurmountable odds during a war in the twelfth century.

Elizabeth Chadwick's carries out her research as a member of Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society. This was her first novel.

An enjoyable read, but on the lighter weight side.

Plot and Characters **** Writing ****

Jones, Christina – Hubble Bubble, Piatkus, 2004, ISBN: 0749934972

Mitzi Blessing is on the scrapheap: forced into a very early retirement, a lifetime of organising the church flower rota and making cricket teas seems to loom gloomily ahead of her. With her two daughters seemingly happily settled, Mitzi is determined not to dwindle quietly into serene old age and sets about organising and revitalising Hazy Hassocks, the small rural community she has lived in all her life. However, with the discovery of her grandmother's cookery book in the attic, life for Mitzi and her friends and family starts to get very interesting. Full of old-fashioned recipes with enchanting names like Wishes Come True Pie, Mischief Night Cake, and Powers of Persuasion Pudding - Granny's dishes provide a nourishing meal, but they also seem to have some very surprising side effects indeed.

Lovely easy read. Lots of fun. Loved it!

Plot and characters ***** Writing ****

Jones, Christina – Love Potions, Piatkus, 2006, ISBN: 0749937351

When aromatherapist Sukie Ambrose starts using her cottage garden as inspiration - and raw ingredients - for her products, she thinks she's just hit on a good way of saving money while offering her clients a way of de-stressing and relaxation. However, Sukie lives in a village where strange things have been known to happen. She discovers that her new improved lotions and potions are making her massages distinctly magical - and producing more star-crossed lovers than Shakespeare could ever dream of...

Lovely, if a little predictable after reading ‘Hubble Bubble’.

Plot and Characters *** Writing ****

Jones, Christina – Tickled Pink, Harper Collins, 2002, ISBN: 0007126867

This is the story of two women who are both at a turning point in their lives, and who have each suffered an enormous emotional blow. As the book unfolds, they both learn to deal with what has happened to them, and begin to move forward towards a better life. In both cases a surprising new relationship.

Rather enjoyed this, even though it is written in a very light style.

Plot and characters ***** Writing ****

Gregson, Julia – East of the Sun, Orion Books, 2008, ISBN: 1409102513

Autumn 1928. Three young women are on their way to India, each with a new life in mind. Rose, a beautiful but naive bride-to-be, is anxious about leaving her family and marrying a man she hardly knows. Victoria, her bridesmaid couldn’t be happier to get away from her overbearing mother, and is determined to find herself a husband. Viva, their inexperienced chaperone, is in search of the India of her childhood, ghosts from the past and freedom. Each of them has their own reason for leaving their homeland but the hopes and secrets they carry can do little to prepare them for what lies ahead in India. From the parties of the wealthy Bombay socialites, to the ragged orphans on Tamarind Street.

A delightful read. I couldn’t put it down. Admire Julia Gregson’s descriptive powers. I ran out to buy her next book I was so impressed.

Plot and Characters ***** Writing *****

Gregson, Julia – The Waterhorse, Orion Books, 2009, ISBN: 1409102653

Set during the Crimean war, this is the story of Catherine Carreg, a young woman who finds the restrictive life of small town mid-nineteenth century Wales oppressive, and longs to escape. After the death of her mother in childbirth, Catherine decides she needs to make a difference in the world, and runs away to London with local cattle drovers to train as a nurse. She trains in Florence Nightingale’s home for sick nurses, then volunteers to nurse in the hell that is the hospital at Scutari, on the mouth of the Black Sea. Beset by ignorance, antagonism and illness, Catherine must fight to learn the lessons of love and war.

A lovely book, but sadly not as good as ‘East of the Sun’. Implausible end.

Plot and Characters **** Writing *****

Grenville, Kate – The Lieutenant, Cannongate Books Ltd., 2009, ISBN: 1847673449

The Lieutenant' tells the story of Lt. Daniel Rooke, a junior officer in the Royal Marines, sent with an expedition to Australia to found the settlement at Sydney. While there, he meets the local tribe, begins to learn their language, and in doing so forms a relationship with them, thinking of them as human in a way not shared by his comrades.

This started quite slowly but gradually wrapped me in the story, which at the end was rather poignant and sad. Great writing.

Plot and characters **** Writing ****

James, Eloisa – Much Ado About You, Harper Collins, 2005, ISBN: 0007229488
Teresa (Tess) Essex and her three sisters (Anabelle, Imogen and Josie) are left to the care of their guardian after their horse-mad father dies. They move from Scotland to England not knowing what to expect until they arrive at their guardian's beautiful estate. However, their peace is shattered after Imogen elopes with the young lord from the neighbouring estate and Tess is forced to marry to save the family from disgrace. Step in the Earl of Mayne.

This promised a lot, but didn’t live up to that promise. The characters were a bit flat and the story a bit trite.

Plot and characters *** Writing and technique *

Melikan, Rose – The Blackstone Key, Sphere, 2009, ISBN: 0751539961

1795, and a young woman called Mary Finch travels in haste from Cambridge to the Suffolk coast. She has been invited to meet her wealthy uncle - and so end a twenty-year estrangement. However, before she reaches her destination she discovers a dying man on the road. He is a stranger, and yet he is carrying an oddly familiar watch bearing her uncle's initials. He also seems to know who Mary is, and hints that she is in terrible danger. His whispered warning soon exposes Mary to a ruthless conspiracy that threatens not only her family's reputation, but her very life.

I kept waiting for something exciting to happen. A bit dry and difficult to understand what the fuss was about. Had to persevere to read it at all. Disappointing, I won’t be reading the sequel.

Plot and Characters ** Writing **

Walters, Julie – That’s Another Story – The Autobiography, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2008, ISBN: 0753826089

There were some interesting snippets about Julie’s life in this book, but the inconsistencies, repetition and rapid moves around her life in the second half of the book rather detracted from the whole. A bit confused at times.

Writing ***

Back soon with 2010 so far! Comments please.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Humbling Experience

My son’s school hosted a performance by The Pearl of Africa choir on Friday night. The choir are on a fund raising tour to support 3,000 Ugandan orphans and destitute children in eight schools and nine orphanages.
Each choir member comes from a background that we can’t even imagine. Many are orphans to AIDS and malaria. They have been taken in by the Molly and Paul Childcare Foundation, which has given them schooling, food, health care and the hope of a brighter future.

The choir spent all day at the school, teaching the children to sing, dance and drum. Any children who were at the performance were asked to come on stage and show what they had learned by taking part in some of the songs.

My husband asked why the microphones were out of the way and we soon found out. They were loud! Drums beat out and the voices made you quiver. The children were so beautiful. The one song was about women fetching water and the girls balanced pots on their heads. As a finale, one of the girls balanced six pots on her head and danced!! There was such a vibrancy to their singing and dancing. Most of the songs have a religious theme. I have never heard the Lord’s Prayer sung like that before.

I bought a necklace and a Cd. At a previous sale I bought another necklace (jewellery is my weakness) and a wonderfully vibrant tablecloth and which graces my dining room table and brings an energy to the room.

Everyone was emptying their purses and wallets after seeing a video of how the children live – they only get one meal a day if they are lucky. One little boy emptied all of his pocket money into the bucket.

One of the schools supported by the choir is a farm school and they are appealing for chicken sponsors so that the orphans can have one egg a week. £5 supports a chicken for its life and if you send a photograph of yourself with the donation it will be displayed in the hen house. I have visions of the hens cheerfully comparing sponsors!

£15 a month is the average cost of caring for a child at a Molly and Paul school and they are keen to get one off or standing order donations. I was talking to one lady who had supplied pigs for the farm with her workmates and who sponsors four girls. She was telling us about the e-mails she gets from her ‘charges’.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening, but very humbling.

The Choir is in the UK until 17 November and have performances planned in the following areas, Oct 14th - Oct 24th Kidderminster/Ludlow, Oct 24th - Oct 27th Leicester, Oct 28th The Eden Project, Cornwall, Oct 29th - 30th Plymouth, Oct 31st - 8th Nov Cornwall, Nov 10th - Nov 17th London and South East. It is well worth seeing them.

If anyone is interested in donating or sponsoring a chicken or a child, details can be found here.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Poetic Plea

What if I were confident

the way I used to be?

Wearing red and jade suits

in a grey-clad sea of men.

Leading teams, deciding goals,

speaking out with steel.

How did she become this little mouse?

Please tell me this isn’t real.

Let me wake tomorrow sure and set

on a new course with pride.

Pitching to those publishers,

letting my stories and poems shine.

Having reborn confidence

to reach right for that sky.



Morton Stephanie Gray

13 October 2010

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A History of Reading – Part 1

Or should that say – A history of MY reading part 1 - 2008? During my writing course I have made a conscious effort to read as widely as possible and to include books that I would not normally consider. This strategy has enabled me to gain a lot of insight into how the writers below achieve their settings and characterisation. I was very aware that whilst working through the course I looked at plots and techniques in these books in a very different way, trying to analyse how they had achieved their purpose. I give each book I read a rating for a) Plot and characters and b) Writing and technique. Please feel free to add your own comments.
Baker, Donna – The Weaver’s Daughter, Headline Book Publishing, 1991, ISBN: 0747236135
Baker, Donna – The Weaver’s Dream, Headline Book Publishing, 1992, ISBN: 0747237247
Baker, Donna – The Weaver’s Glory, Myriad Books, 2001, ISBN: 1904154182
The above three books form a trilogy about families in the carpet weaving town of Kidderminster (which I live close to). Donna’s story is very interesting with lots of historical details and twists and turns of plot. Unfortunately, she tends to repeat the initial incident in Book one with great regularity (almost in every chapter) and this tended to annoy and distract me when I was reading the books. I think I learned quite a lot about what not to do in any future novel of my own from these books and thus reading them was valuable.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique *

Binchy Maeve – This Year Will Be Different, Orion 2007, ISBN: 0752876287
This is a collection of short stories about Christmas and the relationship problems which can surface at this time. I admire Maeve Binchy’s style and the way she weaves stories together to make a novel out of an otherwise disparate group of tales.
            Plot and characters *** Writing and technique ****

Binchy, Maeve – Nights of Rain and Stars, Orion 2005, ISBN: 0752865366
I would go as far as saying that this is my favourite Maeve Binchy to date. Thoroughly enjoyed the setting and the way the main characters moved on during the story.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****

Binchy, Maeve – Whitethorn Woods, Orion 2007, ISBN: 0752881477
This is the usual Maeve Binchy format of interwoven short stories, in this case concerning the troubled residents, former residents and descendents of residents of an Irish town where an obscure shrine faces demolition. I admire this style greatly and am trying to learn how to achieve it. However, it did take me two attempts to finish this book as I lost interest part way through.
            Plot and characters *** Writing and technique ****

Binchy, Maeve – The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club, Orion 2008, ISBN: 0752883070
The book, in the form of Maeve Binchy's letters and short essays from other experts in the world of writing, provides clear advice on the business of being a writer. It is written in a motivational and inspirational style which is helpful. As I admire Maeve Binchy’s style it was useful to have her opinions on writing.
            Writing and technique ****

Erskine, Barbara - The Warrior’s Princess, HarperCollins 2008, ISBN: 0007174284
I love Barbara Erskine and have read the majority of her books. This one was bought whilst still in hardback edition as I couldn’t wait. The book takes place in two settings, the past and the present and these stories become increasingly interwoven until all of the characters are influencing the present. I am full of admiration for this style and would aspire to write in this way.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****

Gaskell, Elizabeth – North and South, Penguin Classics 2003, ISBN: 0140434240
When her father leaves the Church, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially she hates the industrial town of Milton, but becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers. Simmering under the surface in these quite repressed times is the attraction between the hero and heroine. I was impressed by the fact that this did not feel old fashioned in any way and was as interesting and gripping as if it has been written recently.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****

Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat, Pray, Love, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2007, ISBN: 0747585660 This book is fantastic. It is a story and also a self-help book, as it makes you think about your own life as you are reading it. It tells the story of a newly divorced woman on a journey to find herself by spending time in Italy, India and Indonesia. Again a style I would aspire to.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique *****

Harris, Joanne - Chocolat, Black Swan 2000, ISBN: 0552998486
A mysterious woman arrives with her daughter in a small, French village. She opens a chocolate shop and is soon tempting residents during Lent. This leads to conflict with the church. The book explores various prejudices. I found the writing style refreshing as it is written from the point of view of two people.
            Plot and characters **** Writing and technique ****

Harris, Joanne - The Lollipop Shoes, Black Swan 2008, ISBN: 0552773158
This is the sequel to Chocolat above. It is written in an even more complicated way from the point of view of three people. I found this style very difficult to get used to as you constantly had to ask yourself who was speaking. The characters and story are very good.
            Plot and Characters **** Writing and technique **

Hore, Rachel - The Memory Garden, Pocket Books 2007, ISBN: 1416511008
This book alternates between two characters, one in the present and the other in the past. Although born a century apart they face the same challenges to their happiness.
            Plot and Characters **** Writing and technique ****

Johnson, Jane - Crossed Bones, Viking 2008, ISBN: 0670917311
I had read about this book in a magazine and thought the subject matter sounded interesting. It is about the abduction of almost a whole Cornish village by Barbary Pirates. However, I found certain aspects of the plot implausible and some of the coincidences unrealistic. It is a good read if you don’t take it seriously and ignore the imperfections.
            Plot and Characters ** Writing and technique **

Long, James - Ferney, Viking, 2008, ISBN: 0670917311
This is a re-print of a book I read many years ago. I was curious to read it again to see if it held the same appeal now that I know a little about writing. Thoroughly enjoyed it again, although I could see some holes in the story line. It explores re-incarnation and the two souls in the book have mistimed their re-entry so that one is old and the other young. Fascinating but with my writer’s hat on a bit overdone.
            Plot and Characters *** Writing and technique ***

Moriarty, Sinead - The Baby Trail, Penguin 2004, ISBN: 1844880400
Moriarty, Sinead - A Perfect Match, Penguin 2005, ISBN: 1844880419
The above two books are in a totally different style to those I normally read. They are very fast paced books using modern language and are written in the first person. The first is about a woman trying to get pregnant and the second about the same person going through the adoption process. A very quick read and although I admire the way they have been done I cannot see myself writing like this.
            Plot and Characters *** Writing and technique **

Townend, Carol - The Novice Bride, Harlequin Mills & Boon 2008, ISBN: 0263862496
I wanted to see what all the hype about Mills and Boon writing was all about. (Little did I imagine I’d be entering the New Voices Competition in 2010!) This is set just after the Norman invasion and the Saxon heroine Cecily has no choice but to marry the invader. Although it was a bit of a light read for my taste, I did admire how the author gets you gripped from the start and created interest in the characters.
            Plot and Characters ** Writing and technique ***

Young, Elizabeth - Asking For Trouble, Arrow Books Ltd; April 2004, ISBN: 0099463377
I was particularly interested to read this novel as it is the basis for one of my favourite films “The Wedding Date”. I wanted to see how the book had been translated into a script for the screen. I was very surprised at how little of the book appears in the film. The main concept is there but the plot of the book was completely different to that of the film. I found this fascinating. An author obviously can’t be too precious about content if they sell the film rights.
            Plot and Characters ** Writing and Technique **

I will record 2009 and 2010 reading in further blogs. .




Saturday, 9 October 2010

Life beyond

Looking forward to life beyond New Voices! I can’t believe how much time and energy it took up – where did September go?

I’ve already sorted out a poem for a competition, read the next section of my distance learning course and examined several scenarios for writing projects I have on the go. Rosie and Tanner are nagging me to get on with their story too. Determined to write, write and write some more. However, it is a Grand Prix weekend and something the whole family like to watch together.

My daily message book, ‘Meditations for Women Who do too Much’ by Anne Wilson Schaef, ends today’s entry with – “Just remember, when a vacuum is opened up, many interesting possibilities rush in.” How apt is that?!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Thoughts on New Voices

Oh well, not only did I not make the top ten in the Mills and Boon New Voices competition, but I wasn’t on the list of writers they want to hear more from either. I’ve allowed myself a few moments to feel despondent and now I’m taking stock.

The fact is I learned a great deal from the New Voices experience. I was actually brave enough to put my chapter up there. The people who read my chapter seemed to enjoy it as most of my comments were positive. I picked up a lot of tips about writing by looking at the other stories, videos and tips on the site. I’m made a whole host of friends on Facebook and they are very supportive. My blog has gained a few more followers and read statistics have boomed (particularly in China?!!?).

Looking at my chapter I wonder now if M&B is the right arena for it. The story has taken on a life of its own, with Tanner and Rosie knocking on my brain throughout the day, so I have no doubt that it will be written to a conclusion. Not only that, but my writing life seems to have reached a turning point – or a non-turning point – in that I am now convinced that a writer is who I am and that I will get published.

I feel braver about putting my work out there and determined to write what I want in my own voice. Thank you M&B for helping me to clarify so many issues. To top it all I wrote a piece at writing group today which I feel can grow into another novel. Onwards and upwards. In the immortal Arnie words “I’ll be back.”

Monday, 4 October 2010

Reading Statistic

Listening to Radio 4 on the way to writing group on Friday I heard the statistic that the average person reads 4-5 books a year!

My husband, who travels widely with his job, gets through at least a book a fortnight (and those are some weighty tomes like Dickens interspersed with lighter Clive Cussler), so he reads at least 25 books a year.

I started recording my reading when I commenced my Open College of the Arts course and I average about 20 books a year. I don't think that is bad considering that I only read on the loo and in bed!

Thought I might give more detail of my reading over the next couple of blogs, but for now – how many do you read?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Research Opportunities

Research opportunities are everywhere. I find when I am writing about a particular subject or era references to it flood into my life. This is what I call “red car theory” (I’ll write that book one day!). In other words, if you buy a red car you will see many like it on the road even if you thought it was a rare model.

I am currently writing a historical romance set at the time of the Norman Conquest and all of a sudden, there have been a plethora of programmes about it from all sorts of angles. I have been able to set my SKYbox and record lots of research. One programme even had instructions for my hero about how to hold his shield and lance in battle!

It is worth watching out for themed events too. The Severn Valley Railway near to my home regularly runs 1940’s events. The Bewdley Museum has its own air raid shelter complete with suitably aged volunteers (including my stepfather) to explain everything. English Heritage has a whole programme of re-enactments throughout the year. I have been to Roman ones at Wroxeter, medieval ones at Kenilworth and Goodrich, civil war ones at Boscobel and Ashby. National Trust properties also give insights into different periods and often have guides dressed in period garments. Museums such as Beamish in county Durham, Blists Hill in Shropshire and the Black Country Museum also help you to get into period. Following these methods of research also allow you to include the whole family, often without them knowing you are working.

Whilst studying my current course of biography and memoir writing I have come across some wonderful real life accounts of various periods of history.

I once spent a summer on an archaeological dig at Dudley Castle – ok I ended up mainly washing bones found in the midden heap – but even that gave me an insight into the medieval diet.

My own family history is providing a rich source of potential stories and allows me to indulge my love of history and maps. You can’t beat a morning of graveyard hunting for research into potential stories!

Any more ideas?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Perils of New Technology

Is it me? Am I just getting old? I find the increasing pace of technological change a little bewildering. Yet I was using technological devices almost as soon as they appeared.

My first mobile phone was shaped like a brick and weighed a ton, but at least it was relatively simple. I’ve had quite a few since then and my current model boasts so many add-ons that I do not understand and will never use. Added to this it is small and disappears in my handbag, resulting in the mad scramble to find it on the odd occasion that it does ring (I’m a texting girl!). Whenever I get comfortable with a device, it seems to need upgrading or dies.

The criteria for my first portable pc (note: not laptop) was whether I could carry it! I remember it weighed as much as my sewing machine and I was in danger of dislocating my arm when I took it to another office. Yet again though, I got good at using it and I used most of its facilities. Who would have envisaged how reliant we would be on these machines (especially writers). My laptop of eighteen months died a couple of weeks ago and I felt as if my right arm had been cut off. There was no question of not replacing it – how could I function without it? My new one arrives tomorrow, purple and shiny, and no doubt engendering another phase of insecurity as I learn its foibles.

My husband is a gadget man and likes to have the latest products. Consequently, our wardrobes and garage are a technological graveyard and we have more computerised game devices than is healthy. At least it means he can sort out my technology problems. I went into apoplexy when my laptop died as I had just written some (to me) important things. Not phased, he appeared with yet another device, dismantled my pc, took out the hard drive, and retrieved my documents onto this ancient desktop pc on which I am now typing. My hero (in more ways than one)! New technology is fine as long as it keeps working.

So wish me luck tomorrow with a new generation of pc all shiny and bewildering.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Active Imagination

I had a lovely time at writing group on Friday. I made a new friend, Susan Watson, who is having a book published next year with a fantastic title "Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes - A Recipe for Success!" by Rickshaw Publishing.

We had a talk by D.M. Harrison who writes westerns for Robert Hale. Apparently Robert Hale is the only British publisher handling westerns at the moment. I don’t normally read this genre, but it was fascinating getting an insight into her writing journey. I was so high when I came out I came home in a hovercraft! I think it goes to prove that writers should try to meet up with other writers to re-energise.

Big son went back to university on Friday night and I always feel strange when he does. This could have been the last summer he lives at home as he graduates next summer.

I continue to be fascinated by the feedback I am getting on my Mills and Boon New Voices story “Rosie’s Mystery Man” (www.romanceisnotdead.com). This is one of those stories that keeps playing out and evolving in my head. This one plays during the day and my historical one starts as soon as I get into bed! I was contemplating the feel of the tip of a steel sword and how to describe it on paper last night. Good job I have an over active imagination.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Characters That Won’t Go Away

To other writers I am sure this is a common experience, I have characters that won’t go away. They invade my day, no matter what I am doing and wake me up to make me see scenes from their lives played out like a film. Great I hear you say. Well it would be if they didn’t act things out too fast for me to record the action and I’m now starting to suffer from sleep deprivation. Is this why my writing tutor always looks so tired? How I wish I could capture a fraction of the emotion I feel with these characters and the expressions of their faces and of course the feel of his body when he holds her. Maybe they are spirits from a previous world or just over the membrane in a parallel universe, because it all feels so vivid and real. One thing is for sure – they are not going to let me rest until their story is written.

Meanwhile, the New Voices competition at www.romanceisnotdead.co.uk rumbles on. I think it is amazing that over 300 writers have submitted a chapter. My fragile confidence is growing a little with the supportive comments about Rosie’s Mystery Man. (Incidentally it isn’t this book that is haunting me). I have made new friends and joined the support group which is great fun – we are currently letching over photographs of potential hero templates. I have enjoyed reading the many and varied stories, although realise now that I will not get through them all. One slight problem is that my laptop died and took with it my password safe. Consequently I can’t log into New Voices as I can’t remember the password. I am also suffering with eye strain after staring at the computer for so long. What fun though. It has definitely raised the energy for romance stories – I am seeing potential plot lines everywhere, but guess I’d better get back to the characters I mentioned at the beginning or I won’t get any sleep again tonight!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Yorkshire Tea

Well I did it. I submitted my contemporary romance ‘Rosie’s Mystery Man’ to the Mills and Boon New Voices competition at www.romanceisnotdead.com. It felt like leaving a child at school for their first day. Scary or what? I’ve had some good comments, although the strange rating system seems to be causing people problems. I sat in bed last night reading and rating other peoples. I don’t know if I will manage them all as there are over 100 entries.

Anna Esslemont
Went to the gym this morning and came across one of my favourite uplifting songs on my iPod – 'Yorkshire Tea' by Uscedwr. It is a really uplifting song particularly when you consider that the lovely Anna Esslemont who sings it has recovered from a life threatening illness.

Cormac Byrne
Cormac Byrne the percussionist is lovely and very charismatic. I think I may base one of my heroes on him one day. I went to one of his percussion and bodhran courses at Farncombe Centre in the Cotswolds and we were all in love with him after an hour (despite feeling like a dirty old woman as he is young enough to be my son). So I start the morning optimistic with Yorkshire tea in my hand and in my ear!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQIfQNFrhZc&feature=related
http://www.uiscedwr.com/theband.htm  
http://www.farncombeestate.co.uk/

Monday, 6 September 2010

More Thoughts on Energy

My Aunt was taken ill on Friday and ended up having emergency surgery on Sunday night. It made me philosophise even more on thought energy.

Her illness would have affected the thoughts of immediate family, followed by close family and then more distant family, followed by friends and neighbours. It would also have affected all of the people at the hospital with whom she came into contact. At some point I must do the calculation of roughly how many people this event would have affected.

For my part I had a fitful night sleep punctuated by dreams of my Granddad (my Aunt’s father). By daybreak I had convinced myself that she had not survived the night, but thankfully that was incorrect. She has had two tumours removed and one to go. She has been constantly in my thoughts since I found out and I wonder how many others are thinking of her constantly too.

Moral of today’s tale I suppose has to be – Live for today. Decide what is important to you and do that. I was reading a blog over at Word Wenches this morning http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2010/09/aaw-writing-through-pain.html
And particularly liked part of Mary Jo Putney’s entry. I quote “In my experience, it’s best to concentrate on what’s essential, let the rest go, and don’t blame yourself for not being superwoman.”

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Energy of Birthdays

As it was my birthday yesterday, I was just pondering the effect of a birthday. I must be feeling philosophical today! It is the anniversary of your birth of course and makes you one year older. (She pauses to feel aches and pains!) Much more than this though is the fact that people think of you on this day, probably in many different ways, hopefully mainly positive.

Cards and messages arrived from many different countries, from family and from old and new friends. These cards, e-mails, text messages and Facebook entries mean that all of these people have had to think of me and care enough to tap the keys or write. Beyond this there are probably also a smattering of people who remembered it was my birthday but didn’t feel the need to act. All those energetic thoughts winging their way to little me!

I still think about my father and mother-in-law on their birthdays even though they are no longer with us, so maybe this focus of energy on an individual goes even beyond the grave. In conclusion, a birthday is a celebration of an individual and what they bring or have brought to the world. I must double my efforts to remember birthdays in future.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

How Exciting...

Just found out that I won a blog competition run by Michelle Styles guesting on Christina Phillips’ blog to celebrate the publication of Forbidden, her debut Berkeley sensation. Even more exciting as it is my birthday today – so an extra birthday present for me!

The competition was to post about something interesting that you have found during your research. I put up some names that I have discovered during family history research, namely Fanny Pee, Bathsheba Biddle (a nail maker’s daughter) and Felix Wildblood (who was a plasterer). I think Felix is worthy of a character in a Mills and Boon. Hmm, maybe I should write that one! I won four of Michelle’s books The Gladiator Honour, A Noble Captive, Sold & Seduced and The Roman's Virgin Mistress. Look forward to reading those.

On the birthday note – I wasn’t looking forward to this birthday and kept trying to ignore it. However, during the week a steady trickle of cards started to arrive from all parts of the globe and yesterday a steady stream of visitors. By the time I got to bed I had begun to feel very blessed with my wonderful friends and family. So Happy Birthday me and many more returns.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Summer has flown...

The summer has flown by this year. Normally I’m scratching my head trying to decide what to do with Daniel, but this hasn’t happened at all this time. The house is in need of an autumn spring clean (I never seem to keep to my cleaning routine when Daniel is at home) and I’m still remembering things I need to get before he goes back to school on Tuesday. Having had a house full, husband is back at work and big son will be going back to university in the next few weeks.

I haven’t done as much writing as I hoped and have put on more weight than I imagined! So by now you can guess what the next few weeks hold for me – cleaning, diet and writing. I’d also like to fit in a bit of family history research as I fancy giving my mother a “Who do you think you” are folder for Christmas (or maybe her birthday in February). Still haven’t decided which story (modern or historical) to send to the M & B competition. I’m in that phase where both stories seem awful and maybe I shouldn’t bother, but at least I know now that this is a normal stage for me. Any ideas on which story still very welcome.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Home Again, Home Again....

Home again and have almost caught up on the backlog of washing. As always after two weeks away there are mixed feelings. It is wonderful to be back in our comfortable bed and lovely to see how well big son has coped looking after the house. My hanging baskets were still lovely, the tomatoes and chillies were still alive and he’d done a full vac of the house before we returned.

All those resolutions about a new routine on returning home have already been broken and I seem to have drifted back to normal. Is this a bad thing?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Time for Writing

My husband tends to drive at break-neck speed and this can make me feel quite nervous and stressed. I normally cling to the door handle. Yesterday I decided no more and opened my notebook as soon as we began our journey. I managed to write the second chapter of a possible entry to the Mills and Boon New Voices competition and felt far less stressed.

The dilemma is now – which story to enter in the competition? Choice 1 is a historical story set at the time of the Norman Conquest and Choice 2 is a very racy modern day story. For once it is nice to have the choice, but I suspect the debate will rage on until the start of the competition.

We are on holiday for another few days, so potentially I could have another four or five chapters written in the car by the end of the week. Here’s to stress free but action packed journeys.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Tears for Toy Story 3

Did anyone else cry at Toy Story 3? I couldn’t believe that I would. It started when Andy was off to college and surveying his empty room with his Mum and continued when he gave his toys away. I glanced across and Daniel was in bits too – good job I’d picked up a couple of serviettes with the popcorn.

I have been contemplating sod’s law too. Bearing in mind that we are 200 miles from home – the house alarm went off on Friday night and I had to get my key holder friend out in her pyjamas. No apparent reason for the trigger. Then last night poor big son (who was then home from his weekend away) got woken by the smoke detector at 3am. What is going on? It doesn’t happen when we are home. Is my house missing me?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Blogging from Holiday

I’m blogging from holiday in County Durham. People seem to go blank when I say I am holidaying here. One man even asked me where I fly from! It will be our sixth year in this gold award winning self-catering barn in the North East. Only have to think of it now to relax. We started coming here as I was tracing my husband’s family roots and we liked it so much we keep coming back. There are the industrial centres but also lots of rolling countryside. Where we stay is on the border of Yorkshire, so there are plenty of options for outings.

My only objection to the barn is that it has lots of full length mirrors. Enter my holiday dilemma – I want to eat lots of naughty things, but then I am reminded constantly of the bumps I didn’t know I’d got (We only have one full length mirror at home and that’s in the image conscious 22 year old son’s bedroom). I have resolved my dilemma by promising myself I’ll remember where the bumps are and work on them when I get home.

We are having quite a lazy time, but have already visited my favourite Aladdin’s cave hardware store in Barnard Castle. Daniel has to play crazy golf near the castle in the town at least three times during the holiday. Yesterday we went for a walk in the lovely Blanchland, which is used for a backdrop in many films and photo shoots. The bonus was the not forecast hot sunny day. Last night my husband and I stood out on the patio under clear starlit skies. – Bliss.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Tension

I am becoming more and more aware of how I hold tension in my body. Making a conscious effort to release it means that I have to check at least four times and hour and breathe. I keep thinking back to when I was pregnant with Daniel. Having decided that I wanted a relaxed child, I kept my self relaxed and floated through the pregnancy. It was wonderful as things which would normally have stressed me just drifted by. I suppose the pregnancy hormones must have added to this state as I don’t seem to have been able to achieve it since.

It is a vicious circle, being tense means that I breathe less deeply and an more tetchy (but maybe that’s to do with being menopausal with a seven year old!) There is the other effect of course – if I relax more I let out my stomach muscles and look fatter. Maybe I’d better start a diet too!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Proud of Self

Well I’ve got to be proud of me or who else is going to be! I managed a chapter of my book today, despite looking after Daniel all day.

I took him to the playground and wrote sitting on a broken ride. Then we went to our favourite cafe (The Old village Stores in Wolverley). I had yummy cake and latte and Daniel had his favourite pancakes. The owner of the cafe says she’s going to give him a special pancake award at the end of the summer for the most pancakes consumed! He then played in the brook and I wrote. He did manage to sit in the said brook and had to come home on a plastic bag for a complete change of clothes.

Maybe I can finish my novel during the summer holidays, as I’m sure he wasn’t really aware I was writing, apart from to ask me if I was still writing about Normans. Good news on that front too – the BBC have very kindly arranged a season of programmes about the Normans, so hopefully I’ll be able to do some of my research watching the tele. The summer seems to be speeding by already, so I’d better enjoy it while I can. I am resolving to live and write each day as it comes!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Question for anyone listening

I am becoming increasingly frustrated with my performance (or lack of it) in my chosen roles in life. At the last count these included - aspiring writer, degree student, family historian, jewellery maker, decorator, gardener, mother, wife and homemaker.

The question I am asking is – should I give up all of these, except mother, wife and homemaker? Would I be happier ensuring that my home is clean and tidy and everyone has what they need? Responses please.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Count down to end of term

I have never known the days go so fast when you are on the countdown to the end of term. Already planning tennis and football summer schools and putting dates in the diary for summer outings with friends. As a result of all this planning it looks as if seven weeks of holiday will just zoom by too and then (not to depress you) I suppose it will be the countdown to Christmas. Yikes!

I did write an estimated 525 words at the end of last week. No, don't get excited - it wasn't on any of the novels I have on the go, or part of my creative writing course, it was the labels for the jewellery I was selling at the school fete on Saturday. Very proud of my £106 profit. The fete did well this year with proceeds looking to be over £2000. Not bad for a small school.

Any way I'd better close and get on with my next assignment - 2000 words on two turning points in my life. Now which to choose.....

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Fat Writer

I have a question for all the writers out there. How do you stay slim and write? I have been writing much more of late and this has involved lots of Maltesers, cups of latte and dunked biscuits. This is resulting in a fatter writer. If I ever get a book launch I will have to do some serious slimming for it. Help please.

Another question in my mind is whether a writing project is ever finished? My plot keeps changing and evolving and I wonder if it will ever be in concrete enough form to be published. Keeps me on my toes though and makes my mind do overtime. I really enjoy asking a question to myself about the plot just before bedtime. The answer is always there in the morning!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Writing Workshop

Went on India Grey’s National Trust / Mills and Boon writing workshop on Sunday. I wasn’t feeling too well so wondered if I had been wise taking on the two hour drive to Cheshire. (Ironically India had been down in my part of the world the week before.) Quarry Bank Mill is a delightful property straight out of Elizabeth Gaskell’s "North and South". We were shown to a room which was set up for a wedding – confetti on the tables, white bows and a big blow up bride and groom. The wedding had been the day before apparently, but the person setting up the room thought it was appropriate for a Mills and Boon workshop.

I have followed India Grey’s blog for quite some time and wondered if I would recognise her. That was no problem; she looked just like her photograph and had a delightful air about her. It wasn’t a conventional workshop, but then I’ve done loads of those. India was inspiring and allowed me to believe that publication was possible. Mills and Boon are apparently actively seeking writers. I’d already got quite a way through a novel I’d working titled “Norman Knights” and I think with a little tweaking this could become a submission to Mills and Boon’s historical imprint. I wrote up 1000 words last night and intend to do the same today. Thank you India for allowing me to believe in myself again.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Inconvenient Places

I can't believe how my mind works in inspirational ways in the most inconvenient places!

Picture the scene, I'm in the shower. Just as I'm soaping myself or applying conditioner to my hair, my mind floods with ideas for poems, stories or novels. Result? I have a lot of toilet roll tubes in my study. I emerge wet and dripping from the shower and grab anything to write on. Now the clever ones amongst you might say - "Keep a notebook in the bathroom". The thing is, if I do that then the thoughts seem to dry up (no pun intended!).

Then there is the car. I am happily tootling along country lanes and thoughts start to flood my mind. I have been known to pull over in lay bys and scribble like mad. More often I drive faster, repeating my idea like a mantra and dash into the house to scribble. A writing colleague has a lovely small Dictaphone in her car. However, following my shower experience would the purchase of such a facility make my thoughts fly away?

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Holiday

I came on holiday optimistic that I would write reams. In reality I have written very little. Well on paper anyway. My husband took us for a six mile yomp and in between concentrating where I was putting my feet and trying to get enough energy for the next step, I did write two poems. I could only vaguely remember one when we returned to the holiday barn. My excuse for not writing is that I am having a head cleanse. I’m enjoying the slightly spaced out relaxed feeling I have in the Lake District. This was enhanced greatly yesterday evening by half a bottle of red wine. I’m getting ideas a plenty, particularly from reading Cumbria Life, the local monthly magazine. There seems to be a theme in their real person stories. That is that human beings are incredibly adaptable and from adversity or life change they produce new lives with positive purpose. I am just hoping that when I return home the rest and relaxation will result in increased writing productivity.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Writing Quotations

I felt the need to blog some quotations from April’s Writing Magazine. These really resonated with me.

Alison Chisholm – “The beauty of interpreting poetry is that it does not matter if the vision conjured in the reader’s mind is different from the one released by the poet’s pen.”

Russell T. Davies in his book ‘The Writer’s Tale’ – “There’s not the writer and then me, there’s just me. All of my life connects with writing.”

Tony Rossiter – “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Douglas McPherson – “The only way to keep technical ability up is to do it all day every day so while you can dabble in lots of things, if you want to be really good at something you have to choose one thing and stick to it.”

Some good advice I think!

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