Saturday, 25 November 2017

Cold Comfort (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It is nearly the beginning of December. Everywhere is gearing up for Christmas: lights are being strung between High Street lamp posts, Christmas goods are enticingly displayed in windows, shops have placed twinkly trees in pots outside their doors in precisely the wrong place for a passing double-buggy, and we have all gone down with coughs and colds.

Small brought it back from nursery first. Little G then caught it, and with the loving generosity displayed by all small children towards their adored grandparents, they gave it to us. We are both fuzzy-headed, bleary-eyed, badly-slept, runny-nosed, coughing and generally under the weather.

Meanwhile Little G and Small, perfectly accustomed to living with a wide variety of minor ailments, forge through the day, mopped up at intervals, waiting expectantly for us to provide the next entertainment. All we want to do is curl up under a duvet without being used as a slalom or a trampoline. It doesn't happen.

L-Plate Grandad has cunningly mastered the ability to sit with his eyes closed and zone out for 5 minutes, but I am too worried about Small's ability to run amok to relax. I am like a coiled spring, constantly monitoring him for incipient catastrophes involving stairs, drawers, plugs, doors, small found objects on the carpet, the cat, sharp objects, or cupboards, for which I will be held accountable by You Must Be Mad. I do not remember feeling this heart-lurching sense of responsibility when she was growing up.

In an effort to corral the wagons pre~CBeebies time, I sit them both at the kitchen table, give Small some crayons to eat, and help Little G compose her letter to Father Christmas. I write to her dictation: ''A crown, a wand, a dressing-up box and a police outfit.'' She signs it. I am impressed. Little G is clearly going to rule the world when she grows up.

If she could also find a cure for the common cold, that'd be great too.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Jan Ruth

The PINK SOFA is a great celebrant of Christmas, and has already laid in stocks of food and bottles of mulled wine for its Christmas guests. Here is the first of them: Jan Ruth lives in Wales and has horses, something the PINK SOFA envies to the ends of its little curved wooden legs. She also has a new book out just in time for the festive season. So, sit down, grab a mince pie, and let's find out all about it:

The Story behind the Story...

"Away for Christmas is a novella about the joy and pain of fractured relationships, the joy and pain of Christmas itself – because the festive period is not always fun for everyone – and the joy and pain of publishing books! But perhaps most of all, this is a story about staying true to oneself and looking for the real Christmas spirit beyond the baubles and the glitter.

Regular readers will know that my characters tend not to be in the first flush of youth, and that the joy and pain of relationships are often par for the course. Christmas is very much a family time and can unearth a multitude of unwelcome emotions and in the case of my character, present plenty of troublesome hurdles before the festivities can be enjoyed. His ex-wife doesn't always make life easy, but Jonathan is determined to be a better dad, against all the odds.

And finally, the joy and pain of publishing books. There are some great publishers out there, ones who achieve results, look after their authors and understand the industry from the ground up. This story isn’t based on them.

It’s no secret that I’ve been round the houses and back again with regard to writing and publishing. Thirty years ago I used to believe that a good book would always be snapped up by a publisher regardless of genre, style, and content. In the real, commercial world, this just isn’t true. After several years of agents and self-publishing, a turning point came for me when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts. This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered (and so does my poor character Jonathan Jones) that this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!

The process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’

These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage. Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. We perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect.

Worryingly, new authors are often excited by offers from vanity publishers, or those who operate under the guise of assisted publishing, not realising the implications until it’s perhaps too late. Even contracts from those real publishers with seemingly no pitfalls or upfront costs, can dissolve into a horribly disappointing experience. Of course, my poor character thinks he’s landed lucky when a small publisher offers him a three-book deal. What could go wrong? If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book or maybe you’ve just typed THE END to your manuscript, you might think twice about your next step…

Away for Christmas is set over three Christmastimes, and because I feel sure you’ll be looking for a few hours of warm and cosy escapism at this time of the year, I can assure you that there’s a happy ending by the time Jonathan makes it to 2017."

Jan's book can be bought at:
Find her on Twitter at: @JanRuthAuthor 

Monday, 13 November 2017

A Girls' Night Out (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Now that Little G is three and a half (or as she puts it: nearly four), our relationship has moved to a new dimension. While Small potters around finding stuff and transferring it elsewhere ~ spoons, a glove, the cat tray shovel, we get on discussing the Big Things in life, like What is Friendship? (it's being nice and sharing your toys) & what Little G would do if she met someone who wasn't friendly (I'd tell them to be exactly like me, because I am a good friend).

As a reward for being exactly like herself, Little G and I recently decided we needed a Girls Night Out, because Small was going to the football with the rest of the family and L-Plate Grandad. Little G was most excited about the concept of a 'Night Out', and in the weeks running up to the Saturday when it was going to happen, she referred to it frequently.

Saturday finally arrived, and I rocked up at You Must Be Mad's, to find Little G waiting impatiently for me on the sofa. She was wearing her best little black sparkly dress (what else?) and her boots with sparkly stars on. We spent some time perusing and selecting appropriate accessories, finally coming down on the side of a silver sparkly bag and some sparkly clips. You may detect a theme here. I cannot comment.

Sparkling and excited, we walked together into town until we reached Wagamama's  ~ a place we used to go regularly when she was tiny. We selected exactly the same meal, as a homage to those far-off days, opting for spoon and fork rather than chopsticks. We know our limits. Once again, some adult diners regarded Little G's presence with antipathy, and once again, I remarked LOUDLY on the mess they were making with their chopsticks, as opposed to the neat way Little G was eating.

After dinner, happy and replete, we strolled along the high street, just two girls on the town, footloose and fancy free, pausing at intervals for Little G to re-apply her lipstick (a scented lip balm). As you do on a night out. When we'd seen and been seen sufficiently, we went for ice cream at a local coffee-shop, then home in time for bath, story and bed.

OK, maybe it wouldn't have score highly on your scale of nights out, but as the song says: 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun'. And we did.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Armistice Day 2017

 '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 read my books, you'll know that lines from this poem feature in Jigsaw Pieces , my YA ebook . 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 the anniversary of the end 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 telegraph lad kept cycling up to their house 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 anniversary 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:


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. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Just Plane Crazy (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

If we wanted to, L-Plate Grandad and I could spend all day ferrying Small and Little G from one organised activity to another, such is the wide and varied choice available locally. Playgroup might morph into Baby Sensory Club, then on to Music Time, Baby Yoga, Rhythm Time, Mini Mindfulness and so on. However, as these all cost money, and we are on a pension and mean, we refuse to pay out for stuff when we can amuse us and them for free.

One of our favourite free haunts is the local playground, recently refurbished. Little G is an experienced playgrounder, and can be safely left to work her way round the various things on offer, with only the occasional encouraging remark. Small, however, needs constant supervision as he has no fear, less sense and is reluctant to do any serious risk analysis before launching himself off the end of things he has clambered up.

Once we are all playgrounded out, we often drive to another favourite location: the end of the runway at Luton Airport. There, ensconced behind a mesh fence, we can watch the planes arriving and taking off. Little G and Small bring their two toy planes, and wave them in the air enthusiastically, making plane noises. Little G is now quite expert with the vocab, and can talk about 'control towers' and 'wheels down'. She can identify a Whizz plane from an EasyJet one, and a few weeks ago, we managed to see the last few scheduled Monarch flights going out.

Watching the planes is not just popular with us. Whatever time of day we turn up, and whatever the weather, there is always a line of cars parked by the fence, with men (mainly) with binoculars, flasks and sandwiches sitting in folding chairs along the perimeter. Some even have step-ladders and perch on the top step, like umpires at Wimbledon. It is clear that when it comes to watching planes take off and land, we are all just small kids at heart. Though two of us actually are.