Wednesday, 11 September 2019

County matters

The Raunds Ukulele Orchestra, of which I'm pleased to be a member, was invited to play at the Dean and Shelton Country Show on Saturday. It was a splendid affair, with a fine display of lawnmowers and tractors, stalls and sideshows, hog roast and a tea tent. I was pleased to see that refreshments were served in proper cups and on proper plates, with bamboo cutlery: no plastic in sight.

A particular highlight for me was a demonstration of a sheepdog herding ducks. I was too enthralled to take any pics, so you'll just have to trust me when I say it was extraordinary. The countryside is a very strange place. There was also, of course, a flower and produce competition - the photo shows the entries in the category of 'Heaviest Vegetable'.

And talking of competitions...

The closing date for the Moulton Literary Festival Short Story Competition has been extended to 26 October. Does this mean there haven't been many entries? You could be in with a chance. Details are here. Full disclosure: I'm the judge!

Monday, 2 September 2019

Are you lost in Austen?

The real Sanditon - image from
Are you all watching Sanditon, then?

I like Jane Austen's books, but I wouldn't say I was a fan as such. I read Pride & Prejudice at school because I had to, and similarly Mansfield Park was one of my OU degree set books. I've read the others, too, and also the recent reworkings by Val McDermid and Joanna Trollope, and watched the various TV and film adaptations, though more because I felt I ought to than because I particularly wanted to (Colin Firth notwithstanding).

All this to say, I'm not offended by the prospect of Andrew 'Randy Andy' Davies turning Jane Austen's 24,000-word first draft of a few chapters into an eight-part series.  I watched the first episode having told myself it was 'based on an idea by' rather than an adaptation. Given Davies' past record and having heard him interviewed on the radio, I psyched myself up for Fifty Shades of Austen.

It speaks volumes that I'd forgotten it was on again last night. The problem for me was that it felt as though AD had gone through a Pick 'n' Mix of characters from all JA's books and come up with a perfect set of grumpy dowager who has a guarded interested in our feisty heroine, a well-meaning but deluded male lead and his long-suffering wife, a louche brother, a simple brother, a scheming woman after the dowager's fortune, and a few 18th-century caricatures thrown in for good measure. Sorry, but I thought it was all a bit so-what.

I also thought the CGI was rahter in your face. You can 'see the joins', as it were.

But what do I know. Sanditon will probably run into several series and win loads of awards, not least for Anne Reid who will win the prize for 'Best Actress Who Is Slowly Turning Into Maggie Smith'.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Mood swings

Writing: it's a funny old game. One day you're riding high because ideas are abundant and the words are flowing; the next day, you take someone's casual remark as a sign that your work is hopeless.

On Tuesday, while loitering in the Doldrums, I decided that if A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line  doesn't sell well I shall never write again. By Wednesday, I'd perked up again and I wrote a rather fine short story, if I do say so myself. I was also invited to submit two poems to an anthology being produced by a local writing group. Then yesterday, I heard I'm on the short list for the Writers Bureau Poetry Competition and I was approached to do some creative writing workshops. Today, Friday, I still have the wind in my sales.

If you're looking for inspiration, take a look at The Ruth Rendell Short Story Competition here. At £15 entry fee, it's a bit on the steep side, but it's for a good cause. The word limit is 1,000 and the prize is £1,000, which is a good per-word rate. The winner will be commissioned to write four more stories; I don't know if there's a further fee payable for this. I do, though, know someone who was runner-up one year; apparently, the awards evening is rather splendid. As always, make sure you read the rules and all the Ts&Cs.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Touching base

One of the magazines I work for is to cease paper publication at the end of the year and become online only and, most significant for me, will be produced in house rather than by the trusty band of freelances of which I have been one. Heigh-ho. It goes with the territory.

Strangely, though, the very next day after I heard this news, someone I've not worked with for nearly two years popped up and asked if I'd be free to take on a book in October. Yes, please! It's amazing how often it happens that I lose one client only for another to come along. Thank you, universe.

Also coming along in October is publication of A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line. I'm waiting to see cover designs at the moment, which is all very exciting. In the meantime, I'm planning a launch event and looking into advertising/publicity options. Watch this space!

In other news, the great pumpkin harvest is beginning. See exhibit A, above, which is 10 inches across.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Not a woman's best friend

Photo: Morguefile
To be clear, I have nothing against dogs. Dogs are animals; they act on instinct, not reason. Dog owners, however, well, that's another matter.

Might I suggest that when out exercising your hound on a public footpath, should you see someone coming towards you*, you call that hound to heel? Don't assume that everyone is happy to be jumped upon by a strange animal.

Nor does it help to say, 'Oh, he won't hurt you. He's just being friendly.'  
Two things:
  • First, how do you know he won't hurt me? Just because he's never bitten anyone yet, doesn't mean he won't start with me. Maybe he doesn't like the look of me. Maybe I smell intimidating. Maybe I'll accidentally make some movement that your animal will interpret as threatening.
  • Second, I can be friendly, too, but I wouldn't leap up and gyrate against your leg or lick your face without being introduced first.
I'll say it again: dogs are animals. They are not people, no matter how much you wish they were. Broadly speaking they have teeth at one end and smelly poo at the other.

* I am of course ranting here against the minority and in particular against the owner I encountered yesterday. I'm sure anyone reading this is a responsible and considerate pet owner.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Are you a lunatic?

I've enjoyed all the recent coverage of the anniversary of the moon landing, particularly the programme 8 days: To The Moon and Back.

I'm also prepared to concede that some people are affected by the waxing and waning of the moon, not in a full-on werewolf way, but certainly in terms of disrupted sleep patterns, albeit caused more by its light shining through the bedroom curtains than anything mystical.

I have friends, though, who set much more store by the moon's magic than I do. Tonight there will, apparently, be a Black Moon, which is the name given to the second of two new moons occurring in the same calendar month. We are promised energy and miracles and all manner of wonders, and the end of a chaotic July before normality returns in August.

Well, I hope it does indeed bring a boost of something wonderful. The last few days of the month have been a bit dreary, and I don't know why. On my Julia Thorley Author Facebook page, I've posed the question: 'Why do all my best ideas come to me when I'm too busy to take action?' For your eyes only, dear reader, is the subsidiary question: 'Why now, when  I have the time to crack on with the creative stuff, do I just want to sit on the sofa and watch Mad Men?' I don't believe in writer's block: it's just procrastination; but I've definitely got a case of writer's apathy.

It's a new month tomorrow. Let's hope the moon works her magic and I can achieve something fabulous. 

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Community spirit

Since I last posted on this blog, I've spent a lot of time in what might be broadly described as community ventures. Two are particularly worthy of note.

We've had this year's KettFest weekend, the annual promotion of local arts and culture. I facilitated a gathering of local authors in the library, which was great fun. People met to talk about their own writing projects, to network with people who are already published and to find out information about the next steps in their own writing 'journey'. There was much chat and joy.

Then I hightailed it round the corner to take part in a spoken word event: again, much joy. I read a couple of poems, a prose piece and an extract from A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line (coming soon!).

One of the stalls at KettFest was Extinction Rebellion. A group has been set up in Kettering, which Mr T and I have joined, and on Wednesday we all stood outside the borough council offices with flags and banners, because Item 11 on the agenda was the proposal that a climate emergency be declared here. It was a good-natured action - we offered strawberries to all the councillors as they arrived - and no one glued themselves to anything. Then we trouped into the council chamber for the meeting. Sensibly, the motion was passed unanimously. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how important this is.

Both of these episodes made me realise that there is a lot of good energy in the town, if only you look for it. OK, there's plenty that needs fixing, but it would be nice if we could build on the positive instead of always focusing on the negative: a bit more ' Yay, Kettering!' and a bit less 'Kettering's a dump'.

Excuse me, now, while I go and put my soapbox away.