Friday, 17 July 2020

Is the blogging party over? Take two.

Well, I guess I've had that question answered.

If you want me, you can find me:


Before I go, though, let me just say that while I didn't win the Dickens Fellowship competition to create a modern-day character in the style of the great man, my entry - 'Charlotte-Anne Mountebank' - is in Volume 5 of the audio anthology. 
You can listen here

Bye for now!

Monday, 6 July 2020

Is the blogging party over?

From my first blog post
My fellow blogger Susan Jones has here posed the question: has blogging gone out of fashion? I've been wondering the same thing. I've been at it since 2011, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and while my words have never set the world on fire I know from the stats that people have been reading them and occasionally been moved to comment.


 I blog for three reasons:
  1. To make myself write;
  2. To share news and information I think might be of interest; and perhaps cynically
  3. As a marketing exercise, to keep my writing projects 'out there'.
However, response is down. Is this because I'm not giving the public what they want, as it were? Is blogging past its use-by date? Or is everyone simply too tired and/or overwhelmed to join in?

Of course, you can never tell what people are going to latch on to, whether it's on a blog, Facebook, Twitter or any of the other myriad social media platforms. I've realised that a good picture is helpful; one of my most popular Facebook posts was of a parsnip that looked like an Ood from Doctor Who. People are strange.

Has the time come to call it a day? Is there a better way to achieve my three objectives?

Friday, 26 June 2020

String theory

Apparently it was National Writing Day on Wednesday. Oops. I must have missed that memo.

Weighed down by heat and apathy, I haven't written much at all this week, other than to put the finishing touches to a couple of stories I wanted to send to two competitions. Instead, I've been having a bit of a clearout, during the course of which at the back of a drawer I discovered a folder labelled: GAMES.

I'd completely forgotten that many years ago I had been asked to come up with a proposal for a series of short books called 'The Little World of Great Games'. There seem to have been several categories: Memory Games, Travel Games, Get Well Games, Party Games and, rather oddly, Games With String. Still. a freelance writer never says no, so it appears that I did indeed come with 25 games to play with string. Whoever said, 'Money for old rope', get your coat.

Note to self: if you can write to that brief, you can write anything. Get on with it!

Monday, 15 June 2020

We're all mad here!

The Mad Hatter*
Madness, people, that's what's on my mind, as it were. Not that I think I'm mad, you understand -  would I know? - it's just that the world has gone a bit crazy. You don't need me to tell you why.

Have you been watching the National Theatre At Home? What a treat these YouTube presentations have been, although I did baulk at Coriolanus. The current production, available until 7pm on 18th June, is The Madness of King George III. Of course, you had me at Alan Bennett, for it is his play. If you've seen the film and think you know this work, you don't. Watch the theatrical version. Mark Gatiss is extraordinary. It's all a long way from Mr Chinnery, the hapless vet in The League of Gentlemen.

As I type this, I have the Queen song in my head: 'I'm Going Slightly Mad', which I repeat I'm not. Apologies if I've just introduced an earworm, by the way.

One of the few quotes I can remember from school is 'Great wits are sure to madness near alli'd / And thin partitions do their bounds divide' from John Dryden's 'Absalom and Achitophel'. I love this. It's the explanation for mad professors and eccentric geniuses.

Sidenote: John Dryden was born in Aldwincle, which is village not from where I live, a fact I discovered when doing research for Harmonium, a project I did with Deep Roots Tall Trees dancetheatre.

A more recent quote I have taken to heart comes to me via Rebecca Solnit's book Wanderlust (as mentioned here last week), in which she quotes Leslie Stephen (Virginia Woolf's father): 'Walking is the best of panaceas for the morbid tendencies of authors.'

You see? I'm not mad, I'm a genius. And even if I were going slightly mad, I only need go for a walk to shake it off.

Pass me my boots.

*Image from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Children's Press, 1967 edition

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

'Tasting Strangers'

 A friend in real life has just asked me if I'm keeping healthy and sane, to which I answered, 'Healthy? Yes. Sane? Most days!'

With all the doom and gloom that's going on in the public world and with the quiet, personal troubles that many of us are enduring, I feel rather awkward about announcing the publication of my new book: but here goes.

Tasting Strangers is a collection of short stories on the common theme of  people meeting, interacting and then moving on, sometimes together and sometimes apart. The title came from an exercise I did last year with Corby Collective Poets. We were working with a word bubble exercise on the theme of journeys, and the phrase came up in the discussion. Someone said it would make a good title, and so here we are.

I've gone with paperback and e-book via the mighty Amazon platform. For all its faults - and goodness knows there are many - it provides a very straightforward way to publish and, of course, there are no costs in the setup. If you would like to buy a copy, the link is here. Thanks in anticipation.

In other matters, I am reading two books at the moment. On the non-fiction side, I have Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, which is a beautiful account of the history of walking. In the page footers there are literary and philosophical quotes in a continuous thread, so it's almost like getting two books for the price of one. It's a slow read, but I'd definitely recommend it. On the fiction side I have The Promise, a psychological thriller by fellow blogger Sally Jenkins, whom many of you will know. I'm not very far into it, but I'm already gripped. Great stuff, Sally!

Finally, is anyone trying to use the new version of Blogger? If so, can you tell me how to get pics in the right place - that is to say, as on this post, in the top left with the copy starting aligned with the top of the image? I've reverted to the old version for now. Why do they have to keep changing things?

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Digging in

Our allotment has received so much attention in the last three months that it looks as though it has been Hoovered. All but one of the beds are full, the ridings have been mown: even the shed has been tidied. It's an ill wind, as they say.

There are quite a few relatively new folks up there whom we old hands have been watching from a respectful distance as they get to grips with the enormity of the task ahead of them. Captivated by the idea of delicious homegrown veg, they often underestimate the hard slog involved and many give up at the first sign of trouble. One of our near neighbours has said she won't be up on the field for a while because it's too hot to do anything!

The allotment is, of course, a fine place to find inspiration for story-writing. You'd be surprised what goes on. We once arrived find that a potting shed had been completely turned upside-down. Nothing had been taken and, miraculously, there was no major damage, but there it was, on its roof. What larks!

There are some interesting sights among the polytunnels and the bean rows. There is, for instance, an entire army of scarecrows, including one made from a tailor's dummy, which is very sinister. Then there's this, the last resting place of the garden gnomes who didn't make it through:



I wonder what these little fellas did wrong.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

In praise of short stories

I do love short stories, whether published in a magazine, an anthology or a collection. I enjoy them if they're written by people I know and by authors new to me. I know (because I write them) that it takes just as much skill to write short stories as long ones, and certainly a different set of skills.

The books pictured are just a few of the short-story books I have. Amongst the others are Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (surprisingly accessible) and a Doctor Who collection that was published to mark 50 years of the great man (pre-Jodie Whittaker). Fair to say, I think, I have varied taste.

At the moment, I'm reading Bryant & May: England's Finest by Christopher Fowler. The stories are great and the writing is amazing, of course, but I think his full-length novels featuring these two characters are better. (He'll be crying all the way to the bank.) On the other hand, Property by Lionel Shriver is every bit as good as her novels. Closer to home, my writing pal Louise Jensen, well-known for her terrific psychological thrillers and about to break into the romance market under her nom de plume Amelia Henley, has just had a short story accepted by My Weekly magazine.

Do you think an author's short stories can be an indication of that person's style as a writer of novels, and vice versa, or are they such different media as to necessitate separate appraisal?