Saturday, 29 June 2013

The PINK SOFA welcome Liz Harris, Writer

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is another of the talented RNA writers I have met on Twitter. At first I was a bit in awe of her ... which I subsequently realised was because she used to be, like me, an English teacher. I soon discovered that she is a warmhearted fun-loving individual  - as all English teachers are! To mark Liz's visit, the PINK SOFA has been boning up on its Lit, and for reasons that will quickly become apparent, there are cocktails and chocolates on the coffee table. So Liz, over to you:

''As I lean against this luxurious sofa, Carol, I'm working on presenting myself with gravitas and as a person who's wanted to write since her moment of conception. Alas, I can't because I'm not. The gravitas is there - oh yes - but while I've always loved writing essays and letters, it was years before I connected the books I read avidly with the process of writing. Books just happened, I would have thought, if I'd thought at all.

Years passed by in which I devoured books of every kind, especially those by my favourite authors: first Enid Blyton - The Famous Five were Six when I read her stories - and then Jane Austen. Eventually, I left university with a Law degree, tucked Pride & Prejudice under my arm and set off to see the world.

I began in California, and ended there.

It was brilliant. I tried everything from cocktail waitressing on Sunset Strip to returning hired cars to their home location (imagine being paid to drive convertibles across the State, the radio blaring out, the wind in one's hair ... bliss!); from secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company to 'resident starlet' at MGM. This would make a good novel, I mused at times, but I never thought of myself as being the person to write it.

Six years later, real life intervened and I returned to the UK, did a degree in English and went into teaching. During the following years, I wrote voluminous letters to friends until one day, a friend in desperation suggested that I write a novel. I took the hint. I'm now jumping almost eight years of writing steadily, trying to get published, to the publication by Choc Lit of my debut novel, The Road Back in 2012.

Liz's first novel
Nothing from the past is ever wasted. Patricia in The Road Back grows up in Belsize Park. Guess where I grew up? Ladakh, though, was new to me, but thanks to the internet, youtube and excellent books, I can close my eyes and see Kalden's village, the monastery suspended above the white houses, the distant mountains.

The second novel
My second novel, Evie Undercover, also published in 2012, and out on kindle, is set in Umbria, an area I know well. This time I used my local knowledge of the Law, and the novel stars a sex-on-two-legs libel lawyer, Tom Hadleigh, along with feisty Evie Shaw, the newest staff member of the gossip magazine Pure Dirt.

New novel
For A Bargain Struck, out in September, I dragged my heat-hating husband to Wyoming in order to complete my research into how a second generation homesteader would live in Wyoming 1887. It tells the story of Conn Maguire, who sent for a mail-order bride. On paper, Ellen O'Sullivan is everything Conn needs in a wife ...

To spend all day giving birth to new characters and situations makes for a
wonderful life. I can't imagine anything better than being an author. Many thanks for allowing me to share my pleasure in it with you and your readers, Carol.''
Wyoming Trails: Liz and bucking bronco! Yee-haa!

Liz can be contacted on Facebook, or @lizharrisauthor. All Liz's books are available on Amazon, kindle, Apple iTunes, Kobo and Nook

The Pink Sofa is truly inspired, Liz, and is thinking seriously, after your visit ends, of packing its copy of Upholstery for Beginners and setting off to see the world, following your example. In the meantime, it needs you to mix the cocktails and open the chocolates  ... there is a queue of eager people with probing questions forming on the landing.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Poetry of War

No shelter from the kniving wind
No solace from the driving snow.
No warmth, no comfort or bright cheer
In heav'n above or earth below
from 'Trench Winter. November 1916' by Noel Clark 

If you're following me on Twitter, you'll know that I have been using lines from this poem as part of my current Jigsaw Pieces ebook promo. Noel Clark is a character from the book and his short life as a soldier poet in the first world war makes up one of the story strands. In a few days, we will mark a hundred years since the outbreak of that so called 'War to End all Wars', and there must be very few UK people who don't have some link back to the 1914-18 conflict. My link comes via my late father-in-law, the wonderfully named Herbert Inkerman Hedges.

My father-in-law was the youngest of twelve brothers. The eleven older ones joined the East Riding of Yorkshire Regiment and marched away to fight the Hun. They were all killed at the Battle of the Somme. He recalls his parents telling him how the telegrams kept coming, day after day, until the news of the last son's death was delivered.

I'm always intrigued by the way wars throw up poets. It's not just World War One, though that cohort are probably the best known. Poetry was also being written during World War Two, on both sides, in the Iraq War and is still being produced in Afghanistan today. I think the proliferation of soldier poets during times of conflict is directly related to the situation they find themselves in.

Poetry demands an inner ordering, a precise selection of vocabulary and structure - it's the verbal equivalent of piecing together a complex jigsaw - the picture only emerges when all the pieces are correctly placed. The control needed to make a poem is in direct contrast to the chaos that soldiers live in daily. Poetry is a way of containing their world and making sense of the senseless. It is therefore both therapy, and a psychological outlet for feelings and emotions too horrific to be dealt with in 'normal' prose.

Those who have read Jigsaw Pieces know the story of Noel Clark an imaginary World War One poet who died tragically at the age of nineteen, is closely linked to another soldier from that time: Billy Donne. What you do not know is that Billy was an actual person. I came across him quite by accident in a small article in the Times in 1997. It was headlined 'A happy 100th for man with mysterious past'. I used his story almost to the letter: Billy Dunne (the correct spelling of his surname) couldn't speak, and drew pictures of battlefields, just like his fictional counterpart. He was placed in a mental hospital in 1923 for unknown reasons, and no family had ever claimed him. His story touched me so much that I felt I had to write about him. The link with Noel Clark is where fact and fiction elide.

During the upcoming commemorations for the centenary of World War One, we shall no doubt re-read many times the 'big' soldier poets: Owen, Sassoon and Brooke. But actually I find just as much pity and pathos in the work of the women poets of that time, who did not share in the fighting at the Front, but shared in the suffering, and the changed lives. It is their sense of loss, their attempt to learn to survive survival, that makes their verse so poignant. One of the best is Margaret Postgate Cole. This is her poem Praematuri:
When men are old, and their friends die 
They are not sad,
Because their love is running slow, 
And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;
And they are happy with many memories,
And only a little while to be alone.

But we are young, and our friends are dead
Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;
So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.
We are left alone like old men; we should be dead
- But there are years and years in which we shall still be young. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Making A Bold Statement

 A week of enormous trauma and upheaval at Hedges Towers. The Writing Garret has been painted, for the first time since we moved in, some 24 years ago. Because BH belongs to the 'White with a hint of reluctance' school of decorating, I decided to give up waiting for inspiration to strike, so Gill the Lady Painter arrived, with a shed load of filler, paint pots, brushes, and merry banter.

It has been definitely nice having a woman working in the house, and I mean that in the most sexist way possible. Loo seats stayed lowered, and I could slob around in casual clothes and minimal makeup and not feel awkward. Plus we have had some great chats about the posh houses she has decorated. And Life. And our children.

Clearing out the Writing Garret was an experience and a half though. I am sure there is some mathematical explanation for why books on bookcases expand when out of bookcases to fill amounts of floor space much bigger than the shelves they previously occupied. Same applies to pieces of furniture. And the cats have been totally traumatized. Stuff has 'walked' into or out of rooms they inhabited, their nap areas have been invaded and they can't get under the sofa anymore.

For a couple of days, they were so upset they took to stalking the corridor all night, like small vengeful furry versions of King Hamlet, voicing their discontent and keeping us awake, so that I have been arriving at my exam invigilating job looking like the Wreck of the Hesperides, which probably explains why I failed to appear one morning altogether, and handed out the wrong papers at another session. I am currently treading the'slightly incompetent but very endearing' path in the hope that my Exams Officer doesn't sack me.

One night, the cats actually brought in a (dead) mouse and laid it at the bottom of the stairs. We decided it was a kind of propitiation to 'the Gods that made such a pother' over their heads. However, all bad things come to an end (except for the Tory party) and by Friday, walls were painted, cats were mollified and BH and I no longer felt we were camping out in our own house. This is the result: I have vanilla walls instead of pale cold blue and a ''bold statement wall'' in geranium! The lovely painting is by Peter Davey, Twitter friend, writer and artist - check him out @PedroYeved. I bought it to go in the newly painted room. Everything else is as it was - just a whole lot brighter.

The PINK SOFA is not at all sure about the statement wall and feels there may be colour clash issues, but I have told it that I don't consult with furniture over my colour choices, especially when the aforesaid furniture is a figment of my imagination to begin with. Now all that remains is to sit at my desk in my newly painted room, apply my fingers to the keyboard and produce the next bestseller ....... ah, if only it were that easy.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Lisa Richardson, Writer and Zombie.

I first met Lisa Richardson on Twitter, just after I'd had my tattoo. We got chatting, and then met again on Facebook. There are some people in life who just stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Lisa is one of them, as you're about to find out. She is also a great, supportive person - once when I was feeling particularly 'down' she sent me a lovely Facebook picture of werewolf cakes to cheer me up. Not many people would think of doing that. In honour of her visit, there are Bloody Marys in black skull shaped goblets, and skeleton shaped biscuits on the coffee table. The PINK SOFA has wrapped its legs in bandages and has spent all week crafting small chains out of hula hoops ...

Lisa, when we first met on Twitter, you'd just had a new tattoo. How many have you got now?
Sugar skull tat

I have 5 tattoos in total! My first was a Grim Reaper on my right shoulder when I was 18. Despite wanting another straight away (I'm sure they put some sort of addictive substance in the ink) I didn't have another until my 40th birthday. I got a butterfly and flower design on my left shoulder, but in true Zombie Girl style, the butterfly incorporates a screaming skull on its wing!

A week later I booked myself in for another and had a sugar skull on my back. My most recent ones are a rose on my finger and 'Zombie' tattooed in black dripping blood style font on my foot. I'd quite like one of the Russian Dolls from the front cover of Blog of the Dead next.

Originally, I thought you were an American (the 'beach' soubriquet). But you're not, are you?

I was actually born in Brighton, and moved to London when I was 17... just me and 2 suitcases on a coach to Victoria. I can't say that I really enjoyed living in London, I always felt a bit of a misfit and never settled anywhere for long. I stayed in London until I was in my mid-thirties, and then moved back down to the south east. Now I live in a crazy little town called Folkestone, Kent with my 2 beautiful boys. The town is full of wonderfully creative and supportive people and I don't feel like a misfit any more!

I've just finished my second year of a Creative & Professional Writing degree, and I organise events with a group of friends. We call ourselves Planet Folkestone. We're a non-profit organisation, raising money for charity. We're the team behind Folkestone Zombie Walk, now in its 3rd year and in May we held the first May the 4th be with Us - Folkestone Sci-Fi Celebration at the Grand Hotel. It was a huge success, attracting around 2000 people.

You're the nearest thing to a zombie without actually being dead. What's the fascination?

Haha, I'll wear that with pride, thank you! When I was a teenager I saw a clip of George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead on TV and thought: I HAVE TO WATCH THAT MOVIE!! Bearing in mind this was the 1980s, and to buy a movie on VHS was expensive, so it was a few years later that I got to see it, as there was no such thing as the Horror channel. When I finally did, my love of zombies was born. Zombie films interest me because I see the zombies as the masses and the survivors as individuals trying to keep their own identity. It seems like an odd thing to get dressed up as a zombie ... but it's so much fun!

Being a zombie...
As I mentioned earlier, I'm one of the organisers of Folkestone Zombie walk ....  I got involved in year 2, having been a spectator at the first one. I felt ridiculous as I set off from my house to last year's walk, with pale skin, sunken eyes, blood tears and a blood soaked dress. But as more zombies turned up at the meeting point, I soon felt part of something very exciting. It was brilliant watching people's reactions as we lumbered through town. I can't wait to do it this year! And I want more blood this time. My 9 year old son will be joining me. Believe it or not, zombie walks are popular with the whole family and we had kids of all ages at last year's walk.

Your new book tells the story of your blog character Sophie from Blogofthedead. When did you start the blog?

I started the blog in November 2011, after a tutor at uni suggested students should start blogging to increase our online presence. I hit on the idea of Blog of the Dead an online diary of a zombie apocalypse survivor called Sophie. She's 19 and a student living in Folkestone. She's the kind of person who wants to do the right thing. She'd rather risk her own neck that see anyone in trouble. She doesn't always make the best choices, but she always has everyone's best interests at heart. She quickly becomes someone the town's survivors look up to due to her can-do attitude, stubbornness and resourcefulness.

Blog of the Dead
At first the blog entries were written daily, later they became weekly as
the story developed. I spent just over a year updating Sophie's life in the zombie apocalypse, even taking my laptop away with me to a posh hotel for my 40th birthday party so as not to miss an entry.

It was a Twitter friend who suggested that I release Blog of the Dead - Sophie as a novel. I hope I have created something that appeals to zombie fans and non-zombie fans alike. Just as The Walking Dead has brought zombies into the mainstream, my novel includes horror, humour, love and friendships and there is something for everyone. Fans of Blog of the Dead - Sophie range from teenagers to pensioners!

So what would you say if you went back in time and met your 14 year old self again?

That it's OK to be different. You don't need to change yourself to fit in, just change your situation.
Doing some publicity

What words do you abuse the most?

Um ... zombies! And 'thank you'. I've made so many new friends during writing the novel, and they have given me so much support, help and advice that I find myself saying 'thank you' a lot.

What qualities do you most dislike in yourself?

Self-doubt. And my low boredom threshold ... it leads me to take too much on and I'm so tired. Some would say I'm stubborn, but I don't believe them.

And finally ... on your tombstone, what would you like to have inscribed as you rise and walk away?

Here lies Lisa Richardson ... oh wait ... where did she go?

Hahaha, love it! Thank you Lisa. Check Lisa out @LisaZombiebeach or on Facebook at BlogofthedeadSophie

Blog of the Dead - Sophie is available at as both a book and an ebook.

Lisa is going to stay for a while to chat and answer any questions, so take a seat, grab a skull, and ask away... if you dare!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Democracy, Harpenden Style....Updated

Westfield Playing Fields

As many of you know I live in Harpenden, a town north of St Albans. Or south of Luton depending which way you're facing. As you also know, just before Christmas, I acted as community lay advocate on a Public Inquiry in Harpenden to decide whether our local playing field could be registered as a Town/Village Green, thus preserving it as an unspoiled green space for future generations to enjoy. In preparation for this, Harpenden residents contributed witness statements, documents, filled in evidence questionnaires and allowed me to take pictures of them enjoying the field 'for lawful sports and pastimes'.

However instead of supporting us, Harpenden Town Council chose to spend a great deal of our tax payer money hiring a barrister to fight us. This is because the town council had recently signed off on a deal with the district council, who owned the land, to return it. The deal was sold to us as getting the land back to use as 'amenity space' for local residents. The actual deal was that a piece of disused allotment land next door was to be turned into a high-density housing estate, with the main access road running right across our landlocked and child-safe field. Also embedded in the deal was a clause giving them future permission to sell off portions of the field.

Roman Snail. Rare and very protected.
Even before the independent Inspector hired to listen to the Town Green case had finished his report, the town council submitted a planning application for what they euphemistically described as 'access' to the field. It was filled in and signed by the town clerk, who failed to indicate there were legally protected Roman Snails on the allotment land, omitted to say there was an outstanding Town Green application on the field, and did not supply an ecological report which clearly indicated the adverse effect of any development on all the animals in the area (Noctule bats, Roman Snails, Tawny owls, toads, and slow worms). This report was commissioned by the town council in 2011. As many of you know, with the help of several wildlife societies, and a ferocious email and local press campaign, we managed to get the planning application withdrawn at the 11th hour.

An official complaint about the actions of the town clerk was submitted by me to the Monitoring Officer, along with additional material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that clearly showed he knew all about the wildlife issues, and had indeed been advised by Natural England, the UK government's adviser on the natural environment, NOT to proceed with any development upon the land. In any other business or organisation, my complaint should have resulted in disciplinary action. Instead, a large bucket of whitewash was produced, wagons were circled and nothing whatsoever was done.

When the report from the Inspector on the Town Green Public Inquiry finally arrived, it recommended either refusal, or the possibility of awaiting the outcome of a similar case to ours which had been also refused, but was undergoing an appeal in the Supreme Court (''The Barkas Case''). The Rights of Way Unit at Hertfordshire County Council decided, wisely in my opinion, to go with the latter option, given the very strong feeling in the local community.

However, the Harpenden mayor, on behalf of her colleagues but not on behalf of the residents she and they were elected to serve, has now launched an objection to this. More of our money has been spent getting their barrister to prepare a further report saying the Town Green decision must be decided before the outcome of the appeal, and on the law as it stands. They know that, should the Barkas decision be overturned (as happened recently on another controversial case), we cannot appeal retrospectively.

Words like unbelievable barely come near describing Harpenden Town Council's actions. The Barkas Case appeal will be heard sometime later this year, and the final judgement handed down in 2014. Is it not beyond the realms of decency and respect for the local community to await the outcome? Especially as the council acquired the land, so they say, to use as 'an amenity space' in the first place?

Apparently not. Hertfordshire County Council are the ultimate arbiters of our Town Green application. As a further incentive to them to play ball, the threat of legal action has been made by Harpenden Town Council's obnoxious barrister. Given the massive cost of any such litigation, the outcome of the final decision can hardly be in doubt. The meeting will take place at County Hall in July. I shall be allowed 5 minutes to speak.

How low can they go? It is not enough that Harpenden Town Council has behaved with callous arrogance towards local people, riding roughshod over us and refusing to consult, listen or work with us. It has parted with thousands of pounds of our money to stop us saving an urban green space which it keeps saying it got back for exactly the same purpose. It has allegedly skewed a planning application for its own ends. Now we are faced with the ludicrous situation of a Tory council threatening to sue another Tory council, at taxpayers' expense, for suggesting a course of action that favours its own residents.

Seriously, you couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

Since writing this post, I have learned that as a result of the upcoming Barkas appeal, a number of Inspectors are now reserving their recommendations, and a number of judicial reviews have been stayed pending the outcome. This makes the actions of Harpenden Town Council even more iniquitous and unfair, and looks even more suspicious to the outside onlooker. 

Related post: Localism, Harpenden Style