Saturday, December 29, 2007

Achievements & Targets

Words written73,359>100,000
Shorties plotted4640
Shorties written1926
Flashes written3110
Poems written35
Novels completed11-2
Novels plotted40
Novels started21
Total Submissions53100

Thursday, December 27, 2007

T'was the Night Before Christmas

And some bugger, not in his 4x4,
Let his car roll into my driver's door.

The bugger in question had been delivering something to a nearby house, and had left his handbrake off. When he reappeared, he was non-plussed, then arrogant, then oh-so-contrite. His behaviour was really odd. He got back in his car and drove off, so I telephoned the police. (This was a Bad Move.)

"Hello, I'd like to report a driver. I think he was drunk."

"Right, Madam, what's your name, address, mobile number, home-telephone number, car registration, car make and model? What was the other car's make and model, registration number? Where, and at what time, did the accident occur?" [Accident?]

"The drunk driver? He's still out there somewhere. You might want to MAKE A NOTE OF THAT..."

In what direction were you travelling? At what speed? Were there any witnesses? Why didn't you exchange details? It was a reportable accident. You'll need to visit to your nearest police station within forty-eight hours to present your documents."

"You WHAT?" I took a Very Deep Breath, and reminded myself that I am a Good Citizen. "Okkkay."

It being Christmas Eve I had only until the afternoon of Boxing Day (small boy's birthday) to present myself and relevant bits of paper, so I decided to go straight away. I was given the name of distant (but nearest with "front desk") police station, open until 8pm. I went home, found my documents (this only took an hour), bundled the kids into the car and drove three-quarters-of-an-hour through rush-hour traffic to the nearest police station, open until 8pm.

It was shut.

I spent an age ringing the bell and banging on the door (there were lights on), but no one came. The kids were frozen. I was frozen, and seriously grumpy. I picked up the yellow phone by the door and made my feelings known the to (actually very helpful) chap at the other end. He made a record of my attempt to present myself, and said that they'd probably send someone round. Fine.

We had a nice Christmas.
On Boxing Day, I had my first-ever at-fault accident - but that's another story.

Today, a nice CSO telephoned to tell me the opening hours of previously-closed police station.
"I know the opening hours. I spent quite a long time looking at them."
He told me anyway.
"I thought someone was coming round."
"Oh, no, Madam. You'll have to visit the—"
"I spent an hour on a round trip of twenty-five miles, plus twenty minutes arsing about on some freezing doorstep with three tiny children. And you want me to do it all again? I wasn't the drink driver, you know? I was the Good Citizen. You want my documents, you come and get them." Grrrrr.

Now I sit, with a narrow-eyed smile, awaiting my summons for failing to produce my documents.

I can't wait.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bohemia is Alive and Well and Living in Putney

I visited a wonderful house yesterday evening, ostensibly for a business meeting to discuss the redesign of a website. Supper was part of the lure, and there was lots of good company and conversation too. I will try to describe the house and the people.

The house, at first sight, appeared to be a normal house in a respectable residential road in Putney. The books, however, started immediately. In the porch, in fact. Piles of them. The hall was lined with bookshelves, floor to ceiling in places, stuffed with books, nay, overflowing with books. Piles of the things lay everywhere. Up the stairs and as far as the eye could see. It was marvellous.

I was ushered into a room in the middle of the house. It looked like a kitchen (it had lino, a dresser, crockery, mugs, etc., and the fridge-freezer), a utility toom (ironing board and washing baskets), a library (lots more books and shelves), a study (desk, desk chair, paperwork, more books), a dining room (dining table, chairs, condiments, supper).

After a while of gazing around, I had to ask, "What do you call this room, then?"
"It's our living room, really, though we just call it the middle room."

The people were great too. My hostess was a dear old friend of my father's whom I have known since childhood. Also present was a friend of hers who "lives upstairs", an old boy from Essex who talked a lot (about the Royal Mail, and Singapore in the 1950s), and a very civilised chap from Brighton who didn't say much at all (he didn't get much chance, actually). There was an occasional call from the back room where my hostess's husband, who is sadly an invalid, resides.

During the course of the evening two young men wandered through the middle room wearing their overcoats. I haven't a clue where they came from - outside, I suppose. They idled into the kitchen proper, clattered about a bit, then idled out again with bowls of soup. I have no idea who they were.

The whole thing was really wacky, and really nice. I felt absolutely in situ. I was sad to leave.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Pint of Sloe Gin

You know when you meet people, and you like them straightaway? That was how it was when Martin and Jo, distant cousins of himself, came to our house yesterday for the Christmas Tribal-Gathering. They were a lovely couple, and we were really lucky to have them with us all day.

There were about sixteen of us in total, and we had a huge feast of indeterminate courses. In fact, it was not so much a feast as constant grazing. There was also Winter Pimms, wine of various colours, beer, a selection of soft drinks, and himself's home-made sloe gin. This year's batch is particularly fine. It has a delightful pink colour and a kick in the back of the head. We all had a small glass each. Very Nice.

Now, I love sloe gin, and declared that I would have another. When I went to the kitchen to get it, I noticed a bottle of Shloer (white grape, raspberry & cranberry flavour), which was exactly the same colour as the gin next to it.

Tee hee hee!

I poured myself a huge glass of the stuff, and idled back into the sitting room without saying a word. Only step-daughter was in on the joke, having been in the kitchen at the time. I had two more of these glasses over the next hour or so, raising my glass each time, but receiving only raised eyebrows in return. No one said a thing!

When it was time for the lovely Martin and Jo, and a not-so-distant cousin to leave, there was a bit of a panic. Their train was due in eight-minutes, and the station is three miles away. My car was the only one with space to get out, so I threw them in the back, and made a dash for it.

The windscreen was quite fogged, and the first stretch is a thirty limit, so I took it easy; but as soon as the derestricted signs came into sight, I floored it. I changed down for the double bend over the railway bridge, and floored it again. No train in sight - so far so good. But by the time we reached the crossing over the side lane I could see that the barriers were down, and I'd have to really get going if I were to beat the train to the station. I heeled round the next lots of bends at sixty-five, and headed for the causeway nudging something rather more over the limit.

It had gone very quiet in the back.

It was only then I remembered that I'd not owned up to the joke about the gin...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Your Messages: I'm In!

I am really chuffed to have been selected for the Your Messages anthology. Like others I've been having to keep this under my hat since Tuesday, which has been hard! But this morning, the list of selected authors was published on the Your Messages blog, so I can finally let on.

They have chosen my contribution from the 10th of November - the one I call my 'muse' piece - which was my favourite, and the one I thought had the best chance of being selected.

I am glad to see a couple of blogging-buddies in the list (one with two pieces selected - well done, she-who-we-no-longer-name-by-name!); but I am sad to see serveral notable omissions, including one blog-pal who made fine contributions almost every day. I was certain that she would get at least one piece in, if not three. This is a great shame, and a reflection of what a hard job it must have been for them to choose.

Himself and I will be going to the book launch in January, thanks to Jane. She has offered to look after all three children from about 5pm (the worst possible time of day) in addition to her own three small kids. As she contributed to Your Messages (under a pseudonym), but was not selected, this offer is particularly gracious, and I love her all the more for it.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Simple Word-Meter

There has been some muttering recently about word meters going on the blink, so I've made a very simple one that will stay put. It is not clever (or stylish) like Zokutou, and you have to input your own percentages, but it isn't complicated, and it works. And you can choose from six lovely colours!

You can find it here. Any problems or questions, let me know via a comment on this post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Blogging Award!

I have been awarded a 'roar for powerful words' by Lane. Thank you, Lane. I am honoured!

This award comes in the form of a lion from the Shameless Lions Writing Circle, and he can be found in the right hand column of this page. I hope they didn't mind me changing the colour to match my blog!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Cat in Trouble Again

When we bought our nice new bookcases, I scoured the shops for some nice bookends to go on them. You know, nothing tacky, but not to expensive. I looked and looked, but I never did find any.

This evening, (while writing Christmas cards), I heard a scrabbling behind me. Rudy had jumped on to the laser printer (which is on the floor), and was scattering sheets of paper from the top of it. He continued scrabbling for quite a while, but I didn't pay it much attention. I was just glad that he had stopped trying to rub his ear on the end of my pen:
M_r & Mrs A.____ Carte______r,
54 Lovela________n____d Drive,
We___st Su_sse_____x

Yes, thanks, Rudy.

I managed to ignore his antics for quite a while, until he off-loaded a wodge of books from the shelves above and dumped them on the printer. I turned round then, I can tell you.

Rudy is a big cat (not fat, just big), but he had managed to squeeze himself into a tiny space and look quite cute (and innocent) in the process. I have absolutely no idea how he did it, despite being less than four feet away at the time.

And doesn't he make a lovely bookend?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Importance of a Good Self-Image

I wanted to share with you the small boy's drawing of himself on the school's Christmas tea-towel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's Official: The Cat Has First Call on the Computer

And I had to ask everytime I wanted to use the return key...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pete-the-Repeat Parrot

My Dad gave us this for Christmas last year. Pete-the-Repeat Parrot comes from the school of singing fish and dancing gerbils (you know the sort of thing). He repeats everything you say parrot-fashion (i.e. twice). So, if you say: "Hello Parrot." He says: "Hello Parrot-Hello Parrot," but faster, and in a squarky voice. Oh, and he flaps his wings.

Now the really great thing is that the small girl repeats everything Pete says. So the conversation goes like this:
SG: Hello Piyot. (Piyot = 'parrot' in small-girl-speak.)
PP: Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot.
SG: Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot.
PP: Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot. Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot.
SG: Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot. Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot.
PP: Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot. Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot. Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot. Hello Piyot-Hello Piyot.
And so it goes on, with each of them getting faster and faster, and squarkier and squarkier, and both of them flapping their wings, until Pete's recording time runs out and they start all over again.

It's good entertainment when we've got visitors.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Room of my Own: Progress Report

Yesterday, himself helped me clear the tops of the bookcases; we found lots of lovely stuff to throw away:
• manuals for software that we don't have anymore.
• fourteen empty box files (yes, I'm sure they'll come in handy one day; that's the problem)
• a duplicate copy of Chamber's Dictionary.
• a box of (get this) 3.5" floppy disks (I haven't used these since I was, ahem, at uni.)
• two dozen ZIP disks (ditto + a few years).
• loads of free computer-magazine CDs for Mac OS7.5 software (PC users, read: Windows 3).
• a broken "Pete-the-Repeat" Parrot (he's great actually, but we have a working one too)
• a rather large quantity of dust.

The bookcases are on my side of the study, but himself didn't let that worry him as he pulled everything down, and dumped it all on the nearest available surface for me to sort. His part of the job took approximately eight minutes, whereupon he left me to do the rest. Consequently, my beautifully clear desk now looks like this (again), and I can no longer see my picture of the loft.


I'm wondering how many times I'll have to ask him to do something about it, before he does something about it...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Adorable Children

Himself has a birthday today.

Sometime around six thirty (am) I became aware of a conversation going on downstairs. Now the small boy (nearly 5) can get up when he likes, but the small girl (nearly 3) is not allowed out of her room before the clock chimes at seven (when the baby gets up). She had quite clearly ignored that rule this morning.

Having been working on my Message until after midnight, I really couldn't be bothered to fetch her back to bed. There were no sounds of struggle, so I left them to it.

Shortly before seven, I heard them coming up the stairs, whispering. They were dragging something heavy. There was some discussion while they stood outside our door, until I heard a quiet "Yeah, let's go in. Come on." They crept into our room, and stood silently beside the bed for three whole minutes until the clock struck the hour.

They had retrieved all Daddy's presents, from the various places in which we hid them yesterday evening, put them in a bag, and had brought them up to give to him.

How's that for adorableness?

Final Message

Phew. Final Message just posted (00:14). What a struggle that's been today (not helped by various offers of help from various small children). Several times I nearly just posted it, even though I wasn't happy with it, but Himself encouraged me not to give up (this was just before he said, "right, I'm going to bed"). I'm glad he kept me at it, though. I'm pleased with it now.

I've done all but the first four, and have enjoyed myself ever so much. I'm not sure what I'll do with all my free time now. Oh, yes...Christmas.

I forgot.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Exercise in Definition

I've spent much of the day searching for a word. I've looked like a proper writer (albeit one with a poor vocabulary) with dictionaries littered all over the desk, Roget's Thesaurus lying about, and a study full of loving children. (I'm bored. Can I play on your computer? Oaww, but that's not fair. Waaaaah.)

The word I was looking for was verbal. I think. I'm still not sure. It was the best fit.

Now, please, before reading the rest of this post, read my Message (20:46), and tell me how you think the writer is describing her cousin - this exercise is optional, but I am interested in your thoughts!

I wanted a word that meant "formed of words" (not letters, not parts of words, not spoken words, etc.). I wanted to convey an image of the writer's correspondent as a person formed only of written words.

This has been a fascinating exercise for me, and verbal is not the word I expected to settle on. I have learned a lot about the structure of language, in telephonic company with my Dad (to whom I turn at times like this), and also about various art forms using words.

During the course of the day, I met: semantic, morphemic, calligrammic, epistolary, syntactic, and many others. None of them the right word, but all very interesting. Do you know what they mean? I didn't.

The word I really wanted was logoral, but it doesn't exist.

Next day Addendum: My father phoned back this morning, just after the 8am Messages deadline, to suggest verbiform. This doesn't exist either, but it is perfect, and I reckon I could have got away with it. He would have rung earlier, he said, but he didn't want to wake me up (I think he forgets sometimes that I have kids).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poorly-Baby Wallah Blog

I have been absolutely nowhere this weekend. I only set foot outside in order to drag the small girl off the trampoline (she's still in plaster, you know).

Instead, I've been wallah for an adorable, but poorly, baby. She has given me the odd five minutes here and there, but otherwise I've had to carry her around since yesterday morning. She does, bless her, sleep very well and this has been my only respite.

Having finally started to recover from the various crises, which have seemingly plagued us for the last six weeks, we had invited lots of people round this weekend. So, yesterday, while Himself was out doing something more important, I prepared everything for a dinner party (including sweeping four million toys into already-overfilled cupboards)...while jiggling a grumpy baby. Today, while Himself was out doing something more important, I made prepared lunch for some seldom-seen, and much-loved (and very tolerant), friends...while jiggling a grumpy baby.

My arms are tired.

I have, however, somehow managed to post my Messages. I am pleased with them, and am not really grumbling at all (unlike the baby).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

First Letter Meme

I've pinched this meme from Lane, who in turn snitched it from Jen. I quite liked the animal theme, and so I am going to re-introduce you to Rudy (of under-the-desk-vomit fame).

Rudy is a rag-doll, the largest breed of domestic cat, and so called because of his habit to go floppy when picked up. This just about says it all (psst... don't mention the pink nose; he's a boy):

R - Raucous. When I want something (food, to go outside, food, a cuddle, food, to go outside, food - you get the picture?)
U - Undeterred. Even when the rabbit is larger than I am.
D - Dim. People will tell you that cats are intelligent. I'm not.
Y - Yes. Is the answer to any offers of food, even if it's not actually offered, and even if it's still on someone else's plate. I don't mind. I'm not fussy.

I now tag...Smudge.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Room of my Own: Progress Report

I have been doing so well.

I have blitzed the kitchen, the utility room, and the study. Well, my side of it anyway; I don't go over to the other side, because don't have access to any rough-terrain gear and Kendal Mint Cake just now.


See that lovely leather-topped desk. See the shine on that beautiful formica gate-leg table; isn't it wonderful?

You might just be able to see in the second picture that I have stuck that photo of my loft on the wall, where it will provide inspiration should I start to show signs of slacking.

While clearing my desk I have thrown away:
1. Eight years' worth of interest-rate-change notifications from the bank.
2. Forty-six opened (and, thus, empty) envelopes.
3. Reams and reams of paper with absolutely-nothing-of-any-interest written on them.

I have so far resisted throwing away:
1. Our most recent bank statements (which I would dearly love never to see again)
2. Old Christmas cards (particularly those from people who are now dead).
3. Any of my children's drawings/scribbles/paintings, even though I have no idea when, or by whom, most of them were made (or even if they're by my children at all).

I have also caught up with eighteen months of personal correspondence (aka hand-written letters on Basildon Bond). I am particularly pleased about this, because I am very fond of all my ancient aunts and not-so-ancient cousins, and I like to hear what they're up to, as well as bore them with all my news (children/children/children + photos of children).

I realise I have now become my grandmother, and look forward to inflicting on the family, Sunday-afternoon readings of letters from people that the kids have never heard of. Marvellous.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I have a Dream

I have long held this dream, and it is for:

in which to write.

Now, all the rooms in our house are occupied by small children and/or their stuff. The garage is full of man stuff, and the shed (which is supposed to be mine) is full of man stuff that doesn't fit in the garage.

So, the only other place is the loft. Here is a picture of our loft.

You will see that the loft is also occupied by stuff (please note my fine collection of empty cardboard boxes) but, seeing as there is nowhere else to put any of this stuff, because everywhere else is already full of stuff, I have decided to


As an obsessive-compulsive hoarder, I have never thrown stuff out, and I get a bit shaky just thinking about it; but, for the chance of having my very own place, for all my stuff (and in which I can hide away with my laptop, of course), I have decided to become a new me. A me who no longer keeps the cloying but-it-might-be-useful-one-day stuff.

To that end, I have in the last few days thrown away my collection of tumble-dryer fluff, 186 empty plastic bags (I had to count them first, mind), and the outer packaging from five-years' worth of nappies (don't ask, I don't know the answer). This is a good start. When I've had a cup of tea and some chocolate, I might feel brave enough to chuck some more.

(Today's Message posted at 10:22)

Another Novel Idea

Just got back from a night out at the pub, where we ran into some dear old friends (hence the particular lateness of the hour). Unfortunately, the conversation turned to writing and I have come home with an already-quite-detailed idea for another damn good novel, to add to the three I already have in waiting.

If only I could find the time to actually write something down (other than my Message - 00:39).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A-Whole-Evening's-Worth-of-Procrastination Meme

Thanks for the tag, Sally!

Five Gentlemen I'd Like To Have Round for Tea
Sir Jimmy Young
Sir Bob Geldof
Tom Lehrer
Richard Branson
Trevor Baylis

Five Ladies I'd Like to Lunch With
Dame Maggie Smith
Dame Judi Dench
Zoe Wanamaker
Victoria Wood
Joanna Lumley

Four People I'd Like To Meet in Heaven (exc. family & friends)
Isaac Asimov
William Wallace
George III
Dame Thora Hird

Four Material Things I Couldn't Live Without
My car (sorry, environment)
My camera (for taking lots of piccies of the kids)
My computer (and all its associated widgets)
My washing machine (for all the goo)

Four Things I COULD Live Without
My watch
The TV
The Jeremy Vine Show
The cat jumping on my head at five in the morning

Three Books I Would Save From a Burning Building
The OED (or Chambers, if you prefer)
Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, by Richard Bach
My Grandmother’s copy of Black Beauty

Three Books I Would Throw Into a Burning Building
Any childcare book by Miriam Stoppard
The London Orbital, by God Knows (I’ve thrown it already)
Hard Times, by Charles Dickens

Five Songs That Make Me Happy
Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Mozart’s Prelude to The Marriage of Figaro
The Flanders & Swann version of Mozart’s Horn Concerto in E flat
Kenny Ball’s version of Mozart’s Rondo (3rd movement, Piano Sonata No 11 in A)
The Dukenfield Brothel, as sung by The Three Crows

Five Songs That Make Me Cry
Pachabel’s Canon in D
Promise Me, by Beverley Craven
Father to Son, by Cat Stevens
Nothing Compares 2U, by Sinéad O’Connor
The Fields of Athenry, folk song

Two Things I Wish I'd Invented
Wireless technology
The telescope

I tag: JJ, and Liz Fenwick

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beer is Food

Am sitting here, having given up pretending that I'm going to blitz the study, wondering when (and in what state) Himself will roll in. "I'll be back early," he said, "so we can eat together."

So here am I having done nothing again today (except my Message...note the time: 10:57 - that's 10.57am, and blogging...and looking after the kids).

It's now half past nine. I last ate at about half past twelve, and that was only a cup of watercress soup at a friend's house. Actually, just before that I had been scoffing all her Jaffa Cakes and Chocolate Fingers, but that doesn't sound quite so trendy. Oh, and then there was the Mars bar, and the Twix that I had on the way back from Toys R Us at quarter to six.

But, apart from that, I've eaten nothing all day, and I'm starving. So, because I don't reckon the quality of today's food-intake can get any worse, I've opened a bottle of beer. It's Badger's Golden Glory, a rather fine ale from Hall & Woodehouse who, incidentally, make me spit (the company, not the beer).

They took over my local(ish) brewers, King & Barnes, some years ago, knocked down the brewery and built flats (sorry, apartments) on it. They also dumped the K&B prize-winning "Festive" in favour of their own, comparatively tasteless, "Tanglefoot". However, much to my own annoyance, I do rather like their Golden Glory, with its hint of peach.

Well, that's the first glass gone. Perhaps another?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Your Messages & Nothing Else

I have done nothing today (apart from look after three small children).

Jane came round this morning (with various additional small children), and we talked about writing (as far as that was possible), which was lovely (in a lovely-things-you-can-do-with-kids-around sort of way). She's been thinking about my novel and, bless her, has been trying to help me think of a title.

I cannot think of a title.

I go to sleep thinking about it hoping that I'll wake up in the morning with the answer. I dread discovering that I did, actually wake up with it once, but forgot to write it down, and then forgot that I even had it (this is a possibility).

It's not that I don't know what the book is about - I reckon it has a strong and obvious premise - but all the obvious titles are just that. Obvious. Too obvious. Clichés. Tired old hackneyed idioms. I need something different.

So, I've done a lot of thinking today, but I haven't actually done anything...

...except my Message (21:24).

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The No Waffle Challenge

I've been somewhat heartened to receive several complementary emails about my contributions to Your Messages, particularly yesterday's. This is rather nice. Thank you.

I've been enjoying the challenge, having never before attempted flash fiction. Up until a year ago, I had only ever tried novels, and thought my first ever short story was really short at 16,000 words.

I rather like the 300-word limit. I can't waffle, you see. I like not being able to waffle; it's good for my self-control. I do tend to go on a bit if left to my own devices. I get that from my grandfather, that's my mother's father, not my father's father, you understand. My father's father died in 1937, which was a long time before I was born, so I never knew him. No, it was my mother's father who I take after in this particular respect. Why, I remember how we used to laugh when Grandpa started-


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Anti-Social Behaviour (...& Your Messages)

I am speaking to you today via a little yellow ethernet cable. I am actually joined to the net. I feel in touch.

I am staying with my Dad for the night, having brought him his birthday present, and three lovely grandchildren to coo over. The trouble is, it was Fireworks' Night last week. 'Last Week?' I hear you cry. 'So what's the trouble?'

The trouble is that the anti-social nouveax-riches of the home counties, think it's acceptable to blast rockets sky high for over an hour while much of the world (inlcuding 99% of the little kids) is/are trying to relax and/or sleep. It would be tolerable if it hadn't already been going on for three weeks.

I have three screaming children upstairs. Actually, I haven't - the fireworks have stopped at last, and the kids have (miraculously) gone back to sleep - otherwise I wouldn't be down here writing this; but, God, it makes my blood boil.

Sorry. Rant over.

Posted today's Message at 21:57.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dog the Bounty Hunter

Just got my Message posted for today.

I spent the evening babysitting for Jane. Mercifully, she doesn't have WiFi, so I have to do writing. I went round at seven-thirty and, during the ad breaks for Dog the Bounty Hunter, Cops: Most Shocking, and Dallas SWAT, I wrote my message. I'd managed 249 words by the time they came home at eleven.

Finished it now. Posted at 23:28 if you're interested.
Oh, God. Is that the time?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Your Messages

Third Message just posted (14:36). Quite enjoying this.
Not getting anything else done, mind.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Your Messages & Silence

Posted a second Message (20:30), and am really pleased with it. Words came as quickly as yesterday, and more or less in the right order. Very satisfying.

Also, I've done lots of editing today. Among other things, I have finally found the solution for a Problem Paragraph. I've been staring at it for over a month (in between eating, sleeping, and taking various children to various hospitals), and suddenly it clicked!

This revelation might have had something to do with himself being airborne somewhere over southern England, the small boy being at school, the small girl being at Jane's, and the baby being asleep. I could actually hear the cogs going round, which was good - although the graunching might not have been...

Your Messages

Posted my first Message yesterday evening (near the bottom, 21:31, if you're interested), and am quite pleased with it. The 300 words fell out in about ten minutes. It took a further hour to put them in the right order.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Rupert's Phone Call

Having read Rebecca's post yesterday, I was reminded of a transcript buried deep in my hard drive. I have dug it out, htmled it, and posted it here for the world to share.

Be amazed!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Drowning in New Ideas

While barely treading water in the swamp of editing, I am being deluged with ideas for new stories. I have thought up five new plots in the last three days alone. They're not just snippets, to go in the anecdotes file, but fully-fledged plots with characters, dialogue and satisfying endings.

Unfortunately, they have appeared to me at the most inconvenient moments (as though wallowing in a swamp of mucky grammar wasn't bad enough) and I've had to carry them round in my, already overwhelmed brain, until I could reach the computer.

Lunchtime today was a good example: I was just stirring the milk into some cheese sauce, when this great story-line appeared before me; the action danced before my eyes, and the dialogue sang in my ears (poetic, huh?). Now, I have a certain pride when it comes to making cheese sauce, so I had to wait until it was simmering before I could make a dash for the study, and get out as many words as possible (368) before the beeper went off.

Then, while we were eating lunch, I had an idea for a story about cheese sauce...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lucky Escape

This BBC report tells of cars crashing to avoid an 82-year-old woman, who was driving north in the southbound fast lane of the M6 in Cumbria yesterday evening.

Guess where we were yesterday evening...

Friday, October 26, 2007

It Ain't Getting Any Better...

The small girl hurt her leg on a tube slide yesterday, but they didn't work out that it was broken until this afternoon, nearly twenty-four hours later (we had another bad night). That being said, there was no swelling, no bruising, no deformation - nothing to indicate a break. They were convinced that it was just soft tissue damage until they x-rayed, and said, 'Oh, that's quite a nasty fracture...'

This afternoon took us on a trip to Raigmore (hospital in Inverness) for the application of a groin-to-toe plaster cast. She's not yet three, poor little thing.

Baby's still teething.

Haven't had much chance to write.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spot the Ptarmigan

Herewith a picture of a cottage in the Highlands. Not the one we're staying in, but one that probably doesn't have WiFi.

Actually, I have stayed in this cottage. It is called Bailead Beag (chose your own spelling), and I spent a week there during my first ever holiday.

The little building on the right was the pump house for getting water from the burn. It was the summer of 1976...

My parents, bless them, were rather thrown by this. But, hey, no water just added to the rustication (the cottage had no electricity either), and the good folk of Newtonmore brought us water in milk churns every day for a week.

The mountain behind is Creag Dubh (2,500'), and I climbed it with my Dad. I was really quite small, and I remain proud of that achivement to this day.

This time we are staying in Boat of Garten, a little way down the strath. I am sitting in front of a log fire, drinking Trade Winds, a fine ale from the Cairngorm Brewery. With each sip I am transported back to the bar of the Cairngorm Gliding Club, at Feshiebridge (where we usually stay), and where I have ill-spent many, many happy hours of my life.

I have children now, and I do more sensible things like walking in the mountains and photographing the wildlife... How many ptarmigan can you see?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Escape to the Highlands

I have been struggling to get another batch of submissions off before going to Scotland tomorrow. Needless to say, with all the strife from my supposed-to-be-very-part-time-work, I've done neither writing nor editing for over a week. I've been hoping that an internet-free cottage in the Highlands will give me the excuse I need to ignore everything else. I can't do any horrible-hosting work, can't research, can't go blogging. I'll have all evening just to write. I might have to eat something, I suppose, but that's about it.

Unfortunately, not only did I not find time to write during the last ten days, I didn't find time to book an internet-free cottage in the Highlands either. I started phoning round this afternoon (yep, a mere twenty-four hours before we plan to leave home), and now understand why everyone gets so narked about school-holiday-restricted holidays. Some places have been booked up for a year.

Well, I found one eventually. It has all the mod cons: washer, dryer, disher, microwave, DVD, HiFi,

Okay, so a non-internet-free cottage in the Highlands is better than none at all; but, if you catch me blogging, slap my hand, and send me back to work.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Weekend Off

Saturday morning was spent, after less than five hours sleep, trying to get myself and three small children ready for Niece's wedding.

Fifteen minutes before we were due to leave Husband appeared from his cave (the garage), still wearing his jeans and shirt with the worn collar.

Ten minutes later he reappeared in a suit, pressed shirt, polished shoes, brushed hair and trimmed beard - and he had put away his jeans.

We left late (my fault), and we had to go back because I had forgotten to put on my necklace (the necklace I had spent a whole morning shopping for).

It was worth it. The wedding was great. Niece had arranged a kiddies' table where they could draw, make necklaces (perhaps I hadn't needed to go back after all), and play with various games. It was a stroke of genius, and we enjoyed ourselves all the more because the kids were happy.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Bad Day Continues

Having had a really Bad Morning, following on from yesterday's really Bad Day, I discovered the cat had been sick under my desk (right where I put my feet).

He was getting his own back for my refusing to let him sleep on my keyboard yesterday evening (while I was working). As well as wanting to get on with some surfing work, I felt that the computer has had its share of small creatures recently (see here), so the cat got turfed off. He's not a bright animal, and he got many flying lessons before he got the message.

Did I discover this afternoon's offering before putting my feet in place? You can choose, according to your sensitivities.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wanna know how to procrastinate...?

-------------------------------------------...ask a four-year-old at bedtime.

Having had a really Bad Day out there in the real world of trying to run a web-hosting business (the other thing I do when the kids are napping), I have now sat down at my desk to write (humph).

The children went to bed at seven, as usual, but the small boy is still padding about, going to the loo, washing his hands ("Mummy, the soap thingy's run out"), looking for a towel (although there's one on the radiator), fetching a cup of water (from the tap in the kitchen because the one upstairs is too tight for him to turn on) putting out Penguin to take for Show & Tell tomorrow...

The conversation will go like this:
--"Mummy, I just need—"
--"Going, Mummy."

I can't be angry with him, though. I know where he gets it from...ahem.

Ask Sally

Sally Quillford has opened a new section to her blog: Ask Sally, where the lady with 41 hits already this year, gives the rest of us some worthy advice on how to (and how not to) do it.

Already (and she only started at 07:38 this morning) she has covered:
1. Timing Submissions
2. Using Brand Names.

I, for one, am deeply glad to see this new feature. I will not have to sit, fingers hovering uncertainly over the keybaord, as I begin to type: "Dear Sally, I'm really sorry to bother you again, but I wonder if you'd be prepared to answer another question for me..."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Masterly Procrastination

Yesterday morning Jane pitched up with a short story for me to proof. This is an honour, I tell myself, despite the fact that Jane's idea of "short" is anything under 20,000 words.

We tried to discuss some of the salient points this afternoon, but with six kids trashing her lounge we were forced to postpone until this evening. We susequently spent an hour and a half on the phone some films with Dustin Hoffman in, Peter Hall's 1989 production of The Merchant of Venice, the way BBC News 24 insists on making news out of nothing, the moronic nature of Jeremy Vine's presentation style, oh, and her story (and why I was looking for it in the fridge).

Having finally sat down to do some work, all I can think about is that, apart from finishing this story (my ambition for this evening), I have yet to load the dishwasher, put some washing in the tumble dryer, put the bins out, get the cat in, feed the baby, go to bed, and sleep, all before six-thirty tomorrow morning.

So, it's sleep or story, and I know which one's gonna win.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Block, Baby & Banana

Still struggling with my reluctant shorty.

Womagwriter suggested a bit of alcoholic lubrication so, having finally run out of chocolate, I poured myself a beer late (very late) last night. I must admit that it had some effect - although whether good or bad I have yet to tell. In pursuit of consistent results, I thought it best to repeat the experiment this evening... and perhaps tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I am being distracted by ideas for the next story. I know I should dump the one I'm working on and get on with the one that shouts the loudest, but I'm trying to be disciplined about this, which is difficult; the alcochol is interfering somewhat.

I try to write whenever I can, but I have a policy of not working while the kids are around. This means that I really only get the evenings, or when the small boy is at school and the little people are napping.

Having taken advantage of one such opportunity this afternoon (resulting in 300 words), my laptop was sitting, screen still open, on the dining room table at tea time. I had just popped a spoonful into the baby's mouth when she sneezed, covering my keyboard with mashed banana and/or snot.

I subsequently made a bargain with the computer: I promised to keep it away from sticky fingers, banana, and the contents of the baby's nose, in exchange for it refusing to open emails or websites that have nothing to do with research.

This evening, I managed a grand total of 75 words before discovering that only one of us is keeping to this bargain.

I guess I'll have to stick to the beer.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Do we all make the same typos?

I'm not just talking about misspelling here, but the genuine slips of the fingers that generate the same mistakes over and over again.

Do you stop and correct typos as you go along, or can you bear to leave them there until you edit?

Here are my most frequent errors:
SHe siad it was juts the smae int he hosue as befroe, nad she didn;t liek it.

What are yours?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Arrrrgh. Sticky Fingers.

Never, ever, give a four-year-old honey on his toast, and then say,

'Yes, of course you can play on my computer.'

Even if he swears he's cleaned his hands first.
Four-year-old-boy handwashing standards are not really up to mine.

And I know this.

Book Meme

Okay, here we go...

Total Number of Books
Erm, had to get the tape measure out for this one: about 20-yards - is that an acceptable unit of measurement? I have no idea what the actual number is. We have three floor-to-ceiling bookcases in the study, with some doubled-up. There are also two smaller book cases in the same room, plus the pile in the bedroom, plus the pile on the sitting-room windowsill, and so on. My father's study has more than that on just one wall (and that's just one room), so I know where I get it from.

Last Book Read
Watching the English, by Kate Fox, a hilarious anthropological look at the unwritten rules of Englishness. She starts the book explaining that she has just spent the morning bumping into people (and counting the number who said 'sorry'), and that she is about to spend the afternoon queue-jumping, and how she really doesn't want to do this. I nodded, and chuckled my way right through this book. I am very much hoping that she will produce a study of the Scots, Welsh and Irish, too.

Last Book Bought
The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls, by Rosemary Davidson and Sarah Vine. This is a wonderful celebration of all things girly, and contains much of the vital information I missed out on, having had a career-orientated mother. It explains how to bake fairy cakes, apply make-up, sew, etc., and is a marvellous antidote for political correctness.

Five Meaningful Books
1. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkein
I can remember lying awake in the dark, when I was supposed to be asleep, listening to my father read this book to my older sister on the other side of the room. Not being able to see the illustrations, my imagination conjured its own pictures of Middle Earth and its inhabitants, and these are the images I carry with me still.

2. Barney Blue Eyes, by Mabel Marlowe
The first book I can remember my father reading to me. A collection of short stories about Barney the copper-gnome, and his friends, Humpy, Grump, Bumble, Lazy Lob, Mumble, Dobble, and Jingle (I might have missed someone here). The tales chart their exploits both in and out of the copper mines where they work. It was first published in 1934, and I know that the stories were, at some stage, broadcast on Children's Hour.

3. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, by Richard Bach
Read it! I cannot begin to explain!

4. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
I studied this book for O-level which, you might think, would put me off for life. True, I haven't read it since (I haven't needed to), but it made me aware, as a teenager, just how unfair life is.

5. Quaker Faith & Practice
Known amongst Friends as 'The Red Book', this is presented to all Quakers when they join. Rather than the dogma one might expect from a religious organisation, it is, in fact, a collection of notes, many taken from personal experience, to help guide one through the many and varied difficulties of life. Invaluable at times of crisis.

Now, I can't tag anyone else to do this, as all the bloggers I read have already completed it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tools of the Trade

Jane's been trying to email her biography and photo for the competition in which she was placed. Being a technophobe, this has proved to be rather difficult.

'I sent it,' she said. 'But they say it hasn't arrived.'
We go through the it still in the drafts folder, the sent folder, the trash? But no. The whole thing, attachments and all, has completely vanished into the ether.

Now, Jane's a genius when it comes to writing plots (making cakes, designing cards, etc.), but does she understand computers? No. Both she and my husband come from school of thought that believes that computers should just do what you want them to do. You shouldn't have to understand how to work them.

Wasn't it the case that when cars were new, you either needed considerable mechanical skills before daring to leave home, or you employed someone to drive it, and mend it, for you? And wasn't it the same with computers? In 1980, you needed a degree in programming to make a computer perform the most simple function. Now, as with cars, we're all just expected to be able to work them, and anyone who can't is seen a being a bit, well, dim. But it's not fair, is it?

Not everyone is cut out for scuba diving, or stamp collecting, and we can choose whether or not to be involved in these activities; but cars, and computers...they're pretty much de rigueur these days.

You only have to look at some folk's driving skills to see that they should still be employing chauffeurs. And the likes of my husband should never be let near a computer. If he had actually thrown a laptop out of the window as many times as he has threatened to, I would no longer have a view - and nor would our neighbours.

But could he survive without it? He would be a junkie in withdrawal. There would be the shakes, the irritability, the unpredictable behaviour...Mmm.

I wonder, how many creative people struggle with the technology that was invented to help them, and how many don't bother with it at all?
And is it the fault of the individual that he or she struggles, or the designer?

When we really do have computers that respond to the command, "Computer, send photo no.34 to the competition organiser," Jane and my husband will be fighting each other for a place at the head of the queue.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Story a Week

When I started working on short stories, the ambition was to write one a week. After the first month I was already behind, when someone told me that Della Galton wrote ninety last year. Please don't tell me that she was also looking after several ankle-biters at the same time...or I might just have to give up.

So, how well have I been doing? I started on the 24th March when the baby was two-weeks-old. (Well, there were a couple of guys ripping my kitchen apart too, so I couldn't do any baking.) Now, the baby is, erm, twenty-nine weeks old. So I must have twenty-seven stories by now.

Er, no.

I have good weeks and bad weeks, but if I spend more than a month on each story, I feel that I'm not going to get a reasonable return on my time. You'll notice two assumptions at this point. One is that I'll get any return for my time, and the second, that my time is worth something. It is, of course; if I weren't writing, I would be watching TV (and learning useful tips about cleaning the house), or actually cleaning the house (ha!).

One of Jane's stories was recently placed third in a competition. Now, Jane's grammar is bad and I am asked to proof everything; so, I hold my head up, knowing that it was my grammar & punctuation that won the prize. It was all her plot, though, and she's good at plots. Grammar you can learn, but plots come from the soul. Although I'm not quite sure where Jane's come from - she writes fantasy after all.

So here I am, still twiddling my thumbs. The baby being whisked away in an ambulance was a great excuse for procrastination, but I think, maybe, I'll get my head down this week instead. I put on 2lbs with the stress of it.

Although that might just have been the chocolate.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chocolate and the Inland Revenue

They say, file your tax return online. It's much quicker than sending it by post.

Nothing to do with it saving the Inland Revenue a fortune: paper (I estimate 16p for the return itself, plus about £15.60 for the guidence notes), envelopes (~4p), postage (~1.30p), ink, staples, gum on the envelopes (God knows), one half-wit clerk to do the filing (~£25,000pa).

But filling it in online? I don't know. You can't be asking me to do anything too complicated just now; my brain's not up to it. Unless, of course, chocolate is involved.

With that in mind, I considered making them an offer: how about a large bar of Dairy Milk Turkish Delight, (approximate value £1.20), in exchange for the IR paper mountain? But then I remembered that the revenue man missed out on both the generosity and humour genes at conception; I thought I'd better just do it on paper after all.

It was the baby who caused my downfall (she, and my tendancy to leave everything until the last minute). Actually, it wasn't the baby, but all the blood that she vomited after swallowing the thing that she swallowed.

'What did she swallow?' the doctors asked. 'Well, if I'd seen it, I wouldn't have let her put it in her mouth...would I?' So, the last two days have been spent trying to find out what it was. We've been in two ambulances (one with flashing lights), two hospitals, seen seven nurses, three x-ray technicians, four paramedics (one of them rather dishy - Hi, Steve), two doctors, three consultants, and a registrar. We also had one dreadful, dreadful, night on the paediartic ward of UNNAMED hospital. And the baby's mystery object was...

...I'm still watching the nappies.

Once we got home on Friday I sat contemplating the experience. The NHS might be on its knees, I thought, but the people were fantastic and I could not fault the care she received. The paperwork and bureaucracy, on the other hand, rivalled that of the Revenue.

Oh, no!

Some quick calculations confirmed that I had no hope of getting my return in on time (okay, so who's idea was it to have the deadline on a Sunday? I just bet they'll get in on Monday morning, pick up everything that arrived during the weekend (on time), and then divert Monday's post into the 'TO BE FINED' tray).

Okay, okay.
Realising how much more Dairy Milk I could buy with my £100-fine money, I decided to do it online.

So, I logged on. Agreed to the Terms and Conditions (having read them carefully, of course). Registered. And received an email that said:

Thank you for enrolling for the Self Assessment Online service through the Government Gateway. Within 7 days we will send you an Activation PIN through the post.

This was some hours ago, but I remain truly speechless...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Scrivener for Mac OSX

Scrivener is a writer's software package developed by Keith Blount of Literature & Latte. In Scrivener, Keith has collected everything a writer wants in one tidy package. Here are a couple of screen shots:


I can't begin to list everything Scrivener can do, but here are some of the main features:
  • The Binder: easy access to multiple documents within one window.
  • The Inspector: for handy note/keyword/link storage for each document.
  • The Corkboard: a facility to view multiple synopses.
  • Outliner: which gives information about multiple documents.
  • Edit Scrivenings: where multiple text files can be strung together.
  • Full screen mode: where only the text shows - no distractions.

    There are many, many other great, and useful, features.

    The best way to find out about Scrivener is to visit the Literature & Latte website and download the latest version (free for a 30-day trial). It is only by using it, that you can appreciate the full extent of Keith's brilliance.

    In my opinion Scrivener is, by far, the best value-for-money writers' software.

    Aside from the software itself, Scrivener's greatest asset is its free-to-use Forum, where a host of friendly and knowledgeable people (including Keith) are on hand seemingly twenty-four-hours-a-day to answer users' questions. As well as technical support, there are also areas for general discussion, philosophising, and so on.

    My first word processor was Word Wise Plus, which (for anyone under the age of thirty five) worked in much the same way as html code does today (but not that good). Even so, it was a vast improvement on the typewriter, and I thought it was great.

    The jump from MS Word to Scrivener has been even better.
  • Monday, September 24, 2007

    Is this where it starts, then?

    Well, not quite.

    It actually started about eighteen months ago when my friend, let's call her "Jane", suddenly admitted that she was writing a novel. It was then that I remembered that I too was writing a novel, although I hadn't looked at it for a long time. (So long, in fact, that I had to retype it all - the BBC Micro no longer being my computer of choice.)

    So, unless I'm prepared to go right back to the very start (which I'm not, because my memory absconded when my first child was born), it started in March 2006 with 20K words of a novel that I hadn't looked at for over ten years.

    Jane, in fact, turned out to be writing a trilogy, of which she had completed only the first 250,000 words (a fantasy trilogy, you understand). She instantly put my meagre jottings to shame, and I determined to prove that I was worthy to sit at her kitchen table, drinking tea, and talking about Writing.

    Nine months later (I don't seem to be able to gestate anything in less than nine months), the first draft was ready for editing. I spent a further three months loving it, hating it, and ignoring it in turns, before finally submitting it. It was dreadful, of course, and my wall is now papered with rejection letters, but it got me off the sofa, and into the study.

    And so, as the novel disappeared into the clutches of the Royal Mail, I settled down to wait for my Marvellous Manuscript to be considered by the Great and the Good. I kept myself busy by producing another child, and seeing if I could keep its siblings from feeding it too many raisins. Jane, seeing that I had nothing better to do, suggested that I write some short stories in my copious spare time.

    It was a terrible idea, and one for which I will never forgive her. Having just spent nearly a year in front of the computer, I was looking forward to spending some time refocussing my eyes. I also felt the need to ask the man who lives in my house what his name is (I knew it once). But, sadly, I still haven't had the chance.

    Six months on, my Marvellous Manuscript is now scrap for Jane's kids to scribble on, the first three chapters of the second novel lie lonely somewhere deep in the harddrive, and my husband has started to cook his own meals.

    I now sit, awaiting the acceptance or rejection of my first batch of shorties. I sent a dozen out to various women's magazines at the end of August, and now jump every time the phone rings. Usually, it's just Jane to ask if I've got any spare chocolate (she should know better); but I do, at least, now have a certain sense of anticipation with which to greet each day. The arrival last week of an acknowledgement card from The People's Friend caused much excitement. 'They've opened the envelope!'

    It remains to be seen what they did with the contents.