Monday, 27 February 2012


Thank you Patsy for tagging me. This is something a little bit different and it seems like fun. I have to answer the 11 random questions Patsy asked and then tag 11 more people and ask them 11 new questions.

Well here goes with my answers.

1. Do you have a favourite word or phrase?

Yes, but I’m afraid I can’t repeat it here in case I offend anyone!

2. What do you like on your pizza?

Olives. Lots and lots of olives.

3. Where do you get you books from?

Amazon, book shops, The Book People, Abebooks, supermarkets, anywhere that sells books really.

4. Favourite drink?

Tea, no coffee, no wait a minute, white wine or red wine.

5. Who would you most like to meet?

Joanna Lumley

6. And why?

Because she’s absolutely fabulous of course, but mainly because she does so much for those who don’t have a voice. I admire her for that.

7. Favourite colour?

Green, no blue, or maybe yellow, or black.

8. Where have you never visited but would like to go?

Scotland. One day I will!

9. Do you like hats?

I adore hats, but unfortunately hats do not like me.

10. What weather do you like best?

Warm and sunny with blue skies and just a few puffy white clouds. Or fog, the really thick stuff you can get lost in. Or summer rain.

11. Were these questions random enough?

They were for me!

And now my eleven random questions:

1. Do you wish you’d been born someone else?

2. Who would you most like to have breakfast with?

3. Favourite subject at school?

4. Favourite television programme?

5. Do you believe in ghosts?

6. What is your star sign?

7. Which Star Trek series was the best?

8. If you could be a character from a book, who would you be?

9. What is your favourite animal?

10. Least favourite vegetable?

11. Why?

And now my eleven victims – whose mission should they choose to accept it is to answer the questions, think up eleven new ones and tag eleven more victims. Did I say victims? I mean blogging friends of course. I'm not going to put a message on your blogs, but I'll link to you from here so leaving it completely up to you whether you do this or not!

Joanna, Karen, Gail, Pat, Joanne, Eileen, Suzanne, Jarmara, Carol, Diane, Suzy.

But only if you want to ladies!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Story Theft

I expect by now most of you have heard about the latest case of plagiarism in which the victim was Liz Fielding - read what happened to her at her blog. Here are links to posts by Diane and Womag about it too.

I just do not understand – at all – what someone gets from stealing someone else’s work. What possible feeling can anyone take away from doing something like this?

And why do they think they can get away with it?

It is very true that e-publishing and the internet makes it easier for things like this to happen. But it also - thankfully - makes it easier for people to be caught and brought to book as you will see from Diane's post!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

W.V. and some competitions

It’s a pain. Most people find it difficult to read the two ridiculous words that often aren’t even words at all. You can click on the curly arrows to change the words if you can’t make out what’s on offer and you are usually offered two more indecipherable clumps of letters, but if you do it enough times you will eventually get something you can read.

Or you can have words read out to you – I tried this. It gave me a headache! Couldn’t understand what the heck she/he was saying or how many of the words being fired at me I was supposed to use.

So I decided to get rid of WV. Within minutes I was getting spam. Luckily Blogger picked it up and shoved it in the spam folder.

I’m afraid I’ve had to put Word Verification back.

It makes me mad. It shouldn’t even be necessary. It’s like the emails you get offering to enlarge your willy or warning you that you need to re-enter the details on your bank account – mostly with banks you don’t even have accounts with.

Don’t get me started on phone calls. You can get them stopped through the Telephone Preference Service (which I heartily recommend), but unfortunately it doesn’t cover calls from abroad where so many nuisance phone calls come from these days.

Enough of all that – here is a link to three competitions. You can win an audiobook of Before I Go To Sleep, a spa break at Champneys or a Nintendo 3DS. I know which one I’d like to win, but you’ve got to be in it to win it as they say.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Kreativ Blogger!

Many thanks to Gail at The Writing Bug for passing this award to me.

Isn’t it pretty?

Now then, I have to reveal some interesting things about me – oh dear, this will be a short post then.

Drums fingers on desk.

Hums tunelessly.

Scratches head.

I’ve probably told you these things before – there is a very shallow file of interesting things about me I’m afraid. Interesting things seem to happen to my family and friends.

1. Turns out the arthritis in my shoulder and neck aren’t my only problems. I don’t know whether to be proud of this or worried, but the main trouble with my shoulder is – ahem, a drum roll please – a sporting injury! Yep, that’s right, me, Mrs Couch Potato herself has a sporting injury. The musculoskeletal specialist I saw says the impingement is almost certainly a result of my swimming. I’ve had a steroid shot into the offending (offensive!) shoulder and have to do exercises involving just me, a door and a gigantic rubber band. I’ve cut the swimming down to just once a week and have resigned myself to the fact that I will probably never now realise my lifelong ambition to swim the channel.

2. When I was an Elf (in the Brownies, not a real elf obviously, although I probably have the ears for it) we were playing outside on the Barrack field when suddenly Brown Owl and Tawny Owl ushered us into the Brownie hut. As we were bundled in the door I heard someone say Goldie, the golden eagle that had escaped from London Zoo had landed on the field. I vividly remember looking over my shoulder and catching a glimpse of a large, hunched, sad looking creature at the edge of the field as I went in. They wouldn’t let us look out of the windows and told us to stay at the back of the hut in case he should attack! I just felt sorry for him, poor old thing. I remember this with absolute clarity, but when I Google it now there is no mention of Goldie ever making it out of London – so did I dream it? I am 99% sure it happened.

3. My mum wouldn’t let me have ballet lessons because she said I was too tall and tall girls are never ballerinas. I’m 5’ 2”.

4. Many years ago in very icy weather I woke up and “saw” a motorcyclist wearing a white helmet come off his bike at a roundabout and slide down the road on his back. I saw this as vividly as I saw the eagle. I was so upset that my beloved left his motorbike at home (I had had premonitions before) and trudged to work through snow and ice and as he crossed the roundabout, a motorcyclist came off his bike and slid down the road on his back – just as I’d described. And he was wearing a white helmet. There have been lots of other things, but I shan’t go on as you probably already think I am too far away with the fairies as it is.

5. I can’t do that “Live long and prosper” thing with my fingers, but I can turn my tongue upside down.

Now I’d like to pass this award on to Joanna (Brightwriter) and Joanne (A Zigzag Road) and Lynne (I should be writing)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

In Conversation with... Marilyn Fountain

I am thrilled to welcome fellow writer, Marilyn Fountain to my blog for a bit of a chat.

I was a great admirer of Lyn’s work long before I met her – and she’s just as lovely in real life as you’d imagine. And her talent doesn’t end with magazine fiction. Lyn has written articles, won competitions, appeared in anthologies and has been on the radio reading her work.

Lyn lives in Norfolk with her husband and two absolutely gorgeous cuddly Scotties.

I asked Lyn if she remembered her first acceptance.

Oh, vividly. It was from D C Thomson & Co, a proper written letter telling me they'd accepted a story called "Late Arrival". It was my first submitted story, so how lucky was that? It was such a surprise I sat on the stairs and stared at it for ages.

Wow, a hit with your first one! Did you celebrate? sitting down and writing more stories.

That doesn’t surprise me. What sort of stories do you most enjoy writing?

The ones that write themselves! My preference has always been for honest realism, which isn't very commercial unfortunately. To get over this, some of my stories have versions with two endings; one to save and one to send out.

What a great idea! You have a talent for bringing characters to life and a skill for bringing out emotion in the reader – this reader has laughed and cried at your words.

Anyway, another question, who are your favourite authors?

I love Magnus Mills for his quirky worlds and brilliant dialogue. William Trevor is a big favourite of mine. His short stories are so accomplished they turn me green with envy. Jilly Cooper's short stories - though very much of their time - are still great fun to read.

And do you have an all time favourite book?

Eek! Just one? Oh, Teresa, come on...! Don't you find your favourites change over time and as you go through different stages of life? For years my absolute favourite was The Sleepless Moon by H E Bates, but it's dropped right off my radar now. Nell Dunn's Poor Cow and Up the Junction have stayed in my top ten since I first read those. With my sociologist's hat on, John Steinbeck's feeling for humanity in The Grapes of Wrath takes my breath away. But the 'chicken soup' book that I dip into when all else fails is John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. The family dynamics are spot on.

I know, that wasn’t a fair question was it? So do you keep regular hours or go with the flow?

If the flow is flowing, I go with it - and it's the greatest feeling. More frequently, it's discipline and grind.

Is there one achievement that you are most proud of?

Outside of writing it's my first class honours degree in Politics and Sociology. Four years of slog as a mature student - during which time I lost my mum and two other close family members - it's the hardest thing I've ever done. The university environment didn't suit me, and brought back all the horror of school, but my pride comes from sticking at it when everything in me was screaming to run away. When it comes to fiction, I'm rarely if ever 100% satisfied with the end result, and always think I should have done better.

That is very typical of the Lyn I know, to keep at it. And also not to be 100% satisfied with your writing – I promise you I have never read a single one of your stories and thought it could have been better.

This is a question many writers dread, but where do you get your ideas?

Oh, all over the place. Does everyone say that? But it's true. Something on the news, a conversation overheard in a shop, an advertising poster, sometimes all it takes is a single word or phrase. You have to be in the right sort of receptive mood though, to let that first spark ignite into something more substantial.

What are your writing ambitions? And do they change?

Primarily it's just to keep on coming up with stories. For years I've been trying to get something accepted by BBC Radio, and been shortlisted so many times that the word 'shortlist' now brings me out in a rash.

I've been lucky enough to be included in a couple of short story anthologies; Bridge House Publishing's Gentle Footprints and The Wind in the Willows Short Stories. I'm also in an upcoming anthology called Radgepacket 6, due to be published by Byker Books next month. The launch is on Saturday 10th March at ‘The Back Page’ book shop in Newcastle upon Tyne between 12-3pm.

That story is a bit of a change of tone for me, and it was hugely liberating to let rip and write something different. I'd love to see something with my name on the spine, a collection of short stories probably. Not having the skill or dedication to write a full-length, commercially-produced novel is something I'm still struggling to accept. But on the other hand, didn't someone once say that you only fail when you stop trying?

I beg to differ there – I think you do have the skill to write a full length novel. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hold a book with your name on the cover in my hands one day.

But what do you wish someone had told you when you first started to write?

I think I'm glad no-one told me anything. Because if I knew then what I know now, I don't think I would have even tried. There's a lot to be said for naiveté.

Love it!

Finally, do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Definitely try not to let rejections put you off, or to take them personally. Use them as a challenge to spur you on.

That’s great advice, Lyn, thank you – and thank you so much for coming by to talk to us. Good luck with the anthologies.

Gentle Footprints raises money for the Born Free Foundation and includes a story by Richard Adams.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

It's been a while...

I love the snow. I don’t love wearing that silly coat she puts on me, but I do like wearing my woolly jumper at bedtime (Granny knitted it for Sweep about 12 years ago and I inherited it and it is still going strong). Even so, I still get under the covers if I get chilly.

On Sunday we were on our way out for a walk when this large creamy coloured whiskery faced creature hurtled round the corner and belted up to me, all arms and legs, gaping mouth and floppy ears.

A lady who appeared a minute later said, “He’s a Labradoodle you know.” As if that explained everything. Then she added with a disapproving look, “Don’t you let him off the lead?”

She was talking about me! To be honest I wouldn’t be happy being off the lead in the middle of the estate. I might get run over or tempted to chase something or even get chased by something. No, I’d rather wait until I’m safely on the fields where I can run wild and free with impunity, thank you.

Anyway herself made a huge fuss of the lolloping creature and as we walked away she said, “I wouldn’t mind one of those.”

What? Has she lost control of her marbles?

If she wants wild and woolly, I can give her wild and woolly. See?

I’ve noticed quite a few dogs wearing coats lately, even ones like me (but not as handsome obviously). Worryingly, since she’s had that sewing machine she’s been talking about making me a new one. I’m not sure I like the sound of that.

Yesterday she watched 101 Dalmatians with Lachlan and when Nanny (Joan Plowright) came out with the still puppy, she began to blub and then when Roger (Jeff Daniels) held the pup in his hands and Pongo nudged the pup with his nose – well it was like the great flood. I thought himself was going to have to nip out and start work on an ark.

We’d just about got the place dry, wrung out the carpets and put out warnings about a national tissue shortage, when Imogen and Isabel came downstairs – and said they wanted to watch it from the beginning.

So we had to go through it all again! And she had the gall to blame me for the fact her clothes were all wet. She said it was where I’d been out in the garden leaping round in what remained of the snow before coming in and sitting on her lap. Humph!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

What if?

Things came to light this week within my family that have made me think what if and that’s always a good question for a writer.

What if HMS Rye hadn’t run out of smoke canisters whilst escorting a convoy in the Med in 1943? Well I wouldn’t be here and neither would my children and grandchildren.

What if my mum hadn’t persuaded me to go to a works dance with her in 1973 and I’d gone to the disco I’d been planning to go to with my mates instead? Could I have ended up married to someone else?

Life is full of what ifs and when you really start to think about it, it snowballs and you just end up thinking of more and more.

What ifs can get you started on a story.

What if all the people in this photograph were still alive? Well it would be a miracle – my grandad, his younger brother Willie and older sister Olive would all be well over 110 years old.

What if my great aunt and her daughter hadn’t rented a flat in that house when they were over here on holiday (they lived in Sydney)? That very glamorous looking blonde lady (I remember vividly how in awe I was of her) owned the house and I’m pretty sure that after their conversations with Aunt Olive they made the decision to emigrate and went to live in Perth.

I only know for sure that three of the people in that photograph are still with us. That poor unfortunate child at the front in the frothy yellow dress is definitely still with us. She’s sitting here right now, on my chair, using my computer and wondering why her mum made her wear a party dress that day, or perhaps it was her decision, too long ago to remember.

And that pretty young lady at the front on the right is my cousin Pat, one of the nicest people I ever knew and one of the best friends I ever had. She died much too young, much too soon and I will never stop missing her.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Old Crock

No, I haven’t dug up some ancient treasure in my garden, the old crock I’m referring to is me!

Oh, but you already knew that didn’t you? It was just that I hadn’t realised. It crept up on me and took me by surprise.

I had my X Ray results earlier this week and it seems I am an arthritic old crock and my doctor is referring me.

I can’t take NSAIDs or opiates so it looks like going the injection and manipulation route.

Indy said it wouldn’t have happened if I watched my weight and was a slim jim like him, but enough about all that… here’s a brief word from himself:

This is my wise, all knowing I-told-you-so-tubs look.

December and January – great months. Lots of parties = lots of kids = lots of food. I love it. You may spot me in the next photo wearing my Feed-me-feed-me-now-can't-you-see-I'm-desperate face...

Here is a piece of advice from me (that's me, not himself) for anyone entering writing competitions – including children.

Take time to read the terms and conditions.

I was going to post a link here to a writing competition until I found the following amongst the terms and conditions.

Entrants agree to grant exclusive, royalty free, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable and sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish and display such content for any purpose in any media, without compensation.

This applies to all entrants – not just the winners.

I don’t know about you, but that makes my blood boil. “Without compensation”??? What do you think? Am I being over sensitive? Or is that out of order?

And why are the newspapers in such a tizz about the cold weather? I remember as a child waking up to ice on the inside of my bedroom window and getting dressed under the covers. I remember the milk freezing in the bottles and pushing the lids up and the little birds sitting on the top and pecking at the cream.

I’ve just defrosted the bird baths. Yes, it is cold, but it is also February.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

In January...

I read Anarchy and Old Dogs and The Curse of the Pogo Stick, books 4 and 5 in Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri Paiboun mysteries. I am trying so hard to eke these out and make them last, but I just can’t help myself – they’re addictive. Ever since hydra put me on to The Coroner’s Lunch, the first in the series, I’ve been hopelessly hooked.

And then there was Here Come the Girls by Milly Johnson. I absolutely love Milly’s books. Her characters are so vivid and down to earth and it was near impossible to put down.

I don’t usually read YA books, but I downloaded Tangi’s Teardrops by Liz Grace Davis and started to read and found I just wanted to keep on reading. Tangi is a lovely character and I like Liz’s style of writing. I hope to see more of her work in future.

Also available on Kindle is a collection of short stories by one of our top magazine fiction writers, Lydia Jones, For a Smile – so I treated myself and had a nice time dipping in and out when the mood took me - as Shirley Blair, Commissioning Fiction Editor of The People's Friend said, "You'll find something to suit every mood in this exemplary collection from one of our favourite writers."

I also read Sophie: Dog Overboard about an Australian Cattle Dog who fell off her owners’ boat off the coast of Queensland and against all the odds, managed to swim to an island and survive there for several months. It was a lovely story about a very special dog (just look at her, isn't she gorgeous?) and it gives nothing away to say there was a happy ending.

And it's cheating a bit as it is no longer January, but I’m in the middle of House of Orphans by Helen Dunmore and like it very much so far. I have read quite a few of her books, but to date this is my favourite.

I've been lazy and not told you what any of the books are about - you'll have to follow the links and maybe read the extracts if you want to know more! I find the "Look Inside" facility is excellent for giving you a feel of the book.

Still on the subject of writing, don’t forget The Yellow Room short story competition. Details here. Closing date 31st March.

And for published writers, the BBC Short Story Award which this year has gone international. Closing date for that one is 27th February, so you'll need to get your skates on.

My computer has decided that there are some sites I’m just not allowed to visit – ALCS being one of them. I could claim a £10 Amazon voucher from a company I do surveys for, but you guessed it, computer says no! Bah!

Sometimes it lets me visit Facebook, sometimes it doesn’t. All I can say is Meh.