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...
It’s always good to have a piece of my writing feature in a magazine, but I was a little disappointed this time not to see the photograph I sent in with it.
However, and just for the record, here it is! Pistachio has long been my favourite flavour and it’s not easy to find in my neck of the woods, so I make the most of every opportunity when I’m on holiday.
18 August, 2021
After last year’s disappointing cancellation due to the pandemic, I had an extra spring in my step when I arrived at The Hayes this year, unpacked and took my wares to the Book Room. As an ‘old hand’, it was my honour and privilege to help new Swanwickers (White Badgers) find their feet by co-hosting a guided tour and a table at dinner on the first evening. The opening speaker was Toby Faber of Faber & Faber, grandson of the founder, who provided an interesting outline of the history of the publishing firm. Afterwards, as ever, there was a choice of activities.
Mine was to head for the bar, catch up with old friends and keep an eye out for any White Badgers looking lost and/or lonely.
My first appearance at ‘Swanwick’ was in 2006, when I was lucky enough to win a free place through the Poetry Competition. (‘To My Writing Partner’ is still available to read on this website.) Seeing the week as a unique opportunity and determined not to waste a moment, I was completely burned out by the Tuesday lunchtime. Nowadays – and this is my 15th time at the School – I know how to pace myself. Taking time out to stroll around the lake or sit reading on a bench is a welcome break from attending courses and workshops. That said, of course, there was a wonderful range open to us all. My first choice was Simon Whaley’s four-part course ‘The Complete Article Writer’, which gave me a lot of new ideas to work on for expanding my range. Second was ‘SHOW Stopping Story Writing’, the block capitals of the first word being deliberate. “Show! Don’t tell!” was Bettina von Cossel’s advice and no one could have dreamed up finer examples of doing just that. Spencer Meakin’s two-part course on writing about LGBTQ+ characters took me down (for me) largely unexplored avenues and gave a lot of food for thought. Ingrid Jendrzejewski’s wide experience of judging as well as winning many writing competitions made her the ideal person to show us how to improve our chances of being placed.
‘Work’ over for the day, I made the most of the entertainment on offer and helped out where I could. At the Prose Open Mic, for example, I was handed the task of sanitising the microphone between participants.
At Buskers’ Evening, I was charged with taking photographs.
However, I did get to strut my stuff at the Poetry Open Mic and dress up for the ‘Roaring Twenties’ evening.
We scrubbed up quite well, don’t you think? The disco that ended the evening included a free Charleston lesson, but I’d been on my feet long enough by then and sloped off to bed. The boa I’d hired from Jolly Jesters in the village left a trail of black feathers wherever I went and I still spotted a few on the final morning!
As a member of both Ripon Writers’ Group and York Writers, it was good to have friends from each along with me. Above with Lindsay from RWG and below with John, Toni and Pam from YW.
The photo above was taken in one of the dining rooms at lunchtime. I used to find three cooked meals a day overwhelming and was delighted this year to be offered sandwiches, salads, crisps and chocolate bars at midday. They were easily transported outdoors on fine days and The Hayes had provided picnic tables and extra benches in its extensive grounds.
I took no direct part in ‘Page to Stage’ this year – scroll down to Swanwick 2019 for my finest hour! – although I very much enjoyed the plays, submitted in advance but cast and rehearsed with breakneck speed. Julian Unthank’s talk on scriptwriting for TV was absorbing and I also enjoyed what Derbyshire writer Sarah Ward had to say about why we love a ghost story. To my shame, I missed Helen Mort’s contribution to Monday evening but heard from others that it was very good. Given the string of awards she’s won for her poetry, it must have been.
Gloom usually sets in for me on Thursday afternoon, knowing that soon ‘Swanwick’ will be over for this year but, sandwiched between the AGM and the Farewell, comes the Dregs Party.
This is an opportunity to share any leftover drinks and snacks. Finery is optional, but some of us really push the boat out and cameras are snapping away the whole time.
Covid19 regulations having banned communal singing indoors, John Lamont led us in his own unforgettable version of the Proclaimers’ hit. ‘I will write 500 words…’ has become the School’s unofficial anthem and is usually accompanied by much stamping on the floor of the Main Conference Hall. It doesn’t work quite as well on grass, but we got there!
It’s hard to part with friends old and new, knowing that most of us are unlikely to meet again in the flesh for another year. (Thank heavens for Facebook, Whats App, Zoom etc!)
However, the School will rise Brigadoon-like from the mist on Saturday, 13th August 2022 and, all being well, I shall be there. The countdown has already begun.
PS Covid19 reared its ugly head right at the end of the week and many of us are now being tested, but I for one wouldn’t have missed a minute of Swanwick 2021.
15 August, 2021
I thought I’d left it too late to be a cover girl until Les Baynton handed me this. The photo is from the 2019 Swanwick Writers’ Summer School when I played Cher to Lance Greenfield’s Sonny. (If you scroll back far enough you’ll find more shots of that hilarious evening.)
Les hosts the poetry open mic session each year and a good selection of his own poems can be read in this collection. Well done, Les! I hope it raises a goodly sum for the British Heart Foundation.
7 August, 2021
After much agonising, the long lockdown locks (note the deliberate alliteration) have finally been banished and just in time for this year’s Writers’ Summer School. Swanwick, here I come!
6 August, 2021
One of the competitions included in Ripon Writers’ Group’s rolling programme challenges members to find inspiration in any branch of the arts. Always a lover of the Impressionists, I took this infamous painting as my source this time around.
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
“Come to a picnic in the Bois de Boulogne, Victorine,” he said one day in 1863. “It will be quite an intimate affair; just the two of us, my brother and Suzanne’s, maybe and another young lady.”
“And not your wife?” I enquired acidly, although I already knew the answer to that question. Suzanne might accept my professional relationship with Monsieur M, but mix with me socially now that he’d finally made a respectable woman of her? No chance!
“I’m afraid not,” he replied with a shrug. She wouldn’t risk getting grass stains on one of her fine new dresses.” Not a problem for me, I thought. My dresses were adequate, even pretty, some of them. But fine? No. Not on what I earned.
“Well, where exactly did you have in mind?” I asked. He stroked his beard, something he always did when pretending not to have the answer straightaway, and then said casually,
“Oh, by a stream or a lake. Then some of us can bathe if we’ve a mind to.”
“I see.” I did see too. As if that hadn’t been his plan all along. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d feasted his eyes on me in the all together. An artist’s model has to cast off any notions of modesty, you know, so it’s lucky that I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin. Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec have both had an eyeful at different times. Several others too, if I’m honest. Well, how else was a red-haired girl from a poor background but with artistic ambitions of her own to support herself in Paris? I’ve always had a healthy appetite too and thought I could count on him, a man of considerable means, to put on a good spread for our woodland lunch. The polar opposite of an artist starving in a garret was Monsieur M. He was a toff and the only artist I knew who didn’t actually have to sell his work to keep his family in style, although he did take great pride in his paintings. Having some of his best rejected by the stuffy Paris Salon as too risqué was a hard pill to swallow and I wasn’t surprised when this latest painting, regarded by some critics as a scene of modern-day debauchery, made its first public appearance in the Salon des Refusés. It wasn’t on its own, of course. Napoleon III set it up to stem a public outcry when more than half the submissions to the official Salon were turned down, but that’s by the by.
Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, off we all went. The picnic wasn’t up to much, just fruit and bread and not a patch on those that his and Monet’s families enjoyed in their gardens, but this was going to be no mundane scene of everyday life. He wanted me, and only me, au naturel; not pretending to be a Greek goddess or the like, but as an ordinary young woman who just happened to be picnicking in the nude. There was to be no hanky panky. Men who’ve viewed the huge oil painting ever since might feel a stirring in their loins, but the way he posed our little group suggested that my companions hadn’t really noticed my state of undress. Far from it, in fact. They hadn’t even loosened their collars and he ordered them to appear deeply immersed in their conversation. Odd really, especially as one of them was sitting with his legs splayed out and my right foot was in pole position to give him a kick where the sun don’t shine. Chin cupped in my hand, I was minding my own business and gazing thoughtfully away from the others as if trying to catch the eye of any passer by who chanced upon the strange scene. They’d have taken me for a prostitute, of course, and the other girl too, although she’s never been named and therefore doesn’t share in my notoriety. Given that she appears to be emerging from her bathe dry and almost fully clad, as well as having difficulty scrabbling back up the bank, the painting wouldn’t have lost much if she’d been missed out altogether. The perspective is terrible, if you want my opinion as a fellow artist. She’s far too big and appears almost to be floating above us. The background lacks depth too and you might well imagine that it had all been done in a studio rather than outdoors. As for the stark lighting, it’s almost as though we’re on a stage with a spotlight like the new one at the Paris Opera turned onto us. It wasn’t for me to tell him that, of course, a man twelve years my senior and many social notches above me, but others have certainly done so since.
Some say that Monsieur M pinched the whole idea from an early 16th century Italian painting that’s still hanging in the Louvre. Supposedly representing both art and music, Le Concert Champêtre (The Pastoral Concert) does have a similar grouping, but both women are naked. One of them is not only chubby, rather like Suzanne, in fact, but also facing forward. The cloth draped around her legs hides nothing of significance! Classical works can usually get away with it, but just imagine the reaction in 1863 if Monsieur M had posed me in all my glory like that. He didn’t live to see the heyday of the ‘artistic’ postcards that made fortunes later on for vendors in Pigalle!
Another source of inspiration for our painting is said to have been an old engraving featuring the judgment of Paris. That one shows a naked water nymph seated in a pose very similar to mine and one of the river gods with her has his family jewels on display. It would have been interesting to see the reaction of either of my buttoned-up male companions, especially the dandy who didn’t even remove his silly hat – I ask you, who wears a hat with a tassel at a picnic? – to a suggestion of that sort. No David he!
Anyway, the whole thing was considered a terrible affront to propriety by the Parisian elite who flocked to see it and it was something of a shock to me too. Had he put my head onto Suzanne’s body? It certainly looked like that, but there was no doubting that it was my face. It was even worse when he painted me, naked again, of course, as the courtesan Olympia waiting for her next client. By then all Paris knew my name and it hasn’t mattered how many times I’ve been painted with my clothes on, eating cherries, singing in the street, playing a guitar or even preparing to fight a bull. I’ll always be remembered as the shameless fille de joie in those damned paintings. I’ve been told that respectable men hurried their wives past before themselves returning for a closer look!
At least I got some positive recognition later on, when the classes I took at the Académie Julian paid off and my self portrait was accepted for exhibition by the jury of the Paris Salon. That was in 1876, another year in which Monsieur M’s work was not included. I don’t want to be mean-spirited about all this, though. The sweetest success of all came in 1879 when he was approaching the zenith of his career and I, little Victorine Meurent from the back streets of Paris, had the honour and satisfaction of seeing a work of mine displayed in the same room as a Manet!
Footnote: Although Victorine Meurent exhibited in the Salon six times and was inducted into the Société des Artistes Français, her work has been all but erased from art history. Le Jour des Rameaux or Palm Sunday, recovered in 2004 and displayed in the Musée Municipal d’Art et d’Histoire de Colombes, a suburb of Paris, may be her only surviving painting, although I do hope not.
The competition was expertly adjudicated by well known York poet and lecturer Oz Hardwick, who had this to say about my entry, to which he awarded second place:
Manet’s famous painting is indeed one of those which demands that the viewer ask what on earth is going on, and this is a very good response. As you say in your footnote, Meurent has pretty much vanished in the past 140 years, so it’s good to give her a voice at last. And it’s a convincing voice, which is experienced and wise, with a little bit of playfulness. That you have focused on her as the artist she was, as well as Manet’s most frequently used model, gives you the chance to bring in the viewer’s perspective as well as that of a participant in the scandalous scene (with its disappointing picnic). Yes, what was he thinking about when he added that figure leaving the water? Your speaker’s reasoned connoisseurship gives her a real sense of authority. If there’s one thing I’d have liked a bit more of (within the word limit – never easy), it would have been a bit more of the atmosphere in the Salon des Refusés: a quote from an outraged visitor or two would have let us enter into the crowd for a moment. That one point aside, there’s something very appealing about animating these enigmatic silences in history and you do it rather neatly.
16 July, 2021
19 April, 2021
Jago has featured many times in my writing since he came to us and here he is again!
(May 2021 issue of Your Cat)
18 April, 2021
A working holiday in France for so little?
“It sounds too good to be true,” says Daisy’s mother, but her warning falls on deaf ears.
This short prequel to ‘Shadows of the Past’ reveals how the three English schoolgirls at the heart of the story are drawn into a sequence of events beyond their parents’ worst nightmares. Old sins have long shadows and nowhere more so than in the village for which their daughters are now heading.
‘Foreshadowing’ gives a great deal of additional background information about Daisy, Kate and Ronnie before their disappearance. Why did the unlikely trio decide to cross the Channel together that summer and how, out of all the villages in France, did they have the misfortune to end up in Saint-André-la-Forêt? This prequel is already available to download free of charge from Amazon or Smashwords, but printed copies can only be obtained directly from me. For a limited period, I will enclose a complimentary copy with each signed copy of Shadows of the Past (£8.99 + £3.20 p&p in the UK) ordered through this website. Please contact me for further details.
24 February, 2021
I have no doubt at all that most of us when on Zoom make some effort with our appearance. (Note how my hair has grown since lockdown!) The outfit chosen is important, of course, although only from chest height upwards unless you intend to move around a lot. Take care with it, though! If you wear all black and are also seated on a black highbacked chair or sofa, your friends or colleagues will see a disembodied head – always a disturbing sight!
Some also make huge efforts to curate their background. My study is always chaotic, but that’s the way I like it, so what you see is what you get! Having said that, maybe I should have moved what appears to be a dead fish in the bottom left hand corner of the image.
It’s actually an electronic toy bought as a Christmas present for Jago, but it terrified him when it started flapping about on the carpet and is now waiting to go to a new home.
10 February, 2021
As well as writing stories, articles, reviews and even the odd poem, I’ve always enjoyed submitting ‘fillers’ of all kinds. My little handbook Easy Money For Writers & Wannabes was a best seller when it first came out and, although publications have come and gone since then, is still a useful guide to the basics. There will always be a market for anecdotes, jokes, handy tips, amusing photographs and so on and they can be rewarded with prizes or cold hard cash. The former can range from an electric sander from a DIY magazine to a caddy full of loose leaf tea from The People’s Friend, as in the image below.
I always enjoy reading stories by fellow contributors to TPF and the one mentioned above particularly caught my eye. What home spun fun children enjoyed before the advent of computer games!
7 February, 2021