In need of a rethink

There’s an awful lot of thinking that has to happen before I can get writing… Sometimes it is a sort of subliminal thinking, a sort of mental playing about with a few scraps of ideas, the sort of things I mention when I’m writing here – a ragbag of odd names, unexpected facial expressions, ‘what if’ moments, fleeting glimpses of things, overheard scraps of conversation, vague and tenuous drifts of leftover dream on waking, misunderstood or misheard comments, graffiti, juxtaposed images, memories, odd news items, strange weather, rivers and seas and rivers meeting seas…

Then, for me, there’s a gradual coming together and the beginning of some form, and then I start – and usually when I start (which may not necessarily be at the beginning of the story) words come out in a stupendous rush, and ideas coalesce and form and reform, and strange branches of thought go off in all sort of directions. Sometimes I’m taken up with an idea – sometimes it needs a lot of research and I plunge into that in a fury, and write and write.

Then comes the more staid workmanlike work (is that tautology?) All the other things continue – the mental playing about, the coalescing, the sudden spurts of enthusiasm and inspiration, but it’s more formed now, following the pattern of the narrative.

And then… and then sometimes comes a realisation that there has been an error – maybe it’s something simple like a character’s name or description isn’t right, or that two characters have become confused, or there is a gap where a crucial explanation is missing, or something is written so badly it just has to come out and be rewritten, or there is a whole thread which doesn’t fit at all and needs to be extracted and maybe saved for another story. These things are a bit annoying, but only a bit… lots of work, but it’s all OK.

And then… and then and then there is the major blunder. I am about thirty thousand words into a new story so it’s not a disaster – at least I haven’t finished the first draft and suddenly seen the major blunder!  I have several story lines, a family history, a stalker, the looking for/finding/buying a new house, a jealous ex-husband, not a missing but a found person – a found person who is also amnesiac, and then there are all the general plotlines around characters – their lives and loves etc.

As I was doing some extra research for my imagined family history, it suddenly came to me that I had made a fundamental error of judgement and would need to rethink the whole story of this family’s genealogy. Not a disaster, of course, I can do that… but it’s just irritating that I spent so much time working it out and researching it in the first place, and now not only do I need to unpick it, but also create a new history for them!

Here’s a link to my books which did make it through to being published – they all had a lot of rewriting in them, I hope you can’t see the joins! My novels are all e-readers, except ‘Radwinter’ which is also published as a paperback:

Borrowing an expression

The word ‘expression’ has several different meanings including –

  • The action of making known one’s thoughts or feelings
  • The conveying of feeling in a work of art or in the performance of a piece of music
  • A look on someone’s face that conveys a particular emotion
  • A word or phrase, especially an idiomatic one, used to convey an idea
  • A collection of symbols that jointly express a quantity
  • The production of something by pressing it out.
  • The appearance in a phenotype of a characteristic or effect attributed to a particular gene

However the meaning I’m using is the expression on someone’s face, and ‘borrowing’ an expression is what I sometimes do as a writer! I don’t just mean the way someone has arranged their features, eyebrows down, eyebrows raised, quirky eyebrows, surprised eyebrows etc, or the type of smile, or what someone is doing with their eyes – although that is all part of the way a writer observes things and uses them.

I confess, I borrow whole faces – for example in my Radwinter stories, the inspiration for my characters. appearances came from:

  • Thomas – a Danish actor
  • Marcus – a well-known chef and restaurateur
  • Paul – a TV personality and baker
  • John – someone who works in my local bookshop
  • Kylie – a contestant on a cookery show
  • Justyna – someone who I used to teach English
  • Kim – a flower shop owner

It’s just their faces, you understand, which were the original inspiration, but those faces have changed as the characters develop in my stories.

To get back to expressions – sometimes I observe an expression on someone’s face which seems unexpected… unexpected in the situation or circumstances, unexpected because it seems different from their usual character, unexpected because it was private and I’ve glimpsed it accidentally… This makes me sound like a weird stalker type – honestly I’m not! I’ll give you some examples –

  • a happy family occasion, but a couple look tense and nervous – they assume jolly expressions when anyone else talks to them, but sitting at their table as the celebration goes on around them, their faces assume a different look
  • someone shakes hands with an acquaintance, a serious but pleasant greeting seems to follow; however as they turn away a look of malicious glee flashes across their face, just for a second
  • someone in a bar, comfortable, at ease, leaning on the counter and talking to friends, totally relaxed, laughing, joking, chatting; ever so often, when the conversation is with others, or while waiting for service, their gaze is directed into the other bar at two men talking together… then the face becomes still, the humour gone, a very focused look comes over their face
  • there’s someone in a café, just having a coffee and a sandwich, a pleasant, amiable look on their face as they look at their phone, glance through the menu or round the room at the pictures and photos on the walls. Their gaze comes to rest on something, whether it’s actually being looked at or another thought has come into their head, nothing to do with anything will never be known, but a surprised look seems to come over their features – they have thought of something, remembered something, realised something… so deep in thought that when someone comes to clear the table they hardly notice
  • the ceramic plaque in my featured image, what is the character looking at, is his mouth dropped open in surprise (pleasant or unpleasant) amazement, has he just thought of something or is he looking at something, is it a malign or benign expression?

These are just a few examples – it isn’t the person as such, or what they look like, it’s that look on their face, that expression which triggers some inspiration for me!

If you want to read about Thomas and his brothers, family and friends, the you can find my books on Amazon; the first in the Radwinter series has just been published as a paperback:


I have a madani!

Several years ago, a very kind Pakistani friend brought a gift back from her trip to see her family in Pakistan. She was one of the people in our social English group and she brought gifts for all of us leaders/teachers.

Our presents were something we had never seen before, but we thanked her warmly. It was a kitchen implement, rather attractive looking, with a long slender wooden handle and the head was wooden, about the size of a large orange cut in half, with segments removed. We were all a little puzzled, delighted, but puzzled… however when I got mine home I soon found out how to use it!

It is endlessly useful to

  • to make sure sauces don’t go lumpy or too thick/thin
  • to blend/whisk and stir/agitate soups/gravy while  cooking
  • to mash potatoes
  • to press things through a sieve, or to squeeze the juice/liquor for something e.g. vegetables for soup, fruit for desserts
  • to stir and break up stuff
  • to crush nuts, dry bread for breadcrumbs, get lumps out of sugar/flour/other dried goods
  • loads more things which I can’t just call to mind!

I have only just found out what it’s called, it’s a madani! Sometimes it is spelled mathani but it’s the same thing!

Isn’t this an attractive tool – and so useful! if you live near any Asian shops you might be able to get one! So easy to use, no electricity! I think it is only Available on Amazon India, but if you can access that, here is a link:

While you are on Amazon, you might want to have a look what else is available – and newly available is my novel Radwinter now in paperback!


Umbrella song…

I was so struck by the installation of umbrellas in Bath, I began to think about umbrellas…

For some reason umbrellas, how they are made and umbrella factories have features in my writing recently…  Originally umbrellas were not made to protect against the rain, bit against the sun, probably in China – but the idea or having a portable sunshades must have arisen in lots of different places!

Umbrellas in various forms became commonplace in all sorts of different places, and songs about them abounded! For example…

Between The Raindrops, featuring Natasha Bedingfield

  •  The Search – Rihanna-
  • Umbrella Featuring Jay-Z
  • The Carpenters- Rainy Days And Mondays
  • Digital Project
  • Astrid- Red Umbrella
  • Dizzy Gillespie- Umbrella Man
  • Adele- Set Fire To The Rain
  •  The Hollies- Bus Stop
  •  B.J. Thomas- Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
  •  The Ronettes- Walking In The Rain
  •  Adele- Right As Rain
  • November Rain- Guns N’ Roses
  •  John Prine- Blue Umbrella
  •  The Partridge Family- Umbrella Man
  •  Train- Umbrella
  •  Lifehouse-ers- Umbrella Man
  •  Bob Dylan- A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall
  •  Eric Clapton- Let It Rain
  • Incubus- Under My Umbrella
  • Yosi- Under a Big Bright Yellow Umbrella


Another lost story

Some stories make a life-long impact, and sometimes those stories get lost – well, the story doesn’t, it stays in your head, but what it actually was, what it was called and who it was by is lost and you’re left with the problem of and how you could find it and reread it.

I’ve mentioned before a couple of books from my childhood, one which had two stories, one about an old car abandoned in an orchard, covered with moss and the number plate YAK 1 or ! YAK which did turn into a yak, and the other about a sweet-shop with a sinister owner who looked like an octopus and eventually turned into on, and who sold sweets from a jar called ‘widows and orphans’… quite a horrific and haunting story for children! The adult book I have ‘lost’ was about a brother whose sister wore a bear mask at parties, and then began to wear it more and more; her personality changed and eventually she could only live wearing the mask, and killed herself in a skiing accident – sounds horrific, and I’ve never forgotten it… except for its title and author! There was one other, about a man who found a lost boy I think in a snowstorm, a very little boy, and they were cut off for days by the snow; for some reason the man (called Gordon, or Gord) didn’t hand the boy to the appropriate authorities but went on the run with him… another never forgotten but anonymous book!

A story which I have little hope of ever finding,, appeared in the Daily Telegraph newspaper Saturday magazine when they would feature a short story each week. I have a feeling that this story,possibly published in the 1970’s or maybe earlier, was set in South Africa. it was about a group of young people one summer, who were on holiday by the beach; they were probably about 14-16 years old, mainly or all boys, and it was told by one of them. A very beautiful and rather eccentric girl of the same age attached herself to the group; they were all rather alarmed by her (not as precocious as today’s teenagers!) and all rather fancied her as she was so attractive – in every way. She became just one of the gang, hanging out, swimming, talking about rubbish, doing bored teenage stuff. She fell in love with the most unlikely one of the group, a fat boy nicknamed Fatty (he may have been Tubby I can’t quite remember) He was totally unable to cope with this and would just sit blushing and awkward as she sat beside him, or put her arm round him, or lent her head on his shoulder. His friends were half-amused, half puzzled, very jealous and would tease him when she wasn’t there. They must have met and socialised in the boys’ room, or maybe it was like a dorm, because when Fatty wasn’t there, she would lie on his bed and put her head on his pillow, where he slept. The boys thought this was very odd… it ended when for some reason the girl left. Was she taken away by her parents? Did her holiday end? or did she – as I half-remember, drown, either accidentally or to kill herself? The narrator is an adult looking back, puzzling over the whole thing.

it was a haunting story – well, it certainly haunted me, and I would love to know who wrote it and to read it again…

This week’s assignment…

I’ve mentioned before that I run several writing groups (creative writing and family history writing) and the sessions follow a similar plan; before refreshments we talk about what we have been doing, any news (from me it’s things like competitions, courses, articles/programmes/broadcasts of interest etc) and then I lead a discussion some aspect of writing – it might be characters, beginnings and endings, persuasive writing, using a true story to create fiction – all sorts of things – and sometimes it strays way away from what I planned, which is fine and exciting! From that I make a suggestion of what people might want to write for next time, but suggestion is all it is! I just want people to get writing, I’m delighted with whatever they produce, and this isn’t school homework – sticking to the point is not the point! After the break we share what we have written from last time – some people are really ‘good’ and have worked on the particular topic I suggested, others have gone wild (well, sort of!) and written something else. I hope no-one feels guilty when they don’t manage to write anything new and bring something they wrote before – it’s about sharing what’s written, giving yourself some objectivity as you read it to others, and receiving comments, suggestions, praise, and occasionally, kindly criticism.

I also belong to a writing group where we agree a topic and write to it and share our work the following time we meet. We have had some curious subjects to write about, most of which i have shared here, including ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Death’… – not at the same time, although maybe i should suggest ‘Death of the Biscuit’, ‘Biscuit Deaths’, ‘Death and the Biscuit’… the possibilities are endless and already I have ideas springing into my mind.

The previous time we met the topic set was ‘ Afloat’, or something to do with being on water, being at sea, boats, watery things in general. A most agreeable topic to me as I spent most of my childhood being on or in water, feeling at times like Ratty in Wind in the Willows:

“And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!”
“By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat. “It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times we’ve had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, it’s always got its fun and its excitements.

So my thoughts were buzzing, but other ideas sprang into my mind, a mixture of actual experiences (sailing round Puget Sound with dear friends on their little yacht) things I’s been told (experiences of another friend, a Dutchman  who lived on a canal boat in Amsterdam for several years) and things I had read about, particular the first ever Dick Francis book I heard first on radio and then read about the main character waking up on a boat, kidnapped, although he has no memory of it – the book may have been ‘Risk’, but I’m not sure! it’s that opening scenario of waking below decks on a boat and not knowing where you are or how you got there which triggered some thoughts…

I will share the story I eventually wrote – as usual, I find it difficult to contain my ideas within a short story, and I have a feeling this will lead onto something else!!



The snipping of his harmless sheers

John Clare (1793 – 1864)  may have been poorly educated as the son of a poor agricultural labourer,  but he was such a wonderful poet, that his verses speak across the years so the scenes he describes leap vividly off the page.

In The Shepherd’s Calendar for June he describes the shepherds’ tasks… first of all, shearing the sheep:

The shepherds idle hours are over now
Nor longer leaves him neath the hedgrow bough
On shadow pillowd banks and lolling stile
Wilds looses now their summer friends awhile
Shrill whistles barking dogs and chiding scold
Drive bleating sheep each morn from fallow fold
To wash pits where the willow shadows lean
Dashing them in their fold staind coats to clean
Then turnd on sunning sward to dry agen
They drove them homeward to the clipping pen
In hurdles pent where elm or sycamore
Shut out the sun-or in some threshing floor
There they wi scraps of songs and laugh and tale
Lighten their anual toils while merry ale
Goes round and gladdens old mens hearts to praise
The thread bare customs of old farmers days
Who while the sturting sheep wi trembling fears
Lies neath the snipping of his harmless sheers
Recalls full many a thing by bards unsung
And pride forgot-that reignd when he was young

He goes on to describe the breakfasts that awaited the shearers or clippers – frumity (a kind of porridge) with sugar – brown sugar which streaked the creamy dish as it melted, and fruit – probably dried plums or prunes, and washed down with ‘nut brown beer’:

How the huge bowl was in the middle set
At breakfast time as clippers yearly met
Filld full of frumity where yearly swum
The streaking sugar and the spotting plumb
Which maids coud never to the table bring
Without one rising from the merry ring
To lend a hand who if twas taen amiss
Woud sell his kindness for a stolen kiss
The large stone pitcher in its homly trim
And clouded pint horn wi its copper rim
Oer which rude healths was drank in spirits high
From the best broach the cellar woud supply
While sung the ancient swains in homly ryhmes
Songs that were pictures of the good old times
When leathern bottles held the beer nut brown
That wakd the sun wi songs and sung him down

Yorkshire sheep