Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday extracts: Pratchett and names

Whenever I write, one of my biggest challenges comes in finding believable names for my characters. I sometimes stoop to wandering around churchyards looking for suitable contributions from headstones.  Terry Pratchett has no such problem. The names he creates are instantly recognisable, even when they are totally insane.  In Dodger, his latest novel, the story is set in Dickensian London, and the dramatis personae includes some wonderfully descriptive names.

The dog is called Onan, by the way. I had to look that one up.

Some of the lads and lasses were drinking outside the Gunner's Daughter, sitting on the old barrels, bundles of rope, hopeless piles of rotting wood and all the other debris of the riverside. Sometimes it seemed to Dodger that the city and the river were simply all the same creature except for the fact tht some parts were a lot more soggy than others. 

Right now, in this tangled, smelly but usually cheerful disarray, he recognised Bent Henry, Lucy Diver, One-Armed-Dave, Preacher, Mary-Go-Round, Messy Bessie and Mangle.

Terry Pratchett

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tree Time

It's Christmas again. That means the house will be in turmoil and nothing will be in its proper place and I shan't be able to find anything and afterwards I shall have to spend simply ages putting everything back in order. It's always me that has to do it. The others think it doesn't matter, that everything will be here somewhere and it's not like we ever really need to look a long way for things that have been put somewhere different. It's not like it's a big home.

Well I know that, and I'd not want to live anywhere bigger. It's cosy. We've been together a long while, and the sparkle might be a bit worn off since the old days but we're comfortable together. Him and me and the kids.

I remember the first time we met: that Christmas long ago. I fell for him straight away, in his red suit and his polished black boots. He winked and said my wings were beautiful, and called me his Angel. He's such a charmer.

Now we celebrate every year, on the tree, surrounded by friends and relations. It's not a bad life, even if I shall have to tidy the whole shelf when we get back in the New Year.

Oh well, here we go, it's time to shine.
Merry Christmas to all.
Love from the Bauble Family.

My latest Thinking Ten contribution

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday extracts: James Stephens on women's difficulties

In the centre of the pine wood called Coilla Doraca there lived not long ago two Philosophers. They were wiser than anything else in the world except the Salmon who lies in the pool of Glyn Cagny into which the nuts of knowledge fall from the hazel bush on its bank. He, of course, is the most profound of living creatures, but the two Philosophers are next to him in wisdom. Their faces looked as though they were made of parchment, there was ink under their nails, and every difficulty that was submitted to them, even by women, they were able to instantly resolve. The Grey Woman of Dun Gortin and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath asked them the three questions which nobody had ever been able to answer, and they were able to answer them. That was how they obtained the enmity of these two women which is more valuable than the friendship of angels. The Grey Woman and the Thin Woman were so incensed at being answered that they married the two Philosophers in order to be able to pinch them in bed, but the skins of the Philosophers were so thick that they did not know they were being pinched. They repaid the fury of the women with such tender affection that these vicious creatures almost expired of chagrin, and once, in a very ecstacy of exasperation, after having been kissed by their husbands, they uttered the fourteen hundred maledictions which comprised their wisdom, and these were learned by the Philosophers who thus became even wiser than before.

The Crock of Gold
James Stephens

Monday, December 17, 2012

A matter of faith

“In a shed? Are you serious?”

Her voice was even shriller than usual, but he realised she was tired and knew he had to be patient with her. She was never at her best when she missed out on sleep and the journey had been long and arduous. Joe lowered his eyes and tried not to inflate her anger any further, but he suspected he was in for a tirade. She didn’t disappoint him.

“That’s the best you can do? Really? Didn’t you think to book anything? You knew we had to come here. You knew it would be packed with other people, and yet it never crossed your mind to make arrangements. Trust you to mess up completely. You want me to sleep in a shed. The management expect me to sleep in a shed. On what, exactly?”

Joe started to mumble apologies and explain how he would make it as comfortable as he could. It was more of a stable, actually and there would be hay, and horse blankets and he’d do his best, but she wasn’t listening. He tuned out when she mentioned her “condition”, because he knew all about that. He had to grit his teeth to stay quiet about that. After all, it wasn’t his baby she was carrying. It couldn’t be. They’d never done anything to cause a baby, and she swore she was a virgin but she obviously wasn’t.

He had agreed to marry her in spite of that, because he loved her and she promised that the real father wasn’t around any more. It was a shame they’d had to make this trip so close to her due date, but they didn’t have a choice. As he started arranging straw into the semblance of a bed, he put up a silent prayer that she wouldn’t go into labour tonight.

But it seemed God had other ideas.

******************* Today's Thinking Ten prompt was: in a barn or shed

Friday, December 14, 2012


I'm back on Thinking Ten. It's got my creative juices going again, although so far I've not come up with anything that continues from the previous day's creation. But these four lads have appeared before.

“Well this is a right wash-out if you ask me.”

That was Alan; always the first to complain about anything.

“Well no-one did, so shut it.”

Simmo. Putting an end to Alan’s whinge before it got out of hand; probably protecting Baz from feeling guilty. He was good like that. It had been Baz’s idea to sneak out from home, tell all the parents that we were staying at someone else’s house, but sleep out in the old shed on the allotment. He said it would be a laugh and we were all quick enough to agree, but none of us was quick enough to think it through. We had no food, no drink, no light, not even warm clothes, and it was freezing. Not to mention that we’d broken the shed window two weeks ago trying to get inside the place.

Nigel saved us in the end.

“Let’s go to mine. Mother won’t care if I say you guys are crashing on the floor for the night. You can all say honestly that you’ve got permission.”

Baz didn’t look too keen at first but he perked up at Nigel’s next announcement.

“There’ll be cocoa, and biscuits. And Dad brought that new street fight game home today and I’ve not had chance to try it yet.”

So we all trooped off to Nigel’s place, trying to look like we planned it that way.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday Extracts: The Days of Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin Trail Hull

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't give up your day job

A computer expert in Florida has designed a program that is capable of writing stories. But don't panic, all your scribes out there: it doesn't write very good ones.

The software, called Xapagy, has been loaded with a lot of existing tales, translated into a language it can understand, then asked to create new writing of its own.  At first it was given a section of a known tale, such as Red Riding Hood, then asked to predict what came next.

Anyone who was taught English by a creative teacher in the 60s will be familiar with that technique. Xapagy looks for familiar connections within the given script, and uses them to create the next stage of the narrative. Here's an example of its work:

"My, what a big mouth you have Grandma," says Little Red Riding Hood, with just a hint of suspicion. The wolf sneezes. "Bless you," says the little girl.

The idea of the program is to improve the design of future robots; to make artifical intelligence more human and therefore more user-friendly. Experts predict that eventually it will be able to make up its own stories, once it has a large enough store of existing ones.

Xapagy's tale is told in the December 8 edition of New Scientist. I had to check that it wasn't from April.
The programmer's name? Lotzi Bölöni.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Inspiration, Thinking Ten, and generally getting my act together

I have been remiss. I admit it. I have been doing absolutely no writing for weeks/months/ages. Then I heard that Thinking Ten had been missing for a while but was back. I had been missing for longer.  In penance I visited and played the prompt (yesterday's prompt I admit - but I did it anyway!)   Herewith:


It wasn’t like it was the best room in the place, and by god the place had some very nice rooms, but it was comfortable and well supplied. And once Ingrid had a pass key it was easy enough to come and go as she pleased. Nobody took much notice of her and her kind. They were supposed to act in a way that wouldn’t disturb the other residents. That was the point.

She liked to think she paid her way. She knew what had to be done and was happy enough to do it, even the dirty bits, in exchange for her little piece of freedom. So she would never have to go back to the awful man who took her money and made promises he didn’t keep. Oh he’d brought her to England alright, at least, most of the residents spoke English, so she assumed that was where she was, but there was no mention when she bought her passage that she would have to pay more on arrival, and if she couldn’t pay (Of course she couldn’t pay. It had taken every coin she had to buy the ticket!) she would be made to provide in other ways. With men. Dirty, smelly men with hard fists and limp dicks.

Luck followed her the night she got away, when she hid by latching onto a group of rag-tag folk by a dimly lit back door of a huge building. She was hustled inside and given a pink-checked uniform to wear and sent off with another woman who showed her how to clean and tidy the hotel rooms and make beds with fresh new sheets when guests left. That night she learned where all the stores were kept and she realised that behind the shelves was space: enough for a bed, made of abandoned cushions and covered in last year’s style of sheets.

Six months had passed, as far as she could tell. She worked every night and early morning but never asked for pay. She lived on leftovers, and people’s waste, and was richer than at any other time in her life.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thursday extracts: Yorkshire politics


Religion, when we were kids, was all about control. It was about the ruling classes being hand-in-glove with the church to keep ordinary, hard-working people terrified of having a mind of their own.

Sally Wainwright
Last Tango in Halifax
(BBC drama. Delivered by the character Alan, played by Derek Jacobi.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday extracts: Wrong time of year

I walked about on my own, a bit lonely.
Suddenly I saw a whole lot of yellow flowers with long stalks.
They were right by a pond under some trees and the wind was
blowing them about a bit.
They seemed to go on and on, great rows of them.
I realised with one look there were masses of them all
moving about on the wind.
Now, when I'm lying on my bed, with nothing to do or feeling
a bit low, I think about those yellow flowers and it sort of
cheers me up, like.

Jill Streatfield
With apologies to Wordsworth

OK - so I know it's the wrong season. But it's funny. Right? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thursday Extracts: spoilt for choice

What do Hoagy Carmichael (1899),  Benjamin Britten (1913),  George Eliot - real name Mary Ann Evans (1819),  Robert Vaughn (1932) and Tom Conti (1941) have in common?

Those brackets  might give you a clue. Nov 22 is/was their birthday. So do I give you some George Eliot? A bit of Silas Marner, perhaps. If I could find it, I might quote some lines from Terence Frisby's play Rough Justice, which I saw earlier this year, starring Tom Conti.

But I decided to go with this. The lyrics aren't great - but the music is wonderful. (It's written by Hoagy Carmichael, of course.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Extracts: On the way to winter

What goes on in the park?
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

From : That time of year thou mayst in me behold (Sonnet 73) by William Shakespeare 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Thursday Extracts: Out for blood

Thanks to Google for the hint!
Today is Bram Stoker's 165th birthday. So I couldn't really give you anything else could I?

I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting. (Mem., I must ask the Count all about them.)
I did not sleep well, though my bed was comfortable enough, for I had all sorts of queer dreams. There was a dog howling all night under my window, which may have had something to do with it; or it may have been the paprika, for I had to drink up all the water in my carafe, and was still thirsty. Towards morning I slept and was wakened by the continuous knocking at my door, so I guess I must have been sleeping soundly then.

Bram Stoker

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Thursday extracts: not Nano

My Aunt Julia was a remarkable woman.  She was my father’s younger sister and, although I hardly remember the two of them together, the way she always talked of him suggested that they were fond of each other. He was the practical one but she was born with the brains, she said. She outshone him at school and was always destined for a career but surprised everyone when, after A levels, she touted her skills around all the local newspaper offices until she was taken on as a trainee reporter on a weekly near Manchester.


It'll be a long while before this sees daylight in print. It's an extract from my current work in progress. No, it's not even slightly autobiographical.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nano no no

For the last two years I've completed Nanowrimo and I've created two books, one of which I self published. But this year I've decided to give it a miss. The main reason is that I abandoned a very good project last year in order to start a new work, to meet the Nano regulations. 

Sadly, while the Nano product last year wasn't bad, and it might have potential as another self published book, it wasn't a patch on the one I abandoned.

So what I'm doing this year is going back to the work I left standing. I'm currently reading through the 21,000 or so words I have, to get back into the story line. And sometime in November I shall be adding to the total.

I don't expect to write 50,000 words. I'll settle for around 20,000, frankly. But November is a tough month at work this year and I'm not committing myself to anything.

Good luck to all of you who are going for it again in 2012.  I wish you flowing words and a kind Muse.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday extracts: Kenneth Grahame would probably have objected to a badger cull

When at last they were thoroughly toasted, the Badger summoned them to the table, where he had been busy laying a repast. They had felt pretty hungry before, but when they actually saw at last the supper that was spread for them, really it seemed only a question of what they should attack first where all was so attractive, and whether the other things would obligingly wait for them till they had time to give them attention. Conversation was impossible for a long time; and when it was slowly resumed, it was that regrettable sort of conversation that results from talking with your mouth full. The Badger did not mind that sort of thing at all, nor did he take any notice of elbows on the table, or everybody speaking at once. As he did not go into Society himself, he had got an idea that these things belonged to the things that didn't really matter.

The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame

Friday, October 19, 2012

Time to go

There was nothing for it. He’d have to go. She was fed up with his moods, his grumpiness, the long, pained sighs. She remembered a cheerful, smiling, kind face that made her fall in love with him in the first place. But where was that now? Their situation had changed, and she was left with someone whose presence was now impossible to tolerate.

She still loved him, and she didn’t want to hurt him, but she had to give him his marching orders. She took a deep breath and brandished the paper as he scowled back at her.

“I’m sorry, but you left me no choice. You're going tomorrow morning. I made the appointment for you, and I found you a dentist who’s good with cowards!”

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Thursday Extracts: National Poetry Day

It Was One of Those Fine October Days

It was one of those fine October days
free from summer’s heat and haze
but not yet gripped by autumn chill.

It was one of those fine October days
when the sky’s so clear
you can see the moon
through the atmosphere
at midday.

It was one of those fine October days
when the trees sport yellow and red
instead of everyday summer green.

It was one of those fine October days
when one draws a deep breath
and is grateful
to be resident on Earth.

Richard Greene

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday extracts: perfect storm

IT BEGAN, as the greatest storms do begin, as a mere tremor in the air, a thread of sound so distant and faint, yet so ominous, that the ear that was sharp enough to catch it instantly pricked and shut out present sounds to strain after it again, and interpret the warning. Brother Cadfael had a hare’s hearing, readily alerted and sharply focused. He caught the quiver and bay, at this point surely still on the far side of the bridge that crossed Severn from the town, and stiffened into responsive stillness, braced to listen.

The Sanctuary Sparrow
The Seventh Chronicle of Brother Cadfael
Ellis Peters


Seems fitting, given the current weathr conditions.
I hope all's well in North Yorkshire aftr the floods.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Yesterday I saw a leaf, just one, drift past me as I walked.
It fell to earth, still green, but dry-looking and slightly wrinkled.
An omen of autumn; for while the sun is still bright, it is low in the sky
And it has lost the heat of summer.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Going to the beach

Scarborough colonnade

Everyone knows what you do at the beach: it’s all to do with sandcastles and paddling and eating ice cream. Well it is if you go there on holiday. But if you live at the seaside it’s different. For one thing you don’t want to share it with hordes of other people who come to stay and spoil the view and get in your way and don’t understand what it’s really all for.  People who sit in the sunshine with knotted hankies on their heads and expose their pasty, factory skin until they turn pink as peppermint rock, then slouch painfully back to their B&Bs with sand in their shoes and soggy knees where they didn’t turn up their trousers quite far enough before they waded in. They always look dejected as they return to their evening-meal-included and no-children-in-the-bar. Not like us.

We avoid the beach in summer. We wait patiently from Easter to October for them to leave, and then we have our fun. They never walk alone along the sand, leaning into a biting northerly wind, wrapped in woolly hat and scarf but smiling as the ocean air fills their lungs to bursting with life-boosting ozone.  They never see waves crash against the concrete defences and rise high over the railings before landing smack back down on the walkway. They never laugh and run, backwards, away from the torrent, to escape with just a smattering of spray across their faces, licking their salty lips, before turning, content, towards a harbourside café where they buy Bovril or hot chocolate and wrap their hands around the mug for warmth,  matching the glow of delight already rising from inside.

I'm a bit busy at the moment and I'm not sure if I'll have internet access so I'm posting some things in advance. This was written a few weeks ago for Thinking Ten.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday extracts. Sexual security

We lay there afterward, laughing and sweaty and out of breath and then he encompassed me in sleep, the weight of his big arms pinning me to the bed. But far from feeling trapped, I felt comforted and safe, as though nothing could ever harm me as long as I stayed in the shadow of this man, this sheltering cave of flesh, where I was tucked away until morning without waking once.
A is for Alibi
Sue Grafton
(SPOILER ALERT! It's a shame she ends up shooting him.....)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A 'look' meme for fun

I found this idea on Michelle Gregory's blog Beautiful Chaos. You have to find the first use of the word 'look' in your WIP and post the surrounding paragraph.  Here it is:

What information I have managed to draw together I have put into narrative form, so that it makes for an easier read and holds more colour than a list of dry and dusty facts, figures and dates. Perhaps I have embroidered slightly along the way to make my past seem a little more exciting, since it seems I have limited future to look forward to. Wherever possible, however, I have remained faithful to the truth as I have discovered it. There are no outright lies, although the story contains a few unavoidable assumptions, and there is some padding, based on historical circumstances.

Friday, August 24, 2012

FFF55: Divine intervention?

She was almost blind and her limbs trembled constantly, but she knew she was doing holy work. She knew her god would guide her hand if she was weak, so she continued with her mission. But gradually she began to doubt. Perhaps trying to restore the church fresco wasn’t such a great idea after all.


An 80-year-old Spanish woman has ruined a painting of Christ on the wall of her local church by attempting some 'restoration' work.  The image by painter Elias Garcia Martinez now looks more like "a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic" according to one observer. More details here.

These 55 words have been written for The G-Man's Friday challenge. Go visit him to see what other people have offered.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thursday Extracts: Seeing things from a dog's point of view

At the Level of Hems

When small dogs are permitted
in dark vintage shops

they find at the level of hems
more than we can know

who look at fraying collars, faded colours
and indecipherable price tags

we who only think of bargains
novelties or a talking piece

miss life at the leve of hems
where linen smells of small rooms

and cotton is a field
where lovers run between

bubbling creeks and find their way
in muddy unmarked hollows

where mended cuffs and crankshaft oil
smell of a hard day

and tiny threads of silk are pulled
where the hemming needle slipped.

Ann Nadge (1949 - )

I love this poem. The mark of a real writer is to show you things from a different point of view.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

FFF55. If anyone knows...

It was a wedding and everyone was supposed to be happy, weren’t they? But she knew
the real truth behind all of it. She knew what the guy was really like – but would she tell? She’d hurt a lot of people if she did.
The vicar was saying: “Speak now, or forever hold your peace…..”

I'll be away Friday at a wedding (!) so I'll not be at my computer. Here's my 55 words for the G-Man. A little early. Go see what other fictions people have written.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thursday extracts: Eeyore on writing

Eeyore was saying to himself, "This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it."
Winnie the Pooh
A A Milne

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A writer's dilemma

It's a good job I'm not god. Quite apart from all that miracle working and omnipotence stuff, I just can't handle being responsible for too many people at once. Take my latest WIP, for example. Cast of thousands. OK hundreds. Well, maybe one hundred. At a pinch.

I'm trying to tell everyone's tale over four generations to bring about the whole point of the narrative. For once I know how it's going to end and I'm not having to write it to find out. The thing is, only the direct line of descent is relevant to the story, but everyone has to have brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and they need to be woven in somehow. Some of them are easy. I've dismissed a few in just a couple of short paragraphs. But the bit I'm writing now - that's causing me trouble. One poor sod, who we'll call Percy because at the moment that's his name, has already suffered an industrial accident that made him move to a new place to live so he could meet his wife so he could have a son who lives in the right place at the right time. (Are you following that?)

He meets his wife alright and they have a really happy marriage until, well never mind that bit, you'll have to read the book when I'm done. But their happy marriage has resulted in several (in fact seven) children because - well it did, back in the 1930s. Only two of the children are relevant, so I've just had to write off (literally) another three. (There are still two more but I know what happens to them.) I simply couldn't think up enough tales to cover the remainder. So I threw in an air raid and got rid of them all with one stray bomb.

See what I mean about god? It's a good job he doesn't wipe us all out because he can't think what to do with us. Or maybe that was what World War II was actually all about.

Friday, August 10, 2012

FFF55. Billy's challenge

Big Mike Bigelow stared at Billy’s offering  for half a minute that seemed to stretch for hours.  If Mr Big accepted the gift, Billy knew he’d be accepted into the gang.  This was his only chance. The big man opened a cigar box and proffered it, nodding a direction to drop the severed finger in.

My 55 offering for this week. (Virtual) blood dripping, in the hope that the Big G-Man will accept it. 
It's actually adapted from something I'm working on elsewhere. Huge chunks hav appeared in a different format on my Thinking Ten page. But for this version, go visit the G-Man to see what other people have offered.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Thursday extracts: what dolphins think

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.

(the late, great) Douglas Adams
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

There's nothing I can add to this man's talent.

Friday, August 03, 2012

FFF55. Later

Better late than never, my mother always said. On the other hand she was always very angry if we were so much as a minute overdue for anything. Makes a child very confused.  Just what am I supposed to do?  It also created a permanently guilty adult.
My 55 words are late.
No excuse.

Check out less hurriedly composed 55s than this at the G-Man's blog

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Moot point

“Does a rumour have to be false?”

The newsroom was quiet: one of those days in high summer when journalists sit around waiting for a disaster, just to have something to do. It’s not so much that we want bad things to happen, it’s just that they make better copy. And easier stories too. A good train wreck writes itself. But today was off: not exactly silly season, but close to it.

People outside the business think that journalists spend all day in a noisy office with a phone glued to their ear, a cigarette hanging out of their mouths, a cold coffee in one hand and typing with the other, but those times are long gone. Well, maybe the phone and the coffee bits are true.  And press rooms are noisy, that’s for sure. When we’re all typing hard it’s like thousands of hammers going fifty to the dozen. And people shout at each other: orders, insults, and questions, lots of questions. Like this latest one.
Exact definitions of words matter to us, even though most readers think we’re hacks. A swift discussion broke out about the meaning of rumour but failed to reach a conclusion, so somebody got out a dictionary. Honest. I told you, we care.

“Says here it’s something that has no grounding in fact. Without proof. What’s the sentence you’re putting it in? Can you rephrase?”

“Don’t be daft. It’s not for a story. It’s just that I know something about one of the guys in the print room and I know it’s true. But I hate to gossip!”

From today's Thinkig Ten prompt

Friday, July 27, 2012

The intruder. (FFF55)

There was something furtive in the way he moved through the house, edging carefully around furniture, stepping noiselessly. The woman was oblivious to his approach, peeling vegetables at the sink as he crept behind her. Then he made his move.
“Surprise! Happy birthday Darling,” he announced, as he produced a bouquet from behind his back.

Hey, G-Man. TWO actual characters this week, AND a plot.
For everyone else - go see the G-Man to see what Friday 55 is all about.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A bit of background

Faces from the past

Some of you already know, and others I hope have been directed here from elsewhere so you can find out, about my Work In Progress. I'm currently working on a novel. Technically it's my third. I have one self published and one that needs some serious editing, both as a result of NaNoWriMo for the last two years.

About this time last year I began work on something else that was bubbling around in my head. It was one of those things that was just bashing the inside of my skull and demanding to be written. So quite why I allowed myself to be sidetracked by NaNo and distracted enough to abandon it for half a year, I'm not sure. But now I'm back on it.

It's quite a saga, based around the cotton industry in the North West of England. I set it there to avoid any direct comparisons with the West Yorkshire wool trade, in which my ancestors were involved, but to allow me enough leeway to use my personal and family knowledge. (Brief history/geography lesson for the US readers can be found below.)

Unlike those in my previous works, none of the characters in the current novel is based on anyone I know or knew at any time. The premise is that only two of the Braithwaite family are still alive. One is seriously ill, and none has reached 60 in at least three generations. Narrator Alex Braithwaite is researching the past, desperate to find some sort of foundation to stand on before becoming the last of the line.

The story covers five generations and stretches back to the nineteenth century. (And a little history as background from even earlier than that)  It has a cast of around 40, though they don't all get a chapter to themselves. I've written eight of the main ones, plus several background and connecting chapters. Two characters will have more than one chapter to tell their tales.

It's a challenge. But they don't call me the History Anorak for nothing. It's going to take a lot more time. I will not abandon it again, even if it means NaNo goes out of the window this year.

About the geography and history of the English cloth trade.Towards the north of England (NOT the UK, just the bit as far up as where the map goes very narrow.) down the centre of the country is a range of hills called the Pennines. For various reasons that aren't important here but can probably be researched in any good geography text book, it rains a lot there. That means that there's plentiful water supplies to help the various processes in cloth making. In addition, the rocks on each side of the Pennines are different, giving the resulting ground water very different qualities. To the east, in Yorkshire, it's soft water - perfect for caring for wool.  And to the west, in Lancashire and around Manchester, it's harder water, (contains a lot of calcium carbonate) making it much better for cotton and linen. (The minerals help the bleaching process.) Hence, Yorkshire folk like my ancestors made woollen cloth and the Lancastrians made cotton and linen.

Friday, July 20, 2012

FFF55: Victorian Philanthropy

Quarry Bank Mill
Since the earliest days of industrialisation, factory owners created communities for their work forces, based around a centre of production. Their apparent generosity earned them the title of philanthropist. In truth they were just maximising performance. A healthy workforce is a productive one, so looking after staff meant individuals worked harder and longer, increasing profits.


I'm working on my novel again, and it's got a lot in it about the Industrial Revolution and social changes that came about with it. These 55 words are adapted from a chapter I'm currently working on.

Sorry, no central character G-Man - but it has a sort of plot.

For more 55s go see the G at Mister Knowitall's Blog

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thursday extracts: Time passes.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

I might be mistaken, but I suspect most people are familiar with the opening of Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas's 'play for voices'. I've been reminded of it today because (for some reason I seem to have missed) Chris Evans keeps playing extracts from the Richard Burton version  on his breakfast radio show.

If you've got 10 minutes spare, do yourself a favour and click on that link. It'll take you to YouTube where you can hear an extract.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Billy Weaver

Billy Weaver wasn’t the sort to settle for the outskirts of town. Live fast, die young would have been his motto, although even he probably hoped to hang around a bit longer than he did. He was always a tearaway, too young to fight in the war, but old enough to work out where a profit could be made. The thing about Billy was how he looked – like butter wouldn’t melt even if he stood in front of a furnace. He had a cheeky grin, a cocky way and charm to bring the birds down out of the trees. And that meant he could have got away with murder, although as far as his family knew he never actually killed anybody. No, Billy’s talent lay in spiriting things away from their rightful owners and redistributing them to places where he could earn a few bob.
Even before he entered his teens he had made himself known to the local wide boys; done them a few favours and proved how his innocent face could be of value to them. So it was no surprise that he was at the heart of the black market around his local streets. If you wanted it, Billy, or his mates, could get it for you – at a price. He wasn’t totally bad. Like they always say, he was good to his mum. He made sure she had a few extras every week to bulk out her rations and to keep the other kids fed.

I'm finally working on the novel again. (The one I thought I'd lost) I did this for Thinking Ten - just to make me write something new for it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The return of FFF55

Joni Mitchell said it: you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
Did we fully appreciate him before? Did we ever realise how much we’d miss him? How much we enjoyed the challenge of 55 words every week?

No, we didn’t. So let’s say it loud and clear now he’s returned.

Welcome back G-Man!

It's not fiction, of course. But it IS 55 words. The G-Man is back with his Friday challenge. and we're all pleased to see him. Now we can have a kick-ass weekend.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday extracts: scientists speaking

We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens. The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment. - Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land. - T. H. Huxley (1825 - 1895)

I think nature's imagination is so much greater than Man's. She's never going to let us relax. - Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988)
Ways of saying the same thing. A few centuries apart.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's my own fault

I've been panicking this week. You see, about a year ago I was working on a fairly hefty (for me anyway) novel and I was about 13 chapters through it. It was coming along really well; something I could be proud of. Then NaNo got in the way and I shelved it while I produced something else.

What I should have done was just cheat on NaNo and continue with the work in hand, but I didn't. I'm not saying I didn't produce something good from Nano - far from it. In fact I'm seriously considering giving that a good edit (now it's a long way behind me and I can look at it with new eyes) and publishing it through LuLu.

But I shelved the thing I was proud of. Bad girl! Because this week, when I finally thought I wouldn't mind having another go at the WIP, I couldn't find it.

I'll pause a while for the other writers out there to take that in.

Thirteen chapters. About 21,000 words as far as I can remember. Missing. I was convinced that I'd saved multiple copies of it: at home on my laptop;  at work on my personal drive on my PC; on at least two thumb sticks. Apparently not.

I couldn't even find the notebook that I'd carefully planned the story in. Planned? Me?  Yes! That's what makes this work so special. I'm normally a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer and this is a HUGE thing for me. I know from the start what the story's about.

Well, I've turned the house over trying to recover anything of the story and first of all I found the notes. That's a start, but I didn't relish the prospect of rewriting the whole thing. I know there was some pretty good prose among the verbiage.

I have managed to rescue some chapters - quite a chunk, actually - but I know there are still gaps. I hope to be able to track down the missing pieces as I continue to search through the probably several million words I have turned out in the last couple of years. (I write professionally remember - I turn out a lot of words!)

The panic has subsided a little. I know I can recover the project with some effort. And there are now several copies of what I have found. But it's going to be tough.

Monday, July 09, 2012

In the clouds - thinking ten

"Just look up and tell me what you see". Her instruction was so sudden that I did as I was told, without thought, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary above my head. I shrugged my shoulders in reply.

"Erm, the sky? Clouds?"

"Of course you see clouds. But what do you see in the clouds?"

"Grey. Shapes. Sort of drifting."

She rapped me sharply on the arm with the fan she always carried. Open, it served to keep her cool as she wafted it before her; closed, it was an effective weapon. The place where it had landed was already smarting and beginning to colour. I would have a bright bruise, I knew it.

"Stop being obtuse, young man. What can you see in the clouds? What are they saying to you?"

I was not about to admit that I could ascertain nothing at all, and so I began to speak - any nonsense that came into my mind.

"Well there's a sort of carriage over there, with four white horses in front of it; an elaborate, enclosed carriage, fit for a queen. And I think that could be a rabbit, or maybe a hare, running across a field to escape a fox."

There was no response, but I knew I had not yet said what she wanted to hear and so I closed my eyes and continued.

"The queen is in danger and is having to run for her life, away from some threat that follows hard on her heels. She has sent a decoy in her place, to ride in the coach, in the hope that she can escape while her pursuers are engaged in the chase, but the wily usurper knows her plan and is close behind. Without help she is doomed."

Realising that I was talking moonshine I opened my eyes, expecting at any time to receive a further assault, but I was surprised to see a slight smile on the crone's creased lips.

"That was much better," she said quietly, "we might make a seer of you yet. Now we must hurry to the king to inform him of your prophecy."

Friday, July 06, 2012

Pea soup in a brewery

Alan was telling us some story about a bloke we sort of knew who'd been stupid enough to leave his wallet behind when he broke into the Co-op. "Couldn't organise a pea soup in a brewery!" He laughed aloud at his own joke.

"But why would they want pea soup in a brewery?" Nigel queried. "I mean, they don't make beer out of it, do they?"

The gang turned as one on the regular fall guy. Nigel was so easy to wind up, but it was a toss between him and Baz who'd be target for today. They were both dressed in less than trend gear. Baz, as usual sported some kind of way too big handmedown from one of his older brothers. But it was hardly his fault that his mum was always too skint to buy him and the other seven anything decent to wear.

Nigel was a different case though. His parents had money but no taste, and he'd been forced into a bright orange nylon thing. Literally forced, because the seams were losing a fight against the body inside. It was supposed to keep him dry in the rain, but he got wetter than the rest of us because it was too tight and made him sweat loads.

Alan was still sniggering to himself and you could see his brain calculating some smart comment. Simmo spoke up and punched him not too gently on the arm.

"Get over yourself. It really wasn't that funny."

The only response: a low-lidded glower and shrugged shoulders.

From a Thinking 10 prompt. Alan, Baz, Nigel and Simmo have appeared around here before.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Thursday extracts: Models

Catalogue Girl

Catalogue girl, so gently posing
in your world of creaseless clothing
if I stand and pout like you,
I can look quite stupid too.

Annette Campbell (1956 - )


Another extract from what is possibly the last Poems in the Waiting Room that will be available to all surgeries. Please, if you can afford to help, send a donation to PitWR, c/o Michael Lee PO Box 488 Richmond TW9 4SW

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thinking Ten

Visit ThinkingTen—A Writer's Playground

On Sandra's advice I've joined Thinking Ten - a writer's playground. I'll be getting daily prompts to write something creative, so you might be getting a few more posts than you have of late. I'm not promising that they'll be any good. Just that they'll exist!

My first attempt is here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Six sentences

They want me to write six sentences, which doesn’t sound very difficult, but I’ve been lacking inspiration lately and the challenge is much tougher than I thought.  First of all I need to define the word sentence. 
Back at school it meant something that started with a capital letter, ended with a full stop, and had a ‘doing word’ in it. These days I break those rules because I am a professional writer and my creativity no longer feels bound by them.

I began this challenge because I need more encouragement to exercise my fiction abilities. So why am I still describing reality?  

Over at Lines of Communication, Sandra's taking part in a thing called Six Sentences, which is a regular writing challenge. As some of you know, I've been sadly lacking in inspiration lately, so I've decided to sign up to see if it'll help.  I'm not sure that the above six sentences are particularly reassuring. But it's early days.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Office speak

A change of office location has given me a new outlook (literally) on life. Helps to see things from a different perpective, get a new angle. I'm in the perfect place to grab the low-hanging fruit (from the tree outside) but I'll need a heads up to see it.

It's quieter over here though.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday extracts: reduce reuse recycle

I found this poem on the latest (and possibly the last - see below*) Poems in the Waiting Room leaflet. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the author lives about 10 miles from me!


Ours was passed round the family on parcels
and never cut, only teased
of its obstinate knots - one good reason
to stop biting your nails.

It kept well in a dresser jug - door end
by the garage key with its bent metal tag;
coiled, the end rolled, tucked in, made fast
in ways you picked up without thinking.

Like so much:
brown paper (flattened under a cushion);
stamp edging (hoarded in a purse);
paperclips (shining in a toffee tin).
All the things you couldn't buy,
even if you'd thought of it.
I never knew you could buy string.

D A Prince. From Nearly the Happy Hour, 2008. Happenstance Publishing.

* OK so listen up. Just as I've introduced you to the wonders of Poems in the Waiting Room, they've announced that they can't afford to keep doing it. Nobody has agreed to fund it. If you want your local surgery to receive the leaflets you need to support them.  As far as I can tell they can do it for £25 a year. I plan to send them a cheque - because these little cards give me so much pleasure during my regular doctor trips. Contact Michael Lee at PO Box 488 Richmond TW9 4SW or email 
pitwr(at )blueyonder(dot)co(dot)uk

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book review: Portobello

TV adaptations of Ruth Rendell's works have always given me a lot of pleasure, so I assumed her novels would do the same. Portobello is the first of her books I have read, but I shall be reluctant to try another.

It was not her characterisation that irritated me: all life is here from the petty criminal to the GP, to the art dealer, to the murderous thug. With a couple of genuine madmen thrown in for good measure, the cast was fine. All well described and fully-rounded, as were the descriptions of the Portobello area of London that gave the book its title.

What really annoyed me was the complete lack of research into a major plot point, which is unforgivable. For some inexplicable reason Ms Rendell decided to make one of her key characters addicted to sugar-free sweets. Well, not inexplicable from the plot's point of view. The man wanted to lose some weight and thought, as many people do, that sugar-free is the same as calorie free. It isn't, but that's not the main problem.

The guy, at the height of his craving, is consuming about two packs a day of the chocolate-orange flavoured lozenges. Now, if Ms Rendell had gone to a chemist's shop and bought two or three packets, as the character did, she would have made a discovery.

Sugar-free sweets come with a health warning, printed on the side of the pack and pointed out to you by the pharmacist whenever you buy them. She would have realised that the addiction would have removed the character from the rest of the novel, owing to the fact that he'd have been trapped in the bathroom by the sweets' side effect.

It's described on packs as 'may have a laxative effect'. Two packs a day will incapacitate you severely. Any diabetic woud tell you that. We've all thought we were immune, but it's inescapable. His doctor girlfriend would certainly have uncovered his secret a lot sooner because she would have been rushing him off to hospital with griping stomach pains and liquid diahorrea. He would not have been staring idly out of the window at the right time of day to see something that later becomes a key plot point, he'd have been too ill.

Coupled with Rendell's tendency to switch from thread to thread in the narrative within a handful of paragraphs (I suspect she writes for television automatically) this basic inaccuracy meant that Portobello was a deep disappointment.

Ruth Rendell. Portobello. Hutchinson. 2008

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thursday extracts: Midsummer

Sumer is ycomen in,
Loude sing cuckou!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed,
And springth the wode anow.
Sing cuckou!
Ewe bleteth after lamb,
Loweth after calve cow,
Bulloc sterteth, bucke verteth,
Merye sing cuckou!
Cuckou, cuckou,
Wel singest thou cuckou:
Ne swik thou never now!

Anon. Middle English

Bright Solstice Blessings to one and all!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


“There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only the wrong kind of clothing.”

We all turned to look at Nigel as he spoke the words, various expressions of disbelief on our faces.

“What a supremely stupid comment, you stupid fart,” came the reply, “Who the hell told you that bit of crap?” The speaker was Alan, by far the sportiest of the gang and probably the most put out by our current state. He could hardly sit still for a couple of minutes, let alone the fifteen we had been trapped inside the hut by the torrential downpour outside.

He shook his head again to try to rid himself of the rivulets running from his thick, curly hair and down his face, but he only succeeded in splattering everyone around him. A chorus of disapproving hails rose up in reaction and he got up and tried to walk off his excess energy. It didn’t work though, because he could only make three strides before he had to turn around and come back to where we were sitting, hunched up near the front and eyeing the waterfall that was cascading off the roof.

“My Dad says that the right sort of clothing can overcome even the worst weather.”

“My Dad.” Heavy with sarcasm. “My Dad! If your dad’s so bloody clever how come you’re just as drenched as the rest of us then?” That was Simmo. Nigel was the last of our lot to have a dad still living at home, and Simmo resented him a bit for it. Simmo’s dad quit home and moved in with the local pub landlady a year ago after the old bloke died of alcohol poisoning. Simmo’s mum reckoned his dad was going the same way and good luck to him. I think her bitterness just rubbed off on him.

Before the argument had chance to take off, Baz stuck his nose in. Literally. He’d taken his glasses off for about the ninth time and he was polishing them on his t-shirt. He’s close to blind without them and the combination of rain outside and us indoors was making the shed kind of steamy so Baz’s specs kept misting over. He leaned forward so he was only a couple of inches from the others, just so he could see them, and said: “Must be good to have a choice of what to wear.” He was somewhere in the middle of eight brothers so he was always lumbered with stuff that didn’t fit the older ones any longer.

That made us all stop for a while and think, or at least shut up, and all you could hear was a roary sort of noise and the splashing just outside the door. We sat like that for ages, just staring at the rain and listening to that engine sound. Looked like it was going to be a long summer.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday extracts: An anniversary

Thursday Extracts is a year old (Well it will be on Saturday. But I can't do it then or it would be a Saturday Extract, wouldn't it?) I wanted to post something about anniversaries, but all the poems I can find seem to be about sad things. And all the prose extracts are about Christmas (which isn't really suitable for midsummer, is it?)

So I turned to Shakespeare, who I assumed would have something to say on the subject of years and time. 
Here's Sonnet XII:

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver'd o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I never saw it coming. Honestly, I've not been that surprised by the ending of a book for a very long time. And yet it was the only way it could have ended, when I reconsider. The book in question is Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper. Now I'm bound to have lots of people laugh and say it was obvious, but not to me, it wasn't.

It's a moving tale of two sisters - not twins, although they have almost identical DNA because younger sister Anna is a designer baby, conceived to provide stem cell treatment for her seriously ill sibling. Kate has a rare form of leukaemia that only regular transplants of platelets, white blood cells, bone marrow and, eventually, a kidney, all donated by Anna, can control.

The story begins when 13-year-old Anna decides to take her parents to court for the right to make future medical decisions for herself. It is a complex plot about ethics, love, hate, and the devastating effects that a terminal illness has on every member of a family.

Alternating between tears and laughter, in the same way that the family copes, the reader is given a tour of the American family court system as well as learning about hospital politics. We also find out a lot about setting light to buildings, as father Brian deals with an arsonist in his work as a firefighter, on top of the pressures at home.

Anna hires a lawyer, who has a few problems of his own that complicate his motives for taking the case. He agrees to work pro-bono, initially because of the kudos that such a high-profile lawsuit will bring him, but becomes increasingly involved with Anna's dilemma. If she goes ahead with the action her sister will die; if she gives in she would lose even more than 13 years of medical procedures have already cost her.

This is another of the books I've read because it was featured on the World Book Night lists. It truly deserved its place there. If you don't already know it - read it.

Later edit. I've now seen the movie. REALLY - read the book.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cupboard love

I’ve always been fat. Funny how you never turn to fruit when you’re depressed, isn’t it? Or is that just me, trained over the years to look for sustenance in place of solace. I blame my mother. Food was at the centre of everything in our house: celebrations, commiserations, visitations, confrontations. It was the only way she knew to show love. Or compassion. Or care. Or concern. As long as there was food on the table she was being a good parent. It was her response to every event in our lives.

When I fell and scraped my knee she offered biscuits. After doctor visits it was cake. Boyfriend dumped me? Sausage rolls. Missed the train? Bag of sweets. Feeling down? Cheese on toast. If I did well in exams? Well, that was expected of me and elicited no response. So I would find my own support in comfort food.

Even in my thirties she was hard to please. One particularly impressive promotion triggered no praise, just a strained ‘not before time’. I replaced her missing ‘well done’ with a steak - no, not well done, but rare, like her plaudits.

She’s been gone a decade and I still eat, associating food with everything I do. I am making myself ill in the process; hurrying toward an early grave. Perhaps in eternity she will find the time to applaud me.

I've not been writing much lately so I'm forcing myself to put some words together about any topic that has come up in conversation, on TV, or whatever. I've read a lot of stuff about diet and body image lately. This isn't great - but it's a start.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thursday extracts: Richard Bach on letting go.

Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all - young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.

Each creature in its own manner clung tighty to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, ‘I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.’

The other creatures laughed and said, ‘Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!’

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.

Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, ‘See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!’

And the one carried in the current said, ‘I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.’

But they cried the more, ‘Saviour!’ all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.

Richard Bach, Illusions. 1977. Heinemann


This has been one of my favourite books since the 1970s. I have tried to live by its suggestions, but it has not been easy. Just lately I've been thinking I should read it again, to revise what I've been doing wrong recently. Then fellow blogger Stew posted something about letting go, and I immediately thought of this passage. I could just as easily have selected others from this lovely little book. If you haven't read it, I beg you: please go out and buy a copy now!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Do you write historical fiction? Probably not.

Scientists in New Hampshire, USA have carried out a study that shows the relationships between writing styles across the ages. They have analysed more than 7,000 works from the Project Gutenberg collection, dating from as early as 1550, and looked at how individual words have been used by authors in the past.

The team, from Dartmouth College in Hanover, have shown how the use of content-free 'joining' words, such as to and that, indicates style most closely.

Mathematician Daniel Rockmore says two different authors would probably use the same nouns to describe similar events, but they 'glue' them together in different ways.

The researchers have used their findings to show that writers are influenced by what they read, but they are most likely to write like their contemporaries.

In the earliest publications, writers contructed their works in very similar fashion. The team expected that, because the writers would have had access to only a small body of literature, which they probably had all read.

More recently, even though writers have works from many different eras to choose from and have probably read a number of classics, they are still most likely to write like their contemporaries. They tend not to write like past authors, even if they are writing historical fiction.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thursday extracts: a love story?

I might have spoken (out there the dazzle
flung from the rippled surface, breaking in stars
and flakes on the leaning alders, on the scarred
stone of the bridge; the bird
skiming away, a spark, a brittle
sliver of turquoise light against the hot
pinks of the willowherb and balsam, inking
at the river's turn; and you
twisted towards me, for the barest instant off-
balance, your own
lips slightly parted) but I let it pass.

Jem Poster. Brought to Light. 2001

I found this poem in a magazine many years ago and cut it out and stuck it in a scrapbook. I've always meant to buy the anthology, but I never have.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday extracts: Self medication


Purple-dappled dainty petals,
Seamlessly sewn to make a hat,
On a toddler's finger teasingly to settle,
Or a bell to announce a prowling cat;

Or lividly languid grandpa's nose,
Dripping dew-drops wherever it goes;
And a whistling chest of flutes and oboes;
Elephant feet overflowing his shoes.

His pulse, his life, irregularly irregular,
Since ancient fevers encrusted his heart;
Longed-for landmarks a step too far,
Till he and his dropsy are persuaded to part.

Some ancient wisdom from a gypsy crone,
Not from guidelines in a medical tome;
So salute decoctions of digitalis leaf,
Deliverer of unimagined relief.

Raymond Hume (1945 - )


I've mentioned this before but it's such a good thing that I thought I'd remind everyone. This poem was extracted from a leaflet that can be found at doctors' surgeries across the UK. They're called Poems in the Waiting Room, and they are a quarterly publication, printed on an A4 sheet, folded in three, and given away free.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Six word Saturday

Spent another day in the kitchen

Six word Saturday is a challenge set by CallMeCate on Show My Face. I've not been writing much lately and it's time I started again. Seems like a good way to get back into the habit.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday extracts: Feng shui and village planning

Our landmarks are our lake and our wall, and both of them are the result of the superstition and mythology of ancient times. When our ancestors arrived in the valley of Cho they examined the terrain with the greatest of care, and we honestly believe that no village in the world has been better planned than the village of Ku-fu. Our ancestors laid it out so that it would be sheltered from the Black Tortoise, a beast of the very worst character, whose direction is north and whose element is water and whose season is winter. It is open to the Red Bird of the south, and the element of fire and the season of summer. And the eastern hills where the Blue Dragon lives, with the element of wood and the hopeful season of spring, are stronger than the hills to the west, which is the home of the White Tiger, metal, and the melancholy season of autumn.
Considerable thought was given to the shape of the village, on the grounds that a man who built a village like a fish while a neighboring village was built like a hook was begging for disaster.

Barry Hughart. Bridge of Birds. 1985.

I first read this years ago and fell deeply in love with its charming approach to life and fate. I'm sure Chinese life was never anything like this - but it should have been.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

World Book Night - a retrospective

As you know I picked up a book on World Book Night, and I've been looking into what the scheme is all about and how it works ever since. As a result of the find I not only read the book itself, but I also tried another of the titles (one I've been meaning to read for a while). So, I thought I'd have a look at the other books on the list and consider whether or not I'd have enjoyed them.

It was interesting that the UK and US lists were different - although they shared one book, which is now on my planned reading list.

Read it
Read it because of Book Night
Want to read it
Maybe not

Here's the lists:
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice
Read this at school. I can't say it made me want to read any more of her work. I was always much more of a Bronte girl.

Iain M Banks The Player of Games
I quite enjoyed this when I read it but I much prefer Ian Banks (who is the same person, of course).
Mark Billingham Sleepyhead
Looks like a nicely creepy crime novel.
Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island
Read it. Hated him.
Paulo Coelho The Alchemist
I like the looks of this one.
Martina Cole The Take
I've tried a couple of her novels and don't really get on with them.
Bernard Cornwell Harlequin
Not really my kind of thing but I'm not ruling it out.
Roald Dahl Someone Like You
Not sure what colour to make this. Mostly blue. I've read a lot of Dahl's short stories but not this complete collection. They're good.
Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities
Another one from my schooldays - but I quite like Dickens, and Two Cities is one of the better ones.
Emma Donoghue Room
Never heard of it before. Looks good.
Daphne du Maurier Rebecca
What can you say about poor Mrs DeWinter? Wonderful, atmospheric, recommended read.
Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day
Tried it once. I just couldn't get into it.
Stephen King Misery
I don't do Stephen King. Too gory.
Sophie Kinsella The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopoholic
I have read some of her books but they didn't grab me enough to read any more.
Andrea Levy Small Island
Looks very interesting. Post war Britain. Socio-political novel.
John Ajvide Lindqvist Let the Right One In
12-year-old boy and a vampire. Maybe not.
Cormac McCarthy The Road
Its own blurb calls it 'bleak'. Life's too short to read bleak novels.
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveller’s Wife
Oh but this was one of the nicest books I've read in a long time and it made me cry at the end.
Maggie O’Farrell The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
I've got a 'non-existent' family member and it's too late for me to ask questions now. I think I might enjoy this one.
David Pearce The Damned Utd
It's football. Maybe not.
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman Good Omens
The first thing by either of these gents that I ever read. If you haven't read it, go find it now. Even if it's only for their explanation of the purpose of the M25!
Meg Rosoff How I Live Now
Not really sure but I'm not ruling this out.
Joe Simpson Touching the Void
I'm not sure I'll enjoy some of the detail in this. But I've wanted to read it for a while.
Dodie Smith I Capture the Castle
Another I'm not sure about. But I think I SHOULD have read it by now.
Markus Zusak The Book Thief
The shared book. Now on my want list.


Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
Coming of age book. Not sure it’s high on my list.
Laurie Halse Anderson Wintergirls
Seems to be about teenage girls and anorexia.
Maya Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I have at least heard of this. I might try to track it down.
H G Bissinger Friday Night Lights
American Football. Maybe not.
Octavia Butler Kindred
Now this looks like a good book. I really must track that down

Orson Scott Card Enders Game
It's science fiction and I'm not a huge fan.
Chris Cleave Little Bee
I'm fascinated by the reviews of this, which seem to be determined to tell you nothing about it.
Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games
The movie trailers have put me off this.
Michael Connelly Blood Work
I don't read Michael Connelly - too blood thirsty.
Junot Diaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I'm not sure why I want to read this. But the blurb is interesting.
Kate DiCamillo Because of Winn Dixie
I loved the Tale of Despereaux so I think I'd like this too.
Dave Eggers Zeitoun
I've tried Dave Eggers before but not enjoyed his writing style.
Leif Enger Peace Like a River
Definitely fancy this one.
Robert Goolrick A Reliable Wife
Sounds good
Sue Grafton Q is for Quarry
I'm fond of a bit of crime fiction.
Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner
Has a good reputation but I just don't fancy it somehow. I'm prepared to be persuaded.
John Irving A Prayer for Owen Meany
One of my all time favourite books. I love it.
Stephen King The Stand
I don't like Stephen King. Too scary.
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible
I've got this on my 'to read' list
Nicole Krauss The History of Love
I like the look of this one.
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
It hasn't grabbed me from the blurb.
Tim O’Brien The Things they Carried
Vietnam wasn't my war but the stories behind it are probably still relevant.
Ann Patchett Bel Canto
Interesting idea. Love among the terrorists.
Jodi Picoult My Sister’s Keeper
They need to change the cover on this because I wouldn't pick it up in a bookshop. But the subject matter is something that I care about.
Marilynne Robinson Housekeeping
The blurb gives this a sort of John Irving feel so I might enjoy it.
Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones
I'ne seen the movie. It might have spoiled it for me.
Rebecca Skloot The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Definitely a subject that's close to my heart.
Patti Smith Just Kids
To read biography I have to care about the subject. And I don't.
Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle
'A memoir'. That phrase deters me.
Markus Zusak The Book Thief
See above.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book review: The Time Traveller's Wife

Henry DeTamble is a man out of time. Cursed with a gene that gives him only a loose grip on the present, he slips in and out of the past and future, always arriving naked and not knowing when or where he is.

And that is how he meets six-year-old Clare Abshire, a very young version of the woman he knows he will eventually marry: has already married in her future and his past.

The Time Traveller's Wife is literally a timeless love story. Henry and Clare  are destined to be together, but as the book progresses it becomes clear that there can be no 'happy ever after' for their relationship. It is a beautiful tale, told with skill, from Clare's first fascination with finding a naked old man in her meadow, to 28-year-old Henry's confusion on meeting a captivating young woman who seems to know all about him.

He has time-travelled all his life and is used to the unusual, having spent much of his childhood with his older self, visiting museums and galleries, but he is lost in the face of Clare's assured approach to their first date, because he is besotted with her from the start.

I'm probably one of the last people in the world to read this book. I have been meaning to for some time and finally fell into it after finding it on this year's World Book Night list. It is a beautiful story and I read most of the last third in one sitting, because I found it almost impossible to leave the company of Henry and Clare once I met them. A week since I finished reading, I still miss them. I have not felt like that about a fictional character for a long time.

If you are one of the few people left who do not know this book, I beg you to find a copy immediately and fill that gap in your life.

The Time Traveller's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger. 2004. Vintage

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday extracts: A Bon(e)fire

Zozobra started to growl. It was like the deep noise an old man makes when woken from a good nap. It was like the sound of an engine revving on a Dodge Charger. The growling didn’t stop.

Lucy shifted from foot to foot in the dark, not sure what to expect next. She had to admit she was a little bit anxious. She had never been to Zozobra before, but then she’d only lived in Santa Fe for a year and a half. Her boss, Harold Richards, who had been city editor at the Capital Tribune for the past twenty years, described it as “a bunch of people standing around while they torch a big puppet.” She hadn’t believed him at first. It had sounded so silly—and so pagan in a city as Catholic as Santa Fe, whose very name means “Holy Faith.”

Still, Zozobra had been a Santa Fe tradition for more than eighty years. It was the opening salvo in the fiesta party arsenal. The actual Fiesta de Santa Fe didn’t begin until tomorrow. Like any good Catholic celebration, the weekend started with the fires of salvation and ended in acts of sin. Tonight was about redemption. Tomorrow was about partying your ass off.
The Bone Fire  Christine Barber  2010 Minotaur Books (Thomas Dunne) e-edition
I reviewed this book yesterday so I don't want to waste too much time explaining the plot.  This is from very early in Chapter 1 - the set up for the rest of the novel. It turns out there's a child's skull inside the burning effigy and it starts a major murder investigation. Getting essential information into a story without losing the flow is a key skill. I admire the way Barber sums up all you need to know in the phrase “a bunch of people standing around while they torch a big puppet” and how she introduces it. The rest is pure atmosphere.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Book review: The Bone Fire by Christine Barber

Across New Mexico they mark the Day of the Dead by burning effigies that are supposed to carry away sins and cares. In the clean-up on the morning after one such festival in Santa Fe, a child’s skull is discovered among the ashes. Local gossips are quick to assume that it is the remains of a young girl who disappeared the previous year. A murder investigation is launched, and there is no shortage of suspects among the girl’s dysfunctional extended family.

Detective Sergeant Gil Montoya is forced to sort his way through the confusion of evidence, and his hunt becomes harder when more bones start to appear among offerings on altars at churches around the town. Reporter Lucy Newroe finds herself embroiled in the investigation because of a previous connection with DS Montoya, and her part-time role as a volunteer with the emergency services.

The Bone Fire is a well constructed story about the search for a potential psychopathic killer and I guarantee that you won’t predict the final outcome. It is Christine Barber’s second novel. I’m now planning to read her first, and hope she produces many more.

The Bone Fire Christine Barber 2010 Minotaur Books (Thomas Dunne) e-edition

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

High days and holidays: a chance to read

Hello all. I've not been posting much on here lately, and the absence of the G-Man (Get well soon Galen!) means I'm not even forcing myself to write my 55 words for a Friday.  (Though I'm doing my best to keep going with the Thursday extracts.) On the other hand, it means I'm catching up on my reading, and somehow I seem to have found a run of pretty good tales to absorb me.

The recent holiday helped, which coincided with World Book Day and my sad encounter with Bill Bryson. I had time and opportunity to read because I didn't have to go to work, and the fact that the book was free gave me a motive.  I'd taken a few novels with me on my e-reader (I always do take several books on holiday) so I had plenty of supply too.

And I spent Bank Holiday Monday morning in bed, completing the final hundred or so pages of my latest choice.

So you'll be reading my reviews over the next few days, because I'm now forcing myself to write them.  My own works of fiction might take a little longer. Or then again, they might not. I'll have a word with the muse.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Thursday extracts: R I P

A girl in our village makes love in the churchyard.
She doesn't care who, but it must be the churchyard.
They say she prefers the old part to the new -
Green granite chippings maybe rankle, warm slabs welcome.
And after, in her bedroom, she sees the mirror's view
Of her shoulder, embossed "In Loving Memory".
Anne, why did you do it? You've eight O-Levels.
Why not Anne? If bones remember, you'll give them joy.
It's as good a place as any, close by Nave,
Rood Screen, Chapel of Ease, Peal of the Bells,
Bob Singles and Grand Sire Doubles.
And, when you half-close your eyes,
The horned gargoyles choose.
But it had to happen.
Oh Anne, tonight you were levelled.
William James, late of this parish, was cold beneath you
And his great-grandson warm above, and you rose,
Although your shoulder didn't know it,
In glorious expectation of the Life to Come.
Alan Garner
I first heard this poem at a live show in the Theatre in the Round in Scarborough. Back in the days when it was still above the library. Two very funny guys called Henry Livings and Alex Glasgow performed songs and recitations, while drinking a fair amount of beer (and spilling quite a lot at appropriate points in the evening). It was a wonderful evening, full of laughter and fun, and I was sat next to my dad. (If you want to know the full significance of that see here. ) I've been looking for a copy of this for some time, but finally tracked it down, thanks to the marvels of the Interweb.
It still makes me laugh. And I can still remember my mother's disapproving face because I laughed at the time!