Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Crisis of confidence. I am unsure how to rescue my self worth. Time was, I would sail through life knowing I could do anything if I put my mind to it, but nowadays I am never sure. Job adverts call but I block my own chances with doubt and never even apply. Ideas flood at work but I fear the negative response of my employers and carry on, plodding, without achieving anything remarkable. I have hit mediocrity on my way down and will probably soon be beyond repair. The skills I have, the ones I have practised and polished for decades, are no longer valued. Who cares that I can craft a sentence well or even spell? They have machines that do it now, although they cannot tell the difference between wood, would, wooed and wowed. They even think that color is correct, and ax, center, sympathize and split infinitives, but no-one cares. My knowledge is dismissed as irrelevant today. I am a dinosaur, a dodo, and my skill set is redundant because my mindset (apparently) is wrong.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oxeye daisies

Oxeye daisies
turn their fried egg faces
sunny side up to the morning sky.
Standing tall they present
an honour guard along the motorway.

Friday, May 27, 2011

fff55 Stillness

Once upon a seaside walk I passed a towering rock that sheltered me, for a silent moment, shocking me with sudden calm in its invisible isolation chamber. The looming presence of the stone sucked every sound, stilling all noise of gusting wind or waves.  A chance to pause; I store that unexpected peace within me.


More 55s over at the G-Man's blog

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Really unique

OK - just read that title again will you?

Now....... Are you seething, or expecting something very special?

One of my most serious peeves is misuse of words. (not misspelling, poor grammar, etc - genuine errors in what words mean.) Take 'unique'. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard or read, 'almost unique', 'really unique' and other modifiers attached to the word.

The dictionary definition of unique is: single, sole, unrivalled.
Almost unique is like being a little bit pregnant.

The reason for today's rant is that 'really unique' was on a BBC radio news report. And they should know better!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Step away from the computer......

It's official - too much computer use damages kids' ability to read.

OK so the research concentrated on 9-10 year olds and they found the link in Sweden and the US but couldn't confirm it in similar studies in Hungary and Italy, but it's still pretty scary.

"Our study shows that the entry of computers into the home has contributed to changing children's habits in such a manner that their reading does not develop to the same extent as previously. By comparing countries over time we can see a negative correlation between change in reading achievement and change in spare time computer habits which indicates that reading ability falls as leisure use of computers increases," says lead researcher Monica Rosén.

A report of the study can be found here if you'd like to know more.

Or maybe you should switch off your computer and go read a book! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Earlier today I thought
"It's Friday!"
But I was wrong.
When realised that it is
Only Tuesday
I almost cried,
And now I feel
More like Monday.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Of COURSE I hear voices.....

“I really think you need to see a specialist, a psychiatrist” he said, “I know just the man.  You’ll like him. And he’s very good.”

She didn't want to see a stranger, to talk over her fears and the voice in her head that criticised and nagged at her throughout the day and in the dark hours of the night. Not that she heard voices or anything like that. No alien invader violated her mind to feed her strange instructions about papering over the windows or wearing foil hats to keep the radio waves out. She recognised the voice all too well. It was hers; and it really should speak to her more kindly than it did because she didn’t deserve some of the things it said even though her life resembled a ball of wool that a kitten had played with and she had difficulty thinking of a single achievement she could be proud of from the last few years.  But somehow she could not silence it. Her. The other Her.

The voice had been there for as long as she could remember, with its sarcastic commentary on her life and its little hints about how much better she could be doing for herself if only she worked harder, aimed higher, dressed more smartly, concentrated longer, spent less, lost weight, and all the hundreds of other great improvements she needed to make.


From an abandoned project. I suspect a lot of people can relate to this.

EDIT:  Later, after reading Jarmara's comment.(below) Currently abandoned. Because I got several chapters in and had no idea how or why the poor character was in that state.  But I shall have to go back and rescue the poor girl some day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Memento mori

Time passed that day but I do not know how. I am sure there must have been tea – cups of hot, sweet tea that are supposed to be the answer to all of life’s shocks – but I cannot taste them. And I am sure that my ever practical brother would have ensured we all ate. If not him, then his efficient wife Pauline, but I cannot remember now if she was there, I do not know if I was even aware of her presence at the time. She would have accompanied him if she could because she is the kind of woman who believes in appearances. She would support him because it was expected of a wife and so she would have been at the house if her work commitments permitted. 
So there must have been three or four of us, and we must have interacted in some way, but I remember nothing except my own cocoon of misery.  What did we discuss after we all gathered together at the house? I do not know. We must have talked about what we needed to do, who we needed to inform, all the practicalities that surround anyone’s death. Maybe we decided who would take charge of the officialdom and which tasks each of us would undertake. We might have shared fond memories of him and compared stories of him from happier times. But we probably avoided discussing the most obvious thing: how we were going to live without him. 

Another extract from The Wise Child, my Nano novel from 2010. For all the people I know out there who are currently dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Friday, May 20, 2011


The past is dead, and so is every person in it. So why am I fascinated with history and all its tales? Do we learn its lessons or are we doomed to repeat mistakes because of human nature? Should I try to better them or just relax and do what I want?

I don’t know.


I have always been fascinated by the past, ever since a junior school teacher showed us pictures of cave paintings. I trained as an archaeologist, I visit historic sites and even the books I write are set in years gone by. I guess it's just who I am.

Read more FFF55s at Mr Knowitall's Blog

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Too good to be true? Free short story contest

I just found this while I was browsing for something altogether different. It says any genre, any length from 800 - 3,200 words and it's free to enter. You have till July 31.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Never again

The headache that woke Angie from her wine-fuelled sleep felt as though it was being delivered with a mallet. She could almost hear the pounding, like the noise of a hammer driving a nail into wood. She gingerly opened her eyes just a small way to see how much pain the morning light would induce. It was severe, and she realised that she needed a drink of water if she was to have any hope of recovery. As soon as she thought of water her stomach answered with a growl that reminded her she had eaten a whole anchovy and olive pizza on top of the dose of indigestion that passed for breakfast the day before.

This was a hangover like she had not experienced in a while. Back in her depression days she had been in this state two or three times a week as she tried to drown her sorrows in alcohol and comfort food. Recently she had felt the urge to over indulge less and less and she had forgotten just how painful the morning after could be.  She forced herself out of bed and to the bathroom to get herself a glass of water and caught sight of her reflection in the mirror. Having eaten too much and drunk even more the night before did nothing for her appearance. Her complexion looked waxen and her hair was a wreck.

High country

Although I had seen a catalogue of my family’s former home I found myself increasingly drawn to visiting it to find out for myself just how isolated it was and why my ancestors decided to sell it. There was no doubt of the address and directions because they were clearly set out in the sale brochure, but I was still grateful for the modern invention of GPS when I headed out to the house one morning. It was a warm day in early summer and the drive out of the city was extremely pleasant. The sun was bright and lit up the countryside with an almost golden glow that made the fields and hedges look inviting.

As I drove on, higher onto the moorland to the east of Manchester, the fields became smaller and more angular, hedges gave way to grey, stone walls marking long, narrow strips of land. The cattle of the lower slopes were gradually replaced by wandering sheep that dotted the stony hillsides. I saw many lying slumped against the foot of the walls and it was not until then that I realised the pattern of the dry, grey lines. They had been constructed against the prevailing wind and were designed to provide shelter in a landscape that offered very little natural protection against the elements. This would be a very different place in winter from the scene I could see spread out before me; without the sunshine of a summer’s day it would be truly bleak.

The roads became steeper and narrower as I continued my journey and eventually I came out on top of a low hill that formed a platform for the rising moorland ahead. I pulled in to the side of the road to take a proper look at the view. Below me I could see acres of farmland with the scar of the city, far off in the distance, marked by a grimy smog that hung over it like a dirty lace curtain. Above me there was nothing, or apparently nothing, except harsh, unforgiving moor. Even the stone walls were missing here, and the sheep were allowed to roam freely, kept in their place by nothing more than a metal grid across the road in front of me.  It was possibly one of the loneliest spots I had ever visited.


Large chunks of my latest work in progress are set in the north, among the industrial cities and the tough high-Pennine moors.  I think maybe I've been a Midlander for too long!

The photo is actually a long way east of Manchester (in fact it's Yorkshire!).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How many?

The BBC 'most people have only read six books' thing has reared its ugly head again. I think it's been around for years but it's still an interesting exercise. Apparently, surveys show that most people have read only six of the list below. 
(Bold means I've read it. Italics means I started it and gave up. There are also comments.)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling  (I read the first four then she sold out)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (I really should, shouldn't I)
6 The Bible (What? All of it?)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (My O Level book)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare 
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (And I know why people -allegedly - go out and kill afterwards. I really wanted to kill Holden Caulfield!)
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (It's on my list. It's on my E-reader!)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (lots of times - one of my favourites)
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (Yes, all of them)
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe  (See no. 33)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (I LOVE Pooh!)
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Not his best. Angels and Demons is better)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (And it felt like it!)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving (Give him back! One of the best books ever)
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood (Hated it)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth.
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon  (Very clever book)
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Because I hated 100 years... see 43)
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac (It's nonsense!)
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (And it is.Never really enjoyed Hardy.)
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath  (Oh my gawd.....Was she the depressed one?)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome  (It's on my list but I don't have a copy yet)
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt.
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery  (In French!)
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks (This is about the only Ian Banks I've never read. I've even read some Iain M Banks)
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare  (Not sure why they have this separated out. See 14)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Monday, May 16, 2011

404 error

Cyberspace is dead. We already poisoned the real world so that trees and birds and animals and plants and bugs are fading from existence, leaving only bacteria to thrive in a barren wasteland. Now we have overcrowded the aether and our thoughts are ever tighter packed in the web-o-verse. Increasing blank pages and 404 errors were warning signs of disaster and the Internet is finally full. No email, no blog, no social networking, no games, no newsreel, no instant bookings in faraway hotels. Just the black screen of death. So, this is how it ends.

Or maybe I forgot to charge my laptop again.


The Blogger collapse clearly affected me quite deeply!

Friday, May 13, 2011

FFF55: Animal testing

Ninety two per cent of medicines that enter human trials do not work or cause side effects. Animal tests suggested they would succeed. Aspirin kills cats, thalidomide was approved, and yet many scientists continue to promote the torture and poisoning of millions of rodents every year as the way forward.
Sadly, this is not fiction.

The original of this post had a political section here. This is the result of a lot of research I have been doing this week for my day job. 
As usual it's for Friday Flash Fiction 55. A weekly challenge hosted over on Mister Knowitall's Blog. Check it out.  Of course, he might not have had chance to put it back after the Blogger chaos!

Where's the post gone?

It looks like the posts have disappeared in the chaos that is Blogger. I wrote a REALLY good FFF55 but they lost it. I wonder if I can remember it again?

THE ORIGINAL Paws for Thought. FFF55

My FFF55 from last week has miraculously reappeared.........

This time you have the politics too!  Feel free to ignore it all. I just thought I should let it out of cyber prison.

Ninety two per cent of medicines that enter human testing do not work, though animal tests were successful. Thalidomide was passed as safe. Aspirin kills cats (and would be banned if it was new today). Yet some scientists insist that poisoning millions of rodents each year is the way ahead. Sadly, this is not fiction.


If you're not interested in the politics you can miss out this central bit

This has come out of something that I've been working on for my day job this week. Few people realise that the reason drugs cost so much to develop is because so much testing of potential treatments is carried out on animals, which do not have the same physiological reactions as humans.

In the past, animal tests were the best we had. These days there are so many other testing strategies based on human cells and tissues (often waste material from surgery) but the law makers and sponsors still support animal tests.

Some figures:  Of 10,000 substances that are potential drug candidates (which will undergo chemical tests and computer modelling as a first stage) around 250 will show enough promise to be tested on animals. Of those 250, only 10 will make it to human trials.  And, if we're lucky, just one will be successful.


This Friday FlashFiction 55 is a response to the weekly challenge set by The G-Man at Mister Knowitall's Blog. Go see what other people have written this week.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

There have been Gremlins!

Bugaboos and other kinds of nasties in the works.  Posts have been disappearing and others have been appearing before they should.

Snafu has been given the gift of prophecy because he read what will not (repeat NOT!) appear until tomorrow. Really. It won't. Not if I have anything to do with it!

I wondered what I was going to write today. Ah well.

The Fates decided.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I would rather be loved than rich
I would rather be intelligent than beautiful
I would rather be caring than popular
I would rather be lonely than conventional.

I would rather be right than honoured
I would rather be happy than thin
I would rather be me than a princess
I would rather be with you than anything.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lonely? Read a book.

According to a new study by American psychologists, when we read books we actually relate so closely to the characters that we temporarily become part of their social group.

The team from the University of Buffalo have shown that reading satisfies a deep-seated human need for companionship and connection with others.

In an article published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers Shira Gabriel and Ariana Young say that the sense of belonging gained from a book is just as beneficial as one we would gain in the 'real' world.

The books they used in the study were well known vampire and magic stories, which they gave to undergraduates students to read, then monitored the readers' behaviour.

Dr Gabriel said: "This study suggests that books give us more than an opportunity to tune out and submerge ourselves in a fantasy world.

"They give us a chance to feel like we belong to something bigger than us and to reap the benefits that result from being a part of that larger realm without having a 'real' social encounter.
"When we enter the narrative  we don't 'become' Harry or Edward, of course, but we do become a member of their world. That feels really good and it changes us."

You can find out more about it if you click here.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Out of the pens of babes.....

Or more probably, out of their computers.

Earlier this year the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2 announced a children's writing competition for a 500 word short story. The top 50 have been chosen and are now available to read on the show's website.

It's scary. These kids are GOOD!

Click here to see for yourself.

I like 'Tooth'. Which is your favourite?

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Many Writers' Advice blogs say that using too many adverbs in your novels is a bad thing.


many others say that publishers like them.


I find myself spotting every adverb in anything I read at the moment.


it appears that published writers use them


some make a feature of them. Like this piece from Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson.

'It is,' Maisie said, eating her soup awkwardly.
We all chose a different adverb to sup with. Philippa consumed her soup hungrily, Mrs Macbeth decided on messily, Mrs McCue on recklessly, whereas I myself opted for cautiously. Lucy Lake opted for not at all.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

D H Lawrence poem

I like people quite well
at a little distance
I like to see them passing and passing
and going their own way,
especially if I see their aloneness alive in them.
Yet I don't want them to come near.
If they will only leave me alone
I can still have the illusion that there is room enough in the world.
D H Lawrence

I've been sorting through some old artworks and came across this poem, which I used as practice for calligraphy some years ago. I'd forgotten it.  But I still like it.

Friday, May 06, 2011

FFF55: A soldier's tale

Edward Moffat joined the army and went off to fight in the mud and gore of France. He miraculously survived the whole thing and came home a hero, only to be struck down by Spanish Flu in an epidemic that wiped out a great number of those who had managed to live through the fighting.


Edward Moffat is a very minor character in my latest attempt at a novel. His entire tale takes little more than two paragraphs but his death is relevant to the ongoing story. 

Spanish Flu was the same strain (H1N1) as the bird flu that hit last year. Unlike most strains of flu (and other diseases) it hit the young and healthy and left the old and frail relatively untouched. In a world that had just suffered massive losses among its young generation because of the 1914-18 war, the deaths were felt particularly badly. The first cases were reported in late 1918 and the disease continued to spread around the world for two years.  In spite of the name there is no evidence to prove that it started in Spain.

FFF55 is a weekly challenge to tell a story in just 55 words.  It's hosted by the G-Man over at Mr. Knowitall Go visit and read more.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Stuck in traffic

Who are you Happy Man
In my rear-view mirror?
What is the song you sing
As you sit (more patiently than me)
In this traffic jam?
My radio is on but
The sound in my ears
Does not match
The shape of your mouth.
Vainly I search for the station
That you hear.
I fear the song is in your head.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Learning to read

There are lots of reasons why I loved my dad (and why I still miss him desperately) but perhaps one of the most important (significant, meaningful, useful....) was the way he instilled a love of books and reading into me. And how he ensured that I always remember what I have read. I borrowed the memory to use in The Wise Child.
Here's an excerpt:

Each day featured the same conversation when I would face the same questions, which I was always eager to answer. He would call me to him and lift me up onto his knee, settle me down and say: “What are you reading? Who is it by? What is it about?” I was expected to tell him the story in my own words, describe the characters and explain the plot. If it was a long book it would be told in instalments over several days. Often Dad would ask for finer details or more information and most times I could supply it. Once in a while though I was hazy on some points and tried to avoid his interrogation. Then he would suggest, kindly, that I should read the chapter again because I had missed parts of it. That way I learned to read carefully and to remember what I had read, two skills that were to prove very useful to me later. Best of all was when I had finished a book and I faced a different set of questions. “Did you enjoy it? Why?” And after that he would want to know if I thought he would enjoy it too and we would compare what we liked in books and what made us want to give up reading them. That was when I could truly talk freely to my father about the world, books, fiction, reality and everything that was important to me as a child. And he would listen.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I've started work on the next book.

So far it consists of a basic idea that will involve a family story over four generations. Seemed like a good idea until I realised that I was going to have to make all the dates fit onto a family tree.

There is a huge sheet of paper with lots of boxes on it that are linked by various lines in different directions. As usual I'm stuck for names and have got as far as working out who will share the same surname along the paternal line.

And I have a notebook with two pages dedicated to each potential character so that I can jot down ideas about their lives and how they are all linked together.

This is the most planning I have ever done for a written project. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May in, coffin out.

May blossom sheds its off-white petals
casting down its smell of tombs.
Flowers the colour of a shroud
must not be brought indoors.
Mother fears its power
and forbids it in the house.
To bring it in invites Death.
Disease, decay, defeat.
Do not pick the blooms.
Their beauty is a trap
you can't escape.

My mother believed that bringing the flowers of hawthorn into the house would bring about a death in the family. I'm not sure I believe it - but I don't risk it.