Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Are you dying to write a crime novel?

Sorry for the terrible pun.  But if you do fancy you have a dastardly murder or terrifying thriller in you then why not head over to a site where plenty of crime writers talk about their experience.  The dark tunnels that slow them down, the blazing lights that clear the fog of the plot.

And you can book your holiday to co-incide with the festival.  2012 luminaries include Jo Nesbo.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Words and music

This week I've been catching up with some replays of Words and Music the BBC Radio 3 programme.  Usually goes out lateish on Sunday evening. 

An uninterrupted sequence with words and music combining and weaving in and out, it creates moments of delight and discoveries.  It reminds me all those years ago of listening to Alexis Korner, when I had no idea what might be coming next.

So a combinationof Nilsson's Helios Overture which I love, and a poem by Edward Thomas which I didn't know plus the voice of Hugh Bonneville produced a spine chilling experience.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Theories of the Modern Stage course

Nottingham Writers' Studio,: Monday, January 09, 2012 at 6:30:00 PM

10 week course led by David Kershaw, is aimed at scriptwriters and anyone with an interest in theatre.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Novel-Writing Booster Kit with Martin Davies

21st January 2012 10-3.45 at Mackworth Library Derby.
Martin Davies is the author of four novels, and his books have been published in the US and Europe as well as in the UK. His UK debut, The Conjuror’s Bird, was featured by the Richard and Judy Book Club and was nominated for Read of The Year at the British Book Awards. His most recent novel, The Unicorn Road, was chosen as one of The Times WH Smith Paperbacks Of The Year. His next novel, The Year After is due out in August.
For booking information see

Monday, 19 December 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011

Keeping on keeping on with our writing

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success - but only if you persist."

- Isaac Asimov

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Alt Fiction festival 14-15 April 2012

Early bird tickets have just gone on sale for the Alt.Fiction festival of sci fi, fantasy and horror, taking place on 14 & 15 April 2012 at the Phoenix in Leicester.

The festival, run by Writing East Midlands, provides an opportunity for writers to hear from their favourite authors, find out more about the world of publishing and learn more about the writing process, while networking with agents, publishers and other writers.

For more information:

Monday, 12 December 2011

Inspirational quotes for writers

'Flaubert wrote: "It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes."'

From Writers Almanac 12 December 2011

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Be honest - what's your best read of 2011?

It's that time of year again.

You know, when all the lists start appearing of what's cool, what's not, must haves, must sees and what's worse, must have read.

It takes courage for me to scan the list.  Because if I'm not careful I can end up feeling completely out of the loop.  A bit thick.

Sometimes I imagine sitting next to one of the recommenders at a dinner party.  The conversation turns to books and they start to say what the must reads for the year have been.  Already I can feel myself shrinking back into my seat knowing I'll be lucky to have heard of them let alone read any.

And then even worse they'll ask me what I've read this year and I'll have to confess to lapping up the latest detective novels, and re-reading Georgette Heyer for the umpteenth time.  Or going back to Anthony Trollope.

There'll be a silence then they'll probably turn to their other neighbour and freeze me out for the rest of the meal.

I jest... but not much.  I am past the age of feeling guilty for what I choose to read but there is an intellectual snobbery about, that dismisses much of what I might enjoy as mere light reading.  I spent my twenties wading through, 'serious' reading so I've served my sentence thank you.  Stream of consciousness novels hold no fears for me.

For the record, this year I have read one of the authors on a list - Alice Munro - her short stories are immaculate examples of the genre.

So my recommendations for what they're worth:
Non-fiction: David Bellos Is that a fish in your ear?  Wonderful, funny, learned look at translation. Did you know how they bring about simultaneous publication of EU laws in all official languages?
Fiction:    Donna Leon Drawing conclusions. Wins it hands down for the descriptions of Venice. And can I please find another Inspector Brunetti?

PS: Does it count I'm about to read the latest Murakami?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lowry exhibition Lakeside Nottingham

Met up with friend for chat and wander round the L S Lowry exhibition this morning.  I've never been the biggest fan of his style but back in the seventies went to the museum in Kendal that contained some of his drawings which I preferred.

I had the same reaction to this exhibition.  Having come from the north, though not the industrial towns, such scenes were regular sights.  Trips to Wigan and Bolton showed me enough of that landscape to last me.  He obviously had a singular vision and as such I can admire him.  What I liked today were the landscapes and seascapes, spare and bleak, reflecting according to the guide, the way he felt.  One or two of the landscapes viewed from an angle almost appeared to be tapestries.

I'm sure others could find all kinds of attributions and meaning in his work.  IAs someone going his own way from whatever cause I can honour him but wouldn't chose any of his work for my own walls except...

... there was one seascape that appealed in particularly.  Maybe because there was a gentler feel to it or maybe I just preferred the colours. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Why do we write novels?

"I've never known a writer who didn't feel ill at ease in the world. ... We all feel unhoused in some sense. That's part of why we write. We feel we don't fit in, that this world is not our world, that though we may move in it, we're not of it. ... You don't need to write a novel if you feel at home in the world."

Andrea Barrett
I came across this quotation in a Writer's Almanac segment this week.  It made me sit and think for a while.  Certainly for most of my  life I've felt an outsider.  Not because I was rejected in childhood; on the contrary I enjoyed a very settled and loving life. 
For me the disjoint came as for others in adolescence.  Janis Ian's song, long after the events, told my story. No beauty queen me and that was the first time I stood outside of myself and observed the behaviour of others.  I wonder now what would have happened if I'd started writing at that point.  But having been rejected as not good enough to take an English A level, I assumed writing was for others, more clever than me.
Andrea Barrett has also talked about being told to put down her book, go out and live a normal life.  I remember someone saying that to me in my twenties.  But if you're built differently, you're built differently aren't you?
Of course I've made my way in the world, a different one that has taken in other observer roles, like being a complementary therapist.  And of course all my experience, including my otherness, is now at the service of what I try to write. 
And now, I'm glad of that detachment and difference.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

St. Augustine

"Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Spooky moments

Last night I had one of those spooky moments that make the shivers run up and down your spine.

After my meal, I sat on nursing a glass of red wine and reading a short story by William Trevor titled 'An Idyll in Winter'.  A story about love and loss. 

The radio was by me and suddenly I became aware of the music playing.  Slow, meditative and in the same vein as the story with a strong element of yearning.  Till the end I had no idea what it was.  One of those pieces that you know you've heard before but the title and composer escape you.

Turns out it was Howard Skempton's Lento.  Perfectly tuned into the moment.

Monday, 7 November 2011

You may not be a songwriter but...

trying to write a song could help you with all kinds of writing.

Today I'm reproducing an article from one of my favourite newsletters.  Copywriters Roundtable.  Penned mostly by John Forde, commercial copywriter, American but living in Paris.  Yes he's commercial and writers those long sales letters many people hate.  But he's also interested in all kinds of writing, offers practical and wide ranging hints on writing of all kinds.

And he has many guest writers.  Today I'm reproducing an article by Cindy Cyr another copywriter, married to and mother of songwriters.

by Cindy Cyr, Copywriter

The other day while listening to Pandora Internet radio, a song came on that took me back in time and put a big smile on my face.  Suddenly, I was 20 again, standing in the kitchen with my best friends. Laughing and singing The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” at the top of our lungs, the world was ours for the taking.

A well-written song does that. It transports you and taps into your deepest emotions.
It can remind you of good times, like “Louie, Louie” written by Richard Berry.
Or inspire you to take a chance, like in “I Hope You Dance” by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers.
Or fill you with feelings of hope and togetherness, like in John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Great copy does that too.

The challenge is … how do you tap into those emotions? How do you write copy that makes people feel a deep connection?

Nearly all professional songwriters, including Grammy winners John Mayer and Gillian Welch, use variations of “object writing.”

Object writing is a warm-up exercise where you write for exactly 10 minutes first thing in the morning about a random object, emotion, or event and focus all your senses on it.  Kind of like stretching before exercising, it loosens up your writer and prepares you for a productive day of paid writing projects. You’ll find it helps you to stop judging your writing and just write. That speeds up project completion and encourages more original ideas.

Object writing is best known to songwriters, but it can help any writer tap into deep emotions, avoid clichés, and showcase their own unique voice.  It can also help you create a bank of sense- bound language that involves your reader by tapping into their deepest thoughts and feelings.

Let me show you what I mean...


The part of object writing which says, “Focus all your senses on it,” is actually the most crucial part and the key to connecting to people emotionally.

You see, most people focus on only one sense at a time in their writing – which one depends on what they’re writing about.
And most people are aware of only five senses:sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

However, there are two additional senses acknowledged and described by the scientific community: organic and kinesthetic.

Organic sense is “your awareness of your inner bodily functions.” For example, your heartbeat, cramps, or a headache. If you sit in front of your computer too long, your organic sense would tell you that you have a stiff neck.

Kinesthetic sense relates to “your relationship to the world around you” and has to do with body movements. For example, if you spin around in a circle quickly, the world around you is blurry.

So what happens when you start including all of your senses in your writing?

Including words or phrases that create vivid pictures and relate to ALL of a person’s senses helps connect a person emotionally to your copy.

For example, you could say, “Make more money when you use product XYZ.” Or … you could use more of your senses and say, “Feel like you hit the $1 million jackpot at a slot machine in Caesar’s Palace when you use product XYZ.”

Which creates a more colorful picture in your mind?

In the first description, “make more money” is bland and vague. But in the second description, you can hear the coins clanging in the tray. You can just see them spilling over the sides as the machine dumps its entire contents.  While showing and telling both have a place in your writing, showing is more difficult. But it’s a necessary element for connecting with your reader.

Use the following exercise to uncover the vivid writing that lies within you. You’ll soon notice you're quickly able to come up with juicy descriptions that will liven up all of your reader’s senses.

Here are seven tips for how to get the most out of your object writing:

1) Write using all seven senses. Focus all of your senses on the object you are writing about.

For example, let’s say the object you are writing about is your backyard. How would your bare skin feel if you were to lie down in it?

What does it smell like? What would it taste like if you licked it? How does it sound? What do you see? Remember your other two senses too.

How do you feel in your backyard? Can you feel your heart rate slow down because you’re so relaxed? Are your eyelids tempted to close because of the bright sun?

2) Do it faithfully. Do your object writing every day, and I promise you’ll see a difference. Stick to 10 minutes only. Remember that the critical part is to always use ALL seven senses.

3) Rotate your subject category. You have three categories to choose from: Events, Objects, and Emotions. Most people find one category easier to write about than the others. Rotate categories consistently so that you force yourself to practice writing about each one. If you want topic ideas, you can go to You’ll find a daily object to write about, plus you can see how other people describe the object of the day.

4) Try variations. There are a couple of ways to tackle your object writing. One way is straight journaling. Another popular technique called “cluster writing” is similar to mind mapping.

You write down your object of the day in the center of the page and put a circle around it.
Then write phrases and thoughts around your word. Some people alternate styles from day to day.

5) Don’t worry if it’s any good. Many writers fear the blank page or writer’s block.

You stare at the page and you can’t think of anything “good to say,” so you don’t put anything down. But with object writing, your goal is to put words down on paper as they come to you. Not all the ideas or phrases will be great. But you’re trying to get things down as fast as possible so the good ideas can emerge.

Besides, nobody has to see what you write.

Rick Beresford, an award-winning songwriter and songwriter coach, says, “It’s okay to fail. Mistakes lead to great songs.”

Similarly, mistakes lead to great copy. No one has to see this if you don’t want them to. So don’t be afraid to write and make mistakes. Because while the main purpose of object writing is to get you to stop judging your writing, train you to write faster, generate ideas quickly, and create spicier copy, you might just find the clue to your next blockbuster headline too. For example, one day the object I wrote about was “my first paycheck,” which led to a headline idea for a client.

6) Review what you write. Take a minute after you’re done writing to underline any colorful phrases, interesting word combinations, or anything that leaps off the page at you. If there’s nothing that strikes you, that’s okay.

7) Leave it for later. Capture your best stuff.

Take the phrases you underlined and transfer them into a spreadsheet or some sort of idea bank so you can use them in the future.

You’ll discover that object writing prepares you for the day’s writing projects. You’ll always be ready to dive in and knock things out. Plus, because you’ll be coming up with new ideas all day long, your copy will no longer suffer from “sameness.”

Once you consciously start writing to all of your senses, you’ll find yourself automatically injecting phrases that jolt your reader’s senses – connecting them to your copy at a deeper level emotionally and causing them to read, click, and buy more often.'

My comment; if you haven't tried this exercise then give it a go.  Experiment for two weeks and see what results.  Anything that loosens up our thinking before we write can only be positive.

And if you want to take a look at Copywriters Roundtable  check it out at

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Who are you today?

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Dr. Seuss

Saturday, 5 November 2011

EAT YOUR WORDS featuring Cath Staincliffe

The Wonky Table, Sadlergate, Derby, November 23rd, 7pm. Enjoy a three-course meal in the company of our guest writer, Cath Staincliffe, for a relaxed evening of readings, author Q+A and booksales.
For more information, or to book your place, contact Alex at or call on 07896 228367.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Have an aspiring writer in the family?

The Literary Consultancy will be offering assessment vouchers for writers. Check out their website  

Professional assessment could make all the difference to their progress.  We all need nurturing at different stages of writing. And I'm sure you'd get an invitation to their launch party!

I had an assessment from one of their mentors, via Writing East Midlands scheme last year.  Encouraging, helpful and very practical.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Writing Short Fiction with Judith Allnatt

19th November 2011 10:00-4.Mickleover Library, Derby, DE3 0EA Phone: 01332 718926 or 01332 641727

Where do ideas come from? What makes a story a satisfying read? Using lateral-thinking techniques, memory and images we will spark ideas for new stories and provide tools that can be used again and again to boost creativity. Then, by looking at examples of the genre, we will identify the elements of short story structure and learn how to use them in developing and tightening our stories. Suitable for all levels of writing experience, the workshop will encourage experimentation and shared feedback in a supportive environment.

Cost: £25, booking essential, includes tea and coffee throughout the day
To book a place email

For more events like this

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

'Is that a fish in your ear?'

As part of my miscellany of clients I value a translation company.  Occasionally I receive a call from them, not to translate from a foreign language but to turn translated English into a different type of English.  Though sometimes the initial translation has seemed like a foreign language, or foreign to a native speaker of English.

What their clients are requesting is more colloquial English, 'as she is currently spoke'.

But of course that begs the question, currently spoken by whom?  Received English of the old fashioned BBC?  Teenager speak?  Jargon of a particular group or sub group of medics, engineers or any other category?

I've done my best on each project to come up with something that is closer to readable English.  That is English that doesn't have you stopping and starting because the word order doesn't work, the phrases are stilted and the vocabulary outdated.

That work has given me a brief, very brief, introduction to the challenges and frustrations that translators and interpreters face on a daily basis.  So a review in the Guardian of David Bellos' book on the subject 'Is that a fish in your ear?; translation and the meaning of everything' caught my attention.  Collected on Saturday, I'm half way through it which is more testament to the author's easy style than to my determination.  He sweeps across a very complex topic starting with What is translation and takes in such topics as how we gain language in the first place, what is meaning and is your language really yours.

A translator of international repute, David Bellos poses questions that philosophers have struggled with for centuries.  But he cuts straight to the chase and shows up the absurdity of not only some of the answers but also the questions.

If like me you struggled with translations at school, he has some interesting things to say about 'wording'; that is the replacing of one word for another before trying to make any sense out of it in the second lanugage.  And how difficult that was until we let go the need to get the words right, in the right order and thought about the sense of it instead.

He gives an example:
I have a big house in exact word Russian would read At me big house.

That's because Russian has no indefinite article, possession can be indicated with the pronoun me and for this expression there's no room for the verb to be.

A fascinating book and one of my favourite pieces so far is about Cherubim and how St Jerome,  the patron saint of translators, created the word as an approximation of the sounds of Hebrew into Greek to Latin.

David Bellos wears his deep learning lightly and his love of the subject shines through on every page.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.  I highly recommend it, as a look at language both written and spoken.

David Bellos, Is That a Fish In Your Ear? Particular Books, 2011, 978-1-846-14464-6

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Music and action

Met up with a couple of people from The Firebird Trust on Tuesday at an exhibition.  They put on a half hour seminar on what they did.  Shame it was so poorly attended.

They work mostly in education but are now applying what they know to the business world.  Their director Simon Steptoe has worked with the Halle on educational projects and one of their current patrons is Matthew Barley cellist extraordinary.

Simon's colleague got us working by persuading us to play the penny whistle.  My fingers and thumbs went all over where they shouldn't but with a bit longer I'd have worked it out.  In the small group were three of us who worked on their own for much of the time; one textile designer and two writers.  Although their workshops are aimed at firms, we had a short discussion on how using music aids creativity. 

The small amount we did certainly broke down barriers very fast and made us laugh.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Nottingham Writers Studio course on playwriting

Theories of the Modern Stage (David Kershaw)
DATES: Every Monday for 10 weeks from 9 January 2012 to 19 March (apart from half-term 13 February), 6.30–8.30pm.
COST: £100 (£80 for NWS members).
VENUE: Nottingham Writers’ Studio, Broadway Business Centre, 3rd floor 32a Stoney Street, Nottingham, NG1 1LL.
TUTOR: David Kershaw

This course will explore the extent to which modern theories of the stage affect how a playwright works. It will investigate such things as the following:

· Whether the principles of naturalism or the theatre of alienation still have an influence on the modern theatre.
· The well-made play.
· Absurdism, political theatre and the theatre of cruelty.
· The impact of acting techniques and methods.
· The role of improvisation in script development.
· The script into performance: the role of the actor, director, designer, producer and audience.
· Audience expectations and demands.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Candlestick Press Christmas poems 2011

Introduced by Carol Ann Duffy..Ideal for a special card or stocking filler..Available from the Flying Goose cafe, Beeston,Waterstone's and Nottingham Contemporary.

Or from Check out the site for past editions on tea and bicycles.

Monday, 24 October 2011

This is my kind of person

"The main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading." Norman Rush, American author of  'Whites', 'Mortals' and Mating.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Inspirational quotes for writers

Eugene O'Neill said: "Keep on writing, no matter what! That's the most important thing. As long as you have a job on hand that absorbs all your mental energy, you haven't much worry to spare over other things. It serves as a suit of armor."

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Going to hell in a handcart?

My client Sarah Dale asked this question last week in her news update.  I suppose one of the upsides of ageing is the longer perspective it gives you.  An even longer perspective comes from studying history.

What surprises me often these days is why people are surprised about things that happen in high places.  Money plus power leads to arrogance and exclusion of the majority.  Not inevitable maybe but more common than not.

One of my favourite writers is Dorothy Dunnett and the two series of books she wrote.  The Lymond series I know best having reread all six most years.  It's the period I studied in history at school so I know it on an intellectual level which she then gives me at a visceral level.  And there's very little difference between the behaviour of the Italian bankers in her books and what's going on around us.

The difference now is that we know more about it, faster.  Or think we do.  Back in Tudor times, the peasants assumed that their betters were not on their side.  We hope the people with the power are.

Hell in a handcart?  As Sarah points out there's a lot of good news out there.  Maybe our opportunity with all our wonderful technology is to join the positive together.  Like a dot to dot. 

Then who knows we may end up going to heaven in a comfortable bed.

To sign up for Sarah's update go to

Monday, 17 October 2011

George Mackay Brown

"I believe in dedicated work rather than in 'inspiration' [...] I believe writing to be a craft like carpentry, plumbing, or baking [...] In 'culture circles,' there is a tendency to look upon artists as the new priesthood of some esoteric religion. Nonsense -- and dangerous nonsense moreover -- we are all hewers of wood and drawers of water; only let us do it as thoroughly and joyously as we can."

Thanks to today's The Writer's Almanac for this quote

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


"Hosted in partnership with Writing East Midlands, the University of Lincoln and Threshold Studios, this is a powerful and provocative day of discovery, insight and debate: looking at the future of writing and publishing and arming you with the pervasive opportunities and challenges that ‘digital’ provides in this ever-changing world."
For more information check out the events page on

Monday, 10 October 2011

Why do you write?

It's the birthday of novelist R.K. Narayan, born in what is now Chennai, India (1906). He said: "Everyone thinks he's a writer with a mission. Myself, absolutely not. I write only because I'm interested in a type of character and I'm amused mostly by the seriousness with which each man takes himself."

I've decided I write because I get these people sitting in my head, asking me to tell their stories.  Whether they get published or not seems irrelevant. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What authors have to do today

Enjoyed a searching discussion with Sarah Dale today about how to create interest and sales in self published books.  Thank goodness we're not as reliant on mainstream publishers these days for allowing our work to find a wider audience.  There are so many options and so many avenues to go down that might bring you the right kind of readers.

What concerns us though is the sheer effort needed to create successful social media campaigns.  I salute Sarah for her determination for the way she's tackled it and for the network she's steadily building.  But as with all activities it seems to her one step forward, several back.  In the thick of it she doesn't have the distance to observe just how much she's achieved since last year when she and I first sat together and talked about her beginning to write the book.

What's important as well is that she's now starting to think about the second, and maybe third books.  At times she doubts her ability, well don't we all.  But the experience of going out to promote the book has created conversations with individuals that she'd only dreamed of in the past.

All the tactics do work and the difference between success and failure is not initial talent but the determination to keep going.  And as I pointed out to her, she's now exactly the kind of author a mainstream publisher will like.  Effective, proactive and committed.

For more about Sarah's book Keeping Your Spirits Up, check out her website

Monday, 3 October 2011

The creative unconscious in writing

In my book on writing, The Writers Little Book with Big Ideas, I talk about the different stages of writing and the importance of the stage I label, Pause.

At the moment I'm taking my own advice, trying to let my unconscious sort out some snags in the plot of the crime book I'm writing.  I'm two drafts in and by and large I'm happy with the outline of the story but having finished the second draft just before I went to Scarborough it gave me a space to let ideas start to emerge.

Oddly something occurred to me as I was listening to one of the sets.  All the players were excellent, well regarded in the jazz field and the sound was beautiful; a flautist took centre stage.  But it didn't move me; I felt no connection and wondered why.  I was about to write it off as me with cloth ears and then... we had an encore.

A superb saxophonist was added to the mix, and that sharp, at times dissonant sound ignited the music.  Totally different dynamic in the group and I felt the emotional tug of the music.  Fascinating.

Returning to the novel draft last week, some thoughts surfaced and I started the What If questioning. 

What if that character didn't or did know this?
What if they missed something happening by a whisker - you know the kind of thing, going down one street rather than another.

And then the ideas for the 'dissonance' became more solid.  I had this image of a horse jumping competition where some deceptively simple obstacles were the most difficult?

I've still got to write the new bits but I can see the way now.  Thanks to the creative unconscious prodding me.

Last week at a networking event I met two people who had started books.  Without trying to put them off, I wanted to say, the start's the easy bit!  But both theirs were non-fiction and I do believe those are easier in creating a structure to follow.

Over the summer I've been to quite a few author events and the bottom line is, there is no perfect, one size fits all approach to writing fiction.  Depends on your temperament and your experience.  The more you do, the more you learn.

As with all activities, the only way to gain experience is to do it.  Build muscle, whether it's physiotherapy exercises(which I'm undergoing at present) or writing.

Not sure what is the writing equivalent of the squat but that's the one causing me aching legs at the moment. 

Friday, 30 September 2011

Words and music - again

Spent two hours in a darkened theatre on one of the hottest days of the year on Wednesday.  It was in a good cause though to see the dynamic duo of Claire Martin, jazz singer supreme, and Richard Rodney Bennett, 75 this year and still pouring out his love of the standard songbook.

Songs he learned as a boy listening to the radio; for him the music came first the words later. This is their seventh year of touring, featuring in particular the songs of Irving Berlin.  Who apparently wasn't too keen on other songwriters, and wondered why it took two people to compose words and lyrics.

In his lifetime he composed 15,000 songs - yes I know that seems a staggering amount.  He set himself to compose a song a day(words and music).  So no waiting around for the muse to visit him; instead it was discipline and steady work that produced the phenomenal results.(and the fortune)

The duo treated the songs with the respect they deserved without behaving as if they were museum pieces.  Despite the soaring temperatures we spent an afternoon in the coolly swinging world of classic songs. I love the sheer audacity of some of the rhymes all the lyricists of this period choose.  Such elegance and off the wall wit.

Co-incidentally just before I wrote this entry, I read about Colin Dexter whose birthday is this week.  Same message from him.  Even if he thought the words were dreadful, he still wrote every day.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Scarborough words and music

As usual a packed weekend programme.  Highlights:

Thursday night; Neighbourhood Watch by Alan Ayckbourn.  I need to see it a few more times to unpack everything he crammed in.  Acerbic wit about our fears of difference, change and security.  Stunning ensenble work.  No 'star names' but tight co-operation produced first class performances from all the actors.  Not a wasted word.

Friday - a trip to York with my long rusty Latin pressed into use to decipher some writing on stone coffins.  Ate at Plunkets surrounded by pictures of \Hollywood legends.

Friday to Sunday evening.

Mike Gordon of Scarborough Jazz provided enough variety to satisfy everyone except those wedded to only one style of jazz.  Starred perfomances for me were:

  1. Trio Hadouk, a French trio with a range of instruments, two musicians who looked straight off the 1960s hippy trail and a mesmerising drummer.  Literally mesmerising because from our seats in the third row from the front, at one point his hands seemed to dissolve into vapour trails as he played the tabla.
  2. Mina Agossi, again French with origins in Benin.  Beguiling, bewitching with a voice that soared and swooped across a wide octave range.  What fascinated as well was the level of involvement with her musicians, some of whom looked as bemused as us by the end.
  3. David Rees Williams Trio.  Deputising last minute for the Jacques Loussier Trio because of his illness, they did the same style of jazz but across a wider range of composers and with more of a hard edge sometimes, courtesy of an organ.  They played last on Saturday evening and the encore included a clarinet solo from Alan Barnes on the theme of Purcell's When I am laid...  Stunning, haunting and a wonderful end to the evening.
What interested me this year was the inclusion of three suites, two from local Yorkshire talent, which is always a feature of the programme.  I hated one, liked bits of the others but would have welcomed more information about all three though we had notes about The Green Seagull by the Tommy Evans Orchestra.

Work like this always divides the audience but to me it's a strength of the festival.  In nine years I think I've only walked out of seven sets, one of which was this year.  Testament to finding interesting music.  And it's important for me to remember that all the music I like now, was new to me at one time and I had to expend energy and time in getting to know it. 

Having the sets at an hour and fifteen minutes length is perfect.  You can endure most things for that time. 

Next year is the tenth event and Mike's obviously going to make it the best ever.  I hope so.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

It's never too late to write

Catching up with my emails after my weekend in Scarborough I came across an entry in a Writers Almanac newsletter.  If like me you're on the mature side of life then it's encouraging.

Rosamund Pilcher's most recent book was Winter Solstice, published in 2000. She told the trade publication Book Reporter then that she was unlikely to write another book, adding, "But we shall see." Pilcher turned 87 on 22nd September.

She said, "Budding authors, be self-disciplined. It is a lonely job. And LISTEN to experts."

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hilary Mantel

Watched the interview with Hilary Mantel on Saturday evening.  I have heard her speak before but not at such length.  What interested me most was seeing how she works.  Not so much where she gets her ideas from, but how she goes about dealing with them.  The mechanics of writing I suppose.

I've always had an interest in how things are organised.  Don't get bored waiting in queues because I'm always looking round me.  If not at the people and wondering about their lives, it's the way people are working that fascinates me.

When I was a little girl going to the library, of course I loved choosing the books, but I was mesmerised by the stamping out process and all those small brown cards to prove who had which book.  So wanting to know how writers work is part of my whole outlook on life.

The more writers I listen to the more relief I get.  Because there isn't a right or wrong way.  It's not like if you don't do all your research up front you can't write.  But if the story takes off in a direction you hadn't considered, what then?

One of the business writers I follow sent out his latest newsletter which contained a whole article about 'What if'  and how it could transform the selling process via a letter.  It's no different writing fiction is it?  It's all about thinking the unthinkable about choices a character might make. 

What if they did something as simple as going down a different street on their way to work? 

Wonderful.  Endless possibilities.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Persistence ; the necessary writing attribute

For those of us inclined to give up.  William Golding submitted his manuscript of Lord of the Flies twenty one times before it was accepted for publication. (Read in today's Writers Almanac.)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Jane Eyre - the new movie

Went on Wednesday to see the movie.  Before I give you my thoughts I have to admit to a prejudice in favour of the book.  At age 13 I won a prize at Sunday school; for attendance I think because I can't see me winning it for anything else.  They told me I could have a book and I asked for Jane Eyre.

Maybe they hadn't read the book or thought because it was 'classic' it was okay.  But on the edge of puberty and of emotional character, I found this a dangerous book.  I've reread it many times and of course there's plenty of moralising, which I probably skipped on first reading, but the story aroused all the 'I'll meet my prince someday' hopes even if in this case he was more fallen angel than fair haired hero.

If I put away all thoughts of the book and view it as a new story from a script then it worked.  Beautifully shot with Derbyshire looking magnificent in all weathers.  I liked the darkness of the interiors, as they would have been and Mia Wasikowska, though a beautiful woman didn't distract with her beauty.  I'd never seen Michael Fassbender in anything so approached his performance with no expectations. 

If I think of it against the book then there was the inevitable compression and choice of events.  Some seeemed to work and other choices baffled me, in particular at the end.  However, all in all I enjoyed it.

My favourite adaptationis the BBC TV with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. But they had the luxury of letting the story develope as it should.  Oh and though the film has Judi Dench I think Lorraine Ashbourne made as good a job as the housekeeper in the TV adaptation.

I'll have to reread the book though!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Right side, left side. Brain balance

This week I've started an art class.  Now I have to alert you to the significance of this by confessing my ineptness in art lessons at school.  And to make up my lack of a third A level I was forced into Arts and Craft lessons in my sixth form.  The result was to put me off any attempts at art again until my forties.

So I have to admit to trying before, but with few dents to my belief that I can't draw.  Now I'm taking a four week course on Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain.  Based on Betty Edwards work with non- artistic people it tries to fool the logical side of the brain into letting go of its need to label things.

Yesterday therefore we sat and copied a line drawing of Stravinsky the composer.  But the drawing was upside down.  Which tricks the logical left side into seeing it as merely lines not a picture it recognises.  This worked until we reached part of the drawing which even upside down we could recognise as hands.  Then we went wrong.  And with the face.  Apart from that we were pretty good.

The reason I'm mentioning it though is because the tutor said that doing this kind of drawing, had other beneficial results on the brain, stimulating imagination and visual capacity.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Crime genre - the new serious literature?

Enjoyed an author event at Waterstones in Nottingham last Thursday.  Great double act of Mark Billingham and Peter Robinson.  As well as readings from their newly published books, they talked about life as writers and something of their practical routines.

What I picked up on though was the comment from both of them about how irritated they become when people tell them they enjoy their books, then add, 'When are you going to write a proper novel'.

It's something that came up when I attended the event with Roger Ellroy in Derby.  People were asking what settings and topics they should use for their books.  He told the story of going into a bookshop in the US, where a whole floor was devoted to crime fiction.  And he said it was subdivided into so many different interests, like gardening, stamp collecting and walking that it didn't matter what interests you.  There are likely to be other people interested too.

In short, the whole of life can be encompassed in a crime novel.  I was walking past a man yesterday on his mobile and the split second excerpt I heard had my mind buzzing.  'You could always bury it in the garden.'

That's what I heard and I was off.  For the rest of my walk home, my mind was spinning with so many ideas about what 'it' was and why burying it in the garden might be the solution.

I get irritated sometimes that the crime fiction section of the Guardian Review is so short when there are so many great writers, and I use that adjective deliberately, at work today. 

Going back to Peter Robinson.  The book I liked best of his work is Friend of the Devil because he draws together threads from two previous books and creates a seamless masterpiece about revenge, penance and absolution.  Masterly.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Csmbridge Treat

We had a wonderful day out on Saturday.  Off to Cambridge on a bus trip; no having to plan, struggle with traffic or parking.

What can you say about Cambridge other than that on a warm September day, it was a joy.  It must be fifteen years since my last visit and it took me a little while to reorirent myself.  Even full of tourists there's a  pleasure walking in a place where every corner can bring you a great view, a piece of history or something just whimsical.

 I'd have loved to spend time trawling through the bookshops; I did pop my nose in Heffers but you need more time.  My niece ventured into the Haunted Bookshop but in the minutes she was there sensed nothing strange.

We went into Kings College Chapel, through Magdalen College gardens where wedding preparations were in progress and of course watched people in punts.  'A bit like Venice,' said my niece.  Well maybe a tiny bit.

Cambridge is a byword for power and influence; it's also a place of beauty and unexpected pleasures.  Walking back past a small church, on a whim we went to have a look and found Trinity College choir rehearsing for a concert.  Within minutes the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck from the sound.they produced.  Tallis or Byrd it might have been.

Then back home, we rounded off the day watching the Hooray for Hollywood prom. 

What a treat of a day.

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Poets Éireann Lorsung ( and Laressa Dickey ( will lead the retreat, offering two craft talks and several other activities (morning yoga, writing exercises, individual tutorials/workshops), all of which are completely optional.

Although both leaders are poets, you don’t have to be a poet to come along. Both Éireann and Laressa are versed (so to speak) in other forms and happy to welcome prose writers of all stripes.

The retreat will take place from Friday, September 16 at 5 p.m., until Sunday, September 18, at noon. The cost of the retreat has been subsidised by Writing East Midlands; it is £50 for a shared room or £70 for a single. This covers accommodation and all food.

Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis, and places are very limited, so please book early
check out

Friday, 26 August 2011

Writing for the stage;workshop with Nick Wood

For more details and to book, use the attached leaflet/booking form or visit

Saturday 24 September 2011, 10.30am–4:30pm, followed by dinner at 5pm.

Location: Nottingham city centre.

The price (£75, or £50 for NWS members) includes a buffet lunch and a light dinner with the tutor and other participants.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Good Companions

I was checking on Iplayer radio the other night after I'd caught up the the Samuel Pepys readings from Woman's Hour and found The Good Companions.

And I was straight back to sitting on a train going from home to my first job in Preston.  Being plonked down among thousands of books in the headquarters library of the county was like dying and going to heaven.  My pick of whatever they had. 

Priestley's The Good Companions was probably unfashionable to read even then but I loved it.  The train journeys passed in a flash and sometimes I resented getting to the destination because I wanted to go on reading. 

I've read many books that I wouldn't dream of going back to, some by very eminent writers, but I've reread this book so many times over the years.  A battered copy sits on my shelves and last night I pulled it out, after I'd listened to two episodes and started reading again.

The radio version is worth listening to for Philip Jackson if nothing else.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Productive early morning

It's just after seven and I've been awake for over an hour.  Good night's sleep and woke up with the next bit of my novel in my head so fired up the laptop and wrote for an hour.

I do try not to work in my bedroom, I think most of the time that should be reserved for relaxing activities.  But I wanted to catch that fleeting moment.  I suppose I could have just made a few notes and gone back to it later but it seemed too good a mood to waste.  Now I feel virtuous.

I know some of these ways of working are artificial constructs to persuade me to do the work, and I have felt quite lazy recently, but I do sometimes set myself targets.  Like this week I wanted to write ten thousand words of the novel draft.  I may end up junking the lot afterwards but I always feel getting something down on paper or on disc in this case, is better than nothing. 

So far I'm up to about eight thousand so with another couple of days to go I'm doing okay.  I suppose the argument could be about not so much the quantity but the quality.  But I think the quality often comes in the editing process.  At this stage I just want to get the stuff out of my head and somewhere I can look at it.

I'm with Arnold Bennett who day in and out wrote a thousand words before lunch.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Are you an insomniac writer?

Last night I had one of my rare sleepless nights.  And I admit up front they are rare and last night there was a reason I woke in the middle of the night; some of my family arrived home from a holiday at 2am. 

Now I don't blame them for the sleepless night, though by the end of today I might feel irrational enough to do just that. And one of my friends who does manage on short amounts of sleep laughs at my occasional outings in the night hours.  But having dealt with circumstances which led to a long period of interrupted sleep, I know that I adjusted better to that than an odd night here and there.

If you think I sound self pitying, I stand guilty as charged but I don't want only to have a moan.  I want to consider how the emotions raised by not sleeping can be put to use in writing.

Of course there's the purely practical task of filling the time till you can stop pretending and get up.  I have worked out a routine for that; tea, digestive biscuits, the radio, music only, and a book.  At some point some combination of the elements kicks in and I'm back to sleep.

This morning at five I stopped pretending and got up taking my laptop with me.  Because of the late arrival I knew I couldn't begin to have a normal day for a longer time than usual.  So I started to write.  And as it happens I was about to write a section of a novel that dealt with the frustrations of being in a certain situation.


Everything poured out of me.  Didn't end up in me sleeping again but it gave me a direct link to the feeling in the gut when you'd like to blame someone, can't and for the sake of family harmony daren't. 

I may end up junking the piece on edit but I certainly enjoyed writing it..

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Be a Piano Star on the Royal Concert Hall Stage, 30 August 2011

If you’re a pianist you’ve probably dreamt that one day you’d perform on a grand piano on a concert hall stage. Well, on Tuesday 30 August Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall is giving you the chance to do just that when it opens the lid of its magnificent Steinway Model D piano to talented pianists in the East Midlands.

How does it work?

The event is open to experienced performers (minimum Grade 7). To take part you’ll need to book a performance slot. 30-minute and 60-minute slots are available from 12.00am until 3.00pm and 4.30pm – 8.30pm. The sessions will all be recorded so that you have the option of taking away a CD at the end of your performance. If you want to use the slot to record a video then that’s fine, too – you’ll just need to provide your own camera and operator.

What does it cost?
A half hour slot costs £40 and an hour slot £70.  A recording of your performance on CD costs £15 and will be available 30 minutes after the session.

For more information and how to book

Call 0115 989 5505 or email Please note that depending on the demand your first preference for a slot may not be available.

(Information taken from email from Royal Concert Hall)

Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham NG1 5ND

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Eve Garnett The Family from One End Street

My sister gave my great niece this book recently and I started to re-read it.  First met when I was 11 and oh I loved it.  I identified with one of the characters Lily Rose who was full of ideas, not good according to her mother and tried to be helpful, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

I don't think she ever said, but my Mum probably disapproved in some way of the Ruggles family  Too large, noisy and to her mind disorganised.

Being rather clumsy but well meaning I felt I'd have fitted in there. In some ways they were a junior version of the Larkins family and I've always loved the idea of them.  That kind of expansive, outrageous behaviour though Mrs Ruggles often was mortified by what Lily Rose did.  (The green petticoat)

It was a great joke in our family that every holiday would be marked by  me falling, walking into something or doing something silly.  When I think back it was because I was interested in what was happening around me, so I walked into a lamppost because I was paying attention to something I'd seen.

These days I'd defend my behaviour by saying I was developing a certain kind of social skill.  The kind that absorbs what happens around you.  Like sitting in a waiting room and checking who comes in every time the door opens.  Not everyone does that and they say it can give clues for ideal jobs. 

That's my excuse anyway.  Maybe that's why I became a librarian when I left school. Or maybe it was just the lure of the books.

Monday, 1 August 2011

New resolutions

I've just checked when I last posted and it's two weeks.  How the time has slipped away.

In my defence we are in the middle of a family visit with an active and noisy 8 year old and last week we were in London.

The idea of being in London I love.  The actual experience I often find exhausting.  Over the years I've learned to do things in small chunks. 

A few pictures in a gallery looked at with attention
A concert somewhere with time to spend in the area around the concert venue.
Time to appreciate and savour a good meal in a restaurant suddenly discovered.

So my highlights this time were:

Where we stayed - a couple of hundred yards from the Southbank complex..
A trip to Hampton Court with the pleasure of journey back by boat..
An Out to Lunch concert at the Cadogan with Steve Fishwick, Jeremy Brown and Tom Cawley.
A walk across St James's and Green Park.
A lunch taken with a friend.

And just to prove I'm not too much of a wrinkly, an encounter with screaming girls waiting for an X-Factor boy band coming out of ITV Studios.  Loved their energy and just for the fun of it some of our party screamed too.

Literary wise, we did go to The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre which left us feeling somehow unsatisfied.  Like trying an old favourite of a perfume and it no longer smelling the way you want it too.  Good acting, strange updated language and a set that was neither updated nor completely contemporary to when the play was written.

Enjoyed seeing James Laurenson again, after his recent performance in the Hamlet with Rory Kinnear.

Monday, 18 July 2011

R J Ellroy: Inspiration and courage in spades

Had the pleasure of attending an event in Derby Library on Saturday with Roger Ellroy as speaker.  Wasn't a workshop since we didn't do any writing as such but it was a tour round the life and experience of a successful writer.

There are a lot of quotes about not giving up whether it's learning a skill, creating an invention like Edison or pursuing any other kind of dream.  To hear the story of how his first book finally made it to publication was an example of:
  1. The importance of the personal connection between the writer and someone who believes in them.
  2. The value of patience.
  3. The absolute necessity of self belief.
We looked at the elements of creating a successful novel and the first and only essential thing is to write the book you want to write.  I'd agree with that because I can only start when I have someone running round in my head demanding that I have a go at telling their story.  I've no idea whether it will lead to a published book, so far it hasn't, but tell the story I have to.

Roger gave us some good practical tips especially about self editing which is one of the hardest skills to acquire I think. 

  1. Read aloud; which is something I was taught to do with my business writing.
  2. Print it out in a different font, on different coloured paper; which I haven't tried before.
  3. Read it in a different place from where you wrote it.
It was a thoroughly entertaining day though at the start I felt embarrassed because I hadn't read any of his books.  Now I have three on my pile and knowing the background to how they were written look forward to the experience.

If I needed any other reason to like him, he's a passionate supporter of libraries and does a lot of similar events. 

For more information about him

Sunday, 17 July 2011

What's the point of language?

When I met my writing mentor last week we talked about structure of a novel, mine, which as a result needs completely overhauling.  But when we'd finished the official session, of course we carried on talking about writing.  In particular description in novels.

I confessed that I couldn't get along with Ian McEwan's books;  when I dislike a writer's work who has been given critical acclaim I tend to think there's a fault in my understanding of how to appreciate it.  It was a comfort when he admitted to a similar problem with Margaret Attwood.  We both seemed to be obsessed less with beautiful writing and more with the story.

Our chat came into my mind again this morning when I caught up with some Writer's Almanac emails and read about Jhumpa Lahiri.  The item quoted her story about buying chairs with her husband.  He wanted spectacular beautiful ones; she opted for comfort.  For her writing is less about being beautiful than about doing something useful within the context of the story she's telling.

As a struggling novelist I always gain comfort hearing about famous writers and how they've dealt with their writing challenges.  Just yesterday I dipped into a book on writing crime novels by Patricia Highsmith at a passage about having to cut out a huge number of pages she really liked in a manuscript to satisfy an editor.

Gives me the heart to keep going!

Friday, 15 July 2011


Lyric Lounge Lincolnshire is making the first of its three stops in the county in Stamford on Saturday, July 23.

A spectacular temporary performance space will be created in the Voodoo Lounge downstairs at Mama Liz’s in North Street and writers and performers of all ages are welcome to come along, listen in, get writing and maybe even start performing, alongside renowned spoken word artists Adisa, Byron Vincent and Hannah Jane Walker.

for more details see and go to the events page

Monday, 11 July 2011

War and Peace - the end

We've finally reached the end of our DVD marathon with War and Peace.  It's only the second time I've seen the series, the first being when it showed in 1972.

Of course like with any older work it's been fun spotting actors now mega famous like Antony Hopkins , long gone actors and actors who have disappeared seemingly without trace.   I enjoyed especially seeing Alan Dobie again, one of my favourite actors.

What struck us was how leisured the story was in the way it unfolded.  And on a practical note how easy it was to read the credits unlike today when they whizz past and you have very little chance to appreciate who has done what work.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Derbyshire Arts supports writers

Enjoyed a day out at Bakewell yesterday for a networking and information day called Writing Ambitions.  This is the second one I've attended and found supportive and helpful.  Speakers included Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer for Derbyshire(and thanks to the county for keeping her in post when so many have disappeared) James Urquhart from Arts Council in the region and Catherine Rogers from Writing East Midlands.

There's too many things going on across the East Midlands to include here so I recommend you visit the websites for events, grants (yes they still exist) mentoring and general information.

As always it was a pleasure just to be in the same room as focused, lively writers.  Two of the workshop segments I attended were on dialogue in different media like radio, screenwriting and plays with Louise Page and writers groups with Cathy Grindrod.

I've always avoided writers groups but we discussed how to set up a group that was focused on supportive critiquing and feedback.  Lots of pitfalls of course but lots of benefits if you can get it right.

Bakewell was colourful with bunting for the Carnival and the journey, especially going early in the day, an absolute pleasure.

And of course I came home with a Bakewell Tart.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Library haul

Had a rush of blood to the head on Saturday when I went to change my library books.  Sometimes I wander round unable to find anything that takes my fancy.  This time within five minutes I'd an armful.

Normally I'd check them out then put half of them back; this time I brought the lot home.  Rag bag brain my sister said.  Maybe; we'll see.  They range from Orson Scott Card, through Edgar Allan Poe and Kate Atkinson to Cynthia Harrod Eagles' Morland Dynasty. to 'UFO in her eyes' which I had to pick up because of the title.

Oh and some Neil Gaiman short stories.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Music and wellbeing: Making Music conference

Glasgow,10–11 September 2011 For more details

The impact and application of music to improve mental, physical and social wellbeing has many advocates and well-established initiatives demonstrating positive impact. Making Music will be looking at programmes taking place across the UK and the opportunities these create for voluntary music.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Cadogan Hall Lunchtime Concerts


'Join us for lunch and be entertained! Cadogan Hall presents a mix of established stars and emerging talent in the beautiful surroundings of the Culford Room - jazz, classical, workshops, 'Meet the Authors', and much more.

London Vocal Project • Alex Berger • Liane Carroll • Cole Porter Songbook • Trio Manouche • Rhiannon Lambert • Julia Williams & Sara Sheridan • Charlotte Sterland • Steve Fishwick Jazz Trio • Pocket Caravan • Kai Hoffman Trio • Jim Hart & Ivo Naeme • Randolph Matthews & Byron Johnson • Pauline Melville & Maggie Gee • Milos Karadaglic • Peter King Quartet

FREE ENTRY, no need to book tickets – just turn up and enjoy the music.'
check out

If you're in London and you haven't been to the Cadogan Hall, I can highly recommend it.  Lovely acoustics.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

What Else Can I Do?

Course for women wanting to change jobs or careers.29th June,Nottingham 7.15-9.45pm . Details 

Nottingham Writers' Days; Writing Graphic Novels

One-day intensive writing workshop with graphic novelist and comic writer Brick (John Clark) will take you through the art of comic writing and unpick the nuts and bolts of making a word script come alive.

This is the second in the 2011 season of Nottingham Writers' Days, organised by Nottingham Writers' Studio, which also includes a day on writing for stage with Nick Wood in September.
The price is £75 for a day, or £50 for members of NWS.
To book, download the booking form from, or address any enquiries to Robin at

Monday, 20 June 2011

Cockasnook Books at Lowdham Book Fair 25th June

Margaret Swift from independent publisher Cockasnook has let me know they'll be at Lowdham this coming Saturday.Their titles include, two novels for young people, three fantasy fiction and three autobiography/biography  Catch them in the hall or on the grass behind it.. 10am till about 4pm.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lowdham Book Festival 14 June - 14 July 2011

Highlights include Jasper Fforde in conversation with Stephen Booth (25 June)
Alan Sillitoe Commemoration (25 June)
An evening with John Simpson (21 June)

For full programme

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Parkinson's Bookshop Southport

I'm off to Southport today to see family and have been checking up on bookshops there, since I haven't been for a few years.  Parkinson's of Lord Street still thriving so I shall be sure to pay a visit.

and Broadhursts on Market Street

Thursday, 9 June 2011


I went across to Souhwell Minster today with a friend to have a look at the Exhibition of Bibles they had mounted in celebration of the King James Bible anniversary. 

One of the facts that surprised me was that there was a version in Old English in the 11th Century.  I have to admit my knowledge of this period is not extensive.  According to the information, this was superseded by the use of Norman Latin which of course restricted the reading of bibles to the better educated and rich part of the population.  About the same time there was a dialect version in what is now the East Midlands area.

I always find it very moving to look at hand written bibles with their beautiful script and the early printed versions.  With our days of digital print on demand the times of typesetting are long gone but the care and hard work the early copies demanded are incredible.  There was one copy and on the pages open to view, there was English, Greek and Hebrew set.  Very skilled work.

But publishers, shall we say,'shortcuts' were evident in one bible on show.  Open at one of St Paul's epistles, it was pointed out to us that the capital P at the top of the page had a rather inappropriate picture of a lady less than fully clothed turning into a tree.

Unsure of his profits the printer was cutting his costs by using an already made capital.

It's a while since I've been to the Minster and I'd forgotten how beautiful it is in there. 

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Keeping Your Spirits Up by Sarah Dale

Absolutely thrilled to bits to promote this book.  Sarah is one of my clients and I helped her last April to get started with a draft of this book.  Afte planning it for some time Sarah needed a push(gentle) to begin. 

What I admire about Sarah is her determination to stick to what we agreed in our sessions despite being a mum of teenagers, doing a course for her business and all the other ways she generously shares her time in the community.

And what pleases me most is that she's overcome some of her fears about contacting 'experts' in her field.  As a result she has some positive and supportive testimonials from them after reading her book.

I wish her all success.  For more details check it out at the link.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Week's jottings

I'm surfacing this afternoon from a week's worth of editing work.  I enjoy doing it but this time because I've been checking out a lot of websites it's given me a snapshot of what's happening with some government departments.  There's a lot of rationalisation of sites taking place and information services shut down. The tip of a lack of funding iceberg.

What else has been happening?

I went to see Ibsen's League of Youth at Nottingham Playhouse last week.  Apparently it's an early play but it had some digs at politicians and coalitions much appreciated by the audience of mostly older people.

Enjoyed a trip across to Norfolk on Sunday with time in Hunstanton and at Norfolk Lavender.  Hadn't seen their red cliffs before.  We did get on the beach having been blown along the promenade.  As Noel Coward said 'Very flat Norfolk' though I didn't feel quite that sense of vast emptiness I had when I went to Ely and drove across the fens. Whenever I buy vegetables in the winter I think about the people who pick them out in that area and across the Lincolnshire wolds.  Even with their technology it's still hard work.

Reading Sophie Hannah at the moment Point of Rescue - very complex plot.

Enjoyed the Vera series on television with Brenda Blethyn but had only read one of the books and they changed a lot in that episode.  Have to treat them as separate entities which is hard when you are attached to the books.  I love Elizabeth George's novels but even the early adaptations couldn't do justice to them.

Relistening on BBC 4 Extra to the wonderful Simon Russell Beale in the Smiley adaptations.  The pictures are better on radio.It's also been giving me chance to catch up with some Jane Austen adaptations with Juliet Stevenson in Persuasion.  Quite my favourite Austen book.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Quotes for writers

"When one door closes another opens;but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones that open for us.  Alexander Graham Bell

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Literary Consultancy

TLC and the Guardian Books Pages

"In the month we celebrate 15 years in the business, TLC is delighted to become part of the new Guardian online books pages. TLC is the Guardian's recommended editorial consultancy, and we look forward to working with clients who come our way via their remarkable site. Their newly renovated books section provides a fantastic variety of reviews, resources and news about current books"

For more information on The Literary Consultancy go to

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Open Mic and Poetry night Shindig! on Sunday 22 May

From 7pm in the Jam Cafe, Hockley. Entry is free. Line-up includes Rosie Garner (Salt Publishing), Di Slaney (Candlestick Press), Emma Purshouse (Nine Arches Press) and Jane Commane, the Editor of Nine Arches Press, along with music and words from local legend John Marriott, Open Mic slots and a book stall. Kitchen is open until 9pm and there is a range of alcohol, soft drinks and beverages available to purchase - also cake, a must at any poetry event!

For more details: Aly Stoneman, Poetry Editor - Leftlion Magazine

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The birth of the typewriter

Saw yesterday in The Writers Almanac that it was the anniversary of the first patent in 1893 of the kind of typewriter where you could see the text as you typed.

It's twenty five years since I was converted to using word processors but I still get a childish pleasure in some of the things you can now do on a computer in Word. 

I learned typewriting as a mature student in a class of 17 year olds.  At more than twice their age and probably older than the tutor, it offered me plenty of comic moments especially as she never knew whether to include me in her 'silly girls' admonitions to work harder and better and stop giggling.

We learned on Adler machines with their rat a tat noises and their unforgiving ways.  One of the things I hated most doing on those typewriters was centring text.  Such a performance counting letters and spaces.  What a joy when I transferred to word processing and found a function key that did it all for me.  What a doddle!

Of course a lot of the discipline of learning to type remains.  I touch type still and have this instinct to correct as I go along as we had to.  Not necessary to do it these days and I understand it's not encouraged but the urge remains.

Would I want to go back to the Adler or its modern version?  Probably not but I like the thought that I tamed the beast and could do so again if need be.

Monday, 16 May 2011

MediaCamp Nottingham 4: Saturday, May 21, 2011 from 10:00 - 5:30

Lace Market House,54 - 56 High Pavement,NG1 1HW Nottingham
MediaCampNottingham is next Saturday. As with previous events there will be a performer who has been using tech directly in their practice or in an inovative way to promote themselves as is the case with this events musician, Linda Harrison .

For more information contact Caron-Jane Lyon at

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Stretching myself as a writer

"Security is mostly a superstition.  It does not exist in nature.... Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

Without a doubt Helen Keller's life had to be an adventure... with her challenges it would never be anything less.

How we view our own lives and construct them to be in control varies according to our personalities.  Maybe the same extends to writing.

I like writing within a structure.  It forces me to create more depth in the writing rather than let it spread out and dissipate.  But creating the structures within which I feel safe to write, i.e. that it feels under my control is another illusion of security.

The novel I've been working on for some time was created within a structure partly because I didn't have the confidence with fiction writing to let it spread, but also because I did feel it was the right container for the action.

Recently I've started planning another book.  Completely different topic and I'm struggling with the shape of the narrative.  Several times I've planned it out, tried to write some of it and failed.  For me that's an indication I haven't planned it properly.  In my head I have the whole story laid out.  What I don't have is the outline plan... and it's driving me mad.  

Yesterday I went to lunch with a friend, a fellow writer and we talked it through which helped me a bit and I came back and wrote a synopsis.  But still I'm not sure how to lay it out.  It's tantalisingly close.

So this morning I decided I'd consult a writing tutor.  At least it will give me a chance to get an outside, i.e. detached viewpoint and make me explain my reasons.  If I can convince him at least of the outline, then I can move on from there and create the format.

Should be interesting.  I have this feeling that I'll need to let go of the type of structures that I've used before and create a different type of structure and it's what's giving rise to that old, 'Can I do it?'

Won't know till I try will I?!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Lincoln Book Festival

10th May 2011 09:00 - 15th May 2011 21:00
The eighth annual Lincoln Book Festival is taking place between Tuesday 10 and Sunday 15 May 2011 and will feature an exciting and varied programme of events celebrating books and all that they inspire.

Saturday 14 May 2011, we have introduced a Children’s Fest Day to bring alive literacy to children.

Friday, 6 May 2011

National Breadmakers Week

I received the newsletter from Doves Farm the organic flour makers which flagged up the celebration next week.  This year I've started baking bread again and I love doing it on many levels.  It makes me feel connected to the earth, to the people who've created the ingredients I use and of course I love the bread being mine and fresh.

My current working book is Dan Lepard's River Cottage Book.  It's a bit serious in some places but very inspirational and I made my first crumpets earlier this year with great success.  Hot buttered crumpets on a wet afternoon.  Wonderful.

For more information on Dove's Farm see and for Dan Lepard see

Thursday, 5 May 2011

What can your writing achieve when you're true to yourself?

"The gift you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world but to fully belong to it. It's not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift---your true self---is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs." [from Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin]

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Anthony Trollope

During each winter my sister and I chose a DVD series for those evenings when it's wall to wall house renovation programmes on the television.

This winter we chose The Pallisers by Anthony Trollope; a series of books about the antics and activities of the upper classes around 1870.  Part of the series is about political ins and outs, manipulation and jockeying for position.

All the way through the series there have been some classic statements about power and what it does to people. The episode we watched at the weekend was about the fate of a coalition government. 

Forget modern politcal journalism; even with all the new technology we have, the behaviour doesn't change and that's why I love reading Trollope.  His acute and accurate reflections on human nature are a joy to read and see represented.

Yes I guess his style is a bit wordy for our modern tastes but I think it's worth persevering for the pleasure of the gems you find in it.

Co-incidentally it would have been his birthday on Sunday.

The series is available on DVD; made in 1970s; it even gives you time to read the credits and chances to spot well known actors in their early days.  Including Michael Cochrane(now a senior figure in The Archers) and Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons, playing together before Brideshead Revisited.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Alex Davis Writers' Day 13 August 2011

10:30-12:30 on the theme of Writing and Selling Short Stories. It should be a really useful session for anyone interested in the short form, and will cost the same as the workshops from last time at £6.
For more details email Alex at

Monday, 2 May 2011

Ann Cleeves and Vera Stanhope

Better writers than me will be praising the adaptation of the Vera Stanhope crime novels after the first episode last night..  These are just my thoughts.

I came late to reading Ann Cleeves and my sister had been urging me to try the books for some time.  Recently I read Blue Lightning with the character Jimmy Perez set in Shetland and Telling Tales where Vera is brought in on a missolved crime.

Loved the character of Vera and who wouldn't.  Real, earthy and sharp.  And Brenda Blethyn was the perfect interpreter.  Perfect for me because she disappeared into the role.  All I saw was Vera.

This morning I've been looking at Ann Cleeves website and read some of her diary.  One of the things I picked up was her thoughts on appearances in bookshops and the difference between the mainstream and the independents.

To check it out see

and the bookshops she mentions

Funny seeing the name Urmston again.  When I worked at Lancashire County Libraries in the circulating department, Urmston was one of the places we sent books to on our Manchester area run.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Creative exercises for writers

Came across a book by Keri Smith called Mess,Penguin Books

Liked the following suggestions:
  1. Find a magazine with lots of pictures, turn to page 32, choose a picture and make a connectin. I'd add to that, write about the connection in 200 words or less.
  2. Write with your feet.  And yes you might need a large piece of paper and yes it might get messy but that's the whole purpose.
  3. Create a series of chance words then combine them to make a new word.

Friday, 22 April 2011


New writing and reading community based in the East Midlands

Saw this in a recent newsletter.  Haven't yet tried it out.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Writers' Professional Development Planning Session

7 May, 10-1, Medway Community Centre, Bakewell. Led by Cathy Grindrod

A practical session, guiding you through the process of setting goals for your writing, and helping to identify the series of steps needed to achieve them. For further information and to book a place email:

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

AltFiction Spring Writing Weekend 20-22 May,Chesterfield

For writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror to meet and work with like-minded people and enjoy workshops and talks with established authors in the field. Offering workshops, feedback sessions and expert advice, these weekends are sure to both inform and inspire.

Guest Speakers
Simon Clark – acclaimed horror novelist and author of The Night of the Triffids
Tony Ballantyne – science fiction writer of the Recursion Trilogy and the Penrose Series

For more information see

Alex Davis; writing tutor

Just wanted to thank Alex Davis for the workshop I attended on Saturday at Derby Library.  I stayed for the whole day though it was separated into 3 distinct sessions.  I found it very useful, especially the practical exercises he gave us to do about plotting a novel.

It's always good when you make a leap in understanding because someone outside of you makes a comment about an idea.  I've had this idea in my head for a couple of years about a novel I want to write, on the basis of what causes someone to kill another human being (outside of a war situation). 

The exercises he took us through made something crystal clear for me because I'd been struggling with the format of how to write it.

Hmm - now that means I have to do something with it!

Alex also teaches at the Quad in Derby and is organising AltFiction.

For more information about his classes go to

The other aspect of the workshop I enjoyed was meeting other writers - always a cheering activity to be with those who are as mad as I am about writing.  Or maybe just mad.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Crossword addicts

Caught an item in yesterday's Writers Almanac about the first crossword puzzle book.  Published as a collection in 1924 by Simon and Schuster.

At the moment, I do crosswords sporadically which means I never build the muscle you need to tackle the harder ones.  I've been very irritated by the Guardian Review setter recently because they seem to be addicted to geography clues. 

Perhaps I'm saving up the activity for later in life when I have fewer physical activities.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Inspirational quotes for writers

"A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge." Dave Barry

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Writers Day 2 with Alex Davis 16 April Derby Library

Looking forward to new perspectives on being a writer and how to structure a novel when I go to the workshop on Saturday.  Always fun to meet up with other writers, aspiring or published. 
Still places available I think.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Why I'm Here by Jacqueline Berger

Just catching up with yesterday's Writers Almanac and really enjoyed the poem that started off the day's entry.  All about the web of circumstances that led the writer to being born where and when she was.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Weekend Jottings (including lopper progress)

Lopper progress

We've bought the lopper.  Now I have to wait for a calm day to use it.  Not because I think it will be difficult but because of the length of it.  When we walked back from buying it, the lopper came up to my shoulder and I'm 5'8" - felt like Neptune with the trident trundling along.

I don't know if you've ever used one of those extensions for decorating - you know like a brush handle that you can fix on the end of a roller.  We used one when we decorated the high and wide landing in our house.  Not that it was difficult to do, more that the weight of the whole thing provided one or two hairy moments as I extended it to its fullest length. 

Looking at this lopper I have a funny feeling that the same thing might happen when I'm waving it about at a tree branch.  Especially as this time I'm likely to be up a ladder too.  What looks very doable from my bedroom window feels quite different when I'm looking up at a 30 ft tree.


Finished the Gift of Rain.  Very tragic story full of revenge, hatred and at a deeper level love.  Interesting mix of cultural and religious ideas and beliefs.  Having it set in war provided the extraordinary circumstances of a boy taking the fate of his family on his shoulders.  In setting, completely different from Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise that I listened to as an audio book, but similar in the problems that face the human heart in conflict.  It's easy to think we'd know how we'd behave but until I was faced with threats to those I loved, I don't have any idea what I'd do to survive.

Picked up some thrillers from the library on Saturday.  None of them newly published but new reads for me.  A Dalziel and Pascoe, a Slider mystery and I think the latest Alan Banks.  With apologies to authors Hill, Harrod Eagles and Robinson that I placed their characters first. Not conscious choices in the subject matter but they all are about the fate of young girls.


Watching very little television at the moment but I did sit down for two hours of wallpaper TV last night in Lewis.  Not very stretching intellectually but still.  Seeing Juliet Stevenson's character go up in flames like Brunnhilde on the funeral pyre had to be worth the time.

Speaking of placing characters first, I did notice in the credits for Lewis that the composer came before the writer.  Just a thought.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sharon Wright, Dragon Slayer on how to complete your book in 4 weeks

I met Sharon at a Broxtowe Women’s Event recently and was inspired by her commitment and dedication to her writing. As I’ve said in my blog many times, you won’t write a book a you don’t write and just starting is the most important step. It doesn’t matter if you have to change everything you write later; what’s important is that you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.  Fifteen minutes a day is better than an hour every three months.

I appreciate Sharon taking the time to share her tips with us and they’re all very practical and useful.

5 Tips for Writing Your Book Fast

One: Plan before you start

Planning and preparation is key to any success and this goes without saying with writing my book “Mother of Invention”.

My intention at first was to have ten chapters, but as I planned the contents this soon sketched out into eighteen. You can only be guided initially for the start middle and end; this will grow quite quickly but make sure you are happy with the chapter headings before starting to write your book.

Break each chapter into sections with a clear idea what it will entail, making reference to every element, date, and points you wish to make. I split my chapters into start middle and end, like a mini book in itself, as there has to be a purpose to each individual chapter. I used all my notes as a tick list to make sure each chapter flowed perfectly into the next.

Two: How you write every chapter

For me I chose to write each chapter in no particular order. I wasn’t structured into writing from the start of the book to the finish. I wrote with the emotion I was feeling on the day. If I was feeling sad and lonely I would milk these feelings in my mind to describe exactly what I was trying to deliver. I needed to put myself in that moment, so the reader was in my headspace and could feel every emotion I was trying to create. Writing with emotion keeps them captivated and is a real page turner.

Three: Enjoy your writing

You need to enjoy your writing, to really submerge yourself like a therapeutic trance where the outside world cannot disturb you. If necessary take yourself away, unapproachable from life. I decided the only way to do this was to take myself to a retreat, where nobody knew me, no phones, no conversation nothing, just complete isolation. This may not always be possible I appreciate due to family commitments, but you need to make quiet time available.

Four: Be structured in your writing

Be both structured and realistic with your timescale and don’t feel under pressure to finish. It will come naturally from within when you’re really in the moment. Writing each chapter was both rewarding as well as draining, but the satisfaction when I finished was exhilarating. I had a plan to write a chapter a day and stuck to this religiously. Some chapters took longer than others but I didn’t rush, it was so important I was completely happy. I couldn’t write everyday, some days it just wasn’t happening so leave it and walk away. Don’t leave your book for weeks and weeks, get on with it and get it done. My book took me 4 weeks from start to finish.

Five: Create the right environment for you

You need to create the right environment. As silly as it seems I wore my comfort clothes, I had my comfort food and didn’t need to be disturbed. Everything I required was at my reach. The last thing you need is to break away from your trance. You will know when your writing is good, you won’t question the flow, you will just feel completely happy with your achievement and be excited to start the next chapter.

And an extra million dollar tip

Don’t assume people understand your description; give attention to detail; imagine you’re describing to someone who is blind. Attention to detail is key and places the reader in your story.

Good luck with your own writing.
Sharon Wright

Thanks for those tips Sharon and to check out more about Sharon and her book Mother of Invention go to

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Ratchets and their application to writing

Sorry I couldn't resist that. This is a non literary post... but still a burning issue for me.

Every time I've looked out of my bedroom window this winter the eucalyptus tree has caught my eye.

Not because it's beautiful, though it is, but because when I was pruning it last autumn there was a brach I just couldn't reach.  I went round the tree several times, carefully moving the ladder to avoid squashing any of the plants underneath.

Still I couldn't reach it and it's seemed like a reproach ever since.  Stupid but it's like that streak of paint on a skirting board that you forgot to clean off and now taunts you with being sloppy. 

Might be about to find a solution though courtesy of a local supermarket.  On one of her sweeps through the town looking for bargains my sister spotted a ratcheted lopper.  Now I don't get excited about equipment generally.  In fact I usually am less than enthusiastic about new stuff particularly of the technological variety. 

Too much to learn unless it's a switch on and it works.  In which case I'll take two.

But a ratcheted lopper might just do it. 

You see in our garden we have problems from quite a few trees that belong to the residential home at the back of us.  The council are responsible and every year the tree surgeons come and lop a proprotion of the trees at the back.  But in between them doing the ones at the back of us, we suffer, or at least our plants do from lack of light.

And I look longingly at the spindly branches that trail - surely I could reach them... if only.

If only I were 7 feet tall or had a magic piece of equipment that didn't cost a fortune, wasn't too heavy and worked every time.

Maybe this piece will be the right one - the match made in heaven for me and the job.

A break from the writing is indicated this afternoon and a quick trip to the supermarket to check it out.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

What gets you writing?

I was catching up with the Saturday Guardian Review article on authors and writing.

When I started out I used to pore over how writers organised themselves and created their work.  Of course this was more about business writing, but to a certain extent I did it for fiction also.  The longer I write though for both types of writing, the more I think, it is necessary to create your own routines and aids.

Yesterday I caught a segment of the interview with Charlie HIgson on Radio 3 breakfast programme talking about favourite music and one of his comments about a piece he chose was that it was good music to write to.

That's part of what intrigued me about other writers.  Some writers need loud rock music and some ignore music completely.  For me it depends what I'm writing.  I can't have words in the background when I do first drafts but when I edit that's different.

So far from it mattering if you do one thing or another at any stage of the writing process, what really is important is that it helps not hinders.  Sit in your pyjamas or dress formally; stuff yourself with chocolate or be too involved to think of food.  Makes no odds if it works for you.

I was talking to a writer last week about how she writes and for her the most important thing is to be so excited she can't wait to start.  As long as that state of mind is present then she's away.

I agree with her about needing to be involved because if you aren't there heart and soul 10 words seems like a penance.  On another day 2,000 flow as if by magic. 

And there's always that primeval fear that if you analyse what you do then it might not happen next time.  NLP practitioners wouldn't agree.  But if we view the process of writing as mysterious then maybe we should leave the analysis alone.

How does it work for you?