Category Archives: Blogging

Goodbye to Writeidea

Look at that amazing tweet. I’ll come back to it during this lengthy, rambling but happy post. I’ve been volunteering for East London’s free reading festival for the last two years and now I’m saying goodbye. Here’s my round-up from 2013 which pays a quick word of tribute to some of the amazing writers to take part last year.

This time was different and much more demanding as I was also curating the Festival Fringe. I’m very proud of introducing this idea last year and hope it continues. Unlike many of the big lit fests, the main festival Writeidea folk actually get paid. But the Fringe folk do it for free and they are a wonderful and noble race.

It seems very, very hard to single out anyone or any session from this year to mention and time is too fleeting to do them all justice. So I am going to mention some random personal highlights both in and around Writeidea, which should not be taken too seriously by those involved.They’re partly personal as they involve the folk I invited to take part, as this is my blog and it is all about Me.

Anyway, please don’t sue me or my tiny child will not have goose this Christmas (she won’t anyway as the Great Vegan Experiment is underway. Sort of):

Best Festival Footwear: A Gordian knot of a tie between Liz de Jager’s Boots of Awesome

Sarah Jackson’s category-creating shoes

and the Socks that Launched a Lambchop into Space, as wrangled by brilliant Nikesh Shukla.

Best Creative Use of a Fire Alarm

No, it wasn’t me smoking in the loos (honest) but someone did. Despite the fact that, among others, poor Jake Arnott had his fascinating talk full of 18th century slang interrupted: I’m almost glad that it happened. That alarm gave the world its first Create a Comic on the Street by a Supermarket masterclass, from the unflappable Louie Stowell.

Look here she is in the Guardian doing something similar but sans fire alarms. I met Louie through last year’s Writeidea, making it even more of a Good Thing.

Best Historical Talks

I live-tweeted Tom Holland on the origins of Islam until my tendons howled with multi-syllabic exhaustion

And I got to talk to him about cricket in the pub after. Alhough I missed his talk, archaeologist Dave Sankey on the Crossrail excavations beneath Stepney was standing room only and easily one of the most popular events this year.

Best Local and Alternative Histories

Organiser of the East End Suffragettes Festival Sarah Jackson read from her ace book about Sylvia Pankhurst and her awesome contemporaries – in the East End where it all happened, at a time of austerity and attacks on the freedoms on women. A real privilege to hear such a generous and talented person. That was followed up by the last but most definitely not least Fringe event: a fascinating look at London’s urban legends from Scott Wood of the London Fortean Society. From Springheeled Jack (talk coming up in January) to vengeance- (or not) inspired gargoyles, I could listen to Scott all night.

Best BSL Interpreted Talk

Another superb writer I invited but had to miss, darn it, as a Fringe Curator’s work is never done – star of the YA universe, here in his factual persona with This Book is Gay *bows*: the Queen of Teen, James Dawson. At least I got to meet him during that fire alarm break. And he got some lively signing done: ‘sexyfuntime’ caused no difficulties at all … 

Personal Biggest Coup Feel

Three top indie publishers – some of whom may well have done similar paid-for prestigious events elsewhere – came to talk book trade and times for free.  These are very special people. Meike of Peirene Press is bringing contemporary European literature to new audiences, Kit from Influx has published one of my favourite contemporary poets, Chimene Suleyman, and is doing amazingly radical work (watch out for the anonymous anarchist) and Sam from Galley Beggars brought us wonders as diverse as Simon Gough, Baileys’ prizewinner Eimar McBride and possibly the greatest author ever: Francis Plug.

Best New Getting Folk Involved Sessions

I know ‘interactive’ is the right word. But it feels a little impersonal for three events that were each in their own way very special ways for people to come together in real life. Lots  got together to eat cakes and write letters. Proper ones, on paper, thanks to the lovely Letter Lounge.

 

I am very, very proud to have organised the first Death Cafe in Tower Hamlets. Lots of us talked, listened, laughed and cried. We were really lucky to have this led by Annie Broadbent, again for free, gave a wonderful talk about dealing with bereaved people.

Another expert in dealing with difficult conversations, Ione Rojas of Furry Tales, came to help. And it all came just in time for me to deal with another death.

And there was #QuizYA created by Jim Dean of YaYeahYeah who has read more, preached more and inspired more people to read, love and be social over Young Adult (and other) books than anyone can possibly do with a mere 24 hours in the day. He’s busy bringing lots of lovely indie bookshops to daily view at the moment with #indieadvent. A real star.

Other generous people helped that to happen – that’s brilliant debut writer Robin Stevens on Jim’s left – @redbreastedbird mentioned at the beginning. She’s taking over the Young Agatha Christie mantle: one murder and bunbreak at a time. Robin also gave up her time for free, to chair a terrific session with Tanya Byrne: Tanya makes such beautiful, original writing look effortless. More pride here, at getting such hugely-talented YA writers involved. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a pleased with myself piece 😉

But that tweet, back at the beginning, has to be my Desert Island highlight: the one thought I’m taking away with me. This isn’t a humblebrag but a proper, delighted, ”I done good one. I helped out at a festival, invited writers and publicised it to booklovers. Sally, a young writer and bookblogger came to see, hear and meet writers she admires. Now she’s even more inspired to write. Here she is with Liz de Jager, author of the utterly brilliant Banished and Vowed, who also gave up lots of time and energy to give a brilliant free session on fan fiction.

I’m really sorry to step down as the Festival’s only non-staff  volunteer organiser but I’ve taken on a big role with the Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and only have so much volunteering time to spare. But that tweet gives me a truly wonderful, my work here is done feeling. It’s been fun. And next year I will be in the audience.

 

 

 

Lost and Found

St_Eanswythe_FolkestoneIt’s been a death-intensive year for my family. After Dad dying in January, my much-loved Uncle Bill died a couple of weeks ago. His funeral was last Thursday at a pretty church in Hemel Hempstead.

The ‘moor’ of Boxmoor is a small green space on the edge of an ever-growing town that has swallowed up the cottages and cowslips of my Mum’s 1930s childhood. When I was small, heading to the millpond by the canal with a fishing net, it was a wild expanse of trees. Probably with bears.

So it feels timely that a poem I sent to the fun Verbatim Poetry site back in the summer inspired by, yes, death, has just been posted. The Verbatim Poetry idea is to add punctuation and spacing on to non-poetic text, from ‘road signs to shampoo bottles.’ It is, I warn you, addictive. As well as editing any text in front of me, I now scan it for verse potential, which often means talking aloud to myself in shops and other public places.

I took my poem – Floral Tributes – from the excellent and informative handbook produced by the Natural Death Centre.

Up until today I felt I’d lost my regular blogging ability. The Weekly Blog Club was such a wonderful impetus.

Now found: my own much-needed ‘just get on with it and don’t rely on wonderful Janet E Davis to encourage you’ push to post regularly again.

By the way: the photo is a different churchyard: St Eanswythe in Folkestone on a summer’s day. Definitely my favourite saint with superpowers as she made water run up hill.

Here is a wonderful description of another favourite and local to me cemetery, with some stunning photos – the gloriously gothic Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park: visited by The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life on a a misty winter morning. Beautiful and moving. And that’s enough death, thanks.

Writing Not Writing

East_London_Suffragettes_FestivalWriting is strange. The word ‘meta’ sends me into a panic.

I also know I can disappear in unproductive mists of rumination if I start to try to write about writing.

Over the last fortnight, I’ve been writing a lot but have done nothing on the project I’m trying to finish. What I have written includes:

  • a blog post for a charity CEO
  •  news about the brilliant, wonderful and important East London Suffragette Festival (do come. It will be brilliant)
  • loads of varied content about the Writeidea Festival, including a submission that now means I’m curating this year’s Fringe
  • precis help for my daughter’s vet clinic work experience
  • two poems: both execrable
  • a short story about feet on the Underground
  • critiques of fellow SCBWI writers’ fiction
  • exercises on a Writing for Teenagers’ course

Not to mention tweets via various accounts, letters of complaint to council planning officers, a job application for unfamiliar work, daily scraps about stuff that may end up in fiction,a major edit of the opening of my middle grade novel and a whole lot more …Oh, okay, critical self: some of it is editing. How far is editing writing? There’s another rabbit hole down which to vanish and look, there goes another hour.

It’s all writing, in different ways: but none of it relates to the project I think is most important.

What with family and festival commitments, hospital appointments and pesky friends who insist on having birthdays EVERY year, I’ve been away from here for those two weeks. I value the Weekly Blog Club space; partly it’s the closest I come to keeping any form of diary or journal.

There’s nothing like trying to recreate your 17-year-old thoughts – for a novel – to make me wish I had done this. Maybe I’ll feel the same in 20 years’ time but it seems unlikely I’ll go through similar changes and such intense feelings.

I’ve mentioned the 750 Words process before. I’ve been neglecting that recently too. And it’s probably no coincidence that the piece I am having problems with is non fiction but personal.

I’ll try again later. Or tomorrow. Except I’m busy tomorrow.

 

Found poetry, procrastination and top tweeting.

I met the omni-talented Uschi Gatward when we both wrote prize-winning short stories for the Writeidea Festival in 2012. Judged by Jill Dawson, no less.

And this post has just peaked for me. Uschi won second place to my third and has gone on to shortlist after shortlist, adorned with well-earned praise, with a prize in the bag yet to be announced. I on the other hand am still working on it.

Uschi’s written some highly entertaining blog posts for wonderful women’s writing magazine Mslexia on her contest submissions over the past three months: you can see the first of these  linked to her name above. One of her submissions was to the very entertaining Verbatim Poetry: publishing poems written by adding spacing and punctuation to found text.

This can be from adverts, online comments, manuals: you name it. So I spent a few happy hours yesterday distracted by the idea and putting together a poem for submission. I’ll let you know. This, however, is when I was meant to be editing the Work in Progress.

As I’ve said on here before, I am a martyr to procrastination. Scrap that: I am its patron saint. If it can be put off, left until another day, overlooked for a few hours or generally hidden for a bit: I’ll do it.

WIP apart, recent procrastination means I’ve failed to get tickets for a brilliant weekend ahead of amazing authors and other fascinating folk at the UK’s first Young Adult Literature Conference at London Film and Comic Con. Though, thanks to the magic of Twitter, I have now got my grubby mitts on a short day pass for Sunday via sainted agent Gemma Cooper *we are not worthy etc*

I have one very disappointed daughter. As a kind and caring parent, I am passing on this lesson in procrastination for her edification (but she is NOT having my lovely ticket.)

I meant to write my weekly blog post last night as I had an evening comparatively free. Instead, I got caught up in a Twitter chat on Middle Grade – age 9 to 12 – fiction. A couple of hard-working women writers put this together: @miriamhcraig and @authorontheedge The next is 8-9pm on Wednesday 23 July. Look out for #ukmgchat

No, it is not procrastination to spend time discussing the definition of fantasy in kids’ books with the likes of SF Said, awesome author of Varjak Paw and epic space tale Phoenix. It is time supremely and enjoyably well-spent.

And just look at the result: pictured above. Obviously Twitter can pack up and go home, as I have won it. But where would I procrastinate then?

 

 

 

 

Ten things I’ve never done before

Sainte_Baume_France

Beaten up the mountain:
Sainte Baume

Thursday morning. I started wondering as usual what to write about for Weekly Blog Club. I’ve been dashing around over the last two weeks and thought I’d try to pick something out of that. I don’t keep a diary and am shocked at how hard I’m finding it to remember everything I’ve done – or even several things.

I spent about five minutes when I woke on Wednesday  trying to remember what day it was – not an exaggeration. So I’m giving my brain a shake-up and challenging myself to find new experiences from the last fortnight. Thinking it over, I’m shocked (again) to see how many are to do with aging; one way or another. So the first is  to push myself:

1. Write a blog post in 15 minutes. Possibly allowing five more for links and finding a photo. Haven’t done it yet: I’ll let you know by No 10.

2. Gone to Bristol. This one is down to, yes, failing memory. I am fairly sure that I have been there before: on one of the many whistle-stop tours around the country I used to do as a Home Office press officer. Several towns in a day, visit CCTV cameras when they were a New Thing, lunch for provincial journos etc. But as my memory of it is people throwing eggs, and the Home Secretary was Michael Howard, that doesn’t narrow it down enough to check.

3. Take my daughter for a University visit. Which is why we were in Bristol, the Friday before last. Gosh that made me feel old. I didn’t make any university visits myself as I didn’t expect to be able to go to university. Now I feel I missed out but it’s a delight to see her excited and so motivated.

4. Sneaked into a first class train carriage. This is because the trains back from Bristol to London were all cancelled and rubbish. After several hours and changes of train, we joined some drunk Welsh women at Reading in taking up residence in the posh seats. To be fair, we did get free bottles of water and some peanuts. I would have preferred to have been home by midnight as we had an early flight to France the next day. And yet …

5. Not had to RUSH for a flight. Up early, two trains to Stansted ahead of time, leisurely breakfast and gasps of horror at the price of Toblerone, usual beeping noises as mysterious setting off of all security systems by luggage and self … all with no swearing, falling over, dropping stuff and crying. A great first.

6. Beaten up a mountain by an octogenarian. The noticeboard at Sainte Baume said to allow about 40 minutes to walk up and up and up steep paths and steps to the church in a cave . My father, 81, snorted. ‘We will do this in 15 minutes.’ Not me. Time for all the falling over and wailing I missed out on at the airport. He went off and played golf afterwards while I wondered if my Achilles tendons would ever forgive me.

7. Walked around a golf course. Part of the reason the 81-year-old is so fit is down to a couple of hours of golf at 5.30 every morning. He gets there before the Provencal  sun is too strong and all the ‘bloody slow idiots’ come out: i.e. the people who do not actually RUN around the course as he does. I wandered along behind him for six holes, getting in the way, looking at interesting mountainside ruins and taking photos of trees. I don’t get golf.

8. Waved my daughter goodbye for ever. She went off to St Tropez on the back of my father’s motorbike. As every other road user is a ‘bloody idiot’ too, who must be overtaken at all costs, I assumed that was the last I’d see of her. Huge surprise that she came back in one piece.

9. Watched a spectacular theft. There are jays everywhere in that part of Provence. I was swimming in the pool of my father (note French construction of sentence) when a jay flew low overhead, stolen fig from the tree in the garden in its beak. Brilliant.

10. Watched baby swallows leave their nest. Another wonderful bird-related first. It feels symbolic too.

Look: 15 minutes.

 

Happy 50th Birthday Charlie Bucket

KarenJKHart_child

My reading spot

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators earlier this year, as part of my continuing efforts to Be A Writer.

The British Isles’ section has a wonderful online magazine: Words and Pictures. I was delighted to write a post for them this week on the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl:

Happy 50th Birthday Charlie Bucket.

Seven ways London went wrong

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

From Sunday 31 March, I ran the @londonisyours Twitter account for a week. You’ve probably seen these curated accounts round your way, where a different person gives insights into their daily life in a town, country or continent. @Sweden is one of the most-followed and I think it’s consistently interesting.

Signing up a few months ago, I tempted the Fates with my plans. There’d be a day or so at wonderful places I support with yearly membership but never seem to have the time to visit: Kew Gardens and the Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d travel by boat, taking in Tate a Tate en route, among a plethora of shows, galleries, museums and lectures.

I’d revisit areas I’d lived, from Stockwell to Stoke Newington; the bars and cafes of Islington, the City and Barbican. There’d be fascinating crime anecdotes from former workplaces at the Home Office and Met Police, and topical observations on paying nearly £1K a month for childcare back in the late 90s.

Cue the vengeance of the London-wrecking Seven:

1. Dental misery. A visit to the dentist the previous week led to antibiotics and endless days of head in a bucket. ‘Oh, those! They make you really sick,’ said everybody, while I was being really sick.

2. Childcare. I thought those pricey days of toddlerdom were the worst. No. that’s appeared in the shape of weeks of exams where lives are at stake on a fairly literal level. So any money required for cocktails in theatre intervals needs to be spent on extra tuition and I have to give my ‘free’ time to helping remember facts about covalent bonds, cystic fibrosis and El Nino.

3. Family. Dad left almost nothing when he died in January but that doesn’t seem to have negated the need to visit out of town solicitors to whom digital has little meaning. Mum was trying to get over what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary so I needed to stay with her a little longer. Leading me to …

4. The provinces. I was born in London but left for Folkestone at six weeks. Most people I know here aren’t from London. I complain about Folkestone but it is where I was brought up and I have a lot of interest in seeing it thrive. So it was lovely to chat with one Folkestonian following the account, more followed and, on my visit, I met one lovely person I’ve talked to on Twitter for a while.

5. Work. The contract for my last job ended on the day this Londoning began. Rather than the free time I’d envisaged, this meant getting straight on with the first freelance jobs that came up.

6. April Fool’s Day. This left me frankly terrified to post anything as I am one of those people who believes that ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary. Having said that, the great ‘Underground Overground Wombling Free’ sign of Whitechapel went down a storm. And if you didn’t see one of the most charming and creative charity campaigns ever, do check this post via Charity Chap on the Girlguiding/Minifig takeover. Inspired.

7. There wasn’t really a seventh. But seven is the world’s favourite number. I’d voted for four which, with a pleasing elegance, came fourth. Go forth and curate your hometown. Seven aside, it was a fun week and a great experience.