Monday 31 August 2015

Pretty in Pink (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

And so we reach the vexed matter of children's fashion. The more time I spend going round kids clothes shops with Little G - and I spend a lot of time, as it tires her out, the more I observe how little has changed on the colour palate front.

When You must be mad was born I made a lot of her clothes as I despaired of the 'girls wear pink' gender agenda choices available in Mothercare, which was about all we had at that time. Thus from birth she was dressed in strong colours like the pair of navy velvet dungarees, or the rainbow Fairisle jumpers and succession of patchwork jackets.

Fast forward 32 years, and trudging through Equality, Feminism, RadFems and any other Fems you care to mention, girls' clothes are still being mainly produced in pastel colours with bows and frills and cutesy slogans about princesses and sparkly bits while boys' clothes are in 'robust' colours with trucks and dinosaurs and robots, so that as soon as you enter a store you can clearly spot whose outfits are located where.

This lamentable lack of progress was vividly brought home to me last week when Little G and I went into a small local pop up Danish clothes shop, whose bright window display of children's clothes drew us like two magnets. Once inside, I picked out a bright leaf-green T-shirt with farm animals and tractors on it only to be told by the young, so should know better, assistant: 'that's really meant for boys'.

 I bought it. Of course.

To be continued...    ... 

Saturday 29 August 2015

Bedside Books

As most of you probably know by now - and if you do not, where on earth have you been - I write Victorian detective fiction, and am published by an independent book publisher called Crooked Cat Books. In October, they will publish the third book in the series, called Death & Dominion. It will be my 14th published novel; there are many many more unpublished ones festering in the ether drawer.

When I signed with Crooked Cat, I was going through a difficult period in my writing: I'd been published by OUP, and Usborne, two 'big' publishing houses. I'd been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for various other awards, but my (ex)agent had failed to place subsequent books with them, or with anyone else

What was fascinating was seeing the varied reactions to the news that I had been signed up by a ''small Indie''. The overwhelming response was positive. Lots of lovely cyber-hugs and congratulations. Lots of tweets and complimentary comments. A few people even hinted to Crooked Cat that they were lucky to sign me!! A statement that, in hindsight, they probably regard with a degree of wry amusement.

However, there was one sour note. A former contact (I maintain very few now) in the literary world suggested that this was 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 was clearly 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 Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Pure escapism. Mainstream published. Stocked in every bookshop and hugely popular.

Next on the pile is a non-fiction book. I always have a 'non-fiction' book on the go. Usually historical. As I'm writing Book 4, 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.

Third on the pile is Personal Retributions by Andrew French. This is a fast paced spy thriller, set in the 1980s. It is self-published. I know Andrew from social media, and my husband is a great fan of his books.

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?

Monday 24 August 2015

Jimmy Shoes (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G is now 18 months old and has just got her first pair of shoes. They are size 3, purple with sparkly bits and velcro fastenings. You must be mad says they will stabilize her and encourage her to start walking. As I know nothing of these matters, I remain silent.

When I was Little G's age, you had to be actually walking properly before you were shod. Then you stood on a platform thing, with your feet in a box thing and had them X-rayed to ascertain the size. Looking back, I'm not sure this was a good idea. Nowadays, you rock up to the Clarks shoe shop and they have a chart.

Sadly, Little G was not convinced by the chart, nor the kind assistant nor initially by the shoes, and had a total meltdown in the shop, so it was a case of guesswork all round and You must be mad was relieved to escape. So were the rest of the customers.

However Little G now loves her new shoes. She spends a lot of time peeling and sticking the velcro straps because it makes a satisfying sound. She has adopted a strange straight-legged crab crawl to get herself around the house as she adapts to wearing shoes. She also likes 'pushing the buggy' round town - something she wasn't allowed to do before because of sockage wear and tear.
We take ages and ages to get anywhere.

I reassure You must be mad that the baby will eventually let go of the floor and start walking properly. Then I remind her that from shoes to Choos is only a short step. So she'd better start saving.

To be continued ...     ........

Saturday 22 August 2015

The PINK SOFA meets Nancy Jardine, writer

Stretching the category boundaries

Nancy Jardine is one of the lovely Crooked Cat Publishing writers I have got to know since CC started publishing me. Nancy has a new book out: Take me now so of course, the sofa, a bibliophile par excellence, and I wanted to know all about it.
Over to you, Nancy:

''Hello, Carol- thanks for inviting me here today. It’s always great to hop over to see you and share details of my latest novel Take Me Now, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, a publisher with whom you’re very familiar.

Crooked Cat has now published six of my novels, the latest launch at the beginning of June 2015 having been for Take Me Now, a contemporary mystery. If a wider categorisation is used, it should read a ‘humorous contemporary corporate-sabotage romantic mystery’.  That’s a massive mouthful and the permutations of word order are numerous. When describing Take Me Now I’ve called it all of those aspects, though not necessarily all at the same time. As far as I’m aware there’s no classification on a site like Amazon for ‘corporate- sabotage’ mysteries but that’s essentially what the story is about.

When I wrote the novel, I had a few aims in mind. I wanted to write a contemporary novel as a break from writing my historical novels. I wanted to inject some humour into the situation and make my Scottish highland hero Nairn Malcolm an untypical one. In normal circumstances, Nairn would fit the stereotypical brawny claymore-wielding warrior image but at the beginning of Take Me Now, he’s a temporarily damaged alpha male—damaged as a result of a mysterious motorbike accident. The corporate sabotage aspect of the mystery is that Nairn’s adventure sports business is also being attacked by the unknown saboteur. I also wanted to seize the opportunity and write about some fabulous world wide locations which Nairn visits, something I can’t do when writing my historical novels.

And the romantic aspect? Nairn needs help to get himself around the world to keep business ticking over and to find that saboteur. Aela Cameron, a lovely lass from Vancouver Canada, is the perfect person to get Nairn on the go and to help him find the person doing the dastardly deeds. Nothing much fazes Aela: she takes everything in her stride including her somewhat battered temporary boss. 

I’m so pleased that Crooked Cat choose to publish novels that don’t fit the typical categories because I really enjoyed writing Take Me Now.''

Buy from Amazon UK US . It’s also available from Smashwords; Barnes and Noble;; and other ebook stores.

Nancy Jardine writes: historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series); contemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes-finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014); & time-travel historical adventures for Teen/ YA readers (Rubidium Time -Travel Series –Book 1 The Taexali Game).

Find Nancy at the following places
Facebook  LinkedIN    About Me   Goodreads   Twitter @nansjar  Google+ (Nancy Jardine)   YouTube book trailer videos   Amazon UK author page   Rubidium Time Travel Series on Facebook

Monday 17 August 2015

Tumble Tot (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Despite her ongoing lack of verticality, Little G is advancing in other ways. You must be mad calls it Testing the Boundaries. I call it Karma. Suffice it to say, one can no longer rely on 100% compliance, and devious methods have to be adopted to stay one step ahead of her.

The old nappy changing routine involved plonking her on her back and performing the task. Recently, she has taken against this indignity and arches her back, refusing to lie down. I have come up with a series of 'clever wheezes' involving various toys being in charge of various aspects of said change, with her as main Project Manager. It seems to be working. So far.

Food is another area. She likes to have choices and input into what she is going to eat. So we cook together wherever possible. Little G enjoys pouring pasta into saucepans, and dropping sausages into frying pans while we sing the '10 Fat Sausages Sizzling In The Pan' song (go Google). We are the Fanny & Baby Craddock of our generation.

But however much I think I am one step ahead, there is always the unexpected event that happens when you least expect it. Last week Little G managed to climb up onto and then fall off the ottoman in her room while I was temporarily absent. She has never done it before. It is her first major tumble and she has the bruise to prove it.

I know that this is the beginning of many such falls, that neither I nor You must be mad can wrap her in cotton wool, nor would we want to, nor will she let us, but it is a salutary lesson. You can do all the Risk Analysis in the world, but you cannot Project Manage a baby.  Constant change is here to stay. 

To be continued ...          ........

Saturday 15 August 2015

The Price of Everything

Birmingham Libraries are now at the point where government funding to local authorities has been cut so deeply that they have been forced to appeal for 'donations' of books from members of the public and I cannot tell you how despairing I feel about it

I expressed my views about the importance of public libraries a couple of years ago because I was so angry at the closures that were taking place all over the country. Now that the government has just announced a whole new raft of cuts, leading to more closures, or decisions like the one Birmingham has taken, I am still angry.

My first encounter with books was via the local library in Welwyn Garden City, my home town, in the 1950s. Dumped in the children's library, age 4, I selected a book from the box (in those days all picture books had the same plain library covers). I opened it up and there was Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, his Dear Wife Grace and their three Kittens, Pansy, Blache and mischievous Tinkle.

Apart from starting my well known love of cats, it also started me on the path to reading, which led me, in time, to become a librarian and a writer. My parents did not consider buying books for young children as a necessity, as many parents, for a variety of reasons, still don't. Without the books I borrowed each week, my life would have been impoverished.

When I finished university in the 1970s, I started off my library career working for Harlesden Library in the London Borough of Brent. The library, housed in an old Carnegie building (see below), served a poor, ethnically diverse community and was used by people who could not afford to buy books for themselves, or for their children.

The staff were treated with the utmost respect by locals, who valued what we offered and what we represented. I vividly recall being beckoned to the front of a long queue in the local Caribbean greengrocer - the owner succinctly informing the rest of the line that: 'this is the Librarian lady - she got to get back to work!'

Here, our libraries have been 're-structured to meet the needs of the modern user'. As far as I can see, this means they shut at odd times, just when you want to borrow a pile of books, and far too much space is now given over to desks of computers, at which people sit and dicker all day. Mainly playing mindless games. Books? Nah, don't need them. Got to move with the times. Books are relegated to fewer and fewer shelves.

When open, our libraries are frequently manned by 'volunteers' who cost nothing, but do not have the skills or breadth of knowledge to deal with public enquiries, (before you quibble, ask yourself this: would you like your kids to be taught by 'volunteer' teachers? Or your cancer to be operated on by a 'volunteer surgeon'?)

The word ''free'' seems to be anathema to this government, who believes that nobody should get anything without paying for it. They know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. I predict that it won't be long before all libraries are outsourced to a private company, who will start charging per book for borrowing them.

Between 1883 and 1929, the Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funded 2,509 libraries all over the world. I wonder what he would say if he could see how his legacy is being dismantled in the UK today?

                                  Carnegie's sign over Edinburgh Central Library (pic. Kim Traynor)                                                            

Monday 10 August 2015

Food for Thought (Adventures of L-PlateGran)

Little G is back from her holidays, tanned, taller and still not walking. You must be mad is not happy about this, as she is about to graduate to the Toddlers' Room at nursery. Only she isn't toddling. Watching Little G hoist herself to a wobbly stand and then pitch forward, I can see it from her point of view. Why spoil a good thing? Crawling gets you from A to Z. Standing just lands you face down on the carpet.

Now she is back, we are resuming our old routines once more, so today it's off to Wagamama for our Wednesday lunch date. We always have the same dish: grilled chicken, noodles, grated carrot, sweetcorn and strange green veg that we regard with some suspicion.

We walk to the restaurant. As it is the summer holidays, there are a lot more parents and children around town. We steer carefully as all the parents seem to be on their phones. Once we are seated, Little G and I start drawing with the crayons. Several children drift over to watch. We discuss Little G's amazing ability to draw wiggly lines in yellow crayon.

While we eat our lunch, Little G points to things that she likes: the ceiling tiles, the light fittings, the jolly stripy flags the council has put up to make the precinct look festive. We compare our lunches to see who has eaten the most. I help her with the fiddly bits.

As always, we get complimented on Little G's behaviour: the way she sits so nicely, the way she eats up all her food. I smile, say thank you. At the end of our lunch, I pack her back into the buggy. She waves at the staff. They coo and wave back. She waves at the children. They laugh and wave back. She waves at the parents. But they are on their phones, so they don't notice.

To be continued ....    .......

Saturday 8 August 2015

The Older the Better

A thought-provoking week at Hedges Towers, which began with my best friend E having one of those encounters that keeps the iron of revolt firmly embedded in my soul. She was queuing at the checkout in Waitrose with her lovely young daughter, who has Downs. Because daughter does not do waiting patiently, E with permission from the understanding checkout staff, always gives her a small handful of those green counters to post in the Community Matters slots while she bags and pays.

She had just handed over the counters when one of the hard-faced women I refer to privately as Harpies (portmanteau word Harpenden + ladies) tapped her on the shoulder and informed her coldly that her child was only allowed ONE green counter. Now E is a Canadian with a tongue that could remove paint from walls, but as she said, 'It was holidays and the store was full of kids.'

So she took a deep breath, called daughter over, and proceeded to prize the green counters, one by one from her reluctant fingers. By the end of the exercise, daughter was sobbing, the queue had reached epic proportions, and Harpie was so red and rigid you could have used her to stop traffic. Sadly, this says all you need to know about my town and many of its older inhabitants.

Meanwhile closer to home, I decide BH needs a new aftershave as the one he wears is getting on my nerves. Ever mindful of the Estee Lauder Youth Dew Incident*, I wait until the weekend when he is around, to test drive products. (*This was the infamous Christmas present that I was given quite early on in our marriage, because a woman where he worked wore it and he thought it smelled very nice. On her, maybe. On me it smelled like week old cat litter. Money completely wasted but hey, a lesson usefully learned.)

Arriving at John Lewis on Saturday, I head straight for the 'Men's fragrances' a place BH dreads almost as much as a visit to the dentist - apparently it's the word 'fragrances' coupled with the scary ladies armed with bottles, fixed smiles and slightly more teeth than expected - and spend a happy time getting various strips of card sprayed before meeting BH outside the coffee place. Over coffee, I persuade him to sniff, smell and critique the various colognes. He says they all smell exactly the same and he doesn't like any of them. Just as well, as I'd forgotten which one was which anyway. And they all seem to cost a ridiculous amount of money in the first place.

So I have thrown the elderly bottle of aftershave away, leaving BH to smell of BH, which is actually quite nice for a change. See, that's another good thing about strolling gently towards one's dotage: there are so many things you no longer need: expensive cologne, eyelash curlers, mini hair-straighteners, eyebrow threading kits, waxing strips, designer sunglasses, hair extensions, false nails, fake tan and selfie sticks. The older I get, the more low maintenance I become. Nowadays I just that check I'm not in my slippers, can still remember my name and destination, and I'm good to go.

Monday 3 August 2015

Time Out (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

It has been, as they say, a quiet week. You must be mad and Little G are currently away on a family summer holiday in Devon. First exposure to sea and beach for the baby. Sand in, sand out, as they say. So I have had time to breathe, stand back and take stock.

Things I like about minding a small baby

* The use of totally legal weaponry in the form of a purple buggy with 'edges'
* Unconditional love
* The challenge of avoiding collateral damage when removing unsavoury objects from mouth
* The feel of two little arms around my neck when I pick her up
* The company of somebody for whom a trip to the swings is cause for massive celebration
* Realising that I'm not quite as unfit as I thought
* Reading books with VERY simple plots and LOTS of pictures that I don't have to review on Amazon          
* Hosting lavish 'tea parties' which never end in unacceptable weight gain

Things I don't like about minding a small baby

* The 'missing her terribly' feeling when she goes on holiday

To be continued .....    ......

Sunday 2 August 2015

The Migrant's Prayer 2015

May you never see children hungry
May you never hear parents dying
May you never hold out your hand
And plead for help from a turned back.

May you never have hope taken from you
May you never have dignity denied you
May you never hold out your hand
And plead for help from a turned back.

May there always be food on your table
May there always be blankets to warm you
May you never hold out your hand
And plead for help from a turned back.

May your children grow straight and strongly
May they live to be wise and kindly
May they never hold out their hands
And plead for help from a turned back

c. Carol Hedges 2015

Saturday 1 August 2015

Twitter Outrage for Writers

It is a sad fact of life that there are people who like nothing better than to stir up trouble as in: ''have stick, will poke it into this hornets' nest'' and Twitter seems to be the perfect forum for such people to indulge their proclivities. I have witnessed some right car crashes unfolding in the three years since I joined Twitter as a fledgling.

It seems to me that there is something about an impersonal forum, where one can hide behind a screen and a manufactured identity that suits the mentality of certain people, as it permits them to throw out what in the real world might be seen as sheer and unmitigating unpleasantness.

So how do we respond to the snarky comments, the tantrum-throwing and the frankly agenda-laced aggressive nutters that patrol Twitter and other forums? Are there unwritten rules of behaviour? Because if we are writers with books to sell, we have to put ourselves out there and then we are going to meet individuals whose opinions and stances and behavioural 'norms' differ radically from ours. How should we deal with this?

I believe there is a difference between disagreeing over a particular issue, and launching a personal attack on another Twitter member and their tweets. I undergo the latter every now and then, so I can completely understand why, in such a circumstance, one would want to create digital distance by unfollowing or blocking the attacker. After all, if it was real life, you'd certainly cross the road to avoid their company in future.

Blocking/unfollowing someone with whom you happen to have started a lively dialogue over an issue, however strongly you or they feel about it, is in my opinion the equivalent of stamping your foot, storming out and slamming the door. I did it at 13. Maybe you did it too. I don't do it now because I hope I'm more grown up. Thus I am happy to say: 'OK, let's agree to differ on this one. Thanks for the chat,' and drop out of the discussion, which is what I chose to do in a discussion about Calais migrants I got involved in recently.
Also, I always remind myself, whenever I am sorely tempted to let rip, of what happened when I spoke at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago. There I witnessed a nasty row take place, in public, between two very well-known writers. I remember thinking at the time: if that's the way you behave, then I don't think I want to read your books. And I never have. Twitter can seem like one's front room. It isn't, and it's important to realise that anybody can and will read what I tweet, and see how I react.

So what do you think? Do you speak your mind - whatever the outcome? How do you deal with Twitter outrage? I'd really like to know.