Monday, 24 April 2017

Taking things a little easier?

Good morning, world. It's only just starting to get light and it's so cold I've had to switch on my little radiator to take the chill off.I always have an early start on Mondays, because I teach a half-nine yoga class, so I have to be up, fed and digested in good time.

It's no hardship, really. My desk faces the window that overlooks my garden, so I've just been watching the birds having their breakfast while a visiting squirrel tried to join in. We have a family of blackbirds, and despite the fact that the babies are now quite chunky, it's still the parents that are running around chasing mealworms and other tasty morsels.

Last week was tough, but only in a first-world-problems kind of way. Am I now at the age when I must remind myself not to do too much? Surely not! And yet, by Friday teatime I was feeling quite trembly. This week I shall practise what I preach, and be kinder to myself.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

My first webinar

Call me old-fashioned ('You're old-fashioned!'), but I've only just taken part in my first webinar - and what a delightful portmanteau word that is. Despite by newbie status, the tech element was very straightforward and it was a pleasing way to spend an hour.

I was alerted to 'What Happened Next? Plotting a Story' by Helen Yendall on her excellent Blog About Writing. The free webinar was presented by Barbara Henderson of Penguin/Random House’s The Writers’ Academy, and while it didn't really tell me anything I hadn't heard before it was a useful reminder of the basics of story, plot and narrative. Of course, it was actually a taster for its forthcoming online course 'Constructing A Novel', also with Barbara Henderson, but at £799 that's a bit out of my reach.

There were a couple of writing books recommend: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Writer With a Day Job by Aine Greaney, plus the novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I'd be interested to know if any of you has these and whether they're worth buying.

And remember, folks: if there's no conflict, there's no story.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Celebrate the small things, and other snippets

Despite the fact that I've worked my wotsits off this week, I'm still basking in a little post-Wales glow. On our way home we popped into Bodnant Gardens. We're National Trust members, so we always try to visit a property when away. We were there quite early, so it was relatively quiet and still. The grounds are fabulous (there's no house to visit) and we came away quite determined that we need a rill and a watermill in our suburban patch - not to mention a sequoia (see pic). Dream on!


Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum', Bodnant
And so to this Friday's  celebrations. Chief among them is that someone close to me has had good news relating to a health issue; and elsewhere, a friend seems to have overcome some issues that have been plaguing her for months. On a less significant level, but still worth celebrating, the hop seeds I gave to Clive as a joke Christmas present (he brews his own beer) have germinated and are poking their leafy heads above the compost. There are other plants bursting forth, too, all of the potentially edible variety, so there'll be some serious allotmenting to do in the coming weeks.

This brings me back to Bodnant Gardens, where a Kipling quote on one of the information boards reminded us that:

'Gardens are not made by singing "Oh, how beautiful!" and sitting in the shade.'

Happy Easter, folks. 

Want to join in and celebrate with us? Hop over to Lexa's blog here and sign up.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sea breezes

Feel free to suggest your own caption!
As luck would have it, we caught a break with the lovely weather at the weekend when we took a combined birthday/wedding anniversary jaunt to Llandudno. You can keep Lanzarote: give me a bit of British seaside any time. We walked and mooched, and laughed and ate, and generally had a splendid time. If you've never been, don't be put off by its reputation for being an old folks' resort. It's absolutely beautiful.

One of the many hilarious moments came when we were strolling along the pier, ice-creams in hand. As soon as we stepped out of the shelter of the awnings, poor Clive had his cornet whipped from his grasp by an enthusiastic gull - possibly one of those in the photo above, which we took a short while later.

Tweedles Dee and Dum
There were moments of literary reference, too. The excellent Snooze restaurant had Dylan Thomas quotes here and there on the walls. Clive was delighted to see from the menu that my Arancini rice dish included Panko breadcrumbs, which are produced in the bakery where he works. Small world - a point emphasised by the fact that he was in an Italian restaurant in Wales eating a Polish pork dish.

Back to the literature. I didn't know this, but apparently Llandudno was a favourite holiday destination for Alice Liddell, the real-life Alice from Lewis Carroll's stories, and to this end there is a Wonderland trail through the town (see above). The town's website says that the Walrus and the Carpenter are the names of two big rocks off the West Shore. And as if that wasn't enough, there is also a plaque as part of the North Wales Film and Television Trail (who knew!) commemorating the fact that The Forsyte Saga was filmed in the town.


I wrote lots of notes for use in future writings. Do think this means I can claim this as a business trip?

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Trust God and Sally Forth!

Kettering: Progress and Concord
At Weaving Words this week, we learnt that the town motto of Newark in Nottinghamshire is Deo Fretus Erumpe, meaning Trust God and Sally Forth. Isn't that splendid?

Of course, there was a round of jokes about who this Sally Forth woman was and why she was so trustworthy; but isn't erumpe a fabulous word? It sounds a bit Carry On, Councillor to me, as though it should be the root of 'rumpus', but it is actually the word from which 'erupt' is derived.

Needless to say, we used this as a prompt to devise some town mottoes of our own. We only had a couple of minutes on this, but I came up with:

Kettering (where the local football team plays in red and black): Look to the Poppies
Northampton (home of the shoe-making industry): Put Your Best Foot Forward
Corby (famous for its steel works): Steel Yourself and Forge Ahead
Uttoxeter (my home town in rural Staffordshire): Plough Your Own Furrow

It was great fun - and I'm sure you can come up with something for your own town. However, if you go to www.civicheraldry.co.uk you can discover, amongst other things, the genuine mottoes.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

Seeing the trees in the woods

I went for a lovely walk yesterday under the guidance of local historian Dr Peter Hill. He took a group of us to Thoroughsale and Hazel Woods in Corby, regaling us with the myths, legends and histories that have shaped the town. We showed us where to find a piece of Roman Road (preserved by the council from buildings and roads)  and a haunted gamekeeper's cottage, as well as pointing out 'faces' in tree trunks. This is the phenomenon of simulacrum (plural: simulacra), from the Latin for likeness. It's related to pareidolia, which is the psychologist's term for the brain's tendency to detect forms and faces in nature where none exists.

Peter explained about the four types of trees we saw: standards, those that were coppiced, those that had been pollarded and, a new term to me, stag trees, like the one pictured above. Hard to believe, but this is a dead tree, stripped of foliage and showing signs of having been burned at the base, but still standing with its 'antlers' held high.

Elsewhere, we saw a Gemini tree (right), made from two tree trunks apparently kissing. Legend has it that this was a popular courting place for a pair of star-crossed lovers. The boy was murdered and the grief-stricken girl killed herself on the same spot. Their souls were reunited forever in this tree.

If you ever need inspiration for a piece of writing, you could do a lot worse than visit the woods.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Writing matters

I know, I know: I've missed two opportunities to Celebrate the Small Things, and numerous other days when I should have had something to share with you all. I've just been snied out with work, as they say: or perhaps they don't say where you live. 'Snied out' - and that's probably not how it's written - is one of those phrases that my current husband brought with him. It means 'snowed under', and the audible connection is there, I think.

I do love a bit of well-placed dialect, so long as it doesn't muddy the waters of understanding. Where, for instance, do you stand on the word 'bint'? I've always understood it simply to mean a young girl, perhaps one who was rather naive, but not an especially offensive word. I used it this afternoon at Weaving Words and only one person agreed with me; the others thought it was at best derogatory and at worst downright insulting. The question is: do I replace it in my piece of writing?

We went round the circle today offering a piece of work each for supportive critiquing. My contribution was something I'd written for a competition (deadline looming) and I was grateful for the input of my fellow Weavers. It was a useful exercise, not least because the more we practise scrutinising the work of others, the better we get at self-editing. I'll let you know if their suggestions bear fruit, of course.

On the topic of competitions, my winning entry in the Association of Freelance Writers love poem comp has been published in the latest issue of the AFW newsletter, and I've written something for the association's blog here.