Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Hubby took the day off work and took over much of the childcare so I could go out. I went to the support group coffee morning to catch up with friends, followed by a dash around Tesco to stock up on enough to keep the kids fed until the weekend!

The postman brought a mixed bundle of goodies...some knitting wool and patterns from eBay and an invoice for my charity work which was in a burnt envelope. Presumably it was the victim of a postbox fire and it was amazing that it found its way to me, even if it was a little scorched!

Three notable things:

1. Some time ago I read about journalist Dina Rabinovitch's book Take Off Your Party Dress on Dovegreyreader's blog. Earlier this month I found a copy in a charity shop and bought it. I put it to one side, as it is about the author's experiences with breast cancer and since it is just three years, almost to the day, since I lost one of my best friends to the disease, the subject is still quite hard for me. Yesterday, on reading that Dina had died, I finally picked up the book. It is well worth a read, she was a brave lady.

2. There is a touching piece by Libby Purves in The Times today.It is about her son Nicholas Heiney, who committed suicide in his early twenties but left behind some remarkable writing, which is now to be published. Read this and contemplate the fate of sensitive young men in today's society. It rings all too many alarm bells for me.

3. But then in the main section of the paper I read this line in the contents column on page 2:
Libby Purves introduces the writings of her son, to be published soon, who committed suicide at 23
Is it just me, or is that very dodgy grammar and punctuation?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Words in the chaos

Son 2 was noisy and active yesterday. But during a short period of relative calm, I actually managed to write a little more of the novel.

Only 300 words or so, but I was actually also researching at the same time. I am currently writing a scene set in Hong Kong before it was handed back to the Chinese. We did visit the colony many years ago, but some of my memories are hazy, so I keep having to stop to look up a name or some other detail. Did you know, for example, that you can create a Chinese name for a character through this name generator?

Three notable things:

1. Why was Dermot O'Leary so rude to Celine Dion on Saturday's X Factor?

2. Son 2 hates this advert so much that he turns off the TV every time it comes on...

3. The cold is making feel yucky today, so I'm not even going to try to write.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A room of my own

Once upon a time we had a spare bedroom. Well actually we still do, but over the last few years, while things have been so difficult at home, it has gradually turned into a tip. After all, nobody ever comes to stay with us nowadays. They don't when you live with autism.

Now, if I am honest, much of the stuff littering the spare bedroom belongs to boxes of craft materials, books and endless paperwork to be sorted. Then there are the plastic sacks of hand-me-down clothes both from son 1 and a friend's child, which need to be sorted to identify items for son 2 and the remainder sent off to the charity shop. There are a couple of pieces of unused and/or broken furniture which need to be found a more suitable home or sent to the tip. But in my recent state of mind all this has seemed a task too far. I have preferred to bury my head in the sand (or a book!)

Just two years ago this room also contained a small desk which I was able to use when working. Son 1 has now stolen that desk for his own bedroom and I am relegated to working and writing on the dining table or coffee table. I was recently talking to a counsellor and she suggested that I needed a haven I could escape to. Son 1 is at home most of the time and I no longer have that precious bit of space when both boys were at school. So why not tidy up the spare bedroom again?

It will be quite a big task and I can't even start until son 2 is back at school next week, but I am going to do it. I have been looking in the Argos catalogue for a compact desk and I want to get an ergonomic chair to help my bad back. I will also ensure that there is plenty of room on the floor for my yoga mat so that I can do stretches whenever I need to. I will be able to put on my own music without being interrupted by son 1 wanting to watch TV.

It sounds good. I want my writing room up and running by the New Year.

Three notable things:

1. I have now caught the cold virus from the boys...

2. Thank goodness for the CBeebies website. It keeps son 2 occupied for hours.

3. The National Autistic Society launches its new awareness campaign today. Why not take a look at Think Differently about Autism. It might surprise you.

Image by

Friday, October 26, 2007

Music to match your mood

I like to listen to music while I am writing or studying. I always have done, ever since I was at school. Sometimes I make playlists from my music files, sometimes I listen to digital or online radio stations.

A while ago I followed a link from a blog and landed on the Musicovery website (sorry I can't remember for sure where I found the link, but I think it may have been Sarah Salway's blog?)

Anyway, I love this music site. You enter your mood on the track generator, tell it which genre(s) you want to listen to and sit back. The available tracks are very eclectic and I have found myself listening to all sorts of music with which I am unfamiliar. Great fun and free, unless you really want the superior sound quality version.

Three notable things:

1. Both boys have a virus.

2. I have been to Tesco. The fridge is full and we have enough food to keep two hungry teenage boys fed until, um, Monday?

3. It is too noisy and chaotic here at the moment to even consider writing. Roll on the end of half term. Only 10 days to go...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Celebrities and autism

If you have been reading this blog for a while you may have realised that I am not too impressed with the current celebrity culture. There are just far too many magazines and TV programmes focussed on how celebrities live and how they look. It is all so shallow and really does not provide proper role models.

But there are some areas in which celebrities can perhaps make a diffference. They can use their high public profile to raise awareness of a cause or charity. For obvious reasons I am always interested when a celebrity 'comes out' as having a child with a disability or serious illness, because I think this can actually help public awareness of these conditions.

In the last week alone I have read of Colin Farrell's son having Angelman Syndrome and Emma Noble's son (the grandchild of former British Prime Minister Sir John Major), having autism. On the other side of the Atlantic singer Toni Braxton and model/actress Jenny McCarthy have gone public about their children with ASD.

Having a child with a disability is never easy, whoever you are. Far too many families are in denial or try to hide their problems and meeting other families in the same situation can be a turning point. Perhaps if they also see celebrities having to cope with the same issues, it will make them feel better.

But, and this is a big but, there can also be dangers in celebrity publicity. Jenny McCarthy has written a book about how she has helped 'heal' her son using dietary and alternative approaches. Now I personally know some children with autism for whom this sort of approach has helped, but I know even more for whom it has made no difference. I haven't read the book ( and don't intend to), so I can't comment on how McCarthy has approached the subject, however I do think that a celebrity endorsing any specific approach is fraught with potential danger, especially when wide publicity is also obtained for the book by appearing on Oprah.

The bottom line is, autism can't be 'cured'. I just hope that parents reading this book won't feel they have failed if the methods used by a celebrity don't work for their children. After all, many celebrities have far greater resources available in terms of time and money than the average family.

Three notable things:

1. Fancy an alternative to NaNoWriMo? Why not try this project from the writer Sarah Salway and her collaborator Lynne Rees. I would be seriously tempted if I had more time.

2. I have been stocking up on stationery for my writing and studying. I think I must be getting a bit OCD because everything to do with my novel...file, notebook etc...all has to be purple and is to be stored in my purple bag (Kipling of course...)!

3. So J. K. Rowling has outed Dumbledore as being gay. Doesn't she realise that 'gay' is currently one of the most widely used playground insults? I wonder how this news will sit with her young audience.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Literature map

How do you choose your next book to read? Do you rely on personal recommendation from friends? Or take notice of reviews on a book blog such as dovegreyreader, which is my personal favourite. Do you browse on Amazon, looking for authors you are familiar with? Do you read the recommendations and comments there?

Or do you go into a bookshop, where you are perhaps more likely to be swayed by a cover design, or the blurb on the back cover?

For me there are certain authors whose books I would always buy, simply because I like their style and themes. But how do you start to find others who match up to them?

That is perhaps where Literature Map could come in handy. Put in the name of a favourite author and it will suggest authors whom other readers have also liked. I'm not quite sure how it works, though I think it is linked to so presumably based on their sales and browsing data somehow.

For example, I have just entered Maggie O'Farrell. The database has thrown up, amongst others, Jon McGregor, Anita Shreve, Jane Austen, Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, Anne Tyler and Kate Atkinson, all of whom I also enjoy. If you enter an American author, say Anne Tyler, you get even more positive results...Carol Shields, Jodi Picoult, Margaret Atwood, Sue Miller, Fay Weldon, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, all of whom also represent the sort of fiction I read. So perhaps I should also start to explore some of the other suggestions...

This is a wonderful displacement activity and unlike books in a similar vein, should remain contemporary.

Three notable things:

1. After Anne Enright, another literary controversy....

2. Author Emma Darwin's new blog seems interesting.

3. It is half term this week, but as usual son 2 has a different holiday. His half term will start on Thursday and he has all of next week off too, but there won't be any playschemes, as everyone else will have gone back to school. One of the annoying idiosyncrasies of his being in an independent special school...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Both sides of the story

Two talented students of the Open University writing courses, Duncan Spencer and Andrea Smith have just set up a new website, Both Sides of the Story, to showcase their fiction writing.

Duncan and Andrea have been longtime collaborators, since meeting on one of the OU online courses, and challenge each other to write a story on a specific theme every other week. Their website shows the impressive results. It is well worth a look.

Three notable things:

1. 'Always the bridesmaid and never the bride' could have been the motto of British sport this weekend. But we should all be proud of the rugby team and of Lewis Hamilton.

2. DHL delivered my OU materials today for the Open to Change openings course. I hope it will be not only an easy 10 points towards a qualification, but also thought provoking, as I feel I need to make some changes in my life if I am going to make space and time for my writing and studying. What's more, the course materials came with their own little OU book bag. How cool!

3. Has Sharon Osbourne really left the X factor??

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where are my books?

DHL tried to deliver a package today while I was out at the supermarket. Unfortunately Son 1 didn't hear the doorbell (or perhaps it didn't even ring, it can be temperamental) but he did later find the card that was left in the porch.

This card is particularly uninformative. The delivery driver did not fill it in properly, so I had no idea whether the package had been left with a neighbour or taken away. The parcel number was not entered in the box, so when I rang DHL's automated line I couldn't enter the right information. The only thing I had was a long number by the words 'tour no:' and the reference code for the local depot. I tried entering this long number as the parcel number. The phone said it would transfer me to the depot but I held on for ages and no one answered.

I tried to think what I am expecting to receive and decided perhaps this was an Amazon delivery which I know to be en route. I wondered what to do next. I then got distracted by other things so did nothing more.

A little later I remembered that I was trying to locate the whereabouts of my goodies and tried the whole procedure with the automated line again. This time the phone was eventually answered by a human who took my address. I gave her the little info I had and as I read out the long number on the card it suddenly struck me that just maybe this was a mobile phone number. But hey, I was actually through to DHL, it was their problem now and the lady promised to look into it.

Later this afternoon I logged into my Open University homepage and clicked on materials despatch for my second new course. The books were on their way to me and there was a link to DHL to track the package. I followed it through and yes, that was the package they had tried to deliver. I clicked another link and sent a message.

Needless to say the lady never phoned back and so far I have had no response to the web message...

Three notable things:

1. Son 1 had his first minor brush with the law yesterday evening for a cycling offence...

2. A long evening in front of the TV beckons tomorrow. The X Factor followed by the rugby final!

3. I found my cheque book which I had mislaid!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


So, they were all wrong. In the end Anne Enright won the Man Booker prize for The Gathering, which is, I understand, quite a dark and disturbing read.

Two days later, she is already embroiled in controversy over a piece published in the London Review of Books. It is about the McCann family, whose daughter Madeleine disappeared in Portugal in May.

Having just read the piece I feel uncomfortable. She is only expressing her opinions, but I think most of us have some sort of view on what happened that night. Surely though it is better to keep those thoughts to yourself rather than make them so pointed and public?

Three notable things:

1. I'm almost up and running on the OU Start Writing Plays course...

2. Went into town with son 1 this morning so he could spend some of his birthday money.

3.Very soon we are going to have some new neighbours across the road. Hope they will be nice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Now book fever

Or should that be Man Booker fever? As everyone waits for the result tonight, The BBC website has summaries of each of the shortlisted novels as well as an interesting article on the factors which can influence book sales.

Dovegreyreader is tipping 'Darkmans', as does Eve's Alexandria, while the bookies have two different frontrunners. For the record, I haven't read any of them, so I have no opinion at all!

Three notable things:

1. My course materials for the OU Start Writing Plays course arrived today!

2. I have just signed up for another short course, to run concurrently with it, called Open to Change. You can read what you like into that.

3. Ageism seems to be alive and well in British politics...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rugby fever

A few weeks ago I wrote a fleeting mention of the Rugby World Cup into my novel. Not the tournament that is currently ongoing, but the one that England won, four years ago. It was an attempt to anchor the time frame of my novel, which spans many years, by referencing real life events.

On Saturday we sat in front of the TV and watched as England reached the final again, probably against most people's expectations. I have to admit that I don't know much about rugby, I am hazy on the scoring and rules, but it is quite fun to watch. We'll be cheering them on in the final too, especially as South Africa are a seriously good team.

This time I have an added interest because the captain of the England team, Phil Vickery (that's not Phil Vickery the cute chef who is married to Fern Britton, by the way!), grew up in the same part of the world as me and my mother knew one of his relatives. In fact he went to my old school. Just out of interest I googled him and found that he was BORN just two years before I left school.

How old did that make me feel?

Three notable things:

1. England's amazing progress in the rugby.

2. Whilst we are on the subject of rugby and schools, Hubby used to attend a school named after William Webb Ellis who invented the game and lends his name to the World Cup trophy.

3. Why do I seem to have done little except laundry today?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Meant to be...

Some of you already know that I am signed up for the Open University level one 'Start Writing Plays' course which starts at the end of this month. I know nothing about writing scripts, but am doing this 12 week introduction as preparation for the level three Creative Writing course due to start next year and hopefully to hone skills that will transfer into my fiction writing.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I was browsing around the charity shops in town as usual. I came up with a haul of goodies...two balls of pretty wool, a new novel by Susan Isaacs, an author I used to read years ago, and three videos for son 2. In the third and final shop I cast an eye over the shelves of books. This particular shop often has a classy selection, but charges more than the others... usually £2.50 for a paperback novel, which I will only pay for something special.

On the non-fiction shelves I spotted something exceptional. A row of five books on plays and scriptwriting, all in 'as new' condition. I could not believe my luck. I came away with three of them, Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit, Writing Dialogue for Scripts by Rib Davis and Playwriting - A Practical Guide by Noel Greig. At £2 each.

I like to think those books were just waiting for me...

Three notable things:

1. My charity shop purchases.

2. Teaching son 1 how to use an ATM now he has his bank account.

3. Son 1's friends arriving uninvited on Friday evening to belatedly celebrate his birthday, bringing with them a great present (more weights for the home gym) and even a birthday cake made by one of their mums.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Loss of childhood

So our 7-11 year olds are stressed and depressed by having to live in a violent, materialistic and celebrity-obsessed society, where they don't even feel safe to walk the streets. Meanwhile, worried middle-class parents are adding to the pressure by pushing them to private tutors, in an attempt to get them into one of the few decent schools around or make up the learning deficits of the state system.

Well, what a surprise. They didn't need to do a big research project to learn that, they could just have spoken to me and my friends. We have watched all this happening before our eyes as our own children, now in their last year of compulsory schooling, have grown up.

It is scary. Whatever we do as parents does not seem to be sufficient to prepare our kids for what lies ahead.

Three notable things:

1. I've written about 800 words over the last two days as well as having some new plot ideas.

2. We sat waiting for son 1's therapist for almost half an hour this morning because the receptionist forgot to phone up and tell her we'd arrived...

3. My copy of Mslexia finally arrived in the mail...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nobel Prize for Literature

Stop press. It has just been announced that this year's Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Doris Lessing.

I have to admit that I don't think I have read much by her. A few short stories, I believe, and I definitely read The Good Terrorist, though I don't remember much about it.

My clearest memory of Doris Lessing's work was an attempt to read The Golden Notebook in my early twenties. I soon gave up. But I am older now, if not wiser, and with my new-found interest in mental health issues, I recently thought I should give it another try. It is sitting in my hefty to-be-read pile. Perhaps today's news will propel it closer to the top.

Three notable things:

1. I woke up at 4am today and couldn't get back to sleep. I ended up watching a Panorama documentary about the sub-prime mortgage market. Even that didn't send me back to sleep!

2. I'm having a quiet day and actually going to spend a few hours writing this afternoon, I hope.

3. Cally has just posted something fascinating on her blog. Go and take a look here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Talking therapies

You may remember that I am quite a fan of talking therapies.

So I was very heartened to read today that the government is going to make more money available to fund such therapy. Some people will still need medication and indeed it is often prescribed alongside the therapy. But I'm sure it will help many people to keep off drugs, which are currrently widely prescribed by GPs because they have few other options for people who do not have acute mental health problems. Only this morning a friend was telling me about someone who would not be considered an emergency case but would clearly benefit from some counselling or CBT. She was asking what the options were for finding help for this young adult.

Let's hope this promise is kept, because it can only be a Good Thing for 900,000 people.

Three notable things:

1. The post arrived today ( afer the Royal Mail strike)!

2. The post included a copy of Miranda July's short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You which recently won the Frank O'Connor prize for short fiction, when one of my favourite short story writers, Alice Munro, didn't even get on the shortlist.

3. Both boys have a nasty cold. I am hoping not to catch it!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What drives you to write?

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is, not unsurprisingly, featuring heavily in The Times newspaper this week.

After this article on plotting by crime writer Andrew Taylor, todays edition features various authors talking about what drives them to write.

Keep an eye on the website for more articles and podcasts.

Three notable things:

1. A lovely two hour coffee break in Starbucks today with a friend who also has an autistic teenage son.

2. Sorting out some personal financial planning at the bank before the coffee break.

3. Buying myself a pretty cardigan on a very rainy day!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Another birthday

Hot on the heels of the blog birthday on Saturday comes son 1's birthday today. My baby is 16. Which makes certain things legal...but I'd prefer not to think about that!

He couldn't make up his mind what he wanted for his main present, so we gave him money and today he and I went to the bank to open his first current account, with a standing order from my account to his for his allowance each week. We are trying to teach him some financial responsibility in the hope that he actually will be ready to fly the nest one day...

Three notable things:

1. Son 1's birthday. It has made me feel very old.

2. Thinking about the dedicated neo-natal unit staff who saved his life 16 years ago. My poem about the experience is here.

3. The M&S chocolate Doctor Who Dalek cake we will all be eating this evening to celebrate.

Friday, October 05, 2007

One year ago...

...or rather one year ago tomorrow, I started this blog.

It was actually my second attempt at blogging following a rather half-hearted effort during my OU A215 course, which ground to a halt when we hit a family crisis.

When I started I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted this blog to be. A record of my writing progress certainly, but also a place to talk about other things which catch my eye or affect my life, both good and bad. After all, there is more to a writer than just writing. It is not a showcase for my more polished writing, some of which can be found elsewhere, but a space for spontaneous communication.

I didn't know what to expect from the blog. At first I wondered if anyone would ever read it, but somehow I have found an audience. Along the way the way I have 'met' some lovely people and have had visits from readers all over the world. I'm loving it all, even if blogging is time-consuming and a major distraction from my novel writing!

I'm looking forward to the second year...

Three notable things:

1. The blog birthday tomorrow.

2. All the wonderful blogs I have discovered through having my own. Each and every one in my blogroll and listed at Novel Racers is well worth a visit!

3. After a lot of thought I would like to pass on the Rockin' Blogger award to Lane, Viki and Jen. It was so hard to choose because all the blogs I read deserve it...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Another award

Just popping in quickly to say a huge thank you to Crystal Jigsaw for my latest award...Rockin' Blogger. I've spread my awards out in the sidebar now, just for variety...I like to play around with the layout of my blog.

I'm going to have a think about who to pass the Rockin' Blogger award on to. Watch this space!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Control freakery

When you live in the same house as someone who is on the autistic spectrum, you get used to living with a control freak. Everything has to be just so. Things must always be put away in the same place. Routines have to be followed for even the most basic tasks. Deviations can cause severe anxiety.

Son 2 is actually becoming more flexible as he gets older, but we are careful always to warn him in advance of changes. We have become so used to living in this way that it has become the norm.

So I was interested to do this little quiz...and relieved by the result! Why don't you have a go ?

You Are 24% Control Freak

You have achieved the perfect balance of control and letting go.
You tend to roll with whatever life brings, but you never get complacent.

Three notable things:

1. The bit about not getting complacent in life is so true. I've found in the past that if I do, everything rapidly goes pear-shaped!

2. It has not been raining quite so much today, but I'm not going to get complacent...

3. I've managed to get quite a lot of voluntary work done today, which is a weight off my mind.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Writing books and Stephen Fry

ChrisH picked an interesting topic for last Friday's coffee morning at the Novel Racers blog. What books, courses or other tools have we all found useful? Needless to say, the replies sent me off in search of my credit card and I have ordered a couple of tomes which several people had found useful. There is nothing like personal recommendation and I must admit I wasn't aware of some of the books before.

Novel Racers is, of course, a group of people writing novels. But I do like to dabble in short stories and poetry as well and on Saturday I found a cheap copy of the inimitable Stephen Fry's book 'The Ode Less Travelled' which is finally out in paperback. This was highly recommended by fellow students on the OU A215 course last year, so I am looking forward to dipping into it, especially after watching an evening of Stephen Fry TV programmes on Saturday.

On his way to work a few weeks ago, Hubby also spotted a casually dressed Stephen Fry out walking early in the morning. But as I am not writing for Heat magazine and I really don't want to be sued, I shall not say where...

(With apologies to Lane, who has also written about Stephen Fry today. That is what happens when someone famous has just celebrated a birthday! Can he really only be 50?)

Three notable things:

1. I had an appointment at the bank this morning but they had to cancel because the computer was down. Hooray!

2. As the appointment was cancelled I didn't have to go out in the rain at all.

3. I've just seen a TV ad for Galaxy. I NEED some chocolate. Now.