Derrick’s Tea Room in Cheddar is the most delightful place to take afternoon tea… or lunch… or just a cuppa!
Some of the incidents in my stories are based on things which really happened to me.
When I was in Manchester in the seventies there was an amazing club we used to go to, the Continental Club, or the Conti as it was known. It was grim in many ways, at one end was the bar, at the other on a slight platform was a juke-box which provided all the music. On either side of the dance floor was a slightly raised area which had tables and chairs and on one side was the toilets which were always swimming in something disgusting… The Conti used to stay open really late at a time when pubs closed at 10:30, and clubs closed at 2. It was usually heaving with all sorts of odd people, not just students.
I remember going to the Conti with my best friend Wendy. In ‘Loving Judah’, Sandi is not dissimilar from Wendy, although Aislin the main character is very different from me! In the following passage from ‘Loving Judah’ Aislin remember going to a club called Sands with Sandi… it is actually what happened to me and Wendy at the Conti!
“Hmm, a career vicar, if you ask me,” said Sandi, writing something on her pad. “You know what I mean; he’s too good-looking and intelligent to be in the ministry for any other reason than to become a bishop before he’s forty.”
“Do you know him?” asked Aislin, surprised.
“I saw him get off his motor bike. It was the studious way he pretended he wasn’t aware of people watching him, of people nudging each other and saying, see that young chap on the bike, the good-looking one, he’s our vicar!”
“Which people?” Aislin had never seen anyone pass along the narrow lane.
“Well, there weren’t any actual people, not here, I don’t mean,” Sandi passed a blank sheet to Aislin. “List your priorities.”
“Well, he seemed OK, the vicar,” Aislin sat next to Sandi on the settee.
“You mean he gave you a look as if to say, if you weren’t married and I wasn’t a vicar…” Sandi nudged her.
Aislin had to laugh. “I get those sort of looks so infrequently, let me have a little day-dream.”
Sandi patted her hand and agreed with her. “It’s odd isn’t it. When you meet a guy now, or not even meet him, just pass a guy in the street, his eyes drift over you as if you’re invisible. Ten – not even ten, five, two years ago there was always that look, a sort of weighing up, a sort of, yeah, she’s OK.”
“Speak for yourself!” Aislin laughed ruefully.
“You know what I mean. I’m not a woman any more. I’m a middle-aged woman, I’ve become invisible,” Sandi seemed amused but aggrieved.
“Oh Sandi that just is not true – you’ve got that something, and you’ll still have it when you’re ninety. I’ve always been invisible to 99% of men. You see a guy you fancy, you hook him and reel him in like a fish. Do you remember that time when we went to that awful club, what was it called, Sands? And you ended up with that gas fitter – Vic, was he? He was really good-looking, a bit like John Travolta without the lips. I ended up with his spotty mate, except I didn’t because I went home in a huff.”
“How do you remember all these things, I don’t remember a gas fitter called Vic,” Sandy laughed. “Anyway, enough of John Travolta with or without lips. Priorities.”
I haven’t written much about my dad Donald’s side of the family, here are my grandparents.
Before I could write, I told stories, first to myself then to my sister; when I became a teacher, story telling became an intrinsic and vital part of my way of delivering the goods. Story telling in my teaching wasn’t just going through something in a text book, I would recount tales of my life and experiences, usually without exaggeration although sometimes emphasis one part over another for dramatic effect.
However, sometimes I would tell lies to my students… yes, I confess! For example, I had a colleague working with me as a learning support assistant. Sue was a rather stout, very short lady in her fifties and I told the students that when she was young she had been a trapeze artist and tight-rope walker in a circus. She would laugh and laugh and the students believed me because it just seemed so extraordinary it had to be true! I told them that although she spent her working time in spangly tights and tiny tutus, during the day she was very demure and always wore long skirts. Her husband-to-be was visiting the circus and she was wandering round the fairground outside and had a go on the coconut shy. As she threw the ball at the coconut her long skirt lifted slightly and he caught a glimpse of her ankle… And now, nearly forty years later, she was married to him, with two sons, and she still had the coconut she won.
“Is that true?” asked my students, the naughty kids in the Pupil Referral Unit.
“What do you think?” I asked…. Sue denied it but they believed me.
Another story happened when we were based in a college on the 4th floor; I had been working there for a year or so and told my students there was a ghost which haunted the floor and could be seen early in the mornings when the cleaners were about. Several years later, when I had a different lot of students and we were talking about ghosts and the paranormal, one of them told me about the ghost of the fourth floor… which his brother had seen when he was at college!
There are many other stories… maybe I will share them another time, but the point of this post is that I think my narratives run as stories in my head before I write them down. When I write them down I can hear what my characters are saying, all the little exclamations, repetitions, unfinished sentences of normal speech. If I were telling the tale out loud I could repeat what my characters say and use intonation and facial expression to make it interesting. When it is there on the page, on page after page of conversation, it is just boring for the reader who doesn’t have all the extra I would give as a story-teller, and even with the most brilliant and vivid writing, transcription of speech can be tedious, and lose impact.
I am very conscious of this as I edit, and now I am going through ‘Loving Judah’ with a sharpened scythe, sweeping out whole reams of chit-chat. I hope I will end up with a tighter, more gripping text without the reader losing a sense of the characters’ voices.
I am very conscious of this as I edit my work, telling all the tale, doesn’t have to be all the tale!
The family are going to holiday here next year… I think we are going to have fun!!
I’ve been making cakes and buns and biscuits, tarts and pies and cookies for years and years and years. On the whole I think I’m not a bad cook and the family and friends always devour anything I bake… so I found a recipe for muffins and thought I would have a go for my daughter’s 18th birthday. I would make nine chocolate chunk buns and nine blueberry muffins. The buns… fab, delicious, yummy, wonderful. The blueberry muffins….
Warm Blueberry Muffins
200g plain flour
2 tbsps baking powder
125g caster sugar
150ml vegetable oil
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
I am an experienced cook; I followed the recipe exactly… after 40 minutes the muffins were pale and looked uncooked; I turned up the heat and cooked for another ten minutes when they were faintly golden brown. I took them out of the oven and placed them on the rack. When they were cool I decorated them with frosting and silver balls…. well, they looked ok… ish. They were soft and almost like a pudding, cooked but so moist they were on the verge of being liquid. They tasted ok but the texture was just wrong, wrong, wrong. Should I have cooked them at an even higher temperature, for even longer? I don’t usually use oil in baking, butter or margarine is what I normally use… epic fail…
So please, anyone out there with a good muffin recipe, help!!!! because this one was useless!
Camel Wood is an amalgam of many woods and woodlands and forests I’ve walked through. It is a large area of old woodland which exists only in my imagination but is so vivid and believable that it is easy to describe it when I write.
Those of you who have read my novel ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ will know what happens to both Rosa and to Tyche in Camel Wood and it is the setting for my reluctant readers’ story about Rufus Redmayne. My imaginary wood is also crucial in ‘Night Vision’; Beulah Cameron goes there for refuge when everything seems to be getting her down; I don’t want to give anything away, but what she finds there literally changes her life.
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