Friday, March 30, 2007


An interesting post by Diane Shipley, co-editor of Trashionista, on the Guardian bookblog today.

Diane bravely explains how suffering from depression has affected her choice of reading matter over the years. This was something I can relate to, as I too have suffered from depression at various times of my life and indeed am on medication for it now. I am perhaps 'lucky' in that my depression is of the reactive variety, which affects me at serious stresspoints of my life, rather than being the full-blown black hole of clinical depression. However, that is of little comfort when those stresses arise from situations in your life which simply can't be avoided and I can clearly see a tendency to depression on one side of my family.

I recently attended an interesting tutorial on the use of complimentary therapies in mental health, particularly depression, which provided much food for thought. I know from my own past experience how much a gentle yoga session or an aromatherapy hand massage can help lift the spirits. However, not everyone has the time or money to access complimentary therapies. Books can provide cheaper relaxation. Unlike Diane, I do not find that my mood affects my reading choices. In fact I often gain as much of a lift from reading more depressing work as from lightweight books, as they remind me how many people have serious crises in life and come through. They help to move me away from self pity and self absorption.

On the other hand I have had periods in my life when I could not bear to listen to any music at all and I am still far too prone to listening to ancient cheesy pop songs which remind me of long lost loves and the freedom I used to have. So I can understand how Diane is similarly affected by books...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

How do you write?

I have been wondering for sometime what is the best way to write. On paper or straight on to the computer? I'm sure every writer finds their own preferred method of working and I think for me it varies. On the rare occasions that I am writing poetry I do find it easier to write longhand and type up when the poem is fairly polished. For prose, however, I prefer to type straight into the computer as I often edit quite a lot as I am going along.

The one disadvantage is that this method is not very portable. I do use a laptop but it has poor battery life now and would be quite heavy to carry around. I have therefore been wondering if it might be worthwhile to invest in an Alphasmart word processsor to complement it. I have been aware of these little machines for ages as they are often used in schools, particularly for children who find writing by hand difficult due to physical or learning difficulties. I hadn't, however, realised until more recently that they are also used by journalists and writers amongst others.

So I am weighing up whether it would be worth buying one for home as it could be used both by myself and son 1 who, although bright, often has difficulty getting his thoughts down on paper. We have already noticed that his spelling is much improved when he types and an Alphasmart would both complement that and allow him to write without the distraction of the internet. I can already see myself taking one out and about so I can write anywhere. Perhaps the novel would even progress a bit faster!

I have my eye on the Neo, but I think I will look on eBay first before deciding to spend that much money. Keris has already said how much she loves her Alphasmart...anyone else got any views?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Waiting room

Son 1 had a clinic appointment this afternoon. Due to his age and the nature of his therapy I have to wait while he is seen. Today's appointment was with two professionals and lasted 90 minutes, so I was very glad I had taken a book with me. I settled myself down in the rather uncomfortable and clinical waiting area with a copy of The Art of Fiction by David Lodge and the time went by quite quickly. I'm not sure how much of the text I really took in though, I shall probably have to go back to it later.

I've written before about the Wife in the North blog, which I still read regularly. But I have also discovered Strife in the North which is a very funny and clever parody of it. You have to read both to get the joke!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Moving on...

...but first, two more reports from the BBC today which are relevant to yesterday's blog post. Firstly about bullying and secondly about eating disorders in pre-teens. Scary stuff.

Anyway, on a lighter note, Marie Phillips at Struggling Author has highlighted today, in a very amusing manner, the news that there is to be a new reality TV show for wannabe authors. The planned show, based on Dragon's Den, is headlined in The Bookseller but sadly, as I don't have a subscription, I can't read or link you to the actual piece. The show is the brainchild of Simon Cowell's brother, Tony. Reading your work out loud to anyone is bad enough, but in that sort of scenario? Count me out!

Finally, when I'm having a bad day, this song never fails to make me smile. Not cool, but who cares?

Monday, March 26, 2007

The mental health of our kids

It's official, our kids are increasingly afflicted by mental health problems. According to a BBC report, one in ten children aged between one and fifteen have a mental health problem. Today, as I heard of yet another vulnerable child who has been withdrawn from mainstream school due to a mental health crisis, I started to wonder why.

The problems are probably greatest amongst teenagers and our family has personal experience of this.What is for sure is that parenting a teen is not easy, it makes looking after a toddler seem a doddle!

Bullying is nothing new, but nowadays it is taking new forms, with kids making use of their computers and mobile phones. Abusive text messages are easily sent at any time of night or day. Pictures or film of bullying is circulated via phones or posted on websites such as MySpace or YouTube. I was pointed in the direction of such a clip this weekend. I won't go into details but it sickened me and the victim's full name was posted.

Eating disorders and self-harming are becoming widespread and although more prevalent amongst girls, boys are affected too. How much this of this is serious and how much is a fashion statement is unclear. Gangs abound in and outside schools. There seems to be no place for 'regular kids', as son 1 describes himself and his friends.

So what is driving our kids to such states of despair? Is it the school system and the ever constant 'pressure' to perform? Is it the celebrity culture in which children are constantly trying to copy the looks and figures of stick-thin models or the behaviour of out-of-control stars? Is it the array of magazines which are constantly promoting celebrities and designer goods, or is it a society in which even quite young girls are sexualised?

Depression is increasingly common amongst teenage boys, possibly because they fear they just can't meet up to the expectations of those girls, in their plunge necklines and push-up bras, who are trying to look like Kate Moss and lusting after sexy film and pop stars.

Something to think about as I flick through son 1's copy of Heat magazine...

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Yesterday I spent some time with a friend I hadn't seen for a long time. She also has children, one of whom has special needs, so we always have plenty to talk about.

She was telling me about two young relations who she is worried about. She talked about the behaviour of one of the children and asked me if I thought the child might have autism. I have to admit that from the description I felt it was a significant possibility.

I hate these situations. I know that, for most children with special needs, early intervention brings the best outcome. Given the waiting lists of the NHS, the earlier a child is referred for diagnosis and therapy the better. Yet as a friend or a voluntary worker, we have to be so careful what we say. Many parents suffer from denial when they first suspect something is not quite right and even those who are more articulate with their fears will be very vulnerable. In some cultures, including that of my friend's family, any form of significant disability is seen as something shameful, to be hidden away from the community. Although she does not believe that, some family members probably do.

It is usually more difficult for first time parents to notice developmental problems in their child and to know where to turn for help. My friend spotted that something was not quite right with her own son, her third child, when he was just a few weeks old. He still has no specific diagnosis but with appropriate intervention he has made excellent progress. Her young relatives, however, will probably not receive any assessment or potential help unless a crisis point is reached. They are possibly being set up to fail.

Sorry, that was rather serious for a Saturday night, but it has been on my mind since yesterday!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Reading matter

I am painfully aware that recently I have been talking about books and buying them but not actually reading very much. I'm not even reading as many magazines as usual.

So to keep me on the straight and narrow I have just added a list to my sidebar where I will highlight my current reading. Click on the titles for more details of each book.

First up is Shaggy Blog Stories. My copy arrived this morning and I have just started dipping into it. If you don't know how this book was created, I blogged about it here. At the time of writing the book has already raised £1768 for Red Nose Day, so well done Mike and all the contributors!

The second book I have on the go is A Dangerous Man, a thriller with a difference by my blog friend Anne Brooke , which I am really enjoying.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Revisiting Jane Austen

Last night I had a girls night out with a friend to see the new movie Becoming Jane Austen. This was exciting for two reasons. Firstly I don't often go to the cinema, we usually wait for the DVD or a TV showing, and secondly I am a fan of Jane Austen's novels.

I have to admit that I discovered Jane Austen quite late in life...I must have been close to thirty. I was aware of Pride and Prejudice from dramatisations but I had never studied Austen at school and had read none of her work until I picked up Emma one day. I was immediately hooked and literally read one book after another from the library, until I had read them all.

I hadn't actually thought much about the movie until my friend suggested going. Partly because I was uncertain about the casting of Anne Hathaway as Jane and partly because I didn't think there would be enough material in Jane's life to dramatise. Lonely spinster, anyone? It's been done before!

Well I have to say I did enjoy it. OK, the movie is a little long and could have had some of the slower parts edited out, especially at the beginning, but the performances are quite good, although I'm still not totally convinced by the casting of Jane. Anne Hathaway is just too perfectly pretty, especially in comparison to other family members, but her accent didn't jar, even if it didn't sound 100% Brit. (I have to be honest here, I hated Renee Zellweger's accent in Bridget Jones.)

The actual story material is built loosely around some known facts and depicts Jane's supposed first love, at the age of twenty, with an Irish lawyer. The sexual chemistry between Hathaway and James McAvoy who played Tom sparked and the screenplay was written just like an Austen novel with obvious character and plot parallels with Pride and Prejudice.

It's the sort of movie to be seen for what it is...not strictly accurate biography, but a fictional entertainment based on and influenced by Jane Austen. If you are an Austen fan, enjoy!

(If you are in the UK don't forget the current TV season of Austen's work either...)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Coffee and support

One of the best parts about having a child with special needs is meeting others in the same position. You feel like members of an exclusive club (though admittedly it is probably not one that other people will be lining up to join.)

This morning I went to a support group coffee morning, which is consists mainly of parents of children with ADHD or autistic spectrum disorders. I was there partially in an official role to suppport new parents and partly for advice myself. It is wonderful to be able to chat openly about things that parents of 'normal' children just wouldn't get. The problems of having a child with challenging and destructive behaviour. The worry of a child who cannot survive in mainstream school. The stress and strains this can all put on family life. We share secrets and advice and what is said at the coffee morning remains between those four walls.

So to anyone who might discover that their child has special needs, however mild or severe, I would say seek out a support group. If there is nothing near you then join an online forum such as Special Kids in the UK and/or a group specific to your child's needs. At the end of the day we all face similar battles and concerns, about securing a decent education, health services and respite care provision for our children. Lean on others when you need to and be there to listen when they are struggling.

For together we are stronger.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shopping again

I love shopping!

My need to shop reflects my negative state of mind so if I 'fess up to what I have bought in the last few days you will get the picture. A handbag from eBay. A pair of sandals. Eyeliner and other make up. A new digital camera (with birthday money). A jacket (sale price). All without leaving the house.

Hubby has always despaired about my spending. While the kids were young I actually spent very little on myself but once they went to school I decided that I needed to look after myself a bit more. So I went shopping for little treats. Later I joined a gym, which Hubby thought was a great idea as I needed to get fitter and it would keep me away from the shops. I 'forgot' to mention the gym was situated in the middle of a retail park...

At present my gym membership is frozen as I have too many family and other commitments to be able to go. I miss my calming yoga classes, perhaps that explains my current urge to consume. But now the internet can take care of the shopping. It is even worse, because if I am physically in a shop I can walk away from things, I enjoy browsing almost as much as actually buying, but online it is just so easy to click on buy.

I was thinking of adding a shopping label here for my blog posts but it would be just too embarrassing...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cold spell

The tiny amount of snow which was lying on top of cars this morning has long since gone and right now the sun is shining through the window on to my laptop screen. It is a mirage of spring, as in reality it is still bitterly cold outside, despite having been so warm last week. Global warming has a lot to answer for.

I have been trying to get my head around some writing today with little success. Inspiration seems to be lacking, possibly because I have a lot of other things on my mind right now. The rest of the week is going to be busy with other work and rather politically charged appointments so the novel word count may have to remain static for a bit longer.

Yesterday my iron caught fire soon after I had started to tackle a large pile of shirts. It was rather an ancient iron and the cord had started to fray rather dangerously but I hadn't expected it to blow in that way. I almost panicked and risked setting the ironing board cover on fire, but rationality returned just in time, I turned off the electricity and put the offending piece of equipment outside the front door once the little flame had gone out.

It all happens here!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Awayday and eyebrows

A day out in the West End yesterday. Think of it as an early Mother's Day present.

First to an OU tutorial about complementary therapies and mental health, which was very interesting, despite some confusion about the start time. The OU had told students 11am but booked the tutor and room for 10.30! Then off to Oxford Street for a quick browse in a few department stores and Waterstones.

Whilst there I did something I have never done before, I had my eyebrows shaped by threading. Now, I have the strange family eyebrows which are quite scanty on the outside edges and mine have not been helped by over enthusiastic plucking in my teens. The result of the threading is eyebrows are thinner, nicely shaped and look less like tadpoles than usual, but the result is a little patchy. Nothing that a pencil or a little bit of dark eyeshadow can't disguise though.

Meanwhile, the sales of the bloggers' book are being recorded on Troubled Diva whilst on the Guardian book blog the chick lit debate rumbles on!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Red Nose Day (2)

He did it! Mike from Troubled Diva has suceeded in compiling a book of 100 funny posts by UK bloggers to be sold to raise funds for Red Nose Day. What is really amazing is that he, with help from many other bloggers, did it all in the space of seven days.

My submission was one of the many not chosen, hardly surprising since I am not really an amusing writer, but 100 entries were selected and a full list of those bloggers is available here.

Now to the important bit. Buy it! I just have. The book is available directly from the publishers,, who are also kindly donating their profits.

Just go directly to

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chick lit again

A blog post by Diane of Trashionista in todays Guardian seems to have created a heated response. I wonder why this genre seems to create a wider divide in opinion than almost any other? There is absolutely nothing wrong with books which are designed to entertain...indeed one of my more educational experiences as a reader was picking up a copy of Jilly Cooper's Rivals in an airport in desperation, thinking I would hate it, then finding it to be a fantastic beach read. However, I think some of the commenters have also made very valid points. Why not have a look and see what you think?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bargain hunter

You have probably realised by now that I am a bit of a shopaholic. I have to confess it is not just books, but clothes and makeup as well. Anything to make me feel better about myself, I guess, not to mention all the stuff that modern kids seem to need.

Since we are not rich and my shopping has to be achieved on a tight budget, I am always on the look out for bargains. I love looking around charity shops, I scour eBay, I fight my way through Primark on a Saturday afternoon and I can't resist a sale.

On Saturday I hit the jackpot. I was in Bhs buying some T shirts for son 1 (sale price, of course) and as I was making my way towards the rear exit, I noticed racks of ladies clothes on sale. So of course I had to look. I discovered about a year ago that Bhs petite range trousers are usually the perfect length for me. Sadly I'm not only vertically challenged but, after two children and too much chocolate, I am far from sylph-like. Finding jeans to fit nicely in all directions has been a nightmare...I am fractionally too tall or fat for the petite range in many shops but too short for standard length. Ho hum.

Anyway, I checked the racks quickly and found a nice pair of petite jeans, in my size, reduced from £25 to £20. Not really cheap, but I did like them. I didn't have time to try them on but knowing I could take them back if necessary, I took them to the till. I have a loyalty points card that would give me an extra 5% off so that would be £19 in total. Not too bad. The cashier scanned them. They came up as £7, less a further 70p deduction for a 10% off promotion on old stock. I still got a further 5% off the reduced total with my card so I got a pair of jeans for just under £6.

The best thing of all is that they are a really good fit!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Writing prompts

I'm afraid I am a sucker for 'how to write' books and volumes offering prompts for writers. But the internet is also a great source of inspiration when you need something to trigger your creativity.

I've already written here about Oceangram. I revisited the site today for the first time in a while and the graphics have had a makeover, but it still offers the same idiosyncratic messages in bottles.

Another site which I have regularly visited is PostSecret, with its fascinating postcards sent in by the public, a combination of art and eavesdropping.

Then today, thanks to Sarah's blog, I have discovered yet another inspiring site called Found Magazine, picturing collected 'found' ephemera.

Just to top it all I also realised that both PostSecret and Found have published several books, available on Amazon...

Anyone else think I am an internet addict?

Monday, March 12, 2007


In the news today is a list of books which people claim in a survey to have been unable to finish. I have to admit that I have only read two of these:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire...long but I enjoyed it and

Crime and Punishment... I had to study this at university so didn't read it for fun, but I don't remember it being that bad.

If I am not enjoying a book much I do try to at least skim through to the end but two that I do clearly remember giving up completely on were:

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie ...which I just couldn't get into at all and

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing... but I want to give that one another try soon as I'm getting into books on mental health at the moment.

I like books with good storylines, believable characters I can relate to and above all well written. Anything poorly written and very superficial or, on the other hand, too dry and literary tends to leave me cold.

But each to his/her own and I am very surprised to see Harry Potter in the list, even if that wasn't the best of the series.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Red Nose Day

Just in case any of you have missed this news on other blogs, Mike at Troubled Diva is compiling a book of funny blog posts by UK based or expatriot bloggers, to be published by with all profits going to the wonderful charity Comic Relief, whose next Red Nose Day will be on Friday.

So if, unlike me, you actually write a funny blog, please support Comic Relief by sending Mike your favourite piece, full details are to be found here. Be quick, the deadline is on Wednesday, 6pm UK time!

Updated: Deadline is now Tuesday 6pm!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Unfortunate employee

of the year....or should it be renamed ex-employee?

One of the leading contenders must be the the Penguin books staff member who left a manuscript of Jeanette Winterson's not yet published book on a bench at Balham station.

Amazing that it seems to have been found by a fan. I'm afraid the only one of her books I have ever been able to read was Oranges are not the Only Fruit.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Local character

She was often to seen walking around locally, the sort of person you couldn't miss but would not want to talk to.

She dressed in jumble sale clothing which hung off her gaunt body, usually in some sort of skirt and a favourite maroon mock leather coat which was torn. I always noticed her feet. She often wore snow boots, even when the weather was fine. If it was wet she might have on her bright yellow wellies, one of which had what looked like a huge gaping knife cut across the top. In the summer she wore disintegrating sandals which appeared to date from the 1970's or, as I observed more than once, walked the streets in bare feet. Of indeterminate age, neither young nor really old, her face was pallid and her thin grey-blonde hair hung lankly around it.

I knew she lived somewhere in our street, but it is a long road with several turns so I did not know exactly where. Whenever I saw her she was alone and I only ever heard her speak once. Queuing behind her at the deli counter of our local supermarket, before it closed down, I thought I caught a trace of a European accent. Based solely, I think, on her purchases that day, I imagined her to be Polish.

Just to look at her it was obvious that she was a very lonely lady, probably with a mental health problem. She was often to be seen sitting with an empty cup outside the local coffee shop or at 9am most Sunday mornings on the bench at our end of our street, reading a copy of the Mail on Sunday, with a lit cigarette in hand.

Today I met a friend who told me that despite the best efforts of our local GP, this poor lady has died. She was apparently an alcoholic and has left behind a house in a terrible condition, which will no doubt be bought up by a developer with a good eye for a profit. The locality will be a less colourful place for her loss, but still we don't know her name.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Another teen idol

Talking of David Cassidy, as we were last week, he was on TV this morning to promote a book and a tour.

Sorry girls, but he looks slightly weird and frankly didn't seem too bright. I'd never realised how short he is either! You don't really notice that when you are 12...

Isn't it strange how both Donny and David have popped up with things to promote over here at almost exactly the same time? A coincidence or a cunning marketing ploy?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Work, work, work

Busy day today doing voluntary work...I even had a couple of inspired moments!

Back home to write an email to Son 1's school, to try and arrange a meeting I would rather not go to. Sorry if that all sounds rather cryptic but I can't go into details.

I forgot to mention yesterday that on the way to M&S for birthday cake I called into one of the charity shops to look at the books. I found a paperback copy of this book, which will be a perfect volume to dip into whilst waiting as the boys have therapy appointments. Short excerpts which might lead to the discovery of great writers who are new to me.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Birthday boy

Son 2's birthday today. For some strange autistic reason he doesn't like the word 'birthday', so we were not allowed to sing 'Happy Birthday' or even mention it. He did, however, enjoy his presents and cake!

I rushed off to M&S at lunchtime to buy said cake...a chocolate caterpillar cake is the family favourite. We always do present opening in the evening when Daddy is home too, as he leaves the house early in the morning.

So I am now officially the mother of two teenagers. How scary is that?!

Monday, March 05, 2007

On the up

Around 500 words written on the novel today, as well as another short piece. I'm not sure about the quality of those words, I suspect that when I go back to edit them, I will find that I have done far too much telling and not enough showing so will have to flesh it all out and change the balance. But at least I wrote something, which I needed to do and it is always easier to stay in and work when the weather is grotty.

I'm in a crime and thriller mood at the moment, both in books and TV viewing. I think that this is probably the genre I enjoy best for entertainment. Watching 'Lewis' on TV last night reminded me that there are possibly still some books in Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series that I haven't read. In fact there are also a number of other writers whose series I used to follow but haven't read recently, so plenty to catch up on one day.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

False alarms

Thanks to gentle nagging from Anne and Sue ( thanks girls!), I am not going to set any new formal targets this month. However, I am going to try to catch up with myself before the Easter holiday starts. So, my informal targets for March will be much as before...

A bit of mild excitement today. Son 2 tried to burn down the kitchen whilst making toast this morning. He seems to think that once the bread pops up out of the toaster it has to be put back in again and again. He does this until the bread is black and brittle and the house is full of smoke. Of course this set off the smoke alarm, which totally upset and confused him. Then we had to open all the windows so I froze. All because he sneaked off to make something I had already said he could not have.

This afternoon I took him to a special needs club at a local church and guess what, one of the kids (not him!) set off the fire alarm. The noise was earsplitting and no one knew how to turn it off. Son 2 is very sound sensitive but coped simply because he was listening to a CD and seemed to be able to tune out the alarm. If only we adults had also been able to do that!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Target time

A day late, it's time to review how many of my targets for February were met.

1. OU...still a bit behind on my reading but the assignment is done. OK, I cheated slightly, I asked for and was granted an extension and it was actually completed and posted off today!

2.Novel...well I have written a little more, but not as much as I would have liked.

3.Proper work...some bookkeeping done, lots more to go.

4.Voluntary work...caught up, sort of.

5.Wardrobe, no. Though I have bought a few more items to put in it!

Not too bad for a short month which contained a two week half term for Son 2...

Now for the March targets. I will have a think and put them up over the weekend.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Books and Braille

Thanks to dovegreyreader for drawing my attention to the fact that Braille is in danger of becoming obsolete because many blind people are not taught it nowadays. There is an e-petition to the government which UK citizens can sign up to, if you are interested. There is also wonderful testimony on dovegreyreader's blog as to how Braille can transform the lives of blind people. Do read it.

Although Braille might seem a little old fashioned in the digital age, it clearly has a significant place amongst the range of communication aids available. This is a subject I am interested in because Son 2 is nonverbal and communicates with us using a variety of methods...vocalisations, gestures, Makaton, a simple sign language, and printed symbols and pictures. The more methods that are available to help people with challenges to communicate and be able to read and express themselves in writing, the better.

Oh and if you love books and haven't yet discovered dovegreyreader, do take a look at her blog!