Wednesday, 29 December 2010


                                                          So long, snow people.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Aging snow people

Following the incredible snowfall in Southport last week we made two snow people.

They've smiled out from our front garden at neighbors, visitors and the postman for the past seven days.

We thought that they would melt fairly quickly and end up like The Snowman as piles of hats, carrots and, in the case of our snow people, banana skins.

However, the snow people have refused to go quietly and are enjoying an extended old age. Stooped and shrinking, heads down, they are growing old together, but they are still smiling.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Let it Snow!

Last night we had more snow than I've ever seen before. Every time I look out of the window it makes me smile.

Here's a link to more snowy pictures on the BBC Website.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Word Clouds

I've been messing about with word clouds today. It's been interesting to put several of my short stories into wordle and observe the repetition of themes and ideas over a varied selection of my writing.

Here is a word cloud of my story 'Just in Case':

Here's one of 'My Burglar':

Here's one of 'The Ice baby':

Messing about with word clouds is seriously addictive - next step is to learn how to display them on my blog properly!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Nativity: words and pictures.

It's been pretty much a year since I started this blog. Yesterday afternoon I found myself in the same position as a year ago when I watched a nativity play that I wasn't allowed to photograph or film (although I filmed and photographed in 2007 - see left). The fact that parents all over the country have been banned from recording their children's performances has received attention from the press this week in the Independent the Telegraph  and the  Daily Mail. The Mail article begins, 'Victory for common sense: Parents should be free to take pictures of their children's nativity play.' There was no such victory in the school that my children attend. I watched my daughter play a large part in what was her last nativity with mixed emotions: she was brilliant - she had memorised long passages of difficult words and had to step in at the last minute to take the part of a child who was ill - but I have no record of what was undoubtedly her most significant achievement of 2010.

Although 'Parents have been told they are free to photograph their children in school nativity plays and are urged to challenge teachers who tell them that it is forbidden,' (The Times) teachers are clearly not listening. As I challenged my daughter's head teacher yesterday, he informed me that a parent 'somewhere in the country' had contravened a photography ban this week and subsequently been removed from the school premises by the police: a cautionary tale to put camera-wielding mothers in their place.

I'll try to remember the way that my daughter spoke her lines, the way her face stretched itself around the long words, the way her hands clenched and unclenched themselves as she recited, the way she said 'extraordinary long time' instead of 'extraordinarily' which was one syllable too far - but ultimately I won't remember. Last year I took a notepad and a pencil to the nativity and tried to record it that way. But when I read the account back, it's just words; the words of a story that needs pictures too.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

MA Graduation.

Yesterday I attended my MA Graduation. It was a simultaneously sad and happy occasion - I'm pleased to have completed the MA, but I enjoyed it so much, I was sad that it had to end.

Here's a picture of me in a silly hat standing next to Tanya Byron of 'Little Angels' and 'The House of Tiny Tearaways' (she's also Chancellor of Edge Hill University).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

New Fairy Tales Issue 6

Here is the trailer for Issue 6 of New Fairy Tales.

I have a story in this issue, 'The Ice Baby'.

'The Ice Baby' was illustrated by Scott Nellis who blogs here.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

'Happily Ever After' Exhibition

I found a link to Su Blackwell's gorgeous art at The Fairy Tale Cupboard.
Blackwell deconstructs old books and transforms them into gorgeous miniature worlds.
Her exhibition at the Long and Ryle Gallery runs until 18th December and her magical website is worth a visit.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Instruction Manual for Swallowing

PInstruction ManualI'm supposed to be packing for a short break to Prague, so this will be a very brief entry, but I just had to say how much I enjoyed reading Adam Marek's Instruction Manual for Swallowing. I promised myself that I wouldn't gobble the stories and would try to read just one a day, but I failed - I just HAD to keep reading: it is one of the most compelling short story collections I have ever read.

My favourite of the stories was 'The Centipede's Wife' which was chilling, creepy, humourous and thought-provoking: three days later and it's still wriggling around my head.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Adam Marek Reading

Last night I went to Adam Marek's reading at the Rose Theatre. He read two very funny, surreal stories and I bought his collection 'Instruction Manual for Swallowing'  which he kindly signed for me.

I was invited to read my story 'Just in Case' before Adam read. I was a bit nervous because it's a sad story and I've never read it aloud before, but I think it went okay - phew.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Billy Collins and Carol Ann Duffy

On Thursday evening I went to see US and UK Poet Laureates Billy Collins and Carol Ann Duffy read at Edge Hill. It was a fantastic evening.

Carol Ann Duffy read some poems from her collection The World's Wife, a collection I love, along with more recent poems including one written in response to England's performance in the World Cup. She can be heard below reading 'Mrs Aesop'.

Billy Collins read from several collections and can be heard below reading a poem 'The Dead' which he read on Thursday.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Helen Simpson and Jane Feaver.

On Saturday I attended a reading by Helen Simpson and Jane Feaver.

Jane read a story called 'Dancing on a Pin' from her collection Love Me Tender which was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. Love Me Tender is described as a 'daisy chain of stories' in a review here and 'Dancing on a Pin' comes in for particular praise in this review. I haven't read Jane's writing, but I enjoyed her reading.

Helen read two stories from her collection In-Flight Entertainment, (reviewed here) 'The Festival of the Immortals' and 'Dairy of an Interesting Year.' It was really interesting to listen to Helen read. She reads in a measured, contemplative way. Despite having read both stories more than once, I was lost in her words and surprised at the time when the reading finished. Afterwards I asked her to sign In-Flight Entertainment for me. She thanked me for buying it and I gauchely informed her that I have every one of her short story collections. It was hard not to sound like Annie Wilkes after that, so I thanked her for signing the book and left.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Recent reading.

I've spent recent years guzzling short stories and as there are only so many hours in the day, I've missed out on a lot of novels. During the past two weeks I've spent every spare minute catching up on some of those novels.

I found 'We Need to Talk about Kevin' profoundly moving. I can't remember the last time I cried, or cried quite so much, when reading a book. There are some pretty ambivalent reviews of this book, but I'm with Zoe Green of The Observer who describes the novel as a 'compulsive' search for answers: I couldn't put it down.

'The Island' is our current Book Club read.
Hislop does an excellent job of creating a setting which is as important as the plot and the characters: I had a compulsion to buy vine tomatoes and feta cheese as I read.
'The Island' is reviewed favourably here.
Here is a less favourable and rather entertaining review.
I enjoyed 'The Island' but while the setting was beautifully depicted, I found some of the characters a little sketchy and occasional plot twists pretty unlikely.

I read Alderman's short story writing before I read 'Disobedience' and I was fascinated to see how she would approach a novel. I enjoyed 'Disobedience'. I confess that I was looking for pointers as I read it, wondering how a writer can explore the hidden, intricate world of a religious community that is simultaneously separate and conjoined to the wider community. I thought that Alderman made an excellent job of depicting the Orthodox Jewish community with both sharpness and sympathy.
Here is a review from the Independent. Here is another from the Guardian which is a bit of a hatchet job (and undeserved in my opinion). 'Disobedience' won the Orange Award for New Fiction in 2006.
Alderman blogs here.

A risky novel, reviewed well by Ali Smith here. I wanted Susie's loneliness to be more horrifying, more difficult to read about. The first 50 pages or so worked beautifully because of Susie's understated description of her death. As the book progressed though I found that I that wanted to be more involved than understatement allowed, but it was still a compelling read.

Recommended by my brother, it's a book I read in an effort to understand what my brother finds 'hilarious' as much as anything. The book is hilarious in an appalling, painful way - something my brother and I will no doubt discuss next time we see each other.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Word Dress.

Last weekend I went to the Lancaster Litfest to watch Claire Massey of New Fairy Tales read a brand new fairy tale wearing a dress made entirely out of the pages of books.

The dress was just the sort of thing that I might have imagined as a little girl (along with swimming in a lake of strawberry milkshake and other fantastical and physically impossible feats).

I took sons 2 and 3 with me and they both agreed that the dress was incredible - an admission which was refreshingly genuine and didn't have to be prised out of either of them. They also agreed that Claire's story was very enjoyable and son 2 explained to me on the way home what he thought a dress of 'smoke and feathers' might look like (such a dress features in the story).

Here is Claire's account of the event, complete with gorgeous pictures.

The event was mentioned on the BBC website.

I'm travelling back to Lancaster tomorrow to see Helen Simpson and Jane Feaver at the Litfest - I can't wait, Helen Simpson is one of my favourite authors ever.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Writing Club Issue Two.

Here is Marshside Writing Club's second online magazine publication.

We only managed to meet four times this half term. I think the girls did pretty well to have fun, eat cookies and actually get some writing done too.

To view in full screen hold the mouse over the picture and click on the 'view in full screen' tab.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Reading at the Bluecoat.

Yesterday I read at 'Next Up' at the Bluecoat as part of the 'Chapter and Verse' Literature Festival. It was my first reading.

Earlier in the day I had a dental appointment (something I always dread, despite my wonderfully eccentric dentist's hilarious bedside manner - quotes from yesterday's appointment include: 'I know a lot of psychopaths' and 'I'm fascinated by serial killers').

While I was lying in the dentist's chair my phone rang. It was son 2's school to say he had been involved in an accident and had been taken to Alder Hey Children's hospital. When the dentist finished rectifying the damage from my recent bout of teeth-grinding, I got in the car and drove from Leyland, near Preston to Alder Hey - I didn't have a clue where I was going or how to get there, but I ended up in the right place.

Fortunately, son 2's eye looked worse than it was; there was only damage to the eye lid, the eye itself was fine. We were at the hospital for hours though and I was beginning to think that I might have to miss the reading. However, he was discharged in time for me to drive back to Southport, pick the rest of the family up, drive to Crosby for his parents' evening and drive on to the Bluecoat just in time for the reading.

Having been so busy during the day, I didn't really have time to be nervous and although I felt apprehensive as 'Next Up' began, once it was time for me to read 'My Burglar' I felt absolutely fine. I didn't make any mistakes and actually enjoyed myself - phew.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

'Next Up' at the Bluecoat.

Chapter and Verse at the Bluecoat 

'Next Up' is an event at the Bluecoat on Thursday 14th October from 7:30 - 8:30. 'Next Up' is part of the Chapter & Verse Literature Festival and will showcase new writers in the Liverpool and North West region. I will be reading a short story: 'My Burglar' which can be read here at the Strictly Writing blog. 

Monday, 11 October 2010

Lovely Stuff

Having read a story of mine, a friend recently asked if I used to work in a handbag shop: I didn't. I just needed to set the story in a handbag shop for it to work. In fact, up until last Thursday I didn't even own a handbag - I had an over-the-shoulder, all-purpose, sack-like thingy which has doubled as a nappy bag and book-hefter for approximately eight years. On Thursday I finally bought myself a real, grown up bag - see below.

On Friday I went to London. As she left for school Alice presented me with a little person made of felt. 'This is for you to remind you of me while you're in London,' she said. 'I know I don't have yellow hair and I'm not blue, but I didn't think you'd mind.'

While in London I had a meeting with an agent which was fun and much less frightening than my anticipatory nerves allowed me to imagine. Later, I walked past some cake shops (yes, looking through windows at cake really was a highlight of the trip). Mmm Cake.

In the evening Neil and I went to see 'We Will Rock You'. Our enjoyment of the musical was heightened by the unabashed enthusiasm of the man sitting in front of us. He was probably in his mid sixties and he was so enthused that he stood up and danced (by himself) in the aisle. 

On the way back to the hotel we walked past the British Museum. We managed to have a quick walk around the mummys earlier in the day - I could have spent hours there: they were fascinatingly creepy and beautiful.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Short short stories.

This week I've been reading Dave Eggers' short stories, published in the Guardian during 2004 and 2005. The stories are compact and dense with detail and gorgeous language. What The Water Feels Like to The Fishes is a favourite with reviewers, but my favourite is Rodney Is Looking For His Daughter - it packs an incredible punch in just 497 words.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Book Club and other stuff.

Marshside book club's new read is 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop. The next book club meeting isn't until 24th November, so there's loads of time to buy the book and read it.
Product Details
This week I've been reading 'The Gathering' by Anne Enright and 'The Children's Book' by A.S Byatt.
Product Details

I've had another kindly worded rejection letter expressing enjoyment and (very helpfully) suggesting other publications that may take the story. I can't decide which is worse - a form rejection, or a we-almost-liked-this-enough-to-publish-it-please-submit-to-us-again rejection.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


I've been following the buggedblog and reading the creations of writers and poets who eavesdropped on July 1st 2010 and used what they heard as inspiration.

Here and here are some of the excellent stories and poems that will appear in the Bugged book.

Outside Asda last week I heard the following: 'My boyfriend's fiance's children go to that school too' and I wished I'd heard it before 15th August when the bugged project closed.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Real life.

Ever since she came to Edge Hill to do a reading I have been following writer Jenn Ashworth's blog. I particularly enjoyed her recent entry Girls. Fun., an account of an exercise class for new mothers.  Jenn's is the kind of writing about motherhood (and life in general) that I love to read - it's funny, self-deprecating, sharp and often touching because it's familiar - what new mother hasn't been terrorized, or at least judged (in a way that leaves her in little doubt that she has been found wanting) by a health visitor?

Having kids can bring so much fun to life: son number 2 told me recently that he would like to play badminton, if he could only find a cockle-shit. But it's also horrible too: after I received an offer from an agent, one of the children said, 'It's probably cos she felt sorry for you and she actually thinks your stories are rubbish.' I like writing that shows both sides of the motherhood/life coin. Here are some more of Jenn's musings on life, I particularly like this one and, after the kind of summer holiday I've just had, this one too.


The good....and the not so good.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A close shave

My children went back to school on the 1st of September. After many admonishments about 'getting off to a good start', son number 3 came home with lines on his first day back. Two hours after bedtime the same son decided that it would be a good idea to practice shaving. He coated his chin in toothpaste (smells nicer than shaving foam apparently) and set to it with his Dad's razor. Good job he has a steady hand.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

MA finished!

Woo-hoo! MA manuscript dispatched this morning. 
I'm not a student for the first time in four years.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Project Memoir

Seven days until my MA Manuscript has to be handed in and I'm busy polishing off the theoretical essay (poetics) and trying to resist any big edits to the stories themselves.

I'm starting to think about my next project now. Before he moved to Prague I promised my dad that I would visit various members of his extended family in an effort to accumulate memories before they are lost. I hope to get started in September, but while we were on a two day break in Cornwall last week I got an early taste of what might be in store when I volunteered to type up the memoir of a deceased member of my husband's family. The memoir was 11,000 words and I managed to get it all on the computer in between walks in the rain and an obligatory visit to the Horse and Jockey for pasties.

Here are a couple of delicious excerpts from the memoir:

I have a vivid memory of a winter when we had very heavy falls of snow. This meant of course, a feverish need to build toboggans. One field we used was very steep but it ended at the bottom with a thorn hedge and a sudden drop onto a lane – a drop of ten to twelve feet perhaps. I was so intent on making my ride longer than the others and didn't take evasive steps quick enough, crashing through the thorns into the lane. Considerable damage was done to face and hands and clothes and the toboggan was a write-off. Another winter in later years was particularly hard when the road from the village to Sandy Way right on the moors was blocked. Several miles of road had to be dug out, and on a Sunday. I walked up this road that was barely passable and the formation of the snow drifts were fascinating. They literally hung in graceful curves, blotting out the hedgerows and actually overhanging the roadway. Further up onto the moors was a herd of deer. I counted 28, the largest number of deer I have ever seen. 

Yet another time I was with **** helping him with the sheep “docking”. Quite a large stream ran through the field. **** got through the ewes and came to the ram. He had to stride the ram to do the docking, facing the tail end. I was holding the horns by standing in front of the ram. I don't really know why I did, but I decided to let go the horns so the ram just took off. Well **** being very short in stature, his legs couldn't touch the ground so he could only hang on like grim death to the woolly backside. The ram of course, made straight for the stream and I could only watch, fascinated at the outcome. The ram reached the stream, tried to leap the stream and upended **** into the stream. I didn't wait for more, but decided it best to make for home. I believe I passed the ram on the way. These episodes stand out in my mind. Life was never really dull in these old village days, when the doctor did his visiting on horseback. About the time that I can remember, he went about in his car I can remember him taking out my tonsils in the bedroom with a bowl at my feet. Just put the forceps down my throat and chopped them off. Some years later I had to have them done again, only this time it was on the kitchen table and I was given chloroform.

I went to St. Austell for an interview with a dentist, a Dr *****. I went there for a trial month but it was soon obvious that I could go along with his way of doing things. He chain smoked and was more drunk than sober. His language was atrocious. He even smoked while treating his patients. One day I was in the surgery with him when he dropped about half an inch of cigarette ash down the women's cleavage. He just put his hand down the woman's dress and tried to get it out – she just kept her mouth open and her eyes shut. 

Sunday, 15 August 2010

If you swallow a pip...

When I was younger I thought that eating an apple pip might just cause a tree to grow in my stomach; something that seemed entirely possible and utterly magical at the time. One day I picked the pips out of my apple and also collected the pips from my siblings' apples. There were five of us, so there were a lot of pips. I ate every pip. But nothing happened. This experience led me to conclude that trees can't grow inside humans, although it appears that plants can. Here is the story of Ron Sevden who had a pea plant growing in his lung.
As an adult, the thought of a tree growing inside me is less appealing. However, this summer I've enjoyed growing lots of plants and trees outside in my garden, where they belong.
Here are photographs of some of the things I've grown.