Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chick lit (2)

I'm sorry if I sounded rather judgemental about chick lit as a genre yesterday. To be honest I could have written something equally dismissive about literary fiction, in fact most of the books I have ever failed to finish have been so-called literary offerings.I am not a literary snob, I just like well-written books with a good storyline and characters I can relate to. Of course such books can be found in any genre, as can trash.

Not that I am old, of course, but my own 'chick' days were during my mid 20's in the Margaret Thatcher era....I worked in the City at the time of endless champagne lunches and later in the West End,so I was also no stranger to designer stores and media types. But I tired of the shallowness of that life and, after some ill health, changed to a job which didn't involve commuting.

Most of my 30's passed in a blur. Within a few months I lost my well-paid local job as the economy took a downturn and then, at 31, had to watch our much wanted first baby fighting for life on a ventilator. There is nothing like that sort of experience to make you grow up quickly. Then although son 1 progressed well, son 2 turned out to have major problems of a different kind and life was taken over by appointments with therapists and battles with education professionals until he started school. I was unable to resume my professional career, though have continued to snatch hours to work from home and do voluntary work to give something back to people who helped me. I 'lost' almost a decade of my life when I rarely read a book or listened to music, when I was a mental and physical mess, though I am much more together now.

So no, I don't really identify with the protagonists of some of the books written for younger women. I guess nowadays I am looking for books about midlife crises and family difficulties, lost loves, loyalties and regrets.I have experienced all of these along the way as I found that I couldn't 'have it all' in the way some of the more feminist novels I read in my younger days had suggested.

But if our experiences shape our own writing then at least I have some substantial material to work with!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chick lit

I don't read chick lit. In fact when I go into a bookshop I actively avoid paperbacks with pastel-coloured covers featuring a picture of a cartoon style young woman. It is not because I have anything specifically against chick lit, I believe it to be a harmless lightweight read for women in their 20's and 30's who aspire to a certain lifestyle. Being the wrong side of 45 ( but only just, honest...) I don't see it as being for me. I prefer to get my aspirational influences from glossy magazines.

As I said, I don't read chick lit. At least, I really thought I didn't. In the name of research I decided to look further into the phenomenon, as chick lit seems to have been predominantly what publishers have wanted for the last few years. Where better to start than Trashionista? Oh look, they have just posted their top 10 chick lit books of all time. I have read, and enjoyed, numbers 10 and 1 on the list. I have even flicked through number 7, which I got free with a mag. A further delve into their site reveals reviews of books by Anita Shreve and Melissa Bank, both of whom I list amongst my favourite authors and would categorize as having much more emotional depth and literary quality than the average chick lit.

On my bookshelf I also have this book. Normally the cover would have put me straight off but it is a compilation of stories originally published in Woman & Home magazine (which is surely published for the over 40 market?) and includes some great work by writers such as Andrea Levy, Tessa Hadley, Lesley Glaister and another of my special favourites, Maggie O'Farrell. It was issued to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care, a cause close to my heart ( see here for one of the reasons why). Is this chick lit, or hen lit? Does it matter? Who cares?

I think I am confused now. I need to do more research ....this topic may run and run.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas TV

Was it just me, or was the TV even more rubbish than usual this year? We watched very little apart from programmes like CSI Miami which we would have watched anyway.

I was a little surprised to see the drama 'After Thomas' screened on Boxing Day. I have no idea whether it was good or not, as we chose not to watch it. I am all for awareness raising, and from what I have read about this drama, which was based on a true life case, it sounds as though it probably did take a realistic approach to living with autism. But for me this wasn't an entertaining festive subject and anyway it clashed with CSI Miami!

There is a current fashion in the publishing world for 'misery memoirs' about dysfunctional childhood and family life. Having a child with any sort of special needs obviously affects the whole family and recent figures from the National Autistic Society suggest that about 1 child in 110 is now diagnosed as being somewhere on the autistic spectrum. However, every child is very much an individual in the way they experience and respond to their particular challenges.

Like so many other families we live with the effects of autism every day, so we really don't need to watch it dramatised on TV at Christmas time....but if they repeat the programme I may well take a sneaky look....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's all over...

... for another year. Thank goodness. No, actually it wasn't bad this year. A nice relaxing Christmas at home, just the four of us. No tears or tantrums, no disasters, just how Christmas should be. I had intended to go to the Sales today, but I can't be bothered, I don't want to spoil my good mood fighting over things in Next.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Season's Greetings

You may have noticed some changes to my blog recently. As I write quite a few of these changes seem to have suddenly disappeared but hopefully that is just a technical glitch and the archives, links etc will return soon.

Here is a seasonal vintage song for you all and I hope you have a good holiday season, wherever you are.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Crime fiction

I've always enjoyed crime fiction. I was introduced to Agatha Christie's books at an early age and it is still a favourite genre. For entertainment value I have for many years enjoyed books by authors such as Ed McBain, Patricia Cornwell and P D James. At home we enjoy watching police, forensics and legal dramas such as CSI or Law and Order and good old Inspector Morse was a firm favourite. It is possibly the only genre that everyone roughly agrees on in our house, as I don't like sci-fi or fantasy, which hubby favours, and he hates the medical dramas that son 1 and I both enjoy. Son 2 is still into CBeebies....

In recent weeks real life has seemed almost like a crime novel or thriller. Alexander Litvinenko, former Russian spy, is fatally poisoned, here in London, by use of a radioactive substance. Out in the country, a serial killer murders 5 prostitutes in a few weeks. Gun crime, especially in cities, is dramatically on the increase and children carry knives to school for protection.

Who needs fiction?

Thursday, December 21, 2006


If you have visited here before you may recall that I recently started an Open University course on mental health K272, Challenging ideas in mental health, and son 1 is struggling with his own major issues at the moment. So I have sat down eagerly for the last two nights to watch the Channel 4 documentary 'House of Agoraphobics' and found it fascinating. It was so reassuring to see that what my son is experiencing is 'normal' for the condition and that the intervention he is receiving is a wholly appropriate one, even though that doesn't make any of it any easier to deal with for him or us. Caring for someone with mental health problems is so hard, you seem to spend your life walking on eggshells.

Back to the dodgy 1970's videos on YouTube and keeping to the theme of the day, this song by Supertramp is written for someone with mental health problems and is the only one by that band that I still listen to. It is a song which for many years I have loved to play when I am feeling low (though I do prefer the recorded version to this live one) but it is only since I became more aware of the isolating impact of mental health problems in family members and friends that I have fully appreciated the meaning of the lyrics. I wish I could get son 1 to listen to it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I spent some time yesterday evening exploring YouTube. I had been there before but was amazed to find how many old videos of favourite songs seemed to have been posted since my last visit.

This one, for example. Yes, I know it is not a cool song, but it has a lot of history for me. I first purchased Billy Joel's album 'The Stranger' when I was at school, probably about the same time that this clip was filmed! This song was allegedly written for the birthday of his then wife and for me it has so many memories attached. It reminds me of university, my first big love and my 21st birthday, through to seeing Billy Joel in concert at Wembley with hubby in the carefree days 'before kids'. I still like the song, even though it has been done to death by other singers, and I don't think the simplicity of this original version has ever been beaten. It is something I always return to when I want to wallow in nostalgia.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas is coming

I have spent the last two days writing and sending my Christmas cards. Yes, I know I have left it very late and of course I have had to send them first class as a result, but to be honest it is a job I don't enjoy.

I think that for many parents of children with special needs Christmas is a difficult time. It is not just trying to find suitable presents for your child, but also the arrival of the round robin letters in cards from friends, which can bring home how different your child really is. Other peoples children are playing in school teams, learning musical instruments, winning awards for martial arts, drama or some other expensive leisure activity. Son 1 is currently confined to the house by agoraphobia, whilst son 2 has autism and will never take any exams and quite possibly never speak. We don't write round robin letters because it is almost impossible to explain how this impacts on our lives without sounding self-pitying. Life isn't all bad, but it is very different and it takes a special friend to understand that.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Music I have loved

A few months ago I read an article which stated that one of the signs of middle age was revisiting the music of your youth. I smiled wryly as I realised that I have been doing exactly that this year.

It all started when I got an Mp3 player in January. That made me go back to our CD collection so that I could rip favourite tracks onto my computer ready to put onto my shiny new gadget. (No, its not an iPod, I'm not that trendy, but a tiny little Creative player which fits easily into a pocket or handbag and is great for tube or bus journeys.) But I discovered that some fantastic oldies had never even been purchased on CD and so I hunted down some old albums via eBay and Amazon, purchased compilations and greatest hits collections, downloaded tracks and now have many of the songs I have loved over the years ready on my computer to listen to while working.

I think from time to time, when I have nothing better to say, I will dip into my music library and explain why a track means so much to me. Watch this space.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reality TV

Although I am usually not a great fan of reality TV there are a few series I look forward to each year. These tend to be the ones which require the contestants to display and develop some sort of skill, rather than the ones that just act as a showcase for publicity hungry nobodies, such as Big Brother. I find it fascinating to watch talent emerging and I think I am probably the eternal student type of person, always wanting to try/learn new things and improve myself.

Leona Lewis has won the X-factor. The right choice I think, though Ray Quinn will also have a bright future, probably on the stage or TV presenting, and I hope that Ben will get a recording contract. One thing that has really struck me this year is how most of the last 12 contestants have been very dignified and generous in defeat. I hope that the talents discovered will not be wasted by bad management decisions in order to make a quick buck from them, but the record for reality talent show winners so far has not been good (Will Young excepted).

Friday, December 15, 2006

On further reflection...

I am not quite so happy with my course result. It is not so much the overall result, which was what I realistically expected, but the fact that my final 'project' scored second lowest of all my assignments. In fact it was by far the lowest mark I have had for prose. I revisited my work today and really could not understand why.

I know what my own tutor's reaction to my work usually was and I followed her suggestions for improvement. I kept to the word counts and my layout and punctuation is normally good. I can only assume that perhaps the second marker did not like either my style or subject matter. I write in a rather spare style of prose which is the opposite of the overwritten poetic style found in some literary novels. I am not a poet so imagery is not one of my strengths. I like to write about subjects with which I am familiar which means that disability often plays a role in my stories. My life writing piece was about a journey behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War (showing my age here), perhaps younger readers would not be familiar with the historical context.

Oh well, I shall never know what I could have done better.....

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Results are in....

Officially the results were due 'by' tomorrow, but there had been a rumour flying around that they would come out at midday today. I spent the morning compulsively checking my student homepage on the Open University website and at 11.40, just when I was about to turn off the laptop and run up to the shops, there it was! I'm glad I spotted it early as the website has been struggling under the strain of students logging in for results ever since!

I'm happy. It was the result I had expected. I have been having to cope with difficult life circumstances and high stress levels throughout the course so simply to finish it was an achievement and a good mark a bonus, even if I secretly aspired to the highest grade! What I have gained from the course in terms of knowledge, confidence in my own writing, courage to submit work and just getting to know some amazing people can't be measured in an academic grade. It was a course which seemed almost too enjoyable at times and I can't wait for a follow -on level three syllabus!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I had two possible titles in mind for my future novel, so I decided to have a look on Amazon to see if they were already in use. I believe there is no copyright on titles but all the same it would be nice to choose something unique and hopefully memorable. My second choice has been used for a recently published novel in a different genre, so I think that is out. My preferred choice has been used but is currently only on a small press book of poetry, so that is still a possibility. Encouraging.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Course result jitters

The result of my A215 Creative Writing course is due by the end of this week and I am starting to get a little anxious. I don't know why, because I did well on all the assignments, but I suppose I am something of a perfectionist and want to get the highest possible marks! It's not as if this even matters that much. I am not really doing Open University courses with the aim of getting a degree, I already have a degree. I am doing courses in a random fashion for my own interest and personal development. If I happen to pick up certificates, diplomas or even another degree along the way then that is great, but it is not the primary objective.

However, I do have one thought in the back of my mind and that is the desire to do an MA in Creative Writing one day. My rather old first degree is respectable but not exceptional and on its own might not be enough to get me onto an MA course. I think a portfolio of competent writing is probably just as important, but I don't have that yet either. So a really good mark on this course could be helpful and would also show that I can still study at university level in the area of the Arts.

Hence the jitters. I'll let you know at the end of the week....

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Yesterday I started my novel! Its very early days yet, I have the title, story outline and the narrative form in mind but haven't decided exactly how to structure the timeline. Still, I decided I could not procrastinate forever, so have committed the first 500 words to paper and will think about it further and add to it as and when I can.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blogs and book reviews

There seems to have been a controversy raging about bloggers who write book reviews in their blogs and how this could threaten the established world of reviewing in the mainstream press. It was stirred by these articles written by John Sutherland and Rachel Cooke and entries on Susan Hill's blog.

Perhaps one of the most balanced pieces about how ridiculous this all is has been written on Normblog. Do people really think that we are so naive that we don't realise that reviews and promotions are manipulated by the media and the publishers? It is no different to Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh shamelessly promoting their other artistes, who just happen to have new albums out, as special guests on The X-Factor.

I don't buy books solely on the basis of a press review or even the reviews of bloggers or Amazon buyers. I buy because I already know and enjoy the author, perhaps because the synopsis or even just the cover appeals. I buy many of my books in charity shops, so I can take risks with authors I don't know without wasting too much money and if I don't like it I just recycle it straight back to another charity shop. If I was more mercenary and organised I could sell them on. When I am uncertain about a book or author I try to find the book in a local shop and look at it before buying it new. So although I do read book reviews in the quality press they really don't influence me much at all, although I do sometimes laugh at the pomposity of the reviewers.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The X Factor

Watching the reality TV show I have been wondering what gives an artist or even a piece of writing the X factor?

Eton Road went home on Saturday so as far as the music show goes they are down to the last four. Leona is a beautiful girl and great singer, but very shy so her personality hasn't really shown through. I do also wonder if her style, which is very Mariah Carey/Celine Dion, is just a little bit dated now, but that is perhaps down to the song choices made for her. Ray is a real showman and will probably do well in the West End. His looks probably appeal to the little girl and granny voters but as I am neither of these I'm afraid he does nothing for me. The MacDonald brothers are pleasant enough, can sing in tune and certainly don't deserve the hammering they have received from Simon Cowell each week, but although they will probably do very well in Scotland, I can't see them as international stars. Which leaves Ben. For me he is the closest to having the whole package in terms of ability, looks and personality. Admittedly Leona is probably a technically better singer but somehow Ben seems to have more passion.

So is passion the key to finding the X factor? We are often advised to write about things we know and care deeply about and certainly for me that advice has produced my most successful work so far. The novel I have planned in my head would follow the same sort of themes so maybe it would actually work?

Sunday, November 26, 2006


It seems that to get a novel published by a big publishing house you need an agent, but getting an agent is almost impossible nowadays. So where does a first-timer start...look at the small independent press or go all out to catch the eye of an agent? More and more literary agents and publishing professionals are setting up blogs with advice for the would-be-novelist. Try looking at Miss Snark or The Rejecter...both on the other side of the pond but I'm sure much of the information would apply here too.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Story critique

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to have it read and critiqued, so I decided to send the story rejected by 'Woman's Weekly' to a professional critique and editing service. It costs money to do this, of course, and I certainly would not do it with every piece of work, but this time I wanted to get a view from a professional as to whether it was suitable for the weekly magazine market and how it could be improved.

I was pleased with the results. The reviewer noticed several small punctuation errors and made a few suggestions for minor changes but overall thought it could be published in the market I was aiming it at. So, onwards and upwards, next week I will edit again and get ready to send it out to another magazine!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Winter blues

I admit it isn't really winter yet but it is cold, dark, wet and miserable. I keep procrastinating about work and would like nothing better than to spend a few days just wrapped in a duvet in front of the TV with a good book (shades of Martine McCutcheon in a recent TV ad for fabric softener). Last week my doctor asked me if I was a summer or winter person. It's not a question that I had ever seriously considered before, because I don't really feel comfortable in any extreme of weather, hot or cold, but as soon as she said it I realised that my mood had definitely dropped when the weather changed so suddenly this autumn and the days became shorter. So perhaps I actually do suffer from SAD?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A challenge

A friend was recently raving about 'A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth, so when I spotted it in a charity shop on Saturday I had to buy it. However, having considered the size of the book, I have decided to just put it on the shelf and view it as a future challenge for now...

I still have limited computer time so haven't written anything new recently, but I do have a few ideas buzzing around in my head and odd notes written down, which I hope to be able to piece together into something more substantial in the new year.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

First rejection

The long awaited rejection letter from Woman's Weekly finally arrived this morning. I'm not at all disappointed as I had expected that to be the outcome. Woman's Weekly is highly competitive, they receive huge numbers of stories every week and only accept a very few. They seem to have quite a few regular writers and also stories by published novelists which are presumably commissioned anyway, so the chance of getting a story accepted by them will always be tiny. In any case I am not really sure that is the market I would want to aim for in the longer term, but I may well give it another go sometime.

I feel like a proper writer now and I will file every rejection letter for posterity!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Harley Street

Off to Harley Street to see the dental specialist today. After a couple of x-rays and a quick opinion (total cost over £100) I was left to consider the next step. It will probably be (a little) cheaper if my local dentist does the required work but I don't yet know if he will be able to.Either way it will cost an arm and a leg!

Didn't have to rush straight home so walked over to Marylebone High Street and found a specialist Oxfam shop full of books and music. I bought four books, including an unopened copy of Tessellate - the UEA Creative Writing Anthology 2006 which was only published last month and cost me less than half the cover price. As I hope to do a creative writing MA one day it is interesting to see what graduates of these courses write, I have previously also found an anthology by MA students at Royal Holloway in a charity shop near home.

Then onwards to Oxford Street, stopping for a caffeine boost in Starbucks on the way. Debenhams had one of its spectacular sales on so was crowded, but I bought a couple of things then had a snack in John Lewis before heading for home.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Busy week ahead

Important school meeting today. Doctor tomorrow, Harley Street dentist on Wednesday, lots of things to do at home, old friends to catch up with. Might even try to do some OU work and write something....

The X Factor continues. Up to last week I was definitely backing Ben. I still like him but Leona is getting better and better, she was fab on Saturday. So was Robert and Eton Road have a quirky charm so now I am totally confused!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


The writing is not going well. I have an idea for a novel and an idea for another poem but I can't seem to get started on them. It doesn't help that I only have access to my computer first thing in the morning when son 1 is asleep. His computer has gone off to hopefully be fixed by a friend, but it is not likely to be back for at least another week. Son 2 was off school for just one day in the week and his ear infection is clearing up well with antibiotics, but that was another lost day.It's good that I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo as I would be so far behind by now.

I also find it hard to get started on a new piece when I am waiting to hear about other things, in this case my writing course result and a response to my first submission. This is something I will need to get over but in the meantime I am trying a few writing prompts and trying to get a few words written most days, however trivial and disconnected.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Son 1 is constantly borrowing my laptop while his computer is out of action, so my work time is limited. Son 2 is off school with an ear infection. Luckily we caught it early and he has been given antibiotics. Hopefully he will be able to go back to school tomorrow, as it doesn't appear to be bothering him too much today. All my plans for the day have had to be shelved yet again. Never mind, it's a good excuse not to do the ironing or the cleaning....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More damage

So today we discovered that whilst climbing through the garage searching for Argos catalogues (don't ask!) Son 2 had tripped over Son 1's expensive bike and ripped out the brake cable....

Nothing is safe here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Computer woes

I am almost ashamed to admit that thanks to wireless broadband we have three computers in the house. Son 2 has a cheap desktop in the dining room which is perfect for accessing CBeebies. I have a super-duper state of the art laptop ( well it was state of the art 15 months ago...) which I can use in the lounge and Son 1 has inherited the old family computer in the study upstairs. It died on him last night. This is rather unfortunate because due to current ill health it is his main means of communication with the world. So what to do? A friend who understands computers has offered to have a look at it but I think he will probably need a new one. Just what we needed at this time of year....and it has to be up to playing the latest 3D games and running multiple conversations all at once, so not cheap. Ho hum.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


This weekend's main distractions:

1. Watching The X Factor. At the moment I am backing Ben to win and I do like to see Simon Cowell sulking....

2. Sudoku. I've not got heavily into this before, but now someone has led me to this online site, so it will no doubt prove to be a wonderful displacement activity when I am supposed to be working.

3. Shopping. The fun kind, not Tesco. Including a stop for an Americano and a slice of lemon cheesecake....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Short stories

Today's charity shop bargain was a copy of 'The Best American Short Stories 2005' for 99p. This was from the same shop where I recently found a copy of 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' for 10p....I think someone must have taken the title at face value! The book mountain in our dining room continues to grow....

Friday, November 03, 2006

A funny blog

Go and take a look at Non-Working Monkey.... it's very funny.

I haven't done any reading or writing today ( apart from a few emails) but I did have yet another visit to Tesco.The kids eat us out of house and home (something to do with teenage hormones I think) so I have to stock up on a Friday for the weekend. We have already run out of the mini choc bars left over from Halloween, when for once the only trick or treater who knocked was our tiny next door neighbour.Perhaps people are waking up to the fact that Halloween is little more than an excuse to rip off gullible parents.Those costumes and accessories don't come cheap!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New course

Have had a headache today but managed to make a start on my new OU course K272 Challenging ideas in Mental Health.I have a feeling that this course is going to challenge me too! I am doing it mainly to educate myself more about the mental health issues which have affected various members of our family both now and in the past. It will certainly be different to doing the writing but hopefully will be interesting and provide me with potential material to write about later as well as to use in real life.

About 6 years ago I took another OU course in health and social care, K100, and some units of this are now available for free at Open Learn for anyone interested in an introduction to the subject area. I really enjoyed that course and it gave me a lot to think about in respect of my autistic child and his future care needs.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Today's reading

This morning I started 'The Wonder Spot' by Melissa Bank. I read her first book, 'A Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing' years ago and re-read it a few months ago. Her style is unusual and appeals to me. Although the books are marketed as novels they are really a series of linked stories which show the development of the main character over a number of years. The writing is as precise as that of traditional short story writers and Melissa Bank has an eye for quirky characters and a witty style which I envy.I'm looking forward to continuing the book.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The reality is...

I enjoy reading Confessions of an Author because I think it gives some insight into the struggle of a writer's life, even for someone who has some publishing success in the past. Try reading her Confession 265 for a reality check!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fun quiz

I'm feeling too tired to think of anything even remotely interesting today, so why not have a go at this quiz on 'What type of writer should you be?'. I came out as science fiction, which is very funny because I never ever read science fiction and wouldn't be the slightest bit interested in writing it....

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Creative genes

I have been wondering whether there is such a thing as a creative gene. After Kiran Desai recently won the Man Booker prize, it has been widely reported that her mother is Anita Desai who had been shortlisted for the same prize in the past. There are of course other authors who have writers as parents, Martin Amis being just one example, and children of musicians or artists who have inherited that gift.

Nobody in my family writes, but my mother used to paint well and my father is very musical. Both my sister and I are lacking these talents but we have dabbled in many creative crafts over the years. Maybe there is some sort of creativity gene which sometimes comes out differently from generation to generation?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Poetry prompts

Yesterday I was looking at a few websites which offer prompts for writers. I came across the Instant Muse Poetry Generator and pressed 'create'. It came up with the opening line 'In the eyrie of certainty the levers unfold'. I think I will give that prompt a miss!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Write a book in a month?

I first heard of NaNoWriMo a few years ago from a friend. It is an intriguing idea and one that I would love to have a go at one day. However it couldn't be held in a worse month for me. I always find that most of my spare time time in November is taken up with the planning of the festive season, not to mention shopping for three family birthdays falling before the end of the year, and of course all the other things that I normally do still have to be done. I am also starting my next OU course next week.

Quite a few people from the OU writing course have signed up this year, but I know I wouldn't have time to do it justice. Perhaps I will have to do my own private version in a quieter month one day. It would certainly be a good way of testing whether there is a novel in me somewhere!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Links I find interesting

I am continuing to add new links at the side of this page. It is a slightly eclectic mix but the majority of them are about books or writing. Of course one webpage can easily lead you to more (which is how I found many of these), so please do take time to explore them if you can. For even more 'lovely links' try Kate Harrison's blog.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My favourite blog

At the moment my favourite blog is 'petite anglaise', the blog of a thirtysomething Englishwoman living in Paris. I was unaware of this blog until the author hit the headlines earlier this year for being fired, on account of her blogging activity, by the stuffy accountancy firm at which she was a secretary. As a former accountant myself I found this amusing, especially as I think I may have once had an interview at the main London office of the same firm.

But I digress. This girl can really write. She has been called the Bridget Jones of Paris, but her anecdotes are far more absorbing than those of Helen Fielding's comic creation. I am going back to the blog on a regular basis to read the archives and the comments. She has recently been offered a book deal with Penguin and if she can maintain the same quality of writing for a whole book then it is well deserved.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Local drama

I was just about to take son 2 to playscheme this morning when I noticed a police car half blocking our drive, an ambulance opposite and neighbours, police and ambulance crew standing outside the front door of a frail, elderly lady across the road. Hubby was off work today so went to investigate. It appears she had fallen, possibly yesterday evening, and was lying at the foot of the stairs unable to move. Unfortunately she had not left a spare door key with anyone, so nobody could gain access to the house. Just as we left for playscheme a policeman was smashing in one of her front windows. By the time I returned she had been taken to hospital and the smashed window was being patched up with what looks like corrugated iron.

It made me think about the lack of community here in London. We have lived in our house for 18 years, yet I don't think we have ever spoken to this neighbour. We do leave a spare house key with friends in the next road, but not with immediate neighbours as we don't feel we know them well enough. We live in an ever changing multicultural community where people get along on a superficial level yet at the same time keep themselves to themselves. But at least someone noticed the lights on all night at this old lady's house and summoned help. I wonder if she will ever move back there?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reading material

What sort of books do you like to read? I have come to the conclusion that I prefer books which are both well written and easy to read. I have never been particularly keen on the classics ( apart from Jane Austen) but at the same time I like to read something a little more challenging than chicklit. Writers such as Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Anita Shreve and Maggie O'Farrell seem to suit my current needs well. I have nothing against literary fiction, but it has to be a good read too. Some of the more literary authors put me off by their attempts to be too cleverly intellectual with form or theme. That is fine if you are studying literature, but doesn't necessarily make a comfortable read for those of us who read to relax.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thank you

I have been writing this blog for just over two weeks and already have just over 100 hits, so I thought I should thank you all for taking the time to read. Special thanks to those who make return visits, can I stop paying you now?? I suspect that many of my visitors are fellow students of the Open University, so hello everyone, especially A215 survivors.

So far I have tried to post something, however trivial, everyday. I can't guarantee to keep that up all the time but I will update regularly so please keep dropping by and if you have any comments or suggestions I would love to hear them.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

How to write a bestseller?

Feeling a bit lazy tonight, so thanks to a fellow OU student for this link to an article on CNN about how to become the next Dan Brown....

Friday, October 20, 2006


I like shopping, but I think there must be something wrong with my life when the highlight of my day was the weekly trip to Tesco.

In case you are wondering the toothache is a little better and the Harley Street practice phoned today so an appointment has been made for a consultation in mid November. In the meantime I continue with the antibiotics and ibuprofen and can't have any alcohol!

Thursday, October 19, 2006


As a parent I do sometimes get tired of family and friends sending me copies of newspaper cuttings about autism and the latest 'cure', which is inevitably evidenced by a miraculous success story. I know they mean well but I have usually already come across this exciting 'news scoop' elsewhere weeks before the article appears and anyway I know by now that there isn't a cure. There are lots of different approaches to autism, many of them will work for some people but not others, but none is going to actually take the autism away and it is unfair of journalists to suggest otherwise.

Its nice sometimes to read work by writers who can combine personal experience of special needs with the ability to write in a moving manner which doesn't oversensationalise the subject matter....Nick Hornby, India Knight and Charlotte Moore being recent examples. There is certainly a huge role for the use of writing not just to disseminate information but also as a healing tool for the writer or story-teller, however there needs be some caution used as to how the material is presented to the public. By all means 'tell it how it is' but with a realisation that everyone's experiences will be unique.

This is a subject I'm very interested in, it's one which has already impacted upon my own writing and will continue to do so I'm sure.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The dentist

Went to the dentist this morning and am now on strong antibiotics which are knocking me out. My dental history is unusual, due to a rare genetic condition which I won't bore you with. Earlier this year I had some root canal treatment but there have been complications, which I always knew was a risk. To sort it out is going to need an expert with specialist equipment and to make sure it gets done sometime this century I will go privately, so Harley Street, here I come. Better warn the kids that Christmas might have to be cancelled...

Last night I downloaded a demo of some writers software from Writers Cafe so am having a little play with it. I'm not sure whether this type of program is worth paying out for or not, but its good to be able to try before you buy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One day in history...

Do you fancy writing a blog entry but don't want to have to update your own blog regularly? Why not investigate the One Day in History campaign where they are trying to accumulate as many diary blog entries as possible for today, to be kept for posterity at the British Library as a snapshot of national life on October 17th 2006.

My own entry will read something like 'I had toothache...'

Monday, October 16, 2006

Half term

Today is the start of half term, two weeks (plus a staff training day) for son 2. Oh what joy and we have little planned!

On Saturday I received my stamped addressed postcard back from Woman's Weekly to acknowledge receipt of my story, so now it's just wait and see. I probably won't be able to get much written for the next two weeks, but perhaps I will have time to explore other potential markets and jot down a few ideas if inspiration should strike. During A215 I bookmarked lots of websites recommended by other students and am now trying to go back and look at them again and see what is most useful for me.

A couple of months ago a member of a forum I visit set up a daily quiz on Fun Trivia so I try to do it regularly. You have to answer 10 multiple choice questions as quickly as is an American site so some of the answers eg on American sports have to be pure guesswork but it only takes a minute and is a fun way to waste time. There are lots of different quizzes on the website but I haven't had a chance to explore it all yet!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Children with special needs

Our children both have special needs. There is no getting away from that fact. I don't want to write too much about them here, as they are entitled to privacy, but I do frequently reflect on how much this has impacted on our family life, our ability to travel and our financial position. My own life is very different to what I had expected, but had our circumstances not changed I would probably still be a full time number cruncher, I wouldn't have joined the OU and I wouldn't be writing. I have made some very good friends through my kids and now the internet also offers a whole new world of understanding. For anyone who has a child with special needs of any kind, or knows someone who does, Special Kids in the UK offers a fantastic forum community full of wisdom, information and moral support.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Charity shop books

This year I have become addicted to searching out books in charity shops. I have bought so many that they are piled up in boxes in the dining room and I probably have enough reading material to last for years. I have worked out which charity shop is cheapest (our local hospice one) and which part of the local area sells the most quality fiction, I've picked up poetry anthologies as well as novels and non-fiction, I've discovered new authors. I don't often go to the library anymore as my life and reading opportunities can be unpredictable and I kept having to pay fines when I forgot to take a book back in time!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Life and poetry

Why is it that when I have had to do poetry for courses I have found it incredibly hard, but now I am free to write what I want I have the urge to write an autobiographical poem? On Wednesday I started one about our experiences when son 1 spent almost six weeks in special care after birth. I suppose that the inspiration came because I have been wondering how much his start in life may have contributed to his current health issues. When it was all happening I thought I should be writing it all in a diary but couldn't bring myself to do so. I can write prose about things that affect me deeply, but prefer to fictionalise my experiences rather than write autobiographically, I like that little bit of distance especially if the work is for others to read. So why then am I writing about my life in a blog?!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A London trip

Today I went into London for a meeting at The National Autistic Society in Islington. Afterwards I went to the nearby branch of Borders for a coffee and a browse, eventually buying a copy of a book called Room to Write.
Had a quick flick through in the tube on the way home, it seems interesting, full of writing hints and prompts as well as quotes from writers.

My books for my next OU course (K272) arrived today, so plenty to read over the next few days.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I've done it

This afternoon I printed out my story and covering letter then walked to the post office to post it before I could change my mind. Will I count as a real writer when the rejection slip arrives?

Its horrible weather today so perhaps we all need a little escapism. How about watching animals at African waterholes? Try the streaming from Nkorho in South Africa or Pete's Pond in Botswana.I spotted a fantastic herd of elephants there the other morning! Unfortunately the streaming does fade in and out...or perhaps it's just my wireless connection, but when there are animals to see it can be amazing, very Lion King and that is one of my favourite Disney Movies.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Editing a story

I am editing a story I wrote for my OU course and am going to send it off. Our assignment was to research and write for a specific publication. I chose to do a 'genre' piece for 'Woman's Weekly' so I'm going to be brave and send it off to the magazine. From reading their guidelines I know it can take a long time for them to reply so expect me to be announcing my first rejection letter in about 16 weeks! In the meantime I will get on and try to write some more.Yesterday was a big day here as son 1 took a huge step on his road to recovery and I had an important meeting to go to, so not much got done.

For those of you who like poetry and trivia about the Arts, try the Writers Almanac for a daily poem and other bits and bobs, including lots of archived material. I have just signed up for the daily email because I really want to improve my knowledge and understanding of poetry in the hope that it will rub off on my writing one day!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Excuses not to write?

Ever since we got broadband I have spent far too much time on the net. There is always something to distract me....ebay, forums, blogs and much, much more, but some of it has been useful for my writing.

I am gradually putting some of my favourite blogs and websites into the links section here. Some I like for the content and others for the amount of links to other sites they provide. I will also try to provide links to other things that have caught my attention. Some will be writing related, others not.

One of my current favourites is Oceangram which could also be good for writing prompts. Send and receive messages in a won't get a reply to your own message but will get random thoughts from all over the world. Something might just trigger the imagination. can take a while for a message to come through so leave the site open in a minimised window and check back regularly!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The inspiration to write....

Years ago, when I was at university, my good friend K and I had a plan that we would make our fortune writing Mills and Boon books! Well of course we never did, she went into the Civil Service and I became a Chartered Accountant, we both got married, had kids and no time to write. From time to time I would take a book on creative writing out of the library but never actually got round to putting anything on paper.

Two years ago K died of breast cancer, just a few days short of her 45th birthday. She had achieved a lot in her life, but never wrote. It made me realise that life is too short not to follow your dreams. Encouraged by a new friend, whose life was also touched by cancer in the past, I enrolled on my first OU writing course, enjoyed it so much that I did two more ( and a computer course on how to do research) and now I have a new aim of getting published and hopefully doing an MA one day.

I'm doing it for both of us, K....

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Meet the family

There are four of us.... me, hubby, son 1 and son 2. We live in London.

Son 1 is currently suffering from an extreme anxiety problem and is out of school having treatment at home. Son 2 is severely autistic. I have my hands full and my stress levels are high, but I have lots of potential material for future writing I hope!

Friday, October 06, 2006

A215 is over

Today I finished the Open University level 2 course in creative writing! It was the first year of the course with the inevitable teething problems of occasionally unclear assignment instructions etc but I enjoyed it very much. The success of these online courses depends very much on the quality of the tutor and having some good tutor group participation and I think I was lucky in both respects.

So what's next? Well I want to keep writing and am trying to pluck up the courage to submit work for publication. In this blog I hope to record my efforts as well as other observations on life. Keep reading.