Friday, 31 October 2008

By the way...

I have been fiddling about a bit with the layout on my blog. This actually involves telling my dear husband, who has more technological capability than I will ever hope or dream of having, what I want it to look like. He has then rewritten some of the code to make the text panel wider. The only thing is that this has made the graphics look all a bit 'home made'. I can't get the rounded corners etc. And he hasn't got time to fix it for me at the moment.

But I think it's better than trying to read down a very narrow strip. Do you agree?

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Resigned to our fate...

Dear Daughter now has the pox too. I'm resigned to it. I know the routine now - no sleep, dab with calamine lotion, repeat ad infinitum...
It's ok though, cos at least it's over and done with, and because it's half term here the kids won't have to miss school. (although that is one of the perks of having it, I would have thought..)
I'm feeling ok, if a little tired and frazzled. None of my jobs have got done, but what the hell. Life's too short to worry about admin.
The only downside really is that (of course) my OU assessment is due in tomorrow, so that has been a bit of a cobbled-together dogs breakfast of a short story. Oh well, will just have to try harder next time...
Have more news about our life getting turned upside down, but that will have to wait for the next post...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Fed up...

It's official. I'm fed up. The kids are fed up. We're all fed up.

It's half term and Small Son has chicken pox and I'm waiting irritably for Dear Daughter to take her turn. We can't go anywhere as people look at Small Son like he's got the Plague. So we're all at home getting on each others' nerves...
The kids are driving me insane this week by being obsessed with blowing raspberries, and seeing who can talk for longest using the words, 'wee', 'poo', 'bum', 'pooper', 'farting pants' etc etc.
I'm sure there must have been a time when I would have found that funny too, but by god it feels like it was a long while ago...

My kids are making me feel ancient - like some grumpy old misery, obsessed with table manners and politeness. I've lost my sense of humour today! I'm sure I didn't intend to turn into my mother, but I think it's happening. (That sounds like my mother is a grumpy old misery, which she isn't at all. But I remember wishing sometimes when I was a kid that she would just 'lighten up' a bit. Now she's as light as a feather and positively encourages my kids in their craziness - just as all good grandparents should...)

Anyway, both kids had been on the 'naughty step' by 9 am this morning. I think that must be a record.

Friday, 17 October 2008

The Pox...

It's official. Paint a red cross on our front door. We have The Chicken Pox. Or rather Small Son does. A couple of itchy spots on Wednesday night have now developed into a whole body coverage (and I mean whole) of nasty red itchy pustules.. I would post a photo, but it would put you off your dinner.

He 's not really that ill, just very, very grumpy and itchy and fed up. No-one has slept very well the last couple of nights, but at least his night-time wanderings are justified at the moment, unlike his recent activities..

And I keep scratching. I've had chicken pox and so I hope I'm just coming out in sympathy, what with being chronically sleep-deprived and all, but knowing my luck, I'll get it again.

I'm just waiting for Dear Daughter to get it now...

Monday, 13 October 2008

Seventies photos....

These photos are of me. They are (ahem) around thirty years old. A friend of my parents took them, and recently he found them, scanned in the negatives, retouched them and emailed them to me. The wonders of modern technology...

I just love them, particularly the one of me with the bridge behind. It seems almost fairy-tale like. There is a quality to film, as opposed to digital, which is hard to define, but which is tangible nevertheless.

Blogging block..

I have this wierd thing going on. Whenever I am out and about and not logged on to the internet, I have great ideas for things to blog about. Then, when I sit down at the computer, my mind is entirely blank.

So I had a clever idea: I would write down the subject matters for bogs in a little notebook and then I wouldn't forget. The only problem is that I have done this, and I have a list of topics and not the faintest idea what I was going to say about any of them. What, for example, was I going to say about 'Jamie Oliver', other than that he's a bit irritating...? Or was it just that?

There are some topics which I was clearly feeling a bit ambitious about. How does a blog entitled 'The Pursuit of Happiness' grab you? Sounds possibly interesting, but I have absolutely no recollection of what I was going to say on the subject...

It's the same for my writing too. I have (what seem like) great ideas for short stories just when I'm dropping off to sleep so I scribble them down in a notebook by my bed. The next day, my wonderful idea has been reduced to 'girl in shop, dog, piece of bacon' or something like that.

Ahh, the creative process... I have awakened the muse....

Monday, 6 October 2008

The talented Mr Skiffington

I feel bad. I should have blogged about this long before now. But you know how it is; so much to blog about, so little time.

Anyway, my brother is an artist. A painter.
And he currently has an exhibtition running in Oxford at the North Wall Arts Centre.

And he's just had a really good review in the Oxford Times. Here's the link to the review:

He's great, and the work is great - honest, authentic and technically accomplished.

And very reasonably priced....

So if you're anywhere near Oxford, go take a look this week. Or take a look at his website

And more Warwick Words.... Jo Shapcott

On Friday I went to a Jo Shapcott workshop. For more about Jo, see

Again, she is a most generous and clever teacher, a quality which has pervaded the writers and poets I encountered at Warwick Words. This is how the session was described:

Angela Carter wrote: 'There’s a materiality to imaginative life and imaginative experience which should be taken quite seriously.'

Join acclaimed poet, Jo Shapcott, at this workshop which will take as its subject the imagined world and give participants the chance to dip a toe into its materiality.

Well, I couldn't pass that up, could I?! We worked extremely hard over the three hour session, and each produced three poems. The first poem came from a freewrite that we all did when we first arrived. I think I'll put the poems on here, just so you can see what I achieved in three hours. Now please bear in mind that these are rough drafts, not even first drafts, and I have reproduced them here exactly as I scribbled them. No revisions! But they are interesting as you can see perhaps the seed of a poem in them.. So, this is the first poem I wrote:-

A tiny dead bird almost under my foot
Head curled down onto breast, skin flecked with feathers
I look again and it is two spiky seed-heads clinging together.
Then I see a dead cat in the gutter
Fur matted and legs splayed
I look again and it is an old scarf tangled with some twigs.
I sense foreboding everywhere these days
In counting magpies and stormy skies.
Shadowy figures lurch out of the dark
I swerve the car to avoid nothing.
A barn owl swoops across the road
A real white ghost to properly frighten
But I am calm.
I am only afraid of the thing I cannot name
That I see from the corner of my eye
That moves closer in from the edges of my world
To threaten me.

Strangely, (or perhaps not with the current climate) a few other people, including Jo, had also picked up on this dark mood, this general malaise, and so the second poem she set us to write was a hommage to a poem by Neil Rollinson called 'A List of Requirements for the End of the World'

Because I'd been so depressive in the last poem, I didn't want everyone at the workshop to think I was some kind of suicide risk, so I tried to make this next one a bit funny...

So, here is my poem entitled, 'A List of Requirements for the End of the World' (apologies to Neil Rollinson)

These are my demands...
For this to happen when I am very, very old.
To have reached spiritual enlightenment, any religion will do.
To be crying with laughter listening to Billy Connelly telling me a really funny story.
To not to have to think, 'I wish I'd had more sex', in my dying seconds.
To be really glad I took out the 'Buy Now, Pay Later' deal on that sofa,
And overspent on fripperies on my credit card.
To ensure I don't enter some kind of collective unconscious with George Bush and
Anne Widdecome.
To be eating a full Christmas dinner, rest of Christmas not necessary.
And drinking as much good wine as I can take.
To not know, or have any inkling, that this is going to happen.
If I'm going, everyone else is too.
For it to be quick, like someone turning the light out.

And to find out that we really are made of stardust.

The last exercise was interesting. We each selected an image at random, and had to firstly write a set of 'rules' - social or physical, for the world that the image depicted. I picked out a Pieter Breugel painting of The Tower of Babel. Then we had to write a poem incorporating those rules. Mine was written from the POV of a stonemason working on the tower.

I carve the arches from the blocks of stone
Curve the rounded edge to each square piece
Chip, chip, chip, gentle cut and smooth
Careful under a loaded sky.
You ask how many I have made
And how many left to birth?
I cannot answer your question.
All I know is the stone and the chisel.
Place the keystone in the centre
And then move on to the next arch.
Sometimes I wonder how high we have to build
Already clouds lace the upper walkways
And it seems the stones are smaller these days
And veined with faults and cracks.
But we kneel before our king in fear
And chip, chip. chip, gentle cut and smooth
Careful under a loaded sky.
We work until we are told to stop
Or fall upon our stone and die.

Make of all that what you will.....!!

Thanks, Jo, and all the other participants, for a great workshop.

More Warwick Words...Joolz Denby

There's more to say about the other workshops I went to over the festival.

On Thursday, I went to a Masterclass with Joolz Denby. For more about her see She is a really fascinating person. When I first saw her, I was a bit scared actually! She's tall and strong-looking, and she is covered in tattoos and piercings. She looks fierce. But she was the kindest, funniest and down-to-earth person. We did a great workshop. Joolz brought with her a bag of perfume samples from Harvey Nichols. We each had to pick one at random and then create a character who would wear that perfume. It was so interesting, as certain themes about identity, sexuality and aspiration emerged in nearly all the work produced. It was a strong reminder about the place that the sense of smell holds in our culture, and in writing. Joolz was very knowledgable about perfume and how it is constructed from a top note, middle note and base note, and she compared the structure of perfume to the structure of writing a novel. We packed a lot into the three hours, and I felt a real sense of achievement at the end. So thanks, Joolz!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Warwick Words...

Over the last few days, the Warwick Festival of Literature and Spoken Word has been running. This has been a fantastic event, with some wonderful writers and speakers giving their time. I have attended three writing workshops over the week, all of which have been fantastic. I have met some great writers and hopefully made some new friends. But I just wanted to talk about today's workshop in a little more detail, as this blog comes into it!

The workshop was called Writing For Children & Teenagers and was presented by the children's writer Celia Rees. ( It was a great workshop, full of talk and practical advice about writing in general, writing for children specifically and how to get published. We also did some workshop exercises, writing in the first and third person, which were insightful. Celia was encouraging and very generous, and I think everyone who attended enjoyed the session. ('Hello!' to anyone reading this who was there this morning! )I thought it was a very diverse and interesting group of people, all at different stages in their writing.

We talked about a few resources. I mentioned the Open University ( and also the OU coursebook which is entitled,
Creative Writing, A Workbook with Readings, by Linda Anderson (ed), published by Routledge (2005)

Also I mentioned blogs which are of interest to writers. There really are loads, and I'm only just getting to grips with all this myself. There are some blogs listed on my page, and the other one I mentioned was Nathan Bransford's blog. He's the American literary agent. That's at
There are so many others, so if you find anything interesting about writing let me know!


I have had such a great few days!

On Thursday, Friday and today (Sunday) I attended some writing workshops organised for the Warwick Words Festival of Literature and Spoken Word which has run from 2 - 5 October. More of which later...

Yesterday, I went to the wedding of some friends from university. Dear husband and I were in our usual role of official photographers. (just another interest I have - seeing as I have all this spare time ;-)) It was a great day, one of those occasions where you have a real sense of a family's genuine love, affection and respect for each other. My friend's father made a wonderfully understated speech, but his obvious pride in his daughter and her achievements shone through powerfully. There was live music and the beer and whisky flowed....What more could you want?

I wore a new outfit, and I love it, but what I love more is peoples' reaction to it. It's usually something like,
'Wow. (Pause) I like your clothes. They're really (Pause) unusal.' Ha!

My brother was a little more forthright on his first glimpse of me wearing it:
'What are you wearing? You look like someone out of Lord of the Rings.'

Yeah thanks. Not an ork, I hope.

Anyway, maybe I shall try to battle the forces of technology that usually defeat me, and post a picture of myself in said outfit. I'm sure you could all do with a laugh....

The other thing that made me giggle at the wedding was a drunken conversation with the groom's father. In the bride's speech (she's a lawyer, so what can you expect?) she mentioned that her now husband used to send flirtatious messages to me on the class register at law school. I had no recollection of this, but cannot doubt her veracity, as flirtation is certainly a sport I once excelled in... The groom's father came up to me,
Him, putting an arm around me: 'So what's all this about my son sending you flirtatious messages?'
Me, squirming: 'Oh well, it was all in good fun, I can't really remember to be honest.'
Him: 'So did it come to anything then, between you two?'
Me, very firmly: 'No, not at all, absolutely not!'
Him: 'Oh that's a shame!'

I literally RAN from the room!!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Trinny and Suzannah on CBeebies...

Its already started. My daughter criticising what I'm wearing. She's four.

I'm in the shops and its all autumnal and chilly and I see a hat which I think is very chic, and will go nicely with my new red winter coat. So I buy the hat.

I go home and wander into said daughter's bedroom wearing the hat.
'Do you like Mummy's hat?' I ask.
Daughter looks up from building complicated Lego swimming pool, complete with steps and slides.
'That's not a hat, it's a bowl'.


Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Have you heard this word? 'Framilies'. The social networks that people set up with friends to replace the traditional family network, lost when people move away from their home towns. I think it is certainly true that a lot of people these days are closer to their friends than their families. Not so much me, as my family are close by, if completlely crazy... But I do have a 'framily' too, and I'm losing one of them to a new job in a northern town. :-( We were at school together, and I shall miss him. But as he points out, it's not exactly the other side of the world, only an hour or so up the M1.

I suppose you just have to let them spread their wings and fly the nest. It will be good practice for when the kids leave home...