Saturday, 22 February 2020

Meet Danny

There is a new man in my life. His name is Danny and we met last week while I was away on a writing retreat. I wasn't expecting this to happen - no one ever does - but there he was, waiting for me to find him.

He is 26 and he needs my help. Given that I created the predicament in which he finds himself, it is only fair that I take responsibility for putting things right. Indeed, I have no choice but to grapple with the how-abouts and what-ifs.

This is the role of the writer. Danny is a fictional character I created during my week away at Foxes' Retreat.

Oh, wait: you didn't think...?

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Encouraging youngsters to fall in love with reading

Photo: Rachel Campling
I have a guest post today from writer and advocate for the joy of reading Rachel Campling. She says:

I am a specialist primary school teacher who works with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds at Harpole Primary School in Northamptonshire. Unfortunately, some of these pupils did not have a single book at home, other than their school reading book. With the closure of so many libraries, having easy access to free books wasn’t a viable option for them. As an avid reader and writer of children’s fiction, this really upset me. How were they to enjoy escaping into other worlds without access to great books? So, my colleague and I hatched an exciting plan.

We appealed to all the parents of pupils at the school for books that they’d finished with to be donated to us, and happily they came flooding in. This enabled us to set up the Book Swap Shop.

At the beginning of the year every child in the school is given a book. This can be swapped for a different book once they have read it or kept forever if they love it so much. The shop is open every Wednesday lunchtime and the children flock to the bookstand and rifle through the boxes to find their next treasure. They can choose any book they fancy. There is always a buzz of excited chatter as the children recommend books to each other or search for another book by the same author to devour.

The shop itself is run by the pupils I work with, the Book Swap Shop Reading Champions. They organise the books, tick off pupils’ names as they swap books, stamp new stock with a star to show that it’s from our shop, and help other pupils to choose books. This has really helped to raise their self-esteem.

This venture has not only helped our pupils to get their hands on a whole variety of wonderful adventures and factual texts, but it has also generated a love of reading for pleasure throughout the whole school. 

I think this is a fantastic idea. How about you? Are you inspired by Rachel to  try something similar - or are you already? Let us know.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Shine a little light

I'm looking for a floor lamp that I can direct downwards on to my book when I'm reclining on the sofa. I had one, but after years of shining a light on dark stories, it blew its last bulb and has gone to its final resting place. The trouble is I don't want a cheap one, but can't afford an expensive one. I did find one I really liked, but it was £185, which is a bit out of my league. OK, completely out of my league.

Today, I decided I'd had enough of squinting in the gloom and persuaded Mr T to accompany me to B&Q to see what was on offer there. They had one that we decided would do, at a pinch. The next challenge was finding the right light bulb. Why can't they just give you one with the lamp?

We made a note of the spec of the bulb from the label attached to the lamp and went to the next aisle to locate an E14 screw fitting max 28W thingy. Inevitably there were hundreds of bulbs to choose from, but none fitting our criteria. We were forced to seek out a member of staff for guidance; let's call her Doris.

However, before surrendering to her tender mercies, we did what seemed perfectly sensible to us: we removed the bulb from the display lamp and took it with us for ease of comparison. When Doris discovered what we'd done, she fair near fainted away on the spot. Oh the horror! Did we have no respect for Health And Safety? One step away from reaching for the sal volatile, we calmed her down and she was able to find us what we sought. We bought the lamp and went home.

Forty minutes later we were back in the shop, returning the damn thing. The three screws needed to hold together the segments of the upright were missing. We could have resolved this; Mr T has an array of boxes and tins filled with fixings for just such occasions. However, the actual light fitting - the cone containing the bulb - just kept flopping down, such that if I wanted to be illuminated by it I would have to sit on the floor.

As the shadows draw in this evening, you will find me in a easy chair curled up with Lionel Shriver. I shall be wearing a head torch.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

I ain't afraid of no ghost

Ooh, spooky!
I finally got around to watching Susan Hill's Ghost Story last night, saved from Christmas. This was based on her story The Small Hand. It was an adequate way to spend an evening - not a patch on The Woman in Black - and it was creepy enough to make me jump a couple of times, but I wasn't entirely engaged with the storyline. Still, it was better than watching The Masked Singer. Whoever thought that was a good idea for a show?

Perhaps I'm not the ideal audience member for this type of drama, though, because I don't believe that ghosts exist. If they do, why don't those who claim to be able to see them come across them everywhere? Why aren't they  tripping over them in Sainsbury's? I do, though, think that buildings can store energy, because some places feel welcoming and others don't. I also believe in the power of suggestion, which is why since watching Vera last week I've been craving chip-shop chips and mushy peas.

However, consider this. I had mislaid my much-loved chakra pendant. I was convinced it was in the house, because I'm very careful with it, but it wasn't in its own box or 'misfiled' with any other necklace. I'd turned the bedroom upside-down searching for it, even looking under the bed, but no joy. Eventually, I resorted to the practice recommended by one of my witch friends; I asked the house where it had hidden it. (I've used this technique before; read more here.)

This morning, I woke up and thought I'd just have one more look in the pendant's box - and there it was. I have no explanation for this, other than that I must be even more short-sighted than I thought I was. I mean, what else could it be?

Sunday, 12 January 2020

'Botanical Bards'

Old Sulehay
This was the title of the workshop I ran yesterday with my friends at Back from the Brink. You might recall I did one in the autumn based on the birds of Fineshade Wood (you can read the post about it here). Well, this was the follow-on event, in which we took our inspiration from the plants of Old Sulehay Nature Reserve, a place clinging to the very edge of Northamptonshire.

You might think this is an odd time to be looking for signs of life in the plant world, but you'd be wrong. Once again, Liz, who works for the project, began proceedings by taking us on a short walk and it soon became clear that even in the midst of January there is lots to see, from the extraordinary moss covering through the multilayered scrub, on into the bushes and up to the trees, scratching the sky.

 It was an unusually mild day, so although it was a bit squelchy underfoot it was lovely to be outside. However, we were also there to write, so eventually we retreated into the field station and, fortified with tea and biscuits, we turned our outdoor inspiration into words.

As always on these occasions, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the participants and their willingness simply to have a go and see what happens. From the simple prompt word of  'PLANTS' our mindmapping took us to all sorts of places, as we made not just botanical connections, but also more unexpected ones, including the reasons one might have for buying a new rug! The group created works of serious political prose, reminiscence pieces, stories and poetry, and it was a real privilege to work alongside them.

Some of our happy band
Friendships were kindled and contact details were exchanged, we breathed in the country air and we exercised our creative muscles. I'd say that was a success, wouldn't you?

Monday, 6 January 2020

Country living: warning - dead birds!

I'm a fan of The Archers, so I know a group of beaters when I come across them on a footpath, and this happened yesterday. Following a route around one of Northamptonshire's many Big Houses that took us into some lovely hidden villages, Mr T and I came upon a group of people who greeted us with a hearty 'Happy New Year' and reassurance that we would be quite safe on our walk because the guns would be pointing the other way. Always good to know.

I love walking in the countryside, but I wouldn't like to live there. I need to be able to pop out for a pint of milk (or beer, come to that) without having to get out the Landy. I also enjoy having street lights, proper drains and reliable broadband. Then there's the animals. I'm not frightened of them, but I'm not over keen. I was holding forth on this when we rounded a corner and were confronted with the scene in the above photo. Not for me, thank you.

We had a bit of a Chuckle Brothers moment with some sheep, too. We walked through a really wide field where there was a small flock of sheep at either end. As we set off, both groups walked towards the middle and it looked for all the world as though they were changing ends at half-time in some woolly team game. However, they all turned to follow us towards the gate, clearly expecting something that we were not equipped to provide. We laughed nervously. Like I said, not frightened, but certainly glad to reach the boundary and put a sturdy barrier between them and us.

I'm such a townie.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Off we go again

Different times.
I don't know if you've noticed, but a new year has started today. Honestly, to look at FaceAche you'd think it had never happened before. I'm SO fed up of people telling me how great 2020 is going to be. I hope they're right and I shall do my damnedest to make it so, but let's wait and see, shall we?

And what's with all these photos people are posting of themselves taken 10 years apart? I mean, what's the point? Of course, I know the answer: it's so that those posting can elicit lots of compliments: 'Oh you haven't changed a bit!' or 'You look even more lovely now!' or 'Looking good,  hun!' It's a brave soul who would comment, 'I didn't recognise you; you're so grey and wrinkled now.'

D'you know what I think? I think if you haven't changed over the last ten years, then you've not been trying hard enough! I'm definitely not the same person I was in 2010, because I've evolved. Sure, not all the changes have been good, but every decision I have made has led me to this place.

How do you think the world will look in 2030?