Wednesday 29 April 2009

Reading Really Matters

I have almost finished reading The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat. It is not just a novel about the battle for the Atlantic. It is the story of the men who served on board the corvette Compass Rose, their lives at home and at sea. It flows up and down like the waves on the sea, making you cry one minute and smile the next. It is not just a novel, it is an experience and it has already had a profound effect on me.

My father joined the RN as a boy. He was on a cruiser on the Russian (Arctic) convoys. He didn't talk much about them, except to say it was extremely cold - their drinks froze in their mugs before they could drink them.

But I can't talk about him and what his experiences did to him, not here, not now. I know that he saw things that haunted him to the day he died. Oddly enough, reading Wild Swans had already brought home to me some of what he had seen when he was in China. Perhaps that is in part why that particular book was so compelling for me.

It seems a long time to be really getting to know my father more than 30 years after his death, but in some ways I feel I know him better now than I ever did.

The Cruel Sea is is a book I should have read a long time ago and I am glad to have come to it at last. After reading a couple of modern, shallow and forgettable novels beforehand I feel as if I have come home. It may even change my life. Some books have that power.

Which brings me to life changing books, or maybe just books that have had a great influence on me. The first of those must be Black Beauty which I read when I was very young.

I have just ordered a batch of ten books from The Book People for £9.99. Adding those books to my order meant I saved £3.50 postage, so as I see it, I have bought 10 books for (hold on while I get my calculator) £6.49 so if I find two books among the ten that I enjoy reading, I shall feel that I've had my money's worth.

Monday 27 April 2009

Clearing out

It's no use. I've been trying to write all morning, but I have something on my mind and until I write about it I won't be able to think about anything else.

It's about pigeons - and zoos. And I know a lot of people regard pigeons as vermin and maybe they are, but I don't mind them. I like watching them snuggle up together and coo at each other. I hate seeing one standing at the roadside staring at its dead mate squashed in the road - it makes me want to cry. They obviously grieve. It's sad.

Two of my grandchildren went to a zoo recently. I'm not a fan of zoos, but this one does a lot for the conservation of species. Well so they say anyway. I mean of course they aren't in it for the money, perish the thought. They are there for the animals!

While my 22 month old granddaughter and her 4 year old brother - and several other small children - watched, a pigeon's nest was destroyed. I think it was in a cage with a monitor lizard, but don't quote me on that - it was in a cage with something. The keepers knocked the nest down then smashed the eggs. It happened so quickly that there wasn't time to move the children on.

Several questions here. Why not remove the nest before the pigeons got round to laying eggs in it? Why not leave it where it was? Why not do it when the zoo was closed? How can you run an establishment claiming to be all for conservation while destroying creatures that aren't endangered? Surely life is life and if you're in it to preserve it, then you should respect all life.

And aren't we supposed to discourage children from destroying nests and the like? Maybe there was some evil little villain-to-be (or several) among the children who will think it is great fun to go round smashing eggs. My grandson was appalled. He told me about it and got quite steamed as did I.

And I still feel steamed, even after this mini rant.

Friday 24 April 2009

Rejections, questions and robots

Would you like to hear about the rejections I've had this week? I've had four. Three have gone to god this time, no more outings for them, but the fourth is currently undergoing a massive rewrite. I can see why it didn't sell. It simply wasn't any good. Funny how a few weeks of not seeing something can knock the scales from your eyes.

A good argument there for putting something aside and rereading it after a couple of weeks before sending it off. I know that's what I should do, but I don't. Normally I know something is ready if I stop thinking about it. If I keep thinking about something after it's gone, then I know deep down that it isn't finished.

Enough of that depressing stuff.

An interesting question for you. I was speaking with a fellow writer today and found that the same thing happens to her as happens to me. I was reading a published story of mine and parts of it seemed unfamiliar.

I didn't write that, I thought. I certainly did not use that name for one of the characters. The editor must have added those unfamiliar bits and I have to admit, I thought it sounded better for it and was kicking myself for not thinking of it myself. So being a bit of a nit-picker, I opened up my original word document and there it all was. It's rather weird and quite bewildering. I mentioned it to my friend Jan and she said the same thing happens to her. Oh the relief!

It's another of those Writer Things. Tell me if I'm wrong! We are all away with the fairies half the time - aren't we?

On Thursday I had to carry home a big silver robot made out of a cereal packet and other kitcheny bits. It was beautiful . . . and my 4 year old grandson was justly proud. But while his back was turned his little sister grabbed it and hugged it and knocked two of the arms loose. Thank god for sellotape that's all I can say.

We walked down to the marshes today. He walked across the field singing "I like em BIG, I like em CHUNKEEEE." Sometimes I don't know what I'd do without him to make me laugh.

Monday 20 April 2009

Notebook Tart

I am a notebook tart. I admit it. I confess. Here and now. I cannot walk into a stationery shop and walk past the notebooks section, hell, I can't even walk past a stationery shop.

Recently I have seen writers referring to something called a moleskine notebook which is by all accounts a must-have item. I'm sorry, but I draw the line at using a notebook made from the skin of a sweet little - hold on, someone is whispering in my ear. Ahem. Where was I?

I don't think I've ever seen one. I don't think they can sell them in the shops I frequent. So I looked them up on Amazon. Ah, I see. Imitation leather (I am reading a review as I write), a joy to write on, etc. etc. And quite pricey - which means I probably have seen them, but they've been out of my price range.

Well if I am looking for a journal, something I will keep, then I don't mind treating myself a bit, but my notebooks are hard-working little creatures. I used to buy shorthand notebooks in packs of six and occasionally I'd splash out on a legal pad. They end up smothered in scribbled notes and crossings out and by the time they are full, they are ready for their final journey to the shredder.

But I've always been a sucker for a pretty cover and lately I have been drawn to Pukka pads. They come in lots of different colours and sizes. I have a rainbow one which I'm saving for something special and a gold one which I use to make notes for the children's book. And there are others in my little cupboard waiting patiently for the day when they are chosen . . .

There are also the black and red notebooks with soft covers and the bit of elastic that holds them shut. Love those too I do.

Another newish discovery for me - the gel pen! Oh how I love them. Don't get me started on gel pens.

When I was a legal secretary, I used to be responsible for buying stationery. Mwahaha - that place was beautifully stocked when I left. I bet they didn't have to buy a pen or a notebook for years after I'd gone. I couldn't even stick to buying ordinary yellow flimsy, but would buy reams of it in all different colours. Flimsy for anyone under the age of about 40 is the thin paper used as a carbon copy, which brings us to carbon paper - the last I bought for the office was beautiful, shiny and purple and extremely expensive.

The stationery reps loved me!

And just one little thing that bugs me. When you see a writer on telly or in a film about to type their great masterpiece (this of course would be an OLD pre computer film) they always insert just one sheet into the typewriter. Where is their carbon copy?

Thursday 16 April 2009

Lost for Words!

I am guilty of lurking - if that is the right word (I know it applies to forums) - on other blogs. I have read excellent and very entertaining and informative posts and my finger has hovered over the comment button because I've been so eager to say something and what happens?

I find myself lost for words.

What if what I say sounds too trite? What if I waffle? And what if - horrors - I spell a word wrong or my grammar is glaringly incorrect. So I prevaricate and before I know it the moment is lost . . . several other people have already said what I wanted to say and said it so much better than I would have done!

I think this is why so many writers dislike using the phone. You don't get the opportunity to rewrite a phone call.

Anyway I am gradually feeling my way around (ooo-er-missus) blogland. One of these days I'll stick my head out of the window and say hello!

Tuesday 14 April 2009

New Anthology

It's out on the 13th May, published by Bridge House Publishing, called In The Shadow of the Red Queen and I've got two stories in it.

Okay, now I've got the plug out of the way on to the more serious matter of future books. Bridge House are planning to publish more anthologies and are looking for stories to fill them, so take a look at their website where you'll find all the details. There's also news of a short story competition on there for anyone interested.

They also have a blog where you can read a bit about the authors and stories in the book.

You can find that here

Sunday 12 April 2009


It is the question I am most often asked. Where do I get my ideas from? And the short answer is - I don't know!

That's not a lot of help is it? But obviously ideas come from somewhere, so . . .

In my last year at primary school I had a wonderful teacher called Mr Wallace. He used to have a box full of ideas. We would take something from the box and that would be our idea for the lesson. Once I pulled out a card on which was written "Find out and write about Socrates."

Ugh, I thought, but actually I enjoyed finding out about him and I remember illustrating my piece with a picture of a man with a sad face wearing a long robe and holding a goblet of poison in his hand. He had a skinny beard in my picture too if I remember correctly. Okay I didn't have to invent anything for that piece, but my creative input was the picture.

Another time I pulled a picture from the box. It was of a busy street. I had to write a story about it. In the end my story involved a helicopter and a large field, but I've no idea how I got there from the busy street. I think I decided that one of the many people in the street was on the run.

My best friend pulled a picture of a couple of old ladies from the same box. She named one of the old ladies Agnes and turned her into a murderer. I remember wishing enviously that I'd pulled that picture from the box when I read her story, but it wasn't the picture, it was her imagination that made her story so good.

If I'm stuck for ideas, which I often am, I sometimes look at a picture and try to write a story about it. Occasionally the ideas just come. I was reading a Woman's Weekly and a single word thrust itself out at me from the page. No, honestly it did - it leapt right off the page and poked me in the eye.

Oh, all right it didn't. But there was something about the word. An ordinary word. Jumper.

It referred to a garment, but that word stuck itself into my brain and finally formed a story.

You can sit all day at a railway station eavesdropping on conversations (not that I do of course - I don't have time) and come away with nothing, but you can pass someone in the street and catch a couple of words and have a complete story.

Then there are the dream stories when you have a dream and it presents you with a fully formed story, or at least an idea for one. Memories - we all have those. So where do ideas come from? Well I still don't know. They're just there!

Friday 10 April 2009

Visiting the Pirates

I don't like crowds, but the people milling about on the Quay weren't at all crowdlike. They were there to see the pirates and some of them had come a very long way - leather clad bikers, disappointed youngsters who had expected to see Johnny Depp (No, darling, his name is Johnnie Walker) little old ladies - oh hang on, that was me. There was bunting, music and sunshine - what more could anyone want?

They weren't exactly dancing in the streets, but the mood was light and people were smiling.
The other half went all misty eyed, remembering the days when he was a small boy and his grandad was master of a lightvessel and had taken him on board.

It's not like the pirate radio ships of old, but it looked good and has stirred up some happy memories.


Well this isn't quite what I intended to blog about today, but the presence of LV18 at the Ha'penny Pier in Harwich cannot pass by without a mention.

In a past life, LV18 was a manned Trinity House lightvessel. More recently she's been a film star - starring in The Boat that Rocked. At the moment legends such as Emperor Rosko, Keith Skues, Johnnie Walker and Tony Blackburn are broadcasting aboard as Pirate BBC Essex. This all coincides with an exhibition of Pirate radio memorabilia over the Easter Weekend on the Ha-penny Pier.

I have a great and lasting fondness for pirate radio. I used to listen to Radio Caroline in bed with my transistor radio tucked under my pillow and the single ear-piece jammed into one ear. Bliss.

My most vivid memory of pirate radio is of a night in May 1971. I had just turned 14 and was in bed listening to Radio North Sea International. Around 11 o'clock they began to broadcast a mayday message, giving out their position and describing the fire which had taken hold of the Mebo II after a bomb had been thrown on board.

All the time they were playing the Radio North Sea call tune Man of Action in the background. The combination of the music and the mayday messages was powerful and I can't listen to that music to this day without remembering that night.

My parents weren't exactly delighted to be woken up by me demanding that they DO something (because for some reason I was afraid that I was the only person listening). My dad's calm reassurances that the mayday would be heard and attended to did nothing to console me. I was distraught. Go back to bed and turn the radio off now they said . . . of course I didn't. I sat up listening to the whole thing and in my memory it seemed to go on all night, but I believe the ship was abandoned about an hour after the first mayday call.

I still get goosebumps when I think about it and will I be visiting the exhibition this weekend? You Bet!

My Weekly

Very rude of me to invite you to visit my blog and not even be here to say hello!


I am planning to write more later, but in the meantime a photo taken yesterday of what happens when Grandad gets left in charge at lunchtime while I take a phone call!