Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas

In case I don't have another chance to say it, I'd like to wish you all a very happy Christmas. May 2012 bring us lots of good stories to tell. Take care and I will catch up with everyone soon. xxx

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Great Book for Girls

Loving all things 30s, I could not resist this book in the local Oxfam shop. Yes it's old. Yes it leaves my fingers dusty each time I open the heavy pages. Yes it smells musty. But to me all these things are good!

Published in 1931, The Great Book for Girls is mainly short stories, with a few poems here and there. The black and white drawings have been lovingly coloured in with pencils by a previous owner. Neat job, girls!

As for the stories - well, what ripping yarns, as one of the characters might say! They have titles like 'Dimsie Wins Through' and 'The Fourth Form Entertainment'. The girls in the stories are all so busy and active, they almost wear me out. They go sailing, camping, trekking and have lots of adventures in the jolly-hockeysticks type of fashion. Several of the stories are set in boarding schools. I used to adore boarding school stories when I was young, though I don't know why as I would probably have hated it if I had ever had to go.

And yes, the writing style is a little dated, or 'politically incorrect' to our modern ears. I mean, we wouldn't refer to someone as a 'village idiot', for instance, would we. We most likely wouldn't call somebody 'a brick' either, even in a nice way. But for traditional stories, with a beginning, middle and end, this eighty year old book has given me a lot of entertainment this past week. I shall be looking out for more!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Winter sunrise

Don't you think it's a miracle how that sun keeps coming up every day?

Saturday, 5 November 2011


One of the recent tasks in our writers' group was to write an acrostic in three minutes. What's an acrostic? Well, what you do is choose a word and write it vertically down the page. Then from each letter you write a word or line horizontally, with the aim of describing the vertical word. So if I wrote a very basic acrostic for Harvey I could say something like this:


Here you can read more about acrostics, their use in mnemonics, poetry and coded messages. The thing is, once you start playing with acrostics they soon become addictive! Try it. It's fun!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Chasing rainbows

Picture of a double rainbow we saw here a few weeks ago. Squint closely. There are two rainbows there, honestly, although the second is quite faint above the brighter one. I think this is supposed to bring luck!

We were not so lucky when the new next door neighbour ran into our car on Sunday. Is this judgement on me for laughing when a neighbour down the road reversed into THEIR neighbour's car?

Monday brought an email from People's Friend, accepting a story, so I am in forgiving mood. This story has been a long time in the telling. I began writing it a whole two years ago. Something was wrong with it - but what? I didn't know. Into the drawer it went. This summer I took it out again. Straight away I saw that one of the main characters wasn't really a very nice person. Not only was he making the story too complex, he also had a snide air about him which was totally wrong for a People's Friend story. Once I'd written him out, all my characters were much happier and able to get on with their lives.

Maybe a bit of the rainbow's luck did fall on Zigzag Road after all. Just as well, since I had a shoe splurge at the weekend!

Wishing you rainbows - especially double ones.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Poetry, please

I recently joined a lovely local writers' group and am really enjoying it. One of the tasks on the programme for our autumn term is to write a brief review of a favourite contemporary poet.

Now, while I dip into poetry now and then, I can't say I have a favourite poet - ancient or modern! Following ideas from my blogfriends in relation to pasta free lasagne, now I am asking for suggestions on poets. Which contemporary poets are worth further attention? I have 3 weeks before this task is due, so there's no mad rush, but as this area is unfamiliar to me I'd like to start reading around soon. If anyone can throw in some names as a starting point I'd be eternally grateful. It's good to have the challenge of learning about something new. That's always one of the exciting things about autumn isn't it.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Quote of the day

"I do like lasagne. Just as long as there's no pasta in it."

(If anyone can suggest how to make lasagne without pasta please do tell me!)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Will there be unicorns?

I read a story the other day. It was written with a beautiful, light touch, full of magic and sparkle. For several pages I was swept along in this fairytale world. The writer could have introduced giants and unicorns, and I would have believed every word because the story was written with such sincerity of emotion.

But then, in the last paragraph, it became clear that there was in fact a rational explanation for how all the 'magic' happened. I was devastated. It was like finding out Santa Claus doesn't exist, or that it wasn't the Tooth Fairy who left a sixpence beneath your pillow. Or, it was like one of those escapades where the main character wakes up and realises 'it was all a dream'. This wasn't a magazine story, so there was no fiction editor in the background insisting the events had a plausible cause. Maybe the writer felt they were straining credibility too much by pursuing the magical theme right to the end. Or perhaps they lost confidence in their original idea. Either way, it was a shame.

Firstly this made me think that maybe everyone wants to believe in magic. Even someone like me, who hardly ever reads fantasy. But if a story grabs me then it doesn't matter what genre it's in. If it's well written and I connect with it then I will read on. If the story features magic, I want it to stay magical right until that final full stop. I somehow feel cheated when reality snatches away this wonderful, mystical world the writer has persuaded me exists.

The second thing I thought was how we have to keep pushing our ideas further to see where they can go. If some of our ideas are a bit 'off the wall' sometimes it's tempting to dismiss them as too fanciful. Yet the most interesting things seem to happen when we follow those ideas and see where they take us, instead of playing safe.

So, this week I'll be playing with my latest off the wall, fanciful, daft idea. It's quite exciting. There might be unicorns!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Fungus season

I never used to believe in allowing dogs on furniture. But then...

Harvey came! Now we can't get rid of the old armchair which doesn't match the new sofa and chair. Nor can I put a small bookcase into that spot by the window, as I had planned to do. And how he can be comfy crammed into that little space is beyond me. But if Harvey's happy, we're happy. Mostly.

If you were passing by last August you may recall Harvey found a humongous fungus in the garden. August must be puffball season as there is another one sprouting up.

It's quite a bit bigger than our windfall apples, as you can see. I hoped it would continue getting bigger and bigger, until we could climb inside and sail away like James and the Giant Peach. But things are nibbling at it. Whether Harvey is one of those nibblers I don't know. He's not saying.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A silverfish in the gravy and other strange events

I've officially done my back in. The doctor has prescribed a week off work, plus co-codamol and 'gentle pottering'. No-one would choose to be ill or in pain, but when you've been on the go for a while it's quite a relief to have somebody order you to stop. For the first time in ages I sat in the garden today, without feeling obliged to get up and deal with weeds, untidy lawn edges or holes dug by Harvey. Oh, and from the funny rash on my hands I think I've also developed primula allergy which is another good reason to leave the garden to its own devices for bit.

A few days ago I watched a neighbour reverse off their drive, slap bang into their other neighbour's car! Of course I wouldn't have been so amused if they'd reversed into my car, but happily Mr F. Focus was safely tucked up in the drive.

The following night I opened the gravy granules to find a silverfish running round inside. How did the silverfish get in the gravy? It sounds like a joke, but I'm rubbish at punchlines so maybe someone else can suggest one. I threw the gravy out, by the way, as it was nearly gone anyhow.

Yesterday I managed to write about three lines of a story. They're good lines, I think, so that's OK. If I do another three later my story might be finished by Christmas. Speaking of which I've actually seen some 2012 calendars in the shops! No wonder we feel we're constantly racing against the clock, with retailers so keen to rush us into next year already!

Well, excuse me for dashing off again but my back won't let me sit at the computer for long. Must be time for some more of that gentle pottering.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Guest post by Sue Johnson

Tomorrow will see the launch of 'Fable's Fortune', the first published novel by writer and tutor Sue Johnson.

I have been lucky enough to attend two of Sue's writing workshops, and was delighted to hear of her latest success.

I asked Sue if she could tell us about the process of writing 'Fable's Fortune', about her own favourite authors, and if she could give any advice to newer writers. So now it's over to Sue...

'Fable's Fortune' is a modern romance built on a fairytale structure. The back cover blurb reads:

"Fable Mitchell is born under a roof of stars in a Kentish plum orchard, and her early childhood is spent in a house called Starlight where she lives with her mother Jasmine and Gangan the Wise Woman.

However, her life is not destined to remain like a fairytale.

When she is ten, she is abducted by her estranged father Derek, now a vicar, and taken to live in his austere vicarage at Isbourne on the banks of the River Avon. Fable is unable to escape.

When she is sixteen, she falls in love with Tobias Latimer but he dies in mysterious circumstances and Fable's happiness is once again snatched away from her.

She tries to rebuild her life and marries Tony Lucas because she thinks the omens are right. Fable soon realises he is abusive and controlling, but is trapped because she fears losing contact with her daughter.

Nearing her 40th birthday, Fable hears Gangan the Wise Woman's voice telling her to 'be ready - magic happens'.

That is certainly true, but does Fable have the necessary courage to finally seize her chance of lasting happiness?"

The story (originally called 'Star Dragon') began life in 1998 following my own marriage break-up and divorce. I didn't do any planning and completed 85,000 words in less than two months. It was extremely therapeutic and helped me get through a stressful time without needing tranquilisers or taking to drink!

Having finished what was a very scrappy first draft (I didn't really know what I was doing!) I put it on one side for several years while I went back to University to do a creative writing course. During that time I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories - many of which were published in women's magazines. I was taken on by the agency Midland Exposure who sold short fiction to women's magazines.

When I eventually went back to the novel (in about 2002) my ideas about the story and characters had moved on. The story had never left me in all the time I'd been away from it - bits kept playing like a film inside my head. Helped by a severe attack of vertigo, I reworked the story (now called 'Cloak of Stars'.)

By 2005, having written three more novels and failed to find a publisher, I joined the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme. I submitted 'Cloak of Stars' for a critique and was advised to take out the fairytale element.

I felt a bit despondent - but decided to have one more re-write. It was at that stage that my heroine, originally called Rose, decided that she didn't like her name! I searched through all the children's name books I could find, plus various Internet sites, but found nothing.

In the end, I put my jacket on and walked into town, deciding to stop for a coffee at the first cafe I came to and the first woman's name that I heard would be the one I went for. Two women wearing fur coats and carrying wicker baskets came in. As they took their coats off one of them said, "Of course, my daughter Fable..." I paid my bill and hurried back to my computer.

One thing I learned in the process of writing this book was that I needed to be persistent and ignore the negative things some people said. I wish I'd concentrated on finding a publisher rather than wasting my time trying to get an agent - especially after one admitted, when I contacted her after a long time of being fobbed off by her assistant, that she'd 'buried my manuscript under a pile of other stuff and forgotten about it'. The first publisher that I sent the manuscript to after that episode was Ronnie Goodyer at Indigo Dreams Publishing - and he said yes!

I think it must be true that success breeds success as I've now got a non-fiction book on novel writing coming out in October this year. ('Creative Alchemy: 12 Steps from Inspiration to Finished Novel', published by HotHive Books.) I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for two further novel manuscripts that I've submitted.

My favourite authors are Joanne Harris, Clare Jay, Helen Dunmore and Michele Roberts.

My advice to new writers is:

1. Write every day even if you only manage five minutes.
2. Get as much work in circulation as possible.
3. Create a writing C.V. - a publisher or agent may ask for one.
4. Reward yourself for the effort you put in.
5. Don't stop until you've achieved your writing ambitions.

Sue's website can be found here. The book will be available from Indigo Dreams here, Amazon, and all good bookshops, as they say. Thank you Sue for taking the time to tell us about 'Fable's Fortune'. It sounds a wonderful read and I hope it does really well for you.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Chainsaws at dawn

Well, O.K., not exactly at dawn, since dawn breaks early in July. But with builders renovating the house next door we're having a noisy summer here. The cement mixer churns and there's a brickie effing and blinding his way through building a wall at the front. At the back someone insistently taps paving slabs with a hammer to get the new patio laid flat. Through an open upstairs window comes the sound of the plasterer singing along to Adele songs. Sand arrives and skips are collected. Half the county's building trade seems involved in the house next door.

It's put a temporary blot on pottering about in my dressing gown, watering my plants and enjoying my first coffee of the day. In fact, after six weeks it's all getting wearysome, especially as escaping anywhere in the car involves navigating through the white vans parked beside our kerb.

Then again, every cloud of brick dust has a silver lining. I've submitted four stories during July. It's unusual for me to submit much in the summer as I'm normally in the garden more. I have no excuse not to complete my tax form too, while I am stuck indoors anyway. Gosh I hate having to do a tax form for my small writing income. I'm a bit rubbish with numbers. It always takes at least three phone calls to the tax office to check which figure goes where. But then I know I am lucky to have any writing income, with paying markets seeming to grow ever more competitive.

Well, that's my little moan over. Next weekend I have a guest blogging here at Zigzag Road. Watch this space, and I hope you all have a peaceful week.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Reaping what we sow

In spring I pushed sweet peas into the damp earth and fed them with bright adjectives. I layered a stem of nouns to root among the mints, dotting an odd gerund below the lavender. Rain spattered them with pronouns. Squirrels buried verbs. There were some adverbs from last year's cuttings, but magpies stole them, stealthily.

Now I dig for stories, as the dog sniffs out windfalls. Our garden feeds us, always.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Redwings Horse Sanctuary

I may not have had my writing head on much lately, but I've had some lovely trips out and about. I can always justify a day out on the grounds that it's research for a story I haven't decided to write yet.

Yesterday I took a friend to visit the Warwickshire branch of Redwings, a charity which does fantastic work in rescuing and rehoming horses that have been abandoned, neglected or abused. It was wonderful to see so many horses contentedly grazing...

and chomping... and while some clearly think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it's obvious that Redwings is a great place to be.

You could just cry when you think of how much ill treatment horses have suffered at the hands of humans, but it's really heartening to see that even horses who have suffered can go on to enjoy happier lives with the right care and attention.

I think we'll visit again, and hopefully not get quite as lost as we did on the way home!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Don't panic!

Don't panic if the blog is a different colour next time you see it. I am just tinkering about with the colour scheme!

Sunday, 29 May 2011


For years I've wanted to visit the Chelsea Flower Show. When I was in my twenties I lived right across the river from the Royal Hospital, where it takes place, but I was as poor as a church mouse and could never afford to go. Well, finally I've achieved an ambition and been to the show in person instead of sitting at home, watching it on television.
If you've seen any coverage this year you'll know the garden everyone's been talking about is Diarmuid Gavin's Irish Sky Garden. When I first arrived at the show, the garden was flying high from its crane, but I noticed later when the weather turned blowy they had to bring it back down to earth. No-one can say Diarmuid is unoriginal, and he does have a really good eye for plants.
If you're restricted to visiting Chelsea in the middle part of the day you have to resign yourself to a slow shuffle past the show gardens. However a helpful shower of rain sent many people indoors, leaving us drowned but eager souls to enjoy a better look outside. I really loved the Royal Bank of Canada's New Wild Garden, designed by Nigel Dunnett. Look at the combination of textures and colours in the walls. Often I find I spend the longest time studying the smallest details. Around the show gardens there were some stunning sculptures including a light-catching sphere by David Harber, and a pair of boxing hares in the Skyshade Garden, and you can peer through the gates of the Royal Hospital where the Chelsea Pensioners live. It's a beautiful building.Inside the RHS Pavilion there are stunning displays of the exotic and the everyday, but all of it grown and presented to such a high standard.I know when I've seen enough because I stop looking at my surroundings and start to watch the people. I saw Alan Titchmarsh and Chris Beardshaw filming for the BBC. Then I spent a while listening to the brass band play, and looking for stories in the crowd. Finally I had a walk along the river. When I lived near the Battersea Power Station I don't think I took much notice of it, but looking at it again with fresh eyes I realised how magnificent it is.
It's funny going back to places where you've lived during a very different time in your life. I loved being in London when I was younger. Nowadays the traffic, people and pace of London soon overwhelm me. I'm glad I finally made it to Chelsea at last, but gladder still for the relative peace and quiet of home.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Rosalie's signing and my latest.

Firstly, if you are in the Coventry area this Saturday (May 21st) Rosalie Warren would love you to pop into her signing session for 'Coping with Chloe'. Rosalie was a guest on this blog in March. Between 10.30a.m. and 12.30p.m. on Saturday she will be in Waterstones, Smithford Way, Lower Precinct, Coventry.

Secondly, '100 Stories for Queensland' is now available to order in print form through Amazon. Please click the image on the right sidebar for further details.

Thirdly, I have a story 'Her Pride and Joy' in the new issue of The Weekly News. That's the one with a cover date of May 21st. I only heard on Tuesday that they wanted to use the story, and today I bought it from the newsagent's. That's a quick turnaround! It's the first story I've had in there, but I've been familiar with this particular publication since childhood. My grandparents used to buy The Weekly News and pass their copy on to us. I wish I could tell them I finally made it into the short story pages. I think they'd be glad.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Some books

Q. Where's that Joanne Fox gone? Has she deserted her blog again?

A. No! I've been reading and writing lots, yesterday attended a hundredth birthday party (not mine, obviously) and today a writing workshop with Sue Johnson, who always fills me with inspiration.

I've read so many good books this spring that I wanted to mention a few of my favourites. Firstly 'The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets' by Sophie Hannah. This is a collection of short stories, opening with 'The Octopus Nest' which won the Daphne du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition in 2004. Although I'd read 'The Octopus Nest' before, I still admired the way Sophie Hannah drew me in and led me down a path I thought I knew, until she hit me with the ending. Every story in this collection focuses on a character who is obsessed with something. And though they may behave bizarrely, I like that I always understand why.

For some reason I'd put off reading Rose Tremain's 'The Road Home' because I thought I wouldn't enjoy it. This was despite already being seriously impressed by her previous novels, and her wonderful short story collection 'The Darkness of Wallis Simpson'. But at long last I borrowed 'The Road Home' from the library and absolutely loved it.

As you may be sick of hearing, I am a big fan of Helen Dunmore. However I'd put off reading one of her books too - 'Mourning Ruby'. It centres on the death of a child and I thought it would be too depressing. But d'you know what? When I finally read it I loved this one as well!

Another book I borrowed from the library recently (thank God libraries still exist because I couldn't afford to buy all these) was 'Dead Ernest' by fellow blogger Frances Garrood. I could really identify with all three of the main characters and so wanted them to have a happy ending, especially the central one, Annie. As the truth about Annie's life with her late husband (Ernest) is revealed, there are many reminders that in the not-too-distant past both men and women were more constrained by social attitudes than they are in the present day, and often shockingly ignorant about sex besides. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it made me very glad to be living in the here and now. Modern life may not be perfect but generally we do benefit from freedoms and opportunities that previous generations did not have. I look forward to reading more of Frances's work.

Finally (and to prove I do read books by male authors) I must mention Patrick Gale's 'Notes from an Exhibition'. I read this book a couple of years ago, but I knew it was one that deserved a second reading. I don't always take to books that have unusual structures. Sometimes the structure dominates the story rather than complementing it. However I do love this one, in which each chapter begins with notes on an object that might appear in a posthumous exhibition from the life of the central character. This character was an artist, so many of the notes describe pieces of her work. There are also notes about her fisherman's smock, her nightdress and a hair clasp. The story unfolds around these objects, not chronologically, but in a way that makes me feel I am delving through layers of a family, learning a bit here, a bit there. I find this book really interesting on the subject of the relationship between art and mental health. I learnt a lot about the Quakers too.

So that's my round-up. Now I have to get back to reading, writing, and catching up with everyone else's blogs.

Read any good books lately?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Spilling Ink

Extra treats for Harvey this week, as I heard I'd won second prize in the Spilling Ink flash fiction competition.

Until last year I had something of a blind spot where flash fiction was concerned. I'd never tried writing it, because I couldn't imagine being able to develop characters in the way I wanted within a word count of perhaps only 500 or less. For me, characters and relationships are the things I really like to explore in stories, way ahead of plots or themes.

But then for some reason I went through a bit of a sea-change. I started experimenting with flash fiction, and found I enjoyed the challenge. I realised that if the main character was clear enough in my mind, it was possible to pin them down on paper. It was just a matter of working hard within the tight focus of the story, and not getting distracted by rambling sub-plots as I am inclined to do. That may sound obvious, but I am a great believer in the principle that we only really learn by doing.

So the moral of this particular tale is that even if you think you can't, have a bash anyway. You may find that you can!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Quote of the day

Recorded advert played over Morrisons' tannoy: "Start saving for an easy Christmas!"

Sunday, 3 April 2011

An heirloom!

My parents are in a constant state of clearing out their house. This means my visits usually yield at least one item of family memorabilia that I didn't know I needed.

Most recently it was this Home Safe from the long defunct Derby Savings Bank. This little safe belonged to my grandmother. It's metal, and even empty it weighs almost a pound (that's around 450 grams if you're reading this in metric). One side has a slot for coins and the other has a round hole for notes.

When I went round Birmingham's Back-to-Back houses, there was a similar safe on the mantelpiece of the 1930s themed house, so I'm guessing my grandmother's safe is from the same era. I am told that the bank kept the key to the safe to prevent savings being raided for the gas meter. You would have to take your safe along to the bank for them to open it and pay the contents into your account. Unfortunately I don't have the savings book that would have accompanied the safe so I don't know how much my grandmother managed to squirrel away in there. I'd love to know what she was saving for.

Apparently safes were manufactured for lots of banks across the country, and also for the Post Office. Do let me know if you've got one like it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Rosalie Warren on 'Coping with Chloe'

Maybe some of you remember author Rosalie Warren kindly appearing as an interviewee on this blog last year. At the time she spoke about how Phoenix Yard Books had accepted her novel for girls aged eleven upwards.

That novel is to be released next Monday, March 21st. How exciting!

I am pleased to welcome Rosalie back today to celebrate the publication of her latest book.

So, Rosalie, without giving away too much of the plot, would you like to tell us a little about 'Coping with Chloe'?

'Coping with Chloe' is about a twelve year old girl called Anna who has an unusual relationship with her twin sister, Chloe. So unusual, in fact, that she believes Chloe now lives inside her (Anna's) head and shares her body. Why? Well, the reason will emerge as you read the book. At the beginning, Anna is happy with the arrangement, in spite of the reaction of her family and friends. Then a good-looking new boy called Joe arrives in Anna's class and seems to want to be friends with both Anna and Chloe. Anna is pleased at first, because Joe is just about the only person who is aware of Chloe's presence. But when he can't make up his mind which twin he likes best, trouble starts to brew. It's not helped by Lisa, the class bully, who has designs on Joe of her own. And when Chloe turns on Anna and starts to threaten her, things get very nasty indeed.

This is a story about sibling bereavement, as well as some other deep issues like bullying, parental separation and physical abuse. But it's written, I hope, with a light touch and lots of humour. Anna wins through in the end, with a new understanding of what has happened to her and Chloe, and better relationships with her family and friends.

Where did the inspiration for the book come from?

I wish I knew! Anna appeared inside my head one day and started talking. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether this book is partly about what it's like to be a writer, though perhaps that's pushing things a bit too far. But Anna demanded to tell her story, so I wrote it down, and it was one of those times when writing is a bit like reading - you have no idea what's going to happen next.

How long did it take you to write it?

The first draft took about six weeks. That may not sound long, but in that state it was pretty unreadable by anyone, including me. It took another couple of years to get it into its final shape. Part of that process involved getting an excellent appraisal from Cornerstones, who helped me see where it was going wrong and make it fit for publication.

How does writing for younger readers compare with writing for adults?

It's not really so very different, I find. I'm not aware of writing in a different way for younger people, though I suppose the language is more of a challenge and you have to be aware of what's acceptable and what's not. Like many children's authors, I struggle with the dialogue, trying to give it an up-to-date flavour without including expressions that would quickly date.

Among authors who write for the 11+ age group, who do you really admire?

That's a great question. Jacqueline Wilson is one of my favourites and I wish she'd been writing when I was young. I recently discovered Jenny Valentine, who wrote 'Broken Soup' and 'The Ant Colony' - both brilliant books. And I love Jenny Downham's 'Before I Die'. You'll see I'm more into realism than fantasy, though I enjoy fantasy novels for younger children. Tove Jansson (creator of the Moomins) is my favourite author of all time and I still regularly read her books.

Now that your third book is about to be published, are there any valuable lessons you've learnt along the way?

Never give up on trying to get published, while at the same time writing new things and recognising that some books may be 'learning experiences' that will never see the light of day. Don't be too critical when writing your first draft - in fact don't be critical at all - let your imagination go. You can reshape, rewrite and edit later, when you've got something to work with.

Last time you visited the blog, you mentioned several other projects you were working on. How are you progressing with those?

My novella for adults, currently called 'Mondays with Marguerite', is finished and looking for a home. It's written from the point of view of a woman with Alzheimer's and is also the story of her 11 year old great grand-daughter, who has troubles of her own. The two of them make friends and their stories intertwine. It could be difficult to find a publisher, as it's only 40,000 words. We'll see. I may decide to release it as an eBook on my own.

I've also finished a teen novel and am working on a sequel to 'Chloe'. And for adults, I'm writing a novel with a rather experimental structure. It will have to be an eBook because of the way it's designed to be read. See my blog if you are interested - comments welcome. The sequel to 'Charity's Child' is currently simmering on the back boiler - not sure why. And I have a series in mind for younger children, aged seven to nine. It will be set in about 2030 and have robots in it, but so far I don't know much more than that.

Thank you Rosalie. I am looking forward to reading 'Coping with Chloe', and hope it does really well for you.

'Coping with Chloe' is published by Phoenix Yard Books and is available from Amazon. Rosalie also has a website here.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Stylish Blogging!

Thanks to fellow blogger Pen and Paints for passing the Stylish Blogger award on to me.

Unaccustomed though I am to being called stylish, I am now obliged to tell you seven things about myself.

1. I'd love to meet the Queen.

2. When I was a child my grandparents often took me to Twycross Zoo. I grew very fond of the ring-tailed lemurs.

3. I've been bargain hunting in charity shops since I was sixteen. My first ever purchase was a red cotton dress with a pattern of small grey squares. Thirty years on I continue to get the same thrill when I find something I really want for just a few pounds.

4. I stopped eating red meat when I was eighteen. I still eat fish occasionally, but I have spells of giving that up too. Like after I went to the Sea Life Centre and saw how delicate and pretty the baby plaice were.

5. My number one favourite book is Great Expectations.

6. In my lifetime I've had seven cats, four dogs, assorted rabbits, guinea pigs and fish. This does not seem nearly enough animals and I wish I had a house with a bit of land so I could take in a few homeless donkeys.

7. I'd like to see Venice but canals make me nervous. Their sides are so steep that if I tripped and stumbled I would have nothing to grab onto and so would probably take a nose dive into the drink. And I cannot swim!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Walnut, anybody?

In the belief that it's good to be open to new experiences, yesterday I ate a pickled walnut. Foul! No wonder my manager was trying to get rid of them. My tongue felt all shrivelled and wrinkly from the vinegar - like your fingers when you've soaked in the bath too long. Is anyone a fan of pickled walnuts? If so, please enlighten me about the attractions of these bloated, black, mushy blobs. Don't we do some strange things with food?

I've been working extra days lately, and am really looking forward to having next week off. There are two almost finished stories which I need to polish up and submit. I'm also in the process of shredding my notes from when I did my mental health training and it will be so nice to see the back of all that dusty old paperwork. And then of course there's the garden, which I'm desperate to start on again. It's cold today, but maybe next week will warm up. In the meantime, here are some snowdrops in the park behind our house.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Two anthologies

Last week we had a few Internet problems, meaning I couldn't tell you the previous week's writing news.

Since September, apart from a couple of shortlistings, I had only rejections. And sometimes you know, you do reach a point when you wonder if you will ever be published again. But then a fortnight ago the unthinkable happened and I heard good news about two short stories in one day. The first of these is due to be published on March the 8th, in 100 Stories for Queensland. This is a charity anthology to raise money for people affected by the massive floods which hit the state in January.

Later in 2011 I will also have a story in a Leaf Books anthology. I entered Leaf's micro-fiction competition last year, for stories under 300 words. While I didn't win, I am very happy to be one of the commended entrants whose stories will be included in the book.

Both these things have put a smile on my face, as have my new bedroom curtains! It's not just the lovely primrose yellow colour, making me think of spring and sunshine. The instructions for hanging the curtains mention the need to "train your pleats". The idea of training my pleats amuses me every time I think of it. I wish I could train my pleats to type up my longhand scrawl, do the less interesting bits of research, and keep me stocked up with stamps.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Flash 500

I notice I've gained a few followers in the last couple of weeks. Welcome! At the same time I know I've been a bit remiss in the blogging department. I've been rather despondent. Working hard, without achieving much.

Negativity can be infectious, so I've stayed away until I have more positive news to share. It's a small piece of news at that, but this week I found I was longlisted in the Flash 500 competition for the last quarter of 2010. I didn't progress to the shortlist, but at least I know that in this particular story there must have been something I did right. The next Flash 500 closes at the end of March, with a top prize of £250. Worth entering if you like writing very short fiction.

I should have gone out to stock up the kitchen today, but it's blowing a gale here and I've not yet ventured through the front door. The weather has reminded me of a story I heard years ago when I used to work in Dudley. Dudley is in a part of the West Midlands known as the Black Country on account of its long industrial heritage. There is a place called the Black Country Museum, where restored buildings and staff in period costume recreate aspects of this history. Anyway, parents of a colleague had travelled from Dudley to some seaside resort - most probably Weston-super-Mare. They had dreadful weather and when they saw a local coach firm offering mystery day trips, they signed up. After two hours sitting on a coach they found themselves - yes, you've guessed it - at the Black Country Museum, just a mile from home.

This is exactly the kind of little incident I try to use in short stories now and then, only for fiction editors to comment that it's too far fetched. I have to restrain myself from phoning them up to scream "But it's true!". Have a lovely week, and I hope all your co-incidences are happy ones.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Bath time

What is it about baths? Often I get in feeling so depleted of ideas that I wonder if I'll ever write another story as long as I live. When I get out again some little notion has floated into my brain on a sea of soap bubbles.

It makes me think that if I ever tried to write full-time I would need a constant supply of hot water and fluffy towels. Is bath foam tax deductible? Anyway, despite last week bringing my first rejection of 2011, I also wrote a new bath-inspired story.

Do you want to win an iPad? Every year classical music station Classic FM holds a vote to find the UK's top 300 pieces of classical music. It's called the Hall of Fame. If you vote you automatically get entered into a prize draw, and this year you can win an iPad or £100 of high street vouchers. Admittedly I've never won a bean, although I've voted several years running. But this year you (or I!) may be lucky. Enter at Classic FM's Hall of Fame page. Sorry if you are an international visitor, but this is only open to UK residents.

Thirdly I must just say I'm really loving 'The Lollipop Shoes' by Joanne Harris. I've read a couple of her other novels, but I think this is the best so far. Chocolate, mystery and magic. Scrummy!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Progress (and a dilemma)

After a slow December I've sprinted into January by submitting five stories in a week. Only one is a totally new story, but as I mentioned in a previous post, that unfinished and rejected drawer had been lying dormant for some time. Now I'm in a fit of sorting, sending and shredding, and it feels good. I am never optimistic when I send off a story. I just reach a point when I know I've given it my best shot and further rewriting will only bring stagnation rather than improvement.

It's heartening to hear that even writers who are well established in their field still have doubts about their work. I found lots I could relate to in Teresa Ashby's recent post 'What Do I Do? The Uncertainty of Being a Writer'. I particularly like the bit where Teresa talks about every piece of writing being a new beginning. Certainly every time I start a story, I have no idea of how I'm going to tell it. Often I don't know what will happen or how it will end. The only way I find out is by continuing to put one sentence after another until the story becomes clear to me. I think curiosity is an important factor when I'm writing. After all, if I am not curious about what happens to my characters, then why should anyone else be?

On a different note, I have a balloon dilemma. We all know that it's unlucky to leave our Christmas decorations up later than the sixth of January, don't we. This is not an unfounded superstition. I noticed last Friday (January the seventh) that several households in Coronation Street and Eastenders still had their Christmas trees up - and see how much bad luck they get.

This Christmas I bought one of those foil ballons, which the party shop inflated for me. The lady behind the counter assured me that if I let the balloon down carefully by putting a drinking straw into the valve, I could have the balloon re-inflated next December. Well, last Wednesday I stuck a straw in as she told me. I expected the balloon would go flat fairly quickly. Five days later it's still on the ceiling. Now I know some of you will probably tell me to stab it with a pin. But that seems somehow... cruel. So if anyone has a tip for letting my balloon down gently, then I'd love to hear from you.

Hope 2011 is being kind to you so far.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Quote of the Day

Overheard in the supermarket:

"Dogs have ears, you know."

Saturday, 1 January 2011

And a Happy New Year!

Suddenly it's 2011! How did that happen? December went by in a flash and I confess I only managed to submit ONE story the entire month.

I hope you all enjoyed Christmas and received some nice prezzies. My best present was an email from an old friend I hadn't heard from in 30 years. I guess if we'd had an award at school for the girl least likely to get a tattoo, she and I would have pretty near the top of the shortlist. How funny that we have both ended up with one!

Now it's New Year's Day, and I've recharged my writing batteries. The drawer marked unfinished and rejected is about to get a serious makeover as I make up for my lack of submissions prior to Christmas. I'm not big on making resolutions, but I'd like to spend less time faffing about during the next few months.

Wishing you lots of loveliness, sunshine, wellbeing, and success this year. xxx