Thursday, 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day

As it's National Poetry Day I thought I'd share a couple of old poems from the 90s that I came across recently. One is a bit silly, one is more serious. Let me know what you think.


The first time there are church bells
Ringing in your head.
There's champagne and there's chocolate
And flower on the bed.

He is your only one true love
Your burning heart's desire.
Your passion it will keep you warm
Until you both retire.

The first time there is vodka
It swills around your cup.
You know you'll need another one
To keep your courage up.

He is a guy you know a bit
You met him at a party.
Now after several pints of beer
He doesn't look so hearty.

Walking Where The Goats Walk.

Clinging to the cliff edge
A rock strewn path,
So steep, so hard,
I walk with ginger steps
Like a tightrope walker
With vertigo.

Grey, brown,
Marble white.
First polished smooth
By generations of passing feet.
Then honed razor-sharp
By wind and water
Into spines cutting across the path.

Palest china blue, softest saffron,
Burnished browns and reds,
Sooty black with red streaked wings;
Always tantalisingly out of reach.

A low bass slap
As it pounds against a rocky hollow.
Marine indigestion.
A small tree lined glade,
Cool in the fierce heat.

As I walk the path,
In burning heat,
Sweat sticking my hair to my head,
I hear the faint jangle of goat bells,
High up on the mountainside,
Reminding me
That they tread these paths
So much better than I.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Good Death

I recently heard that the husband of a friend had died and was privileged to read an account she wrote of his last day. It was extremely moving, as befits a writer, and I recalled the lovely things she had said about him when we last met. Their relationship had been long and sometimes stormy, she particularly regretted the time she had been hurtful to him and was happy that she had the time to speak to him about this and apologise.

And now the end had come, as she knew it must. Her words spoke of their love and closeness, the joy of friendship and family and an acceptance of the ending of a life. As I read what she had written I thought 'That sounds like a good death.' An expression I hadn't thought of for many years, in fact I have no idea who I got the idea from at all. It got me thinking about what a 'good death' is and thinking about the various ways that people who I loved have died. Also I confess it had me thinking about my own mortality and what I would consider to be a 'good death.'

My father died suddenly in his bed while my mother, who was disabled, slept in her chair downstairs. This was not a good death for him or for her. Because it was sudden and unexpected none of us had the time to prepare or say goodbye. For weeks after he died I found myself replaying my last conversation with him, desperate to remember if I told him I loved him. Of course, the more I thought about it the more confused my memory became and it all got rather distressing. I know intellectually that my father knew I loved him in the same way that I know he loved me. But the fact that he may have died before I could say it one more time hurt me for the longest time.

My mother was bereft at his death and died herself a few months later. She died in hospital, alone early one Monday morning. Again, not a good death for my sister and myself. The guilt that we both felt at not being with her at the end is still raw and brings tears. I know I told her I loved her but that is still not enough. She was alone and that is not my definition of a good death.

I don't often think about my own death except when I'm planning an extravagant funeral and winding my son up about the music and mourners I expect! Yet I have to be honest that I don't want to die alone in a hospital bed like my mother. When I was diagnosed with cancer I thought about death. Even though I knew I had a very low grade cancer and it would be totally treated with surgery I had moments when I thought 'But what if ...?' The fear of cancer and death was soon pushed aside as the practical matters of undergoing surgery and recovering kicked in. But I did have those thoughts, even if I never got as far as thinking about the specifics.

How many of us do think about our won death when still healthy and relatively youthful? Those are thoughts for another day, another year, another decade ... please God. So reading about the last day of my friend's husband has given me the opportunity to think about how I would like to die eventually. And I'm not trying to be morbid in any way, it has been an interesting experience, an eye opener too. In the Western World we don't talk about death or think about it until someone dies. Then it's too late to do anything about how they died. Death is a fact of life. It's the one experience each and every one of us shares.

I hope and pray that when my time comes, when the time comes for all those I love, that we get good deaths. That we get the chance to say 'I love you', that we get to say what we need to before we depart. And that those who are left behind have nothing but happy memories with no guilt or regret.

With love to Paula and her loved ones.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Book Review - Nondula by Ana Salote

You know that sinking feeling when you open up the sequel to a much loved book? The worry that it won't be as good and will spoil your memories of the first? Fear not! Nondula is as magical as Oy Yew and will transport you back into the wonderful world of Oy and his friends.

The waifs have escaped from Duldred and appear to have found a wonderful home. But all is not as it seems and soon they are battling once again to find peace and happiness. Linnet is fading away and Oy must find a way to save her. He ends up captured by the Felluns and must try to escape; Gritty heads off to rescue him and discovers her own talents; Alas refuses to conform and faces his own battles; Gertie finds her place in the world and a new friend.

The writing is wonderful and a world is conjured up that is both inviting and scary. Ana Salote has a real talent for world building and you can taste, touch and smell everything so vividly - smell is particularly important in Nondula! The characters again shine out from the page and take the reader on a journey through a magical world which involves friendship, courage and self knowledge. I can hardly wait for the final part of the trilogy, even though I will be really sad to say goodbye to these wonderful characters.

Book Review - Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

This is a mammoth book and took me quite a while to read. However I'm glad I persevered as it was both enlightening and interesting. As a long time devotee of Shelley I knew some of the aspects of Mary Shelley's life but I learned more about her as a writer from this biography. Mary Wollstonecraft was a revelation to me and the fact that her reputation had been tarnished until the 1970s came as a real shock.

Both women were formidable intellectuals, writing about women's rights and issues long before it became acceptable to do so. Both fell victim to the moral climate in which they lived and both 'sacrificed' much to be with the men they loved. Those men also did not always treat them well and neither Shelly nor Godwin come out of this book particularly well.

Once I had finished I felt I knew both women and was stunned by the parallels in their lives. I now need to read some of their works, Frankenstein apart, and try to really understand what they were saying about society and its treatment of women in the late 18th early 19th centuries. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, even if it is more of a marathon than a sprint to read.

Book Review - The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

As a long time Agatha Christie fan I was surprised that I hadn't come across this book before. But I'm certainly glad I've finally read it as it is a corking story told at a breathless pace.

Anne Beddingfield is a great heroine and I'm sorry that she only has this one story to star in. She is feisty, impulsive and brave - quite a contrast to Miss Marple who comes later. In fact, although it is probably heresy to say it, I preferred her to Marple!

The story is part detective, part adventure and it races across England and Africa as Anne tries to find out who murdered the man in the brown suit whose death she witnesses at a Tube station. There are some gloriously villainous characters and a dashing hero to give her the, in my opinion, rather soppy happy ending but despite that I loved the story and especially Anne. She'd be such fun to hang out with, if only I could keep up with her!

Book Review - The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I wanted to love this book but didn't quite fall in love with it. The writing and description is wonderful - I felt damp and chilly at times as Cora and William strode around the Essex marshes. The characters are beautifully drawn and engaging. And yet ...

Something didn't grab me and I'm not sure why. I found the ending to be most unsatisfactory - it felt unresolved somehow. I wanted more of the children's story, the magic they conjured up was interesting but never developed.

I think most of all I wanted a happy ending for William and Cora and I didn't feel I got it. But I will look out for more by this author.

Book Review - My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal

Leon loves his mother and brother and doesn't understand why they can't be together. Kit de Waal has created a wonderful set of characters and I was drawn in by Leon's story. At times I wanted to pick him up and cuddle him, he was so vulnerable and broken. The care system is held up to the light and doesn't always make comfortable reading when seen from Leon's point of view.

The book is full of wonderful characters - I wanted to jump on my bike, ride past the traffic lights and hang out at the allotments with Tufty and Mr Devlin; I wanted to sit on Sylvia's settee and watch Blankety Blank; I wanted to hide with Leon when he didn't know which way to turn and the safest place seemed to be in an abandoned shed.

The world of 1981 is written very well - I was just starting out as an adult at that time, getting married and buying our first home - and it reminded me of how diverse and polarised the world could feel in those days.

A great debut novel and a name I will certainly look out for in the future.  

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Blue Sky Tag

I love reading people's Q & A's when they've been tagged by someone but I rarely get the chance to take part. So when I was tagged by Marija Smits over at I was thrilled to take part. Naturally I love the answering questions bit but the thinking up questios to ask and deciding who to tag are a bit trickier!
So here goes with the easy bit ...

  1. How are you? (No, really, how are you?)
Today I am feeling well. A little stiff in the hips but generally ok. I am still trying to get my head round what has happened health wise over the last few months but I am nearing acceptance.

2. How do you feel about the season changing from summer to autumn? Do you have a favourite autumnal poem? (If not, simply share a favourite poem.)

I adore autumn! The weather changes to the kind that suits me, cooler and fresher. I wilt in any summer heat! I love the way nature curls up and readies herself for sleep over the winter, I love the dampness, the mists, the low cloud, the gentle rain. Needless to say my favourite autumn poem is To Autumn by John Keats!

3. On the introvert-extrovert and sensitivity continuum where would you put yourself?
I always say I'm an introvert, that I'm shy and retiring. Then folk start laughing and remind me that I'm never afraid to go into a bar on my own, that I'll chat to anyone anywhere and I concede that I may be a closet extrovert.

4. Have you ever been ‘stuck’ in life? Or are you ‘stuck’ (in some way) right now? Any tips for getting unstuck?

This is a difficult question. I have felt stuck at times but have no sure fire way of getting unstuck! However, my recent health problems left me stuck for a time, stuck with unwanted thoughts and uncertainty. So stuck that for a few weeks I read nothing - so unlike me! - and I am only now moving out of that 'stuck' period. So sorry, no wisdom from me today on that one.

5. How do you balance family life, work and creative time? Is ‘time scheduling’ the way forward? Or do you have a more relaxed approach?

I wish I could schedule my time more efficiently. I lay in bed each night planning the tomorrow, then wake up and amble through the day achieving a fraction of what I planned. I'm trying to be more disciplined when it comes to my writing so maybe I will get there one day with the rest of my life.

6. What creative work are you focussing on at the moment?

I am trying to finish the first draft of my novel. I'm finding it difficult because I don't want the story to end, I love my characters too much to say goodbye! I'm also knitting again which is wonderful when watching TV.

7. Are you a one-project-on-the-go person or do you flit between different creative projects?

I flit but nothing gets finished that way!

8. Some of your favourite books…?

This list could go on forever! Classics include Wuthering Heights (my desert island book), Tess of The D'Urbervilles, Persuasion and Bleak House. More recently I adored My Name Is Leon and
The Testament of Vida Tremayne.

9.An inspiring piece of music?

I'm a big fan of Sigur Ros and one of my favourites is Hoppipolla. But as for inspiring...

10. A favourite ice cream flavour? If you don’t like ice cream, here’s another question: tea or coffee? (And how do you take it.)

I'm a sucker for anything salted caramel at the moment but if I could only have one flavour until the end of time I'd pick coffee. And I'm a milk-no-sugar tea girl!

11. A photo of one of your favourite places to create (or the place you mostly end up creating, though it may not be your favourite!).

The clubroom at David Lloyd Oxford! How sad is that?

I tag the following:

Iona Burchill

Here are the rules of the Blue Sky Tag:

  1. Thank the person who has nominated you.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
  4. Tag your 11 nominees.
And here are my 11 questions!

1. What is your favourite animal and why?
2. If you could be in any TV programme which one would you pick?
3. It's cocktail hour, what's your order?
4. Desert Island Disc please.
5. How did you choose your child/children's name(s)?
6. If I could grant you 3 wishes, what would you wish for? Make one personal rather than all going for world peace...
7. Disney or Pixar?
8. What would you choose for your last meal?
9. Given the choice, would you go into space?
10. What is your favourite period in history and why?
11. Do you have any skills that would help the human race after the Apocalypse?

Hope to read some interesting answers!

The Prompt 155 - Calling


I hear the calling in the night,
The calling of the owl.
It echoes across the garden
From the woodland down the hill.
The sound gives me security
As I lie in my bed.
Cosy, warm and safe,
Listening to the haunting sound.

I hear the calling in the night,
The calling of the fox.
Echoing through the bushes
Startling, cruel and sad.
The fox's cry is fraught and shrill,
It speaks of loss and pain.
As I lie in my cosy bed
I hope to never hear its like again.

I hear the calling in the night,
the calling of a child.
Echoing through my sleeping mind
Sad and far away.
Calling for someone I know not who,
Calling for love and peace,
Calling me to do I know not what,
Calling in the night.

I have no answer to that call,
I have no wisdom to impart.
The call is faint and far away,
I have no answer to that call.
What must I do?
The child is calling, haunting like the owl.
What should I do?
The child is calling, barking like the fox.

I hear the calling in the night,
Calling in the dark.
I close my ears, I turn my head,
And silently I weep.

Monday, 11 September 2017

How Philippa Perry helped me see clearly

As regular readers will know I have struggled to identify as a writer. I was hostage to 'imposter syndrome' for the longest time and belittled my writing when I spoke about it at all.

But I have started to call myself a writer on a more regular basis - not that I get asked all that often - and it has felt good to identify with the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure.

So where does Philippa Perry fit in? Well, I've long been an admirer of Grayson Perry's work and through him I found Philippa on Twitter. Then she fronted a programme on surrealism on TV which was most interesting so I have followed her on Twitter with interest.

Now, a recent post really leaped out at me. Philippa wrote "If the only thing between you and the you, you want to be is will power, you can do it if, rather than TRY to, you DECIDE to." This spoke so loudly to me, this was what I needed to hear and is exactly what I have to do. I need to DECIDE to be a writer. No more trying, just doing.

Now imposter syndrome is a hard habit to break, I know this. But if all that is holding me back is the decision to be a writer then I have to make that decision. I have to live and breath as a writer rather than putting it on the back burner for another day, perhaps when I have more time, or the inspiration strikes. You know the drill.

So I have decided to be the writer I believe I was meant to be. I am going to finish the draft of my novel. I am going to start a new one and then edit the first one. I am going to write something new everyday, even if it's not very good and I bin it the next day. I am going to start submitting my work more regularly rather than saying I will but not following through.

Thank you, Philippa Perry. You have transformed my life in ways you will never know. You have given me the courage to stand up and declare myself a writer once again and I have decided to be the best writer I can possibly be.