Friday 11 November 2011

Comprising the six prize-winning stories from our recent short story competition along with nine stories from members of Greenacre Writers, co-editor Rosie Canning and I are proud to announce the publication of our first anthology.

Copies are on sale at £7.99. E-mail for details.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

I gave Ernest Hemingway a rubbish review.

It’s true. I did it in innocence, oblivious that the page 99 I was reviewing was his, but actually I’m not a fan - have you read the dialogue in A Farewell to Arms? It’s diabolical.

You might have come across Page 99 - a website where authors can upload page 99 of their novel, and people can review it, unaware of its author, and whether it is published or not. Once rated, the reviewer discovers who the author is, and can read other people’s comments. One of my friends recently decided that she was no good at writing because she had received some pretty caustic remarks on her page 99. The truth is that she is good at writing but many of the reviewers are useless at reviewing.

So how beneficial are these websites? There are many of them out there. I’ve posted work on a few myself and each time have had a very mixed bag of comments. Some have been helpful observations - not always very complimentary and not at all what I wanted to hear but nevertheless constructive and valuable, while others have been opinions rather than reviews, and have been along the lines of ‘I don’t like this genre’ or something equally useless. Of course, not every piece of writing is going to appeal to everyone, no matter what its merits might be, but a good reviewer can recognise good qualities even if they hate the writing. It’s about objectivity. It helps to look for positive and negative in a piece of work giving a more balanced view.

In the Greenacre Writers groups, we read and critique each other's work. We don’t all sit around saying, ‘oh, it’s marvellous,’ to boost each other’s confidence because that isn’t helpful. If it is marvellous, we explain why, and if there are aspects we think need revision we say so, and again, we say why (in between mouthfuls of cake.) Constructive criticism is the way forward and I think all the members agree their writing has improved because of it. But strangers - often using stupid nicknames - on a website can be unnecessarily unkind because they don’t have to account for themselves.

I gave Ernest Hemingway constructive criticism. I think I might have suggested he try a writing group. Oh well, no doubt he’ll agree with me on one thing: some reviewers are rubbish.

Friday 30 September 2011

Eating My Way Round the World.

I have two ambitions that happily complement one another: to become a member of the Traveller’s Century Club and to eat my way round the world. Travelling is enhanced by the food you eat along the way - there are so many local fruits and vegetables and dishes unknown in Britain - even when we import so much foreign produce and have restaurants representing all nations. Early in my travels in Rome, where I discovered delicious pasta dishes - then still relatively unknown in England where pasta meant tinned spaghetti or macaroni pudding - a fellow traveller asked for egg and chips. I was horrified at their lost opportunity to sample new cuisine. I have nothing against egg and chips but when in Rome…

My food journey has taken me from my first French breakfast at age 14, when I was given a bowl of the most delicious hot chocolate, to so many other places: the best Peking Duck was fittingly in Peking - now of course Beijing, but Beijing Duck doesn’t sound quite right. Beijing is also on the list for braised donkey. Perhaps, though, at the top of the list is my introduction to Indonesian Rijstaffel in Amsterdam, where we could barely leave the table having gorged on the most delicious selection - possibly around a million selections - of delightful dishes.

How can I choose between langoustine and potato stew eaten in a cosy Iceland restaurant in a freezing February, or fresh Capitaine fish from the river Niger, cooked on the river bank and eaten in lamplight beneath an enormous moon with shooting stars overhead? A rich stew of goat served by a Tuareg in his home in Timbuktu or a plate of reindeer stew served in a Sami tent in the Arctic Circle? Cuba, not known for its five star cuisine provided the best spit-roast pork in the world. They say appetite is the best sauce and certainly we had trekked a good few miles up on the mountains to reach it. Lobster and crocodile were also on the menu here so who cared if bread often ran out owing to short supply?

Local fruit and street snacks are just as memorable. I’ve often eaten fruit that does not have an English name and has never been seen in our ethnic shops. There were the world’s best apples in Kashmir, along with walnuts dipped in a little salt, and in Thailand, durian, the world’s smelliest fruit, and fried insects. Competing for mention are the sugared doughballs cooked in oil that looked as if it had been drained from an old bus engine, in Djenne’s Monday market in Mali, the spicy samosa from a street stall where we queued behind locals in Sri Lanka, and the plateful of borek, brought specially in from the next door restaurant for us in Istanbul where the baklava rivalled that in Jordan.

Coffee at Caffe Florian or CafĂ© de Flore? Mint tea in a Marrakesh Souk or overlooking Petra? New York’s deli breakfasts and baked cheesecake that defies the largest of appetites, or the sparse menu on the local Trans-Siberian train which dwindled day by day as stocks ran out. As prices on the menu were erased indicating the item was no longer available, we always managed to find something and supplemented it with berries sold by locals on the station platforms. And talking of platforms, there were the wonderful restaurants of the Indian Railways back in the 70s, where poor service or food was soon righted by mention of the Complaints Book. An entire meal would be re-served to avoid an entry in that! Dhal curry has never tasted so good as at the end of a twelve hour train journey in crowded third class.

It’s debatable whether I’ll gain membership to the TCC but I’m still trying and I’m up for eating my way round the world in London as well as the actual world. Egg and chips will only be on the menu if my fridge at home contains nothing else.

Friday 12 August 2011

A Little Success: authonomy Blog | authonomy writing community: Announcing the Winner of the Pitch Writing Competi...

This is exciting news for me. I only hope that Claudia Carroll will think my opening 20,000 words are worthy of the pitch.

authonomy Blog | authonomy writing community: Announcing the Winner of the Pitch Writing Competi...: "Last month we launched a pitch writing competition for authonomy authors. The premise? Pitch us your novels – we’ll select the strongest pit..."

Monday 11 July 2011

Save Friern Barnet Library Party

Although I was lucky enough to have parents who bought books, and three older sisters whose collections I could plunder, libraries have been a huge part of my life. My first library experience was waiting beneath the poplar tree with my mother, for the large grey mobile library van on its fortnightly country round. I would anticipate the joys of its wonderful smell, the colourful array of books on the shelves, the exotic date stamp and ink pad, and the satisfying feel of fat books with their plastic coverings.

Once I started school there was the excitement of the library collection delivered once a term to Easter Compton infant school, where we could choose new books to take home. My selections included Barbar the Elephant and my favourite, a delightful story of woodland rabbits and bluebells. At home I continued to read the books my mother had read to me, Beatrix Potter and Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit series.

The lending shelf at my junior school from which we could just help ourselves, provided the Pollyanna books, and then came the proper library at my secondary school, where new treasures were waiting.

Visits to the library at Westbury-on-Trym, whiled away the time between getting off the bus and heading for youth club every Wednesday, where the selection was greater than anything I had encountered before. Friends willingly lent and swapped books increasing my literary feast.

After I left school, the library at Central School of Speech and Drama stocked the text books I needed, but just a matter of yards away was the fantastic Swiss Cottage library to provide anything and everything else. After graduation, in my first job, the lunch-hour was long enough to allow a visit every week to the local library in Ponders End. The Muswell Hill library near my flat lent me books and, on one occasion, shelter when I locked myself out and had to wait for my partner to come home!

The libraries of Barnet now lend me books that I would never have thought of buying for myself and my nearest library at North Finchley hosts a stimulating reading group. While I am fortunate to be able to buy books, and have bought hundreds over the years, I couldn’t possibly have afforded to buy all the books I have read; I’m certainly not rich enough but libraries are the richest place on earth.

Communities need libraries, and I shall be attending Friern Barnet Library’s party on Saturday 16th July between 2.00-4.00 pm in support of keeping this historic library open for its local community.

Friday 17 June 2011

Celebrate National Reading Group Day on June 25th

Almost every day or week is ‘something’ day or week, many of which pass unnoticed by most people, so you may not be aware that June 25th is National Reading Group day. There’s a competition - with Dawn French as the prize! Like World Book Night back in March, it’s a first this year and so I’m doing just a little bit to promote it.

I belong to a reading group, and even though I have always been a reader, meeting with the group has stimulated me to read books and authors I had not previously encountered and to pick up books that I may well have ignored. Some of our chosen books have been brilliant, one or two quite the reverse but all have been discussed with enthusiasm. The most interesting aspect of the group debate is seeing a book through someone else’s views. Often I find that a book I have disliked or struggled with, makes sense to me when we talk about it, and although I still might not like it, I have gained an appreciation of it.

The group I attend, held in my local library, is made up of a lively, intelligent bunch, with varying viewpoints. We are all women, apart from the librarian, who I’m sure at times must wonder how he got mixed up in this group of very vocal women. We’re not anti-men - it’s just that those who have ventured in once, never return!

Reading groups have a variety of functions, from introducing people to reading to enabling erudite discussions. They take place in libraries, schools, people’s homes, workplaces, day centres, prisons, shelters for the homeless, pretty well anywhere. Their functions and formats are as varied, but I’m pretty sure they all have one thing in common - they are stimulating and enhance lives.

Not everyone can read for themselves; some have not yet learned to read, some have lost their ability to do so because of visual problems or acquired language disorder and so reading groups might take the form of listening to someone else reading, followed by a group discussion. Reading groups such as these can lead people to a world of discovery and put others back in touch with a world that they had lost. Either way, invaluable.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Giving books away.

I’m not sure how many people attended the launch of World Book Night in Trafalgar Square, on 4th March, but in spite of the cold weather, some sources claim that 10,000 flocked to the event. Swapping books and chatting to each other, explaining why we had chosen our particular books, we all had two things in common: a love of reading and heartfelt support for Alan Bennett’s view on the imminent library cuts.

Jamie Byng who dreamed up this incredible event, opened the evening quoting C.S. Lewis, ‘We read to know that we are not alone.’ In such a large crowd, we certainly weren’t alone and were in for a treat listening to many authors, as well as actors, read aloud. Some read from their own books, while others read work from other well-known writers. Fiction was joined by poems and autobiography. Listening to great authors like Edna O’Brien, Margaret Atwood, John Le CarrĂ©, and Phillip Pullman was a delight, but for me, the highlight was Alan Bennett. I’ve never been a huge fan of his, but hearing him read from A Life Like Other People’s, one of the 25 WBN titles, made me want to read it for myself. I was lucky enough to receive a copy in return for one of my own books.

Since the launch, I have been busy giving away my 48 books. Some have been appreciatively received at Homeless Action Barnet, others at Chase Farm Hospital, and some have gone to people I know, many of whom will, in turn, pass the books on. I have registered some copies on BookCrossing and have released them into the wild! Who knows who may capture them?

If my chosen book, A Fine Balance, which I am re-reading, brings its new readers as much pleasure as it brought me, it will be a great job done, and I hope that it will perhaps open up somebody’s world while enabling somebody else to know that they are not alone.

Thursday 3 March 2011

World Book Night update

I have my books. 48 copies of A Fine Balance. I picked them up from Waterstones, and of course, the parking spot just opposite was pinched just before I could get there myself, so I had to stagger with two boxes of books across the road to the car-park! Talk about a fine balance! Next time, I'm picking a thin book.

The launch event is tomorrow night in Trafalgar Square. I'm looking forward to it but hope the temperature improves a bit. It's exciting to be part of this massive event.

Saturday 5 February 2011

World Book Night - 5th March

You read a book, you love it, you tell your friends about it, you lend it to them. You want everyone to read it. But how often do you get the opportunity to give away 48 copies of that book?

On World Book Night, 20,000 book-lovers will be doing just that. Each has selected a book from 25 titles, and will be giving away four dozen of their chosen book - to anybody they please. The aim is to encourage reading, so giving books to people who may not be great readers or have ready access to books is an important aspect of the project. An additional 40,000 books will be delivered by WBN to places such as prisons or hospitals, bringing the total to a million books for distribution.


I've been selected as a 'giver-away', and will be handing out copies of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. Set in India of the mid 70s against a turbulent political backdrop, it charts the lives of four people who come together in circumstances none of them could have foreseen. It shows how unlikely bonds and friendships can be formed across cultures. It especially resonates with me as I spent two exciting and stimulating months in India in 1974 as a young overlander (before the word back-packing was invented - before guide books, Internet cafes and texting home on a daily basis).

I'm thinking hard about the possible recipients of my book and will be registering some copies with BookCroosing. Like my 1974 journey, some of my chosen books will be sent on journeys of their own and will, I hope, be caught by people I don't know, read, enjoyed and passed on.


Monday 10 January 2011

The King's Speech Therapist

I have just seen the excellent film - The King’s Speech. Colin Firth who plays King George VI, brilliantly demonstrates the agony of a stammer, made worse for George VI as he ascended the throne at a time when broadcasting was a new and vital medium for the Royal Family.

Many people are aware that King George VI stammered and overcame it, but how many realised, until this film, that he had specialist help to do so? In this case it was from Australian, Lionel Logue, wonderfully portrayed by Geoffrey Rush. The film, based on Logue’s diaries and letters, has put speech therapists into the limelight. About time, I say, as very few people know anything about this profession - the one in which I have worked for most of my working life.

‘A four year degree just to teach people to speak properly!’ exclaimed one of my friends. Perhaps I should say former friend, as he never quite recovered from hearing the long list of subjects we studied and the breadth of speech, language, voice and swallowing disorders we now work with. It has been estimated that speech and language therapists deliver £765 million in benefits to the UK tax-payer (but please don’t ask me how this has been assessed) and our work with swallowing problems saves, not only lives, but over £13 million savings to the NHS every year by avoiding other costly treatments and support.

Although now known as ‘speech and language therapists’ the early therapists evolved from working in the speech and drama field, and they worked mostly with people who stammered and had articulation difficulties. The work was, as the film portrays Logue explaining, an experimental approach with no set working methods. ‘Evidence base’ wasn’t a term in common use then!

The first official clinics for speech difficulties was established exactly 100 hundred years ago in 1911 at Bart’s Hospital. A couple of years later the indomitable Elsie Fogarty, Principal of the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, based at The Albert Hall, established specialized training courses and clinics for people with speech difficulties. The First World War saw these new speech therapists pioneering work with ‘shell shocked’ soldiers and those with acquired speech and language disorders from head injury.

In 1925, the same year that the then Duke of York gave his first broadcast public speech, a new department was established in the Central School of Speech and Drama with a three year course for speech therapy. Fifty years later, I became a student there! 1926 saw courses set up at West End Hospital, and the National Nose Throat and Ear Hospital.

The Association of Speech Therapists was instigated in 1930, with members mostly having trained in the remedial section of speech and drama training. Those who had received specialist and hospital based training formed the British Society of Speech Therapists.

Eventually these two associations came together as the College of Speech Therapists, founded in 1945, with Lionel Logue, the King’s speech therapist, as one of the fellows enrolled on foundation. King George VI became patron in 1948 at the request of Logue, for its 350 members. After his death, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother became patron until her death in 2002, since when HRH The Countess of Wessex has taken the role. At the College’s Golden Jubilee in 1995, it became the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Sixty five years on the speech therapy diploma is now a four-year undergraduate degree and over 14,000 College members work with a huge range of communication and swallowing problems in a variety of settings, including hospitals and rehabilitation units, clinics and schools, centres for adult with learning difficulties and with young offenders.

The College has just launched its Giving Voice Campaign, attended by Lionel Logue’s grandson along with another of Logue‘s clients from the 1940s. Perhaps, with this publicity I won’t have to explain what I do for a living, and I won’t hear yet another person quipping ‘Oh. I’d better talk proper then!' Perhaps.