Wednesday, 29 September 2010

What to do when waiting to hear from a short story competition

  1. Check primary email. Every five minutes
  2. Check second email as well in case you gave out the wrong one
  3. Check old hotmail email you had when a student in case you had a memory black out on the competition form
  4. Check phone. Every ten minutes
  5. Check voice mail just in case phone has mysteriously malfunctioned
  6. Curse the skies
  7. Compulsively eat sweet things
  8. Stare into space looking tragic
  9. Lurk around WH Smith’s surreptitiously researching magazines that publish short stories as Plan B
  10. Write the next idea

While I am currently zinging through all stages 1 – 10, I seem to be lingering most on looking tragic. This could also be because I have caught the cold of doom that seems to be wafting around the office, and feel like I need to lie down on a bed of tissues.

So to cheer me up, what creative things are you doing? Working on the main novel – if so, what stage? Stuck on an edit? Researching the 18th century? Compulsively eating Dolly Mixtures (hey, that could be just me).

And for gorgeous inspiring autumn-ness, check out these pictures:

Picture credit: Denis Collette - gorgeous photography on Flickr.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Okay, who ate my scarf?

Do you ever have a day when you cannot even control your own clothes, let alone be expected to manage Life with all its whimsy? I am having such a day. It started when I woke from being semi-smothered by my pillow. You know the day bodes badly when your own bedding is conspiring to kill you.

My cardigan on the tube turned into a giant flopping beast, determined to make friends with my tube-dwelling neighbours. Somewhere under Islington my ear-phone wire (what is that called? I somehow suspect not 'ear-phone wire') did something funky with the buttons and the whole shaboodle tied me in a knot while I was trying to get off at Kings Cross. Getting off the tube in the rush hour requires nerves of steel at the best of times; let alone when I have somehow constructed a reef knot from my clothes.

My gloves fell out of my bag as I dug deep for my travel-card; my socks keep bunching down into my trainers, and my top has decided to saucily wink a small crescent of tummy just when I least expect it. Look, clothes, I have work to do today, and I cannot keep checking if you are in the same place as you were this morning. Don’t do this to me! I am supposed to be looking corporate and business-like, despite the fact a conker* dropped out of my bag as I walked in the office. Whoops.

Sometimes I wish I was a monk. They seem to be so sorted in the fashion sense of things. Just a big brown sack – what can go wrong? Although you know I’d have problems roping it in the middle. It is my dream in life to own a slanket.** Seen them yet? A giant blanket with a head hole and sleeves. If I Were an Author (sung to the tune of ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ from Fiddler on the Roof), then magazines would picture me in my gorgeous home, notebook in hand, draped in my slanket. I would be at the forefront of slovenly female author fashion. Until those heady days, however, I am stuck with the evil cardigan and the top of doom.

*A conker is a horse-chestnut. They fall from the sky! Well, trees. Children of Old (sorry, mum) used to drill a hole through them, string them up, and bash them together to see who had the strongest conker. Cheats used to bake them in the oven first so they were like little round bricks.

**This is a slanket. My continuing laughter doesn't halt my desire, strangely.

Monday, 20 September 2010


Some days I find it hard to write.
The paper is blank; inspiration has taken flight.
I ponder and wonder where it has gone.
Did it pack a bag; will it be too long?
Did it reel out string when it went away?
Has it gone for good or just today?
Did it take a watch; can it tell the time?
Did it chalk the walls; can it read the signs?

Why did it choose now to slip away?
Just when I have time to sit and play?
Can’t I choose? Can’t I be the one?
Who decides when things get done?
Is this revenge for yesterday in fact?
When I tidied my room and fed the cat?
We had all the time in the world back then.
And it was willing to be my friend.
But I was fickle; distracted and tired.
I failed to pay it the attention it required.
So now I have to learn again,
To listen anew and coax it in.
To block out time and let the words play free,
So once again inspiration will work for me.

It taps me on the shoulder; I turn around and smile.
Today it appears poetry was its style.
It doesn’t always do as it ought;
It doesn’t always appear when it’s sought.
But it never goes far; me and it are a team.
We both work together to achieve our dreams.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Awards and Mentions

I have been burrowing behind the scenes of this week, but had to pop up in order to highlight some excellent ‘new-to-me’ blogs, and to give out an award I have been storing in an airing cupboard.

Excellent ‘new-to-me’ Blogs

S J Watson
Those of you who follow book publishing news will know there is a huge buzz around author S J Watson’s debut novel, coming next year, called Before I Go to Sleep. He is fairly new to blogging, and his posts are all about what life has been like for him since he signed with an agent. His book already has a film deal – it is going to be huge. Make friends with him now before the rush!
S J Watson’s blog: Before I Go to Sleep

My Villa Life
Ann’s blog comes to us from Auckland, New Zealand, and she also loves chocolate, like me. She writes about discovering a new city and turning it into home for her family, and punctuates her posts with lovely photographs of life around her. I loved the post about her five-year old boy taking charge and writing his wish-list for the day – a water-slide and sushi! Pop over and say hello.
Ann’s blog: My Villa Life

Scribble and Edit
Madeleine blogs from South Devon in England, and has only been here in blog-land a month. Give her a warm welcome! Her ‘micro-fiction Monday’ posts are lovely, as are her thoughts on the writing process.
Madeleine’s blog: Scribble and Edit

An Award!

I’ve been lucky enough to receive this Award a few times, but life crept in the way of collecting and passing it on. However, the lovely Krista Lynne Jensen passed it over to me recently, so thank you, Krista! The rules are you have to reveal seven things about yourself, and nominate fifteen folk to receive the Award – then let them know in a comment that they have an award to collect. Fifteen! I shall be linking for hours.

Seven things about Me
If no-one else is in ear-shot then I reckon I can sing.
2. An ideal day for me involves rummaging in a musty second-hand bookshop.
3. My current favourite ice-lolly is called a Nobbly Bobbly. Trying ordering that in a newsagent and sounding sophisticated.
4. I’m a city girl with a country heart.
5. There will always be a forgotten conker in my pockets.
6. I once danced a lindy-hop with Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger in Only Fools and Horses / Mr Crouch in Harry Potter).
7. I think the world is always full of potential, even when I feel sad.

I’d like to pass this one on to the following fabulous fifteen for the following reasons:

The Magpie's Fancy
Gigi takes gorgeous photographs, and nearly all of her posts start with this amazing imagery leading to her amazing writing.
Dyche Designs
Blogs like Kathryn's remind me of when I was an Art student, and how much fun it is to be creative and make pretty things.
Katie Anderson Writer
Katie posts about her writing; life in Glasgow; and she often has fantastic photos to go with her words, including her gorgeous dog Hugo.
Being Me
I love Fran's blog. I love her writing and how much fun she has with words. You must go now and read her brilliant post about 'What happens to fairy-tales when your typing is not up to scratch'.
Creepy Query Girl
As her profile made me laugh so much. I think there is an element of creepy query girl in everyone who starts the process of querying, be it for manuscripts or magazine articles.
Coffee Rings Everywhere
Rayna often posts in drabbles, a perfect 100-word story, and her posts have a way of making you think. Always thoughtful and interesting.
From the House of Edward
I love Pamela's blog - her posts often start with a lovely illustration, or picture of her gorgeous dog Edward, and each post weaves a delightful tale.
Inwardly Digesting
Christine's posts are a pleasure to read, often under-scored with a subtle sense of humour. She posts about her writing; life around around her; and often punctuates her posts with pictures.
Happy Frog and I
Happy Frog shares memories with us, and tickles my nostalgic funny-bone by every so often posting about children's television. Love her Sesame Street posts!
Paper Clippings of a Wandering Artist
Carla's blog is lovely - she posts about what inspires her creativity and it makes me inspired, too!
Wilf the PON discovers France
Wilf the dog has a fabulous sense of humour - daily pictures of Wilf, whose expressions are so heartfelt, as he takes to his owner's new life in France.
Maynard Greenhouse
Gorgeous photographs - Carole takes old things and turns them into wonderous new things, often incorporating plants into her designs.
Nuts in May
I am loving Maggie's blog - she posts about daily life, and often uploads photographs of where she lives and what she sees along the way.
Garden full of Lily
Jennie's blog is a lot of fun - she writes about her animals and writing, as well as sharing the occasional anecdote from her teaching classes.
Lake Mary Musings
Cheryl posts from Minnesota, and often shares photos from her part of the world with 'Photo Finish Friday'.

And there we have it! Link-o-rama! Have a lovely weekend, folks.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Fluffy Plan of Happiness

Sometimes I gaze out of the window and wonder where I am heading. There may have been a birthday lurking around the weekend, hence staring at the grey sky in a rather grey mood. I need to put into action a new life plan. This plan shall be called the Fluffy Plan of Happiness. Or something.

The Fluffy Plan of Happiness

  1. Buy a top. You cannot start the fluffy plan of happiness without a new top.
  2. Book out evenings / weekends again for New Writing Project (very exciting!)
  3. Continue saving money for dream of owning own shoe-box
  4. Start some sort of exercise venture more vigorous than walking up escalators
  5. Never let the house be empty of chocolate ever again

The thing with fluffy plans is that you cannot over-load them or be too specific; otherwise they stop being fluffy and start becoming Concrete Plans of Exacting Particulars. Fluffy plans tend to give you a bit of a cuddle halfway through. C-Pep plans sound like they come in a fussy bottle from the chemist to be taken when experiencing a blockage.

“Feeling stuck in life? Take some C-Pep!”

You just know C-Pep would taste a bit murky, although perhaps it is useful for everyone to have a bottle on the shelf just in case.

Birthdays are funny things – your own personal New Year. While they should always be celebrated and enjoyed (and I did, very much, thank you!), they also bring on feelings of ‘what have I accomplished’, ‘what is next for me’, and ‘where on earth am I going and did anyone bring a map?’

So with that in mind, I have already made good in-roads with the fluffy plan, in that I have bought a new top.

What would be on your fluffy plan?

Friday, 10 September 2010

Bah to Boots

It happened again last night. There I was, in Westfield shopping centre, trying to squish my calf into a new-season boot. Why do I think my curvy calves will have somehow shrunk in the wash of August? Each year I seem to completely forget and get seduced by leather and buckles. Oh the folly.

Even if I get said calf into said boot, there are two problems. Namely:

  1. How to get calf out again. A tug of war with me, calf, boot, and sales assistant may be very entertaining for thin-calved onlookers, but rather demoralising for the one who is being winched out of nice footwear.

  2. Calf bulge. This is where the calf blossoms like a mushroom over a particularly sturdy stalk, and it is not the type of look one tends to aim for in life.
As much as I love autumn, it does come with a boot-shaped shadow.

Even boots that look massive don’t fit me. This of course does nothing for the self-esteem as I lurk around the ‘wide-leg’ aisle. I find myself suffering from acute symptoms of ‘calf envy’ as I watch others pulling on boots with ease, not needing to tuck and tug at the zip. They look so happy! So carefree! They have so much choice!

Yesterday’s foray into the depressing world of fat-boot shopping was just a small taste of what is to come. Sadly current boots are on their way out, so I do have to find another pair. I promise I will love you and take care of you! The only thing you have to do to make me happy is to fit.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Culture or Bubbles

Yesterday after work me and good friend R stomped through the pouring rain to see the magnificent maps on display at the British Library. At least, we would have if it wasn’t shut.

A map we didn't see.

Ah, we thought. Oops, we thought. Shall we go and have a glass of champagne instead at St Pancras station?

Well, it was either expand our mind with culture, or with bubbles. We chose bubbles.

Ten minutes later saw us installed at the longest champagne bar ever to be found in a train station, indeed, apparently in Europe.

Not us.

Did I say before I am rather fond of large train stations? I like that expectant excitement, the energy of all the people passing by with smart clothes and suitcases on wheels, the hurried footsteps, the tap of busy fingers on laptops. I occasionally like to go there with a notebook and sit with a coffee, watching all the to-ing and fro-ing. It gives me ideas.

I especially like St Pancras now it has been redesigned, as I love the beautiful amazing ceiling, and the Dent clock with the statue of the two lovers meeting underneath.

Maybe we did find some culture after all. Hic.

Magnificent Map image from the British Library
St Pancras images from St Pancras website

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Oh Lucky Me

It all started at the beginning of August.

I’d been wandering around blog-land, hopping here, skipping there, and I came to rest on Shona Cole’s blog ‘An artful Life’. Not only is Shona amazingly talented, and the author of a book called ‘The Artistic Mother’, but she often likes to give away a hand-made something to a random follower of her blog.

She has 750 followers, so that’s a lot of folk to choose from.

And at the beginning of August my name came out of the virtual bag, and she sent me this lovely little notebook all the way from Texas!

This was such a surprise as I usually have notoriously bad luck with competitions. So here is a late little post to say ‘thank you Shona’, and to point the way to her lovely blog. She does fantastic arty projects with her children, and I also am in deep love with her kitchen.

Shona’s blog: An Artful Life


August continued on its merry way. I blogged, pondered how best to wrap tea-cups from my own contest, virtually pottered here, virtually pottered there, and came across Melanie’s lovely blog ‘Melanie’s Musing’. She posts excellent reviews of all the books she reads, and was holding a swag giveaway.

Well, who can resist swag? Not me, not me. I entered. And won! Look at all these book-marks and goodies, coming my way from Florida!

So here is a late little post to say ‘thank you Melanie’ and to urge you all to pay her a visit, too. She’s back at school now and could no doubt do with some new followers to cheer her up. At least, that would be the very least of what I’d need if I was back in school.

Melanie’s blog: Melanie’s Musing


Maybe it’s contest karma, I thought, as I sent off parcels to America (Karen and VR Barkowski) and around the UK (Pen and Paints and Music Obsessive). And so I did some writing, some blogging, and then as August began ticking into September I popped into one of my favourite blogs, Pretty Far West, and saw there was a Pretty Amazing Giveaway.

Ooo! I thought. So I entered. And won!

So here is a ‘bang on the minute’ post to say ‘thank you Mise, and thank you Mise’s sister’ (who made the gorgeous necklace), and to point the way to Pretty Far West. I always enjoy my visits, and think her witty style is rubbing off on me every time I spend rather a little too long pondering the perfect sofa.

Mise’s blog: Pretty Far West

So with these three lovely prizes the notorious bad luck has well and truly been banished – hoorah! Thank you so much. I am hoping this signifies a turning point!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Book reviews: P.G. Wodehouse, Beryl Bainbridge, Mary Norton

For those new to my challenge, I am reviewing every single book I read during this year, regardless of whatever I pick up (as my reading tastes are fairly eclectic, and rather broad!). I am curious to see how many books I get through in a year, as although a fairly quick reader, I am limited to reading mainly on the commute to the full-time job.

So without further ado, here are the next three on the list…

The Borrowers Afield, by Mary Norton
The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
The Bottle Factory Outing, by Beryl Bainbridge

The Borrowers Afield, by Mary Norton
Illustrations by Diana Stanley
First published by Dent 1955
This edition published by Puffin Books, 1970

This is Mary’s sequel to The Borrowers, the tale of tiny folk who live behind the cracks in houses. In The Borrowers Afield, the Clock family (Pod, Homily and fourteen year old Arrietty) have left the safe world of the house behind them and are pitting their wits in the wild.

What I like about this book is that Mary Norton doesn’t use any short-cuts; she thinks about what a tiny person would have to contend with, what they would eat, where they would live, how they would protect themselves – and it is all perfectly feasible. There are no diversions into magic or talking animals, and because of that The Borrowers feel quite real. There are also lovely touches of humour and description – you quite understand Arietty’s longing to see the world. Reading this book is like being wrapped up in autumn; you can taste the berries, smell the trees, see the colours. A gentle sequel in many ways, but very enjoyable.

The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
First published by Herbert Jenkins 1924
This edition published by Penguin Books 1973

This was a delight from beginning to end. Although Jeeves as a character had been introduced in several short stories prior to this book, here he comes into his own. For those not familiar, Jeeves is the exceedingly clever valet to rich young Bertie Wooster, and is the man who constantly saves Bertie from various disasters, be they social, financial, or, heavens forbid, his Aunt Agatha paying a visit. Set in the era in which they were written, flitting between London and New York, these stories sing of gentlemen’s clubs, the Serpentine, ‘blighted tea-and-bun shops’, wearing the wrong socks, the theatre and what sport one may find in the country.

You sense that P.G.Wodehouse had fun writing these books, as he is a complete master of language and knows how to make words dance for him. Even the chapter titles give away the clue you are in for a treat, with gems such as ‘Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum’ and ‘The Great Sermon Handicap’. There is a lovely subtle humour throughout the book that is never over-played, and the result is a real romp of a read, even if you spend the next few days talking like a Wooster.

The Bottle Factory Outing, by Beryl Bainbridge
First published by Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd 1974
This edition published by Fontana 1976

Here we are introduced to larger than life Freda with her love of exuberant drama, and Brenda who wants to creep around the corners of her life like a pale mouse. The unlikely duo share a flat in London, and both work at in the bottle factory. Freda is convinced that all the Italian men at the factory fancy her, and decides to arrange an outing to spice up her imagined entanglements. However nothing goes as she planned.

This is a strange unnerving story – it starts off in humour, but there is an air of unease from the start that the outing will go wrong in some way. When it does; the mood of the story shifts entirely into dark tragedy. It becomes less about Freda and Brenda, and more about society in general, how sad it can be when you realise some folk in this world have such flimsy anchors in life. If they break, who knows or cares?

It is good to have books that challenge you occasionally, and although the subject matter is a little bleak, the descriptions of the little flat in London and the characters themselves are very vivid without being over-blown. The contrast between the beginning and the end is very clever, and the writing is really magnificent. It’s not a long book so in a way it is an easy read, but is it really? Only you will know.

If you’d like to read more of my book reviews, please click here

And now for Blog Parties!

There are two fantastic blog parties continuing this weekend, and you can attend both from the comfort of your chair. Karen G is holding a lovely blog BBQ, and Donna a fab blog party. All you have to do to join the fun is to pop over to each, follow them, leave a comment and then browse through the comments already there and find some new fantastic people to follow! If you do pop over then please help yourself to a glass of the finest pink fizz at Karen's, which was my virtual contribution, and at Donna's tell Colin Firth to hold off from diving into the pond in his dress shirt until I am back there to ogle. Thanks!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Chirpy Reflection’s Answer to Rejection

Rejection: My story sucks the big one.
Chirpy Reflection: Now come on! (And darling, don’t revert to teen speak when you are in your thirties, it isn’t becoming.) There could be many reasons why your story wasn’t right this time, and it isn’t necessarily that your story… ahem… that your story isn’t the best it can be. But use this time – do you have doubts about your story? If so work on them! If you are satisfied that this story is the best ever then send it out again.

Rejection: My life is a big fat pile of poo.
Chirpy Reflection: No it isn’t!
Rejection: Yes it is.
Chirpy Reflection: No it… actually let’s not go there. A rejection isn’t the end of the world. The sky is still blue, the birds still sing. Understand it is not personal. I know you are eager to get on and sometimes it feels like life is on hold (while the years tick on, how does that work eh?) but everyone who is anyone goes through this stage. Look at JK Rowling…
Rejection: Please, please don’t tell me Harry Potter was rejected umpteen times before it was taken on. I know that story. I’ve injected that story to my veins. Please, no more. Leave me to wallow.
Chirpy Reflection: No can do I’m afraid. The lovely JK isn’t the only author to be rejected a few times before being published. Look darling, it happens. It means you are on your way. It doesn’t make everything in life a turd during the process, trust me.

Rejection: Why don’t they like me?
Chirpy Reflection: Honey, what did I say up there? It’s not personal, sweetheart, they don’t know you. If they met you they’d think you were the bee's knees. As it is, revise your query. Read it over again – anything you’d change? Now is your chance – take it with both hands! If you believe in it as it is, jump back on the merry-go-round. Besides, the right place for your story is out there. Make sure everything is ready for when that day arrives.

Rejection: I hate waiting, I hate it!
Chirpy Reflection (solemnly): The best things in life are worth waiting for. And don’t throw your pen at me.