Wednesday 31 March 2010

Do you remember when...

1950s holidays,



and communal eating

What I remember about our summer holiday in 1956:

A children’s theatre with puppets

A swimming pool with a tumbling waterfall

Music playing loudly all the time... especially first thing in the morning

A clown telling jokes while we ate three meals a day... all together in a very big canteen... with the same clown telling the same jokes... every mealtime

And Red Coats!

We were, as you’ve no doubt guessed, at Butlins in Skegness. It was the first ever holiday camp in the UK. It had been built in 1936 but because of the 2nd World War, it didn’t really get going as a holiday camp until the 1950s. The ethos was one of organised holiday fun... at least it was meant to be fun but the expression on my face in that picture makes you wonder.

Mum and Dad bought a caravan before the 1950s were out. It was a static one on a site in Ingoldmells. This was only minutes away from Skegness Butlins so very little changed. Our caravan had few amenities. We had to go on a short walk to a standpipe to get water and a longer walk to a toilet block for ‘comfort breaks’. I used to take myself to the toilet block in the middle of the night armed with only a torch and dressing gown. You wouldn’t let kids do that these days. Has it become more dangerous or are we more aware... or more paranoid?

I went back to Skegness Butlins in the 1970s when I had children of my own. The clown had gone and so had the massive communal canteen but there was still music playing. It wasn’t the loud rallying kind. I think it was Chi Mai also known as the theme tune from The Life and Times of David Lloyd George which you can listen to hear. [If I’ve remembered wrongly about the tune and you can remember what it was then please let me know!]

There are a lot of things that I can’t remember about the 1970s. It’s strange how memories work. The 1950s and 60s are clearer in my head than the 70s, except that the details are from a very small person’s perspective. If only I’d kept a writer’s notebook during the 1970s I’d have lots of rich material for article writing now. There’s a definite market in the UK for nostalgia articles. The Best of British are always interested in anything that might appeal to the older reader as are Yours Magazine. You can check out their submission guidelines here for The Best of British and here for Yours.

I just love those ‘Do you remember when...’ moments so if you have a favourite ‘Do you remember when...’ holiday moment I’d love to hear about it.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Positive pictures in my mind

Last week I talked in my blog about creating positive pictures for the filing cabinet in our minds. I’ve decided that I need to create lots of positive images in my mind right now so I’ve made a collection of them. While these pictures, in the montage on the left, create wonderful, positive images in my mind, they possibly won’t in yours because each photograph comes with an internal dialogue of a good time that I’ve had. These pictures mean to me:

Josh about to jump onto the settee even though he knows it’s against the rules

The view we shared with a pigeon at our breakfast table in fabulous Venice

Our favourite view of Blakeney Quay in Norfolk

I love the wild East Coast sea

Josh enjoying his garden

As a writer I’m interested in collecting positive pictures without pictures, pictures painted with words alone. I love the way that Marge Piercy in The Art of Blessing the Day describes a ripe peach,

...this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun...

And I can feel her first garden tomato in my hand with her words,

...How fat and sweet you are weighing down my palm,
warm as the flank of a cow in the sun.
You are the savour of summer in a thin red skin...

I thought it would be easy to find lots of extracts of writing that painted positive pictures but I’ve trawled through my poetry books and most of my favourite poems are depressing. I’ve flicked through my novels but the pieces of writing that come alive for me are again the sad pieces. [You can see why I need to collect positive images.]

I was sure that there were lots of writers out there who could tell me about beautiful, positive pieces of descriptive writing so I put out a plea on Twitter and below are two extracts that paint pictures in other people’s minds.

Karen Thorne. who runs the Hopton House Bed & Breakfast, sent me this extract from W. B. Yeats’ The Wind Among the Reeds,

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Claire Marriott who you can find at sent an extract from Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie. She said that the words stuck in her mind the first time she heard them and they’ve stayed there ever since.
‘It is just a beautiful way of saying it’s good to be different,’ she told me.

“I wish that you were my sister. I'd teach you to have some confidence in yourself. The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Because other people are not such wonderful people. They're one hundred times one thousand. You're one times one! They walk all over the earth. You just stay here. They're common as - weeds, -but - you - well, you're - Blue Roses!”

“But blue is wrong for - roses...”

“It's right for you !”

A great big thank you to both of my Twitter friends.

Does anyone else have a positive, descriptive piece of writing to share? Please post it below and feel free to include your blog address as well.

I’m looking forward to reading them and creating some more of those much-needed, positive images in my mind.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Spring: A new beginning or more of the same?

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox. We’re halfway between the shortest, darkest day and the longest, lightest one. We can say with confidence that it’s Spring, but is Spring a new beginning? It might be the time when flowers start to open but those buds have been growing for months. So where does our yearly cycle really begin? I’ve never understood why January 1st should be a new beginning. The Winter Solstice would be more logical, or even our birthday. If it comes to it, do we have a natural yearly cycle or are our bodies governed by a monthly cycle, or a daily one... or should we be ‘living in the moment’?

These were questions that I threw at yesterday’s local Lapidus group. We had gathered in Leicester and, although I was leading the session, I still had the day put aside as well-earned ‘me-time’. I had spent most of last week with Rod at the specialist unit of London’s Royal Free Hospital. They told us that his chemotherapy treatment is to be extended for another two months. I was ready for my ‘me-time’.

The group agreed that they were influenced by a yearly cycle but none of the ones I had listed out. It was the academic year, with the end of the long summer holiday marking a new beginning in many people’s lives. We talked about seasons having smells and tastes. Smells are so evocative. They can take us back to long-ago events from similar times of the year but these memories are often negative. Would it not be better to live in the moment? By all means plan and prepare for future events but why do many of us mourn for the past, worry for the future and ruin the present? (ok, ok, so I'm talking about myself here!)

At this point I introduced out first writing exercise. We chose one moment from that morning before we met and we followed a simple format of listing the senses. I love these group writing sessions. They always produce as many ideas as there are people in the group. Our chosen moments ranged from a precious early morning cup of tea to an uninhibited dance in a rain-drenched garden.

The poem The Art of Blessing the Day by Marge Piercy inspired us to write our own words of appreciation for the small things in life. We blessed just about everything from the smooth satin lining of a much-loved jacket to a nice cup of tea... I could take a hint. We stopped for tea, biscuits, news, gossip and general chatter. My me-time had once again turned into me/we/tea time. I created this phenomenon in an earlier post and firmly believe that we all need it every now and then.

Before we rushed back to the real world I read a piece from the Strictly Writing Blog. Guest blogger, Tara L. Masih, talked of her father’s advice to always put positive, beautiful images into our minds because images never leave us. Once our vision processes a scene or picture, it is stored in our subconscious forever. Tara likened our minds to one big filing drawer that stretches to infinity. This is why she tries to avoid graphic violence on TV and film, likes to garden, go to art museums, and explore different places and cultures.

As I was reading, the group were nodding in agreement. We don’t want to waste space in our mental filing cabinets on negative thoughts and so we gathered up some positive thoughts to take away with us, like the feeling you get when you’re lost in a good book, or when you see an amazing sunset. For me it was my day with the local Lapidus group which has now been filed safely away in my mental filing cabinet under the letter p for positive.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

I Love Awards

We all need some recognition and rewards for the things that we do, even if it’s just a big grin from the baker for giving her the right change or a ‘well done’ from ‘them at home’ for getting all the cleaning done. How much nicer though to receive a tangible reward... an award, and I’m not talking Grammys, Emmys or Oscars, although I do love watching those award programmes. I’m not sure why. I often know neither the presenter nor the recipient but there’s something compulsive about the expressions on the faces of failed nominees as they try to maintain that fixed, false, smile until the cameras move on. No, the sort of awards I’m thinking of have far fewer frills, like a badge in the Brownies, a college certificate or even a blog award.

I never went to the Brownies but I remember being in awe of the line of badges neatly sewn onto my friend’s brownie uniform. When I was young I received certificates from College and University and at the time I was quite blasé about them. Only more recently did I learn how significant a College certificate can be. I was teaching in an adult literacy class. One member of the group, an elderly lady, had rarely been to school as a child. She was the eldest of a number of children and so was the one who had to help Mum, but now at the age of 83, she was ‘getting herself sorted’. I submitted her coursework to the City & Guilds and her certificate in Basic Adult Literacy soon arrived. I was unprepared for her reaction. With eyes red and brimming she whispered,
‘I’ve never had a sustificate for anything before.’
This was not the time for English usage corrections. We hugged.

And so I come to blog awards. It’s thanks to the lovely blogger, Jemi Fraser, that I have received my first blog award. My blog will wear it with pride. And now in true award ceremony fashion I would like to thank all my followers for following me, and a special thank you goes to Jemi and her blog, Just Jemi, which, incidentally, is well worth a visit.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Just out of fingertip reach

Sleep, dreams, rainbows and even a story idea

When sleep becomes elusive, and it often does these days, I try all the standard things. I sip camomile tea. I take lavender baths. I ‘try not to get wound up about it’ but that’s easier to say than to do. Going to sleep is such an intangible experience and you know that if you have to analyse it then you’re one of those unfortunate people who, like me, suffer from insomnia. I’ve tried counting, not sheep, but alphabetical lists of anything from flowers and food to people and places. If I don’t reach r then I don’t even know that it’s worked... until the next morning. If I’m still struggling with s, t and u then I’m heading for another of those nights. However tired I am, and however much I need it, sleep is just out of fingertip reach.

Dreams can have that same elusive quality. Sometimes I’m more than happy to let a bad one drift from my consciousness but every now and then a dream leaves a tingle of expectation and I don’t know why. I want to curl my fingers around its edges and pull it closer but I can’t quite get to it. I know that soon it will fade and disappear but for the moment it’s a tantalising fingertip’s reach away, like a rainbow.

Now I know that rainbows are different. They’re scientific and I kind of understand the facts about refraction of light, but why does each colour bend so perfectly differently from the next? Why do I still get a thrill when I see one and why do I still believe that if I run fast enough across the fields I’ll be able to reach out and touch each perfectly blended hue?

I have a story idea that keeps appearing on the edges of my thoughts. Just like a rainbow it drifts out of reach whenever I try to get too close. I tease myself that if only I could write it down it would be the best story ever told, the most perfect story ever written. I almost know what it is. I can almost think about it, especially in the middle of one of those sleepless nights. It’s what drives my pencil on and maybe one day I’ll be able to close my fingers around it and capture it on this screen but for now, like sleep, dreams and rainbows, it’s just a fingertip’s reach away.

Sunday 7 March 2010

If you diversify they can’t break your writer's heart - Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce had two key words for us - diversification and independence. We were at the East Midlands Writing Industries Conference, this was the keynote speech and we were looking to Graham for answers. How were we to survive the end of the print age?

Graham talked of the concern rumbling through the publishing industry. Just as monks lost out to the printing press, was the industry about to lose out to Kinderbooks? More to the point, what about us writers? Graham once believed that all writers wore smoking jackets, chewed on cheroots and ate kedgeree for breakfast. He now knows that he was wrong. Writing is hard work and making money at it is becoming increasingly harder so what can we do?

Instead of dreaming about that massive advance we should micro-stream our writing skills, maintain our independence as a writer and get a website to show that we are following our road and not someone else’s. With a rallying cry of, ‘Don’t be fossilised in one area - diversify!’ Graham provided a list of points to guide us through.

1. The advance: This once prized income source has been shrinking over the last few years.

2. Digital streaming: Why not cut out the publishers, distributors and retailers, run our own website and keep 100% of the profits from books sold.

3. Teaching: Some people say that creative writing can’t be taught but substitute the word ‘music’ for ‘creative writing’ and see how unconvincing that sounds.

4. Performance and the Live Spoken Word: This area is growing rapidly in popularity.

5. Lectures and talks: People always want to know about writers, where their ideas come from, how they work so, especially for those who can add humour to their talks, there’s money to be made on the after-dinner speech circuit.
[Graham suggests you turn up in a smoking jacket!]

6. Non-fiction writing: You can write. Don’t be strait-jacketed into one genre.

7. Screen development: If you’ve written a play, a novel or a short story then why not develop it for the screen.

8. On-line drama: Start out by working with a group from a youth club or school to develop your own written material. Using a site like Bebo can spread your work and your name overnight.

9. Computer games: The standard of graphics is high but there’s room for improvement in the narrative. Last year the sale of computer games was neck and neck with the sale of film and music DVDs combined. There’s money to be made.

10. Graham left No. 10 blank for us to fill in... or so he said. It could have been in response to the gesticulations from the organiser, Damien Walter, winding him up from the wings. So, not wanting to disappoint Graham, does anyone have a No. 10 idea? If so, please share it in the Comments below.

The day was packed with talks, panels, people and opportunities to network... or should that be gossip? There’s something special about being part of a like-minded group. We are social beings and working within a group can raise awareness, enthusiasm, confidence, determination and inspiration... and it’s always a joy to meet up with other writers, so thank you to Damien Walter and all the team for a most successful East Midlands Writing Industries Conference.

Thursday 4 March 2010

My Top 3 World Book Facts for World Book Day

1. The world’s smallest book is Teeny Ted from Turnip Town about Teeny Ted’s victory in the Turnip contest at the annual Turnip Town fair. It measures 0.07 mm by 0.10mm and was published in April 2007 by Robert Chaplin at the Nano Imaging Facility of Simon Fraser University in Canada... but if you want to read it you’ll have to use a scanning electron microscope.

2. The world’s largest book is Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom by Michael Hawley from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It measures 1.5 metres by two metres. The limited edition book was sold for $10,000 a copy with profits going to the charity he founded, Friendly Planet.

[Recently it was claimed that the Klencke Atlas was the world’s largest book but that has been changed to the world’s largest Atlas which is on display in the British Library and is 1.75m high and 1.9m wide.]

3. The world’s best-selling book is The Bible with an estimated 6 billion sales. This is followed not very closely by Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung with around 900 million copies sold.

Enjoy your World Book Day activities and long may we have real books with a cover to open, pages to turn and that wonderful smell of new paper only rivalled by the fresh coffee aroma from the mug that we cuddle as we snuggle down to read.