Friday, 30 July 2010

The Tate Modern

After a couple of days in London we visited the Tate Modern this afternoon before we travelled home on the train. Everyone liked the surrealists and the visit was going swimmingly until we went up to level 5 to see 'States of Flux' and 'Energy and Process'.

It wasn't long before there were mutterings about The Emperor's New Clothes. While I was trying to explain why a pile of clothes might be art, (I was struggling - how do you argue with 'If I did that in my room, would you think it was art, mummy?') my youngest boy went off to find a stool.

We came across him a few minutes later, sitting on his stool, staring at a pair of doors with 'no entry' written on them. As people came into the room where he was sitting they didn't look at the art, they looked at the little boy who was looking at the doors. He probably only sat there for a minute, but a small crowd congregated behind him during that time, pointing and laughing quietly. When he realised he was being watched he stood up, folded his stool and, just as he had observed other people doing, shook his head in apparent wonder saying, 'fabulous, fabulous'.

                                          The 'fabulous' no entry "exhibit."

Of course, there are 'fabulous' artworks at the Tate Modern. One of my favourites is Jackson Pollock's 'Summertime' a painting which I first learned about in an Open University dvd a couple of years ago: it was wonderful to finally see it in real life.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Open University Interview

The Open University interviewed me last week.
The OU interview was more relaxed than the Front Row interview and consequently I enjoyed doing it.
Here is a link to the interview which is found at the OU Community Online.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Cherry trees

Four years ago I bought a couple of trees from Lidl. They were £2.99 each. I thought that I'd bought cherry blossom trees: I wanted to buy cherry blossom trees. 
There is a road in Southport called Preston New Road. It's lined with cherry blossom trees. In the Spring it snows petals. I always drive slowly down Preston New Road in the Spring because I know that in a couple of weeks the blossom will be gone and I won't see anything like it for another year. If I'm on foot my eyes track the pavement. The fallen blossom congregates in piles of pink and stripes the gutters. Occasionally it puffs up in the draught of passing cars, twirling around. There is something magical about cherry blossom.
I planted my cherry blossom trees in the autumn. In early spring they flowered for the first time. I was disappointed that the blossom was white. I wondered if I'd bought the wrong trees. I didn't have the labels any more; I thought I'd probably made a mistake. In April the green centre of each blossom pushed out through the flower head. These green circles speckled the trees like garden peas. It was several more weeks before it dawned on me that I'd bought proper cherry trees. The first year there were enough cherries for 2 pies. 
Last year I was picking cherries and pulled the central branch of the bigger cherry tree towards me to reach some fruit that was particularly high. The branch snapped off in my hand. I felt like crying. I'd been looking after the garden so carefully, only to tear the central branch from one of my favourite trees. I felt guilty every time I walked past the tree and I worried during the winter that its growth might be impaired in the Spring. By Spring however, the tear in the bark had smoothed over and several small branches were beginning to grow out of the wound. 
This year I've picked more than 20 pounds of cherries. Out of the 200 trees we've planted since we dug up the tarmac car park to make our garden, I like the cherry trees best. Looking at the trees out of the window, picking cherries with purple stained fingers, making cherry pies and crumbles  - these things all add up to small happiness that are difficult to describe, just like the sight of cherry blossom swirling down Preston New Road in the Spring.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical

I was lucky enough to meet Rob Shearman at the Edge Hill Prize award ceremony. He signed a copy of his collection Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical for me and even drew a dalek for my boys.

I'm supposed to be writing the theoretical part of my MA manuscript at the moment, but I thought I'd just have a peep at the first story in Rob's collection - I had to keep reading. Here's my goodreads review:

 Love Songs for the Shy and CynicalLove Songs for the Shy and Cynical by Robert Shearman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection starts with 'Love Among the Lobelias', a very funny story involving the devil as a romantic fiction author. The next story, 'Roadkill' is touching, funny, creepy and ultimately ambiguous. 'Sweet Nothings', the story of a love-sick pig in the garden of Eden has everything I look for in a short story: tenderness, humour, originality and surprise. 'Pang' provides creepy/surreal/every-day contrasts and the grotesque ending is satisfying in a way that surprised me.

I read 'This Creeping Thing' during my children's new-fangled, everyone's-a-winner, let's-play-team-games, sports day. 'This Creeping Thing' is a wonderful story about love, loss, wishing and being haunted by memories of the people/animals we love. Some of the teachers noticed that I was reading and waved at me to stop. One of my children howled put that book down at me while he was waiting in a queue to retrieve bean bags from under a parachute. I did look up when the children were "competing" (I use the word in its loosest possible sense) but I kept reading at all other times. I would recommend the collection to other parents stuck in similar circumstances!

I've continued to read just a story or two each day. These stories are like expensive chocolates, they shouldn't be gobbled, they need to be savoured and appreciated. I'm not going to write about every story - there's only so many times I can allow myself to write 'tender', 'funny', 'creepy', 'surprising', 'strange' etc etc. I agree with Steven Hall's introduction: 'You'll find heartbreaking humanity nestling quietly on every page.'
I can see myself reading many of Shearman's stories again, something I don't do very often.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Edge Hill Prize continued...

I'm currently torn between modestly ignoring the Edge Hill MA Prize or irritating people by going on about it, but as this is the only time in my life that I have won anything and bearing in mind the fact that it may never happen again, I've decided to go for option 2!

Things that have happened/appeared in the press as a result of the prize:

Here is an article that talks about the Edge Hill Prize and its winner, Jeremy Dyson.

At the prize ceremony I met Derek Neale a fiction writer who helped design and write course materials for the Open University writing courses. I was thrilled to meet the man whose writing exercises scaffolded my early attempts at fiction. Derek encouraged me to continue to work towards becoming an Open University tutor, something I've wanted to do ever since I began my first OU module, Start Writing Fiction (I'll stop here or this entry could easily morph into a blog entitled 'The Open University changed my life' which it did, in more ways than I have time to list right now). The Open University have subsequently interviewed me about my time studying with them and winning the Edge Hill MA prize and I will link to the interview at the OU community online when it is available.

This morning a friend pointed out to me that Mslexia guest editor Christina Patterson mentioned my story in her commentary about the selection process for Issue 46. 'Just in Case' (or 'Baby Skeleton' as it was called when I submitted it in January - I changed the title to allow for more surprise) was described as 'a macabre glimpse into the life of a woman who worked in a handbag shop' and 'one of a number that could easily have made it into the final six.' When 'Just in Case' and another story, 'Sinking' came back from Mslexia with a note saying they had both been shortlisted for publication but that neither had made the final cut, I wondered if "shortlisted" was a euphemism for "binned", but apparently not!

I did an interview for Radio Four's Front Row earlier this week which I will blog about at some point.

Above is the local newspaper's coverage. They essentially took the article straight from Edge Hill's PR department, but changed the headline to 'Mum Scoops Top Literary Award' demonstrating their incredible propensity for exaggeration. They also included an obligatory local paper mistake by getting the only text for which they were responsible wrong: Cerys Bray appears below the strangely shaped photograph!

Here Edge Hill's article about the MA prize. It's popped up in other places too such as here. It's odd to see myself described as 'Southport Mum', but I am a mum and I do live in Southport, so it's an accurate description, if not the one I would have necessarily chosen for myself in these circumstances.

To the right is another piece from a local paper which I assume must have been picked up from the Edge Hill website. They've ratcheted up the 'mum' descriptions by referring to me as 'mum-of-four'.

As a result of the prize, two agents have read 'Just in Case'. One has asked to read further stories, while the other has expressed an interest should I write a novel in the future. It's been a very exciting 12 days.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Writing Club Magazine Issue One

Here is the first Marshside Primary School Writing Club magazine.
If you hold your mouse over the page a 'full screen' option appears. Click on it to see the text in enlarged, readable form.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Princess and the Footy

I'm just finishing off putting together the Writing Club magazine. Big thanks to Claire Massey for telling me how to format and organise an online magazine - she knows all about it, as you can see here.

At some point I'll blog about everything that has occurred as a result of winning the Edge Hill MA Prize, but things are still happening, including a radio 4 interview which I will blog about soon.

For now, here is another re-imagined fairy tale from the Writing Club magazine:

The Princess and the Footy

Once upon a time there was a Prince who was a real Liverpool FC supporter. Out of the millions of girls he had been out with, none of them were real Liverpool supporters. They were pretending to be Liverpool supporters to impress him.
            One really hot day a Princess came into the Prince’s castle because she was sunburnt. She was a real Liverpool Supporter. When it was night the Prince put a signed Liverpool ball at the bottom of her bed.
           In the morning the Princess felt the ball. The Prince was spying on her. He saw her kiss the ball and he had found a perfect match.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


In writing club this half term the children are re-imagining fairy tales as Jon Scieszka did so wonderfully in The Stinky Cheeseman. Here is one of the stories that will appear in our magazine later this month:

Once upon a time there lived a young girl named Rapunzel.
Rapunzel had been locked in a tower all her life, never to be let down. She had very long hair, but instead of the hair being “hair” it was spaghetti!
One day Rapunzel was looking out of the tower when a big fat man came along.
‘I’m your Prince,’ said the man untruthfully.
‘Then come and rescue me,’ said Rapunzel.
But instead of rescuing her he sprinkled cheese on her spaghetti hair and ate it all up.
‘Are you a food critic?’ Rapunzel said.
‘She’s onto me,’ the man said and he ran away.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The 2010 Edge Hill Prize.

Given the contents of my previous blog entry, it may seem that my silence during the past 2 weeks is related to England’s embarrassing performance against Germany, but it isn’t. I’ve had to button my lips and cross my typing fingers to prevent myself from blurting out some news about the Edge hill Prize

This year the prize had a new, student component and two weeks ago I found out that I had won it. I wasn't allowed to say anything until after the award ceremony which occurred last night at Blackwell's bookshop in Charing Cross, London. I won £500 which was fabulous, but the best part of the prize was having my winning story made into a little book.

During the evening Rob Shearman, who was nominated for the main prize, signed a copy of his short story collection Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical for me. He was kind enough to address it to two of my boys who love Dr Who and Rob's Dalek episode (although they probably aren't old enough to read these short stories yet).  Rob drew a Dalek shouting "Exterminate Sam and Daniel" which will be much appreciated by the boys when they see it. He won the £1,000 Readers' Prize.

Jeremy Dyson of The League of Gentlemen and The Armstrong and Miller Show won the main £5,000 Edge Hill Prize for his collection The Cranes that Build Cranes.

It wasn't until I was on the train back to Twickenham where we had parked our car, that I looked inside my little book and discovered that author Chris Beckett winner of the 2009 Edge Hill Prize had written a foreward to my story which was definitely the best part of the prize.

My winning story Just In Case was a slightly edited and retitled version of a story which I blogged a small section of here