Sunday, 11 August 2013

Caravan holidays

I'm having a lovely couple of weeks in a luxurious mobile home in the SW of France (very kind parents-in-law).  My two boys are out playing football until midnight and I'm sitting on the sumptuous couch wondering at how nice it is to have no less than two bathrooms, a state of the art kitchen and spacious decking.  The boys' bedroom is at one end and mine at the other.  What planning!

Caravans weren't quite like this when I was little.  They didn't use to have showers, or toilets for a start!  The one we spent our holidays in was at a place called Green Acres in North Wales.  Nearest beach was Black Rock sands.

The van was pale green and cream, with a large living area and bay window (some things don't change).  I remember we cooked on gas because my mother left it on regularly, but failed to see any of us off, luckily.  In those days, the smell was powerful.  We had bunk beds to sleep in.  Cramped, no head room and hardly long enough to stretch out. We zipped ourselves into sleeping bags and hoped we wouldn't need a wee in the night.

We went to the beach no matter what the weather was like, put on crinkly swimming costumes and ran up and down to keep warm.  My mother tied a line to our wrists when we went in the sea, as though the three of us were ungainly kites, taken by the treacherous currents rather than the wind.  We had a dinghy, too, which caused a great deal of bickering as it wasn't big enough for all of us at the same time.

At the end of the day, when we were blue, Mum stuck our heads through specially made ponchos so we could get dressed without showing our bottoms, then we would be allowed to sit on Dad's lap and drive the Volkswagen Camper Van up and down the beach, veering towards the waves and screaming loudly.

If we were good, we went along 'the rabbit run' to Criccieth, singing 'Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run...' whenever one bounded into the road ahead, as they often did.  It was a winding road and, in the dark, the whole adventure was even more thrilling.  In Criccieth, after we'd looked at the castle, we had fish and chips, sitting on the sea wall, followed by a Cadwalader's ice cream, with its secret ingredient, which was rumoured to be honey.


 Home again and out like a light while Mum and Dad sat outside talking and laughing, having a drink and a smoke in a rare moment of calm under clear, starry skies.

Those were happy days, indeed.     

Saturday, 3 August 2013

How do you write?

Lots of people ask me this question. A very few of them actually want to know the answer.

Everyone is different.  So my way will not be the same as anyone else's way, right?

Who knows?

I thought I would try to put together a few pointers that I keep in mind while writing, just to fix them in my own mind and give people who are interested an insight into the mind of someone who is doing her best to learn and develop her skills.

First of all, I have several projects on the go at the same time.  At present I have five, all at different stages.  This, I find, is essential.  I have to have a choice.  When I sit down, I am grabbed and sucked in, to the exclusion of everything, including food, time and other people.  Then, just as quickly, I am finished.  For example, so far today I have submitted a book for printing and written 1,000 words of my novella 'Night Garden'.

I say, novella.  It started out as a short story and might well end up as a novel.  I have no idea what will happen next.  My protagonist, a nineteen-year-old university student with a crush on a twenty-nine-year-old woman will work it out.  The story is told through his voice.  He is caught up in what will happen, just as much as I am.  I do have plans and keep notes, but I am not restricted by these.

Which leads me on to a very important aspect of my work (because it is work, even though I could not live without it).  I spend months, often longer, developing a book.  By the time it is ready for publication I know every inch of it and have lived inside my characters for so long that I can call them up for their opinion on anything under the sun.  I know how they move, how they eat, whether they believe in love, god or charity.  And I know how they express themselves.

Dialogue is key.  I have learned to use it more and more.  It moves the action along and adds value to the characters without boring the reader.  This is crucial, I think.  My first novel is so thick and muddy with prose that I would not wade through it in the foreseeable future unless my life depended on it.  I may revise it one day, when the urge takes me.  But it will be a labour that may not be worth the effort.  We shall see.

Was I blind to my own shortcomings?  Categorically, yes! Why did I not get a second opinion?  How could I not have recognised the turgidity of style and the ramblings of a self-indulgent mind?  The answer to this is important.  Don’t expect your friends to tell you the (whole) truth.  ‘Please be honest!’ doesn’t work.  You need an unbiased opinion, which is hard to find.  What I do now is to use a number of readers – some are friends who do give gentle nudges in the right direction, others are colleagues ranging from professional editors to fellow authors.  And for the absolute truth, I have my husband.  Feedback.  I might not like it, but I always listen to it carefully and take heed.

And then there is proofreading.  How many times have I heard people say that you cannot proofread your own work?  You can.  But you will miss something, that’s for sure.  Spellcheck can help – if you don’t believe it most of the time and know why it's giving such mad advice.  What you need, though is other people.  And they have to be able to spell and punctuate.  Again, my husband is invaluable, as he sees the final reading as a personal challenge, invariably coming up with a number of queries and at least a couple of mistakes I didn’t know I’d made.  An example of this is ‘wondered’ in my book ‘One Summer in France’.  Now, I know the difference between ‘wonder’ and ‘wander’.  Of course I do.  But I still missed one and he found it.  I have corrected it, along with four other errors, for my paperback version.  I will also re-submit the ebook version, although I am always slightly nervous that the conversion process for Kindle will end up producing mistakes in formatting that will be far more distracting than a very small error in spelling or punctuation.  Trouble is, once I know about them, I have to fix them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  I could go on for far too long about many other aspects of writing that come into play in the process of producing a work of fiction.  Not least the crucial role of the imagination.  Perhaps that will get a post all of its own one day.

For the moment, I shall leave you with the prologue to ‘My Grandfather’s Eyes’.  Of course, all comments will be gratefully received!




I have never been beautiful. And, of course, my appearance has deteriorated over time.  It is something I have become used to.  When I look in the mirror these days, and that is not very often, I am not surprised by what I see.  Nor am I disappointed, as I have given up hope of catching myself in a good light. 

Let me tell you what I see.  First, the shape of my head is noticeably irregular, with a medium-sized bump just in front of the crown.  Next, my forehead is lined.  It always has been, ever since I can remember. People used to say I must be a deep thinker.  Only some of them were being kind.   Now the lines are deeper, but the traces they follow date back to my school days, when they did not go unnoticed by bullies.  My eyes are large and green; some might say they are intelligent eyes, that they are insightful or sincere.  I have learned not to set much store by what other people say. 

I have meagre lashes, but it is usually boys who have the lavish kind.  My nose is straight and my mouth is full.  My hair is mousy, fine and thin.   I used to buy shampoo for flyaway hair, when I believed in such nonsense.  When I was young, I wanted thick, straight blond hair, like my friend Lizzy’s.  We all want what we can’t have.

There is perhaps nothing so far to complain about very much, you might say. 

And so I come to my moles: the unnatural, crawling growths that spread themselves over the side of my face and the underside of my jaw.  If you could see me now, you would probably recoil. I have noticed that even the most educated, the most sympathetic person has difficulty in hiding the innate disgust my moles excite in them.  Ah, yes.  Disgust is not too harsh a word, I can assure you.  And the others? Those who make no attempt to hide their feelings towards me?  They cannot help themselves, but stare in horror at what they see, as they sit on the bus clutching their shiny, plastic bags full of new things or as they push their wholesome choices around the supermarket.   Young children are the worst.  I do not admire their honesty, as their obsequious parents do. 

My moles. My nevi.  How can I describe them?  I should say they are more or less dark brown in colour, although there are two above my left eye that are noticeably lighter.  My husband called them Castor and Pollux.  All have a rubbery, soft texture and, apart from one large mole near my ear, are hairless.  The one near my ear has short, thick hairs that bristle untidily.  My husband had a name for this one too.  He loved me too much.  He couldn’t help it.  None of us can choose whom we love.

What more can I tell you?   That I am ambivalent to my nevi? That Castor and Pollux are my favourites?  That I like them for being different?  You may think this kind of reasoning is strange and I wouldn’t blame you.  I can only explain it as a truth, a principle that has grown inside me as my moles have swelled and spread; have become part of my life.   Now, I am not sure I could be separated from them. 

There was a time when I believed my mother loved me. A time when she called me beautiful and, because I was not yet self-aware, I let myself be preened and cosseted in exchange for the comfort I felt from the warm glow of her approval.  I did not notice how she suffered. I did not recognise the mortification that lay beneath her smile.

However, a story must start somewhere nearer its beginning, and so I will go back and show myself more clearly to you, before I reveal what I have done.  I expect that you will judge me.

But I do not care.


If I have aroused your curiosity, you might like to download the rest of the book by clicking on the direct link to Amazon at the top of this page.  And, if you do, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.