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!


Thursday, 19 July 2018

How do You Choose Which Books to Read?

How do you choose which books to read?

My last post was about giving away books but of course I've had to acquire some new ones too. My choices come from a number of sources. I love browsing in bookshops where I might see an interesting title or cover and take a further look, perhaps at the back cover blurb or just the first page or two. A lot gets decided on looking at the writing style. I don't have particular styles that I like but there are definitely some I don't enjoy.

I used to attend a book group at my local library where members chose books, which certainly made me read more widely. One member tended to choose books that were listed in intellectual recommended lists and included some books that I thought were absolute horrors but I did learn from reading them. I learned to avoid those particular authors or follow those recommendations (the ones that keep listing the same established names over and over.) I really don't care if people think my reading doesn't measure up to Booker prize standard. I much prefer the Not the Booker Prize. I've always had a taste for Literary Pudding!

A great many of my choices come from recommendations from book friends and, of course, from book blogs and other social media. I'm a bit limited in my social media using only Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook but I've bought a number of books because I saw something on Twitter and  followed an author I found interesting. As many have said, it's usually the authors who engage with others on their Twitter feeds who I find are the more interesting writers. I've come across some gems this way. I don't go for those who bombard their followers with ads for their books. I did once as the book looked promising but it was something of a let down with the author perhaps better suited to a career in sales than writing.

Some books receive a huge amount of media attention with lots of people listing them in their Top Tens and so on, but I've been disappointed by a large number of these so now prefer to borrow these popular titles, if I read them at all, from the library although I usually have to wait ages because they're in high demand as the publicity machine is doing a great job.

I've bought a number of books after having read short stories or flash fiction by the author. If their short work spoke to me, then the chances are that their novel will too. 

I admit I'm not one for doing many book reviews, for a reason I've mentioned in a previous post, but when I love a book or a short story, I will tweet the author telling them so. It's lovely to receive an acknowledgement and most writers do so, even though they are busy with lots of other messages because their writing is so good!  Guess what, I'm more likely to read their next book too!

How do you choose a new book?


Friday, 8 June 2018

Clearing my Shelves

Angi and me with the new
Woodside Park Community Book Swap.
I have been decluttering. Clothes, ornaments, cooking gadgets I've barely used, CDs and DVDs and, alas, books.

Books are the hardest to part with but it has to be done. I had thousands. I've always had an ongoing book clear as my flat isn't huge but this has been by far the biggest cull. Lots of my old text books have been sold and local charity shops have done very well out of my donations. Some have gone to family and friends and now some, I'm pleased to say, along with one of my bookcases are a community library/book swap at Woodside Park, my local underground station, which I set up with the help of another local resident, Angi.

Within a couple of minutes of putting the books on the shelves we had our first browser, who thanked us and said he had long wished there was such a facility here. The first book he selected was a copy of a Greenacre Writers anthology! He borrowed three books and said he'd return or swap them in due course!

This latest addition joins dozens of other little libraries on the Transport for London network, including Bounds Green, High Barnet, and East Finchley.

Those of you who use Woodside Park station, please do bring and borrow books to keep it going. The bookcase is in the main foyer so you don't even need your Oyster card!


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

VOX by Christina Dalcher

As a speech and language therapist, it was inevitable that I was going to be interested in a novel using the phrase ‘anti-aphasia serum.’ Sure enough, from the opening pages Christina’s Dalcher’s debut novel, VOX, had me riveted.

Dr Jean McClellan is a leading neurolinguistics scientist working on a cure for Wernicke’s aphasia, the devastating language disorder that can result from brain injury. But for the last year she has not been allowed to work – because she’s a woman. The oppressive Pure Movement is in power and women are restricted to the home and domestic chores such as shopping. They are allowed to speak only 100 words a day – for most of us that's about forty seconds’ worth of speech. But sometimes a totalitarian regime needs to make exceptions for its own gain. As with all repressive organisations, there are supporters and detractors. But who is who? Who can be trusted? Choices must be made.

Written with articulate simplicity the punch of the novel is delivered in brief chilling sentences:

  • ·       My boys do not wear word counters.
  • ·       They know what happens when we overuse words.
  • ·       I have five left.

Christina Dalcher explores not only a dystopian world, where neighbours and family members may be pitted against one another, but also how language and the impact of its restriction affects identity and relationships, autonomy and power.

As someone who has spent a career enabling those with speech and language difficulties to express themselves, it’s a disturbing vision because I’ve seen what can happen to those whose lives have been affected by their lack of language. It diminishes virtually every aspect of their world.

Like all good books VOX’s premise is not impossible. Prisons around the world hold those who have spoken out.  

A final note; one of my patients with Wernicke’s aphasia was walking with his wife on a beach one sunny morning. He said ‘I’ll get some pianos so we can nicely parade.’ He knew exactly what he meant but can you work out his meaning?

Thank you HQStories for asking me to be a VOX champion.

I have used 3.5 days’ worth of words.




Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Barely Casting A Shadow


Just when I was in need of a pick up, this dropped through my letter-box. (The book, not the flowers.)

Barely Casting A Shadow is Reflex Fiction's first volume containing 161 flash fiction stories that have been long-listed in their competitions from 138 authors.

I'm so pleased to have my story, No Mirrors, alongside all the other fabulous entries from writers whose names you see popping up all over the place whether winning competitions or getting their flash fiction collections and novels published.

The stories have been published on the Reflex Fiction website but it's so much better having them in a real book format!

It is available from Amazon here.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Why I'm not apologizing for making people cry.

Several people have told me that reading my stories made them cry. If I can write and relay emotion in my stories, then I'm happy. Sometimes I talk to people and make them cry too, and I'm just as pleased. Not for my sake, but theirs. But I'm not a monster; please read on.

I've mentioned World Voice Day before here on my blog and am doing so again because April 16th is the day we celebrate our voices. Many people think of voice problems as being caused by laryngitis but there are a number of other causes too, including psychogenic voice problems, which are not uncommon. As a speech and language therapist I've come across many cases.

The young man opposite me was telling me how his voice gave out after talking for just a few minutes. His job in IT didn't involve much talking and he never had any problems at work but it was affecting his social life, especially in the area of dating. At 31, he'd had a few brief relationships but really wanted to find and settle down with The One. His voice, he felt, was stopping him from meeting someone because after talking for a bit his voice would become hoarse and he was embarrassed. What girl would be impressed by that? These days if he ventured out for a first date he never made it a second because he would start to worry about his voice.

I knew from the ENT report there nothing amiss with his larynx. I could also see that whenever he spoke about the more personal aspects of his problem, his voice became very strained. He was of the belief that he suffered frequent throat infections but I knew his hoarseness was the result of excessive muscle tension.

Voice care advice and vocal tract relaxation exercises would take him only so far. We had to dig deeper and get the real root of the problem. The first bridge we needed to cross was helping him to understand that his problem wasn't so much physical as psychological. Some people find that a difficult concept but although he found it strange, he realized that his voice was worse when he was tense. And, yes, he felt especially tense on dates, so it made sense.

His relationships had foundered because, in his words, he couldn't talk about emotional stuff. After a few sessions with me he appreciated that he, in spite of being a very physical 'macho' guy, was also a very emotional being who had grown up literally believing 'boys don't cry.' He'd been told off for being needy or emotional as a child when his father left home, slapped or humiliated if he cried, and so he'd built a barrier around his emotions. Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, any time discussions got personal he changed the subject or walked away. Working out in the gym was his release and his muscles proved he'd spent lots of time there. He'd fashioned himself into Mr Strong and Silent.

He couldn't voice his emotional needs let alone tell anyone that the loss of his father and way he was subsequently treated as a child by the rest of his family had deeply hurt him. But now his body was telling him something - his voice difficulty was telling him he needed to work on a problem he wasn't consciously aware of because he'd buried his feelings. He needed to get in touch with his emotions and literally voice them. More importantly, he had to feel okay about having his feelings and believe that he didn't always have to be strong and definitely not silent. Which is why I keep boxes of tissues handy, because boys do cry.


For  more information please check out the World Voice Day website.



Thursday, 5 April 2018

Greeting spring.

Picture credit: Alison Everett
About a year before she died my mother handed me her notebooks in which she had jotted pieces about our life on the farm in the West Country where my sisters, brother and I grew up.  I chose to share this extract as spring is here at last. The picture was taken by my sister* last week when she put primroses from her garden into our mother's little blue vase shaped in a ring, just as we had arranged them at Easter when we were children.

In the long summer days the children kept themselves amused from morning to night.  There were woods to roam in, flowers to pick and press. Their teacher at the local infant school had always encouraged the children to identify wild flowers and in some of our fields they grew in profusion. The favourite field was a meadow known as the Butterfly Field. 
   In March yellow lesser celandines appeared on banks and dainty wood anemones covered the floor of the copses. These were not suitable for picking as they wilted so quickly. The pale yellow primroses followed and later cowslips appeared in some fields, especially on a patch of unmown steep ground known as the tumpy field because of the huge grass-covered anthills. In May the woods were misted with bluebells. Nearer the house we would spot germander speedwell, valerian, campion, selfheal, bugle, woundwort, willow herb, hawkweed, and cranesbill. In the Butterfly Field we found ladies bedstraw, agrimony, knapweed, goats’ beard, various vetches and some orchids. May saw hawthorn covering the hedges and in June they were jewelled with wild roses. Fields turned yellow and white with buttercups and ox-eyed daisies. Reed mace – often called bulrushes – grew in the reans.** 

The swallows and house-martins arrived in early April and nested in the cowshed and barns, swooping down to the yard to pick up mud with which to build their nests. Members of the tit and finch families visited the garden, a wren nested in one of the sheds and sparrows and starlings nested noisily under the roof tiles of house and barns. Blackbirds and thrushes sang, green and spotted woodpeckers tapped at tree trunks and tree creepers ran up apple trees searching for grubs. A robin appeared with a brood of young with speckled breasts but we didn’t find their nest. In the woods was an even greater variety of birds and we would often hear the cuckoo. The elm trees behind the Dutch barn hosted a small rookery. 
   We’d often hear owls hooting and one year they nested in a hollow branch of one of the old walnut trees. At about eleven o clock each evening there would be a tremendous noise as the young were being fed. Most years a spotted flycatcher built on the side of one of the barns among the Virginia Creeper, patching up the old nest year after year. 

Our garden had a young ash tree, a holly and two yew trees. In the field behind grew two ancient walnut trees with two younger ones planted on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In the woods at the top of the hill were elms, ash, sycamore and beech. A large oak grew at the top of the field next to the cart track leading further up the hill. There were several fox dens and at dusk we would often see a vixen with her cubs and we’d hear the vixen’s cries in the night.  Badgers also had setts in the woods and they would come down to our garden at night and we’d hear them snuffling around. 

The most common butterflies were red admirals, tortoiseshells, orange tip and peacocks, but in the Butterfly Field other varieties could also be spotted. In the garden we had a large goldfish pond with about twenty fish of various sizes. Beautiful water-lilies grew in it and we often saw green and blue dragonflies. Frogs laid their eggs in the pond and the kids would collect some of the spawn and keep it in a tank so they could watch it hatch and see the tadpoles evolve in to tiny frogs.


 *@Burtlebirder
**South-west dialect for drainage ditches.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The First Quarter

Three months have flown by. I find myself thinking that time definitely speeds up the older you get. The reality is that our perception of time is affected by how we spend that time. Studies have shown that if our routine is much the same day in and day out, when we look back that time seems to have gone very quickly, but when we embrace new experiences and do different things the perception of time expands.

The months of January and February were, for me, a time of expansion. I did more writing too, although time seems to speed up when I'm writing! Since my return to cold, grey England, I feel as if I haven't achieved much, yet the time has shot by.

My writing seems to have stalled a bit too. I'm blaming the cold weather. I arrived at Heathrow in a snow blizzard at the beginning of March. I was prepared for it because people kept posting snow pictures all over social media. The snow in London melted quickly only for another - albeit light - falling of snow a couple of weeks later.  It's still cold and my brain wants to go into hibernation when the sky is dull and overcast.

I managed more submissions than ever before in the first quarter of this year but so far little has come of them. I won a flash fiction competition on a small website that has disappeared into the ether. I also have an article on The Writing District website. Two pieces have received rejections, although both were encouraging. The rest were simply a case of not being listed or are still waiting an outcome. A couple will be waiting until August! I'm also waiting for the flowering cherry that I can see from my window to look like the picture above, taken last year. That should be a bit sooner!

I read somewhere - I can't remember where so I'm sorry I can't give an attribution - that the only way to cope with the waiting for results of writing is to have loads of pieces out there. I think that's good advice so I'm trying to do just that.

Happy Easter and good writing.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Happy 10th birthday, Big Green Bookshop.

Simon and Tim of  The Big Green Bookshop
always give you a great welcome.
I went to a birthday celebration today. It wasn't the doughnuts that lured me there (well, maybe it was just a little bit. The one I ate was delicious.) but the fact that an independent bookshop, not too far from me, has thrived for 10 years. That's something to celebrate.

I recall reading a blog post about two chaps who were setting up a new bookshop in Wood Green and I duly made my way to the newly opened Big Green Bookshop. I don't recall which books I bought on that occasion but it was a warm and friendly place. I just wished it was within walking distance from me.

When I was doing jury service not far from the shop I would make my way to Big Green to browse and buy books in the lunch breaks (which were usually quite long.) I think those little jaunts kept me sane because the case I was on wasn't pleasant!

The following three years Big Green Bookshop provided the book selling at the Finchley Literary Festival.

Part of Simon and Tim's success is down their engagement with the local community and hosting book events. I've been to several book launches and talks and an interesting Not The Booker Prize event. There have been many more events that I haven't managed to get to including one a couple of months ago for Stories for Homes 2. I was pleased to see copies on sale in the shop. This link will take you to Big Green's forthcoming events. They also hold regular events including reading groups, writers' groups, and meetings for music and board games.

I've loved bookshops since I was a child. Sadly my other favourite independent shops have long gone; Faculty books in Finchley, which was round the corner from my home, and The Bookworm, a tiny shop in South Molton in Devon, that I would visit with my mother when I was staying with her. So if you haven't visited this bookshop, put it on your 'to do' list. If you have, go again!  Help keep it thriving for the next ten years.

They are holding a birthday bash this evening from 6.00pm too, so if you're nearby head on over.

PS. There were still some Krispy Kremes left when I left the bookshop.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A Month in St Kilda.

St Kilda Pier.
I've just achieved a small goal - to live somewhere different for a short spell. After spending December with my daughter and son-in-law, I moved to an apartment nearer to the city of Melbourne for the month of January. In the the heart of buzzy St Kilda, a stroll of a few yards took me to Acland Street, full of restaurants and shops. A little further on is the Esplanade or, in the opposite direction, the peaceful Botanical Gardens.

There was so much to do and see. I swam in the sea-baths followed by a wallow in the sea-water hydrotherapy spa. The breakwater at the end of the pier is home to a colony of penguins so I visited them after sunset one evening as they come back from the sea. The Sunday market on the Esplanade offered beautiful hand-made crafts. I spent a whole day catching up with a friend while her eight year old daughter made the most of St Kilda's famous Luna Park. While Olivia whizzed around on rides guaranteed to make most adults dizzy, we chatted at the same sort of velocity. My friend had been at the Australian Open the day before and had watched Carla Suaraz-Navarro win her match, and now the tennis pro was being filmed at Luna Park on the same ride as Olivia (who just missed being screened on TV but her leg was in shot for all the world to see!)

I explored what was on my new doorstep or hopped on a tram to discover more of central Melbourne. I wandered the arcades, the markets bursting with fresh fruit and veg and other produce (yes, you can get kangaroo steaks,) craft items as well as the usual household goods and inexpensive clothing. I visited the Yarra Valley for a gourmet tour of its wineries and other local produce. How can you go wrong with wine, cheese, fruit and chocolate? I visited art galleries, the pop-up Shakespeare's Globe, the moonlight cinema and, of course, bookshops.

There was a bookshop about a hundred metres from my door and in the little community garden nearby was a tiny free library! I also had a brilliant Op Shop, with plenty of books, on my street. So I didn't starve! And, even better, Melbourne is renowned for coffee so I had to sample some of that.

I also visited the small town about 60 miles out of Melbourne where my mother spent her first 10 years. I saw the school she enrolled in some 90 years ago which looks much the same although the street where she lived looks totally different. In the library's local history section I found school photos which included her elder sister and her best friend, although she herself was not listed. I also visited the cemetery where her sister, who died aged thirteen, is buried.

To keep me writing I joined a couple of writing groups, one of which meets in the courtyard of an independent cafe on Sunday afternoons for some dedicated writing time. The lovely waiters ensured coffee and snacks arrived with a minimum of fuss for those who wanted them. Another group met for writing support with opportunity to read out work and listen to others' WIPs. Some days I spent the entire day writing.

The Internet enabled me to keep up with writing news from UK and in touch with fellow writers. I also made several submissions. One was rejected with some encouraging words, others will keep me waiting for some time and I will hear only if I'm successful. (I hate these but appreciate that hundreds or thousands of submissions can't always receive a definite rejection.) I hope something comes of my St Kilda days' writing but whatever happens, the memories of the joy in discovering a new city will stay with me forever.