Monday 28 December 2009

Calling all TV Companies - Give new scriptwriters a break

"There's nothing on the telly... again!"

Christmas TV viewing was once as eagerly awaited as Santa's night-time visit. Not so this year. This Christmas our family had real problems trying to decide what to watch. It wasn't that we couldn't choose between the many and varied offerings. It was that we couldn't find anything worth watching - apart from Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing. On Boxing Day the only programme to get the whole family sitting and laughing together was The Morecombe and Wise Christmas Show 1973. Yes that was 1973 and not a typo. It's not exactly up-to-the-minute programming. What happened to new scheduling, new ideas, new writing?

Today's television is as stale as a mince pie on New Year's Day but it wasn't always like that. In the 1950s and 60s television programmes were cutting edge and fresh with such offerings as:
  • The Avengers - flashily slick clothes and outlandishly hilarious fights
  • Bonanza - remember Hoss and Little Joe?
  • The Sweeney - our first taste of grit and realism
  • The Man from UNCLE - Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin fighting the International enemy THRUSH. Life didn't get any cooler than that. Check them out on

Some programmes were iconic. They were ingenious examples of scriptwriting which we can now recite almost in their entirety because we've seen each episode of each series so many times. These include:
  • Fawlty Towers - Don't mention the war!
  • Porridge - Fletch and Godber getting the better of Slade's screw, Mr Mackay
  • Only Fools and Horses - What a plonker!
  • Steptoe and Son - with the original dirty old man
  • Hancock's Half Hour - especially the unforgettable Blood Donor episode
Even Soaps were better in 'the olden days'. Today's Soaps are either far-fetched, harrowing or both. When Soaps were first shown they were warm and entertaining with just a touch of reality. And now that I'm on the subject of Reality TV, how many more 'real-life' scenarios can they think up? I admit it was a novelty to watch the first series of Big Brother but I have had enough of seeing ordinary people on my television screen. I want to be entertained by personalities who deserve to be personalities. I want to watch stars with charisma, talent and an original script.

Why can't the TV Companies give new scriptwriters a break, if not for us then for our children? With so many repeats being shown now, what will be available to watch in 20 years' time? We need imaginative scripts and exciting new programmes so that there can be iconic repeats for future viewers. It's not as if creative writing skills were better in the days of early television... quite the opposite. We now have creative writing courses, including degrees and masters degrees, which specialise in scriptwriting. If you Google 'scriptwriting courses' you get over a million hits.

So, come on TV Companies, give new writing talent a chance. Lay repeats to rest, abandon reality and give us something new and entertaining, something worth switching the computer off for.

Monday 21 December 2009

The Benefits of Blogging

When I tell people I'm writing a blog they ask if it has an ongoing theme. The answer is in the title. I'm writing in the rain. Blogging is helping me to stay focussed on my writing. It's true that the more you write, the more you write. My children's novel is coming along very nicely. I may even blog about it sometime soon.

Blogging is also my therapy. It allows me to write about my husband's hospital visits, especially the amusing bits, and his ongoing treatment for Amyloidosis. Chemotherapy creates a frightening mental picture. The reality is often not so scary. He's doing very well. He's just got back from walking the dog in the snow... not bad for a man in the middle of a course of Melphalan and Dexamethasone.

I'm planning a number of blogs for early 2010... in addition to my weekly musings of writing and life.

Blog plans for early 2010

  • An interview with the successful children's writer, Pippa Goodhart.

  • What Lapidus means to me, plus quotes from other Lapidus members. Lapidus promotes healing and personal growth through writing and reading. Have a look at their website.

  • The making of a picture book, from my initial idea, to its publication by Franklin Watts, to the musical rap on Scholastic's website.

I've only been on the Blogger circuit for a comparatively short time but I'm loving it. I'm building up a list of blogs to Follow. Thank you for informing and entertaining me.

I wish everyone health and energy on this, the shortest, darkest and perhaps the coldest day of the year. It'll soon be spring... won't it?

Thursday 17 December 2009


Waiting rooms and people watching... or just waiting my life away

This has been a week of waiting around. The other day I had to sit next to Father Christmas in the hospital waiting room. It was the only seat left. He wasn’t real. I could tell that by the way his foot fell off when I shifted his knee away from mine, but it made everyone smile, even though we knew we’d be waiting there for the best part of the morning. My husband, Rod, is on chemotherapy again for his Amyloidosis and so we have to go each month for them to check him over and write out the next month’s prescription. There’s always a buzzing atmosphere in the clinic’s waiting room: friendships forged on the oncology day ward, people chatting, comparing side effects, number of courses this time, what to get the Grandkids for Christmas.

Waiting rooms are excellent places for gathering ideas for new characters. This week it was the grown-up daughter who was trying a little too hard to keep up the spirits of her anxious mother, buying her packets of crisps, taking photographs of her with her mobile phone, giggling a little too much. I slipped my writer’s notebook out of my bag and jotted it all down. You never know when she might want to appear in one of my stories.

From the clinic we went straight to Pharmacy. The sign said ‘one hour’s wait’ and we knew that meant ‘at least one hour’ so we resigned ourselves to more waiting in the WRVS cafe. The cafe is good for a different kind of people watching: nurses, doctors and assorted members of staff rushing in, grabbing a sugar fix and rushing out again. The care assistant with the glitter on her cheeks, reindeer antlers on her head and a miserable look on her face was a great character to capture in the pages of my notebook, so too was the volunteer working behind the counter. He had a Santa hat on his head and was singing Christmas Carols and joking with us all as he provided us with mugs of coffee and mince pies.

The next day I took my mother to the dentist. Another chance to people watch, or so I thought, and I went fully prepared as usual with my writer’s notebook and pen, but what a difference from the atmosphere in the hospital clinic. Everybody was sitting in silence, looking down at their feet, glancing up each time the nurse came in with an expression of gloom and the end of the world on their faces. I think we need to get things into perspective here.

Even the dog’s waiting

(a shameless excuse for sharing with you a picture of Josh the dog)

This week saw more waiting with the promised delivery of two flat-pack wardrobes. Why is my address always the last call of the day and why couldn’t they tell me first thing in the morning instead of making me wait? It’s the same when we need a plumber or electrician. Who are these people who have the first call of the day? I could now start complaining about waiting for buses and the way that they always sail past our turning just as I get to the corner but that would make me sound like a grumpy old woman and that would never do.

Waiting does seem to take up a large part of my life. I am forever waiting to hear from a publisher, and it’s a lovely phone call that I mean, not a rejection letter. For some people waiting is how they pass their entire lives: waiting to grow up, waiting for the right partner, waiting until they can afford to have children, waiting for their summer holiday, waiting for Christmas, waiting for retirement. Let’s stop all the waiting and do a bit of living instead otherwise before we know it we’ll be waiting to die – the end.

Thursday 10 December 2009

The Reading Shop – Leicester’s very own independent children’s book shop

‘Independent bookshops can nurture the unknown.’

So you want to buy a book for a nine-year-old boy who loves pirate stories but isn’t too good at reading. How do you decide what to get him? You go into your local independent children’s bookshop and ask their advice. They know the market. They have a shop full of children’s books and can instantly point you towards that perfect gift.

Sadly most UK people don’t have access to such a luxury. There are only twenty independent children’s book shops in the country and I am pleased to say that Leicester has one of them. The Reading Shop is on the main shopping parade that runs through the busy Leicester suburb of Oadby.

I went to meet the owner, Lynn Moore, and her enthusiasm was infectious. She has a passion for children’s books and is dedicated to helping children who have trouble learning to read.

‘When I was a little girl reading books was an object of delight and comfort, an escape into another world,’ Lynn told me. ‘I always had a dream of opening up a children’s bookshop, of being able to help parents choose the right books for their children.’

Lynn trained as an Educational Psychologist and worked for many years in mainstream schools. Together with a friend she developed a literacy programme to help children with reading difficulties, running after-school literacy classes in a small rented room. Things have moved on and up since those days. She now has a dedicated teaching area over the shop with 60 children attending her after-school sessions.

‘The environment is perfect. The children are surrounded by books from the minute they arrive,’ explained Lynn. If enthusiasm really is infectious then these lucky children will be ‘infected’ for life.

Lynn has read all her stock and has learnt from experience not to rely on reviewers.

‘Hotly reviewed books are not necessarily the best sellers,’ she said. ‘Independent bookshops can nurture the unknown. If we notice a gem of a book, we can take it and promote it. No one dictates to us.’

The Reading Shop does more than sell books and run after-school literacy classes. They organise book fairs, storytelling sessions, baby and toddler groups, author signings, both in the shop and in schools, and Lynn is currently working on plans to hold book parties with the host earning a book or two for their help.

We used to have a number of independent book shops in Leicester. Now we only have The Reading Shop. It’s a thriving business at the moment so let’s make sure we keep it that way. Let’s keep on visiting. Let’s keep on taking advantage of her wealth of book knowledge. Let’s keep the independent bookshops alive.

Lynn Moore’s top 5 children’s books (in reader-age order rather than order of preference):

Babies: Peepo! by Janet Ahlberg
Toddlers: The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs
4-6 years: Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes
Young readers: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Older readers: anything by Anthony Horowitz

Thursday 3 December 2009

Do you remember when...

Nostalgia and 1950s food

‘Do you remember when...’ is an excellent way to start people talking, be it a chat over a cup of tea or the start of a writing workshop session. It never fails. However, when BBC Radio Leicester interviewer, Rebecca Bryers, contacted me to arrange to interview some of the contributors to my memory project, Leicester Jewish Voices, I wondered if they would mind being asked yet again to retell the stories that they had written about so willingly just over a year ago. I need not have worried. They spoke with fresh enthusiasm, as if this was the first time of telling, and their memories can be heard on the Radio Leicester website. There’s even a video recording of one brave lady. Like I said, people love to talk about memories and that includes me.

I rather suspect that I am obsessed with nostalgia and it’s never the important life-changing events that I remember. It’s the small insignificant ones like going into the sweet shop across the road from my Grandma’s house and buying one fruit chew for a farthing. That was in the pre-decimal days, of course, when there were four farthings to a penny and twelve pennies to a shilling, which is now a 5p piece. I could have bought 48 chews with a shilling. I wonder what you can buy for 5p today.

Is my preoccupation with memories a case of living in the past or a healthy interest in social history? Some might say that history is all about facts whilst memories are unreliable reports but you only have to look at two contemporary historical accounts of the same event to disprove that theory. I read History at University but it wasn’t so much the political significances of the battles that fascinated me. It was finding out what their homes were like, what they wore, what food they ate...

Food! Now that’s guaranteed to send me on a nostalgia trip. Remember the sweets that we had as children? (Unless you’re considerably younger than me in which case the following is a social history lesson.) Gobstoppers that changed colour as you sucked and would contravene health and safety these days, rainbow coloured sherbet served in a piece of paper twisted at the bottom to make a bag and licked from a grubby finger, chewy white sweet cigarettes with red dye on the tips. Imagine giving those to children today. I used to practise inhaling and blowing pretend smoke rings into the air.

1950s sweets might have been exciting but the main meals of the day certainly weren’t, not in our house anyway. We always knew which day of the week it was by the food on our plates. On Sunday Mum roasted a joint of beef, which she sliced up on Monday and served cold with chips. On Tuesday she minced the left over slices and made them into a shepherds’ pie. On Wednesday we had shin of beef stewed with lots of onions and carrots to pad it out. Thursday was liver and onions with a tomato thrown in for colour. And then there was Friday, my most favourite meal of all time, steamed fish, mashed potatoes and homemade white sauce followed by the most mouth-watering dessert ever, an Apricot Sponge from the Co-op. I can still remember that wonderful combination of tastes. I can even taste them as I type.

The 1960s saw Mum spread her culinary wings. We had bolognese that was not from a tin, something called Vesta that involved small cubes of reconstituted chicken, topped off with noodles that Mum dunked into the chip pan to make them crispy and fat. But there was still a pattern to our weekly menu until Mum launched herself into 70s style cooking and then we never knew what day of the week it was by the food on our plate. Chilli-con-carne, curry and rice, a pizza for Sunday lunch. Mum’s carefully planned menu had finally bitten the dust.

It’s strange how things turn around. Now, decades later, Mum has finally admitted to being too tired to shop and too weary to stand in the kitchen cooking. She’s moved to sheltered accommodation in spite of her concern that things would be unfamiliar. She soon found that life there is more familiar than she had expected. She has roast beef on Sunday, sliced up the next day and served cold with chips. There’s shepherds’ pie and stew. She even has steamed fish, mashed potatoes and homemade white sauce, which made me think once more about those delicious Apricot Sponges. I’ve searched everywhere for them but it would seem that like the Co-op divi they are no more. In a way, I’m glad because I know that the taste wouldn’t taste half as good as it did in the old days.