Saturday, 28 December 2013

Suck It Up!




A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog that has made a huge difference to the way I now view and deal with critical comments, Twitter trolls and Amazon reviews. Sadly, I can't recall the name of the blogger - but it was a male American writer, which narrows it down somewhat.

Basically his message was: Do Not Respond. Ever. His reasoning ran thus: As a writer, you are The Brand. People judge what you write by how you present yourself. Thus, if you come over as whiny, defensive or argumentative -  however justified, prospective readers will back away.

Twitter is a very fast moving medium. A tweet has about a four second life, before it is replaced by others. Ignoring a nasty comment means that is is gone in an instant. As soon as you engage with the remark, you and the sender and the ensuing exchanges become visible to everyone. Whether you ''win'' or not, you will be seen by thousands of people. Will it enhance your ''brand'' for this to happen? If not, don't engage, he advised.

The same could be said for one star reviews. Most readers know what sort of person writes a one star review - either they got hold of the wrong book, didn't understand the book, didn't like the book (fair enough) or are another writer with a new book out, trying to diss the book. Ignoring them and their comments gives the impression that you are a bigger person with a wider vision, he counselled.

This rang true for me: I had just recently witnessed a couple of writers receiving bad reviews and dealing with it by complaining on social media sites - ok, their choice to do so, they were clearly upset and it was important to them to say so. But the result? Everyone instantly hopped over to Amazon to read them. Yes, maybe their good friends piled in with supportive digital shoulders, but I'm not sure this was a professional way of dealing with it. You may disagree.

As soon as we have published a book, we become less important than the readers' experience. In fact I don't think we, the sensitive tortured artistic little soul, figures at all. Witness the friend who recently rang up to see how I was, then went on to tell me at some length that they liked books written in chapters - which I had failed to do in Diamonds & Dust. (For future reference: I write in episodes, not chapters. Episodes. Got that? And I intend to write the sequel in episodes too. Pretentious? Moi?)

The lessons I learned from reading the blog were extremely useful when I started tweeting promos to Diamonds & Dust. A person on Twitter, let us call them X, (though this is not their real name) decided they did not like a particular strand of my advertising. Not at all. And they fired off a series of unpleasant tweets, informing me of their displeasure and accusing me of all sorts of stuff.

Did you see the tweets? Probably not. Why not? Because I did not respond. And I blocked the person, so that the comments are not there any more. The temptation (and it was very very tempting, believe me) was to take them on. I had to have a deep breath, stand back and ask myself: what would be the point? And I decided there was no point. I wanted people to focus on the book, not on the spat.

It has been a hard lesson to learn, especially for someone like me, who has a Degree in Confrontation. But learn it I have. Hopefully. Until the next troll sticks its head out from under the bridge ...


If you would like to read a free sample of Diamonds & Dust you can do so here  
US readers can do so here

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The PINK SOFA'S CHRISTMAS PLAY

Yes, exclusively for you, as a: ''Thank you'' for your loyal readership over the past year, THE PINK SOFA would like to welcome you to the Writing Room Theatre. Your seat has been reserved in the front row so if you'd like to settle down, sort out your sweets and snacks and suspend your disbelief pretty well as far as it will go, let us transport you back to a starry December 24th night in a little town called Bethlehem, a very long time ago. 

The curtain rise on a small studio, with an unlucky DJ who has got the graveyard shift

                                             A Starry Night In Bethlehem
DJ: And a very good evening if you've just joined us. This is Radio Bethlehem, broadcasting to Judea, Samaria and outlying regions of Galilee. That last track was Swing Low Sweet Chariot by Moses & the Pharoahs. I'm Zak, you friendly DJ keeping you company right through the night, and we've got an exciting programme lined up for you, so without further delay, let's find out who's up and about and what's happenin' tonight in the great city of Bethlehem. And first off, let's go over to our OB Unit. Jake my friend, are you there?
JAKE: Yes, Zak, I'm here.
DJ: I gather you're with some shepherds who are abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Am I right?
JAKE: (pause) No.
DJ: Er ... right. So where are you?
JAKE: Well, I'm out in the fields, but there aren't any shepherds.
DJ: No shepherds?
JAKE: Nope. Definitely no shepherds anywhere.
DJ: So where are they?
JAKE: Dunno. They were here last night. I guess they must've all gone off somewhere.
DJ: So does that mean you're not going to do one of your incisive interviews probing the intimate details of pastoral life and the place of the small agri-business in the rural economy?
JAKE: Sorry. I can give you some nice recipes for roast lamb?
DJ: Maybe not right now. OK, listeners, there are no shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, but never fear, stick with me because we've still got a very exciting show lined up for you here on Radio Bethlehem. So let's move swiftly on to Naomi, our lovely weather girl who's on the roof on the studio. Naomi, are you there?
NAOMI: Hello Zak.
DJ: And what's the weather doing tonight, Naomi?
NAOMI: Well, you know, it's night, so the weather isn't doing very much really.
DJ: Anything exciting happening out there?
NAOMI: Well, the moon is out and I can spot a star. That's about it really.
DJ: Can you give us a few more details?
NAOMI: Um ..the moon is round, and the star is kind of silver and twinkly and very bright.
DJ: No comets, shooting stars, unusual constellation patterns - possibly the odd supernova?
NAOMI: No.
DJ: Son et Lumiere? Bonfires? Firework displays? Small child waving a sparkler?
NAOMI: Can't see any from up here. It's just a perfectly ordinary night. With a moon and a star.
DJ: Thanks Naomi. I'm sure all our listeners will be really interested in that. And now, before we play you some more music, let's go over to our Man About Town for a really exciting report on Bethlehem's hip and happenin' night life. Matt - hi! Where are you?
MATT: Zak - hi.  So I'm standing right outside the Camel and Pitta Bread Inn just off the main square.
DJ: Matt, I gather there have been some huge logistical problems in town tonight on account of the number of visitors to the city. Rumour has it that there is no room at the inn. Can you confirm?
MATT: So earlier today I spoke to the friendly innkeeper here at the Camel and Pitta Bread Inn and he told me there haven't been any problems. He's been able to find rooms for everybody who's turned up.
DJ: I see. So you're saying there are no major riots taking place in the streets of Bethlehem as you speak?
MATT: No.
DJ: No cartloads of disgruntled tourists and holiday makers causing mayhem? No unnecessary acts of mindless vandalism and anti-social behaviour?
MATT: Nope. Everything's really quiet. Not even a doggie barking. There were some shepherds earlier on but they seem to have gone now.
DJ: Well thanks for that Matt. And there you have it, listeners: there are no shepherds abiding in the fields, so homeless people in the streets. Oh - and there is a star in the sky. In other words, it's a perfectly ordinary night in Bethlehem and nothing remotely interesting or exciting is happening.  Anywhere. (under breath)  Sheesh, why me? Right ... let's have some more music then.
                                                            The End

So as the actors step forward to receive your applause, it only remains for all of us at Hedges Towers to wish you A Very Happy Christmas. The PINK SOFA will be out and about over the festive season singing carols to raise money for its favourite charity: Rehouse Abandoned and Derelict Sofas. You may be unfortunate enough to find it on your doorstep. Prompt payment will always ensure it goes away.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Victorians and Sex

                                            

Queen Victoria loved it. The morning after her wedding night she wrote ecstatically in her diary that sex was  ''a foretaste of heaven''. Unfortunately she did not enjoy what came after the nights of bliss with her beloved Albert as one pregnancy followed another. (Nineteenth century birth control was rudimentary and consisted of: abstinence, withdrawal, sheaths made of animal intestines - the advice was to wash them out between use, the introduction of a piece of sponge into the vagina to guard the mouth of the womb, or by squirting tepid water into the vagina after sex.)


Given these options, it is hardly surprising that Queen Victoria proceeded to give birth consecutively to nine children. Even if she had not enjoyed the procreative aspect, she'd have little say in the matter. After marriage, a woman's possessions, and this included her body, became her husband's. If he wanted sex, it was her duty to fulfil his needs.

Many well-brought up Victorian girls married with only the remotest idea of what awaited them sexually. The story in Diamonds & Dust of Lady Caroline Hartington, who ''tried to run away after the unspeakableness of the wedding night'' is actually based on a real event - my maternal grandmother, married at 16 to a much older man, supposedly ran back to her parents the day after the wedding. And was returned forthwith.

The same notion that girls arrived at their wedding night pure, sexless and ignorant, to be awakened (or not) by her husband can be seen in the forlorn comment of  Mary Sidgewick, married in 1859 at the age of 18 to a much older man. She later wrote in her diary: ' how I cried at Paris....the nights!'

It wasn't just young women who were in for a shock: John Ruskin allegedly was unable to consummate his marriage when he discovered on the wedding night that his bride had pubic hair. His idea of female beauty was derived from the classical Greek statues he'd seen on his travels and in the British Museum. His reaction and expectations differ little from many young men nowadays, who expect girls to be entirely hairless in all areas, as this is what they have seen on porn sites.

Of course, like their 21st century counterparts, men could always find their pleasure before or beyond the marital bed: ''London in 1860 is notorious for filth and obscenity. There are, as nearly as can be ascertained,five hundred and nine prostitutes, if you believe the Return of the Number of Brothels and Prostitutes within the Metropolitan Police Area.'' Diamonds & Dust. Sadly the same was not true for women, who were expected to remain pure and unsullied until their wedding. Or at least, not get caught....

The age of consent in 1860 was 12 and had been since the sixteenth century. Sex with a girl under 10 was a felony; with a girl between 10 and 12 was a misdemeanour. The age of consent was raised to 13 in 1875 and to 16 in 1885. There were however places where men could go for sex with very young children, who were known colloquially as ''green fruit''. The poor unfortunate victim would be taken to a room with well-padded walls, where nobody would hear the screams as they were raped. Sadly, little changes but technology: now such an event would be filmed, and shared on numerous websites. In the book, George Osborne also refers to the fictitious 'Mrs Frost's' where young girls who were virgins could be had.

We get the impression that the Victorians were all prudes and sexually repressed. Nothing could be further from the truth! This was the start of the ''info'' era, and there were manuals, pamphlets, and advice books aplenty, if you knew where to buy them. Not to mention saucy photographs. And if you were a well-brought up young person living in London in 1860, whose parents declined to tell you the facts of life, a quick stroll down Holywell Street off the Strand, the centre of the erotic and pornographic book trade couldn't fail to bring enlightenment - and a blush to your maidenly cheek.

If you would like to read a free sample of my new novel Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here . US readers can do so here

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Could YOU Write The Next Bestseller?


Good Housekeeping, that bastion of recipes you cut out but never make, and clothes meant for thinner, more glamorous women who are not you, is running another of its literary competitions. Last time, the comp was about self publishing, and I got very cross about it and wrote a cross blog. You can see the result here.

This latest comp (see title) is equally cross-making on many levels. Firstly, the equation of writing with ''bestseller'' is misleading as it suggests that there is very little kudos or purpose writing a book unless you intend it to join the 0.00000001% of those that have attained ''bestseller'' status.

Because ...  nowhere is there any definition of what defines a 'bestseller'' apart from the implicit subtext that it equates with money: £250,000 ''advance'' is offered to the winner, plus 'advice' from an agent and a publisher. This advice will inevitably involve rewriting the whole thing, then altering and tailoring the book to fit the zeitgeist of the publisher's list. In other words, many such books are not written, they are created in-house.

You don't believe me? Most of the 'bestsellers' from 50 Shades to Harry Potter have achieved fame thanks to re-writes, coupled with the carefully structured publicity campaign of a crack marketing team. Some aspect of the writers' lives or experience has been seized upon and a narrative built around it. Exposure is everything. The classic example of this? My former editor at Usborne was one of the 25+ to reject the unsolicited mss of Harry Potter, before Ms Rowling got an agent, who was able to place the book. The editor did not even remember reading it. Go figure.

The comp also features three successful writers who offer some useful and sound advice to the would-be literary star. However, the words 'hits', and 'bestseller' and 'top of the book charts' occur with such frequency that it says more to me about their reason for being picked than the good advice offered.

Also, the comp makes no mention of the fact that many popular books have achieved their position solely on word of mouth. You read it, like it and recommend it to a friend. The buzz grows, the book sells, and suddenly the writer is topping Bookseller or Amazon lists. Nobody can set down the formula for that. Nor for the 'slow burn' book that might take years to rise from the general pool - though this is less likely to happen today, as publishers want fast results.

Nor is there any mention of the hard work most writers put in day by day to publicise their book. Sales do not happen by themselves. Sadly, there is also not a single mention of the fact that writing a 'bestseller' is by no means the end of it. Once fame and fortune has beaten a path to your door, you will be under immense pressure to write the ''next'' bestseller, followed by the one after that.

So do I think you should not aim high? Absolutely not. I believe you always write looking at the stars, but aware that your feet are planted on the ground. Would I have liked to have written a ''bestseller''? Maybe when I started out being published, yes. Now, with 12 published books and many more unpublished ones, I really don't care any more, deriving much pleasure from a reviewer that ''gets'' the book, or someone who has enjoyed reading it and takes the time to tell me. However, if you want to go in for the competition, go for it. Good luck, but keep a tight hold on your integrity.

If you would like to read a free sample of my new novel Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here . US readers can do so here



Saturday, 30 November 2013

Victorian Values: Location,location.


''A starry night. Both above and below, for at their brightly-lit Park Lane town house, Sir William Snellgrove and his elegant wife Lady Harriet are holding a party. This lavish event is taking place just a stone's throw away from some of the worst slum dwellings in London, where families live ten to a room in damp crumbling buildings, sleeping on soiled straw or nothing, burning floorboards for heat and using the gap underneath as a toilet.'' Diamonds & Dust


An elegant town house
1860's London was a city of vast contrasts. Beautiful, elegant Georgian or Palladian squares housed virtually gated communities, with Watch Boxes at each corner manned by policemen, to keep out non-residents. Many other Londoners were crammed into buildings that had survived the Great Fire, or had been thrown up by speculators to meet the needs of the thousands of incomers, Irish, Jewish, Italian and French who flooded into the city from abroad or from the countryside to work in the shops, factories and 'dark Satanic' mills of the great metropolis.

In each of my Victorian novels, various authentic locations are used to set the story in its time. Many of them still survive, almost as they may have looked at the time. The terrible overcrowded slums and rookeries have all gone ... though it is a moot point whether they are creeping back, in the form of  ''beds in sheds'' housing a new wave of desperately poor immigrants seeking work and a better life.

Russell Square is where Romanian Countess Eleanore von Schwartzenburg stayed on her visit to the city, and where she met her gruesome end. In 1860 it contained ''grand terraced houses where the bankers,the merchants, the Sirs and my noble Lords lived. Green painted iron railings surround the plane-tree'd gardens, the statue of Lord Bedford at the centre and the pump on the east side'
The Square still has its plane-treed gardens, but the statue has been moved to the south entrance.

Russell Square as it is today

The statue of Lord Bedford 

The book follows the fortunes of three women. The youngest, 18 year old Josephine King, lives in ''St John's Wood, with its fashionable and shabby-chic villas''. At the time, the district was known as ''The wicked wood'' for its louche and slightly bohemian inhabitants - intellectuals and the newly monied whose morals and lifestyle were a little more relaxed and unbuttoned than the class above it. The houses had been built as the city extended northwards.
''She mounts the steps and rings the bell''
.
The ''wicked wood'' today 


A ''discrete little villa''
Both St John's Wood and nearby Maida Vale were notorious for prostitutes - not the shabby street girls of the Haymarket, but established mistresses of well to do men. They lived in little villas, rented or bought for them by their lovers. The fictitious Endell Terrace, home of the prostitute Lilith Marks who makes an appearance in all three books, is described as: 'a row of modern whitewashed villas, with black wrought-iron railings at the front. Several villas have canopied walkways that lead from the front door to the gate, discreetly screening visitors from prying eyes.'' Diamonds&Dust 

That these locations survive to this day is testament to the wealth or gentility of the people who lived there. The Victorians had an effective method of slum clearance - they pulled down the houses, often to make way for railways, which all throughout the1860s turned much of London into one big building site. The residents were not re-housed, merely turned out onto the streets to find alternative accommodation wherever they could - much like the ''Bedroom Tax'' has forced many families to do today.

A poor area still exists, though not in its original form. Carnaby Street, once part of a notorious rookery lies behind Oxford Street. In the 1860s it housed many seamstresses and home workers who served the new big department stores in Regent Street, existing on poverty wages so that the affluent classes could purchase the luxury items for sale. In one book, Isabella Thorpe orders a beautiful evening dress from one such store, demanding that it will be ready to wear next day: ''She does not know that the job of sewing the underskirts will be given to a thinly-clad young woman in a slum attic in Carnaby Street. They will be carefully checked for bugs and fleas upon delivery.'' 
                                                                                                               Diamonds & Dust

For anybody visiting London, there is a wealth of wonderful Victorian buildings to see. I recommend taking a bus ride to the West End - top deck for preference. You cannot fail to be amazed by the wonderful mix of architectural styles. The Victorians built stuff to last. From high class shopping parade to sewers, they have left their mark everywhere.





Saturday, 23 November 2013

The PINK SOFA welcomes Jonathon Fletcher



Jon is another of those amazing people I met on Twitter. Not many people would use a scary picture of themselves holding a weapon as a cover to their own book. Yes, that IS him. The PINK SOFA is hiding behind itself. Jon has helped and advised me with techie stuff, and is always on hand with gardening tips. And he writes amazing books, as you're about to discover. A truly talented man! With his own space weapon. As the festive seasson is upon us, I have broken out the Danish Butter Cookie tin, and there is freshly brewed coffee to go with it. Over to you Space Captain:

''I grew up in Stockport near Manchester and after school completed an art foundation and then went on to a film and animation degree in Newcastle upon Tyne. As I have always been a science fiction fan, my final year film was a sci-fi epic called “Unity” which I did all the special effects for. After the degree my first job was as a prop maker at Cosgrove Hall Films in Chorlton-cum-hardy where I worked on “Brambly Hedge”, “Rocky and the Dodos” and Gerry Anderson’s “Lavender Castle”. After about a year there I left to help set up a new animation company with a great bunch of people and became head of the props department at Hot Animation in Altrincham. I worked at Hot for around nine years in which time I predominantly worked on the first fourteen series of “Bob the Builder”, eventually becoming Art Director on that show. I also did occasional work on “Pingu” and various pilots.

When the company was closed down and I was made redundant, I fell back on my other passion, gardening. I took my redundancy money, bought a van and tools and became a full-time gardener.I always have a lot of free time in the winter and also felt that I needed an outlet for my artistic side. I hit upon the idea of self publishing on Amazon and my first Novella “Josiah Trenchard Part One: The Might of Fortitude” was published in October 2012. Self publishing draws on my experience working with scripts in the film and TV industry and I build models for the covers and then Photoshop the artwork, a skill I picked up working as an Art Director.

The idea for my books came directly from my final year degree film. It was a sixteen minute short science fiction film entitled “Unity”. Ever since I made that film I have been developing the ideas as scripts and those scripts have now become the basis for the Josiah Trenchard series of novellas and the forthcoming “Unity” series of novels. I was heavily influenced by Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, the TV show “X-Files” and films like “Aliens” and “Bladerunner”, so the books reflect those. They’re military sci-fi with a story arc and sub-plot that is closer to something you would see in “X-files” or “Fringe”. Josiah Trenchard is a separate mini-series based in the same universe but following different characters and events. I wanted to test the waters of self publishing with something small before I put all my effort into one massive novel that may have flopped. So far, Trenchard is doing quite well and readers seem to like the series, judging by the reviews I’m getting.

I treat writing like any other job. I do a little every day at the same time, before I go out to work as a gardener. In the winter when I’m not gardening I tend to write all morning and then do jobs around the house in the afternoon. I have a story arc for the ten episodes of Josiah Trenchard already worked out and each part deals with a separate horror / sci-fi theme. Part one was about the ship itself and the bad guys were deadly space pirates. Part two has a Frankenstein style monster, three is my take on Jekyll and Hyde and part four has zombies. It’s just a case of filling in the blanks around the framework that gives me and developing the characters.

I chose to self publish simply because it was a quicker route than finding an agent and I was confident that I could do it. Plus I have a business plan that follows ten novellas and a series of Novels that I don’t think any publishing house would have opted for with an untried author. I’ve been a sci-fi nerd all my life. I know what makes our kind tick. My marketing is aimed at people like me. Military sci-fi is a niche, so there’s no point trying to market towards romance readers. However there are elements of horror and thriller plots in my books, so I cover a fairly broad spectrum of readers.

 My basic premise for Trenchard was “What if you replaced Captain Kirk with a hard ass?” Trenchard is heavily influenced by Gene Hunt from “Life on Mars” with a little Dirty Harry thrown in. I wanted a flawed Captain; he drinks, he smokes, he swears prolifically and he loses his temper often. But he gets the job done no matter what. He becomes known as “The Fixer” and his ship, the Might of Fortitude, is sent into the most dangerous situations. He works for the United Worlds Space Navy who are locked in a guerrilla war with desperate Insurgent terrorists and pitiless space pirates that haunt the outer reaches of the asteroid belt.

As part of the plot his crew are mainly young, inexperienced and occasionally downright useless. He has to mould them into an effective fighting unit along the way. One of my favourite characters to write is Paddy McGagh, a hard drinking Irish man who is seven foot tall and built like the proverbial brick privy. He takes no nonsense from anyone and is probably the only crew
member who can match Captain Trenchard drink for drink.

Without giving away spoilers, there’s a series of devious bad guys who crop up regularly including a young female Japanese assassin who causes Trenchard no end of trouble and the Machiavellian Papaver Corporation. Each episode has a new monster to fight, be it vicious pirates that would happily flush you into open space, a deadly cyborg covered with spikes called the “Morgenstern”, or flesh tearing zombies that are practically impossible to kill!

For the tech-heads out there, each episode introduces new weaponry too that dispatches enemies in a variety of delightful ways. Watch out for the W.A.S.P. grenades in part four, a particular favourite of mine and the acid rifles. Each trooper is armed with a “Vicar” assault rifle and as Commander Skelat will tell you, ‘this particular Vicar ain’t the nice kind that you invite round for tea and  cucumber sarnies. No he’s not. He’s the sort of Vicar who sticks a crucifix up the enemy’s arse and then drowns them in the font!

For the immediate future I’m hoping to publish part five in time for Christmas 2013. The whole of this episode is a flashback and you get to find out about Trenchard’s past and exactly what happened in the Belatu-Cadros uprising on Mars four years ago. Then there will be five more episodes to come after that including… wait for it… a Christmas episode!


After the ten episodes of the first series, I have two full length “Unity” novels at a draft stage and then potentially a second series of Trenchard. One thing is for sure, episode ten will not end well for our illustrious Captain Trenchard and the readers are going to be desperate to find out what happens next…''

 Jon can be contacted via Twitter @JonGardener 
 His blog and links to the Unity novels are at: https://sites.google.com/site/unitynovels/system/pages/matureConfirm?path=https%3A%2F%2Fsites.google.com%2Fsite%2Funitynovels%2F

Thanks Jon. So, as we dig into the biscuits and pour the coffee, why not sit down and ask Jon something. Anything. I promise he won't zap anybody. Well, he SAID he wouldn't.... 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Pain-free Publicity


Excitement grows at Hedges Towers. The Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery launch date is just over 2 weeks away. All over the UK and further afield, crinolines are being aired, etiquette books consulted and Ralph the Marvellous Performing Dog is practising his tricks for the BIG Party on December 3rd. If you follow me on Facebook, you are invited. If not, feel free to press your nose to the digital plate-glass window and one of the hired staff will endeavour to slip you a glass of mulled wine and a slice of cake.

Last week's blog debunked some of the popular misconceptions about publicity. Now I'm going to share some of the ways I intend to create a ''buzz'' around the new book. Hopefully then you'll see it coming and be able to duck! The first port of call for me is always local: we have a great local paper, The Herts Advertiser, and I hope to have at least one article on the book. Local papers love local stuff, so a well prepared Press Release emailed with a polite note and a good pic to the editor always gets results. It also helps if you have a ''story'' to tell - as most of you know, I am a well-known local activist and pain in the council's backside, so that should endear me to a few readers!

I'm also going to get myself onto local radio: Radio Verulam and 3 Counties. I have the perfect face for radio, as you can see, and again, the same ''local criteria'' applies. In a similar vein: the book is set in and around St John's Wood and Hampstead, where I lived and studied ... so I shall use the settings to generate interest and a press release will be winging its way to the Ham & High. I have already persuaded Hertfordshire Libraries to stock the book; a similar charm offensive will be launched on Camden Libraries. Libraries are always worth considering as you get PLR -  Public Lending Rights: the money paid every time someone borrows your book. It will probably only buy me half a brick in the Tuscan villa, but half a brick is better than no brick at all. And I shall visit every branch of Waterstones and small Independent Bookshops with a copy of the book to show them and smile. A lot.

I also intend to use this blog. Look out for some great posts on the Victorians and food ... sex ... clothes .... houses .... poverty .... manners .... did I say sex? The blogs will be a mash-up of pictures of actual locations, bits from the book, and original/modern interpretations. It seems a shame, having done all this research, that 90% of it will be wasted. I shall be doing some guest blogs. If you asked me, please remind me: the memory is not what it was.

I will also post some links on Twitter and my Facebook page - both to the book, and to the blogs and any other interesting Victorian stuff I think you might like to read or see. Recently, a couple of people on Twitter have introduced me to hashtags ## and if you are also intending to publicize a new book, I recommend you check them out. #bookplugs #writing and #ebooks are good. And there are many more; some will be specific to your genre. If you use them, make sure you retweet other people though. It's only polite. I have also learned a lot from studying other writers' promo tweets: how they set them out, make them eye-catching, so I hope to follow their example.

What I'm not going to do is inundate total strangers, or you with 'buy my book' tweets or Facebook messages. If you want to read it, great. If not, hey. I won't be constantly checking my sales figures or Amazon ratings either and informing you every hour of the day. That way madness lies. And somehow I am going to try to find time to get on with the sequel, so that IF you bought, read and enjoyed Diamonds & Dust, there will be another book in the pipeline for you to read very soon.





Saturday, 9 November 2013

Reigning On My Parade


Excitement is building at Hedges Towers. It is three weeks until the official Facebook launch of Diamonds & Dust: A Victorian Murder Mystery (publ. Crooked Cat Books) and suddenly, the reality that it is actually going to happen is dawning. This book is special for many reasons. It is my twelfth published novel (I have loads of unpublished ones). It is my first adult novel, as opposed to the teenage and YA fiction I have previously written. It is also the 'unexpected' book - in that, despite writing a novel a year, I had not been able to break back into mainstream publishing since 2008, when Usborne decided not to publish any more Spy Girl books.

Unexpected also, as those of you who are aware of the back story know, because prior to placing it with Crooked Cat, I parted company with my agent, who had told me that there was no market for this book, so she was not going to bother sending it out to publishers; comments that resulted in my almost losing heart and deciding to give up writing altogether. Take whatever lesson you wish to learn from this.

So, apart from sorting out the party fairy lights and discovering they don't work because one of the bulbs has blown, ordering in crates of prosecco and wrapping crepe paper streamers round the PINK SOFA who has been in launch mode since the summer, I am also gearing up for some publicity, because I have promised the family that there will be a villa in Tuscany and a black Maserati from the profits.

Publicity has become vitally important in today's frenetic book market. In the 1950s when I was growing up, there seemed no need for authors to get involved in marketing their books. Nobody was interested in them. I could have passed Ruby Ferguson, Primrose Cummings, A Stephen Tring, Pamela Brown or Don Stanford in the street and not recognised them. Now if you publish a book, unless you are happy just to have achieved publication, and content that only your immediate family, and close friends will buy it, you HAVE to put yourself out there.

There are a couple of myths currently going round about publicity. The first says that mainstream published writers don't have to do much if any publicity, as they have marketing wonks to do it instead. Wrong. If you read last week's blog, where best-selling author Kate Long talked about her writing, you will see I asked her that exact question. You can read her reply here.

My own experience, based on OUP and Usborne, my two previous publishers, is that at my level of importance, publicity wonks will send your book out for review, feature you in the publisher's catalogue, and produce press releases, but that's pretty well it. The rest you sort yourself, unless you are a 'famous or favoured writer' - of which more anon. Sometimes, they don't even do that - one year, I was told by OUP that they were going to spend the entire marketing budget on a couple of well known childrens' writers who brought in more money than a mid-lister like me. Seriously.

The bottom line is always money. If you don't sell enough books, and make sufficient money, big publishers will drop you. Actually, most publishers of whatever size will drop you - so those authors I recently came across on Facebook moaning that ''they can't do publicity, it isn't ''them'' and why doesn't X (their small publisher) do it all for them like big publishers do'' really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

The other myth is that 'popular' mainstream authors get taken on lovely trips and outings to promote their books. Hollow laughter. I recently caught up with one such writer, just back from the US. It was a nightmare. Meetings with publishers, followed by book talks, followed by signings, followed by working dinners, followed by total exhaustion. And one of the famous OUP writers I mentioned earlier didn't get to write a thing for two years, had a nervous breakdown, and had to force herself to inch back into writing again. So there you are. Myths well and truly busted. Next week, I shall explore some of the publicity portals just waiting to be explored, and how I hope to use them without annoying all of you too excessively.

***** I am currently up for Blogger of the Year 2014: If you would like to vote for me (or any of the other bloggers) please go to:  *****








Saturday, 2 November 2013

The PINK SOFA welcomes Kate Long


Kate Long and I met on Twitter. Only I didn't realise who she was, as she tweets under a different name. We bonded over our shared love of wildlife: voles and hedgehogs in her case, Roman Snails in mine. It was only when she started tweeting links to her 3rd book, Bad Mothers United, that I made the connection. I have bought and read all her books - they are brilliant. So it is a great pleasure to welcome her to the sofa. I asked Kate to describe her writing route:

''Looking back, I can’t remember what it was about the story-idea of a teenage girl getting pregnant and battling with her mother that lodged so firmly in my mind. It was 1998, I had a new baby in the house and I barely had the energy to dress myself in the mornings. Yet it was during one of the long, sleep-deprived nights that I managed to sketch out the bare plot for my first published novel, The Bad Mother’s Handbook. I still have that set of notes somewhere, scribbled inside the pages of a book on breastfeeding.

Perhaps it was because becoming a mum had been so fraught with difficulties. I’d suffered two unexplained miscarriages and undergone horrid fertility treatment. Experiences like that go through you and colour you forever, and, post-baby, I found myself drawn to explore motherhood in fiction. So I imagined a schoolgirl, Charlotte, bright, ambitious and university-bound but nevertheless falling unexpectedly pregnant and having to navigate her way through the consequences. 

Then there’d be her mother, angry, thirtysomething Karen, who had herself dropped out of Sixth Form for the same reason seventeen years earlier. And, overseeing the family, eighty year old Nan, whose own journey to motherhood would have taken her through the route of secret, private adoption, with much heartache along the way. As the story developed, I became caught up by in other issues too: how had life changed for women over the last few decades? Did having more choices simply mean more pressure of expectation? Why did we repeat our parents’ destructive patterns of behaviour? How could we break out of unhappy family scripts? The more the characters told me, the more I wanted to investigate further their complex dynamics.

I’d come to writing via a lonely path. When I very first tried my hand, in the mid-Nineties, there was (for me) no internet, no online forums where I could ask advice, no Google for my background research, no time-swallowing social media. There was simply me, a freezing box room and my old Amstrad PCW9256. This machine was so basic that you had to insert a Start of Day disk every time you switched it on, as it was incapable of retaining instructions between sessions. Even the attached printer was a cranky dot-matrix contraption which took two minutes to print each page and couldn’t cope with continuous feed.

Nevertheless, this is where I produced my first published work. For the next ten years I settled into a pattern where I’d always have a full-length work on the go, but alongside that I’d be producing and sending out short stories, perhaps three or four a year. I wasn’t in those days au fait with e-zines or lit-zines, and I’d sussed early on that women’s magazines are a terrifically hard market, so I sent almost everything off to competitions. That was the only other viable market I knew. As it was, a steady series of comp placings kept me buoyant as I slogged away on the novels.

It was 2000 before I found the time to sit down and write The Bad Mother’s Handbook in full. I managed to do it only with the aid of an Arts Council Grant which helped pay for childcare. Because by then I’d spent so long considering the plot and characters, the novel flooded out almost faster than I could type and I was able to complete the bulk of it within eight weeks. That taught me something about the way I need to work, which is that thinking/preparation-time is vital for me, and if I try and begin writing without it, I quickly dry up.

The novel was accepted in 2002 by Picador, came out two years later and did very well, reaching the Sunday Times bestseller lists and making Book at Bedtime on Radio 4. Later on it was adapted as an ITV drama. I was bemused, though, to see myself portrayed in the press as an “overnight success” and a “kitchen-table scribbler” who wrote “if there was nothing on TV”, when in reality I’d had ten years of slogging to find my style and voice.

Since then I’ve had six more books published, the latest being the sequel to The Bad Mother’s Handbook, Bad Mothers United which I wrote because so many readers emailed asking for it. I’d never imagined a follow-up, so that was a learning curve in itself. But as soon as I started planning out the narrative, their voices came back as strongly as ever, telling me how each thread would develop and how their concerns had changed. Because the book had been on TV, I even had moments where I felt the actors themselves were leaning over my shoulder and watching what came next. I do like to think they were all fairly satisfied in the end by their individual story arcs and resolutions. More to the point, the readers who’d begged to know what happened to Charlotte, Karen and Nan seemed happy.

Meanwhile I’m currently on the last chapter of my work-in-progress which is a tale of two sisters, one of whom is afflicted by extreme beauty. The novel covers eating disorders, sibling rivalry, family secrets, infidelity and friendship, and will be out next spring. You can get a sneak preview here of the images I’ve been using for inspiration: http://www.pinterest.com/volewriter/your-beautiful-sister/

So where next? I haven’t ruled out a third Bad Mother book, but again it’ll need time to percolate. I’d like to see Charlotte-the-teen grown up with a teenager of her own – then she’ll know what she put her own mother through – and I feel mum Karen could be on the verge of something really dramatic. She is, after all, entering her prime. Who knows? She’ll no doubt tell me when she’s ready. My pen is poised for instruction.''

You can buy Bad Mothers United here: http://tinyurl.com/cjjlytq
Come and say hello on Twitter: https://twitter.com/volewriter
And last but not least – if you’re into wildlife, check out my nothing-to-do-with-books nature blog: http://staggsbrook.blogspot.co.uk/

Thanks Kate ... please hang around - I'm sure people have lots to ask. Actually, I'm going to start the ball rolling: there is this myth on social media sites that if you are published by a ''big'' publisher, they have marketing people to do all the promo work for you. Is this true?



Friday, 1 November 2013

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Don't Do Anything Rash

A challenging week at Hedges Towers. I mentioned in my previous post how BH's absence had triggered a whole raft of small problems. The situation ongoes. On Saturday night, after a lovely day in London with DD, I developed a very extreme allergic reaction to something I ate and came out in huge itchy red blotches. In deference to the presence of small children, family pets and the fact that you might be eating breakfast, I shall not post a picture.

Suffice it to say that last time I had this, it was traceable to a new soap. This time, who knows. The night wore on, the itchy patches formed, re-formed, itched and wondered round various parts of my body like unwelcome visitors who had outstayed their welcome but refuse to depart. At 3 am, I ran out of E45 cream and decided that I was probably going to spend the rest of my life in a small jam jar on the mantelpiece. Such are the thoughts that strike in the desperate and itchy small hours.

A visit to the internet informed me that these extreme allergic incidents can be exacerbated by stress - which is logical, and I could see how that worked, but it is very difficult NOT to be stressed when you are lying awake, resisting the urge to scratch. Other symptoms developed over the next few days. The dizzy spells and blinding headache that accompanied them were possibly attributable to a brain tumour, I decided, further evidence that self-diagnosing on the internet in the middle of the night is also not a good idea. Several days of misery passed. At one point, I had visions of BH returning to find a small dehydrated heap at the bottom of the stairs. Thankfully I have now recovered, and the PINK SOFA has withdrawn its offer of being buried with me in case I fancied a sit-down in the afterlife. We march on.

As does Badgergate, which is taking an interesting turn. Regular readers will know that one of our local Tory councillors recently made the unfortunate remark to me in public that if there were any badgers on the allotment land the council has earmarked for development, he'd go and personally put down cyanide. Subsequently, another of his colleagues tried to 'buy' my compliance in a council meeting by saying that if I'd be more ''co-operative'' in my ''attitude'' he'd make sure the development would be ''sustainable'. Enough already, so I decided to out both men in the local press.

Councillor A - he of the badger-poisoning persuasion, immediately wrote to refute my remarks, declaring that he loved wildlife, but added the rather telling rider that: 'If I did use the word cyanide in the context of badgers, it was purely a connotation, not in any way versed as a threat.' (Quote). Hmm. Upon such small statements do whole career empires topple. One is reminded of Clinton's elliptical:  'I did not have sex with that woman'.

I am baffled though: given the laws of libel, why on earth would I deliberately misquote someone in a letter to a newspaper? How stupid do they think I am? So a further letter of clarification wings its way, reiterating the validity of my original letter. Which may draw forth other correspondents on both sides with further reflections. Meanwhile the council has refused to comply with my latest FOI request to find out what they are up to behind the scenes. Go figure.

I am currently up for Blogger of the Year: If you would like to vote for me (or any of the other bloggers) please go to:

Saturday, 19 October 2013

To DIY or not to DIY, that is the question.

New book, & ebook.. new cover... see below

A troubling week at Hedges Towers. BH departed for his annual Italian Jaunt, upon which 3 fence panels instantly fell down, I mislaid my mobile and house keys and the car developed a 'no-don't-just-turn-up-the-music-sort-it noise under the bonnet. I believe this stare of affairs is called Sod's Law and I'm guessing that things are not going to get any better until he returns. Teeth are being gritted and loins girded in anticipation.

Added to this, the elderly cat (18 years old) continues to decline into furry senescence and needs copious care. I am putting up with the constant demands for attention, broken nights, having to spend a fortune on the only cat food he will now eat and letting him sleep under the radiator in the hope that when I am old and in my dotage, someone will do the same for me.

Meanwhile with publication day drawing closer, I have been asked by several people why I decided to go with a commercial publisher as opposed to self-publishing my book, as I did previously with Jigsaw Pieces Two reasons: firstly, it is all too easy nowadays to write a book, cobble together a cover and upload the finished product to Amazon (actually, it darn well isn't .. as you can read here:). Advances in technology have opened up enormous opportunities for self-publishing that were never there when I started writing books, and that is a good thing.

However, inevitably there is a lot of dross out there and it lets the side down. Poorly produced books with typos, badly designed covers, sold at rock bottom prices is not the way I want to go. Despite the many ''Hey, I produced a book for virtually nothing'' blogs, the writers of the best self-published books have usually used beta readers, then paid out for professional editing, proofreading and cover designing. Hats off to them. It is hard work and not cheap and having done it once, I'm not keen to do it again.

Secondly, to be accepted by a commercial publisher is a sign that my work is of a certain standard. Very few writers are now being taken on by the ''big'' mainstream houses. You have to be young, connected to somebody, the possessor of a fabulously interesting/made up back story, or a celeb. Small commercial independents like Crooked Cat (my publisher) are now the first port of call for serious writers who find the big publishing doors slammed shut. The market is changing once more, as evidenced when Crooked Cat recently opened its doors for submissions and was totally taken aback by the inundation of manuscripts. They are in the business of making money, as are all independent publishers and they only take on a small percentage of the writers who apply. I am one of the lucky few.

With this in mind, I have uploaded the new cover(s) for you to see. It was created by Designer Dave, who is a friend, a professional graphic artist and designed the cover for Jigsaw Pieces. The full title of the new novel is Diamonds & Dust, A Victorian Murder Mystery and the book and ebook should be available on Amazon at the beginning of December, just in time for Christmas. The cover reminds me of contemporary newspaper headings, or theatrical posters which is appropriate to the plot, although I have also been told it is reminiscent of very early Penguin covers. It is quirky and different ... just like the story itself .. and, dare I say it, like the author of the story herself!






Friday, 18 October 2013

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Pink Sofa welcomes Paul Tobin, poet.


It's not often The PINK SOFA has a chance host such a talented and versatile writer, poet and photographer as Paul Tobin. He grew up in Widnes, but has lived in Somerset for 30 years. Paul has written poetry since he was 12, and thinks he's getting the hang of it now. He has published two volumes of poetry.
Paul has been Festival Poet at Purbeck Folk Festival (2011), the Accoustic Festival of Great Britain (2012) and Lechlade Festival (2013). He has also appeared at Wychwood, Bristol Folk Festival (2012) and Cock& Bull (2011). His blog, Magpie Bridge is always worth dropping in to. As The Pink Sofa is currently revising its first book of poetry: Upholstery Thoughts, it is agog to see how a professional does it.

''Every poem benefits from being revised and every poet worth their salt revises their work.  This is where the hard work comes in and where you develop your skill.
A little while ago, after I suspect a surfeit of apocalyptic reggae, I got to comparing the end of the academic year with the extinction of species - as you do. This is the poem I came up with:

 END of SPECIES EXAM
Now the jig is up, the experiment nearly over, it’s time for the exam. Please answer the following questions as completely as you can. Your answers may be of interest to some future species or some extra-terrestrial life form, if they can be bothered to come so far to see the pig’s ear we’ve made of this place.

Was the trek out of Africa worth it?
Agriculture, what was that all about then, especially when the big supermarkets started stuffing both the farmers and the shoppers?
As a species why were we so good at murdering one another?
What was so brilliant about privatisation anyway?
If “war is the locomotive of history” how much of a twat was Trotsky, Mao or Stalin discuss? (NB if these names do not appal then insert one that does, there are enough of them to choose from).
Why did we let some of the world starve when the rest of us grew fat?
How does David Cameron sleep at night?
Why did we spend billions of pounds on Trident and why is it still pointed at Russia?
How much blood to the nearest pint is on Tony Blair’s hands?
What was the point of Boris Johnson?
As a species why do we believe in ideologies over common sense?
How hard did the present cabinet have to work to look so bloody smug?
Why was the Daily Express not sold as a comic?
Did you really believe the Tories when they said the NHS was safe in their hands?
Why are no city bankers in goal or at least destitute?
How could anyone have believed all that other shit the Tories told us?
Why did we go into Afghanistan without an exit strategy?
Nuclear power, who did you really expect to clean up all the crap?

As you can appreciate, in this draft it is rather a formless diatribe, not that this stopped me from reading it out at an awards evening for a local poetry competition when it was barely a day old (mind the gap between what I say and my own actions…). Even as I stood there full of righteous ire proclaiming for all I was worth. I realised that it was far to hectoring.
So what is wrong with this draft? It’s too long, it pounds the listener into submission (or boredom which is worse). It repeats itself- which is something to be avoided. In short it is far too pointy finger.
On the plus side I liked the rambling introduction to the questions. I wanted my northern voice to set the scene and so used one of my mother’s expressions.
Several months later it had slimmed down and I think is a better poem.

END of SPECIES EXAM
Now the jig is up, the experiment nearly over, it’s time for the exam. Please answer the following questions as completely as you can. Your answers may be of interest to some future species or some extra-terrestrial life form, if they can be bothered to come so far to see the pig’s ear we’ve made of this place.

The big trek out of Africa- was it worth the effort? Discuss.
Agriculture-what was all that about then? Pay particular attention to the supermarkets and how they set about stuffing both the consumer and the producer. Illustrate your answer with drawings of supermarkets burning.
Did you really believe the Tories when they said the NHS was safe in their hands? Answer yes or no.
To the nearest pint estimate how much blood is on Tony Blair’s hands.
State, to the nearest year, when you came to believe that we should pay for our own education, then comment on the fact that the people who told us we had to pay benefitted from free education themselves. Pay particular attention to their moral bankruptcy.
How long, in weeks, did it take the Tory government to look so bloody smug?
And finally, why did we allow them to get away with it for so long?

I think this version works better. What do you think?

I’d like to leave you with a couple of writing tips:

Always revise. Evaluate every word-does the poem still work if you remove it? If it does-leave it out.
Join a writing group, develop analytical skills.
Read you work aloud, it will sound different. Better still get someone else to read it then you can really hear how it sounds.
Read as much poetry as you can. Look at the structure of the poems you like, what makes them work?
Leave your poem alone for a couple of weeks-time will grant you a more critical eye.
Never be too in love with a specific line-remove it if it stops the poem working. You can always use it again somewhere else.
Lastly keep on writing.

Thank you.''

Paul's steampunk novel, The Jowler is available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jowler-Adventures-Captain-James-ebook/dp/B00AP5CSZK/ref=la_B00AKYRL7Q_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1381560777&sr=1-2
His blog is at: http://magpiebridge.blogspot.co.uk/
His Amazon Author page is at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Paul-Tobin/e/B00AKYRL7Q/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 



Friday, 4 October 2013

Those Little Moments


Who was it said they wished there was a stair lift that reached the top landing before you'd forgotten why you wanted to go up there in the first place? No, I don't know either, but the first three words of that sentence are currently proving to be rather a leitmotiv for my life. Do not get me wrong: I love being 64. The hair has never been redder, the attitude sassier or feistier and as for caring what the world and its partner thinks of me, I'm so waay ahead of Rhett Butler.

And yet, over and above all the feist and sass and damn, there are moments when stuff .... well ... somehow eludes me. A realization that was brought home vividly the other week as I stood outside a John Lewis store cursing because it was shut, and suddenly perceived the reason I couldn't get in was because I was pushing a door marked pull. Similarly, when I arrived back home minus the things I'd bought as I'd managed to mislay them somewhere between the counter where I paid for them and the homeward journey. And again the time I had a full-on public row with the Automated EE woman because I dropped my credit card while topping up the mobile on a moving bus and she didn't do ''hang on, just got to pick up the card''.

No, I am not going gaga, to use the medical terminology. Just getting a little .... what's the word I'm groping for? Yes, that. Like the other day I was waiting at the bus stop to catch the Luton bus, when I was actually supposed to be catching the St Albans bus which comes on the opposite side of the road and goes in the opposite direction. Fortunately remembered just as it turned the corner. Poor bus driver nearly had a heart attack as I dived in front of his wheels, arm outstretched.

Then there is the mobile phone. I put it down. Somewhere. The number of times I have had to ring it from the landline, having looked up the number beforehand because I can never...umm...thingy...what it is. Thank goodness it's only a cheapo Nokia, suitable for the technically challenged and easily replaceable if I ever flush it down the loo. Which is always a possibility. Gawd knows what might happen if I had one of those bendy i-Phone 6 things.

My best friend Elissa and I have these ... whatsits ... every time we go out together. Sometimes we find ourselves driving along somewhere without the slightest clue where we're supposed to be heading, though we knew when we started out. Or we can't find her silver Toyota in a multi-storey - though in our defence there are always so many silver Toyotas in multi-storeys, silver being the go-to colour for most modern cars that it isn't really our fault. We have been reduced to pacing the aisles clicking her key fob in the hope that the car will respond eventually.

It's infuriating, but there appears to be nothing I can do to prevent it happening. And it does seem to be happening with alarming frequency.Whatever it is. So there you are ...who are you again? Anyway, you'll have to excuse me now: I have an elsewhere to be. Or I will have, once
I can remember where it is.


SEE ALSO: Aldi Antics  http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/aldi-antics.html
                     Transports of Delight http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/transports-of-delight.html

Friday, 27 September 2013

Consultation, Harpenden Style

A further frustrating week at Hedges Towers. As predicted, the 2CV has failed it MOT. One piddly little brake light, which if I'd known, I'd have fixed myself, and rust. Rust is to 2CVs what icebergs were to the Titanic. In this case, it is under the chassis, driver's side, rear quarter. This means the other dreaded word: Welding. Merely to say the word raises the spectre of a three figure bill. For the last week, the car has been in bits in Big Dave's garage, and I have been in bits here.

The passport saga has now reached its inevitable conclusion. As some of you know, I had applied for a new passport. What I did not realise was that it costs £77 +. Given the broken window bill (see:Bang Out of Order!) and the prospective 2CV bill, we can't afford it. And as I rarely venture abroad - well, I did go to St Helen's the other weekend without a passport, but nobody deported me, I maintain that I do not need one. The passport office, having received the application, have decided that I do. And they need the money. Now.

Cue several letters demanding it and then a phone call. BH fielded it. I could hear his voice getting colder and colder, until icicles were dripping off it. Finally he put the phone down. No, they cannot, apparently, save my info until we can afford a passport. And they don't do pensioner reductions. And they're probably not going to return the photos that we sent and had to pay for. Is it any wonder that we are turning into Two Grumpy Old Sods? Banks, insurance companies,water utilities ... we are rapidly running out of organisations that haven't annoyed us off to industrial strength.

Roman Snail on allotment site annexe

Which brings me, with a sad inevitability to Harpenden Town Council and my campaign to stop them building on our former allotment site. Having successfully got the Town Green Application turned down, even though it was supported by practically the whole community, they are now going to ''consult'' the same community about new play equipment on the field next door, which was devolved to them by the District Council in March 2011. They couldn't do it before because of Bad Old Me and my Town Green - though I have checked the legal position, and they could.

Be that as it may, we are all going to be asked what we'd like. Which is good. Whether we get anything is another matter altogether. My finely tuned irony-meter is currently in the red zone. When the field belonged to the District Council, we asked both councils regularly for new play equipment. Nothing to do with us, we were told by the District Council, the field was in Harpenden so they weren't going to fork out. Nothing to do with Harpenden, we were told by Harpenden Town Council, the field was owned by the District Council so they weren't going to fork out either. O tempora, o mores!

Allotment site in background, behind fence
However, amid all the promises of future largesse, there remains the inevitable question of the future of the allotment site, as the field was only returned to Harpenden Town Council on the basis that the allotments would be developed and an access road run right across the field. A ''deal'' which we were not told about until it was secretly signed off. Yes, I know most councils don't do it like this, but then when you rule the school and the District Council Cabinet also, and no other political group in Harpenden can be bothered to object or show the slightest interest in getting involved, you can virtually do what you like. Or so it appears.

The allotment land has been deliberately neglected and allowed to overgrow, and is now home to Roman Snails and, we believe, some badgers. What is going to happen to it? I put this to one of our local Tory Councillors as he was manning the Conservative Party Stall on St Albans Market the other week. Plans are going ahead for the development, I was told, despite opposition from 4 major wildlife societies, and the whole community. And the badgers, I asked. If there were any badgers, I was told, he'd go and put cyanide down. Of course, I was immediately reassured that this was just a joke. Funnily enough, I'm not laughing. Are you?


Allotment on left. All this will be cut down to make way for access road
See also:   Localism,Harpenden Style http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/localism-harpenden-style.html
                  Democracy Harpenden Style http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/democracy-harpenden-style.html

Friday, 20 September 2013

SNOW: A Meditation by Peter Davey




''I'm immensely grateful to the fabulous Carol Hedges for inviting me to park my pert posterior on her prestigious PINK SOFA and prattle away until it's time for my next dose of Prozac.

I'm fascinated by snow. Well, actually, I'm not fascinated by snow so much as by the British attitude to snow. Here we are, a tiny island stuck out in the North Sea, on about the same latitude as Newfoundland or Siberia yet due to the gentle caress of the Gulf Stream we greet the threat of snow not with the romantic resignation of the Russians or calm efficiency of the Canadians, but with a peculiar blend of bureaucracy and blind panic.

 The mere sight of a snowflake drifting past a window is enough to shut down the entire country's public transport system in anticipation of 'Arctic conditions' which almost never materialize. Our normally cheery TV weatherman assumes a grave, headmastery air, admonishing us to 'take only journeys which are strictly necessary' and implying that if we ignore these warnings we are behaving highly irresponsibly and may get put in detention.

Of course, on the rare occasions that a real blizzard renders the work thing completely out of the question, we're reduced instead to the start struggle for survival - or its modern Western equivalent, the struggle for fresh croissants. Despite the four foot snowdrifts banked against our door, we know we have to get on those coats and gloves and wellies and trudge down to Asda before those vultures who live next door have cleared out all the bread and milk and Chardonnay.

Having endured a week of this nightmare, and just when we feel we can't take any more, we suddenly notice our weatherman has regained his former jocularity.' Tomorrow a warm front will move in from the West,' he proclaims, ' the snow will turn to rain and a thaw will set in.' And the news is greeted by the entire nation with an audible sigh of ...... disappointment. For the fact is that, with the masochistic perversity which is another of our national characteristics, we've actually come to rather enjoy the suffering, the privation, the evenings clustered by candlelight round the fire eating 'win the war' suppers. because the power's goner off, granting us a few hours' blessed relief from the telly and the computer screen.

To me there is nothing sadder than the thaw: the great white giant reduced to a sad, pathetic, grimy shadow of his former self, vanquished not by us but by a few degrees' rise in the air temperature. Suddenly everything is dripping - trees, gutters, hedgerows - melting snow dripping into melting snow, then dribbling into drains and dykes and ditches ... drip drip drip.... an outward depiction of our desperate, drooping, deathly dysfunctional depression.

A few days after our last bout of polar conditions I went for a walk in green fields and sunshine - the sky blue, the clouds white, the air warm and springlike. In a shady corner I came across a sad little remnant - a heap of sooty slush clinging on for dear life but vanishing even as I gazed at it, and I could not help closing my eyes, pressing my foot into its depths and rejoicing in that creaking crunch unique to snow beneath the human welly. All of a sudden I was a little boy again, venturing out at first light after an all-night fall, trudging over the arctic wasteland that had once been the lawn, eagerly anticipating toboganing and snowball fights and days off school and marvelling at the sudden fabulous curves and cliffs and cornices, the tiny conical walls of white along every branch and twig and wire.

And most of all, that vast, all-embracing all-muffling silence which is so rare and precious in our  modern world, enhances by the distant indignant chirp of a blackbird. And I realized that however much we claim to hate it, however much it disrupts and inconveniences our adult lives, there remains deep down inside all of us, a child who loves the snow. Maybe I am fascinated by it after all...''


Peter Davey is one of those rare individuals who can turn his hand to any art or literary form: books, poems, art, photography. I have one of his beautiful watercolours on the Writing Room wall. His is the breathtaking photo at the top of this post.
Peters's book Loved and Lost in Lewisham can be found at http://www.amazon.co.uk/LOVED-AND-LOST-LEWISHAM-ebook/dp/B008PWXQI8
His art and photography can be viewed on http://www.pinterest.com/pedroyevad/pins/ . 
He can also be found on Twitter @PedroYevad

Thanks Peter for taking over the blog this week. I have had second edits to complete and invitations for the slightly manic Facebook Launch Party of the new book to send out. Next week, 'normal' (sic) service will be resumed. In the meantime, do stay and chat with Peter. Not often we have such multifariously talented person gracing the Writing Attic ....