Thursday, 7 February 2019

Visiting Charles Dickens.

Today is Charles Dickens' birthday. His 207th birthday to be precise. Where better to visit than his house in Doughty Street, London. Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine moved into 48 Doughty Street in 1837 shortly after their marriage. They lived there for three years and it was here that he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby.

Today it is a charming museum with the house displayed much as it was during their time there.

At present the museum is hosting a Dinner with Dickens exhibition, with a beautiful display in his dining room, including personal plates for his wife, himself and guests. I expect no less from my writer friends from now on.

You can explore the rest of the house with the food theme in several rooms, with written and recorded extracts about food from his novels and information about his wife's recipes. There are even some things to smell.

Of course no visit to the home of a writer would be complete without seeing the writer's desk and chair. Dickens had a strict routine of writing, without distractions, every morning between breakfast and lunch.

Meanwhile his wife would be organising the household from the morning room while the servants would be going about the household chores in the kitchens and scullery which are also open to visitors.

The museum displays a number of the Dickens's personal possessions such as handwritten drafts of some of his novels, paintings, ornaments, Catherine's engagement ring, Dickens' smart 'court' suit and, of course, his desk alongside other artifacts from the era.

Even if you aren't interested in Dickens, the house is a lovely museum to domestic life in the early Victorian period. I do recommend a visit.

For more information please see The Dickens Museum

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Paddling in Shallow Waters

A few of the publications with my work included.

When you follow good writers on social media you inevitably see lots of posts about success. Whether it’s a competition placement or a win, or the publication of a novel or short story collection, their successes keep coming.

It’s wonderful to share the joy of someone’s achievement because we all know that a lot of hard work has gone before it. It’s also good to know that the publishing industry is alive and well. And when you know someone’s work from competition placements you know that you’re likely to love their novel!

But for some of us there is a slight downside too. It can make our own lack of success seem overwhelming. We have a choice, either to give up and put the notebooks and pens – or the PC – away and learn to knit or do dry stone walling instead, or keep working at our craft and compete with them until we have our own success to publicize!

But when it’s only a small success, perhaps a brief flash fiction on a website, is it worthy of telling all and sundry?  

I’ve just re-read Tania Hershman’s excellent article in issue 78 of Mslexia (June/July/August 2018) Boasting for Beginners. She discusses the issues of women finding it hard to boast, aka talk about their successes. For many of us ‘boasting’ was something we were encouraged as children to avoid, as boasting has a pejorative tone. I recently discovered an old exercise book of mine from school in which I’d had to write about boasting. I cited a family I knew who boasted about all sorts, but their boasts were empty and vain which made them slightly ridiculous, although I did admire their unstinting confidence! Never mind the things they boasted about often never happened, they kept right on.  

But publicizing successes is a whole different game. We should be proud of what we have achieved. We all know that placement in a competition let alone getting a novel published is no small matter. But where does that leave those of us who are still paddling in the shallow waters of success? Sometimes so shallow it’s just the ebb and flow of the tide on the sand? Those of us who have had perhaps the occasional competition placement, or one article published? Our writing isn’t earning us a living or even enough to fund many competition entries.

A technique I used to explain to my speech and language therapy patients was to not measure  themselves against only the best, but against everyone. It works well in the writing world too.

There’s always going to be someone who is more successful than we are. If we measure ourselves against only published novelists, we may feel ourselves lacking, but if we measure our achievements against those of everyone in the world who has ever uttered the words, ‘I’d like to write,’ then anyone who has actually entered a piece for a prize or publication is already way ahead. Because they have created and finished a piece of writing. If we are long-listed in a competition, or had a flash published that’s  more than many who are writing but not entering their work, or haven’t yet managed that step yet.

But singing our praises is still difficult for lots of us. I know that some people who might read this have several novels out, some have won literary prizes. Others have had numerous wins in competitions, or stories published in magazines so they are all way ahead of me. When I was in Australia I met up with some people in a local writing group. After chatting for a moment one asked me the ‘Have you had anything published?’ question. I mentioned that I’d had a few flash fictions and short stories published, expecting to hear ‘Oh that’s nice’ but what I got was ‘Oh, wow, listen, everyone, Lindsay’s been published. That’s fantastic.’ It felt nice, but even as someone else said ‘Well done,’ I found myself saying ‘It’s only a few small pieces…’

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Lit Ward 10 Expands Owing to Government Incompetence.

Dr Read was jubilant that his ward had the best outcomes in the out-patient department but as a result he was under increasing pressure to find space for all the referrals to Lit ward 10. The room adjoining the old office of the Chief Exec’s now departed Bright Ideas Manager was now a second day-room and a smaller office next to it that once homed the BIM’s largely redundant secretary now housed two much needed beds for the more serious cases. The patients didn’t mind that it was cramped, so long as the reading light was good and the book supply constant.

In the past few months referrals to Lit Ward 10 had soared with people all over the country suffering from a new condition diagnosed as Solliciti Esse in Exitus, known as S.E. Cases affected people of all ages and from all demographics. There was not yet a cure, but Dr Read’s lit therapy kept the worse symptoms at bay be they poor sleep and depression or anxiety and anger issues, with all the physical symptoms that tend to accompany these disturbances including appetite and digestive disorders, hypertension, headaches, to name but a few. 

To ensure everybody's need could be met, books in a variety of languages, as well as a number of auditory materials had been added to the ward’s library for the benefit of those for whom reading was difficult. A few of the most popular books were now being presented on video in sign-language. They were so stretched with referrals they had also set up a helpline and a web page, with instructions on how to make Letta’s Jamaican hot chocolate and how to mix a perfect G&T as well as a selection of reading material. 

It was notable that a high number of referrals came from within NHS staff members, and even the Chief Exec had agreed that Occupational Health department should have a Lit Ward outreach suite where staff could have some down time with a good book, even though he'd limited it to half an hour at a time. You couldn't have nurses and therapists lolling about all day reading. But to show he was committed he'd even donated a comfortable chair in the hope that it would to stop staff from having to take sick leave. 

If only the Chief Exec would allocate more funding, thought Dr Read, as he submitted the week’s outcomes. Dr Read found himself using the forbidden word when he muttered that the Chief Exec with his inept management skills, was a complete Br***t. He wondered if the term would become common parlance on day. 

On the day ward, Nurse Gorgeous, (now Mrs De Licious but she was keeping her own name for professional use,) was doing the blood pressure checks and keeping an eye on the reading matter. Occasionally patients sneaked in unsuitable books. When she gently removed one such item from a young man wearing an earnest expression and a man-bun, he accused her of censorship and that she had no right to interfere with his freedom of reading material. She explained that on this ward reading was medication and that she was quite sure that if he had been self-medicating with the wrong pills, he wouldn’t object to his doctor prescribing the correct ones. He agreed and let go of the inflammatory tome. She gave him a selection of books to choose from that would soothe his soul and the other item, which had the name Aaron on the cover, was deposited in the incinerator. Half an hour later he was smiling at the antics of Don Tillman PhD and his approach to romance.  

Dr Read’s article in The Lancet on Reading to Alleviate the Symptoms of S.E was well received and all over the country people were finding some relief through turning the pages of their books, swiping their e-readers or their headphones. Everyone undertaking the therapy agreed it helped although it could not entirely prevent S.E. 

This article recommends that you too read if you are suffering from S.E.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

This Year's Reading.

As in most years I've read around 56 books this year. But I'm finding it hard to come up with my top ten. Not because of too many contenders, as is usually the case, but too few. I don't wish to promote books that I haven't felt worthy, even if they were better than others. I read two books that have been praised on twitter and other social media among writers as well as readers and both proved very popular. Several people, whose opinions I find worthy, joined in with praise but I found them irritating and their main characters unconvincing. Clearly I am in a minority.

As always my reading has been a mixture of current books and older ones. Many of my choices this year have been books that have been sitting on my TBR bookshelf for ages and as part of my general de-clutter I got on with reading them rather than buying yet more new books. They have been a mixed bag. Some have now been donated to the local charity shops or our local community bookshelf which is thriving, but one or two have been retained. You can't de-clutter everything!

The following novels, however, do stand out.

VOX by Christina Dalcher - I had read many of Christina's flash fiction pieces and guessed this debut novel would be worth a read. I was right! A dysptopian vision which, while seemingly unreal, recent politics makes less unlikely!

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore. One of the books on my TBR shelf, I'd not read any of Helen  Dunmore although two of her books were waiting for me. I read one earlier this year and was disappointed as I knew her to be a well loved and respected author. This book made me see why. I have The Siege awaiting!

Strangers On a Bridge by Louise Mangos. Another flash fictioneer whose work I have admired, this is Louise's debut. Much as I wanted to slap her main character at times, I was drawn into the story and kept turning the pages. Except I had to swipe the pages on my e-reader.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.  Another that had been on my TBR shelf for ages. Both gripping and delightful. I've lent it to a friend and am interested to see the recent film, which I learned about just after I read it.

Dirt Music by Tim Winton. A Christmas present from last year to celebrate my stay in Australia. I loved this and look forward to reading the two more books by Tim on my shelves, although one is on my shelf in Australia next to Dirt Music!

Quieter Than Killing by Sarah Hilary. One of my Kindle reads, it is the fourth of the D.I Marnie Rome series. Sarah never disappoints.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller. I confess to hating most of the characters but this was a beautifully written book. I look forward to reading Bitter Orange.

My top non-fiction, although I'm hoping there might be a bit of fiction in there, is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. I'm a sucker for books by staff or former staff of the NHS, because whatever is said about the NHS, the fact is that most of these writers did their jobs because they loved working with their patients - as did I!

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Family Stories That Make History but not History Books.

Family stories.
I am beginning preparations for a different Christmas this year - it will be the first that I've spend without my daughter since she was born! Last year I celebrated at her new home in Melbourne and I hoped to be there for this year too, but events have transpired to make it otherwise. It's particularly hard as this is my grand-daughter's first Christmas, although at three months old she won't be too worried. I will, however, be able to Skype to see her and her parents and wish them a very happy Christmas and for that I'm very grateful. Not everyone who is separated from family or friends has that luxury.

This time a hundred year ago my grandfather, who served during The Great War in the Army Service Corps, was still in the army and he and his unit were gradually making their way back in their lorries from the Middle East. Unfortunately my siblings and I know very little about his army life, although one sister recently found diaries online written in 1915 by our great-uncle by marriage, Captain Comley Hawkes, who also served in the Army Service Corps which gives us an inkling, although they worked in different locations. One story I recall my mother telling us is that Grandpa and his companions were given the opportunity of spending Christmas 1918 in Bethlehem. Much as he wished too, and I think partly regretted his decision later, he declined because he wanted to get back to England as soon as he could. He had a daughter of two and a half  years old waiting at home who he had yet to meet. I don't know exactly when he reached home but I know it was already 1919. He wouldn't get to spend a Christmas with her until her fourth.

As my sisters and I look more into our family history - we now have the names of  22 of our 32 great, great, great grandparents (made easier by the ancestry tracing websites) the information that we already knew was because of family stories, some passed from generation to generation and the fact that our parents and grandparents kept in touch with friends and family even though they they hadn't the benefit of instant communication as we do now.

Another family story is when my grandmother wrote to her friend, Gwen, who was then in Australia telling her that she had been jilted. The letter and its reply would have taken at least 12 weeks to travel across the world and back. I can message my daughter and receive a reply within as many seconds.

When she first went to Australia in 1913, at Gwen's suggestion, my grandmother worked for Gwen's  second cousins, that branch of the family having emigrated to Australia in 1851 (June 29th to be precise) during the Australian Goldrush. She later became good friends with their daughter Floss, who was a similar age to her, and when she married (Gwen's brother) her daughters were close friends with Floss's. When my grandparents returned to England letters and cards were exchanged between Australia and England. The next generation took over the correspondence which continued for over 80 years. Visits were also made and the connection continues hence I got to meet up again with my fourth cousin once removed on my visit to Australia last Christmas. My Australian born grand-daughter has dozens of distant cousins in Victoria, Australia because two of my mother's aunts also have numerous descendants there, several of whom are still in touch.

Family stories rarely make headlines but they are what makes history real. And I think they're important. I'm now of an age where I see toys that I played with in museums and the country childhood I experienced and wrote about here is now mostly history. I've mentioned previously my mother's notebooks (pictured above) of her jottings about that time and they have been a delight to read. I just wish we had more. Lets get our stories written for future generations, because history books won't tell them the stories that we can.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

So far this year...

The topic on a recent weekly Twitter #writingchat was this year's 9 month update. I wasn't able to join in as for the last few weeks I've been in Australia and I'm afraid waking up at 5.00am to tweet has been a bit beyond me. Perhaps if I'd had something exciting to report I'd have set my alarm but unfortunately my report would have been rather negative.

However I have achieved my highest number of submissions so far this year from 75 word stories to Paragraph Planet, to slightly longer flash fiction pieces to various sites and competitions. I've submitted a handful of short stories to competitions and my novel to four agents/publishers, but with no success. I've had a few flash fictions published and a non-fiction piece but only one prize placement in a small competition and a long-listing in Flash 500.

I'm still researching suitable sites for my work. I had one flash fiction piece that didn't seem to belong anywhere. I considered sending to it Reflex Fiction as I had been long-listed previously but decided against it as it didn't seem to 'fit' the stories they tend to publish but then I thought why not? It wasn't long-listed but I have received an email saying it will be included in the published 'near-misses' list and should be on their website later this month.

There are still a few subs out there in the big void so fingers crossed.

It has been a good year though because in September, after an extra week of waiting, I became a grandma. And she's gorgeous! I wish my mother had been able to know about her Australian great-granddaughter who, like her, was born in Victoria and shares her name.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Writing Community.

I love being part of the writing community. It's vast group comprising writers from all over the world, all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, and whatever else may make us different. When we write we all share something amazing. The Internet enables us to partake in online groups, exchange ideas with others writers and most importantly, I think, give and receive support. There are best selling writers who tweet helpful advice and suggestions, those who tweet about great books and stories they've read, and those who encourage writers who've not yet been brave enough to submit anything anywhere! There's a vast support network out there.

Yes, of course there are the nasty trolls and people who are overly critical, many of whom hide behind anonymous social media profiles, but they are far outweighed by the positive supporters. I've seen tweets from writers who've been understandably upset by some awful comments or vitriolic reviews but the positive support always follows.

Writers comment on each others' tweets and links. I've received some lovely comments about the odd piece of mine which really does boost my writing esteem, which it needs!

I had a story published in Stories for Homes 2 last year and the online network of the contributors and editors feels like being part of a lovely family. The flash flood organised by Calum Kerr and his colleagues in June produced not only a flood of fabulous flash fiction but also numerous positive comments on each other's posts. I felt proud to have a piece in among so many superb writers but, again, I felt I was part of a community which can be important when many writers work on their own.

So is there a downside to the writing community? When my writing is getting nowhere and the rejections are stacking up and I log on to Twitter and see tweets and posts about successes in competition wins, short story collections and first or subsequent novels published, while I'm truly pleased for their authors, many of whom I've met online or in real life, it makes my own lack of success feel all the more acute. Their talent is shining while mine is non-existent and I'm thinking my writing is rubbish and I don't try hard enough. It's easy to get disheartened.

Then I remember that many of these writers who are now doing well and receiving well-deserved acclaim, almost certainly once felt like I do! But they kept going. And they did so in spite of other jobs - often demanding ones - and raising their families, or while going through periods of illness. They kept going by honing their writing skills and submitting their work. I'm sure there are plenty of others who gave up so, not surprisingly, I haven't heard much about about those writers.

So I can choose to give up or keep going. There are no guarantees that my writing will ever result in success but giving up will definitely result in none. I choose to see those other writers' successes as  the result of their hard work and persistence and choose to be encouraged by it.

So thanks for sharing all your wins and publication success because while a little luck may be in the mix, I know that hard work makes Lady Luck get a move on.

PS: Just as I published this post, I spotted on Twitter #ShareYourRejections on which most responses are saying keep going!