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?