Saturday, 18 April 2015

Blurred birds - focused readers

It's invigorating  to be confronted by your readers. I should explain that I was invited, as an author,  to speak to a reading group in Hertfordshire. What a group this is! I saw the list of books they have 'done' since the group started and it is a very long list indeed. This group has been going for years and the evening was well attended.

It is isolated being a writer. You plot and scheme and aside from the things you make the characters say and do, you weave themes and recurring images into your text when you are writing but you never know if anyone, apart from you, notices any of it.

Well, they do. Reading groups are, if you like, professional readers. Each of those readers I faced had read my book and was an expert on its contents. Nothing had escaped their attention - they 'got' everything and had noticed all kinds of things that had been put there deliberately.

As a writer, the activity of reading is something I do a lot of. But I only read some books more than once. Not so these guys. I do believe that these readers in Hertfordshire read all their books more than once.  They talked about it saying things like '... I only noticed it the second time round...' as if that was just their normal way of reading. I was deeply impressed. The time flew by. As I finished answering one question another took its place and each of these answers was more like a conversation anyway as the group all joined in with observations and supplementary points as we went along. They effortlessly asked me astute questions about the characters and about how I had structured the book. They knocked spots off any literature event audience I have ever been part of. (I myself have never been able to think of a question at such events,)

So if you're a writer; any chance you get to visit a reading group, take it. It obviously helps you to sell books so is a great opportunity for a writer anyway but the most wonderful thing is the rapport that you'll find you have just because they understand so well what you were getting at . You can't put a price on that. It just feels like the most inspiring kind of support you could possibly have so thank you, Hertfordshire Reading Group, I salute you.

Postscript: I have always wanted to see a kingfisher. While in Hertfordshire I went for a walk and saw three of them as we strolled alongside the river, Three! I practically leapt into the river with excitement and managed to take a picture of one of them with my phone. I also saw a great crested grebe and three herons and took blurred pictures of them too. I've seen herons before but the grebe and the kingfishers were a first for me which made the whole trip even more amazing.

Saturday, 7 March 2015


I just ate a whole mango to myself.
'Was there no-one around you could have shared it with?' I hear you cry.
Do I hear that? I remember once confessing that at times I ate almost to the bottom of  a big pot of yogurt in a frenzy of greed - attacking it as I was putting the shopping away - unable to get it into the fridge without ripping its top off and 'sampling' it.... and then Carol and Helena (for it was indeed they) just looked at each other and said: 'So?'
Maybe everyone else has a mango each so this is no big deal, but any fruit that costs more than 50p for one fruit brings out in me a kind of (did I have SUCH a Presbyterian upbringing?) puritan dismay that such a costly food has made it into the house. Mind you; ours might be a house where we are  used to scrimping and making-do, but actually we are by no means... oh, what is the opposite of self indulgent? That, anyway. We're not. But we do share our mangoes. And now I've just eaten the whole thing. There was no-one else here. They were all out. I was on my own.
Ah well - in the words of  Roy Orbison Only the lonely..... know the heartache, of peeled fruit....

Or as Helena and Carol might say - 'So?'

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Anne Stevenson and John Lucas on the same bill - best poetry night ever

That the great Anne Stevenson was reading felt, to me, like an extraordinary piece of good fortune. I had spotted that John Lucas was reading a month earlier and I went for that reason - his name leapt out and I didn't look to see who else was on. Thanks, Universe! The event was one in the Lumen series organised by the poet Ruth O'Callaghan. Among the poems Anne read were some from Astonishment which I managed to bag the last copy of. She hadn't brought many  copies and they went like hot cakes.In a rush of maternal affection I lent mine to Only Daughter who had also come to the gig. She lives in London so I will have to wait a bit until she comes home to visit for my turn to read it. Unless she posts it. 

The wonderful John Lucas read from his new collection Things To Say, which is published by that most admirable of organisations, Five Leaves Publications.
Astonishment 2012I was a bit slow once I got home with my precious signed copy (John and I go back a long way) and I have yet to wrench it out of the hands of Son 3, who took an immediate fancy to it. He is a poet himself - of the songwriting persuasion and you can hear him here if you like folk (there's even a small contribution from the seagulls of Brighton). I recommend him. (Yes, I am biased).

Friday, 17 October 2014

Independent authors have Stuff like this to help them sell books

I'm an independent author therefore I too have stuff like this. It is a handy author page where anyone who wants to find out what you write and who you are can do just that. They can also find out what readers have said about your books. And they...

SHOULD be able to see the full list of that author's books - but my paperback edition of The Glassblower's Daughter is not listed, even though I have updated that page several times. So if you want to buy the paperback use this link

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Man and Flamethrower

Two weeks ago, on  a day of blinding sunshine I glanced out of a window at work and was so arrested by this that I stood for ages watching this man and even made a short phone video because I felt compelled to. The smoke coming up as he patiently burnt the white paint off the tarmac must have been full of the most poisonous particles and gases and he has nothing to protect him except a tiny pair of goggles and some fat gloves. The black lines that look like shadows are where there were painted lines before. The shadow he casts and the shadow cast by his attached cylinder of gas, just out of the picture and only apparent because of the shadow - look substantial but he looks fragile and bleached out and so do the shadows that the flamethrower left on the ground. I hope someone paid him a lot of money to do such a toxic job but I bet they didn't.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Day 2 - Bandages

As a child, reading about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and, from my parents' bookcase, Tell England, (which I read, though scarcely understood),  I used to fantasise about being wounded in battle. A head wound, with white bandages, was what I wanted. I didn't think that it would hurt as much as wounds elsewhere - I had suffered painful scrapes to my knees and elbows but never my head. I had no idea at all what would actually happen in terms of bone, tissue, ligaments and muscle. An arrow or a bullet would graze the side of my head and blood would flow and I would  fall (gracefully, of course) and be lifted by a brave comrade and carried to safety. A period of unconsciousness might be involved but that sounded pleasant, like drifting off to sleep and then hazily waking again. Hmm.

This is Day 2. I am writing about a process which began with surgery to get rid of my varicose veins. So at last I have wounds, and plenty of bandages. Both legs.  The back view is not so pretty (bloodstains!)

Friday, 1 March 2013

The digital savvy of the Geneaologist

Angel Delight

Olympia teemed with genealogists...

many of them  professional - offering research expertise to those tracing family histories. Enthusiasts crowded the vast hall and it hummed with purposeful pilgrimage. As you can see, I had fallen into a raspberry Angel Delight.

 I am impressed by how clued up these people are. Among the stalls offering research facilities there were sophisticated marketing niche stalls. Some  offered bespoke kit for people who are archiving family history documents - sleeves, made of clever polythene which won't damage photographs or leach their chemicals out,  for example. Some offered  ... well I'm not sure how to describe them but they were quite computer-y looking and one was selling a handheld scanner the size of an iPhone that would enable you  to come away from an archive visit with digitally scanned images of all the old documents you needed to prove your ancestor was Rob Roy or whatever.

Since then I've been struck by the interconnectedness of this network. Their websites are smart, they have Facebook pages and blogs and are on Twitter. The hashtag  #wdytyalive was zinging with lively tweets.

So I was wondering which group is the more digital media enhanced - writers or genealogists?
One writer who leaps to mind as an icon for the coming age of digitisation of all we hold dear (goodbye, dusty tomes!) is Kate Pullinger. Her blog is essential reading for any writer who is happy to face the future digitally brave.