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...
This week saw some of my fiction featured in a beautifully illustrated double page spread in Love Sunday, the supplement to the Sunday People. If you’d like to read the full story, please let me know. My A4 scanner isn’t up to it, but I’d be more than happy to send you the original Word document.
‘Crocodile Tears’ is a poignant tale that spans almost a lifetime, from Maureen as a toddler astray on Bridlington beach to a confused elderly lady lost in Leeds city centre. We’re often told to write about what we know and those two places are still very fresh in my memory. Most of my childhood holidays were spent in ‘Brid’, as we called it. The mother of one of our neighbours in Leeds used to put us up for the week as well as taking care of me in the evenings to give my parents a break.
The cash office of Woolworth’s on Briggate, to which Maureen is taken when she loses her mum in the Christmas crowds, is where I worked for several years as a Saturday girl and the bargains to be had round the corner at C & A’s January sale were eagerly anticipated all year round. It saddens me to think that both those stores, which once had branches all over the country, are long gone. The latter was always known to my family as C & A Modes, with Modes pronounced to rhyme with ‘roads’. Whether that was through tradition or ignorance of French, I’m not sure. It isn’t in the story, but I thought I’d mention it anyway.
What happened to Maureen in the end was inspired by memories of an aunt who suffered from dementia. Fortunately, the people who came across her early one morning sitting outside a pub in her night attire were just as kind and helpful as the policeman who finds Maureen.
13 November, 2017
I first met radio dramatist Paul Dodgson at the Writers’ Summer School (Swanwick) in August and was very impressed by both the courses he ran (scroll down for details) and his talent as a raconteur and musician. That being so, I was delighted to offer my home as one of the venues for Paul’s promotional tour to publicise his new book.
If our sitting room had had elastic sides, I’d have invited a great many more people. As it was, those I was able to cram in all thoroughly enjoyed Paul’s songs and stories. They charted his musical experiences – not all of them successful – from his early teens to appearing solo on the stage of the Bristol Old Vic. At times we were encouraged to join in, which we did with gusto. There were also quiet, reflective moments.
The cheese and pineapple on sticks handed round by Cathy Grimmer raised a good few laughs, as it was intended that they should. No prawn cocktail or Black Forest gateau, though.
Paul is crowd funding his book, The Road Not Taken, through Unbound and I for one can’t wait to read it. More details can be found at www.ontheroadnottaken.co.uk
3 November, 2017
31 October, 2017
‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good tale,’ was a piece of advice I heard more than once during my first visit to Belfast. I don’t know if the Irish are all natural born storytellers, but those I met over the four days of my visit certainly were. From tour guides to barmen, from taxi drivers to the security staff at the airport, I think they must all have kissed the Blarney Stone and I don’t think I’ve ever met friendlier or more helpful people. Any talk of ‘the troubles’ was very much in the past tense and I really hope that their optimism will prove to be justified.
My first evening was spent at the MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) for the opening of an exhibition curated by Dr John Walter. Shonky: The Aesthetics of Awkwardness is a group show of international artists that includes painting, sculpture and video, performance and installation.
To be honest, my own taste in art doesn’t extend far past the Impressionists, but I found plenty to enjoy all the same. The mostly young crowd was full of enthusiasm for the works on display and I was even asked for the first time in decades if I’d got any weed! (For the record, I hadn’t.)
The Titanic exhibition devoted to ‘the pride of Belfast’ is unmissable as well as extremely moving. Housed in a building designed to match the size of the hull, it contains nine interactive galleries that tell visitors just about anything they might want to know about the history of the liner from its construction and launch in 1911 to its rediscovery at the bottom of the Atlantic in 1985. It seemed to me that the collision with the iceberg and the reasons for Titanic’s sinking were rather glossed over, but that wouldn’t stop me from recommending a tour.
Berthed close by is the fully restored Nomadic. A quarter of the size of its ‘big sister’, it was originally fitted out in similar style and used as a tender for 1st and 2nd class passengers. Having seen active service during both World Wars, it then spent decades as a floating Parisian restaurant and disco before returning to Belfast. It’s the last remaining White Star Line ship anywhere in the world and well worth a visit.
Story telling went into overdrive on the Giant’s Causeway. Who wouldn’t believe in the legend of the giant Finn McCool? Well, maybe those who subscribe the idea of long gone alien civilisations.
The idea that all those rock formations, particularly the perfectly hexagonal columns, had come about due to volcanic activity seemed to me, no geologist, the most improbable. Slippery with algae, they couldn’t tempt me to walk on them, although I did hear tell of a tourist who had done the whole tour in stiletto heels. Maybe in her case the visit to the Bush Mills distillery came first; in mine it was a very welcome second.
If only I’d thought to wear my FitBit! Generally a reluctant walker, I certainly covered more than the recommended 10 000 steps a day during my time in Ireland.
In the evenings, though, it was all about the ‘craic’. Belfast has more places to eat, drink and make merry than you can shake a stick at. The photo above was taken at the Morning Star, an alehouse turned gastropub dating from 1810 and with the proud boast that its food is all sourced locally.
I’d love to know how many enthusiastic carnivores have taken up the 48 oz Steak Challenge and whether it came with chips!
26 October, 2017
As the result of the readings at Waterstones (see below), I was invited to run a creative writing session for the Inklings, a long established student society. The choice of topic(s) being left to me, I decided on a three part approach, interspersed with written exercises and feedback.
We began with flash fiction, which turned out to be the most popular. Having read out a few examples, I set them the task of writing a piece that included the expressions liquid lunch (see above image for the general idea), titfer and glitterati. These weren’t chosen at random, but from a Writing Magazine competition that I won a few years ago and, as it turned out, are no longer widely used – at least amongst today’s students. However, once I’d defined them, the Inklings came up with some very entertaining work.
Exploiting incidents in my own life and those of family, friends, colleagues (and even passing acquaintances) came next and I explained how these had led to dozens of short stories and articles, as well as my partly autobiographical novel, Shadows of the Past. The Inklings had no difficulty in finding memories of their own to serve as a starting point for some extended writing.
With time marching on, I was only able to skim over the lucrative opportunities offered by the ‘fillers’ market and then to challenge the students to guess what the main character of my children’s novel Wheels on Fire was planning in the way of revenge on the French. No one came up with the correct answer, but some were very close.
The two hours flew by and I hope that the Inklings enjoyed the session as much as I did.
16 October, 2017
It’s always a pleasure to take part in a literary event with friends and here I am in Waterstones cafe with fellow members of York Writers. We were all gratified to see more people in attendance than seats available! Left to right in the photograph are Toni Bunnell (who organised the evening), yours truly, John Walford, Andy Humphrey and Sarah Dixon. Some of us plan meticulously, whilst others take a more ‘seat of the pants’ approach and we all write in different genres. Toni, a well known local folk singer, provided a musical accompaniment to her reading from The Nameless Children. John explained his own approach to writing and read a story from his Time Machine collection. Andy, a seasoned performance poet, barely glimpsed at the text as he read from Satires and A Long Way to Fall. Sarah read the opening chapter of her children’s book Alfie Slider and shared both her motivation for writing it and how she had succeeded in getting it into print. They all fielded questions from the audience too.
Toni had allotted us fifteen minutes each, which gave me time to read a couple of stories from my Anyone For Murder? collection. I’d deliberately chosen two of the more lighthearted tales and it was good to hear the audience laughing. Only in the right places, I’m glad to say!
20 September, 2017