Friday 26 April 2013

Sock and Awe

The latest council folly. Me posing.

A vexed week at Hedges Towers. One of BH's favourite socks has gone missing. It has been missing for two weeks now. The odd thing is that both of us swear blind that we have actually spotted the sock several times and in completely different places in the house. Also we have separately placed it in prominent positions so that it can be picked up and reunited with its grieving other. But every time, it eludes capture. It a mystery. The sock has obviously decided to go and live on its own, footloose and fancy free, which only confirms that life on earth exists in many forms, some of which we have barely begun to comprehend.

Meanwhile, in the light of their intransigent attitude re: our Playing Fields, and the subsequent failure of my sarcasmectomy I have suggested to our beloved Town Council that they should consider re-twinning us with somewhere in North Korea rather than the French town of Jambon-sur-Pain, or whatever it is called. Didn't go down well. Can't understand why. The latest wheeze, dreamed up by a young District councillor, has been to create a series of cycle lanes in one of the popular parks. He doesn't drive, needless to say.

On right: the Roman Wall - now unprotected
Now, you and I know the way to do this is to get a pot of paint and someone with a steady hand and draw a line along the path. Simples. The way the council has done it is to dig up the whole path, and then relay it with a very nasty gritty base and ugly ramps that the elderly, disabled, and those with mobility scooters struggle to surmount. It has cost a fortune and has totally spoiled the look of large sections of what was perfectly adequate pathway.
Halfway through Project Pointless, they ran out of money, so the white fake marble edging doesn't go all the whole way along.

OK, it is all too easy to mock -  hey, see how I have just done it for the last two paragraphs without breaking a sweat, but in these recessionary times, wasting thousand and thousands of pounds of our money on this folly beggars belief and credibility.
Whatever. Needless to say BH and I refuse to be told by some uppity non-mandated wet-behind-the-ears legacy-hunting quisling with more ideology than brains which side of the path we must walk on, so we deliberately walk along the cycle path side, as we always did before it was spoiled. In the four months we have been doing this, we have only ever encountered a single cyclist.

Saturday 20 April 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Mandy K James

Mandy K James

Mandy K James is one of the first writers THE PINK SOFA got to know when it first stuck one elegantly carved wooden leg into the Twitter pool last August. She has a rumbustious sense of fun, and sparkling repartee, but is also a caring and loyal friend, supporting other writers and cheering them on from the sidelines. Since THE PINK SOFA asked her its questions about her life and her writing influences, she has successfully launched her latest book, A Stitch In Time, with the wonderfully named Choc Lit, and is currently working on her next book for them. It is an absolute pleasure to welcome her to THE PINK SOFA and there is fizzy French wine and a selection of nice French cheeses on the coffee table to celebrate.

So, Mandy, what sort of books do you write?
Contemporary women's fiction with an element of suspense.

What kick started your writing career?
I have always written  ..well not always, obviously, but since I was about 8. I just loved making up stories and started my first novel in 2001. It was very hard to do alongside a full-time teaching career, but I kept plugging away. I gave up teaching in 2008 and cracked on with what was to be my first published novel, an ebook called Righteous Exposure. I also had lots of short stories published around that time too.

What were your favourite childhood books and why?
Very early on it was all of Enid Blyton's as they were full of adventure and excitement. Later, when I was about 13 it was The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings for similar reasons, but particularly because I felt a real connection to the characters. I really cared about what would happen to them all for the first time I suppose. Tolkien is such a beautiful writer also; I felt I actually could see 'Middle'Earth'.

What writers do you most admire today (can be classical) and why?
Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Steven King, Dean Koontz, the list is very long. Why? Most of these have a moral message or some meaning in their writing. I don't read nearly enough now, as I tend to be too caught up in writing. But the writer I enjoy most still has to be Dean Koontz. His writing style is just effortless, and he can paint a picture with just a few words. Most writers would need a few pages, also there is always an identifiable baddie and he/she gets his just desserts. I try to do the same in my novels.

Talk to us about your writing process - how do you plan, have a set number of words each day, where do you write?
I am a pantster. I have the bare bones of a story and jot these down, sometimes in bullet points. Then I have a title - can't write without that! Then I just let the characters do the work. I love writing because I'm entertained as I write - I never know what's coming next! I like to write at least 2,000 words each day and usually manage it. I don't have a special writing room or shed, but would love to have one in the future.

From brain to draft - what's your time span?

It varies. My new novel, a time-travelling romantic comedy A Stitch In Time was written in 6 weeks (first draft) but normally around three to four months. When I was teaching, sometimes a year.

What part of the writing process do you find challenging and why?
Mandy's new book
I often get stuck around 30,000 words. I have heard most writers do. (THE PINK SOFA has been known to get stuck 4 lines in...) It's annoying because I have to leave it for a while and think my way round the problem. It's at this point that I worry that I'll have to scrap the lot because it's a load of old pants! Usually it isn't, and I finish it in the end ... usually.

What was your worst experience?
I think the number of rejections over the years. No matter how much you tell yourself that it is just one agent's opinion etc it does tend to punch a big hole in your confidence. The main thing is not to give up, even though you want to.

And your finest?
Getting the offer of a contract from the wonderful Choc Lit Publishing in May of last year. And now seeing my book A Stitch in Time actually in bookshops and online.

A Stitch in Time is available on as both book and ebook.

Visit Mandy's blog:    Tweet her: @akjames61
 Facebook: Mandy James Author Page

Thanks, Mandy! Mandy will be staying around to chat, so do dig into the cheese and wine and ask her some more questions.

Saturday 13 April 2013

A Highly Regrettable Incident At Sainsbury's

A roller-coaster week at Hedges Towers.  It started with an incident of possible criminal activity at our local supermarket - though in his defence, BH pleads accidental error of judgement and mitigating circumstances. We were doing the weekend shopping at the time. Usually BH does this on his own because he says that whenever I accompany him, off-list items find their way into the trolley, although I claim that they would have been on the list had I known, when drawing it up, of their existence.

Be that as it may and it was, I was scouting round for extra stuff, when I noticed BH standing very close to a trolley parked in the veg aisle. He was staring fixedly at the contents. Then he bent down and reached in. At which point the owner of the trolley arrived, gave him a 'what the hell?' look, and wheeled it swiftly away. There subsequently ensued the following exchange:

Me:  What on earth were you doing?
BH: I thought it was one of those reduced trolleys.
Me: They don't do reduced trolleys in Sainsbury's.
BH: Don't they? I thought they did. It had some good bargains. There were some nice carrots.
Me: But it was that man's trolley.
BH: (peers at items) Are those on the list?
Me: (firmly) You are in no position to query anything.

Let it be stated that two seconds later, we were both leaning against the meat counter helpless with laughter, and being given a very wide berth by passing customers. I have mentally stored the incident up to use as ammo in future negotiations, a tactic I highly recommend.

Meanwhile in the parallel world to yours, i.e. the one which is inhabited by me, we have had some 'developments'. The decision on our Town Green application has been put on hold pending the outcome of an appeal on a previous and very similar case to ours called the Barkas Case. Oh unconfined joy! As the options were: nope or wait, we are happy to settle for wait, as it gives us legal threat lines when our beloved Town Council, having decided to make economies by cutting their integrity and accountability budget altogether, decides to have another go at our playing field.

Which they will. They have now had to withdraw their flawed planning application for the second time, thanks to a devastatingly effective and pretty well continuous email campaign. Hahaha. There must be staff in that Planning Department who are only now dusting themselves down and emerging out of hiding. Magic Finger Hedges, they call me. Well no, that is probably NOT what they call me, but hey, it worked. (Tip for anybody running a similar campaign against a local council: always copy the Chief Exec, the Head of Planning, the Monitoring Officer, plus any supportive Councillors into anything you send to minions. It worries them. A lot.)

Which makes me wonder: Local Government machinations... corrupt councillors ... is there perhaps a book in all this? The Vacant Casualty springs to mind as a possible title... what do you think?

Apropos of nothing ... I was sent this great cartoon by a fellow children's author who'd recently discovered my 'Spy Girl' series. Thanks, Richard Hardie.

Friday 5 April 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Paul Emanuelli

Paul Emanuelli

Paul Emanuelli is one of that lovely group of writers I've had the great good fortune to meet via Twitter. Paul is the author of Avon Street - a historical novel set in Bath in the 1850's. The PINK SOFA is happy to say it has read the book, and recommends it highly! In honour of Paul's visit, and in an effort to be snack symmetric, there is a Victoria Sponge cake on the coffee table. Awaiting the outcome of its own historical novel, set in the 1860's, the PINK SOFA questioned Paul about being a historical writer, and why the Victorian period particularly appealed to him. This is what he replied:

'' A big Thank You to Carol for inviting me to sit on her PINK SOFA for a while and for asking me some questions that really made me think. I should begin by telling you a little bit about myself. II was born in Stoke-on-Trent, of Welsh parents and Italian grandparents. Most of  the jobs I've ever done have involved writing, but mainly reports, studies and factual documents. For far too long I thought of creative writing as something other people did. It seemed a big step to say, 'I want to be a writer,' let alone, 'I am a writer.'  Though I'd always told myself that one day I would write a novel, reality always seemed to intervene, and it wasn't until later in life that I started night-classes in creative writing and began writing short stories. My first novel, Avon Street grew out of one of them.

I've always loved history, but until Carol asked, 'why?' I'd always taken it for granted. Many people think of history as being about kings and queens, great events, battles and empires. And of course, endless lists of dates. But what I love about history is the lives of 'ordinary' people and trying to imagine what it would have been like to have lived in another time. People as far back as the Neolithic age drew pictures on cave walls, carved animals from bones - they made art, communicated, left signs that they had been here for a moment in time. They had no writing, but you're left wondering - were they really very different to us? Maybe their emotions and feelings, hopes and fears were much like ours.

An author owes a lot to their readers. Reading novels takes time, and a writer has to earn that time by creating characters that readers will care about, and devising a plot that will make them want to turn the page. But the historical novel also asks the reader to ignore everything around them and to imagine that they are living in another time. For a writer, that's where the research comes in. A writer has to understand what life was like in another time - fashions, transport, medicine, work, education, politics, crime and a host of other things. But as a novelist they also have to ensure that they include just the right amount of historical detail in the novel - too little and it doesn't feel real, too much and it becomes a history lecture.

The Victorian era particularly appeals to me because we know so much about it and because perhaps more that any other era it mirrors our modern world. It was an era of great change and the first age of consumerism. The Industrial Revolution was in some ways the forerunner of our own Technological Revolution. New discoveries and inventions revolutionized manufacturing processes. Railways and steamships made travel faster and cheaper, rapidly shrinking the world. And it was the age of popular novels, which allow us, perhaps for the first time a real glimpse into the lives of 'ordinary ' people.
Avon Street

Avon Street is set in Bath in 1850. It's a city whose image is defined even today by the novels of Jane Austen. But when writing it, I wanted to explore the darker side of the city that Jane Austen only ever hinted at - to go behind the Georgian facades, to show the streets of a city, where wealth and elegance were never far from poverty and squalor.

I won't tell you too much about the book, in the hope you might read it, but it revolves around a wealthy man who loses everything and has to do battle with a ruthless criminal gang who run the poorer quarters of the city. It's about the search for trust among the people who offer to help him (an actress, a sailor a thief and a priest) each of whom has their own secrets. And most importantly, it's about the choices people make and how those decisions shape who they become. Much of the book is based on real events, locations and people, but with a few fictional twists that I hope will keep the reader turning the pages and guessing to the end.''

Avon Street (highly recommended by THE PINK SOFA) can be found at: -
Emanuelli/dp/0752465546/ref=tmm_pap_title_0 kin.title 0

Contact Paul via his blog: or on Twitter: @UnpubWrites

Paul is going to stay around to answer your questions, so while he pours the tea and arranges the Victoria Sponge decorously on the cake stand, why not take a seat and have a chat.....