Category Archives: Social Media

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?

 

 

 

 

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.

Lists, writing and memory

Folkestone_Triennial_Spencer _Finch

‘THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.’

Ray Bradbury used lists to spark off his ideas for writing. The one above was detailed by Maria Popova, on her excellent Brain Pickings blog. There can’t be many people with an interest in any creative process who aren’t aware of her inspirational posts: it’s like having an enthusiastic friend who calls to say “Wow! Have you see THIS?” and you know it’s worth reading.

Bradbury elaborates: ‘…when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer.’

Just look at the words Bradbury’s subconscious throws up: a short story in themselves. Mine is more along the lines of THE CAT LITTER. THE WASHING. THE SHOPPING. THE DINNER. THE BANK. THE HOMEWORK. Someone save me from the tedium of my own thought processes. I can’t go on …

To be honest, that was a deliberate list. I didn’t use the unconscious processes most beneficial for triggering thought and associations. A look at the Weekly Blog Club summary up to remind myself of the optional theme: colour, and there’s mention of blue light and blue sky.

Blue. That’ll do nicely: ‘SEA. SKY. HARE. FLOWER. FILM. FALL.’

Mark_hearld_Pisanellos_hare

SEA. The sea in Folkestone can be the blue of postcards but this is rare. One of my favourite highlights of the last Folkestone Triennial was Spencer Finch’s  The Colour of Water You can still see the colour wheel pictured above and spin it to choose that day’s Channel hue. The second part of the piece was only up for the duration: a daily-hoisted flag chosen to match that day’s sea-colour.

SKY. HARE. The picture of Mark Hearld’s “Pisanello’s Hare” here does not show the mouth-wateringly glorious blue of the sky captured in an original print. I’m lucky enough to own one of these and it’s the colour I see when I think ‘sky.’ It really deserves some Doge: ‘Such clear. Many cerulean. Wow.’

FLOWER. A blue hyacinth: from a bulb I planted in the little communal space downstairs and rescued after a hail-deluge this week. It scents the whole flat. In homage to Janet E Davis and her stunning still life paintings, I created Blue Hyacinth with Blue Heirlooms and Random Blue Washing-Up Liquid Bottle Lid. Unlike multi-talented Janet, I’ll never be an artist.
Blue Heirlooms and Random Blue Washing-Up Liquid Bottle Lid

FILM: Blue, by Derek Jarman. I saw him introduce this hypnotic and unique film at Edinburgh in 1993 – not belong before his too-early death – at a screening with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Here’s one of Jarman’s last interviews, given at that time.

That’s more than 500 hundred words: my new self-imposed blog post limit. But it’s the last thought that might lead to something: FALL.

I’m 17, being followed by a drunk boy I don’t want to see, near the Road of Remembrance on the Leas in Folkestone (not far from the Spencer Finch work.) It’s the slope that some ten million soldiers marched down in two World Wars, to sail to Europe. LeavingForTheFront-300x155

I tell him to go away. He says he will, if that’s what I really want, then swings himself backwards over a drop of at least 50 feet. His fall is broken by bushes of rosemary planted in memory of those soldiers. I remember screaming.

There are flashing blue lights: police and ambulance. Who called them? No mobile phones back then.  ‘Did you push him?’ a policeman asks. I’m upset, angry: of course I didn’t.

We go to the hospital, miles from home, in which my father will die more than 34 years later.

I talk to a woman in a waiting room: we’re both from Folkestone. Her husband is being seen by doctors.  He’s a workmate of the boy. His name is Blue.

Soon after, I’ll go to university. The boy will be forgotten.

Pics: Folkestone Triennial, St jude’s Gallery, WW1 Centennial Network

Seventeen

Alex_Sophia_Amelia_Capel_Manor__2013My daughter Amelia is 17 tomorrow. This time last year, I posted 16 photos of her. She wasn’t happy. I thought I’d do something different, so I’m trying to get a snapshot of what she’s like, by looking at what she likes, aiming to shoehorn seventeen in awkwardly.

The photo of the girls, pinched from her Facebook page, was taken at the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens annual harvest show. She’s been for the past few years with other young Stepney City Farm volunteers, The link shows a video made about the great work of the FCC&CG , featuring her being overly competitive with pride about an award-winning chicken. Show, Farm, chickens: three.

She’s just told Mum she’d like a duckling for her birthday. Same as she told me. Of course: what else for a fourth floor London flat with no outside space? And two cats. Ducklings make four.

Amelia’s on the right, with two of her four friends who’ll staying here tomorrow: wired on industrial amounts of sugar (I shall count ‘friends’ as making five in total, unless my deadline slips and I cheat to count them singly.)

She has several Pinterest boards. There’s ‘My cats :)’ featuring the love of her life: Loki.Loki_cat_newspaper I rather like her caption to this: ‘Loki is perfectly normal.’ I’m counting both cats together to make six. And ‘South Park!!!!!‘ I shall say, with no further comment, that her favourite character is Cartman: seven.

‘Inspirations (well, a mix of my role models and favourite actresses/actors ect’ (proofing isn’t up there, sadly) can help get the numbers up: there’s a couple of photos from Buffy the Vampire Slayer alongside Withnail and Marwood from Withnail & I (Hurrah. Top parenting marks to me and nine.) And, oh dear, Dakota Fanning, for ten.

Game of Thrones’ mainly features Daenerys but has this (eleven):

George_RR_Martin_Game_of-Thrones‘Penguins’ is self-explanatory (twelve.) As is ‘Merlin :D’, if you think TV pretty boy rather than Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. I don’t think a week goes by without her lamenting its absence (thirteen.)

There’s ‘No Category in Particular’, with pics from Harry Potter, Dr Who and The Big Bang Theory (sixteen.) ‘Quirky Nails!’ makes seventeen and she can barely shut her bedroom door for nail varnish.

I’m going to cheat and sneak in an eighteen, as it will be her 18th year. Here is my opportunity to ruin all her future employment chances by displaying the four-letter word cover picture on her wonderfully-named ‘Muhahahahaha! (board of truth?)’ I think it sums up her sweet, quirky nature. Yes, I’m proud of her. Happy Birthday x Alice_Dorothy_crossover

 

 

 

Digital on, real life off

 

Floral_door_St_Bartholomew_the_Great_KarenJKHartCafe_window_St_Bartholomew_the_Great_London_KarenJKHartSt Bartholomew the Great is a picture perfect church in the City of London. You’ve probably seen it, even though you may not realise: it featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, The Other Boleyn Girl and more …

I first went to the church years ago, when I lived nearby in the Barbican. The Cloister Café is gorgeous: I had tea there a while back with esteemed artist and illustrator Gareth Hopkins.  Then, not long before Christmas, after a Bart’s hospital trip (for a first mammogram – ouch – but just do it, if you haven’t and should. Saves lives and all that), I went for a restorative mince pie with my husband.

The prompt for this post was a Twitter chat with the Queen of Storify, Kirsty Marrins. She’d noted a comment that someone hadn’t thought the Shard worth a visit as there was no wi fi. Kirsty, I think rightly, wondered if this was because he or she (or an organisation, I don’t know) couldn’t immediately share their experience with Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

I’ve already posted about leaving Facebook. Lack of a smartphone means I tend not to post many real time photos on Twitter as using the front-facing camera on my Kindle (non-3G) tends to bring on nervous collapse and whatever I wanted to snap has long gone by the time it’s sorted. On the positive side, I have never had so many photos of my hair.

I try to be in the moment and enjoy what I’m doing, or at least experience it. I posted about my Dad’s funeral last month; although I can’t say I actually enjoyed it, there was a freedom from trying to record what was going on that felt liberating.

I mentioned to Kirsty about a cliché that I’ve seen for myself: tourists who only see the Mona Lisa through camera lenses while they stand in front of it in the Louvre. I’m so advanced in years that at university, camera films had to be sent off in envelopes to be developed.

I have albums full of early photos of my daughter and comparatively few of her since I started taking digital pictures. All those processed, over the counter pics somehow mean more than the gazillions of digital shots that I’ve barely ever looked: such as those above. I didn’t take them for instant posting but I hadn’t got around to looking at them until I just scanned my Kindle to see what was there.

According to 2011 stats from the Digital Photography School, of the 50,000 of the people they surveyed, nearly half took between 20 and 250 photos a week. I bet that’s gone up since.

We had a lovely time at the café, by the way, with tea and coffee and reading the papers, buying charity Christmas cards and having a chat with the woman on the door about types of incense and wedding flowers. I somehow don’t think that would have been the case if I’d been busy telling everyone ‘ZOMG Hugh Grant was here.’

 

“Fact, fact, fact!”* 52 of them

The-future-of_comics_Fringe_Write_Idea_FestivalI will be 52 in April and am getting used to the idea by saying so now. I was going to write a list of 52 facts about me but think this is better because I can fit more in a short space.

That’s four already … or even five, depending on how personal this week’s Weekly Blog Club theme-setter, lovely Kate Bentham, thinks ‘some facts about yourself’ should be.

I’ve loved comics since I was small and the picture above makes me happy. This is partly because it only shows the back of my head but mainly because I’m listening to a debate on the future of comics as part of November 2013’s Writeidea Festival Fringe.

I was a volunteer on the organising panel and am delighted that I managed to suggest and bring in some brilliant speakers. They included a former executive producer of Eastenders, Diederick Santer, who is the brother of my friend Hen; he debated soaps with an Archers scriptwriter who came to my wedding reception, Mr Keri Davies. There was best-selling historical master of the medieval murder mystery Michael Jecks who I had last spoken to nearly 16 years ago at Lingfield Races.

Among others I asked were Booker nominee Alison Moore and fellow SALT-published novelist Simon Okotie, who made me cry with laughter one morning with two words (‘Hulk, smash’. Spoken by a mild-mannered Buddhist, this was for some reason hysterical.) I also asked one poet –  Maitreyabandhu, another Buddhist – a man I greatly admire for his humour and  work on mindfulness for people with depression.

I approached some people through Twitter: Stella Duffy, genius writer, campaigner and generous woman. Her blog post this week made me cry. I want you to read it and I wish her every positive thought I can offer. Melanie Clegg is wonderful Madame Guillotine, an observant and beautifully-descriptive cultural cockney who rocks blue hair in a way that (colour clash) turns me green with envy.

It made my day to have Robin Ince agree to headline the Saturday and spend time chatting with me and my daughter beforehand. Being good at English when I went to school meant ditching science and I wish with all my heart I had his dedication to educating himself in so many scientific areas.

I went to Robin’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People before Christmas. I think my favourite on stage was hedgehog-loving author and ecologist Hugh Warwick. My first pet was a hedgehog called Murphy, given to me when I was nine by workmen who’d found him. I adored him and was inconsolable when he wandered next door and ate slug poison.

Back to the picture above. The red hair (I wish I had the nerve to dye mine like it) and yellow dress belong to Nat Guest. I think she probably has the best username on Twitter: @unfortunatalie  I first spotted her online because of her invention of the superb Question Time Tweetalong events; I went to one at the Hackney Attic. I’d suggested the festival have a fringe for the first time and asked her if she would curate the two days.

I suspect by the time she’s nearly 52, Nat’ll be Prime Minister. If she wants. She has a network of intelligent, well-connected and creative people that makes me feel out of touch, dull and slack-jawed. She can also drink me under the table.

I’m looking forward to helping out again this year, with Writeidea 2014.

*I bet you knew that was a quote from Dickens’s Hard Times. And that’s 52 facts about me.

 

 

 

 

 

Kill the Talking Elk

Leap_the_Elk  _and_Princess_Tuvstar_ John_Bauer

Leap the Elk and Princess Tuvstar, John Bauer

Not the rubbish sequel to Drop the Dead Donkey: writing advice from my daughter.

It hasn’t been quite the productive week for writing I planned, mainly because of two events. The first is lovely but has kept me busy: I’m volunteering to help organise this year’s Writeidea Festival, London’s only free literature festival. I’ll post about that as soon as the website is live. Do please follow @writeidea to find out more in the meantime.

The second wasn’t quite so much fun. I ran into a nasty git and was assaulted. I’ll post about that too after he’s been sentenced early next month. It’s preoccupied my thoughts to an extent that has taken me by surprise, hardened cynic that I am.

So: writing. It’s now 1120 on Friday morning and I have written about four words since I got up at 0700. I’ve edited the first 5K words again and am about to rewrite a first turning point, where the action steps up a gear and forces a change for the main character. Her name has also changed over the past week.

She was nicknamed Moo and this has altered to Mu. Because, reasons. It might not sound much but it feels like one of the family wandered home and announced they wanted to be known as something different.

Anyway, back to elk. I have rather a thing about elk. I have been to Sweden perhaps 20 times now and, apart from at Skansen, the wonderful open air museum in Stockholm, I have never seen an elk. This is a constant source of amusement to my Swedish family, who take a sadistic delight in pointing out the abundance of elk in my absence.

‘Oh, look over there! That’s where we saw the mama elk and her twin babies, yesterday before you arrived/the day after you left.’ I’ve seen elk-hunting platforms on all over Småland, where most of my siblings live, and evidently ex-brother-in-law Adolf (I bet no-one else has one of those round here) makes a comfortable living from organising such hunting.

They are beautiful creatures. Although I know they kill a number of people each year by running into cars, I love seeing the elk warning signs on the road and long to meet one face to face in the wild.

So, when I wanted some form of magical animal in my Young Adult fantasy novel, part of which is set in Swedish forests, elk seemed obvious. A talking elk might not be in the league of Pantalaimon, Lyra’s daemon by Phillip Pullman in His Dark Materials – the greatest animal sidekick in literature – but he was the best I could do.

Sadly, Amelia loathes him. She also dislikes my heroine but rather fancies one of the boys in the story. I’m taking any views to mean the characters have some three-dimensionality or credibility so am not too worried about them.

I’ve learning a lot about my writing. I begin loads of sentences with pronouns (see?) and repeat phrases constantly. Description comes hard to me and I’m naturally concise, probably as a result of years of news- rather than feature-based journalism and pr.

And I think that the elk stays. For the moment.

The pic is by John Bauer, illustrator of Swedish folk stories, taken from bauer.artpassions.net