The Joy of Writing

I suppose this post should really be called the Corona Diaries the Sequel, but we’re barely a day in. The difference this time round is we all know what to expect, and whereas back in the spring I lacked the enthusiasm and concentration to use those long lockdown hours for writing, this time I’m fired up and ready to go.

And the reason for this potential burst of productivity – winning “Star Letter” in Writing Magazine, or rather the feature in Writing Magazine that prompted my letter.  Last month the magazine featured an article on young gay writer George Lester and his path to publication. In the article George mentioned how he adopted the phrase Write Your Joy as his mantra, a term he picked up from his mentor, another writer Peter Ness.  George had been struggling to find his author voice, but once he let rip and gave himself the permission to write what he actually want to write, his voice won through.

There was something about this article that struck a chord, reminding me why I started writing novels in the first place. I wanted to write the books I wanted to read – not something that fitted in an already over-crowded pigeon hole, but multi-layered stories about unique but relatable characters, in familiar local surroundings facing challenging situations, all told with a good dose of my inimitable sense of humour. That’s my style – my author voice.  

Quite frankly it’s demoralising continually submitting chapters and covering letters to agents only to hear the same thing.  All authors take heart from the story of JK Rowling and her numerous rejections, but after a while, especially when you do receive the odd positive response, ie we like your writing/story/style/voice but… you do start to wonder exactly what publishers are looking for. I used to think finding a publisher validated my writing, now I don’t. Publishers are only interested in profits – one look at the best seller list verifies this, celebrity authors rule OK.

But this isn’t a post about feeling sorry for myself, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s a post about coming to terms about what I write and who I am. Write your Joy resonated with me because – yes of course I’d love to write a million-dollar best seller – but actually what I enjoy is writing; the act of creating my characters, picking them up and placing them out of their comfort zone, then setting them off on an obstacle course to reach their goal.

I’ve had enough positive feedback from my first two books to know that there is a place for my feel-good-fiction-with-a-twist. I’ve set my heart on publishing my Isle of Wight mysteries next year and so far only book 1 is complete, book 2 needs finishing and book 3 is yet to be plotted.  I’m going to ask Santa for a self-publishing budget and learn how to blow my own trumpet rather than standing in the back row tootling away on my recorder.

As Mr T has already stocked up on gallons of paint to continue decorating the house, and I have somewhat impulsively ordered 10 metres of fabric to make new curtains, I sense my time-management skills are going to be put to the test over the next few weeks. My next lockdown post may well be entitled the Art of Multi-Tasking aka the Art of Tearing My Hair Out.

Ps If you read my Star Letter you’ll see I compare my writing to playing golf. Mr T would just like to point out he would actually like to win a championship.

The Road Trip

The idea of taking road trip to Scotland was conceived one wet rainy weekend way back in February. With a holiday in Greece already booked to celebrate Mr T’s retirement in June, and another to the Canaries planned to soak up some winter sun, we felt September would be the ideal time to explore parts of the UK we’d never visited before.  

We ended up seeing a bit more than we originally bargained for. With Greece and the Canaries both off the cards, the road trip was the only holiday left on our calendar, and when daughter number 2 in Cardiff suggested we visit for a weekend at the end of the summer, it was a bit like, well, why don’t we just add Wales into the mix too because it’s on the way to Scotland, after all.

We’re fairly familiar with South Wales because not only is our daughter now based there permanently, but many moons ago Mr T worked in Pembrokeshire. The North however, was new territory.  The road trip was always going to be a whistle stop tour, one of those if it’s Tuesday, it must be Glasgow type of vacations, although Glasgow actually got crossed off the list when the second wave of Coronavirus hit.

After waving goodbye to the kiddo in Cardiff to clamber up and down waterfalls in the Brecon Beacons, we took a pitstop in the UK’s smallest city, St Davids, just because we could, before heading to the Snowdonia National Park for three days. We had a lot to squeeze in.

So many waterfalls, so little time…

Due to time constraints, we took the train up to Mount Snowdon rather than walk. The train no longer goes to the summit – it’s too crowded. Seriously, on the day we went, Snowdon was heaving with people, a steady stream of happy hikers, and no hope of social distancing. With overseas travel out of bounds, tourism in North Wales is booming.  From Portmeirion to Betws-y-Coed, the crowds were out in force.

Onwards to Scotland and our first stop was Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond, and our first task, to find a launderette for a week’s worth of washing, which was no problem, because Balloch has its own fully automated open air launderette situated in a corner of the local garage forecourt. Every town should have one.

Washing complete we then took a boat tour of the Loch, which was as damp and grey as expected. However that mist adds atmosphere and a certain eeriness.

Fifty shades of grey in the Lowlands

The next day was dry, and Mr T suggested that as we had foregone the whole climbing Mount Snowdon experience, we ought to attempt to conquer Ben Lomond, overlooking the shores of the Loch, just a mere 100 metres less than Snowdon in height, and an hour shorter round trip up and down. How could I say no? Quite easily because I have a fear of heights, and grazing cows, and Ben Lomond featured both – but I’m proud to say I did it. I climbed my first Munro (Scottish mountains over 3000 ft in height) and there was a serious sense of achievement as I stood on the top and looked down on the Loch a very long way below.

From Loch Lomond we travelled north to the Isle of Mull where sheep and solitude abound. We stayed in Tobermory, now a tourist mecca after becoming the location for the children’s TV show Balamory (the only reason we went there). Top tip for anyone thinking of travelling to Mull, if you’re driving anything bigger than a Ford Fiesta, forget it. The roads are treacherous.

Next stop Glencoe and my birthday present – thank you Scotland. Glorious sunshine, a comparatively low-level hike against a picturesque Sound of Music backdrop, and a lakeside hotel with an indoor heated swimming pool. Travel in the time of Covid did bring some challenges, but having more or less exclusive use of a hotel swimming pool was a wonderful treat.

We rounded off our 2000 mile trip with a couple of nights on the shores of Loch Ness – never expected to see that bathed in sunshine – and two days exploring the delights of Edinburgh before returning south via Northumberland and an overnight stop in Yorkshire – another place where social distancing didn’t seem to feature.

Sunshine on Loch Ness!

Discovering two freezers of fully de-frosted food wasn’t the best homecoming ever – apparently our street’s electricity supply had been switched off for maintenance during our three week absence and for a reason that will always remain one of life’s little mysteries, the supply to our house had clearly failed to come back on. And although I had done my best to avoid social media and the internet during our break, morale slumped slightly after two more rejections in my email inbox. One, a typical straightforward thanks but not for us, and the other, more crushing in many ways because this editor did give feedback – my writing was good, she liked my style, my author voice, but as far as she was concerned a storyline involving a golfing heroine was a commercial no-no. So much for diversity in publishing.  I always knew it was going to be a hard-sell, and a bit like driving around the island of Mull, I do sometimes feel I’m on the road to nowhere on my publishing journey. On the other hand, as Mr T said as he literally heaved me up the last couple of hundred metres of that mountain on the shores of Loch Lomond, I’ve made it this far, I can’t give up now.

Still smiling at (less than) half way up!
And an exhausted grimace at the top!

Out & About

Lockdown is all but over and we have entered a new era, not just globally but in our own cosy corner of the world. Mr T has officially retired, but as he has been working from home since March, it’s not such the huge lifestyle adjustment it could have been. We’d always promised ourselves that once he retired we’d ‘get out more’ and with grand plans for foreign travel curtailed for the foreseeable future,  a ‘staycation’ is the obvious answer.

Walking, like gardening, and knitting, and any form of exercise is good for the soul (although I see that even poor old Joe Wicks was finding his daily schedules too much and has given up – you really can have too much of a good thing and my leg is nearly better, thank you.)

A couple of years back Mr T received a copy of the AA Guide to 50 Walks in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in his Christmas stocking, a book which due it’s scant attention to detail and somewhat ambiguous directions, should really be entitled 50 Ways to Get Lost in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Last week we picked a gloomy day to complete the six mile trek along the River Itchen and back from St Cross to Winchester. It’s a walk we’ve done several times before and are pretty familiar with.  I could tell Mr T was still in work mode; while I paused to ‘smell the roses’  ie take numerous pics of flora and fauna, Mr T forged ahead as if he had to be somewhere by a certain time. Perhaps it was the lure of a pasty pit-stop in Winchester.

Winchester is wonderful, one of those select genteel British cities which is too posh for its own good, the sort of place where it’s perfectly normal to overhear a woman pointing out a medieval building in the cathedral grounds to her companion with a loud “and that’s where Titus went to prep school.”  I also realised Mr T hadn’t quite disengaged when he announced he’d spotted a dumper truck contravening all health and safety regulations by reversing for length and at speed on a construction site. I hadn’t even noticed the dumper truck, let alone that it was going backwards. Too busy looking at those bumble bees…

This week, we tackled new territory, part of Hampshire we’d never been before. Hampshire is a huge country and I’m only familiar with my native coastal region. Inland there are vast areas of unspoilt countryside, rolling fields, and chocolate box hamlets. We headed for Rockbourne, close to the Wiltshire border. Rockbourne is famous for its Roman villa, but as we discovered when we took the small detour as suggested in the guide book, the villa is currently closed. Undeterred we back-tracked and continued the planned circular five mile hike, and after scrambling up steep banks and clambering over numerous stiles, we arrived at the dreaded, yet inevitable, field of cows.  I have a thing about cows. I know it’s illogical but ever since I read of two Austrian women walkers who were trampled to death in an Alpine meadow, I’ve seen cows in a different light. If you don’t believe me, Google it. Don’t be fooled by those big brown eyes and that seemingly docile manner. On average four people a year in the UK are killed by cows, and I know from past experiences, if these evil creatures not waiting for you at the entrance to their field, they’ll be lurking at the other end, huddled around the exit stile. 

The cow pats were still steaming. I knew they were there somewhere. The guidebook said follow the path parallel to the edge of the field to reach a stile leading to a track and a wood. What did it mean by parallel? Was that straight on, then why not say straight on?  It must mean around the edge, so we skirted the edge of the field with no sign of those sly bovines, seeking our escape route. We saw the wood, but no stile so we climbed over a five bar gate instead only to realise we were now heading off through someone’s back garden…

Yes we had gone wrong. However, I felt totally vindicated when we found an alternative route to the path we should have been on because we’d outwitted those cows. There they were, in their field, waiting for us at the designated exit, but thanks to the map reading error, we were already safely on the right side of the fence.

After two and a half hours we returned to Rockbourne unscathed.

I have no news to report on the writing/publishing front, only that I received my feedback from the virtual RNA conference from industry professionals. Two contrasting opinions on my work, one which made me feel I should give up now, the second quite the opposite. So I’m sitting on things for a bit. Checking Amazon stats and putting yourself out there in front of agents and publishers is not good for mental well-being. My social media feeds are full of other authors plugging their books, or authors telling me how great they’re doing. I’m tired of living in my author bubble. I want to escape to the real world. Both daughters have now been able to visit and daughter number 2 (because she was born second, not because she’s second favourite) is training to be a clinical psychologist so you always have to watch what you say. We had a little chat about my writing. I realise I have to concentrate on the doing the things I enjoy.  

Taking the positive feedback on board, I am going to finish writing my mystery series. I can’t get away from the fact I love writing. I’ve also picked up on a sequel to the Theatre of Dreams I started a while back and which is now coming on nicely, with the aim of self-publishing a novella in the autumn.  But I want to do things at my pace. I’m also going to buy some wool to knit another jumper, and there will also be a lot more visits to the countryside observing the butterflies and the bees. After all we’ve still got another forty walks to complete.  I may be gone for some time.

The Corona Diaries – Part III

Lockdown continues – or not quite lockdown, a lighter lockdown, although after weeks of not going anywhere and not doing an awful lot, I’ve no plans to visit the shopping mall or a zoo anytime soon.

It’s the end of an era – the corona jumper is finally finished and I’m already missing the click of the needles.  Joe Wicks has been abandoned – not because I don’t need him anymore, but because I’ve seriously pulled a muscle and have acquired a permanent limp. 

The seedlings in the greenhouse have more than sprouted – thanks to my careful nurturing they have taken off at a rapid rate. We now have fully fledged peas and more lettuce than we will ever eat. There’s the promise of carrots, spring onions and runner beans to come, and I’ve already harvested half my strawberry crop (okay it was only two strawberries but they were big juicy ones – quality over quantity!)

Anyone for lettuce?

We’re entering our ‘new normal’ of face masks and even more queues. All those thoughts of increasing sustainable public transport are now out of the window. Nobody wants to get on a bus, or a train.  We’re all back to hopping into our own cars. 

Will Zoom be here to stay? We will ever need physical social-interaction again in the work place? Mr T is living proof his company can manage without international business travel. He hasn’t left his man-cave-cum-office for weeks and the world of oil refineries hasn’t crumbled in his absence, although yes he is very relieved everyone is getting back into their cars and buying petrol.

Could background bookshelf staging be a new career path?

I had my first Zoom book club talk last night – and it went very well, although yes it would have been a lot nicer if we could have met in the pub garden as planned. This was a local book club who had been reading Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  As an author it’s very rewarding to hear people who’ve read your books speak about your characters as if they know them personally.

Sadly I have no news on my next project which is currently wending its way into the great literary agent chasm.  I’ve booked a couple of editor one-to-ones at the virtual Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in July so at least I’ll get some feedback. It may be time to re-assess. Interestingly, when I mentioned my new project was planned as a ‘series’ to the book club there were cries of dismay. I explained publishers liked a series. Readers apparently not.  Interesting.

The brief spurt of writing enthusiasm mentioned in my last blog post has died a death as that old spoilsport ‘life’ has got in the way again. Currently I have no kitchen – which in the ‘old normal’ wouldn’t really have been issue. We live on the edge of the New Forest with a plethora of country pubs on our doorstep. When we ordered and planned our new kitchen way back in December we saw ourselves heading out every day to try some new eatery or other, now in the ‘new normal’ we are managing with two electric rings and a mircowave on the dining room table.  We can’t even scrounge meals from friends, and the weather has turned against plans to BBQ.

Ed the cat looking very confused

I sound and currently feel like Mrs Grump. Lack of exercise due to injury has resulted in a serious deficiency of endorphins. Silence from literary agents has caused self-doubt. The house is full of plaster dust and I still can’t make plans to meet my daughters who both live with partners so can’t come to stay overnight in a ‘support bubble’.  Taking a day trip to meet mid-way between Southampton & Cardiff, or Southampton & London is a complete no-no without access to a public loo.

I don’t like the ‘new normal’ I want the old one back, or if not the old one – at least an open toilet in a public park with dog walking and picnic facilities somewhere along the M4 corridor…

The Corona Diaries Part II –

Day Whatever…It’s over a month since my last blog post and the diary entries remain the same: Exercise, interspersed with the weekly shopping trip, the distribution of groceries to elderly family members, nurturing my veggie seeds and the knitting project (only one sleeve left to complete). Joe Wicks is right, endorphins are good for you.

However, firmer thighs are not the only positive improvements in recent weeks. The writing mojo is back, and it wasn’t thanks to a Charles Dickens Masterclass, or even a tutorial from Neil Gaiman, who still regularly pops into my FB feed, but a good old fashioned book. I went back to basics. I sat in my garden and I read.

(Not me not my garden)

With hopes of a summer holiday dashed, I took advantage of the hot sunny Easter weekend, set up the sun-lounger and devoured a serious number of pages in a relatively short space of time. So what was this marvellous book which worked its magic and reminded me of just how much I wanted to be a writer? The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris.

Joanne’s book Chocolat remains one of my all time favourites. The Strawberry Thief picks up the story of the same characters several years on, and just like its predecessor, it’s a book that had me captivated from the word go. It’s one of those books you want to immerse yourself in, to roll amongst the pages, which, as the story reaches its end, you want to turn slower and slower, to savour every moment, to linger, knowing you will feel bereft at leaving behind the characters whose journey you have shared.

This is what I love about writing! Creating that feeling, evoking that emotion. I want to write stories that weave their way into hearts, leaving warm glows of satisfaction, I want readers to invest in my characters, to share their hopes and fears, to cheer them on. And even if my books don’t send readers into a soaring frenzy of appreciation and rapturous exaltation, they might at least put a smile on a face.

So yes, I returned to my keyboard – determined to carry on.

At the start of lockdown Mr T’s conference calls were an unwelcome intrusion in my creativity. Now they have become my background white noise. And I’ve done more than just write, I’ve bitten the bullet and started submitting my new book (previously referred to as my WIP) to a handful of literary agents. Submitting is a laborious process and quite naturally no two agents want the same thing (why make things easy?) Every e-mail has to be hand-crafted and attachments customised. Naturally I’ve heard nothing back, which isn’t totally unexpected. I’ve been here before. I know how long these things take and this time I will be patient. I know the system. I’m older and wiser this time round. I also know publishers, and readers, want a series, a ‘brand’, so I’ve picked up where I left off,  and am continuing with a half-baked sequel (the new WIP), which is now growing daily, despite the attention seeking endeavours of Ed the cat (who seems to be going through a period of lockdown neurosis) to distract me.

Ed pleased to be back at his desk

But then disaster struck! Just as that enthusiasm returned,  I discovered a particularly picky 2* Review on Amazon for the Theatre of Dreams.  I’m a writer, my books are out there in the big wide world and I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but remember guys, although I’ve done my best to develop a writer’s suit of armour, that rhinoceros thick skin, every little knock still hurts!  All those insecurities returned. Do I really have what it takes? Am I totally wasting my time? Why couldn’t they just keep quiet if they didn’t like it…

The last thing I need is a bad review when agents might be checking out my Amazon page (do they do that?) But then, just days later, this happened (punches air with glee!) – a review for Your Secret’s Safe With Me featuring my favourite word “immersive“:

“Sometimes I get to read a book that stays with me days after I have finished it and this is one of those books. Deeply immersive, beautifully drawn characters, and an intriguing family drama. Highly recommended.”

I know I can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I don’t have to. That’s not why I write. Some of the people, some of the time will do for me (although obviously if any literary agents are out there reading this, then of course my books will appeal to absolutely everybody…)

https://www.rosietravers.com/your-secrets-safe-with-me/

https://www.rosietravers.com/the-theatre-of-dreams/

The Corona Diaries

I know everyone is doing this right now – keeping their ‘lockdown diary’ – preserving this moment in time for future generations.  If your daily routine is anything like mine, then these diaries are hardly going to be riveting reading.  

Woke up, got up, had breakfast, stayed home….

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bored. I’m filling my day, and there’s no end of suggestions out there of how to spend this ‘idle time.’ However, I’m ignoring them.

The internet clearly knows I’m a writer because my FB and Twitter feed is full of adverts for those author masterclasses. Now is my chance to write like Neil Gaiman or Margaret Atwood. I don’t want to write like Neil Gaiman and certainly not Margaret Atwood (dystopia is not my thing and even less so right now). I’d be perfectly happy writing like Rosie Travers if the words would come and they’re still not. I can’t keep blaming the presence of Mr T in his home office for this – it’s a question of concentration.

I know they tell you when you retire you should take up an intellectual challenge, be it a daily crossword puzzle or learning the violin, to regenerate new brain cells, but retirement is very different from this enforced isolation. I’d be happy to take up on-line Astrophysics if I thought after half an hour I could pop out to the garden centre for a large chunk of carrot cake and a natter with a couple of a girlfriends. But I can’t. That’s the difference.

I don’t need an intellectual challenge, I don’t need that pressure to self-improve, I need feel-good vibes, something to block out that gnawing anxiety, that uncertainty, and not just for myself. Yes I’m healthy, yes thankfully so are my family, but I worry about people I don’t know who’ve lost their loved ones, or their jobs, their livelihoods. The repercussions and implications of this unprecedented situation will be long term.  

We’re all doing our best to cope in whatever way we know how.  My advice, for what it’s worth, is just do something that makes you happy.  If baking is your thing – bake. If it’s jigsaw puzzles, jigsaw. It’s dot-to-dot, just do it!  

Last week I tweeted about my Corona knitting project – and it clearly struck a chord. I received more likes and engagement on that one tweet than I’ve ever had on anything I’ve ever posted about my books.  (Likewise my garden pictures on Instagram although this might reiterate how inadequate I’ve been at book marketing…)

I know there are people out there who will revel in the opportunity to take up a new challenge, who will see the act of sowing a handful of vegetable seeds as the ultimate in the mundane – but each to their own. In troubled times people need to take comfort, and personal well-being has to be paramount. If your lockdown diary consists of a daily timetable of  9.00 am Art with Vincent Van Gogh, 11.00 am Mozart’s Piano Masterclass 12.00 Story telling with Charles Dickens, so be it.

Personally I’m sticking with 9.00 am Joe Wicks  (because we all know exercise produces those feel-good endorphins) 11.00 am limp out to greenhouse to check on seedlings, 12.00 collapse onto sofa, knit.

Eat your heart out Samuel Pepys!

Working From Home

As I’m a writer I’m used to social isolation.  In fact, it was being ‘in isolation’ – moving somewhere new, being stuck indoors, not knowing anyone, having far too much time on my hands – that actually kick-started my writing career. I’m not by nature a gregarious person, I’ve always been quite good at keeping myself amused although I do venture out to meet up with friends once or twice a week, and I do go shopping, go to yoga, go swimming and enjoy long walks in the countryside… but to write, I need solitude.

In theory I should be relishing the conditions that have been now been forced upon us. This is the optimum time to complete another novel. But the problem is I’m very easily distracted, and I’ve never been able to concentrate on my ‘work’ when there are other people in the house.

And that’s the difference with this current period of enforced ‘isolation’. There are now other people in the house.

On the odd occasions Mr T has worked from home in the past he has spread himself out over the dining table.  He’s come home to write reports, or simply to get away from the interruptions of the office for the afternoon. However now he’s working full-time from home, the dining table isn’t practical (and I thought I was the messy one).  He has phone calls to make. In fact I’ve realised that when he is in proper working mode that’s all he does all day, make  phone calls. He needs a designated office space. He needs to be behind a closed door.

Fortunately we had just given my study a bit of a re-vamp and ordered a new compact work-station. My much loved well-travelled old desk had been unceremoniously shuffled along the landing to the box room, where it had to be dismantled to fit through the door, and re-assembled with the vague notion of this room becoming Mr T’s man-cave when he retires (and it is quite literally a cave – north facing room, small window with a view of the exterior wall of the extension, very little day-light). Just in the nick of time! The box room is now Mr T’s official place of work.

I do like a bit of background ‘white noise’ when I’m writing. I usually keep the radio on downstairs, and I’m also an open door type person – and that’s the problem. An open door means come-in. An open door means I can hear Mr T’s phone calls (and he tells me off for shouting when I’m on my mobile to my mother!) And there’s also Skype calls. Yes we nearly had had one of those BBC journalist with the Korean family moments when I didn’t realise he was on camera…

I want to crack on with a new project. Word count so far this week – zero. The garden is looking immaculate and my Coronavirus knitting project (a jumper I shall probably never wear simply because of the connotations of its conception) is coming on nicely. I’ve also dusted off the Wii fit and I’m rising up the Yoga Master rankings. We’re only one week in. Three or four I could possibly cope with as long as the restrictions on going out for exercise don’t tighten. I have devised a walking circuit that gets me out for at least an hour a day and can see it extending to longer. But the prospect of twelve weeks…

I sense tough times ahead. Yes I appreciate we are lucky. Mr T can work from home and is still on full-pay. We are both fit and healthy and fingers crossed that’s the way it will stay. But whether my fingers will hit the keyboard is another matter.

It’s no consolation to be told William Shakespeare wrote his best work while in quarantine from the plague. Good for him is all I can say. Clearly Mrs Shakespeare knew her place and kept well out of his way.

Top of the Class

Last Thursday was World Book Day, and so when daughter No 1 asked if I would like to come and talk to her class of five year olds about being a writer….how could I refuse?  Quite easily actually, because I don’t write children’s books, and with both my daughters now being in their twenties, I’ve long lost an affinity to all things child related.

However, budgets are tight at my daughter’s school, and it wasn’t so much an ask, as a plea, so of course I said yes. I’d love to come and talk about being an author and deliver a ‘workshop’ to the class on story writing, after all the principles of story writing are the same for adults as for children. All books have a beginning, middle, and an end, and invariably involve characters with a problem or dilemma to overcome.

It’s a long time since my children were in infants school, and as a dutiful Mum I always tried to do my bit when parental help was needed – but my daughters went to school in semi-rural Hampshire. My daughter teaches at an inner city school in North London. A completely different kettle of fish.

However, I accepted the challenge and decided to keep things simple and concentrate on “creating characters” rather than re-writing War and Peace. Find me some hats, I told my daughter, and we’ll go from there. She approved my hastily drawn up plan – because naturally I had no more than a few days’ notice (why would I need any more?) – and I hurriedly composed a short story to read at the end of the session, because there’s no point pretending to be a magnificent story-teller if you haven’t got a story to tell.  Children can be very astute.

The plan was for groups to work as a team to come up with a character who wore their hat and plot a very basic story outline. Naturally there were squabbles, because although the hats were randomly placed on each group’s table, not everyone was happy with their allocated headgear. I tried to encourage imagination, think outside the box, take your character on a journey – we had picture prompts, boats and trains and buses. We talked about how an ordinary walk to school can provide inspiration; how listening to grandparents’ talking of the good old days, an overheard conversation on a bus, a favourite pet, can all spark ideas for stories.

Although the teamwork aspect left a lot to be desired, overall, I was impressed with the variety of characters the children created. Naturally the fireman’s hat belonged to a fireman, but with a few prompts, a story developed of a team of firemen who lived in their fire-engine, sleeping in bunkbeds. We had a pilot who took his plane into the future and into the past – and to Jamaica so that he could have a McDonalds, and possibly a swim and sit on the beach. We had a giraffe who escaped from London zoo, and a far less charming and slightly alarming plotline from one child which could have come straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

My own story involved Buttons the Bear, who worried too much, unless he wore his grandma’s hat, which he subsequently lost.  The story seemed to go down very well with Year 1, but when I repeated the workshop to Year 2 – where flesh eating pizzas appeared on one group’s storyboard – they seemed slightly less enthralled. Sadly, Buttons is probably not going to be the next Gruffalo.

However, the staff were very grateful I had turned up. Visitors always go down well, something different to break the routine. Once, along ago, I mentioned to my mother I’d like to be a teacher. My mother – who was a teacher – promptly handed me a book entitled ‘Don’t Do It’ which had been given to her back in the 1950s when she first qualified.  It was always going to be a no-go area for me, but my daughter is a natural and I have every admiration for anyone who can stand up in a classroom of thirty children – of varying abilities and levels of engagement – and motivate them to be the best they can. After one morning in the classroom I was exhausted.

It was another journey out of my comfort zone; with no financial reward, or opportunity to self-promote, but this wasn’t about me.  This was about sharing my love of reading and writing and hopefully instilling a little of that passion in others.  And who knows, I could well have inspired a whole new generation of authors – because when I asked who wanted to be a writer when they grew up, thirty hands shot up in the air!

That’s the magic of books!

And in a post-script to my last post, over 900 people have now signed the petition at Lowford Library protesting against Hampshire’s plans to cut services. Fingers crossed the community will continue to have access to their local libary.

SOS – Save Our Services

Last week I received a plea for help from a lovely lady called  Eve. I first met Eve when I volunteered at my local community library in the village of Lowford in Hampshire.  Community libraries are run by the council’s library service, who provide the books and technical support, but don’t employ any full-time staff. Eve is one of a group of approximately 25 regular volunteers who keep this library open six days a week.

Hardworking volunteers give up their time to support the library service

Hampshire County Council have announced plans to reduce the library service in order to save £1.76 m from their budget.    The Council have issued a very bulky consultation document to argue their case for cutting these services (if there is one device guaranteed to deter the public from gleaning facts it’s a bulky consultation document). One option they are considering is to close ten Hampshire libraries completely, the other is for a reduction in hours across all libraries in the county. Plus they intend to withdraw support from the four community libraries in the county to save another £49,000, which would make a total of 14 libraries to close.

Eve asked if I could help raise awareness of the campaign against these cuts through my links on social media. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much clout on social media as Eve thinks I do but I promised to do my bit.  Several Hampshire authors  with far more influence than me, Neil Gaiman, Clare Fuller, David Nicholls to name three, have already taken up the fight and are shouting loud about the detrimental effects on local communities.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-51106608

One of my earliest childhood memories is the weekly visit to the village library. It was situated above a fire-station, and involved a climb up some very steep stairs. It wasn’t very big, and I grew up in a house where we already had plenty of books, but this weekly visit was a treat. It’s where I read my first Dr Seuss.

When I had my own children, I took them to the library too. My kids took part in story-time, craft sessions and summer reading challenges. A visit to the library was part and parcel of growing up. Give a child a book, and you give a child a window to a whole new world.

But that was back in the good old days, when public libraries were considered an essential part of a community, when cultural enlightenment and education were valued by the powers that be and readily available for all. Now in this affluent, progressive 21st century, these resources are being eroded. Why? What sort of society are we creating where these aspirations are given such little value?

The people of Lowford fought hard to establish their library.  After a somewhat shaky start due to an internal dispute in local politics, this library is essentially only in its third full year of operation. It is situated in a purpose built community centre and the library hosts several community groups – Knit and Natter, a book club, a creative writing group, a scrabble club, and there is the potential for more. Local pre-schools and nurseries make regular visits, as do the local Citizens Advice Bureau. There is a flourishing, independently run café upstairs in the same building, which again is just taking off. It’s the sort of facility a council should be proud of.


A show of support for Lowford Library – the Community has come together to support the campaign to save valuable library services in Hampshire

Thousands of new homes are currently being built across Hampshire, several hundred within a two mile radius of Lowford alone. An influx of population at the same time as proposed cuts to local services doesn’t make any sense at all.

Anyone who has ever visited a library will know that it is so much more than a place to come and simply borrow books.   I wonder how many of these councillors sat in their high castle at Winchester have ever been stuck at home with a fractious toddler, and thought, let’s take a walk to the library? How many of these decision-makers have spent a lonely, isolated, afternoon and decided to visit their local library just to get out of the house and seek a friendly face?

The Council argue ‘other libraries are available’, which they are – a car ride away. Don’t get me started on public transport services in rural communities…

They are suggesting if financial support for the community libraries is withdrawn volunteers could take on the ‘autonomous’ running of the facility. The volunteers at Lowford already give up their time freely to support the library, they don’t want to run it. There is a huge difference.

I no longer live close to Lowford, but I’ve signed their petition and I’ve completed the relevant sections on the consultation form regarding Hampshire’s plans. Contrary to all the normal library rules and regulations this is not the time to BE QUIET!

I don’t often get on my high horse, but I suppose the message I want to get across is if do you have a library in your community use it, because if you don’t it’ll be gone in a blink of an eye. And if you do live in Hampshire, please make your thoughts known at

https://www.hants.gov.uk/aboutthecouncil/haveyoursay/consultations/library-consultation

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A New Era

This post has got nothing to do with the ‘B’ word but something quite significant happened on Friday, 31 January 2020.

My publishing contract for The Theatre of Dreams was up, and I took the hugely momentous step (well it felt hugely momentous for a complete techno-phobe like me) of putting the ebook back up on Amazon all by myself. I’m now a self-published as well as a traditionally published author.

My original publishing contract was short – just two years when I think the average in the industry is five, so I always knew this day would come round pretty quick. I didn’t realise just how quick – or how long it takes to become established in this business. 2019 flew by in a flash, life got in the way, and I didn’t have the time, or enthusiasm if I’m honest,  to dedicate to writing or marketing my existing novels as effectively as I’d have liked.  I don’t feel I’ve done either of my books justice, and I couldn’t let The Theatre of Dreams disappear into oblivion so soon – especially as I was booked to do on author talk in Fareham, a town which features in the book, just a week after the publisher removed it from Amazon….

I did spend most of Thursday tearing my hair-out, despite the fact that my publisher had very kindly given me back an already formatted Word Document which was a great help, and generously donated the existing cover.  However, once I’d realised I’d missed out a vital step in the whole uploading process, well there it was, my ebook was back up and running, just in the nick of time. I could give my talk with a clear conscience without feeling like a complete fraud.

So my talk. That was another quite significant moment because I am not a natural public speaker. I’d committed to give this talk way back in the summer after being approached by someone who’d got my name from the local WI – where I’ve already promised to speak later this year.

I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for, but it transpired I was to be the special guest at a ‘literary lunch’ for 50, organised by a group of ladies who raise funds for cancer research. It felt like quite an honour, and I was a little over-awed. It’s that imposter syndrome again (do they know I’ve only written two books?).

Anyway, after numerous rehearsals in front of a my very unappreciative cat, my thirty minute spiel on my ‘path to publication aka my rocky road’ (which provides the opportunity  for a biscuit analogy – hard bits, the crunch, the soft-squishy marshmallow bits and the delicious chocolate moments, etc etc) went without a hitch. I threw in a couple of little quizzes to encourage audience participation, everyone laughed in all the right places, there was a good question and answer session at the end, and I sold more than enough paperbacks in the process to make the afternoon worthwhile.

I felt quite chuffed.  My donated raffle prize of two paperbacks was the first picked off the table, several people remarked my talk was far more interesting and entertaining than the one given by the eight book thriller writer the previous year, and in a moment straight out of Calendar Girls, my WI stalwart confided I was a breath of fresh air compared to their last speaker who’d spent an hour detailing his orchid collection.

High praise indeed! Anyway, hopefully this accolade will give me more confidence to go out in the big wide world and shout a bit louder about my writing in 2020.  Ultimately I’d like to give the Theatre of Dreams a bit of a re-launch later this year with a new cover (and hopefully there will be a sequel) but I’ve got a bit more detailed techy stuff to work through first. One step at a time. However, I have entered a new era.  I want my writing journey to continue, and it really does feel like (yes, I’m going to say it) I’ve taken back control.