Friday, December 31, 2010


What a year it's been. Like most people, I guess, for me it has been a year of contrasts.

On the positive side I completed a novel. I thoroughly edited that novel and started to submit it to agents. I am using a slow targeted approach to my submissions so it is likely to be a long process. I made very few submissions of short work in the year, but Even More Tonto Short Stories, containing one of my short stories was finally published and I had an article on Powder Room Graffiti, a website I hope to write more for next year.

On the negative side it has been a year of trying to come to terms with new physical limitations. I know that I am lucky in that my MS is, as yet, relatively mild and I didn't suffer another relapse in the year, but the limitations are real, often painful, and frequently changing. Add to that some unrelated medical symptoms that still have to be fully investigated and some medication to trial and it is a period of uncertainty.

The boys have both had a very successful year but we are still existing under huge financial constraints, a situation which looks unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Christmas therefore had to be a somewhat muted affair, which ended up with the washing machine dying in a somewhat dramatic fashion to round the year off in style. At least I've managed to order a new one before the VAT increase hits!

Wishing you all a happy and successful 2011 and just a reminder that from tomorrow I shall be taking part in a river of stones. I shall be writing my small stones as separate posts on this blog to enable them to be picked up as part of the project, but normal posts will continue too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas greeting...

...from Son 2.

We don't really do religion at home, but this year, for some reason, he is obsessively listening to 'Angels We Have Heard On High' by the Westminster Cathedral Choir, which is on an album of Christmas songs I bought some time ago. So I just thought I would share:

This Christmas I shall be keeping in my thoughts the friends who are currently going through very difficult times (there are several of them) and the homeless trying to survive in this weather. I shall feel grateful for everything I still have.

Have the best (white?) Christmas you can, despite the UK weather chaos, and see you all on the other side.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A river of stones

The observant amongst you might have noticed the new badge to the right announcing that I'm going to be taking part in a river of stones in January 2011.

What is a river of stones? Well, it's all about being observant. An international writing project, set up by Fiona Robyn and her fiance Kaspa, participants will every day in January write/blog a small fragment, or 'stone', describing in detail something in the world around them. For more details of how to become involved see the dedicated blog here.

I'm quite excited about doing this. My writing has been getting stale and I need a new motivator. Description is never the strongest part of my work, so to spend a few moments each day just concentrating on getting what I see down in words will be a worthwhile writing exercise. The concept takes me right back to the daily haiku at the start of the Open University A215 Creative Writing course and the excitement of the Your Messages project, which was my stepping stone to publication.

I'll be posting my 'small stones' here, starting on 1st January and will be using the post tag 'aros', as Kaspa has created a lovely widget which apparently collects all the stones under that tag. No, I don't know how it works either!

A river of stones can also be found on Twitter at @ariverofstones and under the hashtag #aros

Friday, December 17, 2010

A quick round-up

So Christmas is almost upon us. I'm busy cramming goodies into the supermarket order which will be delivered mid-week and praying that two Amazon parcels arrive on time. As usual we will have a low-key holiday, just the four of us. Son 2, in common with many autistic children, just doesn't 'do' Christmas, apart from the chocolates.

The snow has scuppered some plans. Son 1 was planning to travel to the Westcountry today to visit the grandparents on his own, but in the end we decided that there were too many risks...of train cancellations stranding him there and icy roads for my elderly father to drive on to pick him up from and return him to the station. He was originally booked on a 12.20pm train and at around midday it snowed quite heavily here, so I think we made the right decision and my father sounded relieved.

Writing is on hold, and has been for a few weeks, while I try to get some health niggles sorted. But I have been reading and greatly enjoyed Sister by Rosamund Lupton and One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner.

In other news, I correctly predicted the first to third places in The X Factor, as evidenced in the comments to Caroline's blog post at the start of the series...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So you want to write a novel...

What more is there to say?

Friday, December 03, 2010

On libraries

A few months ago I had lunch with an old schoolfriend who happens to be a librarian. We see each other rarely, but almost as soon as we sat down at the table she was keen to ask me whether I use my local library.

The answer was yes, but in a different way to a few years ago. We are lucky to have a very local library which is small, but modern, cosy and well-stocked, particularly in comparison to a larger library further down the road which I've always found somewhat uninspiring. I enjoy going to our library to read and research, but I realised that it is so long since I borrowed a book that I'm not even sure where my library card is. I tried to justify why this might be.

I think I stopped borrowing fiction when son 2 was small, when he had an uncontrollable compulsion to tear up any books and I had difficulty snatching even a moment to read due to his challenging behaviour. Another reason is that for many years our income was good enough to be able to buy books without really thinking twice. As I tended to purchase faster than I can read, the stockpile of paperbacks will keep me going in these more difficult times. And now, of course, I have a Kindle and I am buying books for that.

But I've continued to use the library as a place to work for a couple of hours when I need to get out of the house, a place to research or just to sit and read, especially children's fiction now my own boys are grown up. I love that the library offers not only books but also internet access to those who do not have them. My elderly father, who will probably never have a computer at home, has recently put his name down for a computer course at his local library. He just wants to be able to occasionally look things up on the internet in the library, where help is at hand for a technophobe.

Libraries are still a valuable resource, even if their services sometimes seem to need a little tweaking to keep up with changing communities and times. Whilst waiting for an appointment I recently spent a few minutes in another branch, situated in a community centre alongside a cafe run by people with learning disabilities. Easy access to a library and food and drink. What more could you ask?

So when I just read this post by Nicola Morgan I found myself nodding in agreement. We need libraries to give equal access to learning and culture. We need them to help encourage our young children to read through their activity sessions and to provide a space for older children to do their homework in peace. We need libraries to provide large-print and audiobooks for the disabled. We need them to serve whole communities, perhaps linked in somehow with the teaching of English as a second language. We need them to broaden our own reading horizons.

There have been a lot of (often justified) complaints about the state of literacy and education in this country. How on earth is closing libraries going to help?

(For anyone who knows where I live, I'm not aware of any planned library closures here, they seem to be cutting library staff jobs instead by increasing automation. But a neighbouring borough is apparently due to close up to 50% of its libraries and it is a nationwide issue.)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Talli Roland's Take on Amazon Web Splash

This is such an amazing idea by lovely Talli Roland to promote her novel, The Hating Game, across the blogosphere today and I'm delighted to be able to take part:

Help Talli Roland's debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at and by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.

No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.

Coming soon in paperback. Keep up with the latest at


When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £200,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A song for a lost love

I guess we've all had our hearts broken at some time and can feed the pain back into our writing, whether it be a poem, a story or a song. I just love this so much.

(Thanks to lovely Cally Taylor for drawing my attention to this on Facebook, as I'd missed Adele's slot on the Later Live with Jools Holland TV programme last week.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Powder Room Graffiti

Just popping in very quickly to tell those of you who don't already know, from Twitter or Facebook, the exciting news that I have a short and personal article published today here on Powder Room Graffiti, my first for them.

PRG is a lively online community for women, so if you haven't already discovered it why not go and take a look?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest we forget

One of my all time favourite posts on this blog was written on 11 November.

Read it here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The X Factor -week 5

I love, love, loved Matt. And Rebecca.

That's all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blogging times change

I started this blog in October 2006. Yes, four whole years ago.

I was full of enthusiasm. I'd just finished an Open University course and was about to take my writing more seriously. Life had just thrown us a huge curveball, but it meant that I would be at home much more, that I had time to write.

I couldn't have imagined then that I was already into the most challenging years of my life. Years which have been documented, in a censored fashion, on this blog.

This blog is both a record and a painful reminder and I'm no longer sure whether I want it all to be so public. The internet world seems to be changing. We appear to be losing enthusiasm for blogging. Communities built up over a number of years seem to be dying, or pulling apart in a destructive manner. Perhaps it's something to do with the recession or maybe, with the explosion of social networking, we are all just realising that we have been too open in the past.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm no longer sure where this blog is going. I think at some point soon I shall be separating my writing posts from the more personal stuff. I've already started to create a new writing blog which will become the one linked to my website and will be solely about books and writing. I may eventually mothball these ramblings.

Whatever I decide to do I'll be sure to keep you all posted, if you'll forgive the pun.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back to the day job

The last two weeks have been half term, so my waking hours have been consumed by being Son 2's carer. It is something of a mental leap from being merely a parent to a carer but Son 2 is now 16, he should be trying to sneak out to the pub rather than watching CBeebies all day and when I look at the independence of his brother, I can make that transition. I can accept that it is a day job, if a very poorly paid one.

This holiday has been about broadening Son 2's musical tastes. He loves music, he actually spends all day plugged into an mp3 player in a most age appropriate manner, although for a long time his musical choices were not so age appropriate. Then a few months ago he stole an mp3 player from me. Yes, it's a pink mp3 player. Get over it. On it were some of my favourite tracks of all time, the soundtrack to my life. Son 2 loves it. But again, the music is not exactly what your typical 16 year old listens to. I'm out of date, I don't know what to offer him.

So this, dear readers, is where you come in.

Son 2 likes ballads and more up tempo tracks with a definite tune and perhaps a little bit of drama. As he is nonverbal the music is more important than the lyrics and he likes classical music and chillout tracks. I have found him listening recently to Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele but he also really likes Take That (Patience), Coldplay (Viva la Vida) and the Motown and soul of the Sixties and Seventies, while yesterday he was listening to Lady GaGa's Bad Romance over again on YouTube. I realise that his musical tastes are currently somewhat limited by our own and I want to download more contemporary tracks for him.

Any good suggestions?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jane Austen and the editor

I discovered Jane Austen at a ridiculously late age which is a shame, because if I'd been introduced to her work by the age of 16 I think I might have continued with English up to A level. But I digress.

The latest literacy buzz is that it appears that Jane Austen had an editor. Shock, horror. And that follows on from a revelation that the style of Raymond Carver's model short stories was highly influenced by his editor.

But why should we be surprised? Surely all writers need an editor, an outside eye to pick up what works stylistically and what doesn't, to spot errant typos and clumsy prose?

I'm possibly a little unusual in that I really like editing. I love the self-editing stage of writing, the honing of a rough first draft into more flowing prose. I don't mind my work being externally edited, because I can usually see that the suggestions will improve it. And frustrating as it is, I even masochistically enjoy the inevitable picking apart of the work to amend the foreshadowing of edited scenes where necessary.

One of the things that is drummed into students on the Open University creative writing courses is the importance of revision and editing and I have to say my own writing improved immensely when I started taking all that on board. I realised that prior to that my 'editing' consisted of little more than spellchecking. Now I pick my prose apart with a much closer eye.

But the downside is that I also pick apart the work of others and as I am reading I sometimes become distracted by something as simple as an errant comma. I guess that's what they call reading like a writer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A ray of light in the gloom

Time is running away again. The to-do list is growing, I seem to add several things every week but feel happy if I can cross just one item off. And now it's half term again. Where did those six weeks go?

Last week the doom and gloom of the economic crisis, both national and personal,was temporarily lifted by the rescue of the 33 miners who'd been trapped underground in Chile for 69 days. I shed tears at each and every emergence I watched on the news channel. Thinking I was stupid and, it has to be said, hormonal, I turned to Twitter where I found many others were doing the same. It was a triumph of hope over adversity, caught for posterity in pitch perfect media coverage.

I'm not writing much right now. But I am researching, looking at photos and reading about some pivotal movements in twentieth century history, trying to integrate hope and despair into the new novel. The coverage of the miners brought home both emotions in such an immediate and visual manner that I felt inspired.

And now back to work, it's going to be hard enough to snatch time to write during the next two weeks of school holiday...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hmm, I wonder...

I often wonder why son 2 has autism. There is no obvious genetic link as nobody else has the diagnosis on either side of the family, even though one or two family members might be considered to have some quirks. But don't we all?

I've got past the guilt of wondering if it was something that happened during pregnancy. I do believe that son 2 showed some signs of autism right from the earliest days, but it was a planned pregnancy, I was ultra-cautious and I wasn't even working at the time, so was as stress-free as one can be whilst looking after a toddler.

But I went into early labour with both my boys, so I was interested to read the new research on a possible link between neo-natal jaundice and autism. To summarize: a full-term baby born between October and March, who has suffered neo-natal jaundice and is not the mother's first child, is 67% more likely to develop autism.

Now let's look at my evidence. Son 2, born in March, was not full-term, but at just over 36 weeks he was only a few days short of being considered so. The only issues he had were jaundice and minor feeding problems. Unlike Son 1, born in October, who was a 34 week baby and spent 6 weeks in the neonatal unit where the jaundice was the least of his problems.

So, both boys fall into the risk category for month of birth and having suffered jaundice, but Son 1 was born earlier, was more sick and was my first pregnancy. You'd perhaps expect him to be more vulnerable but the antibodies would not have built up and according to the research that would have protected him.

Son 1 has, of course, had his own issues, some of which may have a root cause in his prematurity (there is research to support this too). But he does not have autism, in fact he is a very sociable young man now. Son 2, however, had all the risk factors and is severely autistic.

Perhaps there is something in all this research...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Life begins at 50?

She probably won't win The X Factor, but wasn't it lovely to see Mary Byrne get such a wonderful ovation from the studio audience last night?

(And if anyone can explain simply to me how I can embed the YouTube video without it stretching right over the sidebar of my blog, I'd be really grateful!)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Strong women

A couple of people who have read the draft of my first novel, Walking on Tiptoe, have asked if the main character, Emma, is actually me. The answer to that is always no. True, small parts of Emma's life are based on my own experience, but she is very much a composite character, inspired by the many strong women I know. My second novel is also shaping up to have strong female characters, two of them women who have had extraordinary experiences.

When I was first wanting to write,in my twenties, the traditional romance genre was my aim. But now that I am actually writing novels a totally different type of heroine is emerging in my work, a heroine who gets on with life and can look after herself, a heroine who doesn't need an alpha male. Because, let's face it, for a lot of women that is the reality of life.

My own immediate circle of friends includes a widow, single mothers, women bringing up severely disabled children, women who have suffered the distress of infertility and miscarriage, women caring for sick, elderly parents and women who are suffering circumstances I wouldn't blog about. The one thing that they all have in common is their inner strength. They just get on with life and make the most of it.

I think I've always been quite strong. Perhaps being the older sibling had something to do with it, perhaps knowing that I had to make something of my life to get away from a hometown which suffocated me. That strength made me very independent, but it is also now causing me difficulties as I have to recognise that I do have some physical limitations. It's been quite a journey to get my head around the fact that I have a degenerative condition, but twelve months on from diagnosis little has changed. The prognosis is still quite good.

I need to learn not to get so frustated when I can't do something, not to stress that I am letting others down. I need to learn to accept help. I need to redirect my strength into my writing. I think a lot more characters like Emma may just emerge.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Interview with DJ Kirkby

I'm delighted that DJ Kirkby has agreed to be interviewed here to celebrate the official launch of her debut novel, Without Alice which I found to be a compelling read, written by a true storyteller. The interview is long, but please bear with us, as it covers subjects close to both our hearts.

You make no secret of the fact that you were diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, dyspraxia and dyslexia as an adult. Asperger’s Syndrome is a disorder on the autistic spectrum and people with autism generally have the ‘triad of impairments’ which means that they have difficulty with ‘social communication, social interaction and social imagination’ (National Autistic Society). Do you think that the self-understanding which must have followed the diagnosis has impacted on your writing in any way and do you find writing therapeutic?

I think that my diagnosis was one of the most life enhancing things to have happened to me, and yes it did have a huge impact on my writing. Once I realised just how well I had been coping for my whole life I realised that I could go on to write that novel I had been dreaming of. If I could function in a predominantly neurotypical world so well (as opposed to so badly as I’d thought for many years) then there was no reason why I couldn't write a novel and do a good job of that too. Writing has always helped me make sense of the chaos I see the neurotypical world. Maintaining a neurotypical facade for the entire workday is like performing a play in a language that I have a working knowledge of, but one which is not my first language. So whilst I might come across as outwardly believable, inside I am double guessing myself, questioning my every move and having to interpret the response I get into my ‘language’ to try and establish what, exactly, the person I am interacting with actually meant.

As the parent of a severely autistic young person I've read a number of books written by people with autism, but they were all non-fiction or memoirs (including your own amazing From Zaftig to Aspie). Do you think you are unique in being a person with Asperger’s Syndrome who has had a novel published?

I think every human is unique but as far as I know I am the only openly autistic person who has had a novel published, although there are many talented published autistic authors such as Temple Grandin, John Elder Robison, Claire Sainsbury and Wendy Lawson to name just a few.

Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from severe anxiety, but I'm always impressed by your energy, enthusiasm and promotional ability. You don’t appear to suffer from the self-doubt which troubles so many new writers. You had setbacks on the road to getting Without Alice published, but do you feel that it was your confidence which got the result in the end?

I am not obviously self doubtful ( it is very easy to hide emotions on the internet) because I have been told by a few successful authors whom I trust that if a writer wishes their work to be taken seriously, then they first, must appear as if they believe it worthy of that. I think the fact that I have always behaved professionally while on the internet has helped me overcome the setbacks I endured with getting my novel published. The writing/ publishing world is very small and most of us have heard of one another to some degree. What my readers don’t see and perhaps do need to know, is that I am as fretful and anxious as the ‘average’ autistic person, and not a day goes by where I don’t suffer sensory overload and question whether I have what it takes to carry on promoting myself as an author. To carry on means that I have to keep putting myself in the spot light, and under scrutiny. Fairly easy to do on the internet where I can take my time and write out my responses – run them past my husband for a social acceptableness check - much more difficult to do in real time during non internet public appearances. For particularly challenging ones such as book launch parties where sensory overload is guaranteed I have my husband or another carer with me and make sure I’ve booked the following day off work but for things like book signings I have to go to them alone and just ensure that I identify a quiet room where I can spend time when it becomes necessary. Usually it is the staff toilet!

I find that people with autism either follow rules to the letter or tend to disregard them totally. Do you follow the so-called ‘rules’ ( e.g. ‘show not tell’) when you are writing and editing, or do you prefer to write more freely?

I think that I am good at showing the reader the scenes simply because I am an outsider in the world about which I write. My characters are neurotypical non autistic people so when I write from my perspective I am showing my readers what I see as an autistic person which works wonderfully in terms of getting a novel written the right way. The areas I struggle with are portraying communication believably, and I tend to use less dialogue than other novelists. If the lack of dialogue is significant from a neurotypical aspect then this is picked up in editing (I paid to have Without Alice professionally edited before submitting it to my publisher), and I then expand the dialogue in the identified areas.

I've tried to plan my own fledgling writing career, starting with courses to learn the craft of writing followed by targeted submissions. I know many people with autism like their life to be highly structured, so have you taken a similar approach or have you just taken advantage of opportunities as they have arisen?

I have written for so long that it is part of the structure of my daily life. I feel highly anxious if I don’t get time to write. I use it as a method of stress relief and a way of sorting through the events of the day, a way to learn from my mistakes. However, I have never taken a writing course as that would mean even less downtime than I have now. I work full time and having to take an evening (or weekend) course whether in a class or via distance learning would still mean that I have to do more intensive work after a hectic and stressful work day. All I want to do is spend more time with my family, not less and I know that I couldn’t cope with the extra work involved in taking a writing course. I do read a lot of writing books and blogs and learn a lot of what (and what not) to do in relation to writing as a result. This method seems to have worked for me and Without Alice is a novel that I am proud of.

You have launch parties planned for Without Alice. Do you find the face to face promotional aspects of being a writer particularly daunting?

As I mentioned earlier, I am very anxious about the promotional work for Without Alice. I also know that it is as much a part of being an author as actually writing the novel. If I don’t get myself out there and meet my readers, then how do I engage with them and get to know what they want from me as an author? Additionally, because I am published by an independent (small) publisher, if I don’t do public appearances then word of mouth about me as an author wont happen and I need it to for my book sales to happen. I know that even authors who are published by big publishers (with big marketing budgets) have to get out and promote themselves which means that this has to be done even more intensively for an author published by a small publisher. Writing a good novel is only the first part of the job.I consider myself very lucky to have found a publisher who was willing to read a submission from an openly autistic author in the first place and then for him to believe in my writing enough to take a risk in publishing me. After all, all the work and money involved in making my novel actually physically available for readers to buy has come from my publisher. I feel I owe it to both of us to make sure that I do everything I can to engage with readers and hopefully have them like me enough as an author to tell their friends about me and my novel (s). Having said all that, self promotion is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

First I have to get readers interested enough to come in and see me, then I have to get book shops to agree to let me come in for a signing and once there I also need to approach random people who come into the shop. Once I have done so I then need to engage with them in such a manner that they are willing to buy a copy or two of my novel! I do spend time in my bolt hole freaking out until I calm down enough to get back on the shop floor and carry on.

At the book launch parties I will drink wine and wear ear plugs as both help to smooth out the sensory overload long enough to get me through the event. Having said that, I often appear distracted and sometimes talk nonsense. This is because I am paying attention to the sensory overload instead of the person talking to me. I apologise in advance to anyone that I may do this to. I struggle to hear things sometimes because all I can hear is everything around me due to the fact that my brain doesn’t do a good job of tuning out unnecessary noises, so I can hear all the conversations at once, the phone ringing, the door opening, the cash register working the air conditioning or heating, traffic noise, smell people’s perfumes, colognes, bad breath, hair products, hear their clothes rustle, drinks being poured, scents from the street outside and so on. So if it seems like I am not fully focussed on what you’re saying, it’s not that you’re uninteresting, it’s just me being me.

You not only write prolifically, but hold down a high-powered day job and care for your family. What life advice would you give to a young person with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Don’t be afraid of failure. Think of it as an excuse to go back the way you came until you find a more successful way around the obstacle. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help but never use autism as an excuse. You know it isn’t an excuse, it’s our way of being and that means we have to go about things differently to be able to function in society. We know ourselves best and so it’s up to us to find our own way of coping with functioning in a socially acceptable manner. We are all individuals with unique desires and dreams and with the right support, you can do anything you wish to do. Once you get there you may realise that it isn’t actually what you did want and that’s ok too because you can start over and go get something different. Everything will probably seem like very hard work but that is what life is all about and you’ll find coping strategies along the way if you’re willing to try things out until you find the ones that work best for you. Make sure that you have some things that are easy and make you happy, and treat yourself to these things when you need a break but don’t let yourself obsess on them or you won’t get anything else done.

DJ Kirkby has dedicated Facebook pages for her books Without Alice and From Zaftig to Aspie.

Coming up on the blog...

If anyone has noticed that I've been even quieter than usual on Twitter, Facebook and the blog, I should explain that my computer is not happy at present. I've spent much of this week trying to improve its performance, but I think I may have to give in and take it to the laptop hospital next week.

In the meantime, I'm thrilled to have been given an interview with DJ Kirkby to celebrate the official launch of her debut novel Without Alice.
Check back here on Monday to find out how being a person with Asperger's Syndrome impacts on her writing career and life.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tip top

Oh my, it's over a week since I posted here.

Last week was consumed by real life stuff of the most boring variety and this week seems to be starting the same way. I'm writing in my head only, but that still counts, doesn't it?

Today I stretched my legs with a little walk to the corner shop, where for once I found myself drawn to Prima magazine rather than the chocolate. Opening it up when I got home, I was delighted to find that they have printed another of my tips, the second since I started submitting them earlier this year.

And if anyone else is magazine buying the current issue of Writers' Forum has a great article about literacy consultancies by lovely Helen Hunt, in which I am quoted on my positive experience with BubbleCow.

I tried to buy a copy of Writers' Forum on Saturday, but the queue for the tills in W.H.Smith was so ridiculously long that I gave up and skimmed through the article in the shop. Sadly they don't sell that magazine in the corner shop, so I'll have to try again in town next weekend.

Edited: I've just realised that Julie Phillips is included in both magazines too. I'd read her blog post but forgotten!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Even More Tonto Short Stories

I've been away, and when I returned home yesterday I was delighted to find my contributor copy of Even More Tonto Short Stories had arrived in the post in my absence. My short story, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, is the final one in the anthology, but do make sure you also read all the others, there are some fantastic writers included, many of them already published novelists. It's thrilling to finally have the book in my hands and I can't wait to read all the stories.

Even More Tonto Short Stories can be purchased from Amazon, directly from Tonto Books or from any other good bookseller.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Me and my Kindle

So, I have had my Kindle for just over a week and I am in love with it.

I've already written here about my reasons for wanting one, so now I must report back on whether it is meeting my expectations, I guess. I haven't yet explored all the features and some I may never use, but here is my verdict so far:

1.The design is sleek and generally user friendly, with buttons which are small and firm but not stiff. The Kindle comes with a USB cable and a very lightweight plug into which the cable can inserted so the machine can also be recharged away from a computer. It all arrives in beautiful packaging which appears to be made from recycled materials. A quick start guide is in the box, the main manual automatically arrives on your Kindle and can also be downloaded as a PDF file from the Amazon website to read in advance or print out.

2.The Kindle arrives already registered to your Amazon account and as soon as it is started any books you have bought in advance are downloaded. Books are easy to purchase and download onto it. Almost too easy, so I shall have to be very controlled in how much I spend. I've already downloaded quite a few books but many were free classics and some others were under £1.

3. The Kindle software for other devices, such as a computer or phone is very useful. I have it on my laptop and if I want to download samples of books I am interested in I usually send those to the laptop rather than clogging up the Kindle itself (though files are very easy to remove from the Kindle). I also found it useful to keep the Kindle manual on the laptop, so if I have a problem I can read on the PC while following instructions on the Kindle.

4. The reading experience is very positive. The contrast is so good that I can read comfortably in very low light. For Kindle books there is not only a choice of 8 font sizes but the font type, line spacing and words per line can even be changed. Kindle books can easily be searched for keywords to find content. Each book reopens at the point it was last left (and readers on PC or phone can be synchronised to this) but it is simple to return to the start via the 'go to' menu.

5. The PDF reader is good and keeps formatting intact as well as having a search facility. To read PDFs comfortably the screen needs to be put into landscape mode with the machine turned round and I have found that most of my PDF books can be read easily like that, though using the page turn buttons is more awkward. The exception is academic textbooks, where their original larger size means that the type is still very small. Readable, but barely for my eyes. There is a zoom in facility, but even on the first zoom level that means several clicks to move across each line which I find very slow and annoying, so I think I will use it on 'fit to page' and use a small handheld magnifier if necessary. PDF files can be transferred directly onto the Kindle via USB or sent to Amazon by email to download. I found the USB method very easy and much quicker for multiple files, as the Kindle just acts like an extra storage device to drop files into. I have also successfully emailed Word documents to Amazon for free download.

6. There are quite a few menus and functions to learn, but once you get the hang of the various keys and menus it is fairly straightforward, even to me. The keyboard buttons are tiny but easily pressed with a nail. Having to open the symbols menu to access number keys is, however, rather a pain.

7.The browser is, as expected, rather clunky to use and quite difficult to read in shades of grey. Key websites such as Google, Wikipedia and the BBC come already bookmarked and I have been able to get into email accounts on BT Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. The browser is a nice extra, but it would probably only be used if no other internet access was available as it does have a tendency to freeze or crash the machine. I think this is due to the number of clicks needed to navigate a page.

8.The new Kindle does seem to have a few problems with stability, for which Amazon are apparently working on a software fix. Mine has both frozen and crashed, but I believe this was due to me pressing buttons too quickly in my impatience. Speed is not of the essence with this machine. There are instructions for both a hard reset and a soft reset in the manual and the soft reset via a menu sorted out a problem I had with a corrupted font in the early days, without me having to ring Customer Support.

9. It took me three goes to get my Kindle to connect to our home WiFi but I suspect that was due to user error in typing in the network key because of my manual dexterity issues. Initially I just used the inbuilt 3g and found that at home I can get the 3g speed during the day but it tends to drop to GPRS in the evening.

10. The Kindle doesn't come with any sort of case or protective cover, so buying one is essential. The 'official' case seems expensive but is sturdy real leather and seems well made. I didn't buy the case with a light, instead I have a small clip-on reading light, very cheap from eBay, which I can attach to the cover. But the screen contrast is good enough to read the Kindle with just a bedside light anyway so I will probably use it very rarely.

11. The battery life on my first charge was poor, just 4 days with the WiFi left on and a lot of experimentation (including a soft reset). I now turn the WiFi off except when I actually need it and this second charge is lasting much better, though I still think Amazon's own estimates are rather optimistic, especially if the browser is used at all.

12. I haven't tried any of the audio facilities for audiobooks or mp3 files, I will probably stick to my mp3 player for those as they would drain the Kindle battery. Nor have I yet attempted to annotate books, though that does appear to be straightforward.

13. The Kindle comes with two inbuilt dictionaries but the default dictionary is the American one. This can be changed to the Oxford Dictionary of English via a menu. I have also downloaded a Roget's Thesaurus for under £1.

14. Books can be catalogued into 'collections' but as far as I can tell this can only be done on the Kindle itself. That takes a while, but the result is worth it for the increased ease of finding what you want.

15. The Kindle puts itself into sleep mode after 10 idle minutes or when manually switched off, and comes with a lovely collection of literature and art related screensavers. It is always fun to see which one emerges at the end of a session and they do give the machine a classy appearance. My current favourite is the portrait of Virginia Woolf.

So, a few little niggles, but generally the new Kindle is meeting all my expectations. Is it worth the money given that most of the current books are around the same price as the print versions? Well, probably, I think, and for me, with my specific needs, definitely yes. I will be road testing it on a trip next week.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Summer Reading 2 - Not So Perfect

Oh dear, I meant to blog about Not So Perfect ages ago, but life got in the way. And now Hubby has run off with the book (which is in itself a recommendation).

I've 'known' Nik Perring online for a while now so I was delighted when he had this collection of very short stories published. Every story is a gem, they are succinct, quirky and moving. It's hard to pick a favourite, because the quality of the collection is very even, but if I really had to I think it would be When You're Frightened Honey, Think of Strawberries, a story which I'd previously read online and which had stayed with me for a long time.

The book itself is a small square design, perfect for popping into a handbag, and it accompanied me to coffee shops and hospital appointments. I was genuinely sad to reach the end of the final story, as it's a fine debut collection of flash fiction.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Busy, busy, busy

Last week just rushed by too.

On Wednesday Son 2 returned to school, but this time to the Further Education unit on a new site. He'd been well prepared by the school, who also sent home a transition book for us to look at together over the summer. He seemed a little apprehensive just before the transport arrived, but all was well when we found his old escort had been transferred onto this new route. There were big smiles all round.

He seemed happy when he returned in the evening and the good mood continued in the following days, so we can only assume that all is well in Son 2's world. It is so hard when they can't really tell you what goes on.

Son 1 had two induction days at his new college and work starts in earnest on Monday. He showed me a photo on his phone of the view from the classroom window, this time he looks out onto fields rather than a tube station. There is a fair amount of travelling to get there, but the London Underground app on his new BlackBerry will help with that.

And finally, and most excitingly, my Kindle arrived! An early font problem induced panic, but eventually I discovered how to reset the firmware and all is well again. I will report back in more detail next week when I've explored all the features...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Of coffee and exam results

An exciting week has just flown past.

On Monday I met lovely Miriam for a coffee. Miriam and I discovered each other in the writerly blogosphere during the last year and I was delighted when she emailed recently to say she would be passing through London whilst over here on a holiday from Israel. I was particularly thrilled because Miriam often blogs about the social anxiety from which she suffers, so I knew that for her making the suggestion to meet up was a Big Thing.

We met at the impressive new St Pancras International station. Not the most exciting location perhaps, but convenient for both of us. And Miriam needn't have worried, as I was in one of my most chatty moods as we sat in the Costa Coffee situated in the row of smart little shops. I probably bored her to death, but I hope we will be able to meet again in the future.

On Tuesday GCSE results came out. Son 1 had taken just one exam, but his preferred college placement and course for this year was dependent upon a grade of at least C and he wasn't sure he'd done it (he already had the required result in his BETEC First Diploma). He was working on Tuesday and couldn't get to college to receive his result in person, so we had to wait anxiously for the postman on Wednesday. The news was good and yesterday he enrolled at his first choice college for a BETEC National Extended Diploma in IT, which is the equivalent of taking three A levels. He has chosen not to go back to our local college, even though academically he did well there last year, and will be facing a daily commute, albeit against the rush hour mayhem. He'll just have to learn to get up earlier.

(The picture is of the statue at St Pancras which, stupidly, I forgot to go upstairs to look at. Next time...)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lows and highs

The past week was seriously weird, a true rollercoaster.

A fatal traffic accident at the end of our road on Monday created drama and left everyone feeling shaken. In addition two friends have been seriously ill in hospital. Different hospitals and different reasons, but each another reminder of my own mortality.

It's just over a year since my diagnosis and I've been struggling with the anniversary. I'm no worse than I was this time last year, I'm actually significantly better, as I was in the throes of a major relapse back then. Looking at the overall picture there has been little significant deterioration. I am slowly learning to recognise my fluctuating symptoms and to listen to them, to accept my limitations. But it's not always easy.

On the upside, I've been out to see quite a few friends. Although Son 1 wasn't awaiting A level results, I've enjoyed hearing of his old schoolfriends getting university places. Son 1 is now motivated and doing well in his education, his turn will hopefully come. In the meantime he is working hard in a very worthwhile holiday and weekend job which he not only enjoys, but will look good on future applications.

Son 2 has been quite relaxed and enjoying the holiday, especially his playscheme sessions. We are now starting to gently remind him about his forthcoming transition to the further education unit and keeping our fingers tightly crossed.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Reading 1 - Like Bees to Honey

I've never been to Malta. But after devouring Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes I felt as if I had. I actually read the book three months ago and decided to wait to review it, to see if that strong sense of place remained with me. Today I can still see, smell and taste Malta.

Nina returns to the island of her birth with her son, ready to face her demons. But what she finds instead is an island full of ghosts, presided over by a hippy Jesus who loves reality TV and hangs out in a bar. The ghosts are keen to share their stories and some wonderful characters emerge. I particularly loved Tilly, the angry house ghost.

It's no secret that I have been a great fan of Caroline's writing since I first discovered her online. She has a unique voice but, whilst I personally loved her earlier novels, the subject matter was often challenging. In Like Bees to Honey she has achieved the perfect balance, taking the reader on a emotional rollercoaster ride between tears and laughter. The novel covers many important themes - cultural dislocation, the guilt of motherhood, the ambivalence of religion and the power of family to both divide and heal - yet is never didactic.

Caroline Smailes has a background in linguistics, which shows through in her writing. Excerpts of a tourist guide and the use of fancy fonts add depth and additional meaning. The careful placing of words and phrases on the page inserts pauses, while repetition adds rhythm and emphasis. In Like Bees to Honey the repetition of words and phrases of the Maltese language, always translated, add another sensory layer. The reader can hear Malta. And then there are the black-edged pages...

Such devices, if used badly, could be distracting but Caroline Smailes is a clever writer. In her hands they merely emphasise compelling stories, while adding poetic qualities to the spare, readable prose, where every single word has significant meaning. Caroline's writing style is truly individual.

I loved Like Bees to Honey. The handcrafted cover design is enticing and it's a book I know I shall return to over again, even if I never do get to Malta myself.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Joining the dots between British novelists

I just love this application from the Open University's Open Learn website, which shows the fascinating links between a number of 20th century British authors. Do go and have a play, it's quality OU material, all for free and I'm grateful to @Mslexia who retweeted the link on Twitter.

While you are there, the sidebar is worth exploring too. There are so many blog posts about literature, creative writing and the English language (and many other subjects) that I think I might be spending some time on the site in the coming days...

(The author links application needs Flash, by the way)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Reading and reviewing

Despite the fact that I co-founded a book blog, I rarely post reviews on here and recently I started to wonder why. I came up with the following reasons:

- I like to take time to digest a newly-published book, rather than immediately writing about it. As a result so many other people will already have reviewed it, that I often feel my views would add nothing new.

- I don't have a background in English Literature, so I don't feel entirely confident in my ability to comment on the literary quality of the work of others, even more so since I discovered for myself how difficult it actually is to write good fiction.

- As a linguist, however, I do tend to judge a book as much on the beauty and readability of the language as on the story itself. The craft of writing is also important and I sometimes inadvertently find myself thinking show not tell, or something similar. I seem to have started to read like a writer and I fear it may sometimes make me a little over-critical.

Oh dear, that all sounds rather pretentious, doesn't it? But it isn't really, it's just showing my own insecurities as a reader (and writer).

Anyway, just in case you all think I'm not really reading at all, I'm going to start remedying the lack of interesting posts on here this summer by occasionally throwing in some quick comments on books I've recently read.

Come back soon to find out what I've enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Giving in

While I'm not a total techno-dunce, I've never been a major adopter of gadgets. I think it's partly due to my age and partly because I just don't have the time or inclination to learn how to take advantage of all the new technology can offer.

So I deliberately don't own an iPod, an iPhone or, naturally, an iPad. I have a Creative Zen mp3 player which serves me perfectly and cost less than an iPod of similar storage capacity. I don't have a smartphone of any kind, because right now I couldn't afford the monthly cost, so I use an ancient Nokia with a cheap sim-only contract. After all, I only need to be able to call and text, anything more would be icing on the cake.

Aside from the cost, one of the reasons that I've never been seduced by Apple products, despite their sleek good looks, is that I didn't want to be tied into iTunes. With my Creative player I can buy mp3 tracks anywhere and just drag and drop them into the player. Perfect for someone as technically challenged as I am and I really don't need the other apps offered by Apple.

So I've just done something which surprised even me. I've raided my savings to pre-order one of Amazon's new Kindles. And yes, it does mean being tied into a propriety format, something I never wanted to do. So what changed my mind?

Until now I've been sceptical about ebooks, but I've only tried to read them on my laptop. I have an increasing collection of pdf books which I rarely look at, because I don't like reading that way. I've previously looked at ebook readers and decided I couldn't afford the cost. But something is different this time, it feels as if, with the expansion of Amazon into the UK ebook market, this attractive new Kindle may just change everything.

For me, one of the selling points of an ebook reader is the size of the screen and the ability to adjust print size, while still having a gadget small enough to fit comfortably in my handbag. When my eyes went loopy last year I was unable to read normal books or newspapers, I struggled to make out the letters even with a magnifier, although I could stll read on screen. I don't know if the improved contrast on this Kindle would be readable if my eyes go wrong again, but it's a risk I'm prepared to take. Yes, I could also read ebooks on a smartphone, but I think I'd find the screen size challenging at the best of times.

Add to that the ease of buying books in a second (which could be dangerous!) and the ability to hold lots of books and documents, including my pdf books and my own writing, in one place. When I go away nowadays I have to travel light, as I find it difficult to carry luggage. I already have a collection of Audible audiobooks, another format now owned by Amazon, which I listen to when my eyes are tired. These can be played on the Kindle, as well as on my mp3 player. Then there is the included browser and free 3G web access. This will no doubt be very limited and basic, but could just be useful when visiting my parents, when I have no internet access.

For me the Kindle could never entirely replace printed books and there's a risk that it won't meet my needs at all. But right now I think that's risk worth taking. And I still have time to cancel the order if I change my mind before the end of this month...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two for joy

Shortly after drafting my last post early on Friday morning I looked out of the kitchen window and spotted two magpies sitting in the giant pear tree at the bottom of our garden.

One for sorrow, two for joy...

I decided that it was an omen that the day would bring good writing news. But the postman walked straight past our house and my inbox remained resolutely empty of anything of interest.

Until the evening when, about twelve hours after seeing the magpies, I did receive an exciting email, telling me that Even More Tonto Short Stories is finally being printed after a number of delays. That a copy will shortly be in my hands. That the official publication date is now 5th August.

This is the second anthology in which I've had work published, but that doesn't diminish the anticipation of holding the book in my hands, of seeing my words in print in the company of many very talented writers.

The magpies were right, after all.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Slowing down for the summer

This year, conscious of the fact that my blogging had previously slowed to a trickle of posts, I've been trying to post three times a week whenever possible. But even that is becoming a chore at present. The current financial and physical limitations of real life mean that I rarely have anything exciting to report. The warm weather has now triggered a recurrence of the leg spasms, thankfully not yet quite as painful as earlier in the year but very frustrating all the same and I can't get out and about as much as I'd like.

I'm in the nowhere land of waiting in respect of novel one. I'm still in the planning and research stage of novel two and, with the advent of the school holiday at the end of next week, I don't expect to start actual writing until September at the earliest. I have at least set up a folder for novel two on my computer and I have a new notebook, so that's a good start, right?

I've decided to slow down on the blog for a month or maybe two, to give myself breathing space. A summer holiday, if you like, as I shan't be going away. I will still post, but only as and when I have something worthwhile to say, not because I feel I should be blogging (those posts are always the worst, aren't they?). I am still reading your blogs, mainly through Google Reader, and apologise for not commenting more often. I've become a lazy blogger, seduced perhaps by the speed and ease of communicating on Twitter.

I may, however, be commenting less on Facebook and Twitter too. I'm still there, reading, but just feel I have little of interest to share right now. My eyes are also telling me I spend far too much time in front of the screen. I love social media, but sometimes it's necessary to step back just a little, to concentrate on real life and those around you.

Monday, July 19, 2010


There's been a lot in the media in recent times about how women become invisible in the media when they reach a certain age...some say 40, others 50. There was been quite a fuss last year about ageism at the BBC where older women seemed to be particularly targeted. Most women's magazines seem to want articles about younger women up to about 35, there are only a few magazines targeted at the members of the slightly older age group who are not quite yet ready for Saga magazine and its like.

All this made me start to think about fiction and commercial fiction in particular. After all, we always hear that there is no market for books about middle-aged women and many writers of chick lit or women's fiction seem to write about characters younger than themselves. With my first novel, I was no exception.

For a number of reasons I've actually been feeling quite invisible in life lately, so this lack of older characters was something I wanted to address in my second novel. As I'm planning the book, the two female characters aged in their 50s and 70s are proving far more interesting than those in their 20s, though I'm sure the younger ones will develop more fully in time, especially when I start to actually write.

Older women have so much life experience, so many talents, it's a shame if their voices can't be heard...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Travellers' tales

The travellers returned home at 10am yesterday and at 10.45 I was out of the house to meet the lovely JJ for lunch in London.

After a very easy journey, enlivened by a train driver on the Bakerloo line whose clear, well-spoken announcements made both me and a lady sitting opposite laugh, I arrived at Charing Cross with plenty of time to spare. JJ introduced me to Leon restaurant, which I shall definitely visit again for the healthy fast food. We finished off with coffee in Waterstone's, an ideal location for writers.

Then it was back home to hear about exploits in Florida and look at the photos. Son 2, having been calm whilst they were away, duly threw a wobbly when he returned from school, though that was aimed at YouTube which was misbehaving, rather than at anyone in particular.

I woke up this morning with a new burst of energy towards my writing, as I so often do after meeting other writers. I've returned to the short story that has made me struggle and although it's still not quite there yet, I'm gradually beating it into submission, while Hubby and Son 1 sleep off their jetlag...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Keep on going

I was searching back through old emails at the weekend, looking for some filed information, when I came across one written to a friend four years ago, almost to the day.

It described what is now believed to have been an early MS relapse, but which I largely ignored back then. It also brought home to me how ill Son 1 was at the time and how naive I was in thinking then that once we had the proper professional input he would get better and back into education quickly. It took so much longer than I ever would have believed and affected my life in so many ways.

In the email I was excited about my OU A215 Creative Writing course, in which I was getting good marks despite everything going on around me. I was full of enthusiastic writing plans for the future...write a novel (tick), do an MA (shelved), use these as a springboard to other things, perhaps teaching.

As I read I realised that some of that early enthusiasm has been drained from me. I've become much more realistic about life, some might even say negative. Don't get me wrong, I'm still enthusiastic about writing, I'm excited about the plans for novel two which are coming together and I know it will be a challenge to write. But all this is tempered by the current state of publishing and media, by the difficulties of breaking in and the urgent need to make even a little money. I also have to take into account my physical need to pace myself nowadays.

But I'm not going to let all that put me off. I'm a persistent person and I usually achieve what I set out to do in the end...

Friday, July 09, 2010

Of summer grumpiness

I was going to write a certain post about language today, but realised it would just make me sound like a grumpy old woman.

So I'm not going to write it. I'll keep my grumpy thoughts to myself. And in my defence the heat is making my legs both wobblier and stiffer (not necessarily at the same time), my eyes need frequent breaks from reading and it's going to be a very long, boring weekend for me.

Hope you all have a good one.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The sunshine state?

It's dark and gloomy here this morning, with spots of rain. As I rubbed the suncream into Son 2's face and arms as usual, I wondered if it would actually be needed today.

Hubby and Son 1, however, will need suncream because they are in Florida. For a week. At least I hope they are, as the last I heard they were in the departure lounge at Gatwick yesterday morning watching the aircraft being repaired...

Son 2 and I are home alone for what is likely to be a long, tiring week for me. Luckily he has school, because I need to rest during the day. I'm not sleeping well and combined with the heat and a possible infection, which is being treated, I'm feeling pretty bleugh.

Son 2 and I don't mind not going to Florida. The climate would probably aggravate my symptoms again and I certainly couldn't walk around theme parks all day. Son 2 has always hated holidays, even in this country. He loves the security of home and gets distressed if the word holiday is even mentioned. He was very unsettled yesterday morning until he realised that he wasn't going with them and he cheered up immensely after they'd driven off, taking their suitcases with them.

We've never taken Son 2 on a plane, he doesn't even have a passport. Perhaps we should have tried it when he was younger, but he was even more aggressive and difficult then, albeit smaller. I've done risk assessments in my head and I still don't think it would be possible. He is too strong, too determined, far too noisy, a nightmare for anyone to have to travel with. He couldn't even be sedated for the journey, as sedatives have the opposite effect on him, as they do with many children on the autistic spectrum. So in many ways it is better to stay within his comfort zone.

This is the second time that Hubby and Son 1 have gone to Orlando together. The first time was just 6 weeks after 9/11 and I was very scared for the whole week. This time I'm much more relaxed. The current trip was promised to Son 1 as part of his recovery from mental illness and they should have gone last year, but with Hubby's business failing and my health issues, it just wasn't possible, so we put the money to one side. It may well be the last 'family' holiday that Son 1 wants to take, so I hope they have fun...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Seizing the moment

I spent most of my twenties trying to travel as much as possible. Having been brought up in a family which never holidayed abroad, my experiences to that point had been limited to a couple of school trips to Europe and two exchange stays in Germany to improve my language skills. So, whenever I eventually did get the opportunity to travel, I had an urgent need to take in as many of the sights as I could, to absorb as much of the culture as was possible in a short stay. No opportunity was ever missed.

When we had a two centre holiday in what is now Croatia and Slovenia, but was then Yugoslavia, one of the excusions offered was a day trip by coach to Venice. It was a long way and only a few hours would be spent in the city. Hubby (who was not yet officially Hubby) had been before and didn't want to do the trip. But I had a gut feeling that it might be my only chance to see Venice so I pushed and pushed, I may even have had a little tantrum. We made the trip, the weather wasn't brilliant, but I saw Venice and I'm so glad I did.

I've been thinking a lot about seizing the moment over the last few weeks and days. Not just because of what is happening to my parents, but also because I heard some sad news at the weekend, which reminded me that we never know how long we've got to be able to do things. It's reinforced the feeling I've had recently that I need to take opportunities whenever they arise, that I want to see more of my friends, that I want to meet more of my online writing pals while I still can, that I want to concentrate solely on writing.

Because nobody ever knows what might lie just around the corner.

Friday, July 02, 2010

A very welcome distraction

As you've probably guessed from the last post, I've got lots of family-related problems to think about and research over the next few months. I'm used to dealing with health and social care services but not those relating to the elderly, so it will be a steep learning curve.

But there's still time to tell you about meeting up with the lovely Helen M Hunt who had invited me to be her guest at the launch of Leigh Russell's latest book, Road Closed last night. We had a pizza beforehand and plenty of time for lots of writerly chat, so it was a very enjoyable evening, which took my mind off the other worries for a while.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do you believe in karma?

I don't. That's just as well, because if I did I would be seriously worried about what I could have done in a past life to deserve all the bad things that have hit us in the last twelve months.

The latest is a potentially very difficult problem with the ageing parents. Now I know that many people of my age are starting to face such challenges, but let me put it all into context.

I grew up in a small town in a beautiful but very isolated part of the country. We had to travel fifty miles by road to find a large hospital or decent shopping. There were few employment opportunities except farming or seasonal tourism, so it was inevitable that most sixth formers went off to university and never returned. Although my parents moved closer to civilisation on retirement, they are still about 200 miles away from both me and my sister and I only see them briefly once a year. For a number of reasons we don't have a close relationship.

But now they are struggling and they are turning to me (and my sister) for help. The sort of practical help they have never offered to us. Distance and my own circumstances mean that I can offer little day to day assistance, except finding things out and making phone calls if necessary. But I'm already feeling guilty about that, because I think they will be expecting much more. I have noted the comments that they have made in the past about other families in a similar position.

I'm planning a visit in September and will need to be on standby in case a real emergency occurs, but my health and own family have to come first. There is no point suggesting to my parents that they move closer to me, as my mother has always hated London with a passion and anyway they have many friends where they are. They live near to where my father grew up, it is his part of the world. I'm sure they will stay there, by the sea.

And in amongst all this I am slowly losing my mother, at far too young an age, to a cruel disease. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a complicated and difficult mother-daughter relationship is central to my plans for novel two.

Monday, June 28, 2010

College boy

This afternoon Hubby and I went to visit Son 2's new sixth form/further education placement for September. The ethos of the unit won't be entirely new to him, as it is part of the school he has been at for the last five years, but it is located in a separate building in a different area and has its own staff team.

The unit is in a building situated on the edge of a mainstream FE college campus and there are possibilities for a little integration for some students. A focus of the unit is on performance arts, drama and music...but it also has an IT suite and a fantastic teaching kichen, both of which will probably be much more to Son 2's taste! The students still have some literacy and numeracy lessons and get the opportunity to work towards basic OCR qualifications.

Although the premises are old and somewhat battered, probably inevitable given the autistic client group, we felt that Son 2 should be happy there. The transition will be difficult for him, but the consistent approach and teaching methods should make it easier and it will be a good preparation for adult life.

We are very lucky to have such a specialist placement for him. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed for September.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hive

See that fabulous new widget on the right? It links to The Hive, the new social media game for Like Bees to Honey by the lovely Caroline Smailes.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to be one of the testers of The Hive yesterday, and whilst I am far too much of a techno-numpty to explain how it works, all the details and The Hive itself, can be found here.

Go and have a play, ask a question and create a bee (mine is pink, by the way). And if you haven't read the book yet you really must, it is amazing.

Have fun and I hope to see you in my hive!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Disability benefits and the Budget

Yesterday's Budget has shown that the current Government does not understand the nature of disability or the purpose of Disability Living Allowance. The proposed changes will potentially have a wide ranging impact, especially for families of disabled children and anyone with a hidden disability or one which varies from day to day (such as MS).

DLA is not, and never has been, related to the ability to work, which is covered by Incapacity Benefit (now Employment Support Allowance). Instead DLA might contribute to the cost of special equipment, of having to take taxis, of replacing household items broken by a challenging child. It might help with the cost of a cleaner or occasional carer. The money (and associated Carer's Allowance) might enable a parent to stay at home to care for a disabled child for whom finding childcare would be very difficult. People perhaps assume that all these things are automatically provided by the NHS or Social Services. Well no, they're not, in fact most disabled people don't even have a social worker. The other truth of the matter is that many people who should be entitled to DLA don't even claim, either because they don't know about it or find the form-filling too complex.

I could write a huge blog post on all this, but Anne Wollenberg has already done so in this excellent piece for Comment is Free for the Guardian. Read it, please.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slowing down

I seem to have hit a slow patch with the writing, where nothing is quite coming together. The words just aren't flowing, even in blog posts.

That may be because I'm very tired and have increasing family concerns on my mind at the moment. It may also be because I'm in something of a limbo, with novel one out on submission and my planning on novel two not yet complete enough for the actual writing to be started.

I've been trying to plug the gap with a short story or two, but am frustrating myself with my inability to make one particular story work. I keep taking a break and coming back to it, but it is still tantalisingly out of my grasp and a deadline is approaching.

So, ever mindful of my need to pace myself nowadays, I'm taking a step back this afternoon and watching Wimbledon...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Through The Barricades

This was one of my favourite songs of the 1980's and I've been listening to it a lot recently. That may, or may not, be writing related...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pieces of a jigsaw

I was chatting to a friend this morning and she asked what novel two is going to be about. So I started telling her about the settings, the main characters and the backstory and she became very enthusiastic. As I spoke I realised that, although I'm still short on plot detail, I do have the makings of a decent novel there.

I just can't make up my mind whether to plan this one in much more detail than novel one, or whether to start writing and let the characters show me the way. I know from novel one that this might lead to non-productive periods as I wait for the next plot twist and conflict to present itself to me, but I still have some background reading and research to do, so hopefully it will all be clearer then.

I probably just need a few more pieces of the jigsaw to fall into place before I can begin writing seriously...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Peace at last?

Son 2's half term was only two weeks (yes, I know, he gets just four weeks holiday in the summer) but it seemed endless.

It wasn't that he was particularly difficult, in fact he amused himself very well. But he was LOUD. At almost any time of day he would have the television on at one end of the room and his computer playing video clips, noisily and repetitively, at the other end. He wouldn't let us turn either off, he is indeed Mr Control Freak, and he would also 'shout' loudly and nonverbally over the top, especially if anyone was trying to talk.

I used to be able to switch off from all his noise and let it wash over me, but recently I seem to have lost that ability. Even though my desk is upstairs, the sounds are very disturbing if I leave Hubby in charge and try to work. I did escape to the library one day last week but it was full of toddlers and students on exam leave. So in the end I had to accept that the story I am writing was not going to get done during half term and I just got down to some novel research instead.

The difference today is amazing and although I normally take Son 2's first day back at school off to recover, my concentration is rapidly starting to return. Until, that is, the football is switched on and I have to suffer the drone of the vuvuzelas...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

While you were gone...

I've had a redesign, after playing around with the new Blogger templates.
What do you think? Please do let me know if you have any problems reading it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Yesterday I spent most of the day teaching at City University in London. Perhaps teaching is really too strong a word, as I'm not professionally qualified in any way to teach. But I, along with two others, spent time talking to a whole year group of student speech and language therapists about our experiences of parenting children with language and communication difficulties and helping them understand how to communicate with parent carers in their professional lives.

I've been doing these occasional sessions for about five years now and find them very enjoyable. Yesterday, as I was recounting some of our experiences to the room, it struck me how much easier it had become. Not just to speak out to so many people, but to discuss the past without getting upset. That, I think, is a measure of how far son 2 has come and perhaps also of my ability to deal with his autism.

The first year students always seem to appreciate our input. We guest speakers arrive after they've already had a short academic session and we then take turns to tell a little of our histories. After lunch the students undertake a fun written exercise in smaller groups and we circulate the room, helping them and enabling them to ask lots more questions if they wish. It works well and the students all seem to enjoy it.

As always, I was impressed by how well the students had taken in the themes under discussion and the intelligence of their questions. There is no doubt that they are all entering their chosen profession with genuine motivation. But there were also fears being expressed privately about the uncertain future of the NHS. There is already a shortage of speech and language therapists in frontline services and the future does not look bright for either therapists or service users.

Although I never had any desire to be a teacher like my father, I really do enjoy my brief forays into higher education teaching. It's fun. Maybe I actually missed my vocation somewhere!

Monday, June 07, 2010


I was on sole parental duty all weekend, so I used snatched moments to research online for novel two.

Without wanting to give too much away, the novel will be set in two cities, one of which is London and the other is a city in Europe I visited many years ago. I now need to research that city at two very specific points in the last century. It is proving a challenging and fascinating task, since for plot reasons it is critical to get certain things right before I start writing. Today I visited our small local library for more information and I'm also planning a couple of research trips into London at some point.

I didn't have to do so much research for my first novel, as the setting was fictional and the timeline wholly contemporary. But I've always had a strong interest in history, so I'm enjoying researching these elements and look forward to being able to apply creativity to them in due course.

In other news, it's still half term here for another week and I'm teaching in London on Wednesday, so my writing time will be somewhat limited. Normal service (and hopefully more interesting blog posts) will resume properly next week!

Thursday, June 03, 2010


When I was a kid my best friend used to be allergic to sticking plasters, which was highly inconvenient when first aid was required. I married a man who has a number of food related allergies, including certain types of chocolate and red wine, and on one occasion I had to take him to hospital after a severe reaction. I was always very glad that I didn't have allergies.

Then about ten years ago I developed a nickel allergy, an angry heated rash under my watch strap. I had to buy a new watch with a stainless steel strap, I can now only wear jewellery made in precious metals or steel. But that isn't too hard to live with.

Yesterday, after taking the last tablet of a seven day course of antibiotics for a sinus infection, I came up in a lumpy red rash. I took an antihistamine tablet but the rash remains today. I visited the doctor yesterday evening, who suspects that I may now be allergic to penicillin, however the only way to be certain is to see if I react when given it again.

I don't think I'll be trying that in a hurry. We have had exactly the same question hanging over Son 2 since he was a toddler and I always say he is allergic to penicillin, for safety. I'll now do the same for myself, even though it means I'll be cutting myself off from a whole family of potentially life-saving drugs, and it will be flagged in my medical records. We can't take risks, not just for him but also for me as his main carer.

In the meantime, I'm hoping this irritating rash departs soon.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Internet fail

Our internet connection had been slowing up for a while, a week, perhaps more. Then last Thursday it began to seriously fail. It wasn't that we couldn't get online, we could, but pages weren't loading properly. Some sites, a seemingly random selection, we couldn't access at all. It was all a bit of a disaster.

Of course this threw me into a total panic. Not only did I feel isolated, but I couldn't do the things I needed to do, such as internet banking. Half term was on the horizon and we rely on the internet completely to keep Son 2, a YouTube addict, amused. I couldn't read my emails to confirm he had a couple of days respite this coming week and I was unable to get hold of people by phone. Stressed doesn't even begin to describe how I was feeling.

Luckily I do have a Vodafone mobile internet dongle thing so all was not lost. I eventually discovered I could access my emails via that, but we wouldn't all be able to get online and the costs could potentially be huge if Son 2 had to use it all day during half term. Hubby has been trying to persuade me to cancel the contract when it expires this summer, but this has proven to me that it's a worthwhile investment as a fallback.

In the end we managed to get Son 2 online but the rest of us suffered. I spent an hour on the phone to BT who were polite but didn't solve the problem. They seemed to think it was probably our router (not a BT one) but I was sure it wasn't. They also muttered something about BT Yahoo server maintenance. In the end that is what I think the problem was, as yesterday morning our normal service suddenly came back (fingers crossed).

It's been scary to realise how dependent we are on our computers.

The computer downtime did, however, give me a chance to carry on reading Like Bees to Honey, which I finished yesterday. I'm still trying to process all my thoughts, but what I can say is that Caroline has written an amazing book and one from which I suspect each reader will take a different message. I'll come back to it later in the week.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Time to refocus

I've had a busy week, so gave myself a break from writing. Now that novel one has finally left home, I need to turn my attention back to novel two, which has been forming gradually in my mind for a long time.

I've got many of the elements, the main and some secondary characters, the principal settings, some of the plot elements, but there are still more to find before I can start writing. Novel two, unlike novel one, is also going to need quite a lot of research. Over the past months I have been doing online research at odd times and I have quite a few websites bookmarked for further reading. I also have a few books to read or revisit and a DVD to watch.

A two week half term is about to start, so I think I've got the perfect excuse to escape to the library now and then...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A perfect book launch

It was the London launch party of Like Bees to Honey yesterday and despite a brewing sinus infection I headed happily off to Wood Green, a journey into the centre of London then back out again!

The Big Green Bookshop was full of chattering literary types, some of whom I already knew, some I recognised from Twitter and others I didn't know at all. I managed to speak to quite a few people including a number of Novel Racers, past and present, Sue Guiney and Julia Williams. I only wish there had been time to talk to many more.

Caroline did a beautiful reading and signed many, many copies of the book. There was wine and Cisk beer from Malta. It was a happy, celebratory evening which finished all too soon.

Caroline's own account of last night and her other launch events can be found here and it's fascinating to read about a book launch from the author's point of view.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I use iGoogle as the homepage on my laptop and amongst my calendar, email and various links and feeds I have a couple of gadgets which provide daily inspirational quotes for writers.

But at the top of the page the words which inspire me most are a constant. Written on a 'sticky note' gadget the first words I see each morning are 'writers...write!'. I've already blogged about the significance of those words here and I can truly say that they motivated me to complete my novel.

This weekend I added another word beneath them.


Because that is what I have to do now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Like Bees to Honey - Chapter 3

I'm honoured and excited to be hosting Chapter 3 of Like Bees to Honey, the new novel by my mentor and friend, the hugely talented Caroline Smailes.

If you haven't already started your journey through this unique literary event, the first excerpt can be found here on Caroline's own blog and the whole novel will be posted around a total of 32 blogs today. Just click on the book to view.

Continuing on your way, as you truly must, Chapter 4 is to be found here on Jon Mayhew's blog.


(You can also buy a traditional copy from Amazon or other booksellers)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The buzz is growing...

Come back tomorrow and all will be revealed...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting ready to submit

This weekend I've been doing further research on agents. I'd already spent hours reading the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and checking out agency websites to find where my book might possibly fit, but this time I was doing something more specific. I was looking at how the agencies which interest me want work submitted.

It's something that is common sense but also very important. We all know we need a synopsis and a covering letter, but beyond that there does seem to be a lot of advice on the web, some of it conflicting. However, every agency has its own specific requirements and we should follow them to the letter. There is no point in failing to do so, or trying to submit a book before it's ready, because we just end up jeopardising a chance with that agency and in the current market nobody can afford to do that.

Just a little heads up that something very exciting is going to be happening on this blog on Thursday and it might just involve my lovely mentor Caroline Smailes. Please check back then...