Saturday, 21 November 2009

Manners, Ladies

One of the things about moving to the country is that I spend lots of time driving through narrow village streets or country lanes. There are frequent stops to let oncoming traffic through. Inevitably, a larger vehicle causes frantic backing-up (when I usually end up in the hedge!).

All this manoevering is generally done with good humour. A little wave of thanks is exchanged - and everyone drives on with a smile on their faces. Just occasionally, there is no wave, no smile - no acknowledgement that I've stopped to let someone pass. Invariably, these people are women. As a woman myself, I find that galling. We're all busy - we all have lots going on in our lives - but a second of courtesy costs nothing. Come on ladies, where are your manners?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Swanwick Day 3: Transfering A Memory

It was Sunday, lunchtime, the last week in June. The sun was strong, the sky cloudless and deep blue. Crowds strolled along each bank of the river in Ljubljana. Stall holders watched their stock lazily from under parasols. It was too much effort to pull in the punters. There was a buzz of conversation and occasional shouts of laughter from the crowded bars.

We were having lunch in our favourite restaurant. We shared a bottle of cool local wine, young and with a greensih tinge. There was a large wooden platter on the centre of the table with local hams, cheeses and olives, both green and black. The sour taste of the olives complimented the wine beautifully.

"You know we're going to lose our buyers, don't you?" he said.

The thought of losing the wonderful converted barn we'd discovered in Dorset was too much for me to bear.

"I don't suppose you'd consider buying the new house before we've sold the old one?" I whispered

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Swanwick Day 2 - To-Do Spidergrams

I've always been highly organised - or anally retentive, as an unkind colleague once described me. One of my delights is writing To-Do lists, in the form of spidergrams. On trains, on planes, in hotels - each time I feel my busyness overwhelm me, I make another list.

Best of all are the ones I prepare in my own office, with coloured pens on flip-chart paper - blue-tacked to the wall for all to see. I use them as a plan of what must be done and a record of what has been achieved. I've even been known to add completed tasks (which I'd forgotten to list previously) to the list, so I can immediately cross them off.

My lists encompass the day job, creative writing and personal life and are written in code. The latest one has headings of: Writing, Party; HIS work; CWC; NAWC; CBG and Swawnwick. I make mini-lists on a daily basis, taking critical tasks off the master list.

Once while on a business trip, I got a call from a client to say a project I'd assumed to be cancelled was not only back on, but also pulled forward. Tears rolling down my face, I told my partner I couldn't do it all. He just sighed, pull a blank sheet of paper towards him and picked up a pen. 'Let's make a list' he said.

It has been suggested that making lists is a substitute for getting things done (like sharpening your pencils instead of doing homework). That can't be true - my list is different every time I draw it. Nevertheless, it doesn't seem to get any shorter.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Swanwick Summer School - Day 1

It hardly seems a year since the diamond jubilee, but here we are again at Swanwick for the 61st Writers' Summer School. After 6 hours of hell on the M5 last year, we let the train take the strain this time - along with half the inhabitants of the West Country.

During the 'Writing Autobiography' course on day 1, we were tasked to write a mini-memoir in just 50 words - much harder than writing it in 500. Here is my attempt:

"The woman in pink blocked the aisle as the packed train set off. Absent-mindedly wrestling with the Yorkie in her arms and chatting to her seated companion, she ignored my attempts to reach my friends. I shrugged, found an empty seat, put my feet up on my case - and waited."

Sunshine and Sausages

My play-project finally matured on 01 August. Sunshine and Sausages, an e-book on how to organise and run a successful summer garden party, was launched. You can find it at

The objective of the project was not just to write and publish a book, but also to learn about the technology. In two months I wrote, laid out and illustrated the book, developed my new website and mastered the art of PayPal buttons.

Thanks to John Williams of Creative Maverick ( for the original suggestion and for encouragement along the way.

Now for my next project....

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Dartington Literature Festival

Coming to the end of a week spent at Dartington, soaking up a real cocktail of talks and book reviews. My highlights of the festival were A C Grayling for erudition and a distinguished head of grey hair; James Lovelock for looking like my father - and for the twinkle in his eye when he talked about his many opponents; Michael Buerk for a wicked, non-PC view of the world, with which all his audience empathised; and Ben Crystal for showing us Shakespeare and the Iambic Pentameter in a totally different light.

However, for me the most memorable session was with two newly published authors: Edward Hogan and Anna Richards. Ed has recently won the Desmond Elliott prize for his first novel Blackmoor and Anna was long-listed for the same prize for her first novel, Little Gods. They each read a short piece from their books and talked about the long journey to first publication (best part of 10 years in both cases). Their humility, humour and willingness to offer advice to other aspiring novellists was a breathe of fresh air.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Best Job In The World

Sitting at my desk yesterday with doors wide open to let in the sun. Bees buzzed around the oregano patch and hover flies hovered in the fennel. Massive dragon fly dwarfed the damsel flies and butterflies abounded. A beatiful bull-finch graced my bird feeder for ages, distracting me from the text of 'Sunshine and Sausages' (which is nearly complete). The stream played a very gentle melody in the background - but had just enough water to stop the ducks grazing their bums on the floor. Tennis match commentary ran quietly at my shoulder.

And the guy on the Pacific island thinks he's got the best job in the world?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Summer Solstice

Up at 04:00 this morning, then on Hay Tor at 05:00 to greet the sun and the official start of summer. Lots of other people there, plus a few calves who seemed very upset at the sight of all these people in their bedroom so early in the morning. Horizon was cloudy, so we didn't see the actual moment of sunrise, but pink tinges among the grey prefaced a beautiful golden globe which appeared about five minutes later.

Fourteen of us back home for breakfast; sitting in the garden in the sunshine before 09:00 - hopefully a good omen for the rest of the season.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

BBQ Book and Living in the Country

BBQ book: Work continues apace. I have all the chapters mapped out and the software in place. Now all I have to do is get writing. I'm hoping summer in the northern hemisphere will be good enough to warrant lots of outdoor parties - although the book is just as applicable to indoor events.

Living in the Country: I've realised I'm finally completely comfortable with life in the country. I went into the village yesterday without worrying about the fact that my bag was navy/cream and didn't match my black shoes. Such a trivial thing, but not something I would have considered doing when living in the South East. What are your indicators that you are comfortable living where you do?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ice-Rink Chapters Posted for Review

I've posted the first three chapters of Gorgito's Ice-Rink on the YouWriteOn website: Feel free to drop by and have a read.

If you join YWO as a reader, you can leave a formal review of what you have read. Alternatively, just leave a comment on this site or drop me an email. I'd really appreciate some feedback.

Some days it feels like this is a great piece of writing - most of the time, it doesn't. Let me know what you think.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Picking a Play Project / Novel Update

e-book Launch: I've been reading the Creative maverick site ( and decided to have a go at my own Play Project. I've been toying with the idea of writing an e-book on organising and holding a successful summer BBQ party - after all, we've been doing it every two years for the past couple of decades. So, the toying stops here.

Official Announcement: Launch date for my first e-book: 01 August 2009

Novel Update: 4,000 words rewritten, expanded and tidied up as chapters 1 and 2. So that's 'Teaching the Russians the Hokey-Cokey' and 'Russia's Answer to Harry Lime' sorted. Only 96,000 words to go. Boy, is this hard.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Sod's Law and Banking

In January, I got a cheque from the tax man (and that's not something we can say very often). Interest earned on a bill I'd paid a few days before its due date, it didn't amount to much - slightly less than £10 in total. Not wanting to lose too much in bank charges, I held off from paying it into my account, hoping for another one to keep it company and make the transaction worthwhile. Of course, these days very few people use cheques, so none arrived. Finally yesterday, with the six-month deadline looming, I gave in and deposited it. Returning from my visit to the bank, what did I find in the post, but a cheque for just over £10 - this time a refund from BA for a fuel overcharge on a flight taken some years ago. So now I'm back to square one. Sod's Law is alive and kicking.

Also on the subject of banks, I see in the news that borrowers are not getting a fair deal from our financial institutions. Enquiring yesterday about interest rates from the Treasury department of a well-known High Street bank, I was quoted 0.01%. I'm not sure savers are getting a fair deal either. Have our banking friends learned nothing?

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Rain Didn't Stop Play

In 1309, Edward II granted Walter Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter a charter for the town of Chudleigh, permitting a weekly market and an annual fair. Being Devon, it may well have been raining. It certainly rained at times this weekend, when the people of Chudleigh celebrated the 700th anniversary of the charter. However, this didn’t dampen the spirits and a truly memorable occasion was laid on by the local History Group.

The weekend started with two contrasting events on Friday evening. The entertainment was presented in a packed marquee, with audience spilling out on to the grass. First there was a recital by Media Vita (Colin Avery and friends) of music with a medieval flavour. This was humorous and serious by turn and included the opportunity for the audience to have a go at part-singing.

This was followed by ‘The Quest for Salvation’ the latest offering from the Chudleigh Repertory and Performance Society. Their explanation of how the charter was granted started plausibly enough with the demand from the Norman king for 20% tax. However, it quickly moved to the realms of fantasy with talking deer, a witch and a giant dragon which had stolen the king’s daughter. The most memorable parts were the drinking song (where the whole cast started in time and in harmony and ended up in drunken disarray) and the point where the hero’s spear lit up like a medieval light sabre.

Saturday was the main day of the celebration. During a day of torrential rain, the marquee was transformed into a marketplace with stalls selling craft items, honey and wax products, local cheeses and home-made cakes. The History Group did a brisk trade in copies of the recently-published ‘Chudleigh Book’. Revolting Peasants told engaging stories, Elfic the Jester juggled knives while riding a unicycle and the Carnival Queen was crowned. There were peasants and wenches all over the place and the Sherriff of Nottingham was on hand to sign autographs.

Towards evening, the rain finally stopped and 150 people gathered for a medieval banquet. Many had dressed for the occasion. Knights, monks, ladies, wenches and even an executioner tucked in to roasted boar with apple glaze, parkland venison with fruits of the forest, chicken and figs and fresh Teign salmon. The event was a complete sell-out and tickets consisted of wooden platters which will serve as a lasting memento of a great, if slightly damp, celebratory weekend.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Blogging for Profit and Working on the Novel

Blogging for Profit: I've just signed up for the Creative Entrepreneurs Club 30 day challenge called Blogging for Profit ( Not sure what it entails, but looks like fun. If by the end of the month I can get better at this blogging lark, then it will be worth all the effort.

Novel Update: Spent two hours on the train the other day with a pen and paper (remember those pre-PC days?) sketching out the whole story from the point of view of one of the characters. Feel a lot better now - just need to convert ideas into words - so no problem there!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

New Helium Posting

Read my lastest posting here:
Then have a look around my Helium page and browse some of my earlier articles. There's a real mixture: travel, small business tips, cookery and a sprinkling of fiction and poetry.

If you enjoy what you see, drop me a line - I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you don't enjoy what you see, drop me a line anyway - I need to know why.

Friday, 20 March 2009

The Making of a Novel

I've had this idea running around in my head for ages. A story of one man's dream to build an ice-rink in Russia. Based on a friend and business colleague who died a couple of years back. Same style of writing as A Small History of Tractors in Ukrainian. So far, I've written 8000 words in a failed attempt to do the Novel in a Month challenge in November 2007. Now it's resurrected and I'm working with a tutor to knock it into shape and finish it. Hopefully it will then get published - but let's take it one step at a time.

After 3 sessions with my wonderful tutor KT (you know who you are!), around 4000 words have been torn to shreds and are starting to be put back together. I'm having difficulties with two main aspects:

1. There's a world of difference between writing a short story where every word counts and all extra detail is binned and writing a novel where there needs to be background, setting, atmosphere, character development etc. My 8000 words will probably morph into 30000+, even before I start writing the rest of the story.

2. There's a world of difference between fact and fiction. At present, much of the narrative is based on real incidents from my travel. I keep saying 'but it wasn't like that' to which KT replies 'who cares - it's fiction'!

I can see this is going to be a long but interesting journey. I'd love it if you would join me sometimes along the way.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


I heard today that I am the prizewinner in the Writing Club open poetry competition. The poem called 'Dead Men's Music' was written following a visit to the cemetry in St Petersburg where many of Russia's most famous musicians, writers and artists are buried. Looking at the memorials to Tchaikovsky, Borodin and the others, I thought what a geat jam session they could all have together.

The poem can be found here: I hope you enjoy it.