Saturday, 21 January 2017

52 Words, 52 Weeks, Part the Third

Lost Things

We huddled together, two lost things alone in a cold, hard world. She had my back, I had hers; friends forever.

But now she's screaming at me, blaming me, accusing me. No longer my anchor, safe haven, sister. I have hurt her which in it's turn hurts me.

We hug and weep.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Prompt - History

I dated Andrew briefly one summer. He was a friend of a friend and we had a good time going to parties and hanging out with friends. It was the long hot summer of 1976 and we spent plenty of time outdoors. We went to the local park, lying under the trees as I pretended to revise for exams. We paddled in the children's pool and ate ice creams, laughing and holding hands. It was all so innocent and yet as he was younger than me it felt very grown up.

We knew it was summer romance. I was due to go to college in the autumn and I knew that our fling would never survive separation. So we enjoyed the time we had together and didn't pretend it was anything other than fun. I probably wouldn't remember it if it hadn't been for history.

One evening I arranged to meet Andrew at his home before a trip to the local pub where we all met on a Friday night. I strode up to his front door and rang the bell. As I waited I hummed a few bars of a tune I'd heard on the radio while getting ready. Footsteps in the hall and the door swung open. The blood drained from my face and I was frozen to the spot. She was standing holding the door open, smiling and waiting for me to speak. I opened my mouth but no words came out. She inclined her head like an inquisitive bird and I knew I had to say something.

'I'm here for Andrew' was all I could manage.
She nodded and stood aside, inviting me in. I walked past her and heat flushed up my neck and face. The last time I had been this close to her she had backed me into a corner of the playground and stood there barring my escape. Every day for a year she had done this, without a word. Walking towards me with a smirk on her face, making me retreat into the corner, standing over me and smiling. Every single day. Every single playtime.

I stood in the hall and she walked up behind me. I felt faint and pressed myself against the wall to steady myself. She passed me and opened a side door, disappearing from view. I managed to breath, sweat breaking out across my forehead. What was she doing here? How quickly could I escape?

Her face appeared round the door frame and I jumped.
'Come and wait in here. He'll be ready soon.'
The last thing I wanted to do was sit in that room with her but I found myself following her into the room and edging around the sofa before perching on the armrest. I kept my eyes down so I didn't have to look at her and time slowed to a crawl in that room. Suddenly I was back in that playground, 7 years old and a victim. She was 11 and the bully who made my life bleak and scary. She was chatting away, enjoying the sound of her own voice and not noticing that I was silent and closed off. Thankfully Andrew arrived and I saw my escape route open before me.

But fate was playing cruelly with me that day. As I stood up to leave Andrew put his arm around my shoulder and said,
'You don't mind if Rosie comes with us, do you? She's at a lose end this evening so I said she could come for a drink with us.'
A cold hand grabbed my heart and squeezed. My brain screamed that here was no way I wanted to spend another second with her but my head nodded and I heard myself say that it was no problem. Betrayed by my own mouth and sense of politeness!

That evening I sat quietly in the corner of the pub and watched her. She flitted about, chatting to everyone and flirting with some of my friends. I hardly spoke to anyone and several people asked if I was alright or feeling unwell. I managed to smile and whisper that I was ok but inside everything was churning. I watched and waited until I could bear it no longer. Pushing through the crowd I found Andrew and pulled him aside.
'I want to go home. I'm not feeling well. You stay, I'll get the bus.'
He looked surprised but didn't try to change my mind. I picked up my bag and pushed my way through the Friday night crowd to leave the pub. When I reached the doorway I turned and looked back at Andrew. His head was thrown back in a guffaw and Rosie was locking arms with him as someone told an amusing story. She caught my eye, grinned and waved. I managed a weak smile and left.

As I stood at the bus stop, I thought about Rosie and how she had made a whole year of my life miserable. I had been so scared of her, feigning illness to avoid the playground, too young to understand that I was being bullied. Yet today she seemed not to recognise me. It had been 10 years but we had gone through secondary school together so she must have seen me since we left primary school. The bus approached and I scrambled to find the fare in my disorganised bag. As I took my seat next to the window and watched the city lights pass by. As I put distance between me and her I realised that I no longer had to be her victim. She didn't know me and had no idea the impact she'd had on my life. I had been a mousey little thing for many years, never pushing myself forward, happy to stick to the shadows. She had robbed me of my confidence and made me shrink into myself. It was many years before I felt able to speak out and stand up for myself but now I knew that she hadn't picked me out for any special reason. I was just the one she picked out in the playground, I was anonymous to her and she didn't even remember the little girl she had tormented. I promised myself there and then to never be a victim again, to stand up for myself and trust myself, to never again let someone exercise that sort of power over me.

History would not repeat itself again.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Book Review - Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Sometimes when I've loved a book I worry that I won't love the sequel as much and that the magic will be ruined. I confess to thinking this about Bring Up The Bodies; I enjoyed Wolf Hall so much that I was apprehensive that BUTB wouldn't be as good. Boy, was I wrong! It is every bit as good and then some.

The story of the fall of Anne Boleyn is a familiar one and Hilary Mantel handled it beautifully. I particularly liked the way that Anne faded away during the course of the book, becoming less prominent as her demise drew nearer. By the time she was executed she was a mere phantom in the novel.

What I love about Hilary Mantel's writing is the detail. You can sense the research that has gone into each episode, every nuance of the Tudor court rings true. Her spare use of words at times allows the reader to use their imagination to the fullest, yet she knows when to fill in more detail. For example, there is a scene where Jane Seymour and her sister are trying a different headdress on in preparation for her re-appearance at court; this scene is filled with delightful details about the fashion and the relationship between the sisters, it is glorious to read.

Thomas Cromwell continues to fascinate through the novel; at times complex and inscrutable, then charming and disarmingly open. I am so looking forward to reading the final part in the trilogy and watching his start fade, as we know it must.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

52 words in 52 weeks - second installment

The Badly Timed Trump

'I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.'
He lifted my veil, tears in his eyes. Leaned in, eyes tightly closed.
It had been the perfect day, traditional yet modern. Just as I had dreamed it as a child.
Then it happened; the badly timed trump. How embarrassing!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Very Superstitious

Archie crossed his fingers and hoped for the best. Friday the 13th wasn't the best day for an expedition like this but the date had not been of his choosing. He put his hat on and buttoned his coat. No point in putting it off any longer.
A black cat scurried from under the hedge and darted across the path. Archie jumped, dislodging his hat in the process.
'Just my luck,' Archie thought. 'As if I need anymore bad luck.'
He picked his hat up and hurried towards the station. A light rain began to fall and Archie cursed himself for having forgotten his umbrella. Thankfully there was time to pop into town and purchase a replacement.
Archie opened the shop door and entered. The smell of polish and tobacco made him feel uneasy. Trips to the shop for school uniform with his overbearing mother sprang to mind and he winced. Thankfully none of the same shop assistants worked here now so his embarrassments were hidden from everyone but himself. A young woman approached and Archie asked to see their selection of umbrellas. He blushed under her gaze and fought hard to suppress the stutter that surfaced when he spoke to attractive women. She pulled three umbrellas from beneath the counter and unbuttoned the fastening. Archie felt his heart quicken. Everything happened in slow motion and he was powerless to stop her. She shook the umbrella and reached inside. He watched a she opened it and twirled it before him. He turned and fled from the shop, bumping into a passing chimney sweep in his haste to escape.
The town clock chimed three and Archie picked up the pace. He had to make that train or he would miss his appointment. As he rounded the corner he saw the train pull into the station. He rushed into the ticket office and was dismayed to see a party of school children queuing for tickets. Thirteen of them for heaven's sake! Archie fretted for a moment then decided on an uncharacteristic course of action. He ran past the ticket office, ignoring the cries of the ticket seller and jumped on the train without a ticket. He pulled the carriage door shut, slumped into the scratchy seat and sighed deeply.
'Archie Brown! You rebel, you,' he thought. He giggled thinking about what his mother would have said. The train moved off and he stretched his legs out, enjoying having the compartment to himself.
He reached into his pocket and stroked the rabbit's foot that he always carried. It calmed him down and he stared out of the window as the countryside raced by and the rain scudded down the glass. The rhythm of the train swaying and rocking lulled Archie into a deep sleep. He dreamed about his mother, scolding him for travelling without a ticket while a mischief of magpies danced in the garden. Archie counted in his dream and woke with a start when he counted seven magpies.
''Seven for a secret, never to be told! What does that mean?' Archie thought. He opened the door to the corridor and wandered down the train to calm himself. He spotted the ticket inspector at the far end of the corridor so Archie ducked into the nearest compartment and pulled the blind down.
Archie backed into the compartment and felt something solid behind his foot. He pushed against it and it pushed back. Slowly he turned round and saw the top of a ladies hat at eye level. Looking down he saw an elderly lady standing behind him with an expression that reminded him of his grandmother. He was instantly seven years old, sent home from school and about to be told what a disappointment he was. Archie mumbled something apologetic and shuffled towards the door. As he reached for the handle the elderly lady inhaled and screamed.
Archie heard the pounding of feet as the guard ran down the corridor towards him. He scanned the compartment for an escape route and panicked when he realised there was nothing for it, he had to jump from the moving train. He raised his hat and pushed as gently as he could past the elderly lady. He felt the rap of a handbag against his back as he opened the train door. Cold, wet air rushed in and Archie puffed out as he grasped the edges of the door frame. Saying a quick prayer he jumped.

Archie opened his eyes and winced. Pain shot through his body and he sucked air into his lungs to take the edge of the pain. His fingers brushed against something smooth and cool. There was a sharp antiseptic smell in the air and he could hear people bustling around. He turned his head slowly and caught sight of a young woman dressed in blue.
'Miss? Please Miss, can you help me?' Archie managed to squeak loud enough for her to hear. His throat was so sore and dry he had difficulty speaking.
'Where am I? I remember a train but then it's all a little hazy.'
She placed a cool hand on his forehead and gently held his wrist.
'Don't fret, Mr Brown, you're quite safe here. You took a tumble from the train. And would you believe your luck? You tumbled into cargo heading for a local hotel. Smashed all the mirror into a thousand pieces. Hope you're not superstitious, that's a good few years bad luck!'
Archie felt hot, then cold, saw stars and passed out. The nurse tucked him safely beneath the linen sheets and continued on her ward round.

Thursday, 12 January 2017


Today is my friend Alison's birthday. We first met in 1977 at college and became friends. For 3 years we shared many of the major events in each other's lives - all the drama that young women go through when they are away from home and finding out who they are. I thought she was the coolest person I had ever met. She had an interesting family dynamic that made mine seem dull and boring. She had a big sister who was her best mate and I wished I had that bond with someone (I now have that with my sister but we hadn't got there at that time). She dressed in a very Bohemian way and had cascading red hair that I envied so much.

We shared so much back then. She introduced me to Leonard Cohen and roll up cigarettes. We watched black and white films together on Sunday afternoons with tea and cake. We talked books and boys and love and sex and music and everything in between. I enjoyed her company and missed her during holidays away from college. Alison was a huge part of my growing up from a child to a woman. And I'm sure I never thanked her for that.

All these years later and we don't see each other very often. Life and several children got in the way and although we kept in touch we drifted apart from the closeness of college. But this year we are planning to meet up and I am looking forward to that so much. I hope that our friendship is as strong as it ever was and we will slip back into the comfortable companionship that we had in the 70s. But there is the chance that we will have moved so far apart that our friendship is different.

So how do I feel about that?

I have been lucky that I have had several good friends through my life. I have never been someone with a wide circle of friends. At school I had 3 or 4 good friends, people I could turn to and rely on. The same was true at college, there were 4 or 5 good friends and more people who I was friendly with but wouldn't share everything with. Through the years I have been close to a few people but never had a large circle of friends. If pushed to name my best friend I would pick my sister. I know she would always have my back and give me sound advise. But having a best friend isn't as important now as it was when I was younger.

Friendship is a wonderful thing and good friends should be cherished. I have made some great online friends through various writing groups and hope to meet with some of them in real life. The support they give me is invaluable but as we have never met how do I know if they would be friends with me in real life? We might not get on at all!

I have read that we need friends for good mental health.  Studies show that healthy relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief and  help you reach personal goals. Maintaining positive relationships should rank up there with healthy eating and exercise as a necessary investment in your health. In times of trouble it is friends and family that we turn to. Some things are easier to talk about with a friend rather than family as you may not want to burden or worry them. Friends are a great soundboard for ideas and dreams and a good friend won't judge you for the mad ideas you may have. I remember the blue sky thinking I did with Alison when we were at college, we were going to conquer the world. Even though we didn't, obviously, it was important to bounce those ideas around and dream about the possibilities. You can do that with a good friend.

So today I wish Alison a happy birthday, raise a glass in celebration of friendship and start planning to meet up with my 'old' friend this year.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Time for a good old-fashioned procrastinate

I don't like that moment in job interviews when the interviewer asks you about your talents or skills. I freeze and retreat into my shell muttering something about being a people-person or a good communicator. I've never felt I had any special skills or remarkable talents; I can't speak several languages; I don't play a musical instrument; I don't know how to juggle. So I never know what to say at that point and try to get the subject changed as soon as possible.

However since 'coming out' as a writer I have discovered my special talent.

No, not the ability to create stunning characters.
No, not a talent for plotting.
No, not the ability to craft beautiful descriptive sentences.

I have a talent for procrastination. I am really good at it and can do it for days on end. All I need for a good procrastinate is a project to work on. Something like a novel that needs working on, a short story to write for a prompt, a blog posts to schedule. Give me any of those and I will procrastinate for England.

It is amazing what I can find to do rather than sit down and write. There are lots of things to move from one place to another - not put away of course, just moved. Then later they can be moved back to their original spot. There is always a loud of laundry to be put on and supervised - not watched obsessively of course, just listened to from the sofa and gently monitored. There are endless cups of tea to be made - not drunk of course, just made and left to go cold on the table. There are daytime TV programmes to be sneered at - not watched of course, just monitored from the sofa with a cup of tea cooling in front of me. You see, I really have this talent nailed!

So why do I procrastinate so much when there is writing to be done? I think it's because I
I'm still not convinced that I am a writer. And I'm certainly not convinced that I'm any good at it. So I put it off and avoid it in case I should be found out as a fraud. If only I possessed that Protestant work ethic tat I remember reading about - you know, the one that just gets stuff done by knuckling down and working hard. I know I can when I have to but the truth is, most of the time I don't really have to. Nobody will die or starve if I don't. And with superb irony I've just stopped writing this post to play a game on my tablet!

I'm sure I get more done if I have a deadline to meet. Sadly I'm not at that point in my writing career to have major publishing houses setting a deadline for my next best seller so any deadline I have tends to be an I guess what I need to do is find deadlines for myself like committing to writing for a set submission date. But again there is the chance to procrastinate and miss that submission date with no real consequences. Maybe I have to embrace the procrastinating part of me and get on with it as best I can.

Any ideas how I can overcome my talent for procrastination?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

My inspiration for writing characters.

I enjoy writing about interesting characters. I also like reading about interesting characters. But where does the inspiration for characters come from? For this post I thought I'd think about where I get my inspiration from when creating characters for my stories.

I'm a people watcher. I can't help it, everywhere I go I spend some time watching the folk and devising lives and back stories for them. I jot down my observations in my notebook and have a store of characters to draw upon when I need them. Sometimes it's the appearance of the people that I note down, sometimes it's their body language or their conversation. I try not to eavesdrop too much, that might be creepy. However some folk will talk loudly so I can't help hearing what they say! I like to speculate about their relationship with the people they are with. Are they romantically involved? Friends? Colleagues? Or even random strangers thrown together by circumstances? Some of these people will find their way into my stories.

Another source of characters are friends and relatives. Now this is a rich seam of characters. After all, who do you know better than your nearest and dearest? But it's vital to either be kind in your portrayal or to change them enough so they don't recognise themselves, especially if you're not going to be complimentary about them. No story is worth upsetting your brother or best mate over when you make them into a murderer or a real cad!

Some people come from out of nowhere. You start writing and there they are, fully formed and with their own distinctive voice, I suppose that they must have been the product of someone you met but you can't quite work out who. Perhaps they are someone you met briefly and have forgotten but they are lodged in the back of your mind waiting for the perfect story for the to appear in. This sort of character is a gift and I thank the writing gods when they pop up.

It seems obvious to say that everything you have read is a possible source of characters. Sometimes you need a villain so you grab a bit of Fagin and a bit of Moriarty, shake them up a little and out pops your villain. So it's really important as a writer to read as much as possible. Every professional writer I've ever seen interviewed stresses the importance of reading. As an aspiring writer I claim that all my reading is research!

So there are a few ideas for where to find your characters. Where do you look for yours?

52 Weeks in 52 Words Challenge

The lovely Sacha Black over at set a challenge to write a 52 word story every week for 52 weeks. As someone who struggles with verbosity at times I was immediately drawn to this challenge.

Our first prompt was to include the phrase 'the timer started' somewhere in our 52 word story. I thought I'd share mine with you here on my lovely blog so read on and let me know what you think.

His eyes widened in terror as the timer started. The winder turned, pulling the rope that was attached to the trigger of the shotgun. And he was staring down its barrel. Time slowed, his breathing quickened and his terror grew. She turned away, walked through the door, flinched at the shotgun's retort.

Short but not really sweet!

Monday, 9 January 2017

National Obesity Awareness Week

Today is the start of National Obesity Awareness Week and I thought I should investigate it as a plus size person.

Obesity is possibly the biggest health issue of the 21st century. Statistically people in the Western world are bigger and heavier than at any time in human history. Over 50% of adults in America and Britain are classified as obese. As a nation which is getting bigger we open ourselves up to many new healthcare issues. Already hospitals are having to invest in beds capable to accommodating heavier patients. These beds are more expensive than traditional hospital beds and this investment means that money cannot be spent elsewhere in the health service. Heavier people have health issues such as diabetes, joint problems and cardiac problems. All this has an impact on the budget of the health service which is already stretched. Other services are having to adapt to the heavier clientele - undertakers are having to provide larger coffins and graves are bigger to accommodate them. And don't get me started on plus size clothing - why is it so hard to find nice clothes in beautiful fabric and so expensive?

Now having nailed my colours to the mast as a plus size woman you would think I was ashamed to be part of these statistics. Well, in a way I am. I have always struggled with my weight, trying every diet under the sun and failing at them all. Of course I put more weight on each time and that has been my life for as long as I can remember. Luckily I have not suffered any health problems as a result of carrying extra weight but I am acutely aware that this state of affairs could change any day.

National Obesity Awareness Week is designed to give people a chance to reflect on the reasons for their obesity and make changes that will benefit their health. They encourage you to think about food choices, snacking behaviour and whether more movement could be incorporated into their life.

So in the spirit of joining in I am going to try to plan my meals so I can make sensible choices. I have never been much of a meal planner but plenty of people have told me that it is so easy to stay in control of food if you're properly planned. I've even bought stationery to help so what excuse do I have?

Sunday, 8 January 2017

My 5 Favourite Fictional Detectives

I am an avid reader of detective fiction and police thrillers. I like to pit my wits against the detective and try to solve the murder before they do. So I thought I'd list my favourite detectives and why I enjoy reading their cases so much.

1. I have to start with the first detective I remember reading and that is Miss Marple. As a teenager I read everything Agatha Christie wrote and loved them all. I was in awe of the talent for character and plot she had although I didn't know that's what she was doing. Of course I liked Poirot but he was harder to love than Miss Marple. The image of the little old lady knitting and solving the most gruesome murders while she did was most attractive. I loved the way people opened up to her without knowing that she had a mind like a steel trap and was seeing through all their lies and schemes. Even today I love watching her on TV and my favourite TV Marple is Joan Hickson. She is just as I imagined Jane Marple when I read about her as a young woman.

2.  My second choice is Martin Beck. He was my introduction to Swedish detective fiction and I read all the novels back to back. Set in the 1960s and 70s these novels are beautifully crafted and the characters really grow as the series proceeds. Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo also use their novels to shine a light on the work of the police and also to comment on the Swedish welfare state. They had quite left wing views and were very critical of the way some elements of society were treated.

3. Third is Harry Hole, the Norwegian detective in the novels of Jo Nesbo. He is an example of the maverick Scandinavian detective, brilliant but troubled, cutting corners and bending the rules in pursuit of a result. He has few friends, a complicated love life and smokes and drinks more than is good for him, I love the flawed nature of the man who solves crimes and doesn't care who he upsets along the way.

4. More Scandi detective fiction but we travel over to Iceland where we find Erlendur Sveinsson, the creation of Arnaldur Indridason. Never referred to as anything other than Erlendur he is the most troubled detective I have read  about. He is troubled by events in his past and haunted by the loss of his brother. There is a deep sadness about him. He fights  personal demons while dealing with the worst that Icelandic society has to offer. His relationship with his 'side-kick' Sigurdur Oli is fascinating and Oli gets his own story eventually.

5. I wondered long and hard about who to include as my final choice. I could have changed the number and added lots of other detectives I've enjoyed reading. But I decided to keep the list short so I am left with only one slot to fill. And I guess I have to include Sherlock Holmes. I came late to the writings of Conan Doyle; I was aware of Holmes through film and TV before I read the stories they came from. My favourite Holmes is Jeremy Brett - he seems just the right side of madness as Holmes and his relationship with Watson is closest to the stories in  my opinion. I have a very soft spot for the recent Sherlock but that has more to do with Benedict Cumberbatch than Sherlock Holmes! Like many people I have a favourite Holmes story and for me it's The Hound of the Baskervilles. I love the eerie moor, the phantom hound and escaped convict: what more could you want from a Sherlock Holmes story?

So there they are, my favourite detectives. Who's on your list? Have I left anyone out that you think I should read? 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Writing Inspiration

I sometimes get asked how I come up with the ideas for my stories. Sometimes they just pop into my head and away I go, sometimes they are inspired by a writing prompt. However the novel I'm currently writing came about as a result of a conversation in my gym.

I was sitting and enjoying a cup of tea in the gym, chatting to a friend when the conversation turned to what we were reading at the time. We often chat about our reading and share opinions about our books. I can't remember what we were reading at the time but we got on to the subject of being a reader. We discussed how we felt as readers when the narrative went somewhere we didn't expect or even agree with. As well-read people we had both had that moment when you want to shout 'No! Don't do that.' when we disagree with the direction the story is taking. It might be a character dying or falling in love that we disagree with; it might be the narrative taking a dark turn; it might be the sudden appearance of zombies or aliens. What ever it is as a reader I feel let down and short changed.

So we chatted about that for a while, sharing examples from our reading where we had not agreed with the writer about the way the narrative was going. One of us said ' Wouldn't it be great if the reader could make sure the story went the way they liked instead of where the writer wanted to take us?' And a spark went off in my mind: what if the reader could influence what happened in the story? I thought about this for a while and came up with a scenario where there is a book in which the story changes due to the intervention of the reader. I then wondered what would happen if the characters in the book became aware of the influence of the reader; how would that affect them as characters? And the germ of an idea was starting to be born.

Nothing came of it for a while. Then NaNoWriMo came along and I needed an idea for a story. I went through my writer's notebook and came upon the sentient characters idea. It seemed like something I could work with so I decided that this was my framework. As NaNo got closer I worried about what I would write. Having the idea itself wasn't enough; I needed some bones to hang the story on. So I started to think about what genre I would write in. I normally write modern fiction - contemporary settings, 20th century characters for example. Yet something about this idea leant itself to fantasy. After all, the idea of characters and reader interacting is fairly fantastic! So I bit the bullet and began to write a fantasy novel.

Surprisingly things have gone well so far. I 'fell' into the fantasy genre without too much trouble; the characters arrived with their own voices; I managed to wrangle the plot out. Everything seems to be going well and I'm now at the point where I need to bring plot threads together and decide how to finish the story. It's been an easy write so far and I'm pleased with how it's gone as a first draft.

All from a chance conversation at the gym!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Twelfth Night

So today is the day to take down all the decorations and pack Christmas away for another year. Yes, Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the festivities is here. I thought I'd take a look at some of the traditions associated with Twelfth Night.

In the Christian tradition Twelfth Night marks the beginning of Epiphany, the time when the Wise Men visited the infant Jesus. It is also the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrated in the song so expect to receive 12 drummers drumming at some stage today!

The winter festivities that began at Halloween come to an end on Twelfth Night. In medieval and Tudor England the Lord of Misrule was chosen, often by chance for example the person who found a bean in a pudding was the Lord of Misrule for the night. The social conventions were reversed for the night with servants becoming masters and the masters becoming their servants. So those of you with servants will be pouring drinks for them tonight!

Twelfth Night was also the end of the feasting of Christmas and another chance to have a party. Traditionally wassail would be drunk, this is  a type of punch and wassailing was also the singing that took place as the punch was drunk. Twelfth Night cake was also eaten. Drury Lane Theatre has a tradition dating back to 1795 where a special cake is baked and shared by the company performing there on January 6th.

There was also a tradition of scaring away evil spirits on this date and in the Alps there is a tradition of young men running through the streets shouting and banging drums and shaking bells to scare those spirits away - any excuse for a party! There is also a tradition that Twelfth Night is the start of the carnival season that runs until Mardi Gras - what more parties?

Of course the most famous Twelfth Night is the play by Shakespeare. It draws on many of the traditions of misrule which were popular at the time - men dress as woman and servants became masters for the night. It is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and I have happy of damp memories of watching an open-air performance at Ludlow Castle when heavily pregnant!

So tonight as we pack the tinsel away and chuck the tree into the garden let's raise a glass to the spirit of Christmas and enjoy a last festive party until next year. Cheers!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Goals Galore

Now that the New Year rush is over and some resolutions have already been broken I thought I'd take some time to share some of my goals for 2017 with my lovely blog readers.

This year I want to complete and publish my novel. I started writing this as part of NaNoWriMo last year and it has shocked me by turning into a fantasy novel. I have read plenty of fantasy over the years but never considered it as something I would write. I've written bits that may be considered fantasy but never anything of any substance. So I was surprised when this story turned into a fantasy and I enjoyed writing it. So I want to finish writing it, get it read and edited so I can publish it before the year is out. I feel reasonably confident that I can do this, I have already written over 50,000 words and have planned the rest of the story. I also have started to take all the excellent advice of my friends in the What I'm Writing community about not self-editing as I write. This first draft needs to be written before I can start to improve it - after all, you can't edit words that haven't been written!

I also want to improve my blog. I have neglected it recently and I want to use it as a promotional tool for the novel so I need to engage my readers and gain some more. I took a short course looking at improving my blog last year and I have planned lots of posts for this year. Planning is the key I think; I've been far too casual about the blog and it's not going to take care of itself, is it? So I'm hoping to be more active in the blogosphere in 2017 and write some interesting posts.

I have a slightly worrying fitness goal as well. I hope to do a Couch to 5K course this year. I've never been a runner but have always liked the idea of running. Now those of you who know me in real life know that I'm not and never have been the fittest person on the planet. I get the occasional rush of blood when I hit the gym and puff about for a while before I decide that sitting and sipping green tea in the club room is as far as I want to go.  But I'd like to try a 5K run so I'm including it as a goal for the year. Now all I need is to find somewhere  to run where no-one can see me ...

So there are my major goals for 2017. There may be some little ones that crop up as January progresses but those 3 are the main ones I've planned for. So let's see how I get on; wish me luck!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Power of Fairy Tales

Jacob Grimm was born on January 4th 1785. He is best known as one of the two Brothers Grimm with his brother Wilhelm, collectors and writers of folk tales and fairy stories. He trained as a lawyer and was a linguist, writing books on the history and grammar of the German language. However we remember him for his contribution to the stories we all heard as children: Rapunzel, Hansel & Gretel, Cinderella, The Elves and The Shoemaker, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin. Without the Brothers Grimm our childhood would have been much poorer.

Teika Bellamy runs an independent publishing company, that publishes re-writings of fairy tales each year. They are terrific and if you get the chance to read one of the volumes of The Forgotten and The Fantastical then do, you'll love them. The popularity of these tales is enduring, even in this supposed sophisticated 21st century. We still long for tales of heroes and villains, maidens and knights (although in Teika's volumes the knights may need rescuing from the maidens!)

The re-telling of the familiar stories refreshes them in my opinion. I still recognise the pattern of the old story but the new slant makes them relevant to more modern readers. Who hasn't longed for Snow White to kick the dwarves up the bum and make them do their own cleaning and cooking? Who hasn't wanted Sleeping Beauty to ride off into the sunset without the prince, taking her destiny into her own hands? Roald Dahl wrote a series of Revolting Rhymes where he re-imagines the old fairy tales, putting his own macabre spin on them of course!

For many of us, especially of a certain age, these stories were among the first we were told as children. As a young girl I wanted to be just like Sleeping Beauty, a lovely vision who was 'saved' by a handsome prince; I longed to be woken from my slumber by a kiss. The power of that romantic vision was such that for much of my youth I though that I'd be defined by the quality of the love I attracted; how sad is that? Of course real life isn't like that; I was never a beauty and no prince rode up to 'save' me (from what I was never sure). I discovered my feminist identity and stopped hoping for a man to define me. I began to forge my own identity as a modern woman.

And yet ... Those childhood tales have a power that is hard to resist. There is part of me that still wants her prince to come riding up on a white charger, to be that princess with flowing hair and a beautiful frock. I blame my inner Romantic; she's a sucker for anything like that! She's the one that weeps at soppy films and books - not me, you understand. I'm a tough cookie, not soppy at all. But the romantic vision of the fairy tales has been part of my life for many years and I can't quite shake it off.

However, this year I will try to silence that soppy Romantic within me and re-write a fairy tale. Who knows, I may even submit it to Teika for the next volume of The Forgotten and The Fantastical.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

People Watching

I'm a real fan of people watching, it's a fabulous thing to do over a coffee and cake when you have some time to spare. As a writer I think it's important for me to notice everything that goes on around me. After all there may be a story idea lurking or a perfect character to build a tale around. So I make no apologies for keeping tabs on the folk I see while going about my day.

One memorable encounter was while I was having a cup of tea and some cake inn Oxford. I spotted a rather striking chap with a most impressive set of dreads. I'm a sucker for dreadlocks so my eye was drawn to him immediately. He was sat in the churchyard next door to the coffee shop so I couldn't hear what was being said but I was very aware of his body language. He was waving his hands and arms around most expressively, jumping about in his seat and was really very animated. His locks were waving and swaying down his back as I watched him. The woman he was with was very slim with long blonde hair pulled back in a loose pony tail. She was wearing a multi-coloured jacket and had a hippyish look. She sat very still and her eyes were locked on her phone the whole time. I was fascinated by their interplay; he was so animated and alive and she was static and detached. After a while he stilled and sipped his drink. She then looked up and spoke a few words to him; they then stood up and left the churchyard hand in hand.

I wondered about their relationship. He seemed so alive and she seemed so apart, an odd couple indeed. I wondered what he could have been saying. It was so animated and yet she wasn't pulled in to the conversation. Maybe she had heard it all before, who knows? Maybe he's the sort who rambles on and on and she just tunes him out when he's on a roll. But they fascinated me and I have continued to think about the dynamic between them ever since. Perhaps they will crop up in a story some day but I'm not sure from whose point of view I'd write it.

I have many of these observations in my writer's notebook. I sit quietly an watch, jotting down what I see or what I imagine. It's a game I used to play when I was at college, inventing lives for random people I saw, giving them names and back stories. Little did I know that I was laying the foundations for future stories I would write. It is true that nothing is ever wasted when you are a writer. Everyone you meet is a potential character, every situation a potential plot, every venue a potential setting. I do wonder I people worry I am plotting how to include them in a story!

So next time you spot someone scribbling away in a coffee shop be aware of what you are doing; it might be me looking for a  character who will turn into a right rotter...

Monday, 2 January 2017

Goodbye to 2016

2016, you were filled with tears.
Too many left too soon.
Each day another star extinguished.

2016, you were filled with anger.
People divided by voting results.
Communities fractured and hurt.

2016, you were blood stained.
Wars, violence, pain and anguish.
The innocent caught up in the rage.

2016, you promised so much.
New Year hopes and dreams,
Shattered as the months rolled by.

2016, you will not be missed.
You were harsh and heartless.
You were painful and violent.

2016, you are consigned to history.
We do not mourn your passing.
We are glad you have left.

2017, we welcome you.
We are filled with hope, looking forward.
We pray you are better than the one past.

Dreaming of Writing

Well, that was a first. Last night I had a dream about writing. Not doing it but sitting on a lovely sofa with other writers talking about it and sharing our writing. It was a wonderful and life affirming dream, something I haven't had for a long time. If only I could find a sofa like the one in the dream in real life, it was lush!

When I woke up I wondered what the dream might mean. I'm not usually one for interpreting my dreams but this was most odd. I've never had a dream in any way related to writing before so there must have bene something psychological to trigger it. I guess lately I have been thinking about my writing a little more than usual as I make plan for 2017 so that may be the reason why this dream popped up at this time. Who knows?

But the thing that struck me most about the dream was how lovely and supportive it all was. There was tea and cake, laughter and wonderful words, a warm friendly feeling in the room. And of course that beautiful sofa. The friends I was with were some of the friends I have made through my writing and their blogs but some were people I have not seen before, just phantoms conjured up by my imagination. It was an all women group - hence the cake and laughter - and I felt so blessed to be part of the group.

Part of it made me sad when I thought back to a meeting I wanted to attend but was unable to late last year when I could have met some of those women. But it also made me determined to make sure I met up with them when I have the chance in 2017. The online community we have is strong and supportive but I really want to have a chance to say thank you in person for the strength they have given me as I come out of my cocoon as a writer. Plus there may be cake! Am I obsessing about cake now? I feel a baking day coming on ...

So as the New Year rolls on and we all plan for 2017 I will take comfort in the support of my fellow writers wherever they may be. I will plan for success this year and plan to meet as many of those wonderful women as I can in the coming months. And I will dream of cake, comfy sofas and sharing my writing with friends.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Do We Need To Make Resolutions?

Each New Year people rush to make resolutions. Something about January 1st compels them to think about what they wish to change about their lives, what they want to improve or what might be accomplished. It all seems rather arbitrary but every year it's the same; chimes strike at midnight and everyone is making resolutions!

I've certainly been guilty of doing the same. I get caught up in the excitement of the day and start thinking about all the things in my life that I wish were different or that I could change. And I guess like many people I either forget all about them or fail before January if it's the old chestnut about starting a diet or getting fitter. So is there any point to these resolutions? Are we just setting ourselves up to fail by making resolutions that are doomed as soon as we make them?

We all have things in our lives that we'd like to change. We all have things that we'd like to accomplish in our lives. But the problem is that most of us don't know how to make these things happen. We blunder about doing the same things as usual and another year passes and we haven't addressed our weight issues or improved our fitness or done any of the things we promised on January 1st.

So how do we go about making the changes we want? I suppose one of the problems with New Year's resolutions is that we rush to make them without any idea how we could make them happen. So we say we want to get fitter or thinner or learn to drive or parachute jump or - well you get the drift. But without a plan then things slide and February arrives and we've done little or nothing towards the dream or promise. So we abandon the idea until next year when we make the same resolution all over again.

Now I know that planning isn't sexy, not something we think of in a champagne haze at midnight at New Year but it's essential if we are to succeed. I have made plans to up my blogging game this year and to get my novel finished and published by the end of the year. And that is what is different from previous year's. I have thought about what I want to achieve, I have worked out the steps I need to take to get there and by this time next year I fully expect to have done all I wanted to. But the difference is that I have planned it all out. I'm not shouting out the usual platitudes over the chimes of Big Ben.  I know that's not the traditional way of doing things but it's rather comforting.

So this year I'm not making resolutions. I have already done my planning for 2017 and I don't need to add anything to them. I will try to get on top of my weight and fitness but I'm not going to put pressure on myself by burdening them with the resolution tag.

Happy New Year!