Tuesday, 29 December 2015
Even as you are reading this, 2015 is slinking shamefacedly off, and a New Year is wedging its feet firmly into the door. Looking back, I am astonished at how much Little G and I have accomplished together over the past year.
She has progressed from crawling to walking, running and dancing. I have progressed from kicking the Purple Buggy With A Mind Of Its Own to actually being able to put bits of it together, (OK, I have to ring You must be mad for verbal instructions first, but at least I can do it).
We are now a known entity. As we progress round town, people in shops wave to us (well, her). In our usual eateries, Little G gets the sort of service most of you can only dream of - how long does it take you to get your crayons and drawing paper brought to your table? Thought so.
I have passed through various pain barriers and come out the other side. I no longer fall asleep in the bath after a day of our adventures, though I am still mainlining prosecco. I can sometimes attempt whole sentences. Soon, they may even begin to make sense.
But the main development has been the creation of 'brand Little G & me'. We are now close friends, allies against a world of strangeness and incomprehensibility. We move through the universe at our own pace, finding pleasure and fascination in the mundane, daft and insignificant.
We love each other completely. We forgive each other unconditionally. And at the end of the day, that's all we need to make the magic that is us work.
To be continued ... .....
Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Tattooed Mummy's Randoms: Wordy Wednesday with Carol Hedges: Hello Wordy Wednesday fans, this week I have a more mature writer to introduce to you, a fun tweeter and quite prolific writer. Carol Hedg...
Monday, 21 December 2015
Last year Little G was far too young to comprehend the wonder that is Christmas - I remember much of the time was spent trying to stop her crawling into the tree or eating the needles off the carpet. This year, two months off her second birthday, she has grasped that it is a special time and special things are going to happen.
Her appreciation is still a bit fluid though. Christmas means visiting her favourite arcade and dancing to the piped music on her special spot by the Christmas tree with the red swirly lazer lights display. Christmas means pressing our noses to shop windows and rating the decorations. Christmas means a babyccino in her favourite local coffee place, where they know her name.
She has helped to decorate two trees - You must be mad's tasteful one with themed colours, and the one here, which has luridly grinning robots and random baubles. Under the tree is a solitary packet of cat biscuits - her Christmas present to the long-suffering cat who probably deserves a whole artic-load for her tolerance.
There are now three stockings hanging up over Little G's fireplace, but I'm not sure she knows why. And a wreath on her door. Tonight we are all going to the Service of Lessons & Carols at the cathedral where she was christened but I have told her that we won't be singing 'Father Christmas Had a Sleigh, Ho Ho Ho Ho' - our current favourite, sung to the tune of 'Old Macdonald'. She sees no reason why we can't.
However I have also told her that on Christmas Day she will come over to my house, where there will be some new toys to play with, after which she will sit down to a lovely special big roast dinner with lots of her favourite things to eat. There will be crackers that go bang, but not in a worrying way, and round the table will be her family who all love her to bits. I think she understood that part completely.
From Little G and me: A very Happy Christmas to you all.
To be continued ... ...
Saturday, 19 December 2015
What is Christmas without a P*A*R*T*Y? So step inside the writing garret, gentle reader, and help yourself to a party hat, a handful of poppers and a tinsel wreath. This party is for all of you - 2015 has been a momentous year for many reasons, and it is time to celebrate!
Ah, you found the box of crackers. No, I don't know what Vampires sing on New Year's Eve..... ''Auld Fang's Syne''. Haha - love it. OK, while you're attacking the sausage rolls, grabbing a drink and introducing yourself to the other guests, I'll just run through some of the events that made this year so special for me. Please share your special events later.
In March I started minding Little G when her mother (my daughter) returned to work. We have had a lot of fun and adventures over the past ten months. And I started The Adventures of L-Plate Gran to tell you all about them. You can read the very first post HERE
The PINK SOFA has played host to some lovely guests over the year, including Seumas Gallacher, Shani Struthers, Stewart Bint, Vivienne Tuffnell, Terry Tyler, Nancy Jardine, Catherine Curzon, Beryl Kingston , Rosalind Adam and Lesley Cookman.
The MOST popular blog post, with nearly 3 thousand views so far was this one.
The third Victorian Detectives book, Death & Dominion was published in October and has been on several eminent book bloggers' Best of 2015 Book Lists, including @terryTyler4 and @cathyRy
I'd also like to thank everybody who reads and comments on my blogs, and chats to me on Facebook and Twitter. You know who you are. I know who you are. In the dark times when staring at a blank computer screen and wondering why I have the effrontery to call myself a writer, YOU have encouraged and cheered me on. Especial affection for all my mad fellow #thearchers Tweetalong mates and my best friend +Lynn Gerrard who also celebrated this year by publishing her first volume of poems.
Ah - I see Ralph the Marvellous Performing Dog, Star of all my Facebook Book Launches and In His Own Write, has arrived with the music. And the staff have got a tray of lovely cocktails. Peter Wareing's all ready to recite us a Christmas poem and John Jackson is poised at the piano. So if someone would just like to push the PINK SOFA over against the wall, let the festivities begin!
A Very Happy Christmas to You All!
Monday, 14 December 2015
Absence makes ... something do something else, they say. Little G and I have been on a break from each other as You must be mad's husband has been spending some deserved quality time with her. Initially this announcement was received as somewhat of a relief: Two consecutive days of eleven hour shifts are fun but exhausting, and I welcomed it as a chance to recharge run-down batteries.
It is only when you are NOT with a very little child that you realise how enmeshed you are in their small world. Walking the same routes that we usually do together, I find myself in possession of two redundant arms as I am no longer required to push the Purple Buggy With A Will Of Its Own. I stand at traffic lights, waiting patiently for the green man because that's what happens with a child-in-crossing-roads training.
The running monologue is currently surplus to requirements. It still goes on in my head though. Occasionally it escapes back into the public domain, bringing funny looks from passers by. Life loses its sparkle. The delight in finding a WHOLE unpeeled satsuma on the pavement is diminished as there is no small accomplice to delight in it with me.
Everything is run on an 'I bet Little G would like this' basis. I now realise that far from being the knowledgeable adult in the relationship, I have actually learned so much from her: how to slow down, take my time, see the smaller picture. Next week, normal service will be resumed.
I'm counting down the days.
To be continued ... ....
Saturday, 12 December 2015
I see blogging has been in the cybernews again. Various bloggers have come out publicly and announced that they've abandoned theirs, as the effort and energy put into them doesn't seem worth it. Others have thrown their metaphorical hats into the ring and admitted that they have reduced their blog posts from regular to intermittent, and that they don't follow, read or comment upon other writers' blogs any more as they no longer have the time.
I posted my first blog on May 5th 2012, so obviously, I am not in no position to comment, but equally obviously, that has never stopped me in the past: I like blogs. I write this one, The Adventures of L-Plate Gran one, I host interesting guests on The Pink Sofa, and I read and comment on other blogs too.
A blog is a way of getting instant feedback and staying connected to the world beyond one's mentally enclosed writing space. For those who don't want to tackle a whole book, a blog is a satisfying outlet for their writing talents. For the marvellous poets whose blogs I read, I guess it is the only way to reach readers, as poetry is an even more restricted field than prose.
I also value the discipline of having to produce two complete pieces of writing nearly every week. As a procrastinator who, if they ever made it an Olympic sport, would be up there on the winner's rostrum, it is a good way to stay focused. And I freely confess that I have learned practically all of what I know about blogging and social media from reading other people's blogs.
Interestingly, several of my Yr 13 students have reported being told at University visits that a blog would be an asset to mention on their personal statements (Art and Design, and English and Creative Writing seem to be the courses that like them). Never happened before, and speaks volumes about the status blogging has achieved in the mainstream academic world. Students are also being asked to write blog posts on GCSE English Language papers too.
So I'm carrying on blogging. If for no other reason than it took me ages to lug The Pink Sofa up three flights of stairs to the tiny garret at the top of Hedges Towers, where I write. And I've just finished assembling the white birch coffee table, which I had to do in Swedish as they sent the wrong instructions.
How about you, though? Blogphile, or blogphobe? Feel free to share your thoughts...
Monday, 7 December 2015
Christmas time. Mistletoe and wine. Shops are full of sparkle and shine. Suddenly it doesn't matter how frequently You must be mad has dinned it into us that naff is not good, Little G and I find ourselves at the same end of an opposite spectrum - she's too young to know better and I'm too old to care. My. Oh. My. We. Love. Glitter. Like a pair of inadequate glazed-eyed moths we are drawn to the bright and baubly, the sparkly and sequinned.
On our way into town we always pass a dress shop full of party dresses that must have used up the entire contents of at least two diamante mines.We pause and stare enraptured. ''Mummy'' says Little G pointing to the sparkliest dress in the window. And I agree. You must be mad would look amazing in it, and they'd probably be able to use her to guide night flights into Luton airport too.
We have also become Christmas jumper cognoscenti. Give us sequinned reindeer, shiny silver snowflakes, snowmen with humungous noses, or robins with impossibly sparkly red breasts and you can keep your pastel cashmere cardigans. Hey, we know what we like and it is loud, glittery, gorgeous and totally OTT.
It's the same with Christmas decorations. If it flashes on and off, we give it our seal of approval. Especially if it's blue. We like BIG shiny gold baubles, and BIG shiny fake trees. You want advice on how to sparkle this Christmas season? Check in with Little G and me. We've sourced it, we've viewed it, and we've rated it, because WE are the Glitterati and this is our time. Blingtastic!
To be continued ... .....
Saturday, 5 December 2015
Shani is one of the talented Crooked Cat writers whom I have had the privilege of getting to know in the last few years. She writes scary books. She doesn't look like the sort of person to do so, but she does. Oh yes. Very scary. The PINK SOFA is currently hiding behind itself until she leaves.
''Thank you for hosting me on your blog today! My new book, Eve: A Christmas Ghost Story launches on the 24th November on Amazon and is the prequel to the popular Psychic Surveys series. Featuring two of the Psychic Surveys team – Theo Lawson and Vanessa Patterson – it’s set between 1899 and 1999 and is loosely inspired by a true event.
In my fictional re-telling, Theo and Ness are asked to investigate a town weighed down by the sorrow of what happened 100 years before…
What do you do when a whole town is haunted?
In 1899, in the North Yorkshire market town of Thorpe Morton, a tragedy occurred; 59 people died at the market hall whilst celebrating Christmas Eve, many of them children. One hundred years on and the spirits of the deceased are restless still, ‘haunting’ the community, refusing to let them forget.
In 1999, psychic investigators Theo Lawson and Ness Patterson are called in to help, sensing immediately on arrival how weighed down the town is. Quickly they discover there’s no safe haven. The past taints everything.
Hurtling towards the anniversary as well as a new millennium, their aim is to move the spirits on, to cleanse the atmosphere so everyone – the living and the dead – can start again. But the spirits prove resistant and soon Theo and Ness are caught up in battle, fighting against something that knows their deepest fears and can twist them in the most dangerous of ways.
They’ll need all their courage to succeed and the help of a little girl too – a spirit who didn’t die at the hall, who shouldn’t even be there…''
As Theo turned round to face the double doors, she had a feeling that someone - something - was rushing at her, as fleetingly as whatever had been in Adelaide's house. Refusing to let fear get a stranglehold, she turned back, her aim to confront it. A black wisp of a shape, like wood smoke, sideswiped her, before fading into nothing. Staring after it, wondering what it was, something else caught her attention. At the far end of the second room was something more substantial: a little girl, staring at her.
Theo's eyes widened. "Oh darling, darling," she whispered. She took a step forwards, tried to remember the names of the children on the list from earlier: Alice, Helen, Bessie, Adelaide's ancestor, Ellen Corsby perhaps. Which one was she?
She inched closer still. "Darling, your name, tell me what it is."
The little girl's arms moved upwards, she stretched them out, her manner beseeching although she remained mute. Theo tried again, told the child her own name.
"It's short for Theodora. I bet you're called something pretty."
The girl had a dress on; long, brownish, a course material - linen perhaps? Nothing special but if it was her party dress then maybe it was special to her. Her boots were brown too - lace ups, sturdy looking. She was around eight or nine but it was hard to tell. She could have been older just small for her age. Her hair was brown and tangled; she had a mane of it. Everything about her seemed to be brown or sepia, maybe sepia was the right word, as though she'd stepped out of an old photograph.
"I'm here now, sweetheart, I've come to help. You've been here for such a long time. Too long. You need to go to the light, go home, rest awhile."
Up closer, Theo could read her eyes. The longing in them stirred her pity.
"Let me help you," Theo persisted, her voice catching in her throat. As glorious as the other side might be, she still felt it unfair to be felled at such a young age. Often this was a good existence too and it deserved to be experienced fully.
She was close now, so close and still her arms were outstretched.
Harriet - the name presented itself whole in her mind.
"Your name's Harriet. Is that correct? It's lovely, it suits you."
Was that a smile on the child's lips, the beginnings of trust? Soon she'd be able to reach out and touch her. What would she feel like? Cold? Ethereal?
"Darling, I'm here," she repeated, no more than a foot between them. "I'm here."
Joy surged - one spirit had come forward - it was an encouraging start.
Just before their hands touched everything changed. Hope and joy were replaced with confusion as something sour - fetid almost - rose up, making her feel nauseous.
"Don't be afraid," Theo implored. Yet there was nothing but fear in her eyes now. No, not fear, that was too tame a word - terror.
"I'm not here to harm you," she continued. "I'm here to help."
As the words left her mouth, other hands appeared behind the child, a whole sea of them - disembodied hands that clawed at her, forcing her backwards.
"No!" Theo shouted. "Stop it. Leave her alone!"
But it was no use. Her words faded as the girl did. She'd been torn away, recaptured; the one who'd dared to step forward. Theo could feel sweat break out on her forehead, her hands were clammy. She clutched at her chest, her breathing difficult suddenly, laboured. Her heart had been problematic of late, a result of the pounds she'd piled on. She must go to the doctor to get some medication.
Struggling to gain control, it took a few moments, perhaps a full minute, before her heart stopped hammering. And when it did, she remembered something else. The girl's eyes - her sweet, brown, trusting eyes - when the expression changed in them they hadn't been looking at her, they'd been looking beyond her. Was it at the thing that sideswiped her? Theo couldn't be certain. She wasn't certain either if that 'thing' was a spirit or much less than that - something with no soul, but with an appetite, an extreme appetite: a craving. Something, she feared, was insatiable.
Brighton-based author of paranormal fiction, including UK Amazon Bestseller, Psychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall. Psychic Surveys Book Two: Rise to Me, is also available and due out in November 2015 is Eve: A Christmas Ghost Story - the prequel to the Psychic Surveys series. She is also the author of Jessamine, an atmospheric psychological romance set in the Highlands of Scotland and described as a 'Wuthering Heights for the 21st century.'
Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street is in progress.
All events in her books are inspired by true life and events.
Catch up with Shani via her website www.shanistruthers.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Facebook Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/p9yggq9
Friday, 4 December 2015
English Historical Fiction Authors: Bluestockings: The Victorian Campaign for Female E...: by Carol Hedges In 1971 I graduated from Westfield College, University of London with a BA (Hons) in English & Archaeology. I took it ...
Monday, 30 November 2015
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Well, it certainly is here. Little G and I have found a small covered shopping arcade that has gone Hardcore Lights: there are shiny hanging icicles from the ceiling, a red star lazar display, and the biggest Christmas tree in the world (if you are only a few feet tall) with blue flashing lights. And to top it all, piped Christmas music.
It is now our favourite go-to destination. Especially as it is only a slow six minute saunter away. We visit it several times a day for Little G to marvel at the lights and boogie to the music. She is rather a good little mover, so we attract much attention from the passing public. I am thinking of putting a hat down and augmenting my meagre Christmas present budget.
With Christmas in mind, last Thursday Little G and I had our first go at making fairy cakes. She has never done this before, so initially she was not sure what we were about, but fetching eggs from the fridge, standing on a kitchen chair putting Christmas themed paper cases into baking trays and pouring ingredients into a bowl proved fun. As did spooning the mix unsteadily into said cases later. As usual the cat refused to be any part of it and slouched out.
Admittedly our finished cakes were all different sizes and we had some tray runoff due to haphazard initial positioning of mix, so I'm sure the GBBO judges would not give us many marks, but we thought the Gran-Baby Bake Off was a huge success. Proof of the baking? By bedtime, there wasn't a single cake in sight.
To be continued ... ......
Saturday, 28 November 2015
Where have all the tangerines gone? Shops used to be full of them. Now all you seem to be able to buy are those satsuma things that look like baggy oranges in need of botox. And they taste of nothing much. Tangerines tasted like concentrated essence of orange velvet dipped in sunshine. I always had one at the bottom of my Christmas stocking. Along with a half crown. Which reminds me - whatever happened to half crowns ... no, not going there, that way madness lies.
They say that in this life you are either a: 'glass half-full' or a 'glass half-empty' type of person, but increasingly I'm turning into a: 'This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was much bigger and it had a pink cocktail umbrella and a small plastic shark' type of person as I sit in the writing garret contemplating the demise of western civilization.
Much of this malcontent has been precipitated by something called Black Friday, another of those American things that has turned up over here and that we seem to have seized upon, along with School Proms and Halloween. When I was growing up in the dark ages, we had sedate school dances, pumpkins were the preserve of fairy godmothers and the coaching trade, and we did not cause GBH to ourselves and those around us in an undignified 24 hour scramble to buy stuff that we have been brainwashed by the retail industry into thinking will enhance our lives.
Given that everything nowadays comes with either a dire health warning or a phone number to call if you have been affected by issues surrounding it, I'm frankly baffled that we eagerly embrace the chance to put ourselves in the way of physical and financial harm for a few material goods. We really are all going to Hell in a handcart, aren't we? Except that I haven't seen any handcarts around for ages. Gone the same way as tangerines and half crowns, I guess.
Tuesday, 24 November 2015
I am teaching Little G good manners. As soon as we get on the bus and the inevitable: 'Snack ... snack .... snack' rigmarole starts up, I suggest the addition of 'please' might produce something nice. And 'thank you' might be an acceptable way of acknowledging its arrival. The 'politeness pays' message seems to be getting through, though I had not realised how well until last week.
Ever since she started visiting my house, Little G has been fascinated with the cat. Sadly the feeling isn't mutual. There have been Standoffs Behind the Blue Leather Sofa. There have been Quick Exits Through the Garden Door. There has not been much meeting of minds.
Little G is not one to give up however, and recently the cat:baby dynamic has undergone a slight change for the better. Stroking the cat is now permitted by the cat. Under protest. I can almost hear the cat's teeth gritting as her fur is pushed the wrong way and a small finger narrowly misses her eye, though to her credit she has not retaliated which, given she is a Tortie/Siamese cross and volatile, is pretty good going.
On Thursday I was getting Little G's lunch ready when I suddenly became aware of A Silence. A Silence is always worrying, so I tracked it through the house, finally arriving at the office where I discovered the cat on the chair and Little G on the floor, a pile of cat biscuits, pilfered from the cat's bowl, next to her.
As I watched from the doorway, a biscuit was solemnly placed in front of the cat. The cat sniffed and consumed the biscuit. Little G then prompted 'Thank you,' in a tone of voice that alas, I recognised all too well. The whole process was repeated until the final biscuit had been eaten.
I am impressed that my efforts are bearing fruit. Sadly, there is still some way to go with the cat.
To be continued ... ....
Monday, 16 November 2015
Little G has recently learned a new word: amazing. Or as she pronounces it: AMAZING!!!! I am taking full credit for this as I say it frequently but You must be mad says she says it, and so does Little G's father, so apparently full credit might have to be shared. Reluctantly.
Whatever. We are deriving much fun from the new word: last week we managed to reduce a whole busload of passengers to incoherent laughter and she got free silver ribbons from the nice people in Space NK, who think Little G and her word are hilarious. I am contemplating taking her into the bank to see if it works there too.
When she is not pottering about town with me and practicing her word, Little G goes to a workplace nursery. Frequent questioning about what she does there and what they feed her always elicits the same answers: painting and toast. I could find out how she really spends the day as the nursery staff have to provide a daily handover summary. With the ubiquitous targets.
I don't do this. Handover here runs rather on the lines of: You must be mad falls through the door. Little G falls upon You must be mad. I fall into the bus. Besides, I don't think my daily summaries would pass muster with the Great and Good at the Education Department.
Today Little G enjoyed: Turning the light switch on and off until forcibly removed.
She ate: With her hands, as her fork and spoon were confiscated for persistent table-drumming.
Targets Achieved: None.
Next week, apparently, the nursery is going to be teaching them all adjectives.
Saturday, 14 November 2015
Stewart is another of those fascinating people I know via the great social whirlpool that is - ta-daa: Twitter. For some reason he has expressed a desire to sit on the PINK SOFA and after a certain amount of negotiations, this is now taking place. A slight sticking point has been Stewart's habit of not wearing footwear, but the SOFA, who is fussy about its upholstery has compromised by lending him a pair of pink bunny-ear slippers for the duration of his visit.
''I was born in the dim and distant past (under extreme torture I’ll admit to 1956). Writing takes up pretty much all my time in three different guises. As well as my novels I also write a column for a fortnightly local magazine, and I’m a Public Relations writer for the world’s leading industrial CAD/CAM software developer.
Having trained as a journalist I worked as a radio broadcaster reading the news and presenting current affairs and phone-in shows for ten years.
The writing bug infected me when I was just seven years old, thanks to my favourite television show, Doctor who. The original series, way back in 1963, inspired me when I became enraptured by the storylines which could take place at any time in Earth’s history and future, and absolutely anywhere in the universe and beyond.
I started creating my own worlds and my own characters, writing my stories in little blue notebooks until my parents bought me a portable typewriter for my ninth birthday. And those make-believe worlds became invaluable after my Dad died when I was 11. I retreated more and more into those places where I was in control of my characters’ fate – knowing that whatever happened to them during the story I would make sure they were okay in the end. My worlds were certainly better than the real one at that time.
Being a meticulous time manager certainly helps with my writing routine. My PR day job is based from home which is a big help. I can log off from the company computer at around 6 pm, have dinner and then fire up the personal laptop to either write, or, as at the moment, work on marketing activities for my latest novel, In Shadows Waiting. Since the new edition of the book was published by Booktrope in August, I have rarely finished work before midnight.
Once my ideas start to take shape I work out where the story is going and I usually know the ending right at the start of the process. As I write, the scene unfolds before my eyes, rather like a film. Sometimes the journey takes me down uncharted roads, as the characters do their own thing. But I’m always happy to let them. In fact, a fairly minor character in the novel I’m currently working on said something that changed the entire premise that the hero had been working to through his entire life.''
In Shadows Waiting
Young Simon Reynolds lives a bucolic life at his family home, White Pastures, surrounded by a loving family and a charming community. Simon finishes his A levels and looks forward to unwinding while his sisters work on their tans.
Meanwhile the tiny community of Meriton has been plagued by a spate of burglaries, and White Pastures seems to be next. A shadowy figures stalks the house, but the police can find no signs of an intruder,
Inspired by the author’s real-life experience with the supernatural, In Shadows Waiting recounts a summer that changes the Reynolds’ lives forever. As the summer progresses, the shadows take on an altogether more sinister implication, and White Pastures begins to reveal a terrifying secret.
The epicenter of an event that has scarred an entire community, White Pastures grows more and more dark, possessed by a shadow that yearns, a shadow that will not be denied. At White Pastures, someone will die – but love never will.
Monday, 9 November 2015
Over the eight months that I have been minding Little G, I have come to the conclusion that grandmothers hold up half the sky. Well, it feels that way after an eleven hour day having fun. For the benefit of any newly-minted grand-colleagues, here are a few things that Little G and I like to do. Most of them are free.
Bus rides: The fun starts long before you get on the bus. There is passing traffic to criticize, people with funny hair, dogs, men in suits spilling coffee, other buggies ... it is never ending. I have a bus pass so I go free. Little G also goes free. NB: the singing of 'Wheels on the Bus' while actually on the bus is pretty obligatory.
The library: Free books? What's not to like. Even if you aren't a member, you can still go in and spend a happy half hour or longer sharing stories. Many libraries have a discard shelf, where you can buy books for 10p. I have blogged here about Baby Rhyme Time. Check it out. Not to be missed.
The Park: Source of swings, slides, climbing frames, other toddlers. A great summer or fine weather activity. Builds up your arm muscles and ability to shout Wheeeee on command.
The Park 2: We like lying on our backs under a tree watching leaves and planes.
Birds: In the early summer, we saw a pair of robins building a nest in a wall in Little G's garden. We also observed swallows in the opposite building. Feeding ducks is always good for an afternoon's outing, though Little G tends to run the bread distribution on a 50:50 basis.
Crafts: It is possible to spend a small fortune on paints, crayons, colouring books, sticker books etc. Or you can hang on to all those catalogues you used to shove unread in the recycling and use them to make collages. Little G chooses the picture. I cut it out. She does the Pritt stick dab of glue. I place it where she wants on the paper. She bangs it down. Arts Council here we come.
Vets 4 Pets: Our latest go-to place. Zoos cost a fortune, and then there's all the peering through the bars for non-existent animals or staring at the horizon trying to spot them on the far side of the paddock. That's if you can get near the cages in the first place for the crowds. Vets 4 Pets sells small animals, fish and reptiles. All the cages are at ground level or slightly higher and you can get nose-to-glass with rabbits, guineas, and manic dwarf hamsters in wheels. It's quiet, practically empty and fun.
The Best Activity EVER: One free grandparent, containing songs, stories, cuddles, kisses, tickles, unconditional love and all the time in the world. Priceless.
Saturday, 7 November 2015
So the great monopoly that is Amazon, having closed a gazillion bookshops by its undercutting pricing policy has now opened....ta-dah: A bookshop. In Seattle. Irony much? Can't see it catching on. I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the way books are marketed and sold, which is not good news as I write them.
The rot set in with the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement. The NBA came into effect on 1 January 1900 and involved retailers selling books at agreed prices. Any bookseller who sold a book at less than the agreed price would no longer be supplied by the publisher in question.
Ironically, it was bookshops themselves who fought against it, and Waterstones was one of the first stores who started discounting books in an attempt to undermine it. In March 1997 the Restrictive Practices Court ruled that the Net Book Agreement was against the public interest and therefore illegal.
So here we are. Pile them high, sell them cheap, give them away. Next time you, dear writer, moan about the discounting you have to agree to and the hoops you have to jump through to get sales, you know whose fault it was. Yep. The good old bookshops. The ones that Amazon closed down by implementing the outcome that they fought so hard in the courts to obtain in the first place.
I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. It is personal - but before I am accused of 'sour grapes' let me say that 99% of my sales now come from ebooks and I'm not complaining. It is the undermining of authors, and who caused it that I get angry about.
Bookshops never had, nor do they now have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 45% discount. Subtract from that what a writer gets paid in royalties, and the fact that bookshops run a sale or return policy, and you end up with so little for your years of hard graft that you might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).
It is not a level playing field. Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. Plus most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous authors' because I can't get beyond page 15, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.
My local Waterstones once had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. They don't stock my books (other than the Usborne ones). Nor do WH Smith. They say they do, but several people have been in to ask, and they seem not to have heard of me.
So I read the news of Amazon's latest venture with a mixture of amusement and deep cynicism. I can see the day coming when Amazon the online retailer starts undercutting Amazon the bookstore, causing it to close down. Watch this space.
Monday, 2 November 2015
Now that Little G has gone from sedentary to ambulatory, shop windows have taken on a whole new significance. Gone are the days when we whisked past, barely pausing to look. Much amusement is now derived from standing outside and identifying numbers, which are shouted out with all the gusto of a Bingo caller, followed by spotting Ds (Daddy), Ms (Mummy) and Gs (Grandma). All good harmless fun.
Less so recently.
Last week marked the run up to Halloween and many of the local shops had decked out their windows accordingly. The upmarket shop with the posh designer beds and Egyptian linen sheets with a gazillion thread count had unaccountably decided to go the full Fright Night. There was a headless body on a bloodsoaked sheet, its legs dangling over the end. Two gravestones with RIP on them stood to one side.
It was utterly revolting, quite graphic and made me feel ill the first time I saw it but there was no way of avoiding it. Every time we passed, Little G paused, nose pressed to the glass and studied the gruesome scene avidly. 'Red bed,' she remarked.
The gift shop two doors down had decided to go more 'natural' in that the windows were full of spiders' webs, massive black spiders, witches' hats and bats. 'Incy-Wincy,' Little G said, nodding wisely.The grinning pumpkins with assorted teeth were clearly 'oranges'.
I am relieved that at her age, Little G has very little sense of what is going on, but on her behalf I am angry that what was a Christianized feast, influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, when people traditionally went to church and lit candles on the graves of their family members to honour their memory, has become a nasty over commercialized event bent on scaring people.
Soon it will be the run up to Christmas, when the shops will be decorated with Christmas themed goods. Last year one of them was requested to take the Nativity scene out of its window as it could cause offence to people of other or no faiths. A clear case of Red bed - good; Manger bed - bad.
To be continued ... .....
Saturday, 31 October 2015
Whenever I mention that I write Victorian crime fiction, people always comment upon the infamous crinoline. Why on EARTH would women put up such a monstrosity? Well, they did, and surprisingly, with great relish. The crinoline, or hooped skirt was actually based on a design from the 1840s. In 1856, the American W.S.Thomson patented the metal cage crinoline and it became a huge hit in the USA, France and Britain. It was the first fashion to encompass all classes - rich or poor, you could still afford to wear it.
Although we find it hard to believe, women really loved the cage crinoline. At the height of its popularity, enough steel was produced in Sheffield to make half a million hoops in one week. It freed women from the constricting two petticoats: one flannel, one cotton, that they wore previously and gave them more ability to move their legs. And it was easy to hoick it up at the back when you needed to go to the privy or relieve yourself in the street (no public toilets).
Crinolines came in a variety of shapes, but they were not especially expensive, retailing at a third of the price of a dress. And if you were a skillful needlewoman - as most young women were in those days, it was easy to transform the style of an existing dress by the addition of a cage.
Spring steel shapes crinolines were light and flexible, and could be pressed out of shape temporarily, a useful attribute when trying to sit down, or get in and out of carriages and buses. Together with the tightly-laced corset, which emphasized a woman's tiny waist (the record was 13 inches), the crinoline gave the wearer a very ''sexy'' shape. This was enhanced by the way women had to walk: placing the foot outwards and describing a semi-circle, which gave a swaying motion to the hips. It was almost impossible to go at speed, so the slow, swaying gait was considered very alluring.
And cages and stays came in very nice colours. In Diamonds & Dust, Josephine King and her fashion mentor Isabella Thorpe visit a big department store, where they are informed by one of the female assistants that: ''We have some delightful articles in scarlet, Mademoiselle ... Zey came in last week, fresh from Par-ee.''
However brightly colored and popular, cage crinolines were not all good news however. Sitting down had to be re-learned, and getting through narrow doors or down narrow passageways was a nightmare. And the there was the ever present danger of high winds, which could leave you scrambling to hold your skirt down lest (oh horror!) your drawers were exposed to male passersby. Add to this the danger from open fires and gas lamps and wearing the crinoline could have fatal consequences:
However attractive you felt, wearing a crinoline didn't make courtship any easier than it already wasn't. In November 1856, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine published a poem called 'Crinoliniana' which ended:
I long to clasp thee to my heart
But all my longings are in vain;
I sit and sigh two yards apart,
And curse the barriers of thy train.
My fondest hopes I must resign,
I can't get past that Crinoline!
Tuesday, 27 October 2015
Now that Little G is officially walking, and requesting to do it everywhere we go, our routine has taken on new vistas. Admitted they are only at ground level, but it is amazing how much stuff I seem to have missed over the years.
Cracks in pavements are a prime example. Who would have known there were so many? And all equally deserving of a stop followed by long hard stare. I remind myself, as it takes us 15 minutes to cover a distance that previously took 2, that You must be mad at a similar developmental stage had a thing about gates and couldn't pass a gate without touching it.
There are small flowers and weeds growing out of the cracks and in the gaps between buildings. Did you know? You do now. Happy to share. And bits of interesting shiny detritus that is just begging to be picked up and handed over for examination at a later stage.
Last week we found a brand new bright orange comb on our way into town. What riches. Forming our usual small human circle, we peered at it, studied it from various angles, commented on the colour, the resemblance to a carrot and whether it was, as Little G asserted, for cleaning teeth.
Of such is our day. The highlight right now is a walk to our small local park, where the leaves are falling in a profusion of reds, yellows and golden brown. So many colours. So many different shapes. So many leaves to be carefully studied, selected, collected and handed over, to be replaced by other better leaves as they too are discovered lying on the ground.
I am never sure of the criteria, which seem to vary from moment to moment. All I know is that I end the day with a pocket stuffed with what to you might appear to be bits of utter rubbish, but to a small 20 month old is treasure unlimited. And why not?
To be continued ... ....
Saturday, 24 October 2015
Vivienne is one of the many people I have come to know and admire via social media. Vivienne (like so many creative people) suffers from periodic bouts of depression. She does not attempt to hide what afflicts her and in this, she is a lot braver and more honest than a lot of people. The PINK SOFA is thrilled to be hosting her and has got in her favourite cake as a token of its undying admiration.
''Well this is nice. If you would just pull that soft fleece blanket over me, I can have a nap after that wonderful cake...How did you know I love Battenburg?
Oh, sorry, Carol says I can't snooze now. But I'll pull the blanket over me anyway. I like blankets. And duvets. They're good to hide under when the world gets too much. Some of my best friends are blankets. That's because we spend so much time together, quality time.
I'm hesitating to use the word, but I'm a depressive. I first started experiencing depressive episodes from the age of six. In my late forties I have discovered that a weird genetic anomaly that affects my collagen is almost certainly a large factor in the anxiety and depression I've endured during my life, but there's little to be done for that except constant physio to keep muscles strong to protect dodgy joints. The neurological aspects are going to just be freaky for the rest of my life.
I began writing as a kid too, as much as anything because creating a world within a book meant I had some sense of control and some sense of order. Fiction has to make sense even when life, quite frankly, does not. Story is a profound way of exploring the universe and the questions that life throws at us without giving us many clues about the answers. I wrote my first novel when I was ten, and there are boxes and boxes of fading typescript hidden away in my home.
I had a couple of long breaks from writing, one because I went away to university and read the best and most respected literature in the world (nothing like excellence to put a wannabe in her place) and one because trying to get published almost cost me my life. That's a long story I won't tell here. It ended with me shutting the door on writing until it kicked down the door, grabbed me by the throat, shoved a pen in my hand and stood over me until the book was done.
But a half dozen novels later and a folder full of wonderful letters from publishers and agents all ending with the traditional Dear John bit, I was left in limbo. I'd always thought of vanity publishing as the bitterest of jokes, and it took me a while to realise that the new opportunities in SELF-PUBLISHING were completely different from the old vanity model. Fast forward a few years and now I have four novels, two short story collections, a novella, a poetry collection and most recently a collection of essays from my blog, exploring my old nemesis Depression.
Depression has never gone away. I've never concealed my fight; indeed, my blog has been remarkably well read, especially the posts on mental health. So after writing over 800 posts (about a LOT of things) I selected twenty of the ones I have understood have been of most relevance and comfort to those also affected by depression. I asked Suzie Grogan, author of Shell Shocked Britain, and also editor of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days (a collection of writing by people affected by mental health challenges) if she would write me a foreword. You see, the shelves of both virtual and bricks and mortar bookshops are packed with how-to style self help books on depression, and celebrity memoirs on their fight against the infamous Black Dog.
But there's not much written by ordinary folks. I'm not a c'leb. I'm a novelist and poet, and essayist. I believe I have things to offer, questions rather than answers, that may be of great value to others facing the same sort of darkness. There's no single answer for depression, because there's no single cause. Indeed, there's much debate about what causes depression and it's something neither psychiatrists nor psychologists nor philosophers will likely ever agree about.
That's why I feel Depression and The Art of Tightrope Walking is unique. It asks questions, it questions the answers, and it doesn't give easy ten step solutions to the problem. Having spent a lot of time (and money too) trawling through self-help manuals of various sorts, I am cynical about them. I probably ought to have marketed the book as a book to cure depression because there is an all mighty hunger out there for a quick and easy cure, a pill to swallow, a regimen to follow. I couldn't do that, tempting though it was. For me, that would be dishonest.
Anyway, is there more cake? Oh there is. Good. I might take that nap now, too. I'll try not to snore, or drool. Thank you for having me, here, Carol. It's been delightful.''
Dandelions and Bad Hair Days:
Monday, 19 October 2015
Little G is now a fully paid up member of the Anglican community, having acquitted herself brilliantly at her christening. All the pre-prep and risk analysis certainly paid off. The four small babies in long white robes and a variety of headgear howled dismally. The same-age toddler kicked off, refused to go to the lady vicar and was forcibly christened (not sure if this counts).
Little G, in contrast, submitted to the various procedures like a veteran, merely patting her hair and remarking loudly: ''Man, water head,'' after regaining her seat. Couldn't fault her performance, and I am quietly taking full credit. The fact that she now thinks the same thing is going to happen every Sunday is neither here nor there.
And so to my first adventure in baby-sitting. Last Saturday You must be mad was invited to one of those 'no children' weddings, so I did my first ever evening stint. To make sure Little G didn't notice that her bedtime routine had suddenly devolved to the shaky hands of an unreliable amateur, I was given two pages of closely written instructions to ensure nothing could go wrong. And it almost didn't.
Bathtime proceeded as per most of Page 1. Donning of night attire as per end of Page 1. Stories and songs as per top of Page 2. It was only when Little G performed her nightly manoeuvre of turning off the light and closing her bedroom door (middle of Page 2) that I suddenly realised that: a) I couldn't find the cot in the dark and b) I couldn't read the final instructions.
Luckily an improvisatory deviation from the worksheet involving an unauthorized interaction with the landing light meant Little G finally landed up in her cot, facing the right way, all tasks completed in order and successfully. And nobody was any the wiser.
To be continued ... .....
Saturday, 17 October 2015
In case it has escaped your notice, the third in my Victorian Crime series is being marketed on Amazon as a murder mystery but you, canny prospective purchaser that you are, have already noticed that it actually says: A Victorian Sensation Novel' on the cover.
The Sensation Novel was a particular genre of fiction, dating from 1860 -1880. The Victorian Web defines it thus: The Sensation Novel features a beautiful, clever young woman who, like Magdalen Vanstone in Collins's No Name (1862), is adept at disguise and deception —such women are doubly dangerous and generate social instability because they possess and threaten to use secret knowledge.
Other strategies employed by Sensation authors include the exposure of hypocrisy in polite society, intentional and unintentional bigamy, adultery, hidden illegitimacy, extreme emotionalism, melodramatic dialogue and plotting, and the brilliant but eccentric villain with gentlemanly pretensions. Reginald C. Terry in Victorian Popular Fiction, 1860-80 employs the term "detailism" to describe yet another aspect of the Sensation Novel, its rigorous realism that catered to a contemporary "taste for the factual" in its descriptions and settings, a feature that novelists such as Collins skillfully blended with the exciting "ingredients of suspense, melodrama and extremes of behaviour".
In addition, Terry notes how the plots of such novels often utilized "the apparatus of ruined heiresses, impossible wills, damning letters, skeletons in cupboards, [and] misappropriated legacies". P. D. Edwards adds yet further "ingredients" to the Sensation formula: "arson, blackmail, madness, and persecuted innocence (usually young and female), acted out in the most ordinary and respectable social settings and narrated with ostentatious care for factual accuracy and fulness of circumstantial detail" . To all of these features we should add the realistic and sympathetic investigation of individual psychology and an exploration of the female psyche.''
I loved the idea of trying to write a Sensation Novel, albeit slightly pared down for modern taste, but as the book features Detectives Stride & Cully, who also appear in the first two books, it is easier to shuffle the book into the previous genre as Amazon doesn't have a category for Sensation Novels.
Anyway now you know what to expect from the book, here is a little taster from the opening:
London, 1862. It has been a cold summer – the coldest on record, they say, and the autumn nights have come early and bitten hard. Wind batters the city, rattling the windows and inn-signs, whipping up the Thames into white-capped rage.
Wind whirls rooks into the sky like cinders. Wind prowls across narrow quadrangles and round unsuspecting corners, blowing dead leaves into nooks and stairwells. In weather like this, right-thinking people wrap up warm and stay indoors in front of the fire.
Not all of them though. Look more closely.
A tall man is making his way towards King’s Cross station, his shoulders squared, tilting forward as he walks. He is darkly handsome, the sort of man who causes women’s heads to turn when he enters the room. He knows this. His name is Mark Hawksley (though not all of the time).
As he reaches the entrance, a gust suddenly rocks him on his heels forcing him to make a half-step backwards. He takes a deep breath, the wind pummelling his face, the richness of the oxygen making him feel temporarily light-headed.
Steadying himself, the man enters the shadowy arch of the station and heads for a specific platform where a train is expected to arrive at any minute. In the station air he can hear it coming, the sudden frantic chugging of a locomotive, a series of clanks as it passes over the final set of points, then a long exhalation of steam as it pulls alongside the platform and comes to a halt by the buffers.
Instantly all is bustle and bedlam. Dogs bark, porters shout, and trolleys are hurriedly trundled towards the baggage carriage at the back.
Two respectably-dressed men alight from the front carriage of the train, turning to help down a small female figure, heavily-veiled and clad in deepest black. They escort her along the platform, steering her carefully through the milling throng of passengers, the meeters and greeters, the mounds of luggage, and the cabbies touting for fares.
Reaching the barrier, they hand over three tickets and are allowed through and onto the forecourt. They glance around apprehensively, their faces clearing as Mark Hawksley steps forward into the light, lifting his top hat in a smooth elegant gesture.
“So here you all are at last,” he says.
“Here we all are. Just as we telegraphed you,” one of the men replies.
Hawksley gestures towards the heavily-veiled woman.
“May I?” he asks.
“Be our guest,” the other man nods.
He lifts the thick veil, then steps quickly back, uttering a gasp of surprise.
“Amazing,” he breathes. “She is exactly as you described her in your letter. You might almost believe … But come, we need to get our guest to a place of safety before she is recognised.”
Mark Hawksley steers the little party to where a line of cabs are patiently waiting. He signals to one driver, gives him careful instructions, then bundles the group into the rear of the cab. He closes the door. The driver whips up the horse. As the cab rattles away into the night, Hawksley’s handsome, chiselled features break into a wide smile.
“Oh yes,” he murmurs. “You will do nicely. Very nicely indeed.”
If you have read the book, you will have picked out some of the 'Sensational' traits! I hope you enjoyed spotting them.
Monday, 12 October 2015
This Sunday, Little G is going to get christened at the big cathedral church she goes to every Sunday with You must be mad. Normally, christenings happen in the first 6 months of a child's life, but for some reason or another, it has taken until now to get it sorted.
Little G was aware that something was going to happen, but the exact details were hazy, so I have been doing my best all week to prepare her for this significant event in her life. We have visited the cathedral and looked at the font, with me explaining how the vicar would sprinkle her head with special church water. From the expression on her face, I'm not sure she believed me.
We have also practiced baptizing some of the toys - yes, I know I am on extremely shaky ground theologically here, but I couldn't think of any other way to explain it. Thus Clanger, Panda, Baba the sheep, Owl, sundry cars and a selection of wooden fruit have all been baptized, twice in some cases, and thus are all (if you believe it) now regenerate.
Mind you, despite all the pre-prep I am not holding out much hope that things will run like clockwork on the day. Little G has taken to lugging around with her a blue flowered quilted coat, a pink knitted cardigan and a 2 from the stick-on bath numbers. These accompany us everywhere, so I expect she will arrive at the font laden with baggage.
She has also started to walk (finally) but as it takes her ages I reckon by the time she gets up the very long cathedral aisle, clutching all her treasures, it will be Evensong. But hey, we shall all enjoy the occasion whatever chaos ensues. Meanwhile it's nice to think that if there are any furry toys in Heaven, they will all probably be hers.
To be continued ... ......
Friday, 9 October 2015
October is #StandUpToCancer in the UK, so in acknowledgement of this extremely important event, I thought I'd interview somebody about their experience of having and surviving breast cancer. Step forward then, one survivor ...... Me.
So Carol, how was your cancer discovered?
I learned that I had early stage breast cancer from a routine NHS breast screen three years ago when I was 63 - you know the sort: you go to a big white van in a carpark and it's always cold. I had noticed no lumps, bumps or changes so it was a shock to be recalled to the Luton & Dunstable Breast Cancer Clinic a week later.
What sort of cancer did they find?
I had DCIS ( Ductile Cancer In Situ). It's a kind of pre-breast cancer. It was in several tubes in my left breast and was ''high grade'' which meant it was getting ready to progress to the next stage.
So what happened when you received the diagnosis?
I was stunned - after all, I hadn't had any visible symptoms. I had been on low dose HRT for a long time - I reacted very well to it, but I came off it immediately, even though there was no proof that it contributed to the cancer. And I thought naively that I was too old to get the illness.
How did your family react?
My husband was shocked also, but supported me brilliantly at every stage of my journey. I kind of played it down with my daughter, who was in the last few months of pregnancy. I'm not a big over-sharer anyway, and I didn't want to upset her.
What was next?
A very unpleasant needle biopsy, which led to an appointment being made for an operation to remove the cancerous ducts. It all happened so quickly and efficiently I barely had time to take it in. I went in as a day patient, had radioactive dye injected into the area (sadly, I didn't glow in the dark afterwards) and then had the operation. The surgeon cut into the breast underneath, leaving a long but not overtly visible scar.
Did you have to go for follow up treatment?
Ah. Now here it gets a bit controversial. The surgeon recommended radiotherapy, but after researching it, and talking to others on social media, I chose not to have any follow up treatment. I wasn't happy with the side effects, nor with the fact that it wouldn't stop further cancers developing. My surgeon was convinced he'd removed all the cancerous cells and I trusted his judgement.
I got on with my life and put it in a box labelled 'OK, that happened'. I had my first annual mammogram check up last November, and it came back clear. My second one will be in two weeks' time. It takes 5 years before they are prepared to say you are totally free of cancer.
What was the worst part of all of it?
You may think this is frivolous ... unless you are a survivor also, but I had to take all the wires out of my lovely underwear, because it hurt too much to wear. And I wasn't sure for some time whether I'd look ''normal'' and be able to wear lovely stuff again. Luckily I can ... and you would hardly be able to tell I am a tad lopsided!
Finally, do you have any advice to offer?
I think the MOST important thing is to TURN UP for your FREE NHS routine screening. I was horrified when the nurses told me how many women fail to attend. Yes, it's uncomfortable and not very pleasant having your boobs squeezed between two X ray plates, but cancer doesn't always present as an obvious lump or change in the breast - mine didn't.
So ladies, don't think you can skip an appointment because you've checked your boobs and you didn't feel any lumps. Go - I urge you. Had I not gone, I might not be writing this blog today.
Monday, 5 October 2015
Last week I decided it was time to change from the jolly yellow summer bag to the slightly more sombre dark red autumn one. This involved the usual contents swap, which, prior to You must be mad handing over Little G, meant extracting my purse, lipstick, mirror, mobile and sundry tissues and placing them in the new bag.
This time the contents swap consisted of extracting and disposing of: a grape that had gone soft, 5 raisins, a 0.2 cm layer of biscuit crumbs, a small green car that I don't think belongs to Little G or to me, a bus ticket with baby scribbling on it, a packet of crayons with one missing, and a postit note to myself reminding me of something that I can't read (see grape) but I can just make out the words 'Important' at the top.
There was a double mirror with small claggy fingerprints all over it, and an orange lip pencil that had orange lipstick smeared all over the top - because Little G runs on the basis that if I tell her NOT to play with my possessions, the ban only applies while I am actually in the room. Once I go somewhere else, it is open season on my bag and coat pockets.
I also discovered a small spoon, some hand gel, and a packet of unopened chopsticks which Little G must have lifted from Wagamama on one of our visits and I noticed that my mobile was currently showing a time and date of 8.45 on the10th August. I don't know how she does this, but the baby is clandestinely good at demonstrating her communication tool expertise. The last time she left the camera on standby, and drained the phone battery.
I have now placed all MY essentials in the red bag. In six months time, I shall have to sort through it all once again before transferring the contents back into the yellow bag. And goodness knows what on earth I will find ... the mind boggles.
To be continued ... ......