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?

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

You've let me down, you've let yourself down

I rarely struggle for something to write on this blog, but since my last post I've not felt inclined. I've been in a bit of a grump, and I'm sure - well, I know from what people have said - that I'm not alone.

For the last few weeks, I've almost enjoyed the lockdown: not the effects on health and the appalling statistics and the incompetence of the government, but the cleaner air, the increase in bugs and birds in my garden, the quiet and the level of courtesy that seemed to be growing. I started to think perhaps we were moving towards a kinder, gentler world.

And then BoJo spoiled everything with the ridiculous announcement about not going to work unless you had to go to work, and not using public transport unless you had to use public transport, and not being able to see your parents unless you put your house on the market and they booked a viewing. Almost overnight, something changed. People are saying 'Sod it.'

My daily walks have been restricted to places I can reach without getting into the car, because I've been following orders. People have been respecting my two-metre exclusion zone and moving out of the way with a smile, a wave and sometimes even a cheery word. On Sunday, though, we went into our nearby woodlands (the ones threatened with destruction) and there were people everywhere, not just family groups, but also gaggles of all sorts, heads down, not moving to the side, not smiling, not even acknowledging anyone else's existence.

And then there's the litter that has suddenly reappered. Why would you go to the trouble of venturing into the nearest thing we have to countryside and then leave a trail of paper and plastic? Who has been so desperate for a coffee that they've been to Starbucks, carried their cup on to the footpath and then just dropped it?

My rose-tinted specs have been consigned to the bin. I'm  disheartened. My message to the public is this: I'm very disappointed in you.

Monday, 4 May 2020

One thing leads to another

A favourite film in the Thorley household is Field of Dreams. Even if you've never watched it, you might have heard people quoting the line 'If you build it, he will come.' It's a lovely film and if you have time (!), I recommend you take a look. The film is great, but the book on which it is based is even better: Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella. On the edition that I have there is a quote on the cover from Andrew Kaufman who says: 'The movie only captured half the magic of the book. This is a masterpiece.' Can't argue with that. It has moved on to the shortlist of titles from which I shall choose one to take with me on Desert Island Discs one day.

Anyway, author J D Salinger features in Shoeless Joe, so I was moved to read Catcher in the Rye. I've tried to do this before, but just found Holden Caulfield so irritating I couldn't get very far. This time, however, I made it to the end. Sorry, but I still don't like it.

After a quick Jack Reacher to cleanse the palate, I 've now moved on to Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native, which is mentioned in the Salinger book. I've not read this for many a long year and I'm really enjoying it. It's one of those book that needs reading word by word, if you know what I mean. It is from its pages that I've gleaned today's Word of the Day for the thread I'm running on my author Facebook page. Perhaps for the sake of continuing the connection, I should now watch the film of the book, but the only version I can find stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Clive Owen, which doesn't exactly blow my skirt up.

The question is, then, what is the next chain in this link? Any suggestions?

Thursday, 30 April 2020

What time is it?

Time is a funny old thing. One of the reasons we have station clocks is because in 1840 the Great Western Railway introduced so-called railway time to overcome the problems caused by each town in the expanding railway network having its own local mean time. The clocks showed passengers what this unified time was.

I don't know about you, but time has lost all meaning in our house. It is apparently Thursday and I gather that tomorrow it will be May. I've just had a cheese and pickle sandwich, but I couldn't tell you if it was lunch or just a little something to tide me over until the next meal, whatever that will be.

References to dates in books can lead to unintended results. In the entry for 22 March in A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line, I wrote: ‘We hear that Brexit is to be delayed. I can’t bring myself to go into details here – and anyway by the time you’re reading this it will all have been resolved and we shall be looking back on these crazy times, laughing and saying, “What were we thinking!”’

On 10 March, I was interviewed by Andy Gibney of 3P Publishing for The Writer's Hut podcasts. I mention the date because if/when you listen, you will hear Andy joking that by the time the recording goes out we will all have forgotten about coronavirus. Yeah, about that...

If you'd like to listen to the podcast in which I talk about my writing and editing life and various other bits and pieces - Andy is a great interviewer - you can find it here.



Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Wanted: short stories for broadcast

You know how I've read out a couple of my short stories for my publisher's podcast? Well, now 3P Publishing would like to offer this opportunity to other writers and is looking for tales that take somewhere between five and ten minutes to read aloud.



If you have a suitable story for which you own broadcasting rights, please drop a line to Caroline Snelling (caroline@3ppublishing.co.uk



Saturday, 18 April 2020

'Father, whom our founder worshipped...'

I don't know who drew the picture
I should have been at a school reunion this weekend, but obviously it's not happening. I've been thinking about my old school, though, and its motto 'Nisi Dominus Frustra', which we all translated as 'My God, I'm so frustrated!' I can still remember all the words to the school hymn - I'll spare you - and have just located my teenage face on a grainy black-and-white year-group photo. Ah, how beautiful we all were; if only we'd realised it at the time.

I've dug out an old school report book that modesty forbids I reproduce here; I was clearly a bit of a swot and phrases like 'sound performance' and 'quietly competent' are repeated. I also have what is probably my first published piece of work. It was in the school magazine and I must have been 11 or 12 when I wrote it. I have typed it out here, exactly as it appeared.

About four and a half years ago my Grandma came to live with us. She can't see very well out of one eye. Because of this she watches television a lot, especially period plays, horror films, and 'Coronation Street'. 

She is fairly musical and when she could see played the violin and piano. She sings the alto part.

Grandma is a Methodist and goes to chapel every Sunday. On Mondays she goes to the 'Bright Hour'. 

She is a very tidy person and cannot bear to see any litter, especially sweet papers, lying around. She has the annoying habit of wandering round and putting things away, and so if anything is missing or has been moved from where you left it the first person to ask is Grandma.

Very often, after she has finished speaking, she will give a little 'hmm mm'. After a while this gets on people's nerves.

Of course she does have many good points. She is nearly always stocked up with sweets and willing to play draughts.

She has a television of her own and so if one person wants to watch one programme and somebody else another, one person goes in Grandma's room to solve the problem.

I'm not sure my writing style has changed that much!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

It's been a while

Eleven days since my last post: good grief! But I've been busy sharpening pencils, hoovering the kitchen floor, walking around the garden making plans - you know how it is.

Actually, there have been things going on. By some miracle I've picked up a couple of new editing jobs, for which much thanks. I see from the latest Martin Lewis newsletter that in a quick survey for his MSE website 25% of respondents said they expect to be financially better off because of the current situation. Well, lucky them.

Me? Well, I'm looking forward to the donation from the government to the self-employed, thank you very much. For now, I'm ticking along OK (although if you fancy buying one of my books I won't say no!). On the plus side, I received the interest on my Santander online savings account this morning: 5p. On the negative side, the shower is making a funny noise.

In other news, I've done a bit of Zooming, including an online dancetheatre class. There's nothing like wafting around the living room on your own pretending to be a tree to make you realise how daft the world is at the moment. I've also done a proper grown-up board meeting online, just in case you thought I'd completely lost all sense of reason.

We've had Easter, of course, which this year was also the occasion of our wedding anniversary: 40 years!

Another of my short stories was broadcast by the 3P team, one of the tales from Nine Lives. You can listen here, if you'd like to.

Finally, I've started to do a 'word of the day' on my @JuliaThorleyAuthor Facebook page. So far, I've done aptote, barnaby, chank, dumbledore and epinikion. Today's word will begin with F. I shall endeavour to keep it clean.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Don't let the trees obscure the wood

Did my UK friends watch Have I Got News For You last night? (Overseas pals: this is a satirical news-based panel show on the BBC.) In case you're saving it to watch later I won't give anything away, other than to say that it was good to be reminded that there is other stuff going on in the world besides You Know What.

One thing that's cropped up on Facebook and Twitter over the last few days is a reminder that local politics is still happening. There is an area of woodland a mile or so from where I live that is on the very edge of the town and well used by runners, walkers and cyclists. The land is owned, I believe, by our local duke (picture me doffing my cap in an ironic way). A planning application has been made to chop down all the trees, clear the land and use the space for more warehouses.

We are in the middle of the so-called logistics golden triangle here, bounded by the M1, M6 and A14. However, given that it's less than a year since the council declared a Climate Emergency, this proposal seems a bit off, to say the least. Needless to say, petitions have been signed and representation made by the proper channels to oppose this awful plan - but we nearly didn't notice this was happening.

The point of this post is not to embroil you in an issue that, let's face it, probably doesn't mean a lot to you, but rather to remind you that while you're looking over here, things are still going on over there.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Bedtime stories

Photo: morguefile.com
A few weeks ago, I went along to 3P Publishing to record a podcast about my writing life. It hasn't been broadcast yet - I'll let you know when it is, of course - but in the meantime, the 3P team have started another stream of podcasts, namely a bedtime story every night at 9pm. On Tuesday, one of my stories was broadcast, Scoring An Own Goal in Tennis, which I recorded at home using Audacity and emailed across.

I'm getting the hang of reading out my own stories, I think, but recording them is a little different. Setting aside the popping p and the hissing s, which problems can be resolved by positioning the mic correctly, there are also considerations of when to breathe and swallow, and how to turn the pages without making a noise.

I thought I'd done an OK job, but on listening back before I submitted the MP3 file, I realised that in spite of it being written correctly on the page as 'Tommy and Bob', I'd actually said 'Bobby and Tom'. Why?! Anyway, I was able to re-record a snippet and edit it in (or rather, Mr Thorley did the editing for me) and you can't see the join, as they say.

Please have a listen, and check out the other stories, too. More will follow.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

You've got to laugh


Out on my permitted walk yesterday, I saw a woman dusting her garage door. I fear for her sanity. 

The trouble is, if she's already bored enough to being doing that, how will she cope in, say, a month's time? 

I look forward to passing her again in due course and catching her cutting the lawn with nail scissors.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

How long would four slices of ham last you?

It occurred to me this morning as I was spreading butter on my toast that I might be a bit greedy when it comes to dairy goodies. You should see me with a block of Cheddar: not pretty.

For reasons that I don't remember, I have an old food coupon book in a folder labelled 'Important Odds & Sods' - see pic - so I dug it out and looked up Second World War rations online. Good lord - how did anyone survive?

From the Imperial War Museums website, I learned that every citizen was issued with a booklet to take to a registered shopkeeper to receive supplies. At first, only bacon, butter and sugar were rationed, but gradually, the list grew: meat was rationed from 11 March 1940; cooking fats in July 1940, as was tea; and cheese and preserves joined in March and May 1941.

Allowances fluctuated throughout the war, but on average one adult’s weekly ration was 113g bacon and ham (about 4 thin slices), one shilling and ten pence worth of meat (about 227g minced beef), 57g butter, 57g cheese, 113g margarine, 113g cooking fat, 3 pints of milk, 227g sugar (that's the same as the meat ration!), 57g tea and 1 egg. Other foods such as canned meat, fish, rice, condensed milk, breakfast cereals, biscuits and vegetables were available, but in limited quantities on a points system.
Fresh vegetables and fruit were not rationed, but supplies were limited. Some types of imported fruit all but disappeared. Lemons and bananas became unobtainable for most of the war; oranges continued to be sold but greengrocers customarily reserved them for children and pregnant women, who could prove their status by producing their distinctive ration books.

I also learned that apparently 60% of Britons told government pollsters they wanted rationing to be introduced, with many believing that it would guarantee everyone a fair share of food. I'll just leave that there for you to consider.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Chilling memories

One of the tasks I undertake for the monthly journal of a professional institute is to sub a list of people who have been members of the organisation for 20, 30, 40 and 50 years or more. Those who have been a member for 20 years joined in 2000. This can't be right, because surely the Seventies are only 30 years away.

The Seventies are on my mind at the moment because I've been invited to a school reunion, which has thrown up all sorts of questions, not least whether or not to take Mr T with me. He won't know many people and he didn't know me when I was at school, so, as one of my friends has put it, it's really none of his business. Do I want him chatting with exes and people I had petty squabbles with?

I've kept in touch with a handful of people I went to school with, but while I have a passing interesting in some of the others and occasionally hear news of them, I wonder if there's a reason we're not in regular contact. I mean, teenage girls: they be bitches!

And we are being 'strongly encouraged' to wear Seventies clothing. Oh heck.

I've also been delving back even further, to my time at primary school. I have a piece in the current issue of Best of British about swiming lessons at my home town's outdoor lido, when it was so cold I actually shivered myself to the floor of the changing cubicle. Different times!

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

A mystery

If you follow me on Face Book, you might have noticed that I arrived home to a bit of a mystery. It has unfolded thus.

While I was away last week, Mr T signed for a letter addressed to me. The next day, the postman knocked at the door to check that it was actually for me. Mr T confirmed that, yes, it had my name on it and the address and postcode were ours (although there was a spelling mistake in the road name, which often happens).

Apparently, someone at the other end of our very long road had been expecting a 'shoebox-sized parcel with unspecified contents' and had been given the tracking number that had been used on my letter. The two of them concluded that someone must have typed in a wrong digit somewhere.

When I returned home, I was intrigued because I wasn't expecting anything and there was no return address on the back of the envelope. What could it be?

Well, dear reader, inside was an advertising leaflet for a gutter-cleaning company. That was it;  nothing written on the back, no note, nothing. I've never heard of the company and I don't need my soffits sprucing. That's odd, right?

Yesterday, a post office official turned up on the doorstep. The people down the road are quite rightly agitated that their parcel has gone astray and that 'someone' has signed for it. The PO chap took away the envelope and its contents to use in evidence.

Two questions remain:
  1. Where is the mystery parcel (and supplementary question, what's inside)?
  2. Who on earth would go to the trouble of sending me an unsolicited leaflet by recorded delivery?

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.