As many men as possible

The National Novel Writing Month challenge is approaching and I actually do have a couple of ideas this year!! However, last year I really did struggle; I had decided to attempt to write a sort of autobiography-cum-memoir-cum reflection… and to be honest, I lost direction, and although yes, I did complete the challenge, it was a very rough piece of work which will need a lot of bashing about, and maybe will emerge as something or some things completely different!

Here is something I wrote last year during the challenge, and I detect a disappointed and frustrated tone in my words:

As part of my failed (probably) attempt to complete 50,000 words in the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I have been writing about my life and family history, through associations with various rivers… and this has led onto not just rivers but seas and other bodies of water too.

I was down in Looe (not literally, only in my research) with Edwin Clogg, an interesting character who during the first world war was a ‘conscie’ – a conscientious objector. I don’t know if it was a religious or personal reason, so I can’t yet tell whether his family supported him, were horrified or ashamed, but I came across a contemporary report in a newspaper from 1915, when Edwin would have been twenty-nine:

Thursday 24 August 1916



Col. L.C. Foster read a telegram at Looe Urban tribunal from Commander-in-Chief emphasising that every effort should be made to secure as many men as possible, and that all men previously rejected should be sent before the Medical Board for re-examination.
Mr. W. McLean was appealed for by Mr. Coleman secretary to the Looe Gas Co). It was stated that Mr. McLean was the only gas fitter left. Five of the company’s men had joined the service. – Col Foster said the matter rested between Mr. McLean and another employee of the company, Nichols. One of the two men would have to join. – The case was adjourned for a month, when both men will be called up, with a view to one being secured for military service.
October 1st (final) was the decision in the case of Mr. Robert Vincent, who had been granted time at a previous sitting on account of his wife’s illness.
An application was made for Mr. R.Wickett, slaughter man and cowman employed by Mr. Broad. – Mr. Broad said Wickett’s removal would entirely disorganize his business; he was the only help in his shop and on the land, – Sept 15th (final) was the decision.
Mr. Edwin Clogg was appealed on conscientious grounds and business hardship, was granted two months to arrange his business affairs, and passed for non-combatant service.
Exemption, whilst in his present occupation was granted to Mr. Richard Pearce, shipwright and boat builder.

It was interesting to see how these boards, or commissions, or courts had to consider different appeals, from the compassionate – Mr Vincent, practical – Mr Wickett and Mr McClean, exemption – Mr Pearce, and conscience – Edwin.

It struck me how difficult it must have been for some men to have joined up, for example, how could Farmer broad replace his slaughter-man? It is a heavy job, dealing with the  stock, doing the deed – which is an expert job, lifting and carrying carcasses? A woman or young boy couldn’t do it, an old man might struggle, and would there be any of these free to take on the job? In a company of seven working men and five of them already gone, how could it survive with just one man? In a job which needed expertise, experience and I would guess a lot of physical strength?

In small communities, the impact of losing most able-bodied men must have been immense; I’m sure many companies foundered and failed, and many people faced hardship without income and with maybe other members of the family away actually fighting. Edwin wasn’t married, I don’t know what his ‘business hardship’ was… I guess it was the family greengrocer/grocer business, and I don’t know if his brothers served or if they too were objectors; however compared to a slaughter-man or gas fitter, being a grocer is hardly grounds to object and in a way I’m surprised he mentioned it… but here am I, looking at the life of a man a hundred years ago, and I only know the tiniest bit about him.

My featured image is of Cornwall, but not Looe… it’s Fowey


A little while ago a friend shared something with me about blogging, a list of seventy-three (73) different sorts of blog. My first reaction was amazement, my second was to glance through and see how many I could tick off as having done or often do…

So, glancing through I picked out sixteen different subjects or types of blog I have done, occasionally do, often do. When I first started blogging I was totally new to it and had not even read that many different blogs. As with any writing it took me a while to find my voice, and I looked at and read what other people did and had a go at emulating them, picking up on their ideas and trying to do something similar. For example, at first I had a few gallery posts – a  selection of images from places I had been, or themed such as doors, pools, seaweed… However, I soon realised that my amateur photos were maybe not of much interest to anyone else, and also I am a writer! I do illustrate what I write with my own photos, but the photos are just an illustration!

I guess all bloggers sometimes sit down with an empty mind and have to struggle to think of what to write – when that happens I look at news stories, look at other blogs (not to copy but to trigger an idea) and yes, on the ’73 list’ there is ‘search Twitter for inspiration’. Search sounds very determined and focused, with me it is more wandering through the tweets, my mind open to something which might set me off writing – and what I end up posting maybe very far from the original post I spotted!

Similarly, I might pick up on what someone else is writing about – anywhere, newspaper, blog, letter to the editor, and from that follow my own ideas; I always share a link to what set me off, but on the ’73 list’ it says ‘share what others are saying’ and I don’t do that… Profiles – I might add some biographical notes to something I’m writing but I wouldn’t say it is a profile! Then there is the curious word ‘listicles’ – I had to look it up to check it’s a thing, and yes it is… well, very occasionally I might include a list – let me rewrite that, occasionally… well, actually quite frequently I include a short bullet-pointed list of something, but I don’t think it counts as a listicle really.

Thankful posts – I do mention how lucky I feel I am, how fortunate but I wouldn’t say I write thankful posts, especially as the author of the ’73 list’ means a post thanking readers, contributes and sponsors… I don’t have contributors or sponsors, but I do have readers, and I am very thankful to them for reading and responding – so maybe I should write a thankful post, because I am thankful!

From the ’73 list’, I have pulled out the top ten which I might fit (is this a listicle?)

  1. auto-biographical post
  2. think out loud posts
  3. share recipes
  4. share recent travel experiences
  5. holidays
  6. quizzes
  7. reviews
  8. current events
  9. rants
  10. criticisms and open letters

However if I were to write my own top ten as I see it of things I write about:

  1. my books
  2. writing
  3. other books and writing
  4. autobiographical/family history/memoir
  5. food and drink, recipes
  6. pub life
  7. names/naming/words, people and places and things
  8. travel, places, holidays
  9. ponderings
  10. news, events, history

… and mentioning my books, here is a link to them:

and here is a link to the ’73 list’:

Tell it like a story

I started my family history writing group yesterday… and handed out a sheet with some ideas to consider; reading it through now I think I may polish this up a bit… but here is what I gave them – first draft!

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO TELL YOUR FAMILY HISTORY– What is the end ‘product’ going to be – a folder of printed pages to show to the family, or maybe an actual printed book which could have a wider audience  – there are plenty of ‘publishing on demand’ options these days (such as Lulu or Amazon)


  • you need to be realistic in what you can actually do and have an end-product!
  • who is going to be sharing your story, and what materials do you have (photos etc)
  • maybe a memoir/story: the combination of story-telling and personal experiences can focus on a particular episode or time in the life of yourself or a particular ancestor
  • a  recipe book – but write about the people who created the recipes, and the occasions when they were shared!
  • a scrapbook or album  with photos in order and stories, descriptions and family trees
  • be creative!

HOW MUCH AND HOW FAR?  Think about who you want to write about, yourself, a particular person  – or as many people as you know! How much will you writer and how far back will you go? Make it manageable, you can always change it or do it differently, later!

  • a single line of descent – from one person
  • all the descendants of one ancestor – I don’t recommend this!
  • start from your known ancestors – known to you, your grandparents for example

TELL IT LIKE A STORY – It makes it more interesting to read if you have a plot, like a fictional story; think of your ancestors as characters in your family story, what problems and obstacles did they have? A plot gives your story interest and focus and might include:

  • moving from one area to another, country to city or vice-versa
  • from agricultural labourer to town folk
  • moving out of poverty – or maybe losing a fortune!
  • the war

USING WHAT YOU KNOW  – You want your family story to be readable, interesting and moving, you have to be creative – you don’t want a dull list of dates of birth. You may not know the type of house your ‘subject’ lived in, or the sort of work they did as an ‘ag lab’ – but these days you can very easily find out! You can add colour with fashions, art, transport and foods of the time… you can find locations on Google earth or at the library

BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING? OR NOT? – Choose something interesting to write about… you can add the details later or separately !

BRING THEM TO LIFE – You may not have actually met the person you are writing about – maybe no-one in your family remembers them, but you can imagine, be creative, guess at aspects of their character from things they did (remarrying after being widowed, adopting another person’s child, moving from place to place in search of work etc)

INDEX  – Useful to your readers – and to you!

Aunty’s Hat

Last year, when I undertook the challenge to write 50,000 words of a new book in the month of November, the National Novel Writing Month, I was struggling with several other projects at the same time. I did manage to complete the undertaking, but it was hard, very hard, and a lot of it was rushed and if it is to be used in anything else, will need a lot of work.

For quite a while I had been pondering on writing about my life stories, how to do it, and how to do it imaginatively. I hadn’t then, last October come across the term ‘creative non-fiction’, but that was what I was trying to do. For some reason, and I don’t quite remember why, I chose not to name myself or my family, so I was ‘the child’, ‘the girl’, ‘the oldest child/girl’ and my sister became the younger child/girl in the stories. I think maybe I was trying to write in an objective way so that I didn’t fall into the trap of ‘and then I did this, and then I did that, and my dad said to me etc…’

In my writing group yesterday, i shared a small section of it – the first time I’d looked at it since November, too busy writing my latest novel, Earthquake! it needs some tweaking and work, but here is a first draft:

The younger child acquired a hat from someone’s aunt, and it was always known as ‘Aunty’s Hat’ and shared among her and her friends. The family had moved away from The River, to the west, to a seaside town, a seaside which was along the coast from mighty rivers, carrying sediment and mud and depositing it on the beach. Once, when the level of the sea was different, here had been marshes between what was now the shoreline and far away across the now channel to the distant cliffs; people had wandered across and about, hunting, gathering, leaving footprints forever on the muddy shore.
The younger child and her friend, went back to her home town, and to The River. After a jolly evening out with friends,  she and her friend, wearing Aunty’s Hat of course,  went down to The River; they didn’t go to the lock where her father in distant times caught the mighty pike on the morning of his leaving for war, nor the place where the Swim Through the City finished. They went upstream, beyond Darwin College Bridge, beyond the mill, and to Coe Fen, opposite Sheep’s Green. There, late at night, after the pubs and clubs had shut, they decided to swim, the two girls, not the boy friends who were with them.
The boys, being gentlemen, turned away as the girls undressed; the girls took off their clothes, not at the time realising that as the cars drove along the road,  their headlights illuminated them. They laughed a lot at this later.
Stripped, they ran barefoot across the grass and dived into the river… and it was only later after their swim they realised they no longer had Aunty’s Hat. They had dived in, one of them wearing it, and the hat had floated away, and no doubt quietly drowned.

By the way, my featured image is not of The River, it is of a river near where I love now!

My latest novel:

Small and select… the writing group today

My second writing group has suddenly swollen in numbers – I say second only because I had a writing group, and then there was so much interest that I’ve started a second one! A few months ago, everyone who had expressed even a slight interest turned up, and I ended up sitting on the floor and others were on chairs from the dining room!

I knew a couple of people couldn’t come today, one poorly, one had an engagement she couldn’t miss, one is no longer available on the day we meet, so I printed off six sets of prompts for next month’s topic which is ‘Winter’ – they can write anything they like about or inspired by winter, in any form – or they can write about whatever they fancy, writing is the important thing!

We are seeing the effects of Storm Angus, and there are floods all around from the continuous rain, so I guessed some people might not make it, and also unexpected things crop up, so when three arrived I was very pleased to see them.

We had a general chat and catch-up; one of my writers has taken up the National Novel Writing Challenge of attempting to write 50,000 words of a new piece of work in the month of November. She has done brilliantly, and is storming ahead and will definitely meet the target, and maybe even pass it! I had to confess I’m lagging… but we had both decided to write a similar thing, but approaching it differently – our own life stories.

The NaNo writer shared part of her story, about travelling to Australia on a ship – very descriptive and evocative, and well brought to life.

A newish member of the group read a very gripping story, based on a true event, about an elderly lady, a would-be burglar, and a light bulb. She writes very elegantly and economically, and has a good sense of the pace of the story, which had a satisfactory and unexpected conclusion!

Our only man  shared a story, maybe the beginning of something longer, which was fictitious, but had a connection to his own life-story, which was interesting. Set in Ireland it was very atmospheric, and we all agreed we definitely wanted to know more… what happened next?!

I read part of my own NaNo story, an episode from my father’s life which took place on the morning of his call-up in 1939.

The rain had abated somewhat by the time the session was over; however the NaNo writer’s husband couldn’t come to pick her up as there were floods in town! Luckily our man writer gave her and the other lady a lift, which was very kind of him.

So we may have been few, but we had an excellent and productive meeting!

If you want to read our newish member’s work, here is something she shared on our writer’s blog:

If you have any writing, poetry, prose, a memoir, anything, that you would like to share, get in touch!

Winkles and periwinkles

I’m struggling along, not very productively with my National Novel Writing Month Challenge… In previous years the words have flown from my fingers and onto the page… this year, because I’m writing other things as well, it has been a slow process. I’m attempting to write creatively about my life and my family, not strictly an autobiography, but something looser than that… I’m not sure it is working very well, but I am making progress.

Here I have a rather random and rambly account of going to the seaside, the sea, and shellfish:

The sea, the cold North Sea was about sixty miles away, and when the child was very young the family went by coach or train; it was only later after her grandmother had died that there was a tiny amount of her estate, enough to buy a tiny car.

The sea was always cold, but the family always swam; it was cold, it was bitter, but they didn’t even think about it, running in delight to jump and splash and swim. The water seemed warmer after ten  minutes or so, and coming out onto the beach was chilly, to be wrapped in towels, and then to try to drag clothes onto salty, sticky limbs.

The pull and draw of the water, the movement, the embrace, the waves, constant yet inconsistent, digging channels in the sand to the castles’ moats they had built. There were sunny days, warm days, there are photos that show the family squinting into the sun. There were ice-creams and picnics and sticks of rock which were actually eaten. Some beaches were good for cockles and they would drive home with a bucket full.

Their father would soak them then boil them, as his father had done with him when he was a boy. Only the girl would eat them her mother and sister didn’t like or fancy them… but the flavour of cockles is only bettered by winkles.

Not by the sea, but from the sea… winkles… a very distant and vague memory, more like a photograph, a snap-shot, a snap-memory, of her mother’s father; he seemed so tall, so upright, shoulders back, a military man, a proud man, a tragic man… later the girl when grown would want to tell his story, his imagined story, for facts were of her mother and aunts’ memories, would want to tell the story of his disappointed life. But for the moment, the memory is of winkles… a table-cloth, the table at the child’s head height, cups and saucers, white maybe, maybe with a blue rim or pattern, teacups and saucers, and winkles… black blue shiny iridescent, perfect coils of shell. The little trap doors across the mollusc shell’s opening, an operculum, a little lid, fascinated the child. Unlike her sister she wasn’t squeamish and soon learned to use a pink to ‘winkle out’ the tasty morsel, always to be eaten with very thin brown bread and butter.

Who knew that winkles were in actual fact, the common periwinkle , the littorina littorea; periwinkles to her were the blue flowers, and later, no longer a child but hundreds of miles from her family at a polytechnic, a friend would say to her ‘le ciel etait bleu comme une pervenche’, the sky is as blue as a periwinkle. So, winkles, winkles are small edible sea snails,  marine gastropod molluscs with gills .

Being on the river

I’ve been playing around with writing some autobiographical stuff, just thinking how i could write imaginatively and creatively about life instead of just a list of events and plain descriptions.

Here I’m remembering being on the river…

The girl and her friend knew the river so well, knew where they could pull over and eat their sandwiches, wrapped in greaseproof paper, probably in a paper bag; people didn’t seem to take drinks with them wherever they went, but maybe they had a bottle, a glass bottle (not a plastic bottle with a clever top, or a carton with a straw attached to the side) a glass bottle  with a screw cap of lemon or orange squash. Maybe they had a couple of apples, and would through the core into the river in the hope of attracting a fish or a duck, but not a swan.

If swans were about they would pull to the bank until they glided past, or if the river was wide enough, steer watchfully round them. Ducks avoided them, and avoided he swans, the moorhens would scoot about the banks, in and out the weeds and reeds. Along the banks there might be the occasional quiver of movement and then a soft splashless slide as a water-rat dropped into the water.

This is quite a change for me… here is a link to the books I’ve published on Amazon: