Friday, 30 October 2015

Word of the Week - Halloween

As the week has gone on Halloween has appeared more and more; it literally seems to be everywhere.

At the risk of sounding like a real party pooper - I loathe and detest Halloween.

As far as I'm concerned the British haven't had a tradition of celebrating Halloween/The Day of the Dead for at least 2,000years. I don't want to embrace my pagan roots, even if I had any; I don't want to watch Night of the Living Dead; I don't want to carve pumpkins; I don't want to eat cakes shaped like ghosts or sweets shaped like eyeballs. And I certainly don't want to be bothered by assorted anonymous kids expecting sweets.

Now I know that I sound like a real harridan here but I get quite distressed at the Americanisation of our culture. Halloween has only become part of the British cultural year in the last few years and we seem to have embraced all the American traditions that it entails - pumpkin carving, trick or treating, dressing up in tacky costumes, Halloween parties.

The British had November 5th, Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. At least that had some cultural reference to being British and a firm footing in the history of our country. It saddens me that the young people don't know what Bonfire Night is about - they don't know the history of the celebration, it's just another excuse for some drinks and fireworks.

So I'm sorry but I hate Halloween. I'm not joining in, so don't knock on the door, it's locked and I've turned out all the lights. And I'm watching Casualty not a horror film!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Read and Write - NaNoWriMo Preparation

I've signed up for NaNoWriMo again this year and have high hopes of reaching the 50,000 word mark this time round. I'm a pantser - someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than planning - so I don't usually do much in the way of planning before I write. But I have been doing a little light preparation for a whole month of frantic writing.

I have an idea for the story I'm going to write. It's a murder story around a failed affair. A married man has an affair with a younger woman, the affair ends and she tries to forget about him. Some time later his wife is discovered murdered and he has gone missing. His previous mistress comes to the attention of the police, possibly as a suspect, and the story follows her attempts to prove her innocence and find out what happened. I know how the wife will die, I know that the mistress isn't the killer but I'm not sure who is or where the husband has gone. So there is still a considerable amount of flesh to be put on the bones of this story.

I have been preparing by coming up with names - I'm setting the story in a fictional town so I can fashion it as I choose and I've got a few ideas for the name of the town. The characters are proving more tricky to name however. Every name I come up with doesn't feel right. What is a good name for a cheating husband, a wronged wife or a mistress? At the moment they are A, B and C! I'm happy to keep them as A, B and C for the time being - perhaps they will name themselves as I write.

As November approaches I get a bit twitchy about writing those first words. The tyranny of the blank page, whether paper or screen, is ever present. I always worry that no words will flow and I will stare at a blank page until my head aches and tears spring into my eyes - drama queen or what?

So I'm wishing all NaNoWriMoers lots of luck this year - and I include myself in that - and I hope to share a few bits and pieces as the month goes on, so watch this space!  

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Prompt - Ink

Quink. Just the word takes me back to schooldays. The blue and white box containing a squat bottle with a black lid embossed with 'Parker'. I loved running my finger over that word, feeling the contours. The smooth paper label before it became scuffed and before I doodled on it.

Then the moment to open the bottle. A slight resistance then a pop as the seal is broken. Slowly turning the lid to avoid splashing any ink on the desk. Followed by my favourite moment - sniffing. The tangy smell of the ink, nothing smells anything like it. Even when my pen is fully loaded I can't resist a sneaky sniff of the nib.

Dipping the nib into the blue liquid, trying so hard to only dip the nib and not the pen in. Pulling the lever at the side of the pen and watching the bubbles on the surface. Pushing the lever in and hearing the faintest of slurping noises as the ink flows up into the pen. Repeating the process just to see the bubbles and hear the slurp!

Wiping the nib clean on a piece of blotting paper or tissue. Holding the pen against the paper for just a moment longer than needed, watching the ink growing up the paper, making flowery shapes. Then the moment of truth - making the first mark on the paper. I'd like to say I wrote some lovely poetry with beautiful copperplate handwriting that flowed effortlessly across the paper. The truth is that I probably made a spluttery blot first of all.

I've never had neat writing and I'm a bit cack handed with fountain pens. I do love using them and try to write with them when I can. The joy of using a 'real' pen rather than a biro or rollerball; I'm convinced my writing is neater and more attractive but maybe that's just wishful thinking. I just love the ritual of using a 'real' pan and smelling that back to schooldays inky smell. And yes, I still manage to get it all over my fingers!


Word of the Week - Thinking

This week I've been doing lots of thinking. Now I know to most people it looked like I was sitting around doing nothing but I promise you I was thinking deeply!

I've signed up to do NaNoWriMo again this year and I have high hopes of nailing the 50,000 words this time round. I've got an idea that I'm trying to flesh out so most of my thinking has been about what to call my characters, what to call the town they live in, how to commit a murder, how many red herrings I need; all very important things to sort out before November arrives and I have to type those first few words.

Needless to say, some of my planning/thinking turned into daydreaming - I can wander off at the drop of a hat. I've mused on the weather - liking the chill but not the wind; wondered if I'm too old to wear eyeliner - never got the hang of it, think clown eyes; planning to have a major tidy after reading Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying - such useful, if radical, ideas; worrying about a cardigan that I'm half way through knitting - I'm not sure I like it anymore but it seems churlish to unravel. Well, you get the picture...

So if you see me staring off into the distance, I'm not daydreaming, honest. I'm plotting a murder and trying to convince myself that Cyril is a rotten name for a cheating husband.  

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Read and Write - NaNoWriMo

So I've signed up to do NaNoWriMo again; I must be a real sucker for punishment, eh?

For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, it's a month long writing challenge. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Obviously what you end up with isn't a fully formed, beautifully crafted novel ready for public consumption but it is something that can be tweaked and edited over the following months.

I've attempted NaNoWriMo before but so far I've only got as far as 21,000 words before the poor thing died on me! This year I have an idea that I want to write about so that's a minor win - last year I had no real idea, started writing and ran out of steam after 3 days! I'm not too much of a planner with my writing, preferring to write by the seat of my pants (pantser in NaNoWriMo speak) but I'm getting a bit stressed as my characters don't have names yet. I've tried various combinations but nothing I'm happy with yet. At this rate they'll be called A, B and C!

I hope that this will be the year when I get 50,000 words down and have something I'm moderately happy with, something I can share and improve. Maybe even - whisper this bit - something I can think about publishing.

So wish me luck, put the kettle on and look out for anguished tweets about NaNoWriMo burnout! 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Prompt - Autumn

She shakes her auburn tresses,
Kicks through the crisp fallen leaves,

Collects conkers from the ground,
Dances in the morning mist,

She strolls through rainy afternoons,
Pulls her hood up against the wind,

Sips chocolate through a stripy straw,
Snacks on double choc muffins,

She laughs at the Halloween costumes,
Giggles as she twirls a sparkler,

Peeps under hedges to spot hedgehogs,
Leaves nuts and seeds for the birds,

She wraps up warm in woolly layers,
Hats, scarves and gloves her new best friends,

Waves farewell to sultry Summer,
Glances towards haughty Winter,

She dances round the bonfire,
Munches on toffee apples,

Full of fun and mischief,
Exciting and flighty,

Friday, 16 October 2015

Word of the Week - Anniversary

So today is my wedding anniversary.

 All week I've been thinking about how long I've been married (33 years! eek!) and remembering my wedding day. Well to be honest, remembering bits of it - I was so nervous I've forgotten some parts of it! It was a lovely day - wet and windy but, hey, what do you expect in October? I had a full-on meringue dress ( just what I wanted) a pretty veil and bouquet and heels I could hardly walk in (strappy sling backs in October! what was I thinking?)

I remember standing in Mum and Dad's living room after everyone had left and sharing a whisky with Dad - he knew how nervous I was. I remember arriving at the church before the vicar - guaranteed to settle my nerves, right? I remember asking which name I should sign in the register - why does no-one tell you these things in the rehearsal?

Most of all I remember how happy we both were. Even if we look terrified (and oh so young!) in all the photos! I remember the day I realised that I'd been married for more of my life than I'd been single - that was a bit mind boggling. I can't imagine life without my lovely OH; he's done so much for me, supported me, put up with my silliness, been a wonderful husband and father.

Enough soppiness! We've put up with each other for a while now, we must be getting something right...

So I might sneak a crafty beer tonight and peek at those photos - things were weird in the 80's weren't they? That might explain the can and a half of hairspray in my hair!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Read & Write Book Review - Inferno

Now I know some people hate Dan Brown's writing and I don't think he'll be winning the Pulitzer or Booker prizes anytime soon. But some times all you need is something light and fluffy that doesn't tax the grey matter too much. Dan Brown's Inferno is perfect for that type of reading.

By coincidence I had read Dante's Inferno a few months before I read this book and it was nice to feel that I had a little background knowledge as I read. The plot revolves around Dan Brown's hero Robert Langdon and a bio threat to the world - Dan Brown doesn't deal in small scale plots! Robert Langdon and his side kick Sienna Brooks race around Florence solving clues which link to Dante's Inferno and the life of Dante himself. There are the usual confusions and dangers to be overcome and the pace of the novel is typical of Dan Brown's work. He always ends each chapter on a cliffhanger and it's easy to keep reading long after you intended to put it down.

If you are a fan of Dan Brown than Inferno won't disappoint. It is a ripping yarn in the tradition of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, fast paced and full of twists. You do need to suspend your disbelief for a while but that's not always a bad thing. Great literature is certainly isn't but it is a good example of its genre.

In my opinion it's a good escapist read, pacey and easy to read. The best thing about it for me was the journey around Florence which stirred up memories of my visits to a wonderful city. I would certainly read Dan Brown again as an escapist read; it's not great literature, it won't tax your mind but it's quite fun for all that.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Cathedral Challenge

I've been thinking about this for a while and have finally decided to do something about it.

I've decided to visit every CofE cathedral in England. I may try to add Scotland and Wales at a later date but I need to start with a manageable challenge.

I've always loved visiting churches and cathedrals so it seemed like a good idea to try and visit the cathedrals of England. It also got me thinking when I realised that I lived in Birmingham and close by for 30 years and had never been in St Philips Cathedral! How shameful is that?

So now I'm hoping to put that right. I shall start with the closest one to me which is Oxford - a lovely little cathedral situated inside Christ's College. All things being equal I hope to visit this week and get some pictures to start my challenge. Some of the other local ones can be done as day trips - Gloucester, Salisbury, Coventry - others such as Durham, Manchester, Liverpool will need a weekend away, which is a bonus!

So there we are; something to plan and look forward to. I'm looking forward to learning more about the history of these impressive buildings and finding out what treasures they contain.

Watch out for my first post soon!  

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Word of the Week - Rugby!

This week was a no-brainer when it came to picking my #WOTW. I've been loving the Rugby World Cup, despite England being disappointing.

There have been some awesome beards on display; lots of crunching tackles; plenty of tries. I've enjoyed all of the games I've seen (only a couple have eluded me) and it's always nice to see the South Sea Islanders play.

In the absence of England in the completion now I'm supporting France, even though I think New Zealand will win. Or maybe Australia? Or could it be South Africa?

Thank goodness I'm not a betting girl!  

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Prompt - Sacrifice

The sun peeped through the doorway on another cold, frosty winter's day. I kept my eyes tightly closed, trying to delay the moment I had to admit to being awake. So many things were planned for today and most of them were things I wanted to avoid.

Last night had been chaotic. There had been more food than I had ever seen - meat, fish, bread, fruit, wine - a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. There was music and singing - songs old and familiar, songs new and melodic. My family and friends had hugged me, told me they were proud of me, told me that they loved me. There was laughter and tears, much of it mine. The festivities had gone on into the early morning and I felt as if I'd hardly slept at all.

This morning was quiet, calm after last night's excitement. The contrast was deliberate. After celebrating life and love we moved to the solemn ceremony. There would be no laughter today, although there might well be tears. I hoped I could take part without crying but I doubted that would be possible. Last time we had performed the ceremony Evie had cried all the way through, shaming her family. I wanted to make my family proud and do my part with dignity but it was so hard, so difficult to know how I would act when it came to it.

It was an honour to be chosen, an honour for my family as well as myself. Many families had lived in our village for generations without being chosen. My family had lived here for many years without being honoured. But now it was our turn. My turn. The eyes of the village would be upon us, upon me, for the whole day. I carried the fate of my whole community on my shoulders and I must be brave and true.

A shadow fell across the doorway and I looked up. The silhouette of my father filled the space and I knew the time had come. He knelt beside me, his huge hand resting gently on my shoulder. I fought down the desire to cling to him and weep. I must be strong, that was the most important thing, not to appear weak.

'Come now,' my father said, 'It is time. We must prepare you for the sacrifice.'

From behind his back he produced a leather thong and I placed my hands together behind my back for my father to bind them together. Our eyes met for a brief moment, tears blinding my sight and I bowed my head. It was Winter Solstice, time for me to be sacrificed, time to honour our gods.     

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Read and Write Tuesday - Henning Mankell

I was struggling to know what to write about this week. It's a problem I have most weeks - I sit at the laptop and wait to see what pours out. But then this week Henning Mankell died and I knew I had to write about his books and how they have shaped my reading over recent years.

I can't remember when I read my first Wallander book but I loved him from the first one. He's not an easy character to like but he gets under your skin. He's authentic; by which I mean he rings true as a character and you can see how his various experiences have shaped the man he has become. In some ways he is a clich├ęd police inspector - out of shape, divorced, isolated, drinks too much - but he is all too human.

He has a complex relationship with his daughter, Linda. She lives a chaotic life, dabbling in drugs and nearly dying as a teenager. They prowl around each other, hurting each other with insults and home truths. This rings true of father-daughter relationships, even if it is extreme one. He has a variety of relationships with women, none of which ultimately satisfy him. He would be a really difficult man to live with!

His relationship with his father is central. He doesn't understand his father, who is an artist and they have the sort of relationship with depresses both of them. As the novels unfold Wallander becomes ever more like his father and they start to understand each other more. Some of the most touching pieces in the novels revolve around Wallander coming to terms with his father's illness and mortality.

The murders in the novels are suitably gruesome - if I'm reading a murder mystery I want at least 1 grisly murder! Henning Mankell introduced me to Scandi noir novels and through him I have read wonderful things by Camilla Lackberg, Stieg Larsson, Per Wahloo & Maj Sjowall, Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdasdottir.

So I am saddened by the loss of Henning Mankell but I am thrilled that he wrote such captivating novels and gave so many folk such pleasure.

Friday, 2 October 2015

5 Reasons Why I Struggle To Achieve Things

OK, so I know I am able top get stuff done - we manage to eat everyday and OH gets off to work with lunch and a clean shirt so I'm not totally useless. But there are days when I go to bed struggling to remember what I've actually achieved during the day; not the day to day stuff around the house but the other stuff that I want to do. Things like writing. I want to write more regularly for this blog and for my own personal satisfaction but I'm finding it hard to focus or be organised. I go to bed listing all the things I want to do the next day, then go to bed again having done none of them. 

So what are the reasons for this? Why do I struggle to get all the things done that I want to?

1. Distractions.

I'll admit it, I'm easily distracted. I intend to get cracking on something but then I'll switch the TV on and several hours later I've got nothing done again. I know I should be more disciplined but I have a real weakness for trashy daytime TV - think Jeremy Kyle, Jerry Springer, Judge Rinder - you get the picture.

2. Faffing About.

I can faff for England. moving stuff from one place to another; sorting things into piles; changing the piles that stuff is in; sorting things to go up stairs/to be washed/to be filed etc. The opportunities to faff are endless. All this eats into my time, gets nothing substantial done and leaves me feeling frustrated at the end of the day.

3. Lack of Structure.

I'm a product of the British Education system and as a school student, a college student and then a teacher I'm used to working to a timetable. My working life was dominated by working to a timetable, every minute accounted for and I always knew what I was supposed to be doing and when. I've tried doing some scheduling for myself but so far it hasn't worked. I can subvert it too easily!

4. Laziness.

Oh yes, at heart I'm just lazy. Given the choice between getting on with stuff or lounging on the sofa with a cuppa watching junk TV and I choose the latter. I know I should be doing something more constructive but the lazy girl in me whispers 'Just 5 more minutes' and I give in every time. I was never blessed with ambition and was always happy to rub along so I've lacked drive. This makes it difficult for me to achieve what I want to and what I know I'm capable of. Laziness is powerful and I need to fight against it!

5. Lack of Self Confidence.

I was also not blessed with a shed load of confidence in myself. So it's all too easy for me to say 'Well, I'm not really any good so what does it matter?' Lack of confidence in me and my writing in particular is just another reason/excuse to do nothing. And if I don't do anything then how will I ever achieve anything? However, as I'm not really any good it doesn't matter, does it? And round and round we go...

So I know the reasons why each day is passing with little achieved.
What are the solutions? Let me sit here and think about that for 5 minutes ... or 10... where's the remote?
I'll get back to you on that.  

The Prompt - Slumber

I only had a few days to write the piece but there was nothing, not a single idea. I'd written lists of words inspired by the prompt word but still my brain refused to come up with a single thing.

Writer's block was nothing new. I'd had it many times before and had a variety of techniques to get round it. I made tea and ate biscuits; went for a long walk; wrote about something else. But this time round there was no getting over the block. I felt like screaming as the word stared up at me from the page.

How could one little word be so troublesome? After all, I'd spent my whole life playing around with words. They were among my favourite things since childhood. I'd always been something of a word wrangler, inventing stories almost since the moment I could talk. The sound of words when I spoke them, rolling them round my mouth, using different accents to change how they sounded. Words gave me such joy and I had my own favourites; serendipity, lascivious, bergamot. Words that conjured up memories, words that conjured up people, words that conjured up good and bad times.

But now it seems that a single word is betraying me, which is really annoying. It's not even as if it's a particularly tricky word. It's a common word, admittedly not one I use everyday but not one I had to reach for the dictionary to investigate.

It's no good, I'm up the proverbial without a paddle. My brain is refusing to process this silly word and nothing is helping. I stomp into the kitchen and start slamming mugs and spoons about in frustration. My bad mood attracts my husband who gingerly peers round the kitchen door to see what all the kerfuffle is about. I snarl the word at him, reluctant to even speak it. He nods, looks thoughtful then requests tea as he leaves. Mumbling about stupid husbands and stupid words and stupid writing I make tea.

Later I go for a walk to calm down. Fresh air and sunshine work like a balm, my mind stops whirring and I feel ready to tackle some writing again. Not ready for that word yet; that word is still a block. I still have no idea what direction to take with that word so I'm parking it for a while. The house is strangely quiet when I open the door and I wonder if everyone has gone out to avoid the grumpy guts I've been today. Something else to blame that stupid word for. I open the door to my study and all the breath leaves my body. What on earth has he been up to?

Surrounding my desk are planks, logs, branches, wooden spoons, my old chopping board, off cuts from the new fence. All kinds of wood. Everywhere.

'What is all this? I ask him as he creeps quietly behind me.

'S'lumber , innit?' he says, with a wicked grin.

Word of the Week - Autumn

This week I've noticed a real change in the season. The mornings have been misty and chilly; the sunshine in the afternoon has warmed me nicely; the leaves are slowly changing colour; I'm thinking of pulling my jumpers out of storage. All makes me think that autumn is really here.

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the change in the weather and the chance to snuggle into wool at the drop of a hat. I love the excuse to make hot chocolate and beef stews. I love taking walks in the crisp, chilly air. I love the fact that I can pull on woolly tights and not worry about the state of my legs for 6 month.

So come on autumn! Let's have some fun together before the grip of winter forces me to batten down the hatches...