Friday 30 September 2016

Celebrate the Small Things

Just a quick one today: I'm celebrating shopping local. I went into Not Just Words bookshop+ to drop in a donation for the local food bank. Rachel who runs the shop is holding a music night there tomorrow to raise funds and I can't go because I'm off to Skipton for the weekend (because that's how I roll). Of course, I came home with a bag of books. Well, it would be rude not too!


Then I went into Waterstones and bought tickets for the next two comedy events at the Arts Centre, had a little browse around the market, bought something for tea and then came home. 

Simple pleasures.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop hosted by  Lexa's Blog. Join us

Thursday 29 September 2016

Making space

Last night I taught a Wednesday evening yoga class for the last time. My other classes will carry on, but from next week this one will be in the capable hands of Claire.

I've been with this group for about seven years, which hardly seems possible. We've shared some good times. For instance, there was that memorable night in June when the council folk turned up at the school to set up for polling day and I forcibly evicted them for being noisy. Just because we're tranquil (ahem) doesn't mean you can push us around. Even last night, there was a funny moment when proceedings ground to a halt while a visiting spider was evicted, with considerably more care than the polling people, I might add.

Over the years, we've had news of new babies, weddings and other celebrations; and also some bereavements and other upsets. Through it all, my yogis have been loyal and turned up rain or shine to do some bending and stretching, some mindful breathing and some lying down.

I'm giving up this class to make space for other things, and it will free up quite a bit of time. It's not just the 90 minutes of the class itself, but also the half-hour either side for travelling and on-site admin: plus, of course the behind-scenes planning and follow-up paperwork. Perhaps I'll finally get round to writing that next yoga book. Watch this space.


Tuesday 27 September 2016

I'm feeling inspired!

On Saturday morning, I met with a group of local authors at the premises of 3P Publishing, where our host author and publisher Andy Gibney treated us to another of his sessions on 'Inside the mind of the author'. This time he focused on Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie: fascinating stuff. He also gave us ideas for using social media for marketing and promotion. 'Linking' seems to be the keyword.

There was plenty of time for networking, too. The other people there had either already published their books through 3P or are about to. I came home with a copy of A Brush With Death ('Who is trying kill artist Harry Chase and why?') by Malcolm Parnell, who was there.  I'm looking forward to reading this and promised to review it for him.

On the topic of reviews, has any of you ever been paid to write them? We had a chat about the ethics of this on Saturday. (Malcolm isn't paying me, of course!)

I came home feeling inspired and have set to and done lots of work on a fiction project I've had lurking in a folder for some time. The first draft is complete and I have passed it on to my son so he can cast his expert eye over it. He's one person I know will give me an honest review, whether or not he likes what I've written.

I've had a non-fiction book with a publisher for a while, pending a decision, so I gave them a nudge and they've asked to see some copy, which I hope is a good sign.

I've also entered two writing competitions - and it's only Tuesday!

Friday 23 September 2016

Causes for celebration

We might moan about the National Health Service here in Britain, but I'd like to celebrate it today. Several people in my life have had reason to be grateful for its existence recently and while there's no denying that it could do with a massive injection of cash and, perhaps, an overhaul, the fact remains that if you call an ambulance it will come; you will be taken to hospital and treated. No charge, no questions asked.

I'm also celebrating yet again the freedom that self-employment affords me. What a joy it was to be able to say this morning: 'I'm off for a walk in the autumn sunshine.'

Also on the work front, I'm celebrating that I've finally got my paperwork sorted for Smashwords, where I have a couple of short stories available for download. One of them, 'Briefs Encounter', is free at the moment; the other, 'Robbing Hoodies', is available for 99cents (which is about 77p).

Finally, the comedy club at the Arts Centre resumes tomorrow, which is always a good night out.

Have a splendid weekend, folks.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop. Visit Lexa's Blog for the rules, and then post every Friday about something you're grateful  for that week. Originated by VikLit) and co-hosted by L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits Blog.  

Wednesday 21 September 2016

What's your creative outlet?

While regular readers will know I don't claim to be artistic, I do think I'm creative. After all, I write and I'm musical, and there are glimmers of design intention in my garden.

I've just been listening to Claire Balding's Radio 4 show Ramblings, where she was talking to writer David Nicholls (Starter for Ten, One Day, Us and much more). It's worth a listen on catchup.

As they tramp through Surrey to the Devil's Punchbowl, he discusses his need to walk. For him, walking is part of the creative process (though he admits that it sometimes feels like a bit of a skive) and he clings to the idea that it helps the imagination to be on your own out in the countryside. He quotes Wordsworth as saying walking is the same as writing, with elements of meter and rhythm. Nicholls is a proper walker who strides out at a good pace and likes to keep moving. He enjoys nothing more than a four or five-day hike, especially when he is between books and is waiting for the next idea to, as he put it, ‘drop from the sky’. 

And talking of being creative, what do you think of this clock? My son has fashioned it out of an old snare drum. I was hoping to put it up in my home office, but  he has taken it off to work to put on the wall in his teaching room. Clever lad - I don't know where he gets it from. Better call Dragons' Den.

Monday 19 September 2016

Why 'Jekyll and Hyde' was a real horror

Over the weekend, we went to the theatre - the Core at Corby Cube - to see a performance of Jekyll and Hyde. This is a touring production by talking Scarlet; if you live in Tunbridge Wells, Dundee or Lowestoft, it's coming your way and it's worth a look.

We sat with a couple of friends, one of whom is a science teacher in what is generally accepted to be one of the better senior schools in the county. He told us that the original  RL Stevenson book on which this play is based is a set text for many students this time around, so he had pointed out this production to his English-teacher colleague, in case she or any of her classes were interested in going to see it.

Her response was: 'Oh no, they've already done the essay on that.'

Isn't that sad?

I've already had a bit of a rant on Face Book about the audience, but I'm still annoyed at the behaviour of some members. I know I'm pushing at an open door here, but honestly! When they weren't rustling their sweet wrappers, they were unscrewing (phsst) and then drinking from (slurp) their coke bottles, with obvious relish (burp); or they were fidgeting and sighing; or talking. At one crucial point (spoiler alert) the woman behind me said "Oo-er! It's the same handwriting!"

I know theatres are strapped for cash and that selling drinks and nibbles is just a way to boost their income - but Pringles? Really? Come on!

Maybe it's not their fault. I mean, if you're used to watching stuff on a 54in screen in your living room, perhaps it's easy to forget that what you're seeing on stage is, you know, live: that these are real people who've worked hard to learn their lines and are trying to put on a show. There's no pause button, no opportunity to rewind if you didn't catch what was said because the idiot next to you was KEEPING UP A RUNNING COMMENTARY! 

Or maybe it's just ignorance. Maybe it's the way they were brought up and they just don't know how to behave. We are reminded to turn off our phones in cinemas. May I suggest that we also remind theatre audiences to do the same and while they're at it to refrain from noisy eating and drinking or chattering?

It shouldn't be necessary, but it clearly is.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Hair today...

When I was a little girl, hair was either short or long, straight or curly, with or without dandruff,  clean or dirty. That was it. When did it all get so complicated? Way before Wash 'n' Go came in a bottle, that's all we did: we washed and we went.

Things started to go pear-shaped when someone in Marketing decided that it wasn't enough to break hair types into Normal, Dry and Greasy, but dreamt up Flyaway, Flat, Frizzy, Dull and Lifeless, Sun-damaged, Heat-damaged, Delinquent (OK, maybe not Delinquent). Then came special shampoos for specific hair colour, be it natural or chemically induced.

We needed not just shampoo, but also conditioner: twice the product, twice the profit. But still that wasn't enough. Now we have pre-conditioners, leave in, wash out, deep treatments applied like a face pack for the head, hot oils and serums, clays, volumisers, tamers, lotions to prevent damage from hair-dryers, heated brushes, tongs and straighteners - and more lotions to fix the damage, should you be wayward enough to use a gadget without protection. There are also luxury options, which are more costly, of course and self-styled 'professional' ranges, because no one wants to use anything an amateur would settle for. That's before we get on to perfumes and menus of added essentials that would send any chef worth his salt reaching for the Le Creuset. I  mean, who wouldn't want coconut curls with added vitamin B?  And when did shea butter become a a grooming essential?

But if you think that once you've managed to negotiate the minefield of shampoos and conditioners, you'll be home free, think again. There's waxes, gels, foams,  mousses, more oils and more serums to apply before you can leave the house. Don't think you can get away with a quick squirt of Harmony Hairspray: those days are long gone, my friend.

It isn't just the bewildering choice that gets my goat, it's also the ridiculous language: words that have no business being anyway near hair: words like botanical, rebalancing,  purifying, restorative - and what the hell is fibrology?

Someone once poured a pint of beer over my head as the final act in a heated debate (don't ask!). For days afterwards I had the sleekest, shiniest hair ever. Now, I'm not suggesting making a drunken brawl part of your beauty regime, but it makes me wonder why we don't just go back to basics. What's the worst that could happen?

Thursday 15 September 2016

Guest post: author Eliza B Hill

I've been chatting with local (to me) author Eliza B Hill who has just published her children's novel The Little Garden Gate - and as if writing the story wasn't enough, she has also illustrated it. Isn't the cover lovely? She shares her thoughts here:

'For six years I was fortunate and privileged to spend a lot of time with my two granddaughters and to be a part of their world of make-believe and imagination.

'Do you have fairies in your garden? Do they sit on your windowsill in the evening and listen to your problems? Ours did, or so I was told. I needed to remain proactive and ready for the girls' visits. What better way than to write a book about our imaginary friends, illustrate it and then publish it myself?

'In less than three months, the stories tumbled from my head and I stopped at around 20,000 words. What a jumble! I walked away for a few weeks then re-read the manuscript with a clearer mind. It wasn't good. In order to give the book structure yet retain a theme throughout, I returned to my finance days: accountancy errors are never found starting at the top of the balance sheet, but if you begin at the bottom and work back the error will appear.

'So, I completed the final story first. Now all I had to do was arrive there, so I created a spreadsheet listing the characters and where they could appear in the book. From here on, I was able to understand how many drawings would be required and on what pages the stories would begin and end. Simple infrastructure to connect the characters was the key. The strongest protagonists emerged and more changes were made to weed out the weakest characters. Their stories could be used another time.

'It worked for me (apart from some crazy grammatical mistakes that were ironed out by a competent, professional and trustworthy lady without whom this would not have been possible).

'My project has been a learning curve and next time it will be much better. Someone lit a fire in my belly and unwittingly gave me a second chance. All because, at the lowest point in my life, I picked up paper, paints and crayons and believed in two little girls.'

Two things struck me: Eliza's willingness to cut out superfluous characters; and her methodical approach to story structure and layout. Anyone else work like this?

Saturday 10 September 2016

Arts and books follow-up

The new guidebook
What an extraordinary weekend I'm having. As I previewed in my last post, I went to an outdoor theatrical event last night as part of Corby's 'Our Woods' festival. It was astonishing, one of those truly weird and wonderful things that you can't quite believe you're seeing, not least because it was in - er - Corby. I mean no disrespect to this town where I used to live and where husband Clive still works, but honestly: Corby!

Then this afternoon I've been to a spoken word event in St Edmund's Church in the tiny village of Warkton. Back in February, I went to a  creative writing workshop that focused on the Montagu Monuments that are housed in the nave of the church - you can read more about that here - after which all the participants of this and other, similar events were invited to submit a few words for possible inclusion in the new guidebook.

Well, the guidebook is now out and this afternoon's event was to launch it. Those whose words have been included were invited to take part, and I'm pleased to say I was one such contributor. As you may remember from an earlier post, I'm not very brave when it comes to reading out my stuff in public, but I did it and people were kind enough not to throw rotten tomatoes at me. (We were in church, after all.)

What next, I wonder. 

Friday 2 September 2016

One thing leads to another

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that a friend had lent me Staring at the sun: overcoming the dread of death by Irvin D Yalom. Well, one of the many references in it that caught my eye was to the story 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' by Leo Tolstoy. Naturally I had to seek it out and buy it. I was expecting much angst and Russian hand-wringing, and yes, it's about a dying man struggling to come to terms with what's happening to him; but it's actually quite an easy read and there are some lovely observations in it about the human condition (no surprise there, methinks).

Elsewhere, I have booked some tickets for a forthcoming festival in Corby and the first event I'm going to next Friday is a performance of 'The Man Who Planted Trees,' by theatre company Impronto Teatro, which the programme promises will be 'bold and beautiful puppetry, physical theatre and vibrant storytelling'. The piece is an adaptation of the story of the same name by Jean Giono of a secluded shepherd who plants a forest, one acorn at a time. Intriguing - especially since we are warned to 'wear stout footwear' if we are going to join the audience! Naturally, I've bought a copy of the book, in an edition that is adorned with beautiful woodcut illustrations.

I've recently finished reading Fragile Things, a Neil Gaiman short story collection that my son Sam lent to me. The final tale, 'The Monarch of the Glen', is a novella based on the character Shadow, who first appears in the novel American Gods. Yes, you've guessed it: I'm now reading American Gods - in which there are several references to Herodotus' The Histories

Do I need to say what I've just added to my 'must read' list?