Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Recent Reading


It's time I reminded everyone (everyone?) that I'm still writing and reading even thought I have a lot going on at the moment. I'll be able to say more later. In the meantime I'll chat about some of the many books I've read and enjoyed over the past few months. By the way I do not blog about all the books I've read. Some I have decided not to blog about, Maybe it's because they may not have been my cup of tea, one or two I've not liked but most of the titles I don't mention here don't appear because...well...life's too short and I am a bit busy!

Which is why I'm not even going to write about them here. I know, I know. The problem is partly because Blogger is playing silly bananas at the moment and is not working properly for me. Just look at the way the cover images are displayed!) 

But I will make one exception. Matt Haig has been hovering under my radar for some time. I first was aware of him, when he published his personal account of his depression (Reasons to Keep living which I blogged about here.) You see, those who know a bit about me will be aware that depression and anxiety have  dogged me on and off since I was eighteen. Fortunately, I have never been in such a bad place as Matt discusses in that book. Anyway, I love his latest much-talked of novel pictured here. I reviewed it on Amazon so if you wish to read it, click here.

I'm not flagging Matt's novel over and above others I have enjoyed recently even though it does look like that!  

Anyway, here are the books I have read  or am reading t now. (Yes, I often have at least 2 on the go at the same time. Some thought-provoking, some sheer enjoyment, some rattling page-turners depending on how I am feeling at the time.)







I'm not asking you to read any. Just to say I've read them with pleasure and to confirm I'm still around. Note to self: write a better blog post soon!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pulling my socks up

2017 has been a bit of a rubbish year for me so far what with one thing and another. And no here we are just after the summer solstice and I'm still waiting for my brain to fully wake up. And I think it's just about there. Our lovely chapel is now on the market and getting lots of interest but no firm offers yet. We don't want to go but needs must.

The Old Chapel

We are moving to...don't gasp...Middlesbrough. Don't listen to what people say. Like all cities, it has bad areas but there are a heck of the lot more good ones than you think. The min reason is we both need to be within a few miles of the brilliant James Cook University Hospital there. And despite the fact that we don't want to love from Yorkshire, where we're moving to is on;y one step across the country boundary. More of this at a later date.

Now we've bitten the bullet, I am more motivated to actually do something with my writing. So this week, I have submitted a novel to a publisher new to me. It will probably be rejected but as I well know that is par for the course if you've been writing fiction for as long as I have! At least I'm back in the saddle again. And it feels good.

Meanwhile, I'm still editing my medieval novel which has been sitting on the back burner for a long time. I hope to get that out in the world later this year. But of course, it all depends on all the other things going on in my life.

And taking of Middlesbrough, there's an awful not of history there that I want to explore. Did you know that in the Industrial Revolution it holds the dubious accolade of having the greatest increase in its population.In 1801 it was a farm community with a population of 25. By 1851 Middlesbrough's population had grown to 7,600! There are many novels there and I will definitely write them. Whether they're ever finished, let alone published, who knows. But I'm damn well going to write them.


St Hilda's Church. JS Lowry

Sunday, June 18, 2017

At a time like this, we can only reflect.

The World Is Too Much With Us

Related Poem Content Details

The world is too much with us; late and soon, 
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;— 
Little we see in Nature that is ours; 
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! 
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; 
The winds that will be howling at all hours, 
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; 
For this, for everything, we are out of tune; 
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be 
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; 
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, 
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; 
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; 
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.




   There is much to say at the moment and too many of us are too busy shouting and speaking at cross purposes to make clear sense of the agony of it all. But, please, please be mindful of where we, as observers, who were not involved in any way in the recent appalling atrocities. Please let them grieve and mourn the way they choose and offer help to them as individuals if we are able. Most of us can only look on in fear and sorrow. Yes, of course, we have opinions and we have every right to voice them but instead of spitting vitriol on social media, remember that most of us in this country, whether we were born here or not, are alive in a country that, despite its many - of course there are many -  faults,  allows us to protest without violence. And please do so if you have something useful to say. But please do it with love, dignity and thankfulness.  Think of Jo Cox's simple message  - there is more that unites us than divides us.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Back to blogging - but slowly.

My recovery after breaking my femur way back in January is taking much longer than I had realised. The doctors said that I will not be back to 'normal'  - whatever that is - until July. I have been sleeping for England, depressed by the news of war, nuclear tests and yet another election - Why? Oh and at the same time I had massive internet problems caused, we eventually found out, by  faulty electrics on my ancient PC interfering with the internet signal. No, I don;t understand why either. Finally, I got a new PC with a massive screen and Windows 10 but no Microsoft Word (don't ask). No wonder things haven't been going so smoothly in my life since January.


So this is where I am at the moment but trying to pull myself back to where I want to be. Not writing, not going anywhere, not thinking clearly and sleeping a lot. Boring eh? Hence no blog posts.

I have had to leave my own writing on the back burner for the time being because I haven't got sufficient energy even now to keep me functioning intelligently for more than an hour or so during the day. I am now beginning to get back into reading but not tackling anything too arduous or literary, which is not bad at all - in case you think I'm being snobbish. Far from it. I am so pleased that finally I am once again reading voraciously really good crime thrillers - ones that are not too gruesome or too cosy.  Perfect for that are the Shetland novels of Ann Cleeves. I have read all her 'Vera' novels and loved them all. They are much better than the TV series by the way. Brenda Blethyn is a great actor but even in padding to make her fatter a mackintosh and hat plonked on her head, she is far too attractive for the Vera of the books.  Anyway, that's TV for you. I love the Northumberland setting; The county is very underrated. Having got immersed in that series, I have taken my time to turn to her Shetland series both on TV and in the novels. Bad mistake, now being rectified by a major catch-up exercise.

In the past, The Shetland Isles had felt too remote for me to get a feel for them. Funnily enough, having read Amy Liptrot's fabulous memoir: Outreach which is set in The Orkneys and having been blown away by their atmosphere, the wildlife, on land, see and sky as well as its people. I changed my mind. Before you shout that book is about the The Orkney Isles and not the Shetlands - big difference, you daft English woman, I felt sufficiently adventurous enough to tackle fiction set further north.


In the meantime, before my accident, I read two historical novels that, although written in English,  masterfully combines Scandinavian Noir and historical fiction in Wolf Winter and In The Month of the Midnight Sun, both by Cecilia Ekback. I thoroughly recommend them as historical crime novels The setting here is Arctic Sweden, lands of the Lapps as well as Swedes,
I realised, after having read them with great pleasure and an increased understanding of northern climes, that I could easily cope with The Shetland Isles. What took me so long? I am now hooked and have plunged into a Shetland feast.






Coming back to England, when it comes to devouring crime fiction, the same series prejudice happened recently with the novels by Elly Griffiths. For some time I have become engrossed with her crime series featuring the archaeologist Ruth Galloway and her detective lover and her motley selection of people including druids, set on the atmospheric salt marshes of north Norfolk. Realising that I was reading the books more quickly than she could write them (of course) I looked around for more of her crime fiction and found her novels set in the 50s and 60s in Brighton and are set around the fading world of variety. Featuring DI Stevens and his great friend known as 'Mephisto' a stage magician, these are also enjoyable and highly ingenious with murder at their heart. In both series, Elly Griffiths creates a set of varied and fascinating well-rounded characters. Long may she continue writing both series.

The Stevens and Mephisto Series


One of the Ruth Galloway series.


Funnily enough, reading crime fiction has helped restore my sanity and peace of mind. Why murder and mayhem helps heal the mind and body I have no idea. But it is working for me.  Why knock it?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

My reading this year so far...

There's one advantage (although there a trillion disadvantages) to being in hospital for over two weeks and that is, once the pain and trauma subsides, reading good books helps make it more bearable.

Although I love real proper paper, that is, books, my Kindle was perfect to read in bed in my hospital bed with its handy array of sockets (and of course my trusty charger.) I wasn't the only Kindle reader. The lady in the bed next to me was often reading hers, too. (We compared notes.) Very few other ladies in D bay, ward 36 read anything much apart from  the local newspaper or a magazine left by a visitor. They were all too busy on their mobiles - by the way, I have a bone to pick with hospitals about their current guidelines on phones. They used to ban them in case they interfered with medical equipment; then discouraged therm with a sniff  but now it's a free for all. Some ladies were yacking land laughing on theirs later than 11pm! But that's another subject all together.


Some of the books here I may have mentioned before; I hadn't yet got round to blogging about them before I was whisked away, lights flashing and sirens howling (only when we went through the occasional red light.) Most I read while I was 'inside' or whilst recovering at home.

I usually have several titles on the go- even when all is well - because my brain power waxes and wanes throughout the day. I can read more erudite books in the morning. By afternoon, I'm up for intelligent entertainment. In the evening or later at night, I choose something short and easily-digested. This is when short stories come into their own.

I am in the middle of Essie Fox's atmospheric The Last Days of Leda Grey. How she manages to convey the heat of the summer of 1976 and the sense that the reader is in the middle of a crumbling,  reel of old sepia celluloid film, is amazing. I have loved all her novels but this novel surpasses them all. It is if I am watching one of Jean Cocteau's films, particularly Orpheus, although they of a later date.


As you can see, I have not written detailed brilliant reviews in the style of the legendary Dove Grey Reader who also knits, makes exquisite patchwork, makes jam and pickles, tends her garden and probably, as we speak, is training to be an astronaut, but have done it the easy way and put up cover pictures of the books I have bought and read. I would have done so even if nobody else had  or will do.I am lazy. If you're interested, I am relying on you to find out in your own preferred way.

Chris Nickson's Leeds: the Biography is a series of short snatches of 'faction' which takes speculative snapshots of the expansion of Leeds from its very earliest days to the 20th century vibrant multi-cultural city it is today. It is an easy read and was perfect for me in hospital when my attention span at first was short. When I say 'faction' you might think it's dull. It is not. Several of the stories had me in floods of tears, like the one set in what is called 'The Harrowing of the North' by the Normans after a northern rebellion against the invasion. It was genocide, pure and simple. My belief is that the enduring North/South divide stems from this.

Finally, I am in the middle of writing an article/review about The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman for Historia, the on-line magazine of the Historical Writers' Association. This fine novel completely passed me by when it was published in 2016. Fortunately I came upon by sheer chance recently and have exchanged emails with the author. And I have a question for you. Do you remember the Vietnam war of the 1970s? Were you an anti-war protester? Did you wish you'd been to Woodstock? Were you a hippy or a wannabe hippie as I was? Weren't you glad that Harold Wilson refused to send British troops to fight like the Americans and Aussies?

And finally, in your opinion, can a novel set in the 70s a historical novel? Well I do and so does the author. This is what I will discuss in my article. Meanwhile, I would like you to read the novel. It's not just about Vietnam. It depicts British life in the sixties and seventies more accurately than I have read before. No mean feat.


Monday, February 13, 2017

I really will appraise up to 2,500 words of your fiction free until Feb 28th.

I am not joking. My plan is to set up a small fiction appraisal  business. I am dipping my toes in the water.

Perhaps I did not make clear that I have an email address, I have had to be discreet to avoid any spam. But please email me an attachment at sallyzigmonddotgmaildotcom. I will not read pornography or violence but otherwise am willing to read gay and lesbian fiction. I read romance and literary fiction and can appraise accordingly. I am fair but firm. I have been at the butt end of harsh and useless criticism myself. I will not do it to other writers.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm offering free appraisals for 2,500 words of fiction until March 1.

So, am I worth listening to? Firstly, scroll back and read yesterday's blog. 

Now read my whistle-stop CV and make your own mind up. 

  
Way back in the early 1970s, after graduating from London University with a BA in English Literature, a comprehensive old-fashioned feel for the subject but with little idea of what to do with it, I took a job in a large London bookshop which now 40 years of have passed and after many take-overs (Claude Gill, Dillon’s and now Waterstones.) 





I was then promoted to the position of hardbacks manager at one of their smaller store at the other end of Oxford Street, Because, I had just got married to Jon and a hefty mortgage, I needed a bigger salary. So I took civil service exams and because I had 'A' levels in French and Spanish I worked as a civilian for the Metropolitan Police at the recently vacated New Scotland Yard, mainly as a translator for Interpol. I also did some admin work there.

Two children later, we moved up to Harrogate and I became a full-time mother, chief cook and bottle washer. When the boys began school, I took a part-time work in Waterstones and renewed my love of book-selling.


More importantly, I also decided to go to a weekly adult class called ‘Writing for Pleasure and Profit.’ It opened my eyes. I learned so much, the first lesson being that writing articles for non-fiction magazines is reasonably easy if you pitch them well. My non-fiction started appearing in magazines as diverse as Practical Caravan, Essentials, The Automobile and The Yorkshire Journal. I soon grew bored with practicalities and switched to fiction. It took time for this to take off. After much trial and error, my commercial short stories appeared in Women’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Lady, The Peoples` Friend and Best but I soon found I found that I was leaning more towards writing ‘literary’ short fiction.

Fortunately it was boom time (before the internet) for small-press print fiction. I reaped the whirlwind and was lucky enough to win numerous short-story competitions. In 1999, I won the ‘story of the year’ prize awarded by World Wide Writers. In 2005, I was short-listed in the Asham Award and also won first prize in the International Biscuit Prize. (Journalist and novelist Jane Wenham-Jones then dubbed me ‘the veritable Queen of the Short Story.’)

In 2006, I won first prize in the annual Biscuit short-story competition which was cash (always welcome) and the offer to publish a novella. Biscuit Publishing then came to an end when its lovely owner, Brian Lister, retired. It was a wonderful Newcastle-based publisher of short stories, poetry and drama, drama. And so, Chasing Angels about the pioneering female mountaineer, Henriette D’Angeville, was published. The BookBag describes it as ‘a delight from start to finish.’ Its publication gave me the understanding that, although I still write contemporary fiction, historical fiction is where my heart is. This is probably because I need perspective to write fiction and the speed of contemporary life makes it impossible to see it.

During these halcyon days, I helped Jo Derrick who was finding publishing the wonderful QWF magazine single-handedly a little overwhelming. I temporarily was the initial reader of hundreds of submissions, the most promising of which I passed to Jo for her final decision. QWF was the only magazine at the time that offered a page long reason for rejection for free. I know exactly why most magazines do not. I wished I’d kept the rude letter I received! It’s not for the faint-hearted. Having said that, most recipients were appreciative. I have since got to know many writers who remember receiving one of my ‘encouraging’ rejections!

My Victorian novel Hope Against Hope was published in 2011. It was long-listed for the Romantic Novel of the Year the following year. Since then I have struggled to gain publication for a novel set in 1920s Leeds. I am proud of that novel and hope to publish it digitally after exhausting many avenues.

I have almost completed my WIP, a medieval novel set in a very small Yorkshire nuns' priory – provisional title: The Thorndale Miracle. It contains mystery, murder, a bloody battle and a touch of magic realism. I’m writing it for myself really. I am enjoying it but only the ensuing flood of rejections will give me any indication of its worth.  


Having been the overall UK Editor for the reviews magazine of the Historical Novel Society for many years, I now only write the occasional review, I am also a member of the RNA and the HWA. I read both commercial and literary fiction. Both have their merits and I never discriminate. Both have different requirements. 
 I don't bite. So what are you waiting for?


Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's amazing how 2 weeks in hospital have taught me so much (1)

I hope most of my loyal readers already know about my accident. If not if not, here's a very brief summary. I fell down the stairs and broke my left femur - to match a similar injury 8 years ago to my right thigh! There were complications so I was flat on my back and attached to everything for a week before I was able to stand up. So, that gave me loads of time to think especially during the long dark nights.

I've made the following resolutions.

To finally finish my WIP and go all out to get it published. I know I've said this before but I am really, really determined now. I even have got new ideas for it and because I was without paper or a laptop and tablet, everything was fizzing in my head. As a witty friend remarked. Must have been the result of all that morphine!

This is where it gets cheesy and I am in danger of turning into Pollyanna.


You see, the woman in the next bed to me has brittle bones due to life-long steroid use because of arthritis. She only snapped her tibia even when lying in her hospital bed after breaking her shoulder.  Although she could speak to her husband on her mobile, he refused to come in and see her because he has a 'thing' about hospitals. And yet I never saw her tearful or down-hearted. By the window lay a woman who was run over by a speeding taxi. At least he stopped and called an ambulance. He'd run over her pelvis and she'd been lying in bed for a month and was only just ready for physiotherapy And so and and so on...

Yes I am lucky. I'm home and reasonably mobile with one crutch. Which is why I am determined to take every opportunity that is offered to me, particularly with regard to the writing world. My days of attending writing conferences are over. I am not upset. The internet is here to rescue me. I am fired up to take on on-line novel-writing courses and work, work work. I have many good internet writing friends who support and encourage me when I'm in danger of feeling sorry for myself.




Some of you may know that I used to help my very good friend, Jo Derrick, when she became temporarily overwhelmed with submissions to her amazing QWF magazine. (And it was amazing.!) As a writer herself Jo became disillusioned with all those rejection slips that gave no reason for rejection at all. Yes, I know why most editors don't and that Jo she was making a rod for her own back! You should have read the abuse from rejected writers although most women were appreciative.

Having done so, I've realised how much love editing and appraising fiction. It is an amazing way to understand my own writing.  So I have opened the rest of February.to offer short appraisals of short stories of less than 2,500 words of any genre (except pornography or science fiction) or the first 2500 words of a novel for FREE! After March 1st 2017, I will ask for cheque payment. (I am not set up for any other way of being paid.) I will work out a fair fee and see where it goes from there.

Next post, I will write a short CV of my writing experience over the past 25 years. If you are prepared to give me a go, please email me at my name and surname with no dots then gmail dot.com. Please don't fill up my inbox with junk or nasty stuff or I will block you. Don't send me any over-long attachments or fail to respect my wishes and my time commitment. Enquire first and I look forward to receiving your emails. At first,  women writers only, please while I find my feet- literally as well!

Ready, Steady, Go!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I'm taking a Blog Break...





I'm stepping away from my Blog for a while. I'm not abandoning it; only wrapping it carefully in acid-free tissue paper for a while. I may start another or I may not. I'm not going anywhere. I am still around. You can catch me every so often on Facebook and Twitter (@sallyzigmond)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Pamela Frankau

I've been tidying up and rationalizing my bookshelves and cupboards (1970s-published Anglo Saxon text books , anyone?) plus all the books that are beginning to take over my breathing space. In the process I made some lovely re-discoveries.
PAMELA FRANKAU: 1908 - 1969

 I couldn't possibly get rid of my collection of books written by Pamela Frankau (click on the name to read her Wikipedia entry and fascinating reading it is too,) even though I haven't opened them for ten years or so. I put them back on a low easily-reachable shelf. You see, there are too many memories there.

All through the 1950s, my parents and I would make regularly visits to Lincoln Library and would each bring back a pile of books. I rarely looked at my Dad's weekly collection unless they had pictures of steam-trains (a love of which I inherited from him.) But my mum's pile was different. I used to see many authors that are rarely seen today even in second-hand book-shops. Jean Plaidy gave me a basic grounding in English history - far more compelling that Miss Fauld's tedious lessons. It was her books (the eye-opening revelation that history is more about people than facts) that slowly made me turn to writing historical fiction.


When it came to women's fiction - excellent and not trashy women's fiction, I might add - I discovered Pamela Frankau. I read as many as my mother and I could lay our hands on until there were no more. I later collected quite a few second-hand copies in the days before on-line book-selling  became commonplace. I am surprised to see that she is not even popular enough nowadays for someone to reproduce them in digital downloadable form.

 But I still have my collection of old books (including one or two from my beloved collection of those wonderful dark green Virago Classics.


I now plan to re-read my Pamela Frankau collection of books. Among the novels there's this volume - Pen to Paper (A Novelist's Notebook) published in 1961 when I was only ten years old. Of course, I was too young at the time to read it. Now I write, I am glad I rediscovered it. (Don't you find that forgotten books reappear in your life just when you are ready to read them - or is it only me?) When I turned to the first page the other day, I knew I was about to meet a 'kindred spirit' as Anne Shirley would say.

Here's the first line of the first chapter -

"It comes without warning. I have been watching for it, searching back among old files in my memory: the only files I keep. Here are to be found I have wanted to write and have not yet written. I say "to be found". Not always; not all them them. The files are haphazardly maintained. It is only when the rhythmic creative restlessness comes back that I turn them over to see what I've got there. My thriller with the pretty title. The novel that runs through one day only...The light comedy about The Wonderful Old Lady who was really a stinker...? "

I love this. Her style is so simple; not tricksy or clever-clever but it speaks true to my way of thinking. I particularly like the fact that she keeps everything in her head (like me) and doesn't keep banging on about keeping a notebook handy. (The only one I kept before it disappeared and then reappeared five years later when I flicked through it and found it stuffed full of unreadable, incoherent unusable rubbish and I couldn't see why I'd wasted my time. Yet this is so often mentioned in writing-guides.

Pamela Frankau may well appear on this blog again in the future as I reread her books. So does anyone else remember her novels that were so popular in the fifties and sixties?