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?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wordsworth by Jane Riddell

I only very rarely review books on my blog just because a publisher or an author has asked me to do so, even if I am sent a free copy. So I was a little dubious when I received an email out of the blue from Jane Riddell asking me whether I would be interested in her e-book on editing for fiction writers: Wordsworth

Now, as some of you may know, I'm making a slow job at the moment of editing my novel in progress in my quest for an agent and eventual publisher. Basically, I am procrastinating because I'm scared of total failure. You probably think I will never progress further than my frequent promises here which are mainly gee-ups to myself.

As I was intrigued, I agreed and Jane emailed me a a copy. I first gave Wordsworth a quick read and then immediately went back to the beginning and read it carefully, nodding as I went because it was exactly the guide I needed. I do try to be an organised writer - in fact, those who know me tell me I am. (I wish!) It's true I can't work at anything in a mess. I like a tidy desk when I'm writing, a tidy work surface if I am cooking and so on. Yet, however much I try to be organised when editing my fiction on screen I still end up with scraps of paper with my own incomprehensible  hieroglyphics scribbled all over them spread across my desk and over the floor with all the dust and fluff. And can I find a pen when I want one?

Wordsworth's introduction explains it all really.  "This slim volume has everything a fiction writer needs to edit their work in progress. As the introduction sets its aims clearly: "This guide is not a substitute for the myriad books about how to write. It therefore doesn't give detailed explanations about how each of the aspects it covers. Rather, it provides a brief explanation of each one, a rationale for why it is important and where appropriate, gives examples."

Incidentally, in the helpful bibliography. I was pleased to read Jane includes my all-time favourite guide to self-editing. I refer to it constantly (and smile) as I recommend to other writers: Self Editing for Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. 

Wordsworth is the perfect guide for me. I have reduced all my books about writing to about six of those I refer to again and again. I know the theory of editing but really need to apply it systemically without getting in a muddle; which is why I welcome it. Jane Riddell is not didactic. This clear and concise guise shows you how to organise your own editing process into a manageable proportions. She is a fiction writer and knows what she's talking about.  My only quibble is that the one I have is an e-book and am unable to find it in paperback. I am rather old-fashioned when it comes to digital technology and cope better with paper and ink. I would love to use Wordsworth as a workbook and scribble in the margin and add my own blank pages for the tick-lists specifically geared to my novel in progress, like Jane suggests.

I have waffled on enough and am in danger of padding my post with much more of the dreaded superfluous verbiage. Edit. Edit, Edit.

So thank you, Jane and now, without further ado, I'm off to practice what I preach.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Sunny November Morning


Coming down the hill at the end of my autumn’s walk
I see a distant field grey with frosted stubble, wreathed in mist
Or is it smoke from the fading heather fires?
Leaning on the gate, I disturb a family of pheasants, hiding in the fallen leaves
Bang, bang, their beating wings are shots across the battle field,
Then, silence as the village church clock strikes eleven
On the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
Across a pall of orange, gold and fading green, more leaves flurry and
Fall across the gravestones.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Remember, Remember...

Having just 'endured' the Americanised, commercial hype that is 21st century is Halloween, I am now taking you back down memory lane to when I was a child. Back in the 1950s, we, of course knew all about All Hallow's Eve. Woe betide us if we ever chose to spend the night in a church graveyard where, at the stroke of midnight, the ghosts of those interred would rise up, wailing and screaming and torment us. Only, I and my friends were good little children and, after having our bedtime warm milk and malted milk biscuits, brushed our teeth and were tucked up in bed. 

And if we stayed awake in our Winceyette pyjamas, plotting and planning, it would be about collecting firewood for the bonfire now being built or finding old socks to stuff sacks for our guys and purloining our dads' gardening clothes - if they'd let us! 

I have nothing against the jolly events that turn fear into fun but, as a historical novelist, I do hope we should never forget our past. However, I do also believe we should never retain old hatreds but look forward to a more tolerant future. You see, I am worried that The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 must still be taught in schools. 

Turning now to my own history, here's what Guy Fawke's Night meant to me as a child in the 1950s. This photo does not depict me or my friends at all  but it might as well be because of the happy memories it evokes.

Note the two guys in front of the massive bonfire of which the children were justifiably proud. Looking back to my Bonfire Night, I suspect the local dads did most of the bonfire-building on the nearby waste ground, over which a block of flats was later built. Before then, the community dads would buy most of the fireworks between them to which our pennies contributed a little; they took it in turns to light them safely using the firework code which was drilled into all of us by the policemen who visited the schools. The fathers would also hand out lit sparklers to us children, making sure we were all wearing thick gloves. Meanwhile, the mums would spend the previous week baking traditional Yorkshire Parkin, gingerbread and toffee. On the day burnt sausages were handed out and foil-wrapped potatoes were pushed into the bottom of the bonfire  They would also regularly dish out crisps and glasses of Tizer. (No doubt, they filled their own glasses with sweet sherry and whisky for their husbands. More likely  it was Thermos flasks of tea.) Yes, life were very much gender-divided in those days. 

When the fireworks had all been ooed and aahed at and we children had been hurried home to bed, the bonfire was always doused with water. I never remember any serious accidents. I don't doubt there were a few superficial burns and grazed knees and elbows, but the mums were always on hand with a first aid box.

Why has November The Fifth been overtaken so much by Halloween.? I have a few theories. Firstly, it is a very British event and nothing to do with America which because of its size and influence has taken over our culture. In addition, children pestering adults to give them money is basically begging, whereas handing out sweets voluntarily is far more acceptable - even if somehow it smacks of bribery. 

That said, I always refuse to open the door after dark even to children I do not know or if their parents have not told me in advance. I used to have to explain the "Trick or Treat" phenomenon to my mother and my father when he was still alive because they were frightened and confused whenever the doorbell rang after dark. They were obliging people and so left their warm fireside several times in order to open the door to children they didn't recognise in what they saw as hideous masks. Some were very rude because they too had not grasped the American-style fun and that it is their equivalent of Bonfire Night and for the community.

Secondly, in these days of Health and Safety and a stretched Emergency Services, fireworks are both highly dangerous and can encourage law-breaking. It is also increasingly expensive.  No longer do we tolerate cheap bangers and Catherine Wheels. (And, with reference again to history how many people know what the original Catherine's Wheel was? Here's what trusty Wikipedia says about Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

So, the nostalgic glory days of November the Fifth and Bonfire Night have, in the 21st century, been merged with transatlantic Halloween and has now been enthusiastically embraced by British TV. We are, now a multicultural society. (I have not even mentioned Diwali.) 

You see, we humans have always celebrated light in times of darkness. Perhaps, in the future, that's what the this time of year when the clocks go back, we will still all have fun together, whether we be Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Pagan. We're all human . Let us enjoy light, but NEVER FORGET our histories and cultures.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

As some of you may know, my trusty old steam-powered PC had a major problem two weeks ago. Was it only two weeks? It seemed like forever. Anyway, it's fixed now and works faster and much better than ever and I've lost nothing. Don't ask me what was wrong because I didn't understand a word of the explanation from the lovely young lad who sorted it out for me.  All I know is that it's fine but have so much to catch up with. Nevertheless, I hope to update this blog at least once a week.

As a result of this enforced absence from writing my novel (which actually began in September when I was in the Pyrenees)  has given me plenty of thinking time. And my decision is: I am totally rewriting it. When I say 'totally' don't be too alarmed.  I don't mean, it's being deleted. No way. The words and paragraphs, the characters and the main plot will remain. It merely needs restructuring so that it will end up with more sense and more purpose. I had planned to set it in a recognisable area of England but found that completely straight-jacketed it. There was too much real history and not enough fiction. That doesn't mean it will be fantasy at all but it will have more freedom to use history to tell a story. Novelists and short-story writers deal in story-telling.

The moral of this tale is that it's never a mistake to leave a novel in progress without looking at it. Stand away for as long as you can. It'll be all the better for it. I've been told that many times but couldn't actually do it. Necessity is the mother of...and all that jazz.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What We Did on Our Holiday

Do you remember, in days gone by, when neighbours would invite you round for drinks to admire their tans and before you knew it, the curtains were drawn and a projector, a screen and cartridge after cartridge of transparencies were there in front of you for hours and your eyes would immediately glaze over with no escape in sight?

With that in mind, I will not subject you to more than a glimpse of some of our recent trip to the French Pyrenees in our camper-van. Jon, being a keen cyclist, managed to climb several of the iconic mountain passes of the Tour de France and even this year's Vuelta (including the Col du Tourmalet and the Col D'Aubisque.) He was surprised that he managed them although he lacked the speed and finesse of Messrs Froome and Quintana.

The French do have a sense of humour! (The "hypermarket" at 'La Natura' Lac d'Estaing camp-site)

Pity you can't hear all those tinkling bells.

A baking hot day by the Gave du Saison, Tardets-Sorholos

And that's all you're getting. I could wax lyrical about the heat, the heady scent of pine-woods, the cow bells and herds of wild horses, the sheep's cheese famed in the French Basque region, not to mention the Basques theselves who straddle the border between France and Spain with their unique and distinctive language (all those x's and z's) and all those village Pelota courts.

Now it's head down to concentrate on that messy final draft of my novel in progress - still. I perhaps might finisdh it by the end of the year..

Saturday, August 27, 2016

UPDATE - If you want to see My TV Triathlete Star...

You do  remember my post all about Jon's heroic triathlon exploits. Of course you do. If not, you can remind yourself  HERE.

Only, please ignore the dates I gave for the TV broadcasts. The update is that Sky  seem to have have dropped it completely from their schedules and Channel 4 have changed the broadcast time. The date is the same: Saturday 3rd September but it will now be broadcast  at 6.30am. Please don't get up at that ridiculous hour - we will because it's all about us, well some of it - but you can set or reset your videos if you like.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Off to the French Pyrenees...

All being well; figers crossed and all that, we will be taking our camper-van next month to a place we used to holiday every year when our boys were young. We used to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Normandy and then take a week travlling south and stopping off on the banks of Loire, then catching up with friends who owned a vineyard on the Dordogne and finally end up in our beloved western French Pyrenees, sometimes enjoying the Basque region en fete. (where is a circumflex or acute accents hen you need one?)

We have loads of photos in albums but they all date from before the digital age and so, until we're there next month, I have had to make do for this post with some I've pinched from  public domains to remind myself of why I adore that part of France.

This time, we're doing it the lazy way. We;'re getting a ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain then driving north to the Ossau Valley in France.

Oh and this is our favourite mountain. Le Pic du Midi d'Ossau. It's not the highest  but it is iconic. You can read about it here. It is THE Western French Pyrenees to us. Every year our hearts used to soar as soon as we caught sight of its iconic split peak  on the distant horizon.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My favourite novels of 2016. So far...

Although, we all immersed in the lazy, hazy crazy days of summer, I am still writing; well, dotting the i's and crossing the t's of my re-written (and I hope, much improved) 14th century novel. I've made lots of changes along the way. However. the body and soul longs to be outside in the sun. Jon and I have been out and about, here and there but our main holiday is to come next month in the French Pyrénées. A later blog post beckons...

In the breaks from my own writing, I have been reading some fabulous novels this summer and I would like to mention three of them here. I'm too involved in my own manuscript to write the detailed, appreciative and literate reviews they all deserve. I suggest, however, you don't take my word for anything I say, but find out for yourselves. (Don't look at Amazon. I know that most of the reviews there are democratic but, by golly, some people shouldn't write reviews at all without understanding how to do so!)

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton blew me away when it was published in 2014. I know I wasn't the only reader to love it. Her recently-published second novel is equally good but didn't knock me sideways quite as dramatically . That isn't to say it isn't a brilliant read. It is. But, often a second novel hasn't quite the same magic that is there in a fresh new voice. Those who know me will know I am an absolute sucker, not so much for plot, but for original writing and the evocation of landscape in all its moods. The Miniaturist takes us back to 17th century Amsterdam in winter. Jessie Burton's feel for the tense atmosphere of Andalucia during the tense run-up to the Spanish Civil War is wonderful. How a writer can achieve this so brilliantly by a combination of research and travel is amazing.

Talking of second novels that don't quite match the impact of the first, it happens so often, there is a phrase for it: second novel syndrome. I consider this phenomenon, the fault of the publisher or more likely their accountants and marketing departments and not the writer. These people want the second novel to be published within a year of the last as they assume we all have very short memories and butterfly minds. We readers haven't. We relish but we are prepared to wait.

But here is a case where the second novel is even better than the début novel! Claire King's The Night Rainbow was absolutely original and so, so brilliant. But, take it from me, Everything Love Is is even more brilliant. How on earth does she do it? Whereas The Night Rainbow depicts childhood with a deft touch without being mawkish or sentimental, Everything Love Is examines love, family and memory with equal finesse. Claire King deeply understands both the joy and despair of early-onset dementia, both from the minds of the carer, friends, family but the sufferer himself. Having seen my once-sharp and talented father descend into confusion, forgetfulness, anger and nasty jibes and accusations, I do know how distressing it is. And yet Claire also shows us its joys. She knows her France; both The Night Rainbow and Everything Love Is are  masterful evocations of the French countryside in all its moods. If I hadn't wanted to spend time on the Canal du Midi before, I most certainly do now! Claire shows us this amazing piece of engineering, its people, its flora and fauna in all seasons, all moods, its people, its food and the way the light falls on the water. But it is at the end I emotionally 'lost it.' The last pages are devastating. It's rare for me to sob and sob and sob at the end of a novel. Here I did. But again there wasn't a trace of mawkishness or sentimentality. This is dementia. It happens. I doubt that the judges of the major competitions will even get to read this novel. More fool them. Everything Love Is by Claire King. Remember the name.

The novel also took me towards The Camargue, its water, its heat, wild horses and flamingoes. They also appear in Susan Fletcher' latest novel, Let Me Tell You about a Man I Knew.

This stunning novel tells of the tangential relationship between Vincent Van Gogh, when he was a patient of a small asylum near Arles, and Jeanne Trabuc, the wife of the hospital's superintendent. She is warned to stay away because the patient is reputed to be dangerous but she disbobeys everyone. She is fascinated by him; by the way he paints the olive trees, the sunflowers and the stars over and over again. As in Clare King's novel, this novel depicts how long-past events in childhood and early marriage are only fully understood when evoked in later life and how with this maturity comes the true understanding of self.

It is shaping up to be a very good summer. In this post I have named the three novels I rate the best in 2016. And it's only July and half way through. Do you agree? What are your favourite reads this year so far?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


 Goodness only knows why it took me so long. Livi Michael's three stunning novels began their life a few years ago. The first in the trilogy SUCCESSION was published in 2014. REBELLION followed in 2015 and now ACCESSION has hit the book stores and no doubt rave reviews.

I am so happy to take part in Livi Michael's blog tour today (Sorry I'm a bit late in the day but this was due to circumstances beyond my control but better late than never.)  I have said it before and I will say it again, I will not compromise myself by saying I love books or writers just because I was given free copies. The fact that Penguin asked me to be part of Livi's blog tour was, I assume, that I am an avid historical novel reader and also writer.

Anyway, enough of me. This blog today is all about this fabulous trilogy of War of the Roses novels. Although I have studied the history ans read a few novels set in in those times, I have never understood all the whys and wherefores of the people involved. Livi Michael has done something I have never thought of before. Margaret Beaufort is the lynch-pin of the trilogy. We first see her as a small child and follow her through her life, husbands, and most importantly, her beloved son. She was apart from her son for many years and they were almost strangers to one another but she lives to see him crowned Henry VII, the first of the Tudors Dynasty.

What I love about Livi Michael's writing is that she understands women and the way they were political pawns in the 15th century. I will even forgive here for her bias towards the Lancaster side. (Well, I am an adopted Yorkshire lass and don't think Richard III was any worse than any royal male at the time.)

Not only does Livi make me love Margaret Beaufort, she even makes me care about that other Margaret - she of Anjou, the consort of poor, benighted Henry VI.whom I've always disliked as well. Poor ladies. How history has viewed your sex.

My advice is: please read these books. You may well totally disagree with me. Tell me if you do. I would love to know. I will remain grateful to Pegiun Books without whom I would never have heard of Livi Michael. And what a loss that would have been.

She is probably ready to move on from the War od the Roses now, but I would love her to write about the reign of Henry VII and his dealings with his second son and heir Henry VIII.

Please continue following Livi's blog tour here:

Friday, July 29, 2016

My Hero, Triathlete and TV Star!

Last Sunday, 24th July 2016, My much better half, Jon, raced his very last full-length iron-man distance triathlon. The grand-daddy of triathlon distances is nothing like the triathlons in which the Leeds-based Brownlee brother excel. Not only are they different distances), the rules are totally different. But I won't bore you with them here.

A bit about the term IRONMAN. The word is actually a trademark of one company that runs many races world-wide. Other such races call themselves many names but not 'Ironman' (although they are all generic ironman-distance races.) It's like Hoovers versus the rest of the excellent vacuum cleaners available.

In a nutshell. This Ironman-distance disciple is this. Swim: 2.4 miles. Bike: 112 miles. Run (marathon) 26.2 miles. Phew, it exhausts me to type them! The very top competitors can complete one in & to 8 hours. However, most competitors are sheer amateurs and are classified into various age-groups.

Although Jon is not 65 until September, all triathletes are treated like race horses and all have their  birthdays on January the First. This year Jon is in the 65+ group. Those of you who know me or follow this blog will know that not only is Jon an amazing athlete, he has a major health issue. When he was a teenager, he caught rheumatic fever just before it was totally eradicated in the the first world. (It is still rampant outside Europe.) Anyway, rheumatic fever damages the heart. Jon had no sign of any illness until recently although his heart was rapidly going downhill until he was given eighteen months to live unless he had his aortic heart valve replaced in  a pioneering operation several years ago. He has now recovered but along the way, he suffered a stroke, had a pacemaker fitted and then a carbon-fibre aortic heart valve.

Most people would rest on their laurels, enjoy a restful retirement. But not my Jon! This year, we made the decision that he would complete in his very last full iron-man distance race and then concentrate on the half-distance long races and even marathons or other long running races. He is annoyed that he has slowed considerable because of his heart (which has suffered to much damage over the years to ever function like new.)

And so it was, On 24th July 2016, we headed back to the National Water-sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham for The Outlaw 2016. (We know the venue well)

It dawned a lovely day, not too hot or too cold. It was a full and busy day, and that's just us spectators! Jon got into the water at 6am and didn't cross the finish-line until around 9pm and the number of hours and minutes he took altogether was 14 hours, 40 minutes and 29 seconds. Many many competitors did not finish, either because they ran out of time allowed for each discipline or they gave up. It could have been illness or injury, sheer fatigue of illness or even as problem with their bike. I have enormous sympathy for them all because all of them are heroes, having trained worked so hard for months or years before they even got to the start line.

Oh and Jon was one of the competitors who will be  featured on the resuting TV programme as a 'human-interest" story!  Although he was interviewed and filmed throughout the day, we do not know how much will be shown. (They say they always film 4 times more footage than they use.)


If you're interested, then make a note of the following dates and times on your TV: I don't know what the programme will be called but I guess The Outlaw Triathlon 2016 - or words to that effect.

  • Channel 4:  3rd September  7am
  • British Eurosport: 14th September 17:30
  • Sky Sports 3 SD: 27th August 19:01 & 28th August 08:01 - additional overnight transmissions too.

 Photos. Copyright WebCam.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Back to Reality - Books

I thought this was the moment to mention those books I have really loved so far this year. None of them were given to me by publishers. You can trust me that I found them all that extra bit special.

You've heard too much of my opinions in the last couple of days so all I have done is posted their cover photos and their details. Fin them for yourself - if you want to and make up your own minds. I have already mentioned one or two but not all. They're either historical novels or books about landscape, nature and the countryside but much more.

The Running Hare. John Lewis-Stemple:

A mix of memoir; a plea to stop kerb or ban agri-business and look, really look, around us before it's too late.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain:  Fiction at its best.

Let me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher: A novel about Vincent Van Gogh - only it isn't...If you've not read anything  by this fabulous writer than do read this. It is stunning. To me, this is the most outstanding novel so far of 2016. If it isn't short-listed for this years Booker, then life most definitely isn't fair.

The Ashes of London is another Tour de Force by wonderful  historical crime novelist, Andrew Taylor. You can taste, smell the ashes and gaze at he devastation when a baker's shops caught fire in 1666. Immerse yourself in a slow-burning love affair between two polar opposites; a man of law and a rebellious young woman who wishes to be an architect. 

And finally: my non-fiction favourite of this years so far: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot.

Where better to fight self-destructive alcohol addiction than on Orkney?

And finally, to help heal raw wounds of recently, how about listening to this?

"Farewell to Stromness" by Peter Maxwell-Davies.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pause for thought

I'm depressed.

Not clinically depressed, I hasten to add  - but I'm hurt; bruised and battered by all the vitriol on social media yesterday. It's time I came clean. Yes, I voted to leave. All right. All right. But hold onto your tomatoes and rotten eggs for a minute...

I voted out for several reasons - which I haven't the energy to discuss here - but not one of them is because I'm a Little Englander and am racist. That accusation wounds me so deeply I can't begin to tell you.

I have thought long and hard; almost fell out with my adult sons over it. I have been appalled by the campaign on both sides - such negativity and so many lies from both sides. However not one of my reasons was anything whatsoever to do with race. I am all for  people to travel and live anywhere in Europe. I can't see the borders will be locked. Nor do I think Europe or the rest of the world will refuse to trade with us.

I hope all the world believes that this country  (The United Kingdom) welcomes all creeds, colours and races with tolerance and kindness.

I'm feeling too upset to write any more. I live in the North of England and for years and yet we've been patronised by London for too long.  Enough. They've listened to Scotland but not us. Northern Powerhouse? Don't make me laugh. We can't even get a mobile phone signal here. So what use is the latest all-singing, all-dancing multi-app gizmo we get thrown at us? Yes, we have Broadband - but you don't invest in super-fast fibre-optics for us up here. You can fly to Edinburgh easily and get a fast train to Paris or Belgium. But try getting from here to the nearest railways station by public transport - it takes hours top get to London. Scotland is strong. Scotland is fierce. It frightens London. Wales is patronised. Northern England is patronised.

The North of England, Wales and Scotland, did much to make Britain Great. Up in the north, we had the steel, the coal and the manpower. London made all the money. We lost our coal and steel. London held onto the money. London still holds the upper hand. And Londoners are cross with us. So you all insult us.

I shall retreat and lick my wounds. I shall go up here at the very top of my garden away from everyone.

And contemplate my own 'Little England.'

Come and join me and listen to the birds and sheep living their lives regardless. All are welcome as long as you let me know first. But please don't shout.

I shall probably not blog or say anything on social media until I feel better. Nobody listens anyway. Everybody is all too busy shouting and insult-slinging.

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well

(Julian of Norwich)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

RIP Sally Brampton

So very sad to hear of the death of Sally Brampton. I emailed her way back about about her brilliant book and her reply was so friendly and gracious. Seems that damn dog got her in the end.

Let's go out and shoot it now!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Blog Break

I am taking a break from blogging as from today. I am currently right in the middle of that muddle/morass/mess (call it what you will) that is rewriting my current novel in progress. As you probably know, I am a plodder at the best of times - cue snap of plodder -

but lately I have got tired and bored with trying to show how how dynamic, alive and progressive I can be. (And we all HAVE to be these days.) So even thought spring is on its way - or so they tell me - I'm retreating into myself until further notice.  Cue picture of me retreating into myself...

Don't worry. I'm feeling fine if a bit stodgy and dull. I'm not smiling much but am not morose. Basically, I need to get on with my novel and am not feeling sociable. Nor have I anything to say that won't bore the socks off you. I am reading and watching the world go by.  I am not ill but will be undergoing  several miscellaneous and boring medical tests in the next few weeks. I am convinced the medical fraternity are over-reacting but you never know. I'm feeling okay - but a little lethargic and dull company.

But, as they say, no news is good news. I hope I will be submitting my novel manuscript to unsuspecting agents some time later this year. But I'm in no rush. Just plodding along...

See you soon. I may even pop up on social media very occasionally.  There's one thing I refuse to become and that's a bore. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Onwards and upwards one step at a time.

Time for a catch-up and prove I'm still writing. I'm steadily plodding through a major rewrite of my latest novel.

 In case you've forgotten - or more likely, don't give two hoots - but I'm telling you anyway, my last attempt to be published was a novel was set between the end of WW1 and The General Strike ie 1919-1926 and partly discusses the repercussions of the horror of that conflict.  I totally missed the boat because by the time it was sent out to agents it was already late 1913. And you know how slowly the publication process works.

Basically, I had some decent feedback but no editor was eager enough to bite my hand off. Oh well.

Having left that one languishing, I have been working on and on and on with a medieval novel. Set in the 14th century it concerns a real and very small Cistercian priory of nuns in the village where I now live. Those who know me or read this blog may well remember that my first version it wasn't at all well-received by my (then) agent and we parted company. I am now, very slowly and ploddingly rewriting it after advice and more thought. I am hoping there is now more at stake for the major players plus a lit of magic realism (sort of).

So that, in brief, is where I stand now. I have no deadline so there is no need to rush. I am totally rewriting it and adding more powerful scenes whilst deleting all the waffle. I refuse to be rushed. I have no deadline so I intend to complete a reasonable new draft, then ask for an opinion of one of the major literary consultancies, make the necessary changes (as long as I accept them) then have it professionally sub-edited.

Then I will begin the submission process which will inevitably take time. I am not wildly optimistic. I have decided to take it 5 agents at a time until such time I have amassed 20 rejections without any interest. Then, my plan is to self-publish. I will never stop writing. I will never give up as long as I have my health and strength.

I will not bore you about my work in progress until there is something worth saying. My next blog post will be sheer self-indulgence. Surely I am not the only person who has ever dreamt of choosing my very own  Desert Island Discs and have complied several lists over the years. As the reality will never come about, I shall do it for myself.

So tune in - or turn off. I won't be offended.  I'm doing it for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reasons to Stay Alive? Mine? My family, my life through music and books.

I have mentioned before that I have suffered depression at various periods in my life. I have now reached the age when my life is somewhat more comfortable and less frenetic, I have gained a wider perspective. I am what I am and know when I am about to enter choppy waters - and I know it can strike at any time - so I can arm myself with the remedies that work for me, be they through medication, sleep, de-cluttering and mindfulness.

Depression affects so many of us but we are all individuals and our own depression varies widely. I read many books about it and have read many  personal accounts. One that resonated a great deal with me was Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton. 

But the most engaging account of this horrid black dog is Matt Haig's brilliant and honest account of his own depression. And no, it's not depressing; it actually had me laughing out loud on many occasions. Matt is a great guy. I love that his book is full, throughout, with huge love for his wife and children.  Everybody should read it, marvel and learn. (Yes, you: I'm talking to those many people who think depressives are whineing selfish miseries.) Matt's depression and the way he has leaned to cope with it does not mirror mine.  Depression is universal, yet individual.. Matt Haig's book reveals a startling fact of which I was not fully aware. It's worse for men. Having said that, it's no picnic for women either but did you realise that, although depression effects more women than men, men are more likely than women to commit suicide?

To me, what depression is not. A black dog. To me it is nothing like as concrete, as clear-cut or so well defined. I like black dogs; the bigger the better. To me, depression descends on me when all motivation, happiness, and interest in people, beautiful places and even a blue sky, oozes from me, rendering me flat, boring, stupid and tearful. I am a total pain in everybody's neck. Put me in Paradise and I would lie there wrapped in my misery blanket, made even more miserable because, at the same time, I ooze guilt. Yet I do not live in a war-zone. I have sufficient money. I am not starving, I have people who care for me etc etc. Am I boring you? Of course I am...

Anyway, touch wood and all that, I am currently in a good place and I can take pleasure in the smallest of things like snowdrops in the rain and being mindful of the taste of coal-smoke in the mist, a grass snake slithering across a path and disappearing into a land drain,and for sheer indulgence, hearing The Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D minor about which Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann:

"On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. If one doesn't have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one's mind."

It was written at a time when Bach's wife had very recently died and yet, it doesn't depress me, it uplifts me. Funnily enough most of my favourite pieces of any music could be throught of as depressing but not for me: Beethoven's Piano Sonata no 29, the Hammerklavier, Schubert's String Quintet, anything by Enya and Bob Dylan, particularly, Mr Tambourine Man. Then there's Leonard Cohen's Suzanne; the most sublime poem in music I have ever heard. 

Going from the absolute sublime Bach to - well not the ridiculous - but taking me back to the early 1970s when the world was my oyster, I was in my early twenties, I was at university in London,   Not only is it youthful and joyous (unlike the Bach which is an outburst of grief) I can't help but want to dance and wave my arms in the air. It brings back vivid memories of maxi-coats and Laura Ashley dresses when I was in love with someone else's boyfriend.  That was a silly crush because, then, I really fell hook, line and sinker for a school-friend of his. - We shall have been married to for 40 years this September! So, it's All Right Now by Yes. 

So I like a wide variety of music but it is books I can never do without. They are my life-blood. Like many of us who write, I am addicted to books - buying them, collecting them, reading or rather, savouring, absorbing or devouring them. Although I am in the throes of re-writing and editing my latest novel, I have found that I am also reading an enormous amount of published books at the moment. I can only think it's because my mind is even more tuned to words. Here's a taster of some I have read, am currently reading or will do soon.

Is it me, or do publishers choose the end of January to deluge us bookaholics with a huge amount? My bank balance, which had only begun to rise again is now plunging back into deficit. I'd better get on and write a novel that might sell... or not.

And finally, finally. Here's a You Tube clip of one of my family, all so dear to me, when he was only 14. How time flies.


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter.  Although this blog has b...