Thank you for visiting this blog site. It's mainly writing-related posts including thoughts, tips, info and psychological aspects of writing. If you felt like following, well that would be great.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Best From My 2011

To round off the year, here's a list of the ten gadgets or other items that have made my 2011 better, easier, safer or more fun. They're not in any special order. I wonder if any of them appear in your own top ten...

  1  The first decent crop of carrots I've ever harvested: a bit knobbly and whiskery, but tasting wonderful.

  2  Setting up an external hard drive after a crash that lost masses of text and pictures, some lost for ever.

  3  We both bought silver acupressure rings from Boots ( which have all but eliminated
          sn*ring and greatly improved our sleep. But don't tell. Btw, Holland & Barrett do a cheaper version, same

  4  Finishing my first children's novel about Millie the Detective and submitting it.

  5  Acquiring an iPad.

  6  Negotiating a better contract with BT - didn't realise you had to do this annually otherwise a worse contract can
          come into play without you knowing.

  7  Successfully losing 2 stones weight, thus reaching my target and maintaining it with significant health benefits.

  8  Seeing one of my poems published on the internet ( - What The Dickens magazine), and
          another - together with 2 pieces of non-fiction and one drama - in our Writing Buddies anthology Wordfall.

  9  In my (large) Christmas stocking, lovely non-slip wellingtons with fleecy lining.

10  Finally clearing most of my 'professional working life' from my den and making a decent amount of desk space for
          my writing.

Happy New Year, everyone!
(Any comments very welcome of course.)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Writing Targets: They Should Be Servant, Not Master

To-do lists, savings plans, shopping lists, the 'to-be-read' pile, deadlines, NaNoWriMo - they're all targets of a sort. Fine if they seem attainable, and you're in charge - then they're your servants. Bad news if if they're too threatening - they're your masters.

Fiction or non-fiction, there can't be many writers who don't set themselves writing targets. Without them, productivity would probably be slower, but they can generate more tension than is helpful. Here are some brief thoughts on why inappropriate targets can cause problems, and how wise and considered targets are the business.

Inappropriate Targets
Key issues here include timing and scope ...

1  If a writing target has been set by someone or something else, and it seems unattainable, it should not
    be agreed in the first place, but negotiated.

2  If the completion target is too soon, it may cause the writer to speed up, but this will bring an
    unhelpful degree of stress, so quality may be affected because research/planning/editing are rushed.

3  Careful planning is important when a writer suggests their own target to an outside agency. If
    anything, the temptation is to offer a deadline which is closer than it might be.

4  Most writers prefer always to say 'yes' to a request for work - especially true for non-fiction writers.
    I have pitched an article in detail recently, only to be told it would be fine if I changed the angle
    substantially. I agreed; it involved unexpected research, but the deadline was well ahead so the task
    was manageable without stress. Taking on an assignment of any sort which is beyond a writer's usual
    scope needs consideration - it can be uplifting and fascinating but will be hard work.

5  Lastly, writers who take on NaNoWriMo but get bogged down and can't complete should never
    beat themselves up about it. It was a good target in itself, but in their case it turned out not to be
    appropriate. It's a strength to come to terms with that.

Happy Targets
1  A goal which the writer really wants to reach.

2  A goal towards which there is a 'time-planned journey' which includes some leeway to allow for
    unexpected problems.

3  Maybe a target which is broken down into units, such as first draft: chapter 1 within 10 days,
    chapter 2 within the next 8 days, and so on. For articles, could be plan day 1, research days 2-4,
    first draft day 5, final edit day 6.

4  If working with units, good idea to use a chart so that they can be ticked off as completed. Very
    motivating, and gives writers 'permission' to log off if they're ready to.

5  Best bit - plan a suitable reward for completion of units, and a cracker of a treat at the end. (But then
    you probably already do that last one already, judging by Twitter!)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

What Twitter Tells Us About Writers

From now on, the Greek letter psi (below) will be at the head of any posts originating from my psychology brain.

Among the accounts I follow on Twitter are a good number of writers, some already successful and others on their way to publication. Keeping track of what they all appear to be saying, doing, feeling, thinking, enjoying and dreading makes really interesting reading. It also reassures me that I should continue to call myself a writer, as I identify so much with the common trends.

Here are ten threads which crop up time and time again, and if you're a writer (at any level), it would be great to know if you recognise a number of these.

1   A true passion for writing. Those in full time writing don't contemplate any other career,
     while others are finding time to write and are hoping eventually to 'give up the day job'.

2   There are sometimes lulls in the creative flow, but these are rarely 'wasted'. Rather, they 
     are used for a different creative activity or to polish off jobs from the 'to do list'.

3   As much of the work of writing is done in the mind, writers find it hard to switch off at
     night. They may take ages to get to sleep, or wake in the night with an important idea or
     a solution for a work in progress. (If this applies, so might my earlier post about sleep!)

4   Editing is seen as a greater task than the original draft. While editing, writers often take a
     short break to tweet about their efforts and problems with it, and this usually elicits not 
     only sympathy but also encouragement and an invitation to keep everyone updated. This
     is hugely supportive, and gratefully received.

5  Even the most experienced and successful writers appear occasionally to suffer anxiety 
    or self-doubt before an important launch or talk. I think this reflects a felt need to'write
    more and write better'. This kind of urge seems more common in creative people.

6  I may get kicked for this one, but a trend is for women writers to reveal their feelings 
    and uncertainties about writing more readily than do the men.

7  Euphoria quite rightly goes with publication or launch, but may be followed by a slump in
    creativity - though the slump is well tolerated and doesn't last long.

8  Champagne or sparkling wine ...

9   A great sense of humour.

10  Most successful writers have partners who are extremely supportive. Excellent!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A Psychologist Lurks Within the Writer's Mind

A degree in psychology usually takes three years; however, I believe that the committed writer quickly gets the basics.

Fiction writers, especially, are inveterate people watchers. What's she thinking? Why's he doing that? Those lads think they look hard. I bet those two have had a row. They're both besotted with the baby. He favours the older child over the younger. And so on. This sort of 'imaginative inquisitiveness' must be important to those who construct novels or stories. On the surface it seems just plain nosy, but we extrapolate to the why, how, who, what happened, what's next set of questions. This allows the reader to see into the minds of the characters, and edges them into making predictions for the rest of the writing. My guess is that this is especially important to crime writers, but it's somewhere in every writer's mind.

Non-fiction writers perhaps use a different set of psychology strands. Taking magazine articles, the writer works out what kind of people read a particular mag, what their interests are, what they are likely to enjoy reading about, and how to reflect their characteristics back at them to engage and keep their attention.

I've been thinking about this partly as a (former) psychologist and (current sometime) writer, and also having returned from a week at a Croatian hotel where nearly one third of guests were British, and almost all the rest were Japanese. People's approach to buffet meals seemed to be closely related to ethnicity - what time they turned up, how they approached the laid out food, what they chose, how quickly they ate, whether they chatted between mouthfuls. Then there was 'the man who studied everyone' (yes, yes, I know), the self-consciously glamorous girls, the couple who never spoke, the wife who did all the choosing, fetching and carrying for her man, the older blokes who chatted up the waitresses, those who always sat as close to the buffet as possible. The waitress probably thought of me as 'the woman who thinks she can speak a bit of Croatian'. All grist to the writer's mill, and endlessly fascinating.

So greeting to all writers/psychologists! For anyone not Greek-alphabet-minded, the sign at the top is meant to be the Greek letter psi, the logo used for psychology. And mine is Pi.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Writers and unpaid publication

This is such a thorny issue. Probably like most writers, I've been on both sides of the line.

My first published work was a regular pop music column in The Royston Crow, which I started at age about thirteen. It was no hardship - I'd always been a creative writer, and worked on Saturdays in my parents' electrical/record/pram/bike shop. Placed in sole charge of ordering, displaying and selling all the records, too - 45s, EPs and LPs. (Just post the 78rpm era.) Really thrilling at that age - the envy of my pop-mad fans. And I got hold of a press card so that I met Adam Faith, Cliff, Billy Fury and all the rest to interview for the paper. It enabled me to chat with Karl Denver while he changed after his act, so I got to see his underpants. *** Highlight *** And I was invited to accompany Shane Fenton and the Fentones to a restaurant - and they paid.

I'd asked for the column, and the editor said he couldn't pay me. (Even then.) But still, occasionally I would nip into the office, ask to see him, and beg a fee. The result was usually a fiver - my first earnings from writing.

For many years after that, everything published - mainly non-fiction - was for a suitable fee. After a lapse, I returned to writing, and was aghast at the minimal fees offered. £40 for a two-page article with photos, for example. Then, reader, I stooped. Having not made much effort with short stories since a couple in national magazines, I submitted one to a more local mag who accepted on a non-paid basis. Had a go at asking for a token fee, but told 'I love an optimist'!

The arguments against unpaid work are sound. Like internships, some publications know they can get hold of reasonable work without having to pay for it, and this encourages the work-for-nothing ethos. Then the paying markets for writers might start to shrink. Also, of course, it can devalue our work and make it seem unworthy.

However, on balance I wouldn't decry the idea. A writer starting out will benefit from something for the CV - no need to mention it's unpaid. Being published under whatever terms is a great boost to confidence, too. And it does mean that the publication is more likely to survive. Some new magazines say they can't pay initially, but will once they take off - although we'd need to monitor to see if they keep their word. Once a writer is established, there should be no need to work for nothing, which is great. But it's a long road and there are various pathways to writing glory. Bring on the glory!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Short post - a family poem

Wanted to share this poem, written recently by my very lovely granddaughter Olivia. With her permission of course ...

My Home

A safe haven,
A nest to hide away,
A familiar, welcoming embrace,
My home.

My bedroom, a friendly mess,
A treasure trove of memories,
I can relax, remember,
In my home.

In my bedroom, I am free as a bird,
To do what I like, think how I wish,
Letting my true self shine,
My home.

From dazzling white to crimson red,
Our past pasted to the walls,
In the ever-changing camouflage
Of my home.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ladies: Pregnancy in 1911 - How to Dress, Cure Burning Feet and Manage Hysteria

Who'd know that 'Tokology' is the science of obstetrics and midwifery? The author of the book of that name certainly did. She was Alice B Stockham from Chicago, the fifth woman to become a doctor in the USA. Born 1833, died 1912, the year after the book was published.

Tokology is an amazing collection of advice for the time. It covers aspects of pregnancy including how to dress, conception, foetal growth, diet, physical and psychological health issues, hygiene, birth itself and afterwards, and 'diseases of women'. Its style is chatty and very accessible.

Here are brief quotes about some of these areas.

How to Dress 
If women could be made to understand what is gained by absolutely dressing the waist free from any pressure or constriction, we could predict a near millennium of safety and freedom of pain in childbirth. It (is) hopeless to convince any lady that the bands of her skirts and drawers are any detriment to her in the performance of natural functions.

Burning Feet
Best relieved by bathing them in very hot water. A sand bath, too, is excellent. Have a box of moist sand, in which bury the feet for thirty or forty minutes.

Hysteria (Stockham sees the same root here as in hysterectomy)
Hysteria is only a culmination or exaggeration of the reflex or nervous symptoms in diseases of the uterus. It is simply temporary insanity. Some quiet, decisive means will restore her. Inhalation of ammonia, cold water on the head, a hot foot bath ... readily establishes her balance. Banish agitation from your manner, and then say ... "Why, you are all right!" Get her attention, then with tact relate some incident, or make some startling statement. To prevent the attacks, treat the uterine affection from which they arise.

Frequent bathing in pregnancy is of the greatest importance. The sponge or towel bath, taken two or three times a week, is stimulating and invigorating. It should be followed by friction with a Turkish towel  or coarse mitten. Foot and leg baths... taken warm they will relieve nervousness, sleeplessness and irritability.

Colic, Neuralgia and Inflammation
The very best method of making hot applications is by means of the rubber "hot water bottle". No well regulated family should be without a hot water bottle.

                    *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *
If anyone should require more helpful advice, just let me know! Seriously, though, much of Stockham's advice is still practised now and considered sound - although I'm not sure that the sand bath would help, even if we had 30 or 40 minutes to spare. Still, that's the sort of situation for which laptops were created.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Wildlife on our Doorstep

Despite knowing about Marwell Wildlife Park for years, we'd never been. On August 31st, though, with our son, daughter-in-law and both granddaughters visiting, we all trogged off to Marwell (near Southampton and Winchester).  The visit was unforgettable.

We took about four hours to stroll around the recommended route, in addition to a picnic break - they don't insist you eat only their food, unlike theme parks - and there are plenty of clean picnic areas or grassy patches. (Vegetarian sausage and ketchup wraps featured strongly for us.)

Though signed as a zoological park, Marwell doesn't have elephants, lions or spiders. They specialise in endangered animals and those rarely seen in UK zoos.

So many stunning, odd, beautiful creatures, it'd take all day to blog about them all. But here are my favourites; unless attributed, the pictures were taken by John or me.

Giant Anteater - elusive, hiding
behind the post

The wondrous Capybara, by
Jay Dodge via

We've a huge ink line drawing of an anteater on our living room wall. The only colour ink used is a rusty red.
Ring-tailed lemurs - perky, friendly,
and keen sunbathers

 The ever-popular Meerkat
on 'sentry duty'
My personal favourite, the Okapi
By John Morris via
Visitors stand in the enclosure on the
right, and the Giraffes come very
close - a bit crowded at the time
so couldn't get face shot.

The okapi has a giraffe-like head, body and size similar to a horse, and rear end like a zebra. Marwell has several okapis, and each can be identified by matching the pattern of stripes on its haunches and hind legs to the pictures on the wall!

The three snow leopard cubs born 12 weeks previously would not come out of their 'cave' for their visitors, sadly, even though we waited, and waited ...  A good plan would have been to go straight to their enclosure on arrival (it's near the end of the recommended route), and if no luck, then to return later. And the gift shop can be quite expensive for some items. Entrance fees at first seem quite high, e.g. from now to end of October, £18 adults, £12 children, £50 family ticket, but I consider Marwell good value. Their website has all the details: . Prices in the gift shop can be quite high, although there's a huge range of wantable goods.

We all plan to return to Marwell sometime soon. It really is, as they say, "A Grand Day Out".

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Autographs (3)

Here is another selection from my late aunt Sheila's autograph book.

First, an image from 1929 - they made such an effort then.

And some text entries.

   In a room there were three,
   He, the little lamp, and she.
   Two is company no doubt,
   So the little lamp went out.

       Tis love that makes the world go round.
       Upon this thought I linger:
       Tis love that makes a ring fit round
       A girl's engagement finger.

(Don't try saying this quickly after a glass or two.)

            Oh! The gladness of her gladness when she's glad,
            And the sadness of her sadness when she's sad.
            But the gladness of her gladness
            And the sadness of her sadness
            Are nothing to her BADNESS when she's BAD!

I don't know the history behind this, but I can guess.

     All good girls love their brothers,
     But Sheila so good has grown,
     She loves someone else's brother
     Far better than her own.


Twas in a restaurant they met,
Romeo and Juliet.
T'was there that Romeo fell in debt,
For Romeoed what Juliet.

And finally, this is from an apparent fan in 1935. I'm not a dog person but am bewitched by it.

Thanks very much for your visit.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Cardiff, Computers, Wallpaper and Jokes

What a fortnight of ups and downs. First, five days in Cardiff - very relaxing, loads of walking around. Visited Llandaff cathedral, which we really liked and I managed not to trip on the paving as per Glasgow cathedral.

Returned on the Friday to find my computer hard drive had crashed. Rushed to Apple store, but after much testing and tutting (by the 'Apple genius') he said, "How recently did you back this up?" New hard drive fitted, and I hope to take the old one to a recovery centre to see if they can salvage any pics, documents and/or email addresses as I hadn't backed up for a couple of months. Will now sort out using Time Machine for auto back-up.

In the week following, spent nearly 4 hours on the phone to BT (India) as my Entourage and BTYahoo emails were locked; first they said sorry, can't fix it. Then a local engineer had a go distantly, then BT again. Now I've dumped Entourage and BTYahoo seems to be working, but I've lost all my email addresses so have to build up again.

During this same week the decorator has been in - due to finish in about an hour or so, if I'm any judge. It's a sweat having someone in 8.30 to 6 daily, but he's a really nice chap and has done a great job. Hall, stairs and landing now look like one of the homes you see on Morse or Lewis.

Since I've been so grumpy recently and am now cheerful again, here are my three favourite jokes of the moment. Sorry, Essex.
A lady is out walking, and sees a man approaching alongside a dog. The dog runs to her, so she asks, "Does your dog bite?" He says not, but the dog bites her all the same. "I thought you said your dog doesn't bite."  "That's not my dog."
(This joke works better said aloud, but ...
What's an Essex girl's favourite wine?
"I wanna go to Lakeside."
A couple are out to dinner. A blonde walks up and embraces the husband very warmly then walks off. The wife demands to know who she is. "She's my mistress," he says. Wife is about to sound off when a redhead walks in, goes over to a male friend of the couple at a nearby table, and embraces him. Wife says, "Who was that?" "That's his mistress." "Poof" says the wife. Ours is prettier."
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Autograph lines and artwork from the 1920s

In this second post of three featuring autograph book entries, these are from my aunt's book. She was born in 1912, and the entries date from the 1920s to very early 1930s. I treasure this book, and hope you like the extracts. When I can get blogger to put the pictures straight in, I will. In the meantime the links are there.
Definition of a Kiss
   Something rather naughty, something rather nice,
   Something rather wicked, though it can't be called a vice.
   Some people say it's folly, others say it's wrong -
   But we all agree it's folly, though it doesn't last long.

autograph book entry 1923

       If you wish to grow thinner,
       Diminish your dinner
       And take to light claret
       Instead of pale ale.
       Look down with utter
       Contempt upon butter
       And never eat bread
       Till it's toasted or stale.
(no date)

Autograph book entry 1930

" Dad's Wearing Mine - He's a Golfer"
(no date)

             A ship without a rudder
             And a ship without a sail -
             But the coldest thing in winter
             Is a shirt without a tail.

Autograph book entry 1931


"It's a Gunner. Every Time It's a Gunner!"

                  By gum!
                  It's stuck!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Notes from an Autograph Book

This is a version of "I packed my bag", but I packed my autograph book instead. Star-struck from early teens, I have the signatures of most of the pop stars of the early sixties, just pre-Beatles. Even so, my favourite entries are rhymes and comments from mates and other people dear to me. Here is a sample.

My heart is like a cabbage it's easily cut in two.
The leaves I give to anyone, the heart I give to you.

First comes low school, then comes high,
Then comes Jackie with a good-looking guy.
Then comes love and then comes marriage,
Then comes Jackie with a baby in a carriage.

Never kiss a boy whose eyes are brown,
He'll kiss you once then turn you down.
Never kiss a boy whose eyes are grey -
He'll kiss you once then turn away.
But kiss a boy whose eyes are blue -
He'll kiss you once then ask for two!

The teachers are good people, they go to church on Sunday.
They pray to God to give them strength to whack the boys on Monday.

     *          *          *
Two themes emerge from these - love and flogging. It wasn't like that really - honest! There are others which I might post separately, and maybe extracts from my mother's autograph book. Not to mention the pop stars. Unsurprisingly, Adam Faith features fairly largely.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Writers: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream - If Only!

There's so much evidence lately that lack of sleep is bad for our physical and mental health. Performance in everything we need to do can be affected, largely because of less efficient concentration and coordination. For this post, I am wearing my psychologist's hat.

A glance at tweets first thing in the morning throws up a number of problems with sleep - can't drop off, waking in the night, tired in the morning. Waking in the night may be due to outside disturbance, e.g. from young children, neighbours, snoring partners, all of which are hopefully transient. Tired in the morning may be due to disturbed sleep, but also to ...

Difficulty Getting to Sleep
People whose work depends on thinking skills may have particular problems with this. My theory about writers is that their creative minds just keep on, well, creating. Their work output is dependent mainly on creative thinking, and Twitter timings show that they may be planning, writing or editing at any time of the day or even night. Simply trying to switch off the buzzing brain will not work.

One good way round this is to change tack and concentrate instead on unimportant, mundane things which will allow the brain to wind down slowly. Another is to visualise taking concerns out of your brain and into a safe place where they can await your attention. Here is one of my own devised methods for each approach.

Supermarket Sweep
This involves visualisation and simple addition. Think of the supermarket you visit most often. Then imagine collecting a trolley outside, and walking up and down the aisles in your usual order. As you go, pick up any items you like or tend to buy, and place them in the trolley. Estimate their price in multiples of 50p, e.g. cauliflower £1, bananas £1, baguette 50p, Toblerone (my favourite) £2.50p, and so on. Keep a running total as you go (£5.50 so far, zzzzz).

When I've used this, I have never got as far as the checkout before falling asleep. However, it only works if your brain is already whirring.

Pile Them Up
This works well if you have multiple writing-related to-do things on your mind, especially decisions to make about various writing matters. It is less rousing than switching on the light and writing notes. The issues could be sourcing or researching, character name/trait, resolving a plot problem, when to submit, what to enter for a comp, how to phrase the next blogpost even. But it also works for other nagging matters such as choosing someone's gift by next Wednesday, whether to buy an omega 3 & 6 supplement, or which book to start reading next. Here goes:

Imagine a large room, lavishly decorated (for some reason this helps me) but otherwise completely bare. Smooth, antique oak floorboards. You enter the room, carrying all these to-do things as objects in your arms. Take the first, most pressing item, think about it briefly, and then carefully place it on the floor. Walk away slowly, and do the same with each item you are carrying. This should be mentally relaxing, and - oddly - the dumped items seem to be readily accessible in the morning.

             *             *             *             *
Well I hope one or other of these methods might be of use when you feel tired but can't stop the words and issues buzzing in your brain. I'd love it if anyone would comment, and maybe let me know if either of them helped.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

I don't belong to Glasgow - but I could.

It was odd being away from social media for five days, but thanks very much to those who noticed I was missing. Flew up to Glasgow from Southampton to celebrate the OM's birthday, and stayed in a great apartment in the Merchant City area of central Glasgow.

Glasgow is famous for many things, not least the fantastic array of Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed houses, furniture, school, clocks and so on, together with the coordinating designs by his wife Margaret. No idea why this stuff sets off pleasure parts of the brain, but it does (for me anyway). I had to be torn away from the decor at the Willow Tea Rooms in Buchanan Street, still glancing back over my shoulder as we left. I recall once a Mackintosh designed teaspoon from there was sold on an antiques programme by Anita Manning of the Great Western Auction rooms in Glasgow for an amazing sum. The Glasgow School of Art is a great centre of focus; unfortunately the students' final year exhibition was being installed and so most of the school was out of bounds. I bought several things, though, including a postcard with a photo of a set of Mackintosh cutlery. Oddly lovely.

At the other end of the scale is the Barras fleamarket. The concierge gave us a strange look when we said were were going. Then we found out why. Although there's an occasional antique (e.g. a rusty and very old Marmet pram), most items can be described only as junk, from dirty worn-out shoes to (literal) bundles of rags. It was desperate to see what people were trying to sell, and even more desperate (for them) that no-one was interested.

Other impressions include: high proportion of people smoking in the street, huge number of restaurants, lack of antique shops, very windy, people very cheerful and friendly, plenty of sniffing, men frequently belching in the street, especially mid-morning (maybe diet?), but wonderful Victorian architecture and a wealth of great art in museums and galleries. Last but not least, the excellent Glasgow Police Museum, where an enthusiastic ex-copper guided us around and proved an excellent host.

Don't know whether to be glad or sorry that we saw neither hide nor hair of a deep-fried Mars Bar. A great trip, however, with so many visual memories

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Twitter the Seductress, and Other Things

Twitter must be the great seductress of our time. (I think female.)  She lures us in, so that she can take from us our time, and then our money as she persuades us to buy books, cheesecake, tools, jewellery, and anything else in tweets in our timeline.

I can't be alone in not wanting to 'miss something important'. This means I return time and time again to Twitter to keep up with the timeline and make sure I scan everything there. Then there are links - who can resist the pictures of pet cats and dogs (I can't) or the clamped car with graffiti on it: "F***ing Keep It"? On the positive side, I have found the odd writing opportunity and have won a few prizes, too, as a reward for monitoring.

The last four books I have bought have been written or edited by writers whom I follow on Twitter. It's a great marketing tool;  friendly tweets modestly mention their latest book, give quotes from it, and make it really easy to buy, interspersed with some fun and maybe interesting personal revelations. Then other authors praise the book. In the end, I may decide to order - though impressions must be accurate, since I seem always to enjoy the books and can then write a good review. Interestingly, though, authors whose tweets are never conversational or amusing, but almost always just impersonally promote their book, can have the opposite effect.

Twitter sucks us in to respond to other people's questions and comments, and to show appreciation. Then we return to see if we have a reply, or we investigate those followed by our favourites, and add them to our ever-growing list. And oh, the guilt at unfollowing (except for irrelevant businesses such as tarpaulin loans). Thus Twitter feeds on us, which makes it grow continually. A winning formula indeed.

And "in other news", I have now received the set of posh pans as the prize for my star letter in June Sainsbury's Magazine, and have entered another writing comp. My commissioned article on sleep is researched and ready to write, and other pitches are planned. And the set lunch at Rasraj restaurant, Oxford Street, Southampton is organic, very nice, and only £5.95. My first foodie note for ages.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Apologies for Crowing ...

... because I'm on a bit of a high at the moment.

After being away from writing for ages until a couple of years ago, I'm back in the fray. Wanted to share my position.

The current issue of Writers' News has my short piece about World Book Night, as I may have mentioned ... The latest Writers' Forum has printed my letter (though with an error - I wrote 'hoist by my own petard' and they altered it to 'hoisted', which is embarrassing). It means, hopefully, a coveted moleskine notebook. The next issue of Sainsbury's magazine is expected to include a letter from me, too.

Article-wise, Fond Memories of the WAAF will be included in a national mag's 'special', and one of Bauer's mags has commissioned an article on sleep for a July issue.

I'm currently reading a self-published book I was sent for review; it is full of errors and inconsistencies, but I was advised to 'tell it like it is' in the review.

Southampton's famous theatre company, The Maskers, has set a competition locally for a 10-minute play, with a very particular brief. They hosted a meeting for writers on the 19th April, which included their members doing a read-through of the play which is to inspire the competition entries. I am aiming to have a good go at this, especially as my previous 10-minuter did well in Southampton Writing Buddies' anthology competition and will appear in the anthology in due course.

Since I am positively fizzing with writing stuff, I'll stop and get back to it. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

My 10 Reasons Why Twitter is Good for Writers

Oh yes, I know this may not contain ground-breaking information, but it represents my thoughts and I hope it may be a reminder of why we keep tweeting.

  1  Twitter is, of course, a great way to marshall followers into noticing and hopefully reading our work,
      whether the writing is available free or at a cost.

  2  Followers can be tempted by offers through our tweets or through links to our websites.

  3  Opportunities pop up occasionally for paid work, free books for review (which is writing), etc.

  4  All sorts of (free) writing advice is offered through links to sites and blogs.

  5  Tweets can convey requests for practical advice, e.g. writing-related technology playing up, whether
      one character name might be preferred over another.

  6  Author events can be promoted in advance and up to the last minute. Feedback after events can help
      writers decide whether to attend next time.

  7  The huge variety of tweets can be a source of ideas for writing, whether its their content or the
      use of the medium itself.

  8  The original wit which floods Twitter can be a stimulus for fast creative thought, e.g. read the
      comments by @DowningStCat or @tom_cox, and reply comments start to spill out - this can keep
      thinking sharp.

  9  It can be good to realise that nearly all writers have 'issues' in common, such as distractibility, self
      doubt, and evidently our passion for alcohol and chocolate (preferably together).

10  Finally, Twitter gives an idea of what people are writing, what agents are looking for, and what
      publishers of books and magazines want. So many people in each category are generous with their
      advice and information.

Although that's my 10, I must add that, as all regulars know, Twitter is a source of enormous fun most of the time, and sympathy, support and congratulation when needed. I just love it. And I blame author Catherine Miller (@katylittlelady) for persuading us at Southampton Writing Buddies that we can't live without Twitter!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Retreats Into Shell ...

Somewhat quiet on the writing front at present; giving more time to reading. When I last blogged, our cat Minnie was in strange mood, very picky with food, making a racket all night for attention. For months if not years we have been unable to get a full night's sleep, but did everything we could to make Minnie comfortable. Now, however, after several really difficult weeks we have had to say goodbye. Hard to get used to a quiet, empty house after 18 years, and I'm keeping my head down until I'm out of the mope zone.

Even so, I've just had a very short piece accepted for Members News in Writers' News magazine, and also a letter for Sainsbury's magazine. The Southern Daily Echo printed my letter bleating about being nearly mown down by cyclists on the pavements of The Avenue - I just want them to call out 'bike coming' if they are rushing up behind pedestrians. Haven't had the mental energy for rewriting my Millie the Detective book, but plan to attend a local talk by a children's author and her publisher.

If anyone wants to start a campaign, how about 'save the semi-colon'? I've always found it to be appropriate in writing fluent text, but think I'm in a minority.

More blogging in due course when things settle. Thanks for reading this.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Books read, books written, and bus drivers

Been reading more than writing lately. I greatly enjoyed Isabel Ashdown's Glasshopper, and wrote a review on Amazon's site. I've just finished Diamonds and Pearls; this is a collection of short stories for a charity anthology, each by a different author. It's an enjoyable read; it turns out that most of the stories were previously published in magazines, especially Woman's Weekly, The Weekly News, and Take a Break Fiction Feast. I admit I was expecting a 'serious literary' read, but the book is a good chance for writers to immerse themselves in successful short fiction. Next read is Sue Moorcroft's Want to Know a Secret?

I was invited to review Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso, which is about to be published. It was made clear beforehand that this was an autobiography about long-term child abuse; however, I was not prepared for some of the details. There was also an issue, for me, with the clear description of the grooming and its fruition and continuation almost 'explaining' the abuser's rationale. At the same time the book is an important work which, hopefully, will help to alert families and teachers to some of the signs of abuse - all of which were missed by other adults responsible for Fragoso as a child. Phew!

The critique of my novel for children gave it a good going over. Some aspects were thought fine, but clearly a rewrite is needed. I'm quite okay with this, and agreed with the points which were made. Before I tackle the rewrite, I am again reading successful, published work for children in the relevant age range.

As a book giver, John and I had a good adventure on World Book Night. Writers' News has sort-of agreed to print my account in the Members' News section of the magazine. As a preview, it involves a stropulent bus driver, the crafty sneaking of books to people who wanted them, chatting to those on the streets in Winchester who weren't giving us a wide berth, and hanging around a pub with a group of somewhat drunken young people who wanted to help. We accidentally gate-crashed a wedding reception at the Guildhall, too.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Reading, Writing, 'Rithmetic

They say writers should keep reading; I've just started Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown; it's her debut novel and has won a top award. I follow Isabel and number of successful writers on Twitter. Next on the shelf is a book of short stories, Diamonds and Pearls, with profits going to a cancer charity; some well-known contributors, so I'm looking forward to reading what's considered top short story writing these days, as well as pure entertainment.

Writing-wise, I await the evaluation/critique of my novel for children. Dismayed to find that the name 'Beans' for a dog has already been used in a children's book, so have to alter it. Maybe Boris, not sure.
Also entering two writing competitions, one for a story, one for a humorous poem, and have submitted several comic verses for greetings cards, all with a common theme. I've pitched to an Australian family magazine for a short story and a read-aloud fast-faced animal poem. Can't say I don't try.

In the past I've occasionally written humour, and had some modest success. Wondering now whether I might pursue this as a strand in my writing; there are often references to it in competition advice.

There are now at least three Twitter accounts held by Larry, the 10 Downing Street cat. In my opinion, @DowningStCat is the best laugh, but they're all good fun. So are the accounts of the Downing Street Rat, seen in the TV news clip scuttling across the doorstep. Best is @No10Rat but he seems to have little time for tweeting for his followers. Bad rat. Dirty rat. In your bed.

'Rithmetic? Lots of Sudoku Killer puzzles, and totting up the miserable return from my suite101 articles!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

You'll find me in an Anderson shelter

Finally sent off my novel for children for a critique/evaluation; can't just keep picking at it forever. Opinion expected within a month max. It looked lovely I thought, all beautifully double spaced and wide-margined. This is not what it will look like when I get it back, however.

Spoke with the vet yesterday about Minnie's yowling all night and apparent anxiety about being away from us. Thought maybe I was being a bit melodramatic but no, I now have some gel for her, for "cats suffering from anxiety caused by separation from their owners"! The pack claims 'delicious salmon flavour'. As instructed, put a dob of the gel on her paw last night - eventually she deigned to lick it off. Where are we today? She woke us about every two hours for food/company, but was very quiet and calm about it! So that counts as success so far. We'll continue with the gel, and leave more food in her dish overnight.

Had lunch in Winchester with an old boyfriend - we hadn't met for 40 years. John OK about it, too. Recognised each other instantly, and so much to talk about. Chatter, chatter, and lots of fun. He still has twinkly eyes.

Excorticate has a meaning not unlike excoriate. And daedal means skilful or artistic. Who'd have thought it?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Step by Step

Well the HowTo Books site ( accepted my second piece, How to Edit Talking Newspapers and it is now on the site. Sadly I didn't scoop that month's prize, but may try again later.

The main draft of my book (junior fiction) is now ready, with the working title "Millie, Beans, and the Diamond Ring".  It's about 12,500 words.  It's been proofread, and there are just a couple of very small additions needed to clarify the plot and round it off at the end; I plan to send it to flair4words this coming week for their opinion and advice. I have a draft front cover, too. A short extract appears on my website - - in the samples section. When I get the appraisal, if it's not too negative I'll fess up with a summary on this blog.

In other news, my carefully constructed potato growsack was duly planted some while back with proper seed potatoes and loads of compost. After the recommended time we have just up-ended it onto the veg patch to find just six teeny potatoes. Perfectly formed but the size of a thumbnail. Can't decide whether to boil them or frame them.

Just bought a couple of books - Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown and Want to Know a Secret? by Sue Moorcroft - both authors I follow with interest on Twitter.

Minnie is being very naughty, yowling several times a night for food and possibly also when she doesn't know where we are. Vet says she could just be senile. As if! Otherwise she is well, and out of every 24 hours getting much more sleep than we are.

Thought for this day: What did Andy Gray say to his mate Keyes? "She said I was a misogynist. I said, 'That's a big word for a girl.'"

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Be still, my pen, for five minutes!

Yes, the writing bug is still strong and biting. Whether tweets, occasional Facebook notes (I like less than Twitter), pitches, comp entries, or novel, 2011 is going to be a year of achievement if I have anything to do with it.

My poem, Postie's Last Round Before Christmas, was well received at the family gathering in London, and Martha read a seasonal poem for us too. There wasn't much time for writing over the holiday, but I'm now back with my regular slot arrangement.  Since the previous post, I've entered the HowTo Books December competition - still awaiting approval so hope that doesn't mean it's trashed. Working on the children's novel, and have an agreement with flair4words that they will critique it for me when it's ready sometime in February. Once this was decided, it was a further incentive to edit until the pips squeak.

I've also applied to be considered for a (very) part time freelance job, and am pitching a new idea for a till-side book, probably to Hodder & Stoughton initially although they did not respond to a pitch about another idea. Need to swan around Waterstone's to see who's publishing my sort of little book for alternatives.

Went mad over the holiday and acquired a Wii, an iPad, and a SatNav. These varied in the time needed to sort them out ... Now using Wii sports and Wii just dance for half an hour a day's exercise besides walking - have to watch the light fitting when serving at tennis. The SatNav is OK.  The iPad has been more problematic; I always expect to plug-in-and-go. However, my MacBook system was one step below the minimum needed to synch, so I bought and installed Snow Leopard (once I'd located elusive passwords). Then better, but couldn't sort e-mails on the iPad. This is now resolved after lots of trial and error. Got so mad with it, John had to take cover.

Minnie (cat) is now almost 18. Scared us once again with a health issue but a trip to the vet's resulted in successful treatment. Min is now back to her cheerful, bright-eyed self. Our vet is called Mr Montgomery, and we call his work Montgomery Magic - he's brought her ladyship back from the brink a couple of times now.

We have been eating out, but not going down that path for this post!  Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks for reading this.  Thought for the day: What was the best thing before sliced bread?