Monday, 23 December 2019

Happy Christmas

I realise I've taken my eye of the ball blog-wise. I haven't commented as often as I usually do on other people's posts and I  haven't written one for a while either. Perhaps you haven't noticed; indeed, why should you.

I like Christmas, and I'm looking forward to spending time with family and friends, eating and drinking treats and giving and receiving presents. However, I struggle with some aspects of it - the extravagance, the overindulgence, the commercialism and, particularly, the fact that I get caught up in it despite my best intentions, and the way I allow my green principles to be compromised for the sake of not being the party-pooper. I just been in Morrisons (again) and caught myself standing flummoxed by the choice of two boxes of dates. How did it come to this?

However, at the end of business today I'm switching on my 'out of office' message until 2 January and then I'm off to the panto (oh yes I am). It's all good, really.

I wish you a joyful Christmas and a peaceful and positive 2020.

Monday, 2 December 2019

How I learnt to tell a crumhorn from a shawm

You might recall that I held the book launch for A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line at Kettering Arts Centre. There were lots of reasons for this, chief amongst them being that the place plays a large part in the story. I'm also a keen advocate of the venue because of the quality and variety of acts in brings into the town: music, drama, comedy and art. There were people there on the night who hadn't been in the Arts Centre before, even though for some of them it was right on their doorstep, so in my thank-you speech I encouraged them to come along to an event there and especially to come and see someone they'd never heard of.

On Saturday evening, I followed my own advice. It had already been a long day - taking our turn on an Etsy fair, a bit of promotion for Extinction Rebellion, shopping, trying to ignore the cold weather - so by 7pm all Mr T and I wanted to do was curl up in front of Strictly with a glass of something. However, there was a 'turn' on at the Arts Centre and so off we went. Good decision.

We went to hear A Brief History of Christmas performed by GreenMatthews, who are musicians Chris Green and Sophie Matthews, joined on this occasion by Jude Rees. You can read more about them here. Suffice to say their knowledge of the history of Christmas music and the instruments on which it is played is extraordinary and relayed with humour and energy: and that's before I say anything about their musicianship. They are on tour and if they're coming anywhere near you I recommend you go along.

The point, though, is that if you only listen to music you know, buy tickets for comedians you've seen on TV or read books by authors you've read before - hell, if you never speak to a stranger! - you could miss out on something fabulous. We're really glad we took the plunge on Saturday.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Why marketing matters

Everyone who's published a book, either on their own account or through a conventional publisher, will know that writing the darn thing is the easy part; the hard work starts when you come to sell it. Gone are the days when a publisher would throw an extravagant launch party, organise a book tour and arrange press interviews the length and breadth of the land. Once your book is out there, for the publisher it's a case of 'Done, done, on to the next one.' If you want to shift books, you have to shift yourself.

Actually, my publisher, 3P Publishing, is very supportive, and on Saturday I spent a delightful afternoon in a workshop organised by the company, learning where I'm going wrong when it comes to marketing. It's just such hard work! For many of us, of course, the hardest part is getting over our British modesty. 'My book?' we say. 'Oh yes, it's all right. If you really want to buy it, you can get if from...' We need to be loud and proud, to shout it from the rooftops: 'I've written a book and it's fabulous!' You can do this yourself, you can pay someone, or you can do a mixture of the two. What matters is that you do something.

For example:
  • Maintain your presence on social media, but make sure your posts and tweets say something other than simply 'Buy my book.'
  • Establish a relationship with your local press - newspapers, radio (including community stations), TV.
  • Google 'podcasts on... [your subject]' and get in touch with the broadcaster to offer yourself as an interviewee.  You never know who might be listening.
  • Who is your reader? Picture that person: where will he/she be looking? I've been thinking about the readers of A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line as people retiring or retired, or married to people retiring or retired; but on Saturday it was pointed out to me the book will strike a chord with anyone in a long-term relationship. This opens up a new avenue of magazines etc to explore for coverage.
  • If your book is on Amazon (a necessary evil, it seems), use all the categories and keywords you can to broad the search range for potential readers. What about the 'people who bought this, also bought that' function? Can you buy something at the same time as you buy your own book so the algorithm makes that connection? (I don't really understand how this works, but I'm willing to give it a go.)
  • Ask for reviews. They don't have to be five stars - in fact, it can be very suspicious if everyone who reads your book thinks it's amazing - but they have to be there. Again, it's those pesky algorithms. 
  • Think of yourself as a small business. The writing is one aspect of that business, but the marketing, publicity and, all being well, the sales elements are, if anything more important. 
  • Keep at it.
Now: with this in mind, if you haven't already Liked my author Facebook page (@JuliaThorleyAuthor) could you, please? I will, of course, return the favour.


Sunday, 17 November 2019

Telling stories

I ran out of time on Friday, or I would have posted that I was going to attend a storytelling workshop on Saturday. Had I done that, it is possible that my blogging friend Sally Jenkins would have seen it and then it wouldn't have been a surprise when we both turned up! It was lovely to meet Sally in real life after having followed her blog for so long. We ended up working together and it just felt right, somehow. (The pic isn't brilliant, I'm afraid.)

The workshop was organised by Writing West Midlands and  led by Maria Whatton, who proved to be an excellent teacher. I don't want to do a 'school report' here, so let me just give you the bullets:
  • Storytelling is not a performance; rather it is a way to engage with the people listening.
  • Unlike writing, where we have a reader in mind, a storytelling session depends on who turns up on the night.
  • The more thoroughly you can imagine the world you are creating, the better and more believable your stories will be. Interrogate your characters. Put yourself in their shoes - and heads. Draw the world you are creating - see pic.
  • There is value in the rhythm of the story; it's almost like music. Read aloud, even if your story is for publication.
  • Walk as you think. A change of physical surroundings can stimulate the mind.
  • Inanimate objects can be characters. Push yourself to explore the less usual points of view.
We listened, we wrote, we chatted, we shared. It was an excellent day.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

'Back from the Brink'

My 'office' on Friday
Even if you've never been to Northamptonshire, there is a good chance you've heard of Rockingham Forest. This was once a hunting forest covering over a third of the county; it now exists in isolated patches dotted through a farmed landscape, giving people like me the opportunity to walk in nature and breathe in some good air.  The perfect setting, then, for a creative writing workshop.

It was a privilege to be asked to run a session in Fineshade Wood under the aegis of a Back from the Brink Project, which as the name suggests is concerned with the conservation and restoration of rare plants, bats, birds, reptiles and butterflies. Our focus was birds and we began with a short guided walk led by Liz, who works for the project. After the recent torrential rain, I was relieved that we had glorious sunshine, although it was a bit nippy. Liz gave us lots of information about what was going on in this patch of woodland. We stood in silence to take in the atmosphere, connecting with our senses and enjoying the cackling of rooks and the call of pheasants.

Back in the warm, I gave the participants some exercises to do to help get the creative juices going, and read various extracts of published works - poetry, fiction and non-fiction - by way of example. Then I suggested some prompts and off they went. Despite some of them saying 'I'm not really a writer', they all produced some lovely work and I hope they will carry on doing so.

From my point of view there were two equally important aims of this workshop:
  1. To encourage participants to create a piece of writing based on the birds in the woodland and the environment in a wider sense.
  2. To bring awareness of the work of Roots of Rockingham, Back from the Brink and all the groups involved in restoring and managing this network of woodland sites, creating more habitat in which a range of vulnerable species can thrive, and to stimulate engagement in this work.
I think on both counts we had a successful morning.

Monday, 4 November 2019

How well do you know your own work?

Bernie and Riley, who was also in the studio
I was interviewed on BBC Northampton this morning (get her!) about A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line. It was great fun and I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame, but the interview didn't go as I'd expected it would.

The host of the show, Bernie Keith (see page 167 of the book), is a lovely chap and very easy to talk to, and he always does his research. He knew, for instance, that I'd been to Worcester, so he must have read this blog. However, while in my mind my book is all about the funny stories, he came at it from a different angle, homing in on the whole business of diary writing, on the local connections and the rather serious side of adjusting to the 'new normal' when one of you retires.

I've just listened back on BBC Sounds here (I'm on at 1.44.45) and I'm pleased with the result. It is actually more lighthearted than it felt at the time - there were things recorded that I don't remember saying: isn't that strange? - but it has made me wonder if as writers we get so caught up with what we think we're saying that we forget our readers might have a different agenda.

What do you think?

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Wandering in Worcester

For no reason other than that we'd never been, Mr T and I have just spent a couple of days in Worcester. It's less than two hours away, but it was far enough from home to give us the chance to explore somewhere new and recharge our batteries.

Any town or city with a river always offers the opportunity for lovely walks, and Worcester is now exception. There is a huge project going on to rewild part of the Severn that should bring back flora and fauna, fish and fowl, which can only be a good thing. There were lots of people about enjoying the autumn sunshine.

The centre is very pleasant. Despite the inevitable proliferation of chain shops, there is still a lot of lovely architecture to admire and on the day we were there a fabulous market was in full swing. There was also a craft fair in the Guildhall, where I won a bright yellow brolly on a charity tombola. The real reason to go in, though, was that from the street we could see some fantastic chandeliers through an upstairs window. They did not disappoint up close.

Of course, we had to go to the cathedral; it would be rude not to. Not wishing to offend the good people of Worcester, but while it was a fine  example it was nothing special. There was, though, an array of wooden carvings of 20th-century icons. The one of Mother Theresa had the accompanying text:

'Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.'

Sad, then, that my overriding impression of Worcester was that there is a huge number of rough sleepers curled up in doorways.

Our trip finished, somewhat inevitably, with a visit to a National Trust property: The Firs, which is a museum in honour of Edward Elgar. It's a lovely cottage, but very small, and it's the place he lived for only the first two years of his life. The chap on the door told us that Elgar was very fond of the place, however, and wanted it to be the house where he should be remembered, should such a thing be thought appropriate.

In the little garden, there is a bronze of the man himself, sitting on a bench and looking out to the Malvern Hills. I sat with him for a while and enjoyed the view.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Announcing the launch of 'A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line'

Finally, I have a publication date: 30 October. If you happen to be in Kettering at 6.30pm on that day, please pop along to the Arts Centre and help me celebrate.

What's it about? This is the back cover blurb:

I’m sitting at my computer, but can hear the food mixer going, which is encouraging. Then Clive comes in to the office, rummages in his desk and retrieves a pair of pliers. I’ve been known to take a chisel to my pastry, but I’m disconcerted as to why he should resort to such desperate measures. He returns the tool a few minutes later and says simply, ‘Sorted.’ I decide it’s best not to ask.

When her husband retires, Julia Thorley starts to keep a diary for her own amusement. She doesn’t tell Clive, in case he starts to do daft things on purpose. She needn’t have worried.
This is the record of that first year, a period of transition for both of them, bringing laughter, irritation, frustration and negotiation as they find a new way to live together.

Thank heaven for the allotment.

Copies will be available on the night, but if you can't make it you can order one from the publisher or, of course, direct from me.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Is this what democracy looks this?

I sat in tears last night watching a live stream on Facebook from Trafalgar Square. Whatever your views on the climate emergency and the actions of Extinction Rebellion, these scenes were horrific. Pictures of the police moving in to evict a lawful assembly, under cover of darkness, throwing away people's personal belongings and all this with only half an hour's notice made my blood run cold.

I was in London over the weekend. Despite the passion of the XR protest, it has been a peaceful event in line with the organisation's pledge to take part only in non-violent direct action. Last night, there was no shouting or screaming. Even while they were being moved on, rebels were working round the square cleaning up rubbish.

This morning I am sad, but I am also proud to have played a very small part in the action. I am not brave enough to stand and be arrested, but I'm grateful to those who are.

Love and rage.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Pesky varmint!

I am supposed to be editing today, but I'm grumpy and can't settle, not least because I'm chasing payment of an invoice for a raft of yoga classes that began on 3 July. It's not acceptable and I'm banging my head against a brick wall. In an attempt to boost my mood I've been for a walk, but that hasn't helped. So, I'm writing a blog instead. I should probably have tried this first. Here goes.

We have a beautiful hazel tree in our garden that this year has yielded a particularly spectacular harvest. We like hazelnuts, but not, apparently, as much as the squirrels, who have been quicker off the mark than we have in their picking. Now, I like a squirrel as much as the next woman, but they've gone too far.

Usually they skitter about in pairs, but I've had regular visits from a Gang of Four who, not content with stripping the tree, have also been fighting amongst themselves. If you think squirrels are cute, I assure you you'd change your mind if you had one snarling at you from the conservatory roof. And the noise!

I would be quite  happy to share the produce with them, but they haven't left us any at all. They eaten quite a few, judging by the debris on the patio, but they've also buried dozens in my lawn. I fully expect that we shall have our own burgeoning woodland this time next year. They've been at the peanut feeder, too, and during their acrobatics have annihilated the trellis over the shed window. 

What's the solution? I don't want to cut down the tree, but this can't go on. One friend has suggested we cut off the nuts. Whether he means from the tree or from the squirrels isn't clear.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Order! Order!

I went to a full council meeting last night of Kettering Borough Council to support a motion relating to promoting cycling and walking in the town. I was there with my Extinction Rebellion pals, but also as someone who used to cycle, but who has been driven off my bike by two things: fear of getting mown down and lack of places to secure my bike in the town. Several members of the public spoke for the motion. (You can just turn up and do your three minutes.)

 I'd never been to a full  meeting before, and it was fascinating. For one thing, I hadn't expected it to be so formal. We all had to stand as the Mayor and her Deputy, both in full regalia, the Monitoring Officer, the Managing Director and, for some reason, a vicar, paraded in, following the mace, which was placed before them all with great ceremony.

Then we had to stay standing for what the Mayor described as 'wise words' from the Reverend Helen, followed by a prayer. I definitely wasn't expecting that! Of course, I don't know whether or not this opening speech is shared among the faith groups in the town.

Those of us in the public seating were given a fact sheet to explain proceedings and a helpful map to show who was sitting where and to which party they were affiliated. We have three Independent councillors, one LibDem, six Labour, and the rest are Tories. Our Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, is also a councillor and I was surprised to see him there, given everything else that he must have going on at the moment. Perhaps that's why he didn't say much.

Anyway, it was a lively evening, especially the discussion around the motion. I'll spare you the details, suffice to say it was passed unanimously other than for one abstention.

Whatever you think about national politics, let's not forget how privileged we are to live in a country where we can play a role in what goes on - even if sometimes it feels as though we're being ignored.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Drawing attention to poetry

Adding further weight to the argument that Corby is the go-to place around here for unexpected arts events, I was at the town's theatre last night, The Core at Corby Cube, for an event organised by the Northamptonshire Children's Book Group, a branch of the Federation of Children's Book Groups*.

Author and illustrator Chris Riddell, former Children's Laureate, was in town promoting his new anthology, Poems to Fall in Love With. He was already in situ as the audience rolled in, sitting behind a desk sketching, with the images being presented on to a screen. Also on stage were our readers for the evening: local actors Will and Sue, and Elaine, a student from one of the town's senior schools.

It was an interesting format. Chris chatted amiably about the poems and then as one of the readers stepped forward he sketched an appropriate illustration, live, right there, before your very eyes, replicating the fabulous images that accompany the poems in the book. Several lucky people went home with one of the pictures.

The book is beautiful inside and out, with a cover that just makes you want to stroke it and a broad selection of poems ranging from Kate Tempest to Sylvia Plath, Leonard Cohen to William Blake, and all points in between.

It was a great evening and Chris was generous with his time as we queued up to get our copies of his book signed. I know from speaking to the organiser that he'd had a pretty full-on day, but you wouldn't have known it from the way he engaged particularly with the youngsters, posing for selfies and chatting as though he had all the time in the world. What a nice man.

* Check out this organisation if you have any interest at all in children's literature - and who doesn't?

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Saving the world, one piece of cheese at a time

I've just caught myself washing the wrapper from a Dairylea Triangle, so I can put the paper label and the foil into separate recycling bins. Have I gone too far?

Since I've become involved with Extinction Rebellion, environmental issues have started to become a bit of a 'thing'. I'm taking my own mug everywhere, I'm saving the inner bag from my cereals to use for my packed lunch and I'm making Ecobricks like a demon. Some changes are easy; I gave up Clingfilm ages ago and it's been no bother to revert to loose tea rather than teabags.

Other things are much harder. I'm not ready to give up my car, for instance, even though we have two and I work from home, so with a little bit of planning we could probably manage with one. I have tried to use the bus, but it tends not to turn up, which is annoying, and while I'd love to travel by train it is prohibitively expensive. I've just checked, and a single ticket from Kettering to London for this morning would cost £64.50. It's about 80 miles and my car does 45mpg. No contest.

Tomorrow, though, I shall be out on the streets waving my banner in support of the Global Climate Strike. Will you?

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.

Monday, 8 July 2019

PD James vs Lee Child

I was partway through 61 Hours by Lee Child when I set off on  holiday, but had finished it within a couple of days. Fortunately there's a brilliant community bookshop in Lynton, so I had a browse and came out with A Taste For Death by PD James. I can't quite believe it, but this is the first of her books I've ever read. I can't even remember watching any of the TV adaptations with Ray Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh. (I've just Googled this and discovered that Martin Shaw played him in later series; how did I miss that?!)

I was struck by huge differences between the two books, not just in content - Lee Child's Jack Reacher books are thrillers, rather than detective mysteries - but also in style. LC's books are pacy and full of short, tense sentences. 61 Hours opens with 'Five minutes to three in the afternoon. Exactly sixty-one hours before it happened.'  ATFD's opening sentence is 46 words long.

I gather from the back cover that PDJ wanted to be 'a serious novelist within the bonds of the genre', and certainly ATFD feels quite literary in tone. I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed the writing more than the story.

It felt curiously old-fashioned, though. When you read an Agatha Christie novel, you know it's going to be set way back when, but ATDF was first published in 1986. I know that's over 30 years ago, but this book doesn't reflect the mid-80s that I remember.

Two examples. The word 'beribboned' appears twice in two pages,  once to describe a basket of flowers and then on the next page to describe some women in a picture - and it caused me to stumble, mentally, because my brain initially interpreted it as 'berry boned'. Then there is a lengthy description of one of the female characters in which PDJ feels it necessary to point out 'She was hatless', as though that was somehow unusual. Really, in 1986?

I know some of you will think this is heretical, but I shan't read another Dalgliesh novel. Give me Jack Reacher any day.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

If you don't mind which way up your scone is...

...why would you go to Cornwall when you could have Devon?

Mr T and I have been been to Lynton and Lynmouth for a week. Boy, it's beautiful. We rented a small flat in what had been Lynton Cottage, a former hotel, right on top of the hill overlooking the bay. Our flat was called the C S Lewis Balcony.  In 1925, he visited on a walk from nearby Brendon and had lunch there, declaring, 'The view from the balcony was beyond everything I have seen.' I have to agree: the pic here shows the view from our window. The rather tenuous link with the writer is also commemorated in the splendid lobby, where the quote is reproduced on a plaque that cleverly reflects the view.

There are other claims to literary fame. The cliff railway that connects the two villages was financed by Sir George Newnes, publisher of, amongst others, Titbits and The Strand Magazine; the Coleridge Way travels along the coast here 'in the Footsteps of the Romantic Poets', according to the promotional leaflet; it was from Lynmouth that Shelley and his wife and sister-in-law fled by boat to Wales, commemorated in the Shelley Hotel; and along the steep footpath that offers an alternative to the rail link there is a Poets Walk decorated with verses written by local people.

Despite having walked about 50 miles during our stay, I feel rested and restored. Even the M5 closure that impeded our progress home didn't spoil my serene mood. Tips on keeping it are welcome.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Making progress

Thanks to everyone who came along to Buck Lit Fest last weekend. I met some lovely people, did some quality networking and didn't make a mess of my talk. I'm chalking it up as a successful outing.

The shine was slightly taken off my joy when I got home to find Mr Thorley had done himself a mischief up at the allotment, necessitating a trip to A&E and 13 stitches in his leg. I'll spare you the details.

Thanks, too, to those of you who took the hint and are now following me on Twitter (@JThorleyAuthor). If I haven't followed you back, feel free to give me a nudge. I haven't quite got the hang of it yet.

Big news on the writing front is that A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line is back from my reader, so now it's time for me to reread the whole thing again and see what comments he's made. I'm also grappling with the cover design. I shall get a professional to create it, but I need to find a picture, or at least come up with a prompt that someone can sketch for me.

Have a lovely weekend, folks. 

Friday, 14 June 2019

Just a quick one, missus

I'm rushing around like a fly with a blue bottom today, but I just wanted to tell you that I shall be at the Buckingham Lit Fest all day tomorrow (Saturday). I'll be hanging around in the Writers' Hub, and at 3.15 I'm doing a pop-up talk on pitching non-fiction. If you're planning to be there, please come and say hello.

Also, I'm now on Twitter: @JThorleyAuthor

Must dash!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

That was the week that was

Thinking caps on in Thrapston
It's been a White Rabbit of a week: no time, no time! There's been lots of bread-and-butter editorial work to plough through, in addition to:

Monday - yoga class for a group of office workers
Tuesday - yoga class for a group of school teachers
Wednesday - yoga class at the gym; dancetheatre rehearsal
Thursday - private yoga class; rehearsal and then taking part in a performance of Concerto* at the Core theatre in Corby
Friday - running a creative writing session as part of Thrapston Arts Festival; James Acaster show in the evening

This morning, I'm catching up on housework and putting stuff back in the right place. This afternoon, my son's band has a pub gig, at which I shall be discreetly cheering from the back. Tonight: nothing!

All this has been going on while Mr Thorley was off on an archaeological dig, excavating a Roman cemetery. He's had the time of his life and found some lovely bits of pottery. Oh, and a leg bone.
Dem bones

What will next week bring?

*About Concerto: After pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm during the First World War, he commissioned Ravel to write him a concerto for the left hand. At the same moment, assassin Gavrilo Princip was in prison, his withered arm tied up with piano wire. Unravelling narratives such as these surround this music's composition, and together they weave a true story that spans 100 years. Created by Michael Pinchbeck (who was with us in Corby), Concerto is a deconstructed and re-orchestrated exploration of the legacy of war and the healing power of music to overcome tragedy. It was a privilege to be in the 'vocal and physical orchestra' for this extraordinary performance, which finished with Nicholas McCarthy (born without a right hand) playing Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major, written for Wittgenstein.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Signature moves

I  know some very talented people, and one such is artist, writer and all-round creative soul Pamula Furness. A while ago, she drew a lovely picture to go with my short story The Harmonium's Last Chord.

Now she is working in a way I've never seen anyone else do. If you write your name on a piece of paper, she can turn it into a wonderful piece of art. Just look what she did with my signature. In fact, you have to look very closely to see my name at all. I think it would make a rather splendid book plate.

If you would like to see what she can do with your name - or perhaps you'd like someone else's name turned into a unique gift - Pamula is on Facebook; if you'd like to get in touch but can't find her, just let me know.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

What's a sparge bag?

When Mr Thorley retired, I started to keep a diary of how we progressed as the 'new normal' took hold. At first I did this without telling him; it was just for my own amusement. Somehow, though, it became a full-on book project. The plan is to publish in September.

Because I'm going to be out and about a bit over the coming months, I've had some business cards printed to promote the book. I went to local firm PrintNGo, and they did a great job: courteous and efficient.

I haven't had such good service from the dealership that has just provided me with a new car. I won't name and shame, but they could learn a lot from PrintNGo.