Hello, and thank you for visiting my site. I hope that you'll return often and always find something of interest about my world and what inspires me to pick up a pen. (This is a figure of speech, unfortunately. My handwriting is terrible!) Here's what I've been up to recently...
Well, I hope that this chap’s hard work will pay off for me!
15 December, 2014
Great gifts, food and wine will instil
A feeling of warmth and good will,
But don’t overdo it,
Or by Jove you’ll rue it
When you see your credit card bill.
This has been a week full of Christmas events of different kinds and without much time for writing, although I did manage to pen a seasonal limerick or two for the Ripon Writers’ Group party. My favourite one is above!
Held at The Old Deanery, the event centred around a three course set menu, although I only had two courses. The only vegetarian main dish on offer was a Quorn terrine, tasty and so satisfying that I hardly had room for the Bailey’s cheesecake that followed. With less room for manoeuvre than in our previous venue, the options for other activities were limited, but the wine flowed and the quiz, ‘Who Am I?’ game in masks and especially composed Christmas poems and limericks were fun. You can read more about the party and see all the photographs by clicking on the link to your right.
I was back at The Old Deanery for lunch on Thursday with friends from my weekly Spanish group and had exactly the same meal, although without the wine. That was just as well, because almost immediately afterwards I was on my way to the West Yorkshire Playhouse for a performance of ‘White Christmas’ starring Darren Day. It was an excellent show and how much more seasonal can you get!
Saturday morning saw me at quite a different event. For well over ten years I’ve been a committee member of the Ripon Activity Project, a social group for adults with learning disabilities, and each December sees a Christmas party that runs along well oiled lines. Our council grant was withdrawn a few years ago, so we can’t offer as much to members as we used to, but we’re very grateful for the ongoing support of our local mayors. You can read more about that party too and see all the photographs by clicking on the link to your right.
Next week, I’ll be putting on my dancing shoes!
14 December, 2014
For me, apart from the odd posting of parcels and cards to foreign parts, this means that December has arrived. Despite store displays set up before I’ve shaken the sand out of my summer sandals, I always refuse to have anything to do with Christmas before November is over. (I shall also continue to boycott the American import of Black Friday, preferring to reflect on how much money I can save simply by staying at home.)
Last night saw me at York Writers’ end of year social. It’s just over a year since I became a member and so I knew most of the cheerful group that met at Brigantes in Micklegate. After drinks in the bar, just under 30 of us sat down to dine at two long tables in the big room where our monthly meetings are held. Choices had been made in advance, so the waiting staff – although probably worn out by all the walking up and downstairs – didn’t have too much trouble. As seems generally to be the case with set menus, it was Hobson’s choice for vegetarians, so it’s just as well that I enjoyed my mushroom starter and stuffed aubergine main course. At least I was able to choose from four desserts and I’m still trying to pick the honey nut clusters out of my teeth! Well, that’s not quite true, but it did take a while.
Helen Cadbury, crime novelist, poet and playwright, was the after dinner speaker and did a fine job despite the lateness of the hour. She even managed to incorporate at least one dreadful joke culled from the Christmas crackers on our table. As wine had been taken by that point – I wasn’t driving, so I was able to indulge – I’m not sure that I got all the finer points of what she told us about her path to publication, but what I did grasp was very interesting. I particularly enjoyed her account of the ups and downs of finding a literary agent. To Catch A Rabbit was Helen’s debut novel and joint winner of the Northern Crime Award in 2012. A revised edition and a second book in the series will be out in 2015 and a third one is in preparation. Much more information is available from helencadbury.com.
4 December, 2014
I was at St Peter’s Church in Hartshead, West Yorkshire, this year for a very special reason. Amongst the many names on the plaque commemorating the dead of WW1 is that of David Robert Davidson, a London workhouse boy sent up to Yorkshire to toil in the mines. His name, together with all those listed on the memorial inside the church, is read out each Remembrance Sunday before the two minutes’ silence.
In 1916, in that same little old church where Patrick Bronte once preached, David married the widow of a friend. She was much older than he, but David was determined to give her and three small children the security of his army pension, should he not survive.
He was killed in France a few months later, aged only 21, but my great-aunt and her daughters cherished his memory for the rest of their lives. Now I firmly believe that it’s up to my generation and those who follow to do the same.
The photographs below show David’s widow and step-daughters shortly before they emigrated to the USA in 1919 and years later, by which time they were living in California. I feel confident that he would have been very happy for them.
The following lines by A.E. Housman sum up better than I ever could the sacrifice of David and the thousands of other young men whose lives were cut short in that terrible war:
Here dead lie we because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung. Death, to be sure, is nothing much to lose, but young men think it is and we were young.
11 November, 2014
Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never heard of Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. Now, I can’t wait to go there again. It’s Britain’s finest residential library, founded by Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and now, well over a century later, a fine tribute to his vision. The brochure invites visitors to ‘Read, Write, Relax And Become Inspired’ and I did all of those in the space of 24 hours. Should you wish to follow my example, you’ll find all you need to know at www.gladstoneslibrary.org.
My being there last weekend was pure serendipity. My friend and fellow Ripon Writers’ Group member Cathy Grimmer – seen above with James Runcie – won the stay in a competition and invited me along as her ‘plus one’. I was agreeably surprised to find that everything was under one very large roof.
The actual library with its collection of more than a quarter of a million books is, of course, always going to be the star of the show. I could easily have devoted my whole stay to sitting in a comfortable leather armchair and reading through a tiny fraction of the volumes on offer. However, a full programme awaited us, as well as regular pauses for refreshment from the ‘Food For Thought’ coffee shop.
After a cup of tea and guided tour, we went to our first official session. Lucy Gough, who has written extensively for TV, radio and stage, had prepared a two hour workshop on writing radio drama. The ten of us seated around the table with Lucy read through Timothy West’s spoof, ‘This Gun That I Have In My Right Hand Is Loaded’, which demonstrates in no uncertain terms how NOT to write for radio. This was followed by a study of the very different emotions that can be unleashed in individuals by a single piece of music. Lucy’s advice was ALWAYS to start with sound, musical or otherwise, to set the mood for the play to follow. She went on to warn against the pitfalls of trying to place a play not specifically written with radio in mind. Pieces originally written for the stage of television simply will not do.
The reason for the title of our literary weekend became apparent after dinner, taken refectory style in a large and comfortable dining room. Although the weather continued to be unseasonably mild for the time of year, the log fire in the Gladstone Room was lit with a flourish and everyone gathered round, wine glass in hand, for the first ’round the hearth’ session with the writers in residence.
Flanked by staff member Louisa and Warden Peter Francis, these were – from left to right – James Runcie (Grantchester Mysteries), Lucy Gough, Patricia Bracewell (Shadow On The Crown) and Rebecca Abrams (Touching Distance). All were more than willing to field questions about their work and to linger late into the night to chat with us all. (Thank you also, Patricia, for generously sharing this photograph with me.) Cathy and I, eager not to miss a word, can be seen sitting in the middle of the front row.
After a good night’s sleep in our comfortable en suite accommodation and a hearty breakfast, there was time to stretch our legs in the extensive grounds before going to a talk by James Runcie. His Grantchester novels and the television series based on them are set in post-war Britain, starting off in 1953. James freely admitted that his main character was loosely based on his own father. The late Robert Runcie was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1980-1991 and, like Sydney Chambers, had served in the Scots Guards. James wanted his vicar turned detective to be as far away as possible from the Derek Nimmo character in ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ and for the crimes he solves not to be ‘cosy’. Decency, integrity, trust and loyalty all feature heavily in the stories and, while historical events play their part, they are carefully integrated rather than ‘dumped’. (The Times of the day, now available electronically, is an invaluable resource.) James warned all potential writers of historical fiction to be vigilant against the inclusion of sloppy anachronisms and inaccurate biblical quotations – the latter possibly springing from the lack of religious background of most copy editors these days! Having novels adapted for television, whilst undoubtedly profitable, can also be a painful experience for a writer. James admitted that he had won some points but had had to let others go.
Lunch followed and then our final session ’round the hearth’. On this occasion, the discussion was all about inspiration, working methods and the need to be single minded – even selfish – about setting aside enough time to write. The writers in residence all agreed that very few authors can exist purely on the profits from their writing and almost all have other ways of earning a crust. Support from their nearest and dearest is also crucial and James Runcie – whose wife was also present at this session – quipped that the essential thing was to marry the right person in the first place.
To stretch our legs before the long drive back, we had a quick stroll through part of the grounds of Hawarden Castle, the former home of William Gladstone. Open to the public, they are impressive and it would be good to explore them further on our next visit.
If you’re interested in forthcoming events at the Gladstone Library, I’d encourage you to visit the website www.gladstoneslibrary.org.
4 November, 2014
The evening started so well! Thanks to the power of Sat Nav, finding the venue – the Drax Sports & Social Club – in daylight was a breeze. Well, it was apart from discovering that the post code we’d been given was the same as the one for the adjacent power station. However, common sense prevailed and we soon found ourselves tapping our feet to that irresistible salsa beat. The Humba Rumba team and Mambo con Rumbo combined to make it a night to remember. Many of our friends from Strictly Salsa and the Wetherby Engine Shed were there and we danced our socks off.
Sweaty conditions are inevitable on such a crowded dance floor and frequent trips to the bar are a necessity. That said, salseros aren’t a very boozy bunch – everyone wants to get the complicated footwork and general styling right – and my tipple of choice on dance nights is J20, the orange and passion fruit variety.
Thank goodness for that! The return journey was in the dark, of course, and somewhere on the outskirts of York I missed a right hand turning. The Sat Nav recalibrated itself, but I started to lose the plot. The instructions always seemed to come slightly too late – or way too early – for me to grasp exactly which turning the bland voice intended me to take or, indeed, to identify it in time. So it was that, after much dithering, I was very grateful to find myself at last on familiar ground. The traffic lights at the end of Nunnery Lane were red and, as I pulled up, I became aware of another light, blue and flashing, behind me.
‘Just an ambulance,’ I remarked to my companion. ‘I wonder why it isn’t overtaking.’ The answer came when my door was suddenly wrenched open and I was ordered to switch off the engine, hand over my keys and get out of the car. It was a fair cop. The young policeman informed me that the erratic nature of my driving had caught his attention and I could well see why. At that time on a Saturday night, far too many drivers lurch out of pubs and clubs and set off for home in their cars.
I told him truthfully that I’d consumed only soft drinks all evening and I think he was disposed to believe me, but nevertheless a breathalyser was produced and I blew into it as hard as I could. Result ZERO. His manner had been polite and pleasant all along and became even more so after that. Pausing only to ask me where I was heading and seek advice on the best route for me from his partner, a female officer called Jo, he sent me on my way.
It could all have been so different if I had been drinking alcohol and I’m very grateful to my father (a driving instructor) who made me promise never to consume as much as a wine gum before sitting behind the wheel of any motor vehicle. Thanks, Dad!
As a writer, I treasure every experience, and I suspect that a character in one of my short stories will soon be undergoing something very similar. Whether it turns out well or badly will remain to be seen!
22 September, 2014