Saturday, 30 April 2011

1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes - STOP!

I've been putting this off - but it's time to face the page and read The Swimmer aloud to myself to see how long it takes. I'm reading at the launch of Best British Short Stories on Tuesday and I have five minutes. And I ideally should stop reading at a point which will send the crowd (crowd?) into a frenzy of dissatisfaction so that every one of them rushes to the table at the back to buy a copy.

In fact I'm less nervous of the reading than of the mingling before and after. Will there be anyone else there willing to confess that - while they read obsessively - they can rarely remember the plot or characters of anything they've read?

Or that while they were out for a walk this afternoon they experienced a sudden and disconcerting urge to reread Tales of Brambly Hedge? Where did that come from?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Time ran away through the cracks

Well I was going to finish my story over the weekend but it went off on a tangent and then the rest of life took over so I ran out of time. We've had a big family party today and I'm shattered (and cheerful) but I'm going to sit down tonight and sort out the tangle I've made of the story. On Thursday it's my last writing workshop for almost six months, so the last opportunity to get really good feedback on new stuff. I really want to finish by then and see what people say. But tomorrow I'm off to meet a client who needs a new website and brochure, and that will take all day, so tonight's the night ...

Luckily we're all stuffed, so it's a small handful of asparagus from the farm for dinner. Mmmm.

Friday, 15 April 2011


We're in Herefordshire for a few days, staying with our friends the Cs. Here's the view from my bedroom window - it's a longhouse deep in fields. The only sounds are the roar of a giant tractor in the skinny lane outside, and the lambs and their mothers -oh and a cow (they're Herefordshire Friesian crosses, I gather) has just spoken too.

Lovely Mrs C is teaching A level maths to our son, while I drink tea and prevaricate - I'm determined to finish the story I began a few weeks ago while I'm here. I sent off the last piece of work on Tuesday, and the next is a week away, so it's the perfect chance to get writing.

I've just agreed to read at the Betsey Trotwood in a couple of weeks, for the launch of the Salt Best of British Short Stories anthology. Very scary - the only way to deal with the fear is to pretend it's not happening right up till the last minute, I think. I've never done a reading before, only listened to them - all the more reason to finish another story so I feel less like a fraud alongside 'real' short story writers with books and prizes under their belts. I've three completed stories now, at least, and this week's will make one more, so I'm edging along to full membership of the fiction writer's brigade.

Time for coffee, then I'll start work ...

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Amnesty International

I hadn't seen this Amnesty poster before - it's by Joop Lieverst, from 1969. The Guardian's posted 20 of the best posters from the last 50 years on its website at and they are stunning.

I've long been a member of Amnesty. Sometimes it can feel as though your letters (and emails nowadays) vanish into a black hole, but then you get a reply, or hear someone describe how when letters arrived, the torture suddenly ended, or they were moved to a clean cell, or their lawyer was allowed to visit.

And it's so easy for us in Europe to be part of Amnesty. Years ago I belonged to the Amnesty group in Maidstone, a largish town in the south of England. We wrote letters, shared information, held street collections and barn dances to raise money ...

Then we had a visit from an Amnesty member from Sierra Leone. Like us, he belonged to his local group, and like us, they wrote letters, and raised money to fund the organisation. But unlike us, they were living through a civil war. They had plenty to worry about in their own lives. And to post a letter, they had to spot a sympathetic lorry driver, flag him down, and persuade him to carry the letters out of the country, for there was no postal system. And to raise money, in a local economy where people struggled to survive, they had to grow extra vegetables to sell at market.

So if I ever spot an Amnesty Urgent Action email in my intray and am tempted to put it aside because I'm busy, I remember the Sierra Leonean Amnesty members.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Cow manure, Schubert and Bob Marley

Other people's blogs seem somehow so focussed, whereas mine ... it's where I let my mind wander after a week of focussing. Since Monday I've focussed vigorously: I've written a ten-page feature about CHARGE syndrome for Sense, read 'The Bridge' by Iain Banks and talked about it with my friends in the pub, finished a short story and workshopped it, pitched to write a builder's brochure, and taught 26 five and six year olds to make bricks. Today, then I'm letting my mind wander on shuffle as I walk round the woods - the cow manure sign reminds me to ring and collect some for the vegetable garden, and then I'm in my head listening to the random selections my iPod comes up with - the presto from Schubert's Death and the Maiden (deceptively jolly start before he looses the demons) segues nicely into Bob Marley's Hallelujah Time, and then Bach's cello suite no 9, and Sound and Vision by Bowie, followed by Leonard Cohen's deranged disco revolutionary First We Take Manhattan ... Definitely no focussing going on in my head this afternoon.