Saturday 31 August 2013

Bedside Books

As most of you probably know by now - and if you do not, where on earth have you been - I have just signed a publishing contract with small independent book publisher Crooked Cat. This is for the ubiquitous Victorian novel, now possibly re-titled and coming out, all being well, some time towards the end of the year.

It will be my 12th published novel (there are many many more unpublished ones festering in the ether drawer) and my first 'adult' one. Difficult to place it in a genre, but I have decided:
''Darkly comic Victorian crime thriller'' probably sums it up adequately. Am looking forward to some 'interesting' reviews. The history trolls will not like it .....

What has been fascinating is seeing the varied reactions to my news. The overwhelming response has been positive. Lots of lovely cyber-hugs and congratulations. Lots of tweets and complimentary comments. A few people have even hinted to Crooked Cat that they are lucky to sign me!! A statement they may well query as the months go by!!

However, there has been one sour note. A former contact (I maintain very few now) in the literary world has suggested that this is a retrograde step for a writer who has always been published by mainstream publishers, and that I would be better off biding my time and continuing to beat my bruised and bloodied (my analogy) fists on what is clearly now a very closed door (my interpretation).

A picture of the current 'To Be Read' pile on my bedside table provides an interesting commentary upon the suggestion. Top of the pile is 'The Redbreast' a novel by Jo Nesbo. I've only recently started reading his books. I enjoy the whole 'Nordic noir' genre and he is a bit of a find. Mainstream published. Widely stocked in most bookshops and hugely popular.

Second from the top is a book by Sarah England called 'Exposure'. I won this in an online competition, and it is signed by the author. Sarah, coincidentally, is published by Crooked Cat. Her novel, a funny read about the life of a hapless heroine called Sam Sweet, is out in ebook and book. The book is POD (Print On Demand), so only available through Amazon and other online outlets.

Middle of the pile is a non-fiction book. I always have a 'non-fiction' book on the go. Usually historical. As I'm possibly about to start writing 'DCVCT 2' I need to get back into the Victorian world. Apart from my own extensive collection of novels and books on this period, I have 4 books I borrow on a rotating and continuous loop from the library. Currently it's Judith Flanders' 'Victorian City'. Mainstream publisher again. Not widely stocked, as not a ''popular'' title.

Bottom of the pile --- and a bit of a ringer, as I have actually just read and reviewed it, is 'Flying Lessons' by Francis Potts. Francis' wryly amusing and very readable novels are entirely self-published, so only available online.

My point is that all of these books, published in a variety of different ways, have one common denominator: me. I don't really care what route the writers took to bring their work to market .... I just appreciate that their books are there for me to read and enjoy. They all end up on the same pile anyway. Or have I missed the point?

Saturday 24 August 2013

Bang Out Of Order!

A truly shocking week at Hedges Towers. Sometimes things occur that get you thinking about the Big Stuff in Life, like: Why are we here, or Where do all the teaspoons go? Or in this case: How lucky am I?

It happened last Friday. I'd just returned from wherever I'd been. Shopping was being unpacked, kettle filled when suddenly something hit the side of the house with an enormous bang. The cat freaked out and shot upstairs. I stuck my nose out of the kitchen door - we sometimes get birds flying into the patio glass as they don't seem to distinguish between glass (finite) and sky (infinite). There was an absence of dazed bird, so I shrugged and continued getting on with things

The second bang was so loud it was terrifying and unavoidable. Rushing into the living room I spotted a hole in the very thick double glass of the window. Cracks were running from it. As if someone had fired a bullet. First thought was: that's going to be bloody expensive. Second thought: what the.....?

Close examination of the patio revealed two large ball bearings, which had clearly been fired at the house from the cycle path over the back. Funny how in a crisis, one goes into total calm: I rang the police ... rang the insurance company ... rang Beloved Husband and Dear Daughter.

And then suddenly I found myself sitting on the sofa sobbing and shaking uncontrollably as I grasped the true enormity of what had occurred and realised that, had I been standing in the line of fire, given the speed and velocity and size of the ball bearing, my chances of living to see husband, daughter, son-in-law, pets and any possible future grandchildren would have been non-existent. Delayed shock.

At which point, DD rang. The problem with having offspring who spent several years living and working in a Middle Eastern country is that they take things like this seriously. Very Seriously. 'Close the curtains,' she said. 'You need to start being more aware when you go out,' she said. 'Keep checking behind you,' she said. 'You have made a lot of enemies with your campaign,' she said. 'Have you looked under your
car recently?' she said. Gulp.

By the time you read this, a week has passed. The police are still pursuing their investigations. The insurance company has refused to pay for the replacement window without upping our premium, leaving us with a bill of nearly £300. And I have discovered that the trouble with looking behind you is that there's always a ''behind you'' where you aren't looking. I'm still here though. For now.

Tuesday 20 August 2013


magpie bridge: CAROL HEDGES: THE REAL DEAL:     This week’s interviewee is a real gem. She makes me smile every time I see her witty and urbane tweets . Carol Hedges is an accompli...

Saturday 17 August 2013

The PINK SOFA welcomes Matt Adams,editor

Matt Adams editor, at his desk

Today, the PINK SOFA welcomes a different guest: Matt Adams is the editor of the Herts Advertiser, my local paper. He is the ''lucky'' recipient of all my letters and press releases about our community's attempt to stop Harpenden Town Council from forcing a road across our playing field and building on our ex-allotment. For anybody running a public campaign, maintaining a good and close relationship with the press is essential, and I am delighted to welcome Matt to the blog. The PINK SOFA has been practicing its shorthand for weeks, and is now poised, pencil licked and notebook open, ready to take down his answers.

So Matt, how long have you been editor of the paper?
I joined the paper in April 2009 as the lucky 13th editor.

What does an editor do all week?
Mondays to Wednesdays I'm focused on production, putting together that week's paper and working out what stories and photos will go where. The remainder of the week I operate in more of an ambassadorial role, representing the paper in the community, meeting with contacts and working on long-term objectives.

How did you get into journalism? 
When I arrived at university in 1990 I signed up with the student newspaper on the understanding that I would provide photographic cover at student union gigs. I got in for nothing and had a chance to snap leading groups up close and personal from the pit. But then something happened - I stumbled across what sounded like a good news story through chatting with people on my course, and the paper's news editor asked me to look into it as he had nobody free to do so.

That was it. I was bitten by the news bug. I loved the idea of being able to make a difference through my writing and before long was running for the position of editor in the union elections. That year was to prove invaluable when it came to being a journalist. I cut my teeth on structuring the content of a paper, worked with a small team on coming up with innovative new ideas and learned how to design a newspaper page.

At the time I left uni there was no obvious pathway into newspaper journalism -  no internet, no way of finding out about training within the profession. Then my mum spotted a job ad in one of our local papers, a free title with the unassuming name of the Yellow Advertiser looking for someone to join their features team. I started off writing advertorials, puff pieces about bathrooms, kitchen fitters etc. It was boring work but it pushed me into creating solid prose after interviewing less than forthcoming tradesmen and I began honing my skills as a reporter. I did my training there and at the Yorkshire Post in Leeds.

What do you like about working in the Herts Ad?
I am driven by the desire to have a positive impact in a community. Newspapers wield immense power and it is amazing what a simple phone call to the council or a corporate organisation can do to solve a resident's long-running problems. I would argue that local journalism is the most important journalism in the world. We break stories that really make a difference to people's lives; we can help change local policy and we are the perfect platform for everyday heroes to get the recognition they deserve. I also enjoy the fact that you never know what's going to happen from one day to the next - and there are few jobs which offer that variety.
The new premises. Cat swinging forbidden.

The Herts Ad has recently shifted its location. Good move?
We've been in our current offices in the centre of St Albans since March 2012 and it's been a revelation. Before we were stuck on an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city and it would take 20 minutes to get into town and park. Now we are at the heart of everything that happens in St Albans and can react immediately to breaking news developments. We were first on the scene for a snatch-and-grab robbery last year, we have seen celebrities shopping nearby, and we are accessible to the people who count: our readers.

So in this fast internet age, is there really a future for local papers?
Regional newspapers are more relevant to modern day readers than they ever have been. People spend more than half their time within a five-mile radius of their home. They want to know about their own community and what's happening around them - they don't care so much about what's going on five or forty miles away.

I think the regional press is leading the way when it comes to setting the national news agenda. Many of the major stories reported in the national media came from regional news sources, and local papers will often lead the way in reporting these issues through their unchallenged connections within local communities.

Ultimately local newspapers act as independent watchdogs holding government and other powerful institutions accountable and enabling citizens to participate fully in our democracy. This is an essential function, much like roads, power and water, and without us the community would be that much poorer.

Anything else you want to say about the job?

The Herts Advertiser not only publishes two editions every week (Harpenden and St Albans) but also has to maintain a strong web presence and achieve all this with just a handful of reporters. We can't cover every single news story in the district, there simply isn't the time or resources to do this, and so we prioritise those items which are of the most relevance to the widest percentage of our readership. We're a business, and in this day and age we have to also rely on the support of our advertisers to boost our sales.

Time off? What do you like doing to wind down?
I'm a self-professed geek, and love to immerse myself in graphic novels, sci-fi and fantasy. My biggest obsession is Dr Who, but I also enjoy a wide variety of genre material. Musical tastes are very eclectic although I'd highlight Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Luke Haines, David Bowie, Tori Amos, the Indigo Girls and Aimee Mann as particular favourites. However, I think my favourite means of relaxing has to be spending time with my beautiful 15 month old daughter Anwen. She truly is the light of my life and every minute with her is a precious joy.

Matt, thanks for stopping by and giving us some insights into your job and your philosophy. The PINK SOFA has now licked its pencil so much that it is in acute danger of lead-poisoning and may requite medical attention.
Matt is on Twitter at @Matthertsad. Stories from the Herts Advertiser can also be accessed via @Hertsad or via Matt is rushing back to his sumptuous (!) city centre office - but he will be dropping by later to respond to any comments ...

Saturday 10 August 2013

Lost In Transit

A quietish week at Hedges Towers. The hurly-burly of the Town Green has subsided and it is now down to playing a waiting game. I have put certain structures in place in anticipation, and will appraise you of developments. Meanwhile on Sunday BH and I were invited to a lunch party at a couple's house we'd only been to once. Normally something to look forward to, and we do, once we've surmounted the Actually Getting There scenario, which we go through so often in our nearly 38 years together that it has now evolved into a script with its own rituals, worthy of a John Osborne play. It goes something like this: (we have been driving around for some time)

Me (eventually): You're lost, aren't you?

BH (edgily): No, I know exactly where we are.

Me: Well, so how come we aren't there by now then?

BH (testily): We're going in the right direction.

Me (because I've started): Why don't you LOOK at the map?

BH (pointedly): I HAVE looked at the map.

Me: Then why is this the second time we've driven down this road?

BH (thru' gritted teeth): Maybe YOU'D like to map read? Maybe YOU'D like to drive?

Me (crossly): Just check the map, okay? Because I don't think this is the right way.

Eventually we stop, the map is checked, the car is turned round, and we arrive at our destination. I think that this is another of those 'men are from Mars women are from Visa' things. If I need to go anywhere new, I have to do a pre-visit recce to make sure I know exactly where I'm going. And I still get anxious ....

Checking the diary, I see it is almost a year since @carolJhedges joined Twitter. I did so mainly because having uploaded Jigsaw Pieces and nearly died in the attempt, I needed to disseminate its presence and sell a few copies to make the whole ghastly experience worthwhile. Twitter has been getting a bad press recently due to the misogyny and racism that its anonymity seems to bring out in certain warped individuals, and I did do the Twitter silence on Sunday, after tweeting my support to the relevant individuals concerned.

My experience of Twitter has been positive though, despite having some very unusual followers: dogs, hotels, radio stations, pubs, lizards and last year, Lechlade Music Festival where one of BH's socks was apparently performing with The White Stripes. Don't ask. What makes Twitter such fun for me is encountering individuals with a sharp, razor-like wit. Foremost among these Twitwits, and now in the category of good friends are @LynnGerrard and @fruitbatwalton There seems to be nothing they can't render funny. Or bizarre. Or frequently both.

I also like Twitter when it turns into a free show: there is a group of American crime writers who meet up every lunchtime (1.00pm UK time) and just bounce chitchat off each other. Nothing special, but they have me in stitches ... check out @Charles_E_Wells. It's like watching an American sitcom, only on social media. I have also been struck by the very great kindness of other Twitter people. @Vallypee, a writer who lives on a barge in Rotterdam, @HapRochelle and @RosalindAdam to name but three. If I feel upset or worried, they are there with sympathy, virtual coffee and tissues, as are many many others. You know who you are. Space dictates that I can't name check all but you're probably reading this blog post right now.

Through Twitter I have learned how to grow veg, how to download images from the internet, and how to self-publish. There seems to be an expert out there for every occasion or eventuality. I've been recommended books I'd never have read before, and enjoyed some wonderful poetry. I've had access to brilliant blogs - catch @TerryTyler4's blogs on Twitter bios of famous past writers; I've come across recipes for luscious mouth-watering cakes and listened to some amazing bands.

And I'm absolutely sure that, in the extremely unlikely event that my 2CV were ever to break down on a lonely country road in the depths of Winter, while I was in the middle of labour, there would be people on Twitter only too willing and able to help. Wouldn't you .....

Next week the PINK SOFA welcomes a very special guest: Matt Adams, editor of The Herts Advertiser will be visiting the blog. What's it like to edit a local paper? And be pestered by activists like me? All will be revealed.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Aldi Antics

Every couple of weeks, my elderly friend Pauline and I hit the Aldi supermarket in Luton. Pauline lives in a sheltered council housing complex close to my house. I first met her when I started fighting to save our ex-allotments from being sold off by the council and over the years I have been campaigning, I've got to know her and the other residents quite well. Pauline is in her late 70's I think; some of the others are considerably older. They are a very feisty lot and there is always some feud or other taking place. Bins, parking and wind chimes feature a lot.

Pauline is an endless source of entertainment, if you don't weaken. Despite being just under five foot in height, she used to deliver motor caravans all over the UK and abroad; now she drives her little Honda Jazz in exactly the same way: fast and taking no prisoners so we arrive at Aldi with my knuckles white and my right leg stiff from imaginary braking. That's not even taking into account the swearing at other drivers, especially other drivers who don't go fast enough for her liking. 'Shouldn't be driving at her age, stupid old sod,' she grumbles, as we overtake some innocent pensioner pootling along well within the speed limit. She swears at ambulances too, mainly because she's been in enough of them in her life.

Then there's the pigeon conspiracy. I have explained many times that pigeons don't actually hang about in trees waiting for Pauline to drive by just so they can fly across her bonnet and make her jump. She disagrees. I would offer to drive, but I don't because she loves driving and it would spoil her fun so I just sit and grip the sides of the passenger seat and age silently. In between swearing at things, Pauline tells me amazing stories about growing up in the 40's and 50's - like when you went to the pictures, you could barely see the screen for all the cigarette smoke, and how she got out of bed and walked out of the hospital a couple of hours after giving birth to her fourth child because she decided she was fed up and wanted to go home.

When we get to Aldi, Pauline and I don't just shop. Pauline likes to browse, to peruse, to comment upon and critique the items on display. It takes ages and frequently we draw a crowd. My role is to get things off the top shelf for her, but if I am not fast enough, Pauline will reach up with her stick and knock the item off herself. This usually means we end up being followed round the store by some hapless member of staff who has been detailed to keep an eye on her. Funnily enough we never get told off because Pauline can do 'sweet little old lady' to industrial strength. It's an act, and we both know it is, but it never fails to work.

Pauline adores animals. She has had cats all her life - she gets them from the Cat Rescue and she also feeds the local wildlife along with any passing strays that turn up, much to the chagrin of her immediate neighbours, who have to put up with peanut shells on the communal lawn and foxes fighting in the small hours. Every afternoon, she makes sandwiches to put out, and cooks chicken pieces. Okay, it is wildly eccentric, but it was through Pauline that I learned we had badgers living in the area, and I have sat up through the night with her and watched a family of foxes with two tiny cubs enjoying her largesse.

Along with all the residents, Pauline has a quirky out-of-the box way of thinking, which is why I like her so much and why I look forward our visits to Aldi. Once I recall turning up at her flat with a very swollen foot, having fallen downstairs and twisted it. Pauline took one look, then headed straight to the ''pill cupboard'' where she keeps the enormous stash of drugs that supposedly keep her going. Rummaging around, she emerged finally with a small white box which she handed it to me.
         'Here,' she said, 'these'll sort you out.' 
        'Thanks Pauline,' I replied, glancing at the label. 'Um ... it says Icknield Veterinary Group.'
         'So?' came the laconic response. 'It cured the cat's sore leg.'

 I hope I end up just like her.