Monday, 18 November 2013

Harvey: on the occasion of his tenth birthday

Arrrfff! Harvey here. I was ten last Thursday. Any gifts of tennis balls gratefully received. Total destruction guaranteed within twenty minutes.

What with one thing and another, Mrs Boss has had to join the ranks of the 6a.m. dogwalkers, traipsing the darkened streets with a torch. She says she doesn't mind clear mornings when the sky is all black and twinkly, but rain is not so much fun.

Also, while she is not the most social of persons (particularly at 6a.m) she is surprised to find the early morning joggers incapable of as much as a grunt of hello.

So anyway, while she may be too whacked to keep up the blogging right now, she just wants to say that she is still batting about. She was happy to have a poem commended in the Sentinel quarterly poetry competition. It has reminded her that she is supposed to be a writer, and therefore should be writing.

Before that, though, my next walk is due. Oooh look - it's raining!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

My favourite bookshop

This week I had a little trip to Derbyshire, mainly to visit my favourite bookshop, Scarthin Books at Cromford.

Here is a place where you really can get lost for hours. Three floors of rooms, passageways, and staircases all crammed with books. They have a good stock of new books, but the real fascination is with the old, out of print and obscure. If there is ever a book you are struggling to find, just email them and they will track it down if humanly possible.

I bought two in particular that will really help with my novel research.

There's a small cafe on the middle floor, serving vegetarian and vegan food.

Scarthin's even came in at number six in the Guardian's online list of the world's best bookshops. Note - not just Derbyshire's, or England's, or even the U.K's but the whole world's! 

Researching is thirsty work, you know. So I bought a new tea mug too. Like it?

Monday, 12 August 2013

August news

I was going to let Harvey tell you about his Great Escape this time, but I've elbowed him out of the way so I can share a few bits of writing news.

The most surprising thing of all was winning the monthly poetry contest in Writers' Forum magazine. My entry is printed in the current issue, number 142. Although I don't write much poetry I am enjoying it more and more, especially after my welcome win!

Since my interest in poetry seemed to be growing this year, I began looking for a small press poetry magazine to submit to. I came across The Dawntreader, published by Indigo Dreams and decided to subscribe. It's a quarterly magazine, focusing on poetry that relates to nature, spirituality, myth and legend. Right up my street! And so I also feel honoured that one of my poems is in the current issue of Dawntreader (issue 23)

Thirdly (because you know things always come in three) I was very happy to be shortlisted once again for the Flash 500 flash fiction competition - that's the one for the second quarter of 2013, in case you're looking for the results on the website.

Although I shall probably continue with flash fiction and poetry, I don't see myself writing as many mid-length stories in the next few months. I've been looking through the folder of research that I started with a view to writing a historical novel. I really want to spend some time on that now, and don't think I can cope with more than one narrative at a time.

I've been trying to post a gratuitous picture of Harvey, for anyone who's missing him, but I am having so many problems with Blogger today that I need to go into an empty room and scream!

Saturday, 20 July 2013


It was hot, it was crowded, it was noisy and I loved it! So full of life. See all those little dots on the beach? Each one was a person with a story to tell, and I found that idea kind of exhilarating. It's like when you visit a big city, and for the first half hour it's slightly overwhelming, and then you start to enjoy the buzz. And for me, being by the sea is always wonderful.
Someone, somewhere on the pier, received a very special message. This next picture is a banner being towed behind a plane, which circled round and round above our heads.

If you squint closely you can see it says 'Temilade I love U will U marry me'. I never found out who Temilade was, or whether it was a 'yes'. If you know, please tell me!

Meanwhile, men were fishing...

boats were boating....
and even in the bustle there were quiet and tranquil spots.
When I got home I took about twenty-five photos with the self-timer to get a new profile picture I was happy with. (top right.) Note how I co-ordinated my T shirt with the colours of my blog background. (Well, OK, it was a happy accident really. I'm not that organised!)

It's cooler here today. When I went to the supermarket yesterday, the freezers had been cleaned out of ice cream! Next week, thunderstorms, apparently. And maybe a royal baby! Would you like to suggest a name?

I think we'll have Harvey on the blog next time. He hasn't done a post for a while and he's beginning to feel left out.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Roz Goddard and the coming of summer!

Guest speaker at our local writers' group this week was Roz Goddard. Roz is a former poet laureate for Birmingham, with several volumes of  poetry published. She also writes short fiction. We all enjoyed hearing Roz read some of her own poems, including the powerful and haunting Spaceman. This poem was runner up in Mslexia's poetry competition last year. You can find it, and other work, on Roz's website here.

Roz spoke about her sources of inspiration, such as the visual arts, and how we don't always have to try and write about the big things in life, but just look at small things in new ways. One thing Roz said, which I certainly need to hear every so often, was that we have to decide what is the actual story within the idea that's bubbling away - and whose story it is too.

This may seem obvious, but sometimes when writing longer stories I feel myself throwing more and more elements into the mix, just because I like them. It can take hours of rewriting before I see that these random details add nothing, and out they must go! Maybe this is why I enjoy flash fiction - it gives me no room for meandering down scenic by-roads and forces me into the heart of the story from the outset.

By co-incidence, today I came across an excellent post on editing at Denise Covey's blog from the other side of the world. Here again I found the questions 'what is my story about?' and 'whose story is it?' This is clearly my message from the universe this week. Focus, Jo, focus.

One editing trick I've been trying lately is recording my shorter stories onto my MP3 player. If I find my gaze wandering out of the window during playback, then it's quite likely a reader would lose interest too. I just note down those points where my attention flags, and see how I can give them more oomph. Then of course I delete everything, because it's too horrible hearing a recording of your own voice.

Tomorrow I break up from work for a whole fortnight. Yippee! This time last year I was in Paris. ("We'll always have Paris.") I am taking a little trip next week. Not Paris, but I'm sure it'll be fun in different ways. No, I'm not telling you where yet. You'll have to come back and see my holiday snaps!

Apparently we're going to have a heatwave in July. Are you planning a month of sunbathing and travelling, or will you be a busy bee like the one below? Do drop by and tell me what you're up to this summer.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Feet and flowers

My chiropodist told me that I have the feet of a child and I was not made for work. Bless her! Didn't I always know that was the truth?

So to keep my increasing weight off my tender tootsies I'm giving the gardening a miss for a couple of days. I did go a bit OTT after visiting Gardeners' World Live at the NEC last week. There I saw the glamorous Mary Berry from the baking programme, Carol Klein from Gardeners' World and wildlife film maker Simon King.

But the real star of the show for me was the garden created by Birmingham City Council, called Enlightenment. It celebrates a brand new library opening in Birmingham this September. The garden was divided into four sections, each on a different book related theme. The first represents the library itself. The shape of the building, and its design of interlocking circles can be seen in the garden.
The next three sections were based around the works of Birmingham authors. The first was Benjamin Zephaniah, specifically his poem Nature Trail.
After that came a tribute to Tolkien. Lots of Lord of the Rings fans were posing for photos in front of this one!
The fourth section reflected the work of Annie Murray, the air raid shelter in the garden representing her novel Birmingham Blitz.
As you can see in the pictures, the edges of the gardens were all lined with books. Totally impractical, but very attractive I thought.

With the distractions of gardening, the French Open, and Wimbledon starting next week, I apologise again for not being around much in Blogland. Hope the sun is shining on you, wherever you are.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Stories, stories, stories...

Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. I can't believe we are already well into May, and still with daffodils in flower here. (This is not my garden, sadly, but photos from Darley Park in Derby, my old hometown, where I went for a visit last week.) 
I spent much of April working on a story that's been floating around in various versions for over a year. Sometimes I thought that one would sink without trace (possibly in the River Derwent), as it was quite an emotional and challenging story to write. Finally I have something I'm happy with, after a long and often draining process of writing. Now it's in the drawer for a week or two, so I can do the last polishing with fresher eyes. In the meantime I have several newer stories at first draft stage that need further work.
Once again I had the luck to see something unusual, practically on my doorstep, and within what seemed like seconds a whole story had formed itself around the incident. At the time I rushed to write the beginning and the end, so now I've been able to fill in the middle. In a different story, I decided to remove a cat and add a husband. (Some of you may prefer to do things the other way round!)

I'm not doing many competitions this year, although I again reached the longlist for the recent Flash 500. I have yet to be placed anywhere in this one, but I continue to enter with optimism. 500 words is a nice length to write, and I always enjoy it.

If any readers of this blog supported the Ifakara Bakery competition, you may be interested to know that the organiser, Sharon Bradshaw, now has her own blog here with details of the winners and forthcoming anthology.

And lastly, a quick mention for Rosemary Kind of Alfie Dog Fiction, who has a lovely piece on Womagwriter's blog today. It's all about the Alfie Dog website, and very informative for anyone who wishes to submit or download stories.

With the sun shining outside, and the blossom trees all pink and pretty, I am today working on a Christmas story. Right - back to the land of snow and tinsel!

Sunday, 7 April 2013


Buds are budding, birds are building, and the cry of the scrap metal dealer is heard once again in the land. Isn't spring lovely?

While I was walking home from the shops this week, a plain white van pulled up beside me. Lost, I thought. But no. The driver said he had a memory foam mattress in the back. Ooo-er! Well, I'm not that kind of gal. He swiftly clarified things by telling me his company had over-ordered. Did I want to buy the mattress to save him taking it back to the warehouse? I declined. When I mentioned this at work, one of the ladies said she'd been in the hairdresser's and a man came in trying to sell a load of duvets. His company, too, had 'over-ordered'. Pardon me for being suspicious, but there's an awful lot of bedding been over-ordered around here lately.

Just before Easter I went with a couple of friends from the writers' group to a talk by author Gaynor Arnold. I really enjoyed Gaynor's first book, 'Girl in a Blue Dress', which was based around the life of Charles Dickens' wife. Gaynor's second novel has just been published, 'After Such Kindness'. Gaynor read two extracts from the book, which focuses on the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell - the real Alice in Wonderland. 'After Such Kindness' is a fictional account of this unconventional friendship, which I think allowed Gaynor to explore the issues in a way she couldn't have done in a biography.

With so many abuse scandals in recent years, we're all on high alert for behaviour that might be defined as 'grooming'. In this context, it's hard not to feel dubious about the exact nature of the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice. But was it all genuinely innocent? I have borrowed the book from the library, and look forward to reading it for myself.

Next week sees a Big Birthday for me. Let's have a chocolate!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Creative Saturdays with Herbert

I'm a little sad this week. I've been taking a course at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. Called 'Creating the Creative Writer', it ran for four Saturdays and was led by writing tutors Cathy Whittaker and Connie Ramsay Bott. I got so much out of this stimulating and challenging course, which was taught in a very friendly and supportive group. Last Saturday was the final session. I'm really going to miss those creative days. So, this weekend I am just reflecting on what I learned, and how I can use it to carry my writing forwards.

Why do I write? This was one question I had to answer during the course. Strangely, for someone who writes almost every day, I often struggle to identify the reasons. Writing has become such a big part of my life now that I just tend to carry on, regardless of rejections, hard years, illness or despair! Having to write about why I write pushed me to the conclusion that I do it for two main reasons.

1. To escape the world.

2. To observe the world more closely.

That may sound like a contradiction, but it makes sense to me. Writing lets you hold things up and examine them; explore situations and see what you think or feel about them. Add in the power of the imagination and, well, you really can go anywhere.

Each of the four Saturdays had a different focus, beginning with memoir, moving through fiction, poetry, and developing our writing via constructive feedback. We did lots of writing exercises, many using the Herbert's collections as inspiration. For example, we would be asked to find a character in a painting to write about, or a picture that sparked a memory from our earlier lives.

We also used the Herbert's temporary exhibition 'Caught in the Crossfire' to prompt ideas about conflict - a necessary element in fiction. Conflict is something I find hard to judge, especially if I am trying to write a gentler magazine story. Too much conflict - or too little? I don't think there is an easy solution to this, except more practice!

As if the Herbert didn't have enough thought provoking material in its exhibition, evidence of past conflict is very evident outside too. The remains of Coventry's ancient cathedral are right next door.
One thing I noticed during the course was how my motivation soared. I was tired, recovering from a persistent cold, and at work more days than I wanted to be. Yet I could not stop writing. One day, on the train home from Coventry, I wrote a poem about the passengers. During my lunchbreak at work, I wrote another about the view from the window. Writing seems to fuel itself, and the more I do it, the more I want to do it. Some days I think I don't have enough time, but the time is there really, if I just make myself start. That is the difficult bit.

There will be a further course of four Saturdays, 'Creating the Story Writer', at the Herbert in the summer, again led by Cathy and Connie. For details see the Herbert's website here. I would definitely recommend it if you are within reach of Coventry city centre.

For more about Cathy Whittaker and Connie Ramsay Bott, their website is here.

In case you're wondering about Herbert, go here....

And this is Ecce Homo by Jacob Epstein, in the cathedral ruins, just because I like it.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Reality? Me?

Thank you to Hayley N. Jones for passing on her 'Reality' blog award to me. I don't always have time to do these, but this one is short and sweet.

First I have to answer the following four questions.

1. If you could change one thing, what would it be?

I would like to see greater respect for all living things. People, animals and our beautiful planet.

2. If you could repeat an age, what would it be?

There is no era in my life that I would choose to repeat. I have achieved more in my forties than in any previous decade. Now I am about to turn fifty, I just think I am incredibly lucky to be here, after some of the stupid things I did when I was young.

3. What one thing really scares you?

Being seriously ill and losing control of my life.

4. If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?

This was such a hard question! What an opportunity - being someone else for a day. The best answer I can give right now is that I would try being novelist Anne Tyler, in the hope that some of her brilliance would rub off!

Now I have to pass on the award to other deserving bloggers, if they wish to participate. I'm nominating:

Kate Jackson

Susan Jane Jones


Old kitty

Monday, 11 March 2013

Books and being busy

Firstly a big thank you to blog friend Becky Povich. Becky kindly mailed me a copy of Not Your Mother's Book... On Dogs, after I won a giveaway contest on her blog. I have really enjoyed dipping into this book of dog stories. It was especially exciting to read Becky's own story and see the photo of her dog Rocky.
Other books I've enjoyed lately include The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It's a retelling of an old Russian folk tale, which the author has set in Alaska. I loved the descriptions of the setting, and found the first half of the book quite magical. Sadly the magic seemed to wear off a little in the second half. I would be interested to hear the opinions of anyone else who has read this book.

I've also just finished Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. For only a pound, I bought a nice hardback edition of this from the charity shop. The plot is fairly thin, but the characters are as excellent as the title. I can see this becoming one of the comfort books that I return to every so often, along with the Miss Read novels and the earlier books of Maeve Binchy.

Life is busy, and I have neglected blogland again recently. I am doing a short writing course, on top of my regular writers' group. More on that next time. It's clearly beneficial, because I am feeling very upbeat and motivated about the writing, which isn't always the case.

I don't know whether it was down to the fact that we did 'stream of consciousness' in the writers' group this morning, but I came home and wrote the entire first draft of a new story. I am normally more of a plodder, and it's just wonderful to have that sudden burst of writing energy. At those times a story almost seems to write itself, with my pen struggling to keep up. Tomorrow I am at the day job, but I can't wait to be off again on Wednesday, when I can type up that story and begin editing.

I also have another story on Alfie Dog, by the way. It's called Spooky Strolls, and it was previously published in Writing Magazine, 2007, when it won the summer ghost story competition.

That's it from me for today. Hope all my blog readers are well and enjoying the signs of spring.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Now appearing at Alfie Dog Fiction

Have you seen Alfie Dog Fiction? There are hundreds of stories to download, in all  kinds of genres. Contributing authors receive royalties based on the number of downloads. The process of submitting work is very straightforward, and is all explained on the website.

I am happy to say I have recently had two stories accepted by Alfie Dog. The first is now available, called 'The Mischief Game', and the second is scheduled for publication on February 20th.

With small press markets shrinking, and fiction slots in established magazines becoming ever more competitive, it's great to find new opportunities for publication. Great work, Alfie Dog!

Monday, 21 January 2013


There are some things snow is good for. Dogs digging...
Changing everyday places into spooky, shadowy spots that you're a little unsure about venturing into...
And making you really appreciate the dashes of colour you stumble across in the white, white, landscape.

But I'm slightly bored with it all now, and would be quite happy for life to return to normal. However... Big excitement! I've just seen the postman walk up the street. Maybe he'll bring me something nice. Like snowshoes.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Harvey's Christmas crisis

Harvey here to wish you all a yappy New Year!

Mr and Mrs Boss sneezed and sniffed their way through Christmas, as if there was no end to the supply of tissues. To round things off the three of us made an emergency visit to the vet's last weekend, after I had an altercation with a piece of wood in the park.

A nice tasty piece of wood it was too. I was just getting my teeth into it for a really good chew, when, quite unprovoked, a lump of it wedged itself across the roof of my mouth. Jammed fast between my molars, it was. Pesky thing.

Mr and Mrs Boss couldn't fix it, so off we went in the car. The vet had a peer between my jaws, stuck a needle in me, and my eyes grew heavier and heavier. When I woke up, the wood was gone. I was all staggery on my legs, like Mrs Boss when she's drunk too much. And they didn't even let me keep the piece of wood as a souvenir. That was pretty strange, since Mr Boss kept saying what a very expensive piece of wood it was.

Mr Boss says my New Year's Resolution should be to stop eating wood. Mrs Boss says hers is to write more poetry. Sounds like a fun filled year, then. I can hardly wait.