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...
30 November, 2016
Our fledgling group, formed earlier this year, dipped its first toe into the water last night at the Christmas Fair in Poppleton near York and took it in turns to man our well stocked stall. (Wrapping all those items for the lucky dip reminded me very much of ‘pass the parcel’ at birthday parties in years gone by.)
The atmosphere was very festive, although the lighting made it difficult to take decent shots with my phone.
There was certainly plenty of choice for all ages and in several different genres.
Other members of the group had worked very hard on the promotional materials. We hope to welcome other writers in the New Year. Please click on the link to the right for more details if you might be interested.
Whoever is responsible for the decor is certainly to be congratulated. What is a sports hall by day can be transformed by clever use of draped fabric into something that looks just like a marquee for special events. (Our stall, one of many, is just visible back left.)
19 November, 2016
Obeying the adage above, my life has been full of play lately. As only an occasional visitor to London, I found myself there on two consecutive weeks in October with a theatre visit at the heart of each excursion.
First came the opportunity to give my younger son a treat. Having seen Matilda a couple of years ago, he was keen to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Did it live up to expectations? Well, for me at least, the first act dragged with rather with too much emphasis on Charlie’s poverty stricken life before his discovery of the golden ticket. However, it was redeemed by a sparkling second act in which only the staging of the ‘chocolate fountain’ disappointed. As we combined our visit with seeing family members not fortunate enough to live in Yorkshire, we felt that we’d had our money’s worth.
The Book of Mormon, seen in the company of my elder son, was hilarious from start to finish. Anyone who’s opened their door to a pair of clean cut young Americans brimming with religious fervour will be able to relate to this. Of course the musical lampoons one of the Christian world’s newer movements, but we found the humour gentle rather than vicious.
That the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, rather than mounting a violent protest outside the theatre, took out advertising space in the programme seems to underline that.
Salsa has taken rather a back seat lately, but I couldn’t miss our class’s Halloween party and here I am in action! Undecided whether to go as a witch – the pointy hat makes dancing difficult – or a zombie bride with trailing garments that could lead to a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, I settled on the outfit originally bought to publicise my collection of murder stories. With the addition of a pair of impish horns, it seemed appropriate.
I also took to the floor with Bruce, of course, who was glad to dispense with his costume after a few numbers. It was a hot night in more than one respect!
The prize for best outfit went to Kate (front row, third from the left), but Mick, in the centre with the green face, would have been another worthy winner. I’m still wondering if his make-up came off in time for work the following day!
Speaking of work, it’s about time that I got back to mine!
1 November, 2016
Where have the last couple of months gone? It seems only last week that I was having tea on the lawn with my Swanwick friends and visiting York Maze before the maize was harvested. Now we’re in mid-October.There’s a lot to be said for this time of year, especially when living in a glorious part of the world like North Yorkshire. I consider myself particularly fortunate to have Fountains Abbey/Studley Royal on the doorstep. When Antonia Hodgson was researching her novel A Death At Fountains Abbey, she had to rent a cottage. I live a four mile drive away – less if I choose to walk and cut through the fields – and have my favourite bench. There is nowhere better to sit, pen in hand, when wrestling with a tricky piece of writing.
The trees had just started to turn when another solitary soul and I took up temporary residence by the Moon Pond in the Water Gardens. By now the autumn foliage will be glorious and I plan to return very soon.
Different aspects of my life came together when I was asked to speak to the Rotary Club of Ripon Rowels about what makes working as a television/film extra an ideal job for a writer. The answer to that question is twofold; the inspiration I get from all the interesting people I meet and plenty of time to write during the long hours waiting to be called onto the set.
In common with many writers known to me, I find promoting my books harder work than writing them in the first place. However, last Sunday I was doing just that at the Ryedale Book Festival in Malton.
Another aspect of a writer’s life can – and maybe should – be passing on expertise to others. I’ve run workshops for adults before but this creative writing session for visiting French pupils was the first time for many years that I’ve taken on a group of teenagers. I’m very happy to report that they were a great bunch of young people and everything went swimmingly! With Halloween not far away, I took as my theme the ghostly Roman soldiers in the Treasurer’s House.
The workshop came about following a request to York Writers and fellow member David Dale, whose novel Night Witch was published this year, ran a parallel group. David chose to focus on Guy Fawkes, arguably York’s most famous – or notorious, depending on your point of view – former resident.
The feedback from both groups was very positive and David and I wish the youngsters every success with their own writing.
13 October, 2016
As soon as August comes round, it’s time to start packing! The Writers’ Summer School has just chalked up its 68th year at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
I arrived on a sunny afternoon to find the gardens looking even more magnificent than ever. This former gentleman’s residence hosts conferences all year round, although I doubt if many make such enthusiastic use of the bar as do 200+ writers!
My room in Lakeside was very comfortable with all mod cons.
Having gone down a day early with one of the committee members, I pitched in where I could and spent a lot of time helping to set up the Book Shop. It filled up rapidly as delegates arrived and logging everything in wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. I was very happy to hand over to more experienced volunteers, whose team leader was unable to attend this year.
My efforts did qualify me for the photo call later in the week, though.
Another thing that I was very happy to do was to join the team of Swanwick Ambassadors again this year. Our role is to help new Swanwickers find their feet, firstly through the ‘White Badgers’ Reception’ and then by hosting special tables at the first evening’s dinner. This gives them the opportunity to ask anything they like and to get to know us and each other. I’d have been very grateful for such a scheme when I made my first appearance in 2006. Not a shrinking violet by any means, I still found facing a sea of strange faces and not knowing where to sit quite daunting.
So much socialising goes on that it’s easy to forget at times that we – most of us, at any rate – are here to work, but the choice of specialist courses was as wide as ever. I don’t rush around as much as I did the first couple of years, but I enjoyed learning more about writing short stories (Linda Lewis), flash fiction (Veronica Bright), plotting and stratagem (Michael Jecks) and the trickier side of fiction (Sue Moorcroft). I also took part in the ‘procrastination free’ sessions offered in the middle of the week – voluntary incarceration in one of the lecture rooms with nothing to do but get on with my next project. My own contribution to the programme this year was a modest one. I ran a one hour session on the Wednesday afternoon. It focussed on turning an unforgettable episode into a novel, using the development of my own Shadows of the Past as a starting point.
The evenings saw speakers – John Lamont, James Runcie (pictured above), Kathryn Aalto, Michael Jecks and Brendan Nolan – followed by a variety of activities to suit most tastes.
There were discussions, quizzes, drama improvisations, discos, poetry open mic and Mark Iveson’s very popular buskers’ evening. I’m no singer, but I took a few photos on Mark’s behalf whilst he was performing. None of the entertainment was compulsory, of course, but the Swanwickers who chose to perform did an excellent job and the fancy dress disco was a sight for sore eyes.
My own costume was rather a last minute thought and came from an excellent local shop called Jolly Jesters. As the theme of the disco was Heroes and Villains, I thought Lady Macbeth quite appropriate!
Macbeth himself wasn’t present, but it didn’t take long to find the three witches!
As a long term subscriber to Writing Magazine/Writers’ News, I always enjoy catching up with editor Jonathan Telfer and his team.
It’s often said of Swanwick that it rises through the mists like Brigadoon and then disappears for another year. All too soon, it was time for the AGM, Dregs Party on the lawn and final dinner. A good time had definitely been had by all, even before the hilarious Battle of Writer’s Block which preceded the singing of Auld Lang Syne. With Simon Hall aka The TV Detective in the lead as a desperate author plagued by doubt, his glamorous granny and a scheming agent, how could it fail to bring the house down? Backed up by a multi-talented group of actors, singers and musicians, it was certainly a show to remember.
All I can say in conclusion is ROLL ON NEXT YEAR. The new committee, chaired by fellow Ripon Writers’ group member Cathy Grimmer, (seen above with outgoing chairman Michael O’Byrne), is already at work to make sure that the programme is at least as good and maybe even better than this year’s has been.
Swanwick 2017 will run from 12th to 17th August, with bookings open in the New Year.
14 August, 2016
I first read Jane Eyre when I was twelve years old and wished for a long time that I hadn’t. However, my nightmares about the criminally insane Bertha prowling around while the rest of the household slept faded eventually and allowed me to appreciate the story as a whole. If I discount the improbable coincidence of Jane’s flight from Thornfield landing her on the doorstep of previously unknown cousins, this is my favourite Brontë novel. That is why I jumped at the opportunity last week to tour the ‘gentleman’s residence’ believed to have been at least in part the model for Mr Rochester’s house. Norton Conyers has been owned by the Graham family almost continuously since 1624 and Charlotte, who paid a visit in 1839, would certainly have been told the legend of Mad Mary, an unfortunate relative confined to an attic during the previous century.
The discovery of a major infestation of death watch beetle led to this ‘gentleman’s manor house’ being closed to the public for many years. On the day of my visit, Sir James, the 11th baronet, and Lady Graham gathered us all together in the hall (shown above) for a talk on the repair and restoration programme. They even handed round specimens of the offending insects – in plastic boxes, I’m glad to say – and fragments of wood that they had chewed. Disappointment was to follow when we were told that the fragility of the floors had put the attics out of bounds to visitors. The most we were allowed was a glimpse through a door on the gloomy first floor landing of a narrow staircase leading up to what had been the servants’ sleeping quarters. In use when Charlotte visited, it had been blocked up and its rediscovery in 2004 sparked interest worldwide. A photograph on display in the hall showed a sparsely furnished and cheerless garret at the very far end of the attic floor.
There was plenty more to see, including fine furniture, pictures, porcelain, 16th century painted boards and rare examples of 18th century wallpaper but, even on a fine summer’s day, I found the general atmosphere of the place oppressive. Standing on the landing and again in the dark panelled King James bedroom – while still Duke of York, the future James II and his wife are supposed to have spent one November night at Norton Conyers in 1679 – it wasn’t hard for me to imagine how sinister the house would have seemed without benefit of electric lighting. I was very glad to emerge into the sunshine and gather my thoughts in the glorious walled garden.
20 July, 2016