Friday, September 26, 2008

Black Boxes

Last night I had a lovely evening out at the launch of Caroline Smailes' new novel, Black Boxes, at Borders in Oxford Street. Sadly I couldn't make it in time to hear Caroline read, but she looked gorgeous and had a constant stream of customers at her signing table, while her husband and three beautiful children helped out amongst the guests.

It was rather like a bloggers reunion...lots of lovely Novel Racers, of course, including Liz on a flying visit back from the Middle East, but I also met Helen - who has written some great reviews for bookersatz - Sue Guiney and DJ Kirkby for the first time, all of whom were so friendly and it was great to see Sarah Salway again ( for those of you who don't know, Sarah co-edited the book Your Messages in which I got my first pieces published in print earlier this year).

Despite my lateness I arrived before the wine ran out and I came away with a signed copy of Black Boxes, which I am very much looking forward to reading. Having just done the OU E301 course, I now have an even greater appreciation of Caroline's style and how she has brought her linguistics background to play in her novel writing. It is all very clever, but those of you who have read any of Caroline's books will already know that!

Three notable things:

1. My end of course assessment for E301 is finished. I proofread it on the tube into London last night, put a few minor adjustments in this morning, will print it over the weekend and it will go on Monday. Hooray!

2. The results of all the tests my mother has been given are starting to come in. Nothing too awful yet but no firm conclusions either.

3. If you like knitting take a look at this new online shop, Cafe Knit. I think the website design is just beautiful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A new autism blog

Well, new to me anyway.

Yesterday I discovered Living not Drowning, quite by chance. I happen to know lovely Karen and her two beautiful children, but I had no idea she was also a blogger. Reading her blog took me back to how it was for us ten years ago, how stressful it was finding a school placement for son 2 and just dealing with life in general. It also made me appreciate how much easier son 2 is now, or perhaps it is just that my own ability to cope with him has improved.

If you have any interest in autism or living with a child with special needs do read Karen's blog, a beautifully written and honest account of the daily struggles. Oh and she is not just a wonderful mum but a great knitter too!

Three notable things:

1. The world of finance seems to be collapsing around us. Of course I should understand what is going on, but it is so long since I worked fulltime in auditing that it is a total mystery. I'm a little concerned for a friend whose husband works for HBOS though.

2. I'm about half way through my end of course assessment, with less than two weeks before it needs to be submitted. At least I have got some sort of structure to the essay at last and know roughly where I am heading. That's a start.

3. Everyone in the house is either coughing or sneezing...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I wandered into our local Waterstone's last Saturday and whilst I was browsing I came across the Sony Ebook reader which they have just launched there. Being curious, I had to have a little look.

I want to like ebooks. I quite like gadgets, so the idea of getting so many volumes on one little piece of equipment is appealing. It would certainly save space in our house which is looking more and more like a public library ( but less tidy). I do sometimes read ebooks on my laptop now, just to save a few trees.

But I don't think I could justify buying an ebook reader. For a start there is the cost...£200 before you've even put a book on it. Yes the Sony comes with a vast CD of out-of-copyright classics, but most classics are available to download as free ebooks anyway if you search the web. Another ebook reader available in the UK costs almost £400. Then there is the cost of the books themselves. Ebooks are only marginally cheaper than the list price of their print equivalent, depite the fact that once the ebook has been produced there is no ongoing manufacturing cost. Why, when I can walk up the road and pick up a paperback novel for as little as 39p in our local hospice charity shop, would I want to pay that much money (except perhaps for books that are hard to source)?

Then there is the digital rights problem. Ebooks come in a number of formats which are not compatible with each other. Not every book is published in every format and they can only be read by the purchaser on a small number of compatible and registered gadgets. So if you go with Sony now, you may well be tying yourself into Sony in the long term...fine if you get on with it, not so good if you don't.

I'll admit that I do have some ebooks on my computer and two different ebook readers...Microsoft Reader and Adobe Digital Editions. Many of the books are classics I have downloaded for free, others are slightly obscure writing textbooks or other nonfiction which I have purchased electronically to save space at home. I don't really enjoy reading books on a screen enough to read for pleasure that way, so for now I don't really see the point of an ebook reader. I don't commute, I don't go on long flights,I'm quite happy with just a paperback stuffed into my handbag when needed.

The only ebook benefit I can see is that because the print can be resized I can pop some OU manuals and other textbooks onto a memory stick and read them on the tiny screen of my Eee pc using Microsoft Reader or Adobe Reader, if I am away from home. For now I think that will have to do, though of course were I to be given a Sony Reader for Christmas I'm sure I could probably be converted...

Three notable things:

1. Got son 1 to the dentist yesterday. He did have to have one filling but it was only a tiny one and was done then and there.

2. The juggling the doctor's appointments on Monday didn't work out well. I just knew it wouldn't!

3. Better late than never, I forgot to mention earlier that the lovely Calistro has had not one but two bits of brilliant and well-deserved writing news recently, something to give hope to us all!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The hockey mom

I'm fascinated by Sarah Palin. It's always good to see a woman being given the opportunity to reach a high level in politics, the workplace, anything. She's attractive, feisty, talks the talk...


Her beliefs are reactionary. She apparently doesn't believe in abortion, whatever the circumstances of conception, even rape. She thinks that teenagers should be taught abstinence as contraception. Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Sarah's 17 year old daughter Bristol should have had an abortion, she is above the age of consent and that choice is for her and her alone. I am not too sure that I would be happy about my 17 year old getting married, but again that is the young couple's personal choice. At least I hope it is. What worries me is that Sarah Palin's conservative policy views would not enable other teenagers to have choices in future, nor help educate them in safe sex. Even the experiences of her own family have not made her get real.

What concerns me even more is that Sarah is the mother of a five month old son with Down's Syndrome. Again I respect her decision to carry on with the pregnancy, if indeed she knew the diagnosis before birth. I do not in any way believe that all disabled babies should be aborted, to do so would devalue the life of my own son. After all, many disabilities cannot be detected in the womb or actually occur due to birth accidents. But I do defend the opportunity for parents to have information and choices where appropriate.

At five months old it is surely too early to establish what that child's prognosis is, beyond recognising or ruling out some perhaps medical issues such as the heart problems which are common with the syndrome. For every happy, smiley child with Down's, there is probably a much more severely learning disabled one. A dual diagnosis of Down's and autism is not uncommon, with all the behavioural problems that can bring. All children with the syndrome will require support throughout their lives.

I have personal experience of how much attention a child with special needs requires in the early years. The importance of early intervention. The number of therapy and assessment appointments which must be attended. The battles to get the right help, the right education (though I guess a Governor/possible Vice President might not have to fight the same battles?). It's hard enough to balance all that with one other child and a very part-time job. I can only assume that Sarah Palin does not intend to take on the role of main carer herself. But what about the emotional impact of just being his Mum?

I wish her luck with her family.

Three notable things:

1. The doctor's surgery had misbooked my appointment for next Thursday instead of today. I have had to rebook for Monday and will be rushing from one doctor for myself to another to discuss son 2's x-ray...

2. I have a written a little more of my assessment today but have found it hard to concentrate because of...

3. ....Caroline's Black Boxes Widget! If you are visiting my blog from the widget please do stop and say hello in the comments, so I can visit you too! ( PS who on earth would offer the choice of toothache or migraine?!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Today a parcel arrived via DHL. The materials for the new OU Advanced Creative Writing Course, mailed out a good week earlier than we had expected.

I've taken a look. I think it will be challenging and a little scary, I can't wait for the course to start.

But until then I have packed the book away, because I've still got my end of course assessment for the current course to write. Mustn't let myself get too distracted...

Three notable things:

1. If, like me, you won't be reading the novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, you can take a shortcut here.

2. This morning I had my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist, at great expense. Son 1, who had announced that dentists were for wimps, or words to that effect, suddenly decided this evening that I should book a long overdue check up for him...

3. Lovely Caroline Smailes has a new novel, Black Boxes, coming out this month. She has a fantastic new widget on her blog ( and now on here too), which will take you on a decision based blog adventure. Go and play, it's addictive fun...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Taking stock

It's been a funny old year so far. If I tried to tell someone what has gone on, they probably wouldn't believe that so much could happen in one family in a period of six months.

Son 1 and the remaining grandparents all still have health challenges ahead. Yesterday my Mum had a brain scan, today she sees a psychologist ( or maybe psychiatrist, I'm not certain). Hopefully at the end of all her assessments a clearer picture and possible prognosis will emerge.

I'm in the finishing straight of my OU E301 course, with just the end of course assessment to complete in the next three weeks. It has been a real challenge to do the course alongside all the family crises but I'm glad I stuck with it. The course has been fascinating and challenging in equal measures, but I have certainly learned a lot.

A new creative writing course is on the horizon and I hope it will banish the writer's block which E301 induced. I am really looking forward to kick-starting my creative side again. Then I have to make some serious decisions about whether to apply for an MA course for next year or wait a little, bearing in mind that I am not getting any younger...

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 went back to school this term with a skip and a smile.

2. Andy Murray has just beaten Rafael Nadal for the first time. He can obviously play tennis but I do wish someone would send him to charm school...

3. Although I am usually pretty apolitical, I am fascinated by what currently happening in the USA. Whichever side wins, there will certainly be a big step forward in equal opportunities. But...( and I may come back to this another day!)