Friday 28 December 2012

My ten most memorable books of the year.

I’ve read at least 56 books this year, including travel, non fiction and autobiography, but mostly fiction. I did jot them down but think one or two slipped under the radar! Add to that some text books relating to work - educational, interesting but not much fun.

Here are the ten that are most memorable in no particular order. I’m judging them in terms of enjoyment and their impact on me, which in my view, is the most important point of reading.

The Swimmer - Roma Tearne

Brixton Rock - Alex Wheatle

Brenton Brown - Alex Wheatle

Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood

For a Pagan Song - Jonny Bealby

The Shop Girl Diaries - Emily Benet

The Pursuit of Love - Nancy Mitford

Live Eels and Grand Pianos - Andrew Bradford

Finding George Orwell in Burma - Emma Larkin

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell

Monday 24 December 2012

Wishing you a Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a merry Christmas, or Season's Greeting if you don't celebrate Christmas, and a healthy, peaceful New Year.

Presents under the tree are lovely to give and receive but the things I've enjoyed giving most this year are Kiva loans to people in the developing world to fund their businesses - it's such a joy when a loan is re-paid and I can then loan it to someone else along with a small gift to Kiva to keep their work going.

One of the best things I have received this year, is the skills of a surgeon and his colleagues courtesy of the NHS and its hard-working staff (of which I am also one) and the kindness of my family and friends.

I have also seen in my local community how people working together can achieve quite remarkable things, so with those thoughts in mind I wish you all a happy, peaceful and healthy New Year.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

The latest hospital drama...Introducing Lit Ward 10

Only 4 weeks to Christmas so the silly season has begun...

‘Resus to bed 101.’ Doctor de Licious, Specialist Registrar, barked the order. He noticed how efficiently the blonde nurse pressed the numbers and took a few deep breaths. He too, must be calm in the face of calamity. He couldn’t lose this patient. And he wanted to impress this particular nurse.

‘I can’t understand it,’ he said quietly. ‘When I examined her earlier, all her vital signs were good. Pulse and temperature normal, blood pressure fine. She was chatting away quite happily. I would have discharged her tomorrow. What’s happened?’

‘Don’t worry,’ soothed Staff Nurse Gorgeous, admiring the doctor’s chiselled features, and wondering how she could angle for a date.

‘Let me through.’ Doctor Read pushed through the curtains surrounding bed 101. He glanced at the patient - and checked her pulse - it was there, but barely. ‘Hmm Glasgow Coma Score 9. How long ago were her last obs?’
‘Just 15 minutes ago, doctor,’ confirmed Nurse Gorgeous. ‘This has come on very quickly. She was sitting up in bed with a big fat book and…’

‘My prescription pad, quickly nurse,’ cried Dr Read. ‘Now, this will bring her round in no time. No real harm done. Just pop down and get these, nurse. You too, doctor. Nurse can’t carry everything we need.’

As they hurried on their urgent errand, Doctor de Licious managed to ask Staff Nurse Gorgeous if she would care for dinner that evening. They staggered back to the ward with a bag containing everything Dr Read had prescribed. The nurse took the items out one by one. A classic, a thriller, a romance, a murder mystery, a copy of Do Not Exceed Sixty, one bottle of gin and one of tonic.

‘Now nurse, start reading this out loud, it’ll soon bring the patient round.’ He handed her Do Not Exceed Sixty. 'And when you judge she’s ready, a G&T will sort her out once and for all. Never fails.’

Dr Read picked up the book that had caused his patient to slip into semi-consciousness: The Latest by Will Indulge Self. He dropped it in the clinical waste bin.

‘Call the Chief Exec and inform her that books by this author will henceforth be banned from the hospital premises. I will be writing up a paper for The Lancet about the health hazards of these books that get listed for the Emperor’s Clothes Prize.’

It was only when her bleep went off during chapter eight that Nurse Gorgeous realised she was late for her date.

‘Ooh, you get off, dear’ said her patient, sipping her second G&T, ‘I’m feeling fine now. Have a wonderful time with Doctor Delicious. If I was twenty years younger…’

Monday 1 October 2012

Extract from a Short Story.

The Depths of Memory.

I am a timid swimmer. Ten minutes of being bullied by the waves is enough for me so, toes groping for the slippery rocks beneath, I make my way back to the safe embrace of the sandy beach. I spread my towel on the warm, soft sand and feel the sun chase away the dread of the water. I lie down to read but gradually my book falls from my hand as I doze. I am dreaming the dream.

Falling, tumbling through water, deeper and deeper, engulfed by murky green with bubbles rising up from the depths. I feel no fear, only a sense of overwhelming relief and an inexpressible sense of escape.
I wake with a start. How can I be so calm in the dream when in my waking hours the very thought of drowning terrifies me? I scan the turquoise ocean for my daughter’s head, sleek as a seal, as she swims fearlessly and joyfully. I quell the panic that rises, knowing that Izzy would dismiss my anxiety, reassuring me that only in the sea is she truly in her element; free. She has no thought of drowning.

Was my fear of the deep born within the walls of the damp, echoing swimming pool where we eight-year-old girls changed into our regulation navy blue swimming costumes and white rubber caps that pulled viciously at our hair? Was it nurtured by the two angular swimming instructors dressed in severe grey skirts and blue jumpers, shod in galoshes as they marched along the edge of the pool?

While one barked instructions as we stood in the shallow end, the other would single out a child and picking up a curious metal hoop attached to a long pole, would loop the ring over the girl’s head and under her arms in order to drag the hapless victim along in the water. Gradually each child, thrashing her arms and legs like a captured frog, somehow learned to swim.

How I hated the humiliation of being the last to achieve sufficient mastery of breast stroke to avoid the hoop, only for my accomplishment to bring new anxieties. I dreaded nearing the deep end on each endless length but more than anything, I feared the ritual that would follow.

If you would like to read the entire story, it is published in Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol - still available for 5.50 + p&p
Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 1
or as a download for 39p at AlfieDog

Sunday 2 September 2012

Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 1 wins 3rd place.

Pleased that the Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 1 was placed third in the NAWG anthology competition.

Stories for the second Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition are coming in, for which I am a reader and shortlister. The winning entries will be published in the Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 2. There's still two months in which to enter.

Entries may be made by post: e-mail for entry form or enter online: Here

Sunday 19 August 2012

Tutoring at Swanwick 2012

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School is a staple in many writers' calendar, so you can imagine my pleasure when asked to tutor a four-session 'Getting Started in Fiction' course for them. Planning the programme began ages ago but I was still tweaking up to the last minute. Used to running workshops for numbers between 4 - 15, I practically had a cardiac arrest when a veteran Swanwicker said numbers could be anything from 10 to 70. Seventy? I calmed myself by reasoning that Swanwick attracts experienced and published authors so my course would be for a small number of newbies, and this proved to be the case. I resumed normal breathing and took 999 off my speed dial.

There is nothing worse than a group too terrified to contribute or read back their work, but this bunch was receptive and needed little encouragement to participate. They also produced some great writing - perhaps because some weren’t quite as new to the art as 'Getting Started in Fiction' would suggest. I received some very positive feedback from students and hope the official feedback forms are as encouraging.

I also participated in a number of workshops and attended talks. I loved the session with children’s author, Steve Hartley, of Danny Baker, Record Maker fame. Steve is very serious about being silly. What do he and Bridget Jones have in common? Simply enormous pants. Steve’s were big enough to fit eleven people in and he proved it. His workshop the following day on characterization, using the concept of character based on Carl Jung’s work was inspirational.

David Nobbs’ witty talk was sheer joy from a consummate master of his art. Writing for many of the best comedy acts and sit-coms at their height in the 70s and 80s, his work formed the British collective culture of the time. I was sorry to be able to attend only the first of his sessions the following day.

The social side of Swanwick in today’s networking culture was rich. It was great to put faces to names I’d come across in various writerly forums. There were always friendly and interesting people to talk to, some quite eccentric. I was a little bemused when asked if I was ‘the one who has toothache’ and wondered if my habitual facial expression was of tortured agony. Tearing off to peer in the nearest mirror I was only somewhat re-assured. One supercilious lady queried my credentials for running a course. ‘Why? You’re not famous. Are you?’ ‘No’, I replied, ‘I’m not famous - yet.’

Friday 27 July 2012

Greenacre Writers Anthology - Vol 1

Very pleased to hear that the Greenacre Writers Anthology has been shortlisted in the NAWG Anthology competition.

Our second short story competition is underway with stories coming in - closing date 31st October, after which the second anthology will be published early next year.

Greenacre Writers Short Story competition

Monday 4 June 2012

Reflections on the Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival

The seed of the idea for a festival had been lying dormant for some time, I'd have to prod it occasionally to make sure it was still there, but suddenly the seed germinated. It came to fruition pretty quickly thanks to the support of our invited guests, along with plenty of hard work from co-organiser Rosie Canning and myself.

Our festival was a success - for my thoughts a week on, see 
Reflections on The Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival

Sunday 6 May 2012

Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival: 26th May 2012

Fellow Greenacre Writers co-ordinator Rosie Canning and I have been busy organising our first Mini Literary Festival to be held as part of 'Trinity in May' Arts Festival on 26th May from 2.00-5.30pm in North Finchley, at Trinity Church Centre, 15 Nether St, N12 7NN.

Five invited authors will be talking about and reading extracts from their books and writing, and members of Greenacre Writers will give brief readings from their work: poems, flash fiction, short stories and extracts from novels.

We are very please to announce our guest speakers:
Paolo Hewitt, Alex Wheatle, Emily Benet, Andrew Bradford and Lane Ashfeldt. 

Greenacre Writers are represented by June Armstrong-Wright, Liz Goes, Keith Martin, Anna Meryt, Wendy Shillam, Ruth Kriz, Rosie Canning and Lindsay Bamfield.

Tickets for this great event are free but we are collecting donations for Greenacre Bicycle Rally and Trinity Stroke Group. For more information click on Greenacre Writers link on the right of this blog.

Monday 9 April 2012

World Voice Day: April 16th

You probably take your voice for granted. It’s always been there for you so why think about it?

But take a moment to imagine life without your voice: no phones calls, no smart ripostes when chatting to friends, no soothing lullabies for your baby, no reading stories to your children, no heckling at a council meeting, no singing your favourite tunes to the radio…

Writing, e-mailing and texting don’t make up for a lost voice because you convey so much more than words with your voice. Humour and all your many emotions are communicated by the pitch and loudness variations of your voice.

Working with people with voice problems - or dysphonia, to use the medical term - most of whom, I’m pleased to say, recover their normal voice, has shown me that even a minor problem with one’s voice can be a distressing and frustrating situation. Imagine waking up and looking in the mirror and finding your face had changed overnight and was unrecognisable. Think of the stress it would cause. A change in your voice is just as personal and can be quite as stressful.

  • ‘When I had my voice problem, I felt I no longer had the right to speak.’ Maureen, 63
  • ‘They teased me about my voice and said I sounded like a boy.’ Alexa, 11
  • ‘My boss thought I was taking the mick, keeping on having days off, but trying to talk hurt my throat so much it made me feel tired and ill all the time.’ Simon, 34
  • ‘Now my voice is normal, I feel as if I have my life back.’ Denise, 42
  • ‘I just supposed it was old age and I’d have to live with that strange, weak old voice for the rest of my life. Now I sound like I used to, and I feel younger and livelier because of it.’ John, 84
  • ‘I tried really hard not to shout and now my voice doesn’t hurt any more.’ Tyrese, 5
  • ‘I can sing now. I’m so happy. I’m me again.’ Lindy, 33*

You may have heard of well-known singers and actors suffering from voice problems but anybody can experience dysphonia - I’ve seen people of all ages from toddlers to those in their nineties with problems ranging from minor changes that are remedied very quickly to those that are far more complex and, just occasionally, need highly specialist surgical intervention.

Many voice difficulties are a result of muscle tension, so keeping active but relaxed with good posture can help prevent problems. Your voice is precious and like all precious things, it needs a little care. One of the best things you can do for it, is to keep well hydrated and water is the best way - so drink 6 -8 glasses a day.

Your voice likes to be used but not misused. Shouting and screaming don’t do it any good at all. Talking over constant noise can soon cause it problems and smoking is a big no-no. Avoid frequent throat clearing as that too can irritate your vocal cords. (No, they’re not vocal chords!)

If you have concerns about any voice changes which have persisted for more than a couple of weeks, see you GP and ask for a referral to a specialist Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeon (ENT). Specialist Speech and Language therapists can help in overcoming many voice problems, once a diagnosis has been made.

World Voice Day on April 16th aims to celebrate our voices in all their wonderful diversity.

See also:
and the Voice Care Network

NB. *Names have been changed for confidentiality.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

When Less is More

Can Less be More? I think it can. In short fiction, especially flash fiction, I believe sparse text to be the most effective. Not everyone agrees with me. My peers, whose critiques I find invaluable, sometimes want detail that I don’t consider necessary. Who is right?
I recently submitted a flash fiction piece of 400 words for an online site. It wasn’t accepted but I was pleased and surprised to receive a mini critique from four readers. Two gave my piece the thumbs-up praising my effort while the other two said they didn’t feel there was enough of a story - they wanted back-story, more facts and reasons why the action took place.
Now, it could be that my writing failed miserably in its attempt to say all I wanted it to say, but it could also be that these particular readers didn’t want to use their own imaginations - that they wanted me to do all the work. One reader said she had more questions than answers. I wanted the reader to ask questions and to supply their own answers so I chose not give names or spell out the exact relationship between the two main characters - or even the gender of my protagonist, because that did not matter. A third character is absent - exactly where he now is, is unimportant - but my reader wanted to know. The other reader suggested my last paragraph should come first - to explain what was happening. To me, this would have rendered the whole story utterly pointless.
I’m re-examining my text to decide if I should re-write it, but my question is - did I fail those readers or did they fail me?

I sent it out into the world again. After it was shortlisted in two competitions, it was then placed third in Words With Jam Shorter story competition. I hadn't changed a word. You can read it here see who you agree with. Beneath the Arches

Sunday 18 March 2012

Books for travelling.

All my travels are accompanied by books. Here are my top 5 fiction books relating to countries I have visited (in alphabetical order).

Afghanistan - The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

Burma - The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

Egypt - The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

India - A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Sri Lanka - Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne

Friday 24 February 2012

Sad Old Man - a short story.

My story Sad Old Man, which won 2nd prize in January's Writing Magazine competition began life as a 500 word monologue that I wrote as an exercise in an Open University Creative Writing course some time ago.

I've often recycled odd snippets worked on in a class exercise or as a warm up when I get writer's block, into something new. I might just use a character, a line of dialogue, or a setting and the original idea might change beyond recognition but keeping all those bits and pieces is invaluable.

Sometimes I look back at old work and cast a critical eye and see plenty of faults, but just occasionally I surprise myself by finding something that was fresh which stimulates a new story.

My story was published online here. It is also published in Greenacre Writers Anthology Vol 3.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Mslexia, Kiva and me.

I had some good news today. My second Kiva loan has been repaid so I was able to re-loan it to someone else.

In issue no 50 of Mslexia, there was a small article on p.24 about Kiva, a US based charity which administers micro-loans. People can lend as little as $25 to those in the developing world who are struggling to get a business off the ground, or expand it, but are unable to access conventional bank loans. This is not so much aid as enabling trade. I logged on to to discover more and made my first loan to a group of women in Senegal.

Each borrower - an individual or a group - requests an amount which is made up from any number of lenders - for example, a $1,000 loan might be from 40 lenders each lending $25, or just a few each lending larger amounts. The loans are managed by carefully selected ‘field partners’ in the relevant countries.

A few weeks after I made my first loan I learned that a piece I had submitted to the ‘Monologues’ section in Mslexia had been chosen by Val McDermid (clearly a lady of great taste and discernment) for publication in issue 51. I received a welcome cheque which I used to make a second Kiva loan to a group of women in Mali, a country I visited 5 years ago in my quest to see Timbuktu.

The e-mails from Kiva telling me the loans had been re-paid, the second just this morning, brought me great joy in the knowledge that I had helped to make a difference. I was able to recycle that loan immediately. Priscilla and Susan who are both aiming to expand their farms in Kenya are my current loan recipients.

Friday 17 February 2012

World Book Night 2012 - April 23rd

I'm so pleased to be chosen as a giver of books again this year. This time my book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. My own copy is a bit battered having been read and leant out a couple of times.

The story of 9 year old Leisel, whose parents have been taken to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, is narrated by Death. Death will visit the book thief three times, but who is the book thief?

Last year's World Book Night launch in Trafalgar Square on March 5th was a fantastic experience, meeting fellow book enthusiasts and listening to actors and great authors reading extracts of their books and those of other writers aloud. It was bitterly cold, but was such a wonderful atmosphere, we didn't mind too much. This year it should be a bit warmer!

Friday 27 January 2012

Creative Cafe Project

The Creative Cafe Project selects new writing. All pieces of work are classified as a drink. My flash fiction is Espresso and the title is Leaving. It is now published in  Best of Cafe Lit 2012