Sunday, 9 December 2012

Still here...

Sorry I am not around in Blogland so much lately. My energy always takes a dip during the November darkness, but picks up a bit as Christmas approaches. I ventured out of my hermit's cave this week, to visit Birmingham's German Christmas market. The bull in the Bullring is all ready for a fancy dress party. In fact, he's so excited that he's been penned in with a sturdy red rope to prevent escape!

The market is full of pretty things, as always. I think I will have to go in again before Christmas to have another look at the beautiful coloured glass. I usually come away wishing I'd bought more. But then, it's not very practical to collect coloured glass with a large dog in the house.

Hope you are all enjoying your Christmas preparations.

Some people seem to be shopping like maniacs, while others queue at the many food banks that seem to be springing up around our towns and cities. Strange world.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Writing news, and a hot tip for cosy toes.

After a quiet summer, some writing news. A couple of weeks ago I went to the University of Wales Trinity St David in Carmarthen, to read at the prizegiving of the Ifanca Helene James short story competition. I had a lovely couple of days, featuring a scenic train journey, a male voice choir, and lots of walking uphill (never down).
I also found I had been shortlisted for the Doris Gooderson short story competition, run by Wrekin Writers.

I have entered more writing competitions than usual this year. In part this was because I wrote several pieces as homework for the writers' group which were too dark or strange for the magazines I submit to. Next year I plan to enter less competitions. It's lovely to win anything, or be shortlisted, but I have felt for some time that I should be focusing on a bigger project. I have a couple of novel ideas, but neither of those seems to be happening right now. So I have decided to see if I can put together the short story collection on a theme, which I've been contemplating since last year. It seems more manageable within my bitty work schedule.

With two recent short story sales to My Weekly, I shall not be giving up magazine writing though. I find it an excellent antidote to my workaday world.

On a different note, I saw Willy Russell's fabulous show Blood Brothers this week. You can not imagine how wonderful it was to see 'Tell Me It's Not True' performed so brilliantly, after my hours spent trying to learn even the most basic version on the piano! All the cast were great, but I must give a special mention to Niki Evans. Apparently she was an X Factor contestant a few years ago. She was absolutely outstanding as Mrs Johnstone, the woman who gives away one of her twins so she can afford to feed the rest of her family.

Finally, with dark nights and chilly temperatures, how would you like to win some lovely socks? Librarian, who blogs at From My Mental Library, has a mother with a talent for knitting. She sells some of her products via an Etsy shop. To win a free hand-knitted item from the range on sale, all you have to do is visit Librarian's blog and leave a comment on the 'Cold Season Giveaway' post. I love socks so much, I can barely close my sock drawer. Count me in!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Ifakara Bakery Project Competition and Anthology: a guest post by Sharon Bradshaw

Today I am happy to introduce my writing friend Sharon Bradshaw.

Sharon is organising a writing competition to raise funds for a charity close to her heart.

I'm handing over to her now, to tell you all about it.

"I started to fundraise for the Ifakara Bakery Project Charity in 2010 when I met the organisers, Margaret and Eugene Schellenberg. They were giving a presentation about the work which the Charity was doing in Tanzania. It was difficult to listen to some of the things they were saying and to see the photographs of the hardship which the children, disabled and others, had to undergo. It's now a well told tale about Africa, but Margaret and Eugene had done something different. They built a bakery in 2001 which is currently run as a successful business by the local people and ensures that no-one need starve when there are problems with the maize crop, but there are still so many who have to survive without basic necessities.

They have continued to give Ifakara 'talks' and others have become involved in the fundraising so that the Charity is now able to provide additional money for irrigation, electricity, and education. There is an emergency fund too for when crops fail completely due to adverse weather. The Charity provides bread for the orphanage, nursery schools, hospital patients, those with leprosy and learning difficulties.

I have been a Solicitor since 1981 and started to write poetry a few years ago. I didn't realise at the time that writing can take you to so many different places, and I'm now running a writing competition to help raise funds. I asked David Howarth, editor of Park Publications, if he would support the project, which he has done by advertising throughout his magazines, Scribble and Countryside Tales.

I'm asking writers to send me their 'Hopes and Dreams' as poems or short stories with £2.50 per entry or £4.00 for two. A selection will be published by Park Publications in an anthology early next year. There's also prize money: £150, £75, and £25. I've managed to raise the prize money by various other fundraising activities and have had a stall at a local bric-a-brac fair to sell unwanted items, so that after the printing costs are paid all of the funds raised will be sent to Ifakara. The Charity does not deduct administration charges.

I would like to be able to help the children in Mhutanga to have clean water. Their school has grown from 30 to 90 children and has to be run on a shift basis. They have bread and a mug of sweet tea after lessons. Many of them have had to walk a long way to get to school, with little or no breakfast. Parents have then to walk a lot further to get the water for the tea as they cannot access good water where they are without a bore hole.

I've written articles about the competition for Writers' Forum and Writing Magazine and the entries have been coming in, but it would be lovely to receive more. An anthology for Ifakara would mean so much to the children, and you can help by letting me have your words before the closing date on November 30th, 2012. It's not yet the end of the story.

For more details on the work being undertaken please visit the Ifakara Bakery Project website. And for full details of the competition, please see the Park Publications competition page.

Thank you, Sharon, for sharing this with us. I do hope some visitors to Zigzag Road will feel inspired by your enthusiasm, and send in a story or a poem. Personally, I think it's refreshing to see how a small number of determined people can make a real difference to the lives of others.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Jo's new desk

I wanted to show you my new desk, but you know how a certain dog pops up everywhere. Harvey's rather full of himself at present, as he is to appear in a Christmas story later this year. He doesn't mind that I changed his name for the purposes of the story, since he has already had friend requests on Facebook from people he doesn't know. How do these people find you? It's a mystery. Of course if genuine friends of mine wish to befriend Harvey, that's fine. He's a pretty friendly dog.

My desk cost twenty pounds in a charity shop. Maybe my grandparents had a similar one when I was small. There feels something very familiar about all the neat compartments inside the fold-down front.
Apparently the young folk refer to a charity shop as a 'chazza'. Does anyone else know this expression? It was a word I'd never heard before, but now I'm using it all the time, being such a chazza addict.

Nostalgia seems the theme of my life lately. I've been re-reading a childhood favourite, 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It's a lovely escapist book. I think you can read it at any age and still be uplifted by it.

And two other nice books I bought from the chazza recently for a couple of pounds: H.E. Bates' 'The Darling Buds of May' and 'A Breath of French Air'. The latter seemed particularly appropriate after my little excursion this summer. I love the 1950s style of the covers, and have enjoyed reading them both, although it is hard not to picture David Jason as Pop Larkin.

That's it for now. The desk awaits!

Monday, 30 July 2012

A change of air (part two): Dungeness

From Paris I went to spend a few days with friends in Kent. What a contrast. From busy streets to green, rolling hills. From crowds to relative solitude. And although the Seine was lovely, in my opinion nothing beats the seaside.

The absolute highlight, I have to say, was visiting Dungeness. Yes, it has a nuclear power station, which, I appreciate, might be off-putting for some people. But there is also one of the biggest shingle beaches in the world and a unique garden made by the late film maker, stage designer, writer and painter, Derek Jarman. For years the book about this garden has been on my shelf and I always wanted to see the place for real. It was almost a surprise when we drove up the long road beside the beach, and I recognised Prospect Cottage, which I'd admired so often in the book's beautiful photographs by Howard Sooley.

I think maybe there are not so many of the driftwood and metal sculptures in the garden as appear in the book, but you can still see an extract from the John Donne poem 'The Sunne Rising' on the side of the cottage.

Beneath blue skies and sunshine, the place was tranquil. A skylark sang and the waves lapped gently on the pebbly beach. I imagine that in the middle of winter, in a howling gale, it may seem bleaker. In the book, Derek Jarman wrote about a power cut which lasted five days. Ironic, when the cottage is in spitting distance of the power station which remained, he said, "a blaze of light". But what a view to wake up to every morning. 
Whereas Paris was intense, full-on, bombarding the senses from every angle, Dungeness was a much simpler. A pared down kind of landscape. I noticed much more the textures of things. The variety of colours in the pebbles. The clouds passing over the sea. I'd love to go again, whatever the weather.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A change of air (part one): Paris

Bastille Day today, so it seems fitting to post a few pics from my holiday. I spent the first couple of days in Paris - and what an experience it was! Loved my first sight of the Eiffel Tower, and the Seine beneath beautiful blue skies.

From there I did the tourist bit and took an open top bus around the city - a lovely, relaxing way to get my bearings.

Gosh, Paris was hot, and busy! Lots of traffic. Lots of motorbikes. Also, I have to say, many beggars alongside all the grand buildings and smart shops. Beggars with dogs, cats and children.

But there were many elegant, quiet streets and green spaces too.

With limited time in the city, I decided against tackling the Louvre. Instead I went to the lovely cool and uncrowded Orangerie to see Monet's huge waterlily paintings. Definitely recommended. 

Next morning I climbed the many steps up to Montmartre with its cobbled streets and pavement artists.

The views across Paris from Sacre Coeur were amazing. So much to see, from the man doing T'ai chi on the terrace, to the hawkers spreading out their glittery miniature Eiffel Towers in the hope of a sale before the Police arrived.

Next time, the second half of my holiday and some very different scenery!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Fiona Joseph and Beatrice Cadbury

This week at our local writers' group we spent a lovely morning in the company of Fiona Joseph. Fiona is the author of a recent biography, titled 'Beatrice: The Cadbury Heiress Who Gave Away Her Fortune'.

If I say Cadbury, I guess most of you will think of chocolate. Maybe you will be aware that the Cadbury chocolate firm was founded by a Quaker family, who built a village for their factory workers, at Bournville, Birmingham. But did you know that in 1920 Beatrice Cadbury decided her wealth was incompatible with her social conscience, and so gave all her shares in the company to Cadbury employees? Well, I certainly didn't know that, despite my addiction to everything chocolatey.

During the morning, Fiona read extracts from the book, and spoke about how her first glimmer of interest in Beatrice Cadbury grew to something of an obsession. Research took Fiona to The Netherlands, where Beatrice spent much of her later life, raising eight children in circumstances very much poorer than she had known as a child. Fiona talked about the process of publishing the book, which she did under her own imprint of Foxwell Press, and shared lot of useful advice with members of the group.

I really enjoyed hearing about Beatrice's unconventional life, and how she dedicated herself to working for peace and social justice. For further information, Fiona's website is here.

Thursday, 31 May 2012


Wuff! Harvey here again. You can't beat a good roll in the cool grass on a hot day. Cheese roll, turkey roll, plain roll with butter. Great stuff.

Mrs Boss says she's on a roll too, but I don't think it's the edible kind. She finally got round to sending her Pocket Novel off to Ulverscroft and they have accepted it for a large print book. When that book arrives, she won't get any work done at all. She'll be too busy gazing at it in disbelief. But she seems pretty happy anyway, if more lackadaisical than usual.

We've been in the garden a lot lately. Last summer we had builders next door and had to hide inside. Mrs Boss said if we sat outside, she couldn't get one sentence written without a voice yelling "Ow - my head" or "Two sugars, mate."

This year it's been nice and peaceful, except for when I have to frighten off the pigeons on the fence. Cheeky beggars. Don't they know that fence was built especially for me? Stops me escaping, you see. I do miss my impromptu visits to the neighbours. I keep trying to tunnel out instead, but Mrs Boss fills all the holes in as soon as she finds them. She says it's too hot for digging, and I'm to relax and enjoy the alliums.
Well, I've tried the alliums but they taste too oniony.

Have a lovely Jubilee weekend and may the sun forever shine on your street party.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Flying the flag

The bull outside Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre has a snazzy new outfit...
Is anyone planning to see the Olympic flame as it travels round the country? At one point it passes just a couple of streets from us. The only sport I ever watch is tennis, but it seems a shame not to see the torch relay when it's coming so close. The catch is, it visits here shortly after 7a.m. Am I unpatriotic for thinking that's a tiny bit early for me to get out of bed on a Sunday morning?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Three questions

The honesty is in flower all around the garden. There's always far more purple than white. My first question to all of you knowledgeable people out in Blogland is, will it come true from seed if I save the seeds from the white plants?

I recently finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It's a book that manages to be entertainingly light, but has a serious heart. The subject is the German occupation of Guernsey during the second World War, and how it affected the islanders. Goodness - how we take our freedoms for granted. Apparently there's going to be a film of it too.

After that I read Joanne Harris' The Lollipop Shoes, for the second time. I enjoyed that very much as well, even more than her novel Chocolat which preceded it. It's set in Paris, you see, and in a few weeks I am off there myself. So my second question is, what other novels can I read which are also set in Paris? Classic or modern, I don't mind. Have already done A Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables.

My third question is whether anyone can recommend vegetarian cafes in Paris. I have earmarked a couple that I've spotted on the Internet, but there's nothing like a personal tip from someone who's been. I am unlikely to go hungry in any event, with all that bread and cheese to sample. And maybe even some chocolat.

Not much writing news this week, although I was shortlisted for the spring Flash 500 competition. The judge was Margaret James, and if you go to the 'winning entries' page, she makes some helpful comments about what she was looking for. (Mine is the last one on the shortlist called 'When She Comes Home'.) The next closing date is at the end of June, if anyone wants to enter. There are very healthy cash prizes, results seem to be announced promptly, and it's a good place to try out your 500 worders.

Meanwhile, it's actually stopped raining and we are officially no longer in a drought zone. Just popping out to pull up some weeds...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Dream house

Hello everyone. I am feeling rather tentative about blogging today, as I see the threatened 'new look' has arrived on my dashboard! Untechnical at the best of times, I am not quite used to it all yet. How are you finding it?

This week brought good news about the sale of another story to People's Friend magazine. It's always exciting to see how they present it on the page, and I know they will have a lovely illustration to go with it when it is published. In the meantime, I would like to show you the picture that inspired me to write it.
I bought this print in an antique shop a few months ago. The minute I saw it I thought that this would be my dream house, with the overflowing garden and the sea in the background. I also knew that if I looked at it for long enough I would find a story to set there. I will use the money I earned from the story towards seeing new places in the summer. Those are sure to provide me with more stories too. Don't they say you must speculate to accumulate? Oh well, any excuse to spend money, really.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Harvey's sunshine award

Wotcha! Harvey here. It's been a while since Mrs Boss let me do a blog post. But last week she went through the end of her finger with the secateurs. Since then her typing has been even wonkier than normal. And that's saying something.

If you visit this blog often, you'll have guessed Mrs Boss is the kind of person who spends forever thinking about a thing before she does it. Her blog friends Patsy and Teresa both gave her awards a few weeks ago. Has she posted them to the blog? No!

So while she's off plastering up her finger again, I thought I'd grab Patsy's sunshine award for myself. I deserve it, don't I?

As recipient of this award I now have to tell you about what makes me happy.

1. Food. Mr and Mrs Boss are far too picky. They yank me away from all kinds of eating opportunities. Chips on the pavement. Bread by the duckpond. Nice bits of old wood, bursting with fibre. Just what a dog needs, I say. Bad for me, they say. And apparently the person beginning with V told them I was overweight. I don't know how he figures that out. Every time they try to put me on the scales, I lie on the floor, making myself as flat as a bearskin rug. So how do they know I'm overweight if I don't get on the nasty scales?

2. Digging. Mr and Mrs Boss don't understand that all the really interesting things in the garden are beneath the lawn. How am I supposed to retrieve them if I don't dig? Of course when Mrs Boss digs, she calls it something fancy, like 'dividing the hostas'. When I dig, she calls it 'ruining the grass'. What's grass anyway? Just a load of boring green stuff. And underneath there are things to eat.

3. Meeting people. Most people, anyway. You find the odd one who doesn't like dribble or doghair on their clothes. But most people appreciate me making a big fuss of them. Take the man who visited last week, for instance, to help Mr and Mrs Boss write something called a will. How boring it would all have been if I'd just ignored the will man. The will man loves dogs. I left extra doghair on his pinstripe suit, to show I love him too.

4. Barking. Some days you're just in the mood to let rip. You know what I mean? Bin day, for instance. When Mrs Boss is writing, she says my barking makes her jump. Wouldn't you think she'd be used to it after four and a half years?

5. Sleeping. You can't beat a nice snooze, even though there is an ongoing dispute with Mrs Boss about my favourite chair. I know I've won the battle really. She just likes to pretend she's in charge sometimes.

6. Playing. Chewing up tennis balls is the best sort of playing. But what a lot of people don't realise is that when you're a golden retriever, everything in life is a game. Humans take themselves far too seriously, in my opinion. Chill out! Would you rather be a wiggly worm, under the boring grass, living in the dark? Or up here in the sunshine, eating, greeting, and sniffing out fun? Mrs Boss says doing a will makes you think about these things.

Mrs Boss says I have to pass the sunshine award on to other blogging friends. Of course, she's taken so long thinking about it that most of them have it already! So I will just list the following three. If they would like to accept, all they have to do is paste the award to their own blogs, tell us what makes them happy, and pass it on. I would say "simples!". But I'm a retriever, not a meerkat.

Biddy Fraser at The Bluebell Blog

Joanna Campbell at Brightwriter60

Have a barking good Easter. Harvey xxx

Saturday, 31 March 2012

For Anne Tyler fans...

A rare interview here. You can listen to the full version (after a short advert!) or read the summary. You can also read an extract from her new novel 'The Beginner's Goodbye' and look at photos of places in Baltimore that relate to her novels. I devour anything by Anne Tyler and can't wait to read her latest book.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A visit from Carol E. Wyer

This week our local writers' group welcomed Carol E. Wyer as our guest speaker. Carol gave an entertaining talk about how she drew on personal experience of facing fifty for her debut novel 'Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines'. Published by YouWriteOn in 2011, the novel takes the unusual form of a blog written by the main character.

It is always lovely to meet writers who are generous in sharing what they've learnt along the way. Amongst other things, Carol discussed the trend towards digital publishing, and the relative ease of producing eBooks, especially in Kindle format. This reminded me, yet again, that I'd threatened to put my Pocket Novel onto Kindle and still haven't done it!

Social media has been crucial in the marketing and promotion of Carol's book. She continues to write on the themes of 'Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines' in her own blog Facing 50 With Humour.

Here's how Carol describes the novel.

"Amanda Wilson can't decide between murder, insanity and another glass of red wine. Facing 50 and all that it entails is problematic enough. What's the point in minking your eyes, when your husband would rather watch 'Russia Today' than admire you, strutting in front of the television in only thigh boots and a thong?

Her son has managed to perform yet another magical disappearing act. Could he actually be buried under the mountain of festering washing which is strewn on his bedroom floor? He'll certainly be buried somewhere when she next gets her hands on him.

At least her mother knows how to enjoy herself. She's partying her twilight years away in Cyprus. Queen of the Twister mat, she now has a toy boy in tow.

She really shouldn't have pressed that send button The past always catches up with you sooner or later. Still, her colourful past is a welcome relief to her monochrome present; especially when it comes in the shape of provocative Todd Bradshaw, her first true love.

Soon Mandy has a difficult decision to make; one that will require more than a few glasses of Chianti."

'Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines' is available from bookshops, online, and also as an eBook. For further details, Carol's website is here.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

International Tree Foundation

I wish I could remember for sure which blogger posted the link to a recent short story competition run by the International Tree Foundation. I would like to say a big thank you to that kind person, as I have won second prize.

In the picture on the left you can see some of the lovely contents of my prize goody bag. (There was also a nice green tie, but my husband has already taken to wearing it and he's gone out!) For the competition results and three top stories, just go to this page on the International Tree Foundation website.

It may have been Patsy who originally mentioned the competition. If not, I think Patsy deserves thanking anyway, for all the competition details she shares with us. Well done Patsy - keep it up!

Yesterday I met two writing friends in London. We spent most of the day in the Victoria and Albert Museum, admiring beautiful gems in the Jewellery Gallery, seeing the famous Great Bed of Ware, and of course buying the obligatory postcard and fridge magnet in the shop.

Here's a heron who was posing perfectly in Kensington Gardens on my way from the station.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The One and Only

One of the nicest things about being published in magazines is seeing how a story has been set out and illustrated. I am always keen to know whether the characters pictured will match up to how I imagined them when I was writing. They are sometimes quite different, but I am never disappointed.

In the latest People's Friend Fiction Special, I am especially lucky that alongside my story, 'The One and Only', is a short piece about the man who illustrated it, Mike Italiaander. Thank you Mike! I really enjoyed reading this fascinating 'Meet the Artist' slot. It's also a reminder that it takes the skills of many people to bring a story to the page.

My writing continues to plod along at its current slow pace. My submissions are right down as a result, but I am enjoying allowing myself more time to think hard about each story. One of my problems is that I have too many ideas. Maybe some people wouldn't see that as a problem. But I have spells of feeling very frustrated that I cannot use every single idea.

Because of the number of ideas that overwhelm me, I tend to try and use too many of them in one story. Taking stories more slowly has made me realise that I don't need to throw in more and more ideas. What I need to do is go into the original idea more deeply instead of flitting off at a tangent. We're always learning, aren't we, which is one of the reasons why I don't think I will ever be tired of writing.

Here's me, gazing philosophically into a river on a freezing February day!

Monday, 23 January 2012

I couldn't possibly comment

Usually I try to reply to comments as they arrive, but Blogger is not letting me add comments on my own blog right now! Thanks to everyone who has commented on yesterday's post. Hopefully normal service will be resumed soon.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

When more is less

After an intense month of writing I am just coming up for air. Every year I tell myself I must send out more work than I did the previous year. But why do I let myself be tyrannized by numbers? With the demands of the day job it's not realistic to keep increasing my output - or at least, not without sacrificing other things.

I am not a very accomplished pianist. To be honest, I am not even a competent one. I had lessons for a short while, until it became too much of an expense. Since then I've been noodling around on my own. Except, I haven't. Last year I hardly touched the piano because I was trying to meet my self-imposed writing targets. Now I realise how much I've missed the relaxation of tinkling away to myself. I'm also cross that I've become so out of practice and can't manage tunes I could play a year ago.

Of course it's fantastic to have stories published. And being paid for them still seems nothing less than a miracle. But I notice that in my case, increased output doesn't necessarily lead to more acceptances. And if I am focusing too much on numbers, then I lose some of the enjoyment of writing. So although it's nearly the last week of January I am adding some new resolutions.

1. I will be happy if I only submit one story a month as long as the stories I do send out are absolutely my best work.

2. Concentrate on the markets where I tend to do well, rather than waste time trying to fit my writing to magazines that don't suit my style.

3. Write what I enjoy instead of always thinking of what is commercial.

4. Don't lose touch with other life enhancing things, e.g music, friends, and spending time in the great outdoors.

How is your January going so far? Any resolutions made, broken or revised?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year News

Merry New Year from Harvey and me.

I always begin January full of beans, writing and submitting in a frenzy of good intentions. But it's oh so hard to keep that up once spring comes and the weather improves. My challenge for 2012 is to hang onto my New Year momentum beyond crocus time.

To do this I am going to have to be much stricter about using any spare minutes constructively. So, I, Joanne Fox, hereby declare I shall only visit Facebook every other day. I am also resisting the urge to rearrange my study yet again. There's an irritating chap called General Clutter in there, and all my attempts to evict him have been in vain. Therefore I hereby recognise that rearranging the study is another displacement activity, rather than a way of achieving anything. Shut that door!

Now I can share some positive news to kick off the year. As a result of entering the Earlyworks Press short story competition in 2011, I will have my story included in their competition anthology. I know I shall be in some good company, and congratulations to the overall winner.

Here's to less faffing about in 2012!