Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sweet 'n' sour

The bad news ...
I spent yesterday in bed with a perforated ear drum, feeling shite.

The good news ...
We don't celebrate Xmas, so the day is not as significant as it would be for others.

The bad news ...
It's the ear that until yesterday was known as 'the good one'.

The good news ...
I can see the sea from the bedroom window.

(We're cat sitting in Brighton. Which I guess is also good news ...)

Hope the news where you are is unmitigated good stuff.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

People and planet

It would be so easy to feel downhearted by the feeble ending to the Copenhagen summit. But we can't afford to give up. There's too much at stake.

From the Avaaz site:

The Copenhagen climate summit ended up in failure: an unambitious, non-binding accord that leaders themselves admit won't come close to tackling climate change. Their failure is a disappointment -- and their failure is a challenge. We must work harder, demand more and never resile (sic) from our fight for our children and our planet.

That fight continues now. In just
6 weeks time leaders of each country will lock in their nation's emissions reduction targets under this week's agreement.

In Copenhagen, leaders didn't make history—but the world's people did. A year of unprecedented action on climate change reached unimagined heights in the last two weeks: thousands upon thousands of vigils, rallies, and protests; floods of phone calls and messages sent; millions of petition signatures—all calling for the fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty we still need and still will win.

We're in this for as long as it takes. For now, let's
look at what we've done, and thank one another for joining this journey. Take a moment to ... draw hope from the countless people of all nations who are joining together for a better world.

If you leave a comment here, you can watch your words slip downwards as they are joined every few seconds by other people around the world who share the same hopes and fears.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Book of the Decade

I have always been a voracious reader.
These days, I'm very fussy.
I don't want to waste my valuable reading time on books that don't come up to my exacting standards - and some of the bestsellers fall a long way short IMO.

But there are some wonderful books out there.
I've reviewed many of them on this blog before.
So you'd be forgiven for imagining it would be difficult to come up with one worthy of the title of

... triumphal horns and drumroll ...

Book of the Decade.

And the winner is ...

The Killing Jar
by Nicola Monaghan.

Dear blogmates, I have to tell you it wasn't a hard decision at all because this book stands out for me as not just a book of the decade but one of the best books I've read - ever.
Every aspect filled me with respect and admiration for the author.

At first glance, it seems a simple book with a first person linear narrative.
No clever frills.
No obvious literary devices.
Just the most compelling voice, spot-on pacing, vivid characterisation and gritty grimy realism.

Nicola shies away from nothing, refusing to romanticise the poverty and violence that define life on the grim Nottingham housing estate where the action takes place.
She shines her unflinching spotlight onto the lives of marginalised people too often dismissed - or simply feared - by 'respectable' folk.

Kerrie-Ann, the narrator of The Killing Jar, lives a drug-fueled life of crime and violence as both victim and perpetrator. The book begins when she is five, the daughter of a junkie single parent who soon disappears, and continues through her struggles through adolescence, including a desperate and lethal kind of love, to a bittersweet, life-affirming ending.

At times the book feels so painful, it is almost hard to carry on reading, yet, at the same time, I was unable to put it down. Kerrie-Ann haunted me and I know she will remain with me always.

But don't get the idea that this is a hard book to read. In these pages you will find humour and energy and a zest for life that you rarely see in the written word.

Nicola has done well with The Killing Jar and its successor, Starfishing (a different demographic but, in its own way, an equal triumph). Sales have been steady and respectable. She has won awards.
Yet her name is not on everybody's lips and she's not at the top of the bestseller charts, where she deserves to be.

I wonder why this is.

I suspect it may be because many people don't want to know about the people she has depicted. It's too hard, too confusing. Easier to maintain preconceptions, batten down the hatches and take refuge behind high fences, peeping out from behind net curtains.

Take up the challenge.
Read the book and then let me know if it failed to enthrall you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seasonal gifts for you

Happy festivals of light to you all.

Here are some virtual goodies for you to while away the hours between eating doughnuts (so many doughnuts ...) if you celebrate Chanukah, or mince pies if you're just about anyone else.

Treat number one:
Check out the new site from Lucy Pepper ( she of Bookarazzi fame) where a group of unkempt women have got together to celebrate their unkemptitude.

Treat number two:
Thanks to Qwerty Queen (she of mentee fame) I can give you this link to all the competitions you may want to enter. Go on. You know you want to.

Treat number three:
Probably only a treat if you're a parent of one of the children featured, but this is how we celebrate our festival of light.

Later this week, Bookarazzi members will be giving their recommendations for gift books. My next post on this blog will be my own personal 'Read of the Decade'.


PS: Don't forget the biggest gift of all - a future for our planet!
Please sign the petition here to put pressure on world leaders meeting right now in Copenhagen to discuss climate change.
11,088,380 have people already signed up at the point of posting.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Debi does quantum

So Little Guy was explaining to me about the co-existence of multiple universes, which I vaguely recognised (mainly thanks to Philip Pullman) as being a principle of quantum physics. And they say education is dumbing down ...

Anyway, that got me thinking. What if, when we create a fictional reality, that too has an independent life of its own? Would that explain the spooky feeling we sometimes get as writers that our stories exist outside of our will, even though we created them?

When I finished writing my first book, Nirvana Bites, for example, I never intended the characters to reappear in subsequent books. But somehow, they muscled their way in. I justified their inclusion on the grounds that I had given these characters life and now they would be continuing those lives whether I wrote about them or not - so I might as well.

Sounds crazy, but that's exactly how it felt. Plots too can sometimes feel eerily prescient, even as you create them.

And here's another parallel. You come up with a character. You see what they look like and how they react to the situations you put them in. But - for me anyway - you may well not know why they are the way they are. You have to wait for them to trust you enough to tell you.

That's exactly the same in real life when you meet someone new. Say it's a colleague. You see them daily. You know who they live with, if they have children, where they go on holiday, what their favourite food is ... But you might not know why they become defensive on a particular subject, or perhaps you notice they seem to over react to something trivial ...

It's only after you've known them for some time that you find out what it was in their past or background that caused that particular reaction. Maybe they tell you themselves or you might hear it from someone else. Either way, the pieces suddenly fall into place and you think,
'Aha! That explains it ...'

Well, it's true for fiction too. I know that's hard to wrap your head round (like quantum theory isn't?) but I swear it's true.

In my WIP, my main protagonist is not a likable character (though I hope that readers will still care about what happens to her). She's manipulative, a snob, irrational and often a real bitch. In the back of my mind, I always wondered what had made her like that but waited patiently for the story to evolve.

I watched her get pregnant against her long-suffering husband's will. I noted the wedge she'd driven between him and his brother; her profligate spending in denial of their financial straits; her plunge into depression matching their plummet down the social ladder; her total meltdown when things go tragically wrong.

And now, over 50,000 words in, she has finally revealed her secrets to me. The secrets she had hidden from her shrink and even from herself.

And ... it all fits! No re-writes needed, at the most a minor tweak here and there. It makes complete sense and it's utterly pivotal to the plot I've been writing.

So - in scientific terms - how can that be explained if not by some quirk of quantum theory, meaning the fictional worlds we create are as real as this one?

And there we have it: Alper's theory of fictional reality. You saw it first here.

PS: You just gotta love a scientific theory that includes something called a charmed quark - not a new vegan foodstuff, but according to here, 'a type of quark with a mass of c. 1.0 to 1.6 GeV/c, a positive charge that is the charge of an electron, +1 charm, and zero strangeness.' Got that?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Not weird, but wonderful

If last weekend was weird, this one also revolved around writing in one form or another but was full on wonderful!

I spent Saturday selling Hoovering the Roof on a stall on Northcross Road with other EDWGers, then came home and changed and was off out again, this time to a launch party.

The great thing about this event was that it was to celebrate the publication of a book that's created a real buzz by a blogging author who I had come across only briefly via Bookarazzi.

Cally Taylor has struck gold with her novel, Heaven Can Wait, which has already gone to a 3rd reprint just weeks after being launched and has sold translation rights in 8 countries (so far). (Can't wait to read it.)

To make the party even more exciting, Cally is part of a vast extended community of blogging writers, none of whom I'd met before - even in the blogosphere - and all (yes, all!) of whom were friendly, welcoming, sharing and supportive.

As if that wasn't enough for my cup to runneth over, I got to bring the only one I had met before (my fabulous mentee, Her Royal Qwertyness) back home with me and keep her overnight.

Anyway, if any of the new people I met happen in here - greetings and welcome. I forgot to write down all your blog names, so please drop me a comment so we can continue the discussions we started.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My weird weekend

Collectormania - I'll let the photos tell the story. (More here to give a full flavour.)

Many thanks to Ayo, Lizzie and Sara at Mystery Women for setting this event up, looking after us all and for your tireless efforts to promote our genre.

It was great to meet and spend time with such a warm and friendly group of authors ...
*waves at Cassandra Clark, Suzette Hill, Lesley Horton, Joan Lock, Linda Regan (accompanied by her husband, Brian Murphy), Leigh Russell, Zoe Sharp and Kate Stacey*

Between us all, I reckon we're going to spawn a whole new sub-genre based on this last weekend ...

Mystery Women are running a short story competition for unpublished writers. 1000 words exactly, entitled Mystery Woman or Mystery Women. £10 per entry. Winning entry will be published in Mystery Women magazine and the author will receive £100 and a conference ticket for CrimeFest 2011. Entries must be submitted under a pseudonym. Closing date 31/01/10. Send submission and entry fee to Ms L Hayes, 2 Darwin Close, Broughton Astley, Leics., LE9 6XD.

Friday, November 27, 2009

We came, we saw, we hoovered ...

... and we ate, drank, read, bought, laughed, shared, signed ...

From which you will gather it was a great evening at the fabulous Bookseller Crow on the Hill last night.

Nineteen copies of Hoovering the Roof sold and one local bookshop has run out before we've even got it into all the others!

Next event will be 7.00-8.30 pm Monday 30th November at Dulwich Library.

More info and photos on the EDWG site.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hoovering the Roof - In Praise of Writers' Groups

Once upon a time, way back at the fag end of the last millennium, a lone writer decided he’d like to meet up with other local authors to share their words. He put cards in shop windows (this was long before the days of internet forums) and half a dozen people responded. The East Dulwich Writers’ Group was formed.

To begin with, the group met in the back room of a local cafĂ©. After the first few meetings, they decided it would be more comfortable to meet in each other’s homes, where they would have access to kettles, toilets, back gardens and – yes – roofs.

Twelve years later, over a hundred people have joined the mailing list for the group. In spite of the huge numbers, EDWG has remained intimate and informal, retaining an ethos of mutual support and constructive criticism. The ages of our members range from teens to octogenarians and we reflect the diversity of culture and class in this corner of south east London. We have people at every stage of their writing career, from absolute beginners to published authors and competition winners. All those who have attended regular meetings have appreciated the feedback and advice, as well as the motivation provided. For some of us, EDWG has literally changed our lives.

To celebrate over a decade of local creativity, EDWG presents their first anthology, Hoovering the Roof.

Now you're faced with a choice. Do you want to come to our launch event at the Bookseller Crow on the Hill on Thursday?

Or what about the event next Monday at Dulwich Library ...

Or perhaps you'd like to pop by the stall we'll be running in Northcross Road on Saturdays from 5th December ...

For details of all events, go here and click ... er ... 'events' on the sidebar.

Or maybe you can't come to any of these real life events but want a copy of the book anyway, in which case you need to go here and click 'Hoovering the Roof'.

Alternatively, leave a comment on this post with the words 'lucky dip' included in the text to have a chance of winning a copy of the book signed by the contributors.

If you want to know what I personally owe to EDWG and the way it has changed my life, check this out.
I still rely on the group. No matter how many edits I have done for other people, it's almost impossible to be objective about your own writing and the feedback is invaluable.

By the way, did I tell you how excited I am by this ...?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lost for words

Oh, pooh! I've just lost 5,000 words.

There I was, steaming ahead with my WIP and assuming I was nearing the end, when I saw something that didn't feel right and realised I've duplicated several chapters. I think it's fine cos I also realise I need to insert stuff earlier but it's still mega irritating.

At times like this, the lure of pharmaceuticals is hard to resist ...

NOTE: This image and the one on the previous post was sent to me many moons ago by the magical Minx. Though she's barely blogging these days, so probably won't notice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I'm stamping my foot, grinding my teeth, tearing my hair and I'm just about to start thcweaming and thcweaming until I'm thick.

So I thought I'd come in here to let off steam instead.

Design your own cards, they said.
Easy, quick and free of charge, they said.
Takes just a few minutes, they said.

So why am I still sitting here after several wasted hours and no damn cards at the end of it, just a pdf that no matter how much I Google and troubleshoot and access help options and act on them still won't fit into the sodding template to print properly?

Time to give up and hit the button.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

95 years ago ...

10th January 1914
Pancho Villa leads the Mexican Revolution

2nd February 1914
Charlie Chaplin makes his film debut in the comedy short Making a Living

10th March 1914
Suffragette, Mary Richardson, attacks a painting in the National Gallery with a meat cleaver

20th April 1914
The Colorado National Guard attacks a tent colony of 1,200 striking miners, killing 24 people

25th May 1914
Parliament agrees to Irish Home Rule

28th June 1914
Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist, assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Duchess Sophie, in Sarajevo, sparking off the First World War

28th July 1914
Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and its army marches on Belgrade

August 1914
War spreads in Europe

September 1914
Further battles in Europe. Casualties already exceed 500,000

October 1914
33,000 Canadian troops depart for Europe - the largest force to cross the Atlantic

14th November 1914
A son is born in London's East End to Bluma and Isaac Alper, their 4th (and last) child. They name him Morris (Moshe ben Yitzchak in Hebrew)

Happy 95th birthday to my dad!

I would post photos of our celebration lunch, but my cable's gone AWOL, so I'm afraid you'll have to make do with the one I posted this time last year.

All above info found on Wikipedia *blush* here with links.

UPDATE: Missing camera cable has resurfaced in the debris on a certain person's desk.
I name no names, but watch my eyes, dear First Born ...

Anyway - here are the pix.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Collectormania - proof I wasn't dreaming ...

Oooh - lookee here. I'd begun to think my forthcoming appearance at Collectormania was a figment of my feverish imagination ...

But no. It must be true. I'm going to be there. It says so here ...

In fact it seems like I'm popping up all over the place online because bookings are now open for the Festival of Writing taking place in York next April.

You have no idea how much trouble I had finding a decent photo of myself that wouldn't have people running for cover.

The important thing is (of course it's all that matters and no one but me gives a damn about how I look in the pic) the Festival looks amazing and worth the entry fee for the one-to-one pitches to agents alone. Except there's a great deal more on offer than that.

What's not to love? (Apart from the pic of me, but we won't go there, oh no we won't.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Family matters

'Everybody in here, please. I need your help.'

G and the boys obediently gathered round while I explained the dilemma.

45,000 words into my WIP, a new character has come on the scene. His existence had been referred to in passing but, as is so often the case, I had no idea why I'd written him in. To prove the point, he'd just muscled his way into the narrative.

I knew who he was, knew a fair bit about his background, his impact on the other characters ... I even knew what he looks like.

But one thing was holding me up. I didn't know his name. Until I got that, I couldn't work out his full role - though it was only just occurring to me that he had one and it might be more significant than I'd realised.
I told G and the boys I needed a nickname, not a real one.

The men in my life rose to the occasion, bless 'em, firing random words at me. As fast as they came, they were rejected, including my own contributions.

Then ...
'Switch,' First Born said.
He'd been looking round the room, calling out the names of anything he could see.
'Switch,' I murmured. 'Do you know ... I think that's it.'

Later, soaking in the bath, scene of so many writerly revelations, the metaphorical switch had literally been flicked and everything fell into place.
I could see all the way to the end of the book; knew almost exactly what was going to happen and how, could see the resolution, the narrative arc, the whole megillah.

It reminded me of when I was writing Trading Tatiana. There's a scene set in Greenwich Maritime Museum where Tatiana performs some impressive acrobatics to escape from her pursuers. We spent an entire afternoon at the Museum, checking out the scene I depicted from every angle and working out the logistics. Then we came home and re-enacted it with toys.

Writing is such a solitary pursuit, but occasionally it can be a family affair.

So ... I have some questions for you:
  • How do you come up with names for your characters?
  • Do you ever enlist other people's help to come up with names or sort out any other sticking points?
  • Do you ever find a character has muscled their way into your narrative but you have no idea why until it suddenly becomes clear much later what their function is?
  • Does that blow your mind??? (It does mine - and I love it.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Are you a Collectormaniac?

This writing life sometimes throws up unexpected - and occasionally downright weird - opportunities.

I was contacted recently by the lovely people at Mystery Women.
(You may remember their review of Trading Tatiana.
And I just found this post that I wrote about them over 3 years ago.)

This clever bunch, whose aim is to 'raise the awareness and profile of female crime writers and provide a forum for enthusiastic crime fiction readers', has secured a stall at the forthcoming Collectormania event at Olympia on 28th and 29th November.

Just check out that link. Have you ever seen anything more glitzy? And this is an event you can come to yourself and meet with a dazzling array of mega-name slebs. It's run by Showmasters, who organise high profile signing shows mainly focused on TV & film actors, writers and directors.

For the Olympia event, rubbing shoulders with the Glitterazzi, will be a small band of brave authors and their books on the Mystery Women stall. I can't imagine many of the 100,000 people expected to attend over the course of the weekend will have come especially for the opportunity to meet one of us, but that's serious passing trade. And you never know ...

*Drifts off into fantasy of big-name Hollywood producer picking up a copy of one of my books and saying, 'Hmm. This would make an excellent movie. Let me just go over there and chat to John Barrowman and ask if he's free to take a starring role ... I predict this is going to be huge. Huger than huge ...'*

What? Oh yes. Sorry. Now, where was I?

Ah yes. So, it's an inexpensive day out for the collectormaniacs and should provide me with enough fodder for volumes of fiction and years of blog posts.
Steampunk zone anyone? Or maybe comics are your thing. Or perhaps you're a fan of Twilight. Or you like dressing up.
Then there are the guest days, photoshoots, autographs ...
And I'll have a guest pass and access to the Green Room.
I might even find out why it's called that ...

I could go on and on ... (and have been known to) so I'll stop there and just say that if you're going please pop over to the Mystery Women stall and say hello.

And if you're not, I will of course be blogging the experience. Just try stopping me ...

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Reign in Spain ...

Cast your mind back ... back ...
No, further than that. All the way to here.

My man in Spain, Steve Redwood, has been in touch and he has something to celebrate.
His book of short stories, Broken Symmetries, has just been published.

And he even has a blog. Wonders will never cease ...
It's called A Seriously Disturbed Mind.
So you can't say he didn't warn you ...

Here's what Steve has to say about this latest venture:

Actually, I’m rather pleased this collection has been published, as many of the stories reflect a less... shall we say, merry … side of my character, and taken as a whole are more representative of my damned soul than the novels. Also, the book is attractive as a physical object, large clear print, plenty of white space (there's an excerpt on

What was that? "Just in time for Christmas?" Funny you should say that…

Kisses, manly hand shakes, grovelling apologies, punches on the nose – you all know which applies to you!!


PS I might see my way to forgiving you for not buying a copy yourself if:

1. you can prove penury or blindness or illiteracy, or

2. you forward this email to friends (and enemies!). As I'm out of the country, I have no other way of spreading the Good News.

Pleasure's all mine, Senor Redwood.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mega lit post

There's so much going on lit-wise that any of the following would be justified in having its own post, but I'm grouping them together here.

First off, I know many of you are as yet unpublished.
Just as I know that many of you are talented writers who deserve to be published.

One way to get recognition for your words is to enter competitions.
In which case, you might be interested in the Brit Writers' Awards Unpublished 2010.

There are adult and child categories for novels, short stories, poems and songs with a whopping £10,000 prize.
There is a one-off admin fee of £10.95 and you can make as many submissions as you like once you've paid that. Entry rules and conditions are here.
I've been asked to be on the panel of judges for the adult novel category.
Judging criteria here.

Ding ding. Next please.

How do you fancy a whole weekend devoted to writing?
Would it help to know there is an amazing line up of authors, editors and agents?
That it will be held on the campus of the fabulous York University with en suite accommodation and all meals provided?
That the price for the full weekend also includes all events on the programme, your choice of workshops and 3 one-to-one slots where you can directly pitch your writing to a top agent?
That there is also a one day option or a mini course on the Friday?
If so, welcome to the Festival of Writing 2010 which will take place next April.

I've been asked to lead a workshop and, together with Emma Darwin, run the mini-course.
Tickets on sale from 1st November.

And the next one please ...

Remember Hoovering the Roof, the anthology by members of the East Dulwich Writers' Group?
It's all systems go. The book is in the final stages before going off to print.

We have a launch event planned for Thursday 26th November at the Bookseller Crow on the Hill, my fave indie bookshop.
Details nearer the time.

Last orders please ...

And last but by no means least, Richard Woodhouse, long-standing and multi-talented member of the writers' group, will be reading from his novel, Deathless, at a Halloween event on Wednesday 28th October at Brockwell Lido.

The event, Dark Waters, is organised by One Eye Grey.
See here for details.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Road Rage - a brief update

In case you were wondering, this situation is ongoing.

I still don't want to say more right now in case it's perceived as prejudicing the investigation.

Many thanks to those of you who have commented and others who have emailed me.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

If a point comes when we decide to go public, I promise to post the details here first.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

BAD post

Our language is evolving all the time. First 'bad' stopped meaning ... er ... bad and started meaning 'good'.

Now it means something else entirely. And it's very, very good indeed.
I'm talking about BAD, as in Blog Action Day.
And it's today!

Can you think of a single area of life that climate change won't impact on?
The food you eat, the place you live, the clothes you wear, your mode of transport, your health, the air you breathe, your community ...
And in the poorest countries, your life itself.

Though some may still disagree about the causes of climate change, the one thing all intelligent people agree on is that it's happening - and at a far faster rate than previously thought.

So what can we do?

Well, for starters, we can think carefully about our own impact on the planet. Choosing locally sourced food, growing our own, re-using and recycling, refusing goods that are heavily packaged, lowering thermostats, using cars less, switching off appliances, reducing our waste ... the list goes on.

But it's big business and industries that really need to make the changes. And they're generally only interested in their short term profit margins and sod the future.

Who can make them change their practices?
And who can influence governments?
Well, you can of course!

And the good news is you don't even have to leave your computer screen to make a difference.
Click here to find out how you can add your voice to the millions demanding action.

Go on. What are you waiting for? For Hell to freeze over? It could happen, y'know ...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Your chance to save the world

Blog Action Day is this Thursday, October 15, and this year the focus is on Climate Change.

At this point, 6,057 bloggers have already registered from 126 countries, with a total readership of 10,787,561. More are registering even as I compose this post. See here for the full list.

If you haven't registered yet, it is not too late. Sign up here

Once you've signed up all you need to do is write a post about climate change this Thursday. There will be a live feed of all your posts on the Blog Action Day homepage so you can track the conversation.

Meanwhile, you can find ideas about what to post and how to get involved on the BAD Blog.

Climate change affects us all and threatens to cause famine, flooding, war and displace millions of people. Given the urgency of the issue and the upcoming international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December, the blogosphere has a unique opportunity to mobilise millions of people around the world to try to find a sustainable solution to the climate crisis.

Be part of the conversation. Register now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Road Rage

Apologies for the paucity of posts. I'm snowed under with work, which is great but leaves little time for blogging.

I also have a very unwelcome distraction that is taking up time and energy.

For legal reasons, I can't go into details at this point, but I will just say this:

I will NOT allow my children to be verbally abused (First Born) or physically assaulted (Little Guy)
in the street ...
by a teacher ...
at a neighbouring school ...
who appears to assume that, as they are state school children, they deserve no better.

It just ain't gonna happen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Mum

My Mum had a very expressive sniff.
With one sharp intake of breath through her nostrils, she could say more than most people do in acres of rambling speech.

My Mum used to tease my Dad about his lack of SOA (Spirit of Adventure).
Life had to have a full quota of fun and laughter.

My Mum always wore an apron;
Utilitarian ones for everyday use and frilly, lacy jobs for special occasions.

My Mum loved school.
She was devastated when she was taken out aged 12, on the grounds that girls didn't need an education.

My Mum was determined her children should have the opportunities denied to her.
She loved writing stories, but never did.

My Mum would have had a brilliant relationship with G.
She would have 'got' him, sorted him out.

My Mum would have been besotted by my children.
And they would have adored her.

My Mum loved this time of year, when families gather together to celebrate the New Year.
She would have preened and basked in a way she never had the chance to do in life.

My Mum died eighteen years ago today.

(NOTE: This should have been published on the English anniversary of Mum's death on Sunday. She would have been blown away to know she was the subject of a blog post.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Psst - wanna join a flashmob?

The message arrived by email.
Lots of emails, to be accurate.
Lots of emails and lots of links ...
But I already knew the answer would be a resounding 'YES'.
I've always wanted to be a part of a flashmob ...

So what's it going to be? Pillow fight? Spontaneous disco dancing? Moon walking?
Neither - it's co-ordinated mobile phone alarms.
It's about putting pressure on governments to take a firm stand on climate change.
And it's organised by the Good Guys of Cyberspace, Avaaz.

Monday 21st September
12.00 midday
Mel and I arrive at Parliament Square and head for our designated spot in front of Westminster Abbey.
I nudge Mel in the ribs.
'There!' I hiss. 'That's them!'
'Who? What?'
I indicate 3 women in blue t-shirts holding umbrellas and exchange conspiratorial nods with them.
'There - they're wearing blue and they're carrying umbrellas.'
Mel looks a trifle panicky. She hadn't read all the emails and has no idea what I'm talking about.
'So it's a signal. They know what's happening. Keep an eye on them.'

We do, trying to blend in and look like tourists. It's not easy and we both wish we had proper cameras instead of our mobiles. Our eyes dart round looking for other likely suspects. I smoke a fag. Mel eats a banana.

12.15 pm
Oozing faux nonchalance, we head across the road and into the centre of the square.

12.18 pm
Alarms ring out from 300 phones and assorted alarm clocks. From all over the square, 300 right arms are raised into the air.
There should be 302. Mel and I had synochronised with the website yet somehow we've managed to set our clocks 2 mins slow.
Never mind. We raise our silent phones in solidarity and hope no one will notice when they belatedly beep a couple of minutes later.
After joining in with the obligatory whoops and yells, we all turn north to face Mandela's statue.
'Tick, tick, tick,' we all chant, representing the time we have to save the planet ticking away.
Then we all call Gordon Brown on the numbers supplied in those emails.

12.30 pm
It's all over and we drift away to get the bus home.

Due to road works and traffic jams, we were out for about 3 hours to take part in a 5 minute protest.
Was it worth it?
Well, apart from giving me the opportunity to spend some quality time with Mel on a glorious Autumn day, it seems the message did get through.

And it wasn't just us. All over the world events - over 2,200 of them - were taking place as ordinary people came together in a common cause to save our planet.

And I fulfilled a long held ambition to be part of a flashmob.
I'd post photos - if someone could just tell me how to get them from phone to blog ...
Other, less technically challenged people, fared better - see here.
Someone got me - can you see me?

You can still be part of the movement, even if you missed the day's events.
All you have to do is call the leader of your government, urging her or him to travel to Copenhagen for the climate talks in December and sign a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty.
You can find the appropriate phone numbers as well as photos and a live blog here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Here a book, there a book, everywhere a book book ...

Let's see now ...

The deadline for submissions to Hoovering the Roof, the anthology of work produced by members of the East Dulwich Writers' Group, is this Sunday.
16 people have contributed short stories, poems and novel extracts, which have all been through a collective editing process.

Now we need to do everything else necessary to gather them together into a book ready for publishing.

Then there's the project I suggested to the parent/teacher literacy steering group at the boys' school.

'Let's produce a book to tie in with the 50th anniversary,' I suggested a few months ago.

'Great idea,' came the reply last week. 'Let's do it. We can produce a time line covering the last 5 decades, with sections dealing with what was happening at the school at each stage, slots for major national and international events, blasts of popular culture as well as reminiscences and anecdotes from former staff and pupils. It should be visually exciting and will be a celebration of how far we have come.'

'Fantastic! So what's the time scale?'

'Um - we need to launch it at the celebratory event ... at the end of October ...'

Then there's the new development for my freelance editing.
I've always liked to stay in contact with authors whose books I've critiqued, but it's sometimes hard to know when my part of the job is over.
The logical next step has been mentoring and (oh, lucky me) the first person to take up this offer has been the Queen.

She's been blogging in some detail about the process and I'm delighted it seems to be working so well for her. It's certainly a labour of love for me and it's wonderful to be a part of her journey to create a book that I'm convinced is going to be utterly fab!

Oh, yes. And then there's my book. Over halfway and I THINK it's going ok.

Thing is, it doesn't matter how many other books you edit and critique, doing it for yourself is another thing entirely.
Editors need editors too.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Big up to the Squirrel

I mentioned in that last post that I couldn't take the credit for my new blog look, but I didn't tell you who was responsible.

Squirrels can be shy, so I wanted to check with her first.
I'm really pleased that she's allowing me to credit her.

If the world is roughly divided between givers and takers, Beleaguered Squirrel is deffo in the former group. In spite of flying high with a major career change while simultaneously juggling a couple of kids (not easy with those teensy tiny paws) she still found time to devote to me and my blog.

There have been the inevitable teething problems.

The new links I'd added were inexplicably triplicated - easy to sort even for a techy twit like me.

And I managed to work out why all the links embedded in posts seemed to have disappeared ...
that'll be cos I'd set them up to be the same colour as the background then ...

But my stat counter and site meter have also gone AWOL.
I get summaries emailed to me and I've come to the conclusion that ...

EITHER people hate the new look so much that word has gone out to boycott my blog - a highly effective manvoevre since it appears I haven't had a single visit since the switch ...

OR I need to configure something or other.
Any ideas?

One good thing about making the changes was that I needed to blog surf to update the links and came across 2 things that made me laugh out loud.
I'll share them with you here - assuming you're not boycotting me.
If you are, it's your loss, cos they're really very funny.

On Aba's Place I saw this. At a time we're all being warned about germs spreading on public transport, this is a timely reminder that not everything that's infectious is bad.

And Sue G posted this - one author's response to negative reviews.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Brand new me

Oooh, look! I've changed ...

After nearly 4 years on the blog, I've finally got a brand spanking new look.

I need to tinker a bit, update the links etc, but whaddya reckon?

I had an email saying 'twas done (you didn't think I might have had the guts to do it meself, did you?).
So I clicked in and, even though I was expecting it, I got a real jolt.

I was quite emotional - something lost, something gained.
A familiar face that you unleashed into the world and suddenly notice has evolved.

It felt like when you send your baby off to Big School, wearing a crispy new uniform and looking all shiny and full of hopes and fears for the future and you look at him and think,

'That's my baby? When did he get so grown up?'

Oh, yeah. That's exactly what did happen this week, so the Virtuality/Reality metaphor is spot on.

Forward to the future. Yeehah!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Home Alone

LG started secondary school yesterday, setting off all shiny and new in his uniform, full of hope and potential.
G went back to work yesterday too.
FB's first day back at school is today.

At 7.30 I waved goodbye to them all through the kitchen window.
And went back to bed.

G phoned me as planned with a wake up call at 9.oo and I embarked on my first day home alone.

Blimey, it's quiet here ...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It's all going swimmingly ...

If you're a regular here, you'll already know my partner, G ...
You'll know that he's a running nut ...
And you'll know that he often raises money for ALDLife.

Well, he's off again. But this time he's taking to the water.
That's the icy cold water of Lake Windermere in the Lake District, where he's taking part in the Great North Swim on 12th September, once again raising funds for the charity.

ALDLife was started by Sara Hunt, whose sons both have the terminal brain disorder adrenoleukodystrophy. Alex was diagnosed several years ago when he was 7 and within months he was paralysed and blind. Last year, his younger brother, Ayden, showed signs of ALD and underwent a grueling bone marrow transplant.

Most people would fall to pieces in her situation, but Sara works tirelessly to raise money for research and to support children and families affected by this devastating disorder.

We all do our bit. FB and I have rattled tins and handed out leaflets outside our local Sainsbury's, whose customers have chosen ALDLife as their charity for the year.

And G? He's taking to the water ...
You can do your bit too, by sponsoring him together with the other local parents who are taking part in the swim and in the Great South Run.

Thank you!

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Apple a Day

It's no secret that I wish I had a garden.
Even though my balcony is a riot of flowers, shrubs, herbs and tomatoes, it's not the same ...

So there I was the other day, relaxing with a glass of wine in the garden of a friend who lives a few doors away.
'Just look at that ...' I breathed, gazing at the rosy apples carpeting every inch of the grass and hanging from the branches of 2 ancient trees.
'Yes,' she said, 'Such a nuisance. I can barely eat one a day. They just lie there and rot, attracting wasps. I wish I could get rid of them to be honest.'

Say no more.

After a couple of hours spent in the timeless bucolic pursuit of apple picking:
  • The rotten ones have been collected into her compost bin.
  • Bags of apples have been distributed to all the kids on our estate, and from assorted windows the sweet smell of apple pies and crumbles wafts on the breeze.
  • Another vast bag has been taken to the refugee hostel down the road and another has found its way to Brighton.
  • Both dad and I have spicy stewed apples in large containers in our fridges.
  • I've resurrected my mum's fab recipe for apple cake (ultra moist and yummy).
  • We've been eating fruit salad for breakfast.
  • There's nothing like crunching into a fresh organic apple - almost as good as chocolate and a lot better for you.
Just imagine what I'd do if I had my own garden ...

The Youth of Today ....

If you believe the tabloid headlines, you probably think everyone under 21 carries a weapon and takes drugs.

If that's your mindset, everything you see and hear will feed into that preconception and appear to confirm your worst fears.

I was looking at my two boys sitting on the tube today and trying to see them through such eyes.

At close to 6', 14 year old First Born towers over most adults.
Little Guy, aged 11, is smaller and grungier and is currently sporting an impressive black eye.
If you searched FB's bag, you would find a blunt instrument (a rolling pin) and a small plastic bag of herbs.

You would assume the worst, wouldn't you ...?
Go on, admit it.
It's highly unlikely you'd assume they were on their way to visiit their 94 year old grandfather to make pizza for him ...

And the black eye?
Yesterday, the 2 of them were cuddling. (Yes. Cuddling.)
LG pulled away and turned smack into a pole.

He's actually very pleased with the result:
  • It looks satisfyingly spectacular
  • It looks a lot worse than it feels
  • It's the one place on his body that he can't see, so doesn't have to deal with the anxiety.
FB, on the other hand, is mortified. He can hardly bear to look at LG and is consumed with guilt, feeling (wrongly) that he was responsible.

The youth of today -
- deserve to be judged by their actions and not their appearance.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

By Rhodes less traveled

When I think back to my own childhood it's the holidays that remain most vivid in my memory.

That's how I think of the last 14 summers - as creating memories for my children.

This year, we decided to take a break from soggy campsites and headed off to Rhodes for 2 weeks of guaranteed sunshine and pampering.

We stayed at the Lisa Hotel, near Ixia on the northwest coast, deliberately choosing somewhere off the beaten track and away from the major tourist centres. With just 35 b&b rooms, the family run hotel is intimate and friendly. Our spotlessly clean rooms overlooked the pool, where the boys spent up to 8 hours a day when we weren't out exploring the island.

I wrote a chapter a day and luxuriated in the opportunity to enter worlds created by other writers.
(Massive respect to Nicola Monaghan for The Killing Jar - by far the best book I've read in a very long time.)

We also hired a car for a couple of days, traveling the length and breadth of the island.

Petaloudes - Valley of the Butterflies

Away from the commercial centres, Rhodes is rugged, exquisite and largely unspoiled.

Spot the building, vehicle or person

Prasonisi - the southernmost tip where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean

Ancient ruins at Kamiros - don't even think about it ...

We spent a lot of time in Rhodes Old Town ...

... where we followed this sign ...
... to the last remaining synagogue in Rhodes ...

... all that's left of the once thriving community comprising 5 synagogues, schools, rabbinical training colleges ...

In 1944, the 1600+ Jews of Rhodes and Kos were deported to Auschwitz. 150 survived. The community is now too small to hold regular services but the synagogue and museum are lovingly cared for by those remaining. We met an elderly man who showed us the tattooed number on his forearm - he was 13 in 1944 but was big for his age and strong, so was put to work, avoiding the gas chambers. He gazed at our own 2 boys and asked their names. Little Guy's name is the same as the man's father. He laid his hands on their heads and blessed them.

The next generation.
During those days when we went out exploring, we entered the past. But in the evenings, we engaged with the here and now, gathering with a phenomenal bunch of new friends at the hotel bar...

... run by Michael and his son George.

George boasts that he makes the best cocktails on the island - and he could be right.

I had sex on the beach - I even had sex on the moon. Best of all, I had not one but two screaming orgasms.

They have the power to bring out the extrovert from the driest of stones and I even found myself discovering the attraction of karaoke.

We're home now and attempting to adjust. But if you like what you've seen here, I thoroughly recommend the Lisa. If we go again we'd go self-catering and book direct, which you can do here.

Or just phone 0030 22410 93557 (from the UK) and tell Michael that Debi sent you!