Thursday, 22 December 2016

Drop Christmas cards? Forget it!

Logically, I thought, there are so many ways of communicating, do we still need to exchange all those Christmas cards? I mean do we? Really? With social media and above all emails, surely we can keep in touch with people all year round if we want to. Even speak to them, see them, on the phone? Many of our brilliant networking younger generation never did latch on to this tradition. The cost of postage could be put to better use – this was my overall rationale. Someone else added to this the environmental cost …
So last year I enclosed a note to say that next time around we would give something to charity instead of doing cards; so nobody would think we’d both died.  I think about three people remembered this.
On the upside, where I've emailed friends and relations with our year’s news I’ve had really good ones back, some with surprising news I wouldn’t have known otherwise. We’ve received about the same number of cards as usual, with letters from people who normally enclose them.
Those people we never see as the decades go by – I really thought if we needed or wanted to meet up then by now we would have done so. Conversely, folks we see daily, weekly or even monthly – then we know they’re there, we’ve swapped news and we’re likely to see them again soon. Do they need a card?

Yet to be displayed
I understand why cards mean a lot. Whether they’re colourful and jolly, religious, leave you misty-eyed, or just plain nostalgic – we’ve always had them and we display them and feel good that these are ‘our people’, our tribe, our inner and outer circle, those who may one day come to our funeral. And it is good to be reminded and be mindful of old friends we don’t see very often (but, says my sad, cold, logical, inner voice – you can do that with an email … …) I can remember my parents saying that they’d had over 100 cards – it was a point of pride.
Well, it seems that cards are still popular so next year I may have to retract. I’ve had comments such as, ‘I had an email from someone and then I had to spend time sending them one!’ Mind you, if you can’t spare a few minutes to send someone your news in an email, are they truly a valued friend or relative?  Another person expressed the view that if we all did this it would put designers and makers of cards out of business. I can’t see that as a valid reason to perpetuate a tradition … Oh, well. Am I being a bit ‘bah! humbug’?
I have definitely taken all this on board – consulted my spread sheet that gives me an instant breakdown of how many emails/cards I have received/sent from/to whom, and I have to cave in.
Next year I will almost probably go back to Christmas cards – until such time as others want to play!
A warm and Merry Christmas everyone!! and thank you for your card, if you sent one!

Related blog post December 2012:

Friday, 25 November 2016

As a columnist!

In case you missed the Tweets flying around, and have come direct to my blog via some source other than Twitter or Facebook, I thought I’d say something about the columns I write for two lifestyle magazines.

SURREY LIFE is a glossy, regional, monthly magazine available in Surrey shops and also free online through their digital archive, each issue accessible about a month after the print version. I have been writing for this magazine since April this year and the feature is called Notes from a Small Village.
LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle eMagazine (#LLm) is just online and I have been contributing to this for years. It has a global following with tens of thousands of hits a day.

For both publications now I write on the same theme – people who put life into village life, unsung heroes who go the extra mile and bring their small communities together in a rich variety of ways. As you can imagine this is a lovely thing to do, ferreting around in the lovely county of Surrey, and beyond for the LLm magazine, meeting and chatting to inspirational people.
So here you go:  An article about Writing for Surrey Life posted on the LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle Magazine –  neatly brings the two together with all the links you need to see both.  Here's the link to Surrey Life archive , although it is embedded in the article.

I hope you enjoy meeting these fabulous people as much as I did!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

And now Gypsy Kids – Our Secret World

I have been rather lazy this summer with regard to writing blog posts. No excuse! Well, now I hope to make up for lost time ...

When I found the theme for my first novel, published in 2008, people did not talk about Gypsies much. A secret world indeed! Occasionally we may have glimpsed a group that turn up briefly to set up camp in their trailers, only to disappear as quickly as they came. I know for a fact there were few books – apart from quite ‘chewy’ academic tomes;  these bibliographies can be found at the end of the printed versions of Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served. The only Gypsy memoir I could find at the time was Dominic Reeve’s books which give an account of life on the road fifty years ago.

My research moved from text books to real life, going on sites, talking to Gypsies, Travellers, and people who work with them. I also found out more by going to events that displayed their culture, history, music, dance, food and wagons and knew I had found something different and I wanted to tell people about what I had uncovered – through a readable novel.
I was called upon to speak on BBC Surrey radio whenever there was a local issue concerning Gypsies as I had by then some understanding of the culture clash, the planning laws and so on. Before, I did not know anything about the council-run authorised sites and the reasons behind the more visible unauthorised sites that regularly upset local people.
Then a while later, came Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – wrongly named as it did not portray Romany Gypsies but in fact was about Irish Travellers. (See Gypsy or Traveller? 12 Feb 2010) The programme's main slant was one aspect of their lives, the over the top dresses and extravagant wedding days.  More important issues like poor health and education, shorter than average lifespan, and weary struggle to find a place to be, all the legislation that over the years has criminalised their way of life – such things hardly got a look in. See below for link to some of my comments.
I had put forward a proposal to the radio station for a programme to embrace the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in a more realistic way, offering my help in providing potential sources of information. I did not hear back but later Channel 4 came up with their series and I do wonder if there was some link. Had someone passed on this proposal which had by then been changed out of all recognition? I have no way of knowing.
Now we have Gypsy Kids – Our Secret World on Channel 5 and it is refreshing to hear these happy, healthy, articulate children talking to us directly about what it is like to be a Gypsy and how proud they are, one young man set on becoming a pilot. The immaculate appearance of their homes, the sites and themselves turns upside down any old-fashioned notion or prejudice that Gypsies are ‘dirty.’
Whilst some of us ‘Gorgas’ might not approve of certain aspects of their social norms – the limited educational and career opportunities accorded to girls even  in this day and age, for example – on the other hand you might say that it is understandable that they want to protect their culture of strong family with a male provider.  Women marry young, have children young and stay at home (or travel, of course) to look after them, with little independence. If everyone is happy with that – and it seems many of them are (perhaps not knowing anything different, some would say) it is hard to criticise. Arguably, some young Mums in the wider world, juggling work and under-fives might be a tad envious! By the way I apologise for getting into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ kind of narrative here – it’s hard not to sometimes.

Links to some of my past blogs for further reading, if you are interested: 

Another Grumble on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings (7 Feb 2011) – this was one of three posts on the subject, the first few sentences of which gained a place in Letters to the Editor in The Guardian.

Two other posts were on 20 Jan 2011 and 11 Feb 2011 – my view changes as the series progresses. The 20 Jan and 7 Feb posts have interesting ‘comments’ from other people.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Rings on our Fingers - love stories from the Eighties

Rings on our Fingers 
Bells on our Toes
Two Kindle volumes of my short love stories
 published in magazines in the Eighties.

Just 99p! $1.40 each

When I was probably just a few years older than the people reading them, they were published in magazines such as My Story, Romance, True Story - and Christian Herald! 


I wrote these on a typewriter that might now find a home in a museum, at the kitchen table when my children were knee high ...

Times have changed – which is what makes these stories interesting I think.  Young people can judge for themselves and older readers will remember perhaps when they were just married, maybe having doubts, thinking about having a family, looking for work, planning a wedding … the stuff of life. Relationships are the key theme along with problems and obstacles to finding true happiness.

Here are a few extracts from different stories that may make you think, scoff, raise an eyebrow, laugh - or something else!

Checking that our frilly knickers showed prettily each time we bent over, we set off — each carrying a new sports bag to match our outfits.

"I know a place — on the common, off the beaten track," he said, looking at me.
I should have said, "No — take me home." But my legs turned to water. It was too thrilling. I couldn't bear it!

I bundled Rachel and Emily onto the back seat of the car and left them in there while I slipped into Joel's house.

At nineteen I was young to be considering a family, but I was very much in love with my student husband. I longed to have his child, I wanted to be a mother and I could see no sense at all in waiting.

I am surprised when I read these myself! but you can find many more examples of how social norms have moved on in the last thirty odd years. Passion, jealousy and true love endure, of course.

Happy reading!

Just 99p  /   $1.40

Monday, 25 April 2016

Writing from Life - and some news at the end!

If you are new to my blog and have found me through Surrey Life you might like to take a look here: Surrey village people

'Writing from Life' was a title suggested to me once as a theme for a writing workshop and it got me thinking about how much I use real life in fiction.

Real life setting ...
For my first two novels I am rooted in my local area, but before I could begin to write Gypsies Stop tHere and No Gypsies Served, I needed to do a lot of research and groundwork relating to the culture and history of a particular group of people. I invented Appley Green, but it is very much based on real Surrey and Hampshire villages – as it straddles the county boundaries. Now I am writing about real village people both for LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle magazine and Surrey Life.

With Shades of Appley Green, I used real life experience as a Community/Information Support Worker, firstly supporting teenage single Mums who needed information and emotional support; and secondly people with Parkinson’s. Both these jobs involved going out to see people in their own homes and it was rewarding, satisfying work that gave me an unusual insight into people’s private lives.

Be assured I do not use real people in my novels, at least never a whole one! But any fiction writer will tell you, I think, that they observe and pick up their struggles, attitudes, mannerisms and other character traits. These are stored away either in some brain compartment or a notebook and present themselves as you compose your story.

But the way Steph works is very much derived from my experience of working in the community and I could not have written it without this direct knowledge. Also my upbringing in the small town (some would say large village) of Tetbury inspired the whole community theme running through my novels and magazine columns.

As for Secrets in Appley Green, set in the Sixties, I have memories of being a teenager in that decade, and newly married in the Seventies. However, I had to study the so-called Swinging Sixties, reading fiction, factual books and magazines; browsing numerous websites and listening to music. It was great fun piecing together real-life memories, current affairs, fashion, pop music and the rest. I also read through my page-a day diary kept as an 11-going-on-12-year-old – sometimes squirming with embarrassment.

Coming up is something new and yet not new! Rings on Our Fingers, available to pre-order on Kindle now but not to download until 5 May, is a compilation of love stories I had published in magazines in the Eighties.

They are romantic, having appeared in Romance, My Story, True Story - and Christian Herald! But they also reflect real, everyday life of young people. More about this later, but if you’d like to take a look here is the link:   Rings on our Fingers on Amazon  A snip at £2.08 / $2.99 !  Another volume will follow in a few weeks’ time.  

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Surrey village people

Welcome to my blog if you’ve found it for the first time, after spotting my piece in the April issue of SURREY LIFE. This is the first of a new series on people who put life into villages and bring a small community together. Editor, Caroline Harrap, came up with the series title ‘Notes from a Small Village’– apologies to Bill Bryson!

I may have met you at one of 40 or so book signings over the years in various Surrey Waterstones bookshops. If so, hello again! Either way, if you have time, feel free to browse through my 'ramblings' – going strong since 2009! Just click through titles listed lower down in right-hand column. And, please send me a comment below if you want to make contact now!

Those who follow me on Twitter will know of other characters I have ‘discovered’. Take a look here:
LoveaHappyEnding Lifestyle magazine Real people, real unsung heroes and heroines.

My novels are, of course, filled with fictitious people who also do unusual things, but real life does rub off on my fiction. For one thing, I live smack bang in the middle of my imaginary Appley Green world, although my dreamed up village has less traffic than most real Surrey villages! I think a busy road cutting through many a village mars what would otherwise be perfection. Would you agree? More about my Appley Green books on Amazon – just click on book covers.

In my next post here I will be looking at how life experience and real people have helped me in the writing of my four novels.  I do like to mix fact with fiction so that the reader can not only escape but also grab hold of some social realism. Love story there may be, but romance comes with a twist.

I must say how lovely it is to be a columnist for SURREY LIFE, a magazine that always cheers me up and reminds me of what a beautiful county Surrey is, with so many things to do and see.  Who knows where I may end up next? It could be a village near you!

And not forgetting – my books have all been reviewed in SURREY LIFE! Juliette Foster met me briefly at the first Surrey Heath Book Festival and contacted me to review my first two books and the rest, as they say, is history!

Here are the links to Book Corner in SURREY LIFE digital archive:

Until next time! And look out in May SURREY LIFE for the next Surrey village and the next amazing person!

Friday, 26 February 2016

Time Management. Who needs it?

Some people who read my last post said how ‘busy’ I am, but really I can be an absolute sloth when I put my mind to it! I am retired, don’t put in a full week’s work with a two hour commute; am not a working mother of small children, and I don’t have a publisher looking over my shoulder with impossible deadlines! There are plenty of people much, much, much busier than I am.

However, I do manage to get a few things done and it made me think about a training course I did when employed in the 1990s. I was affronted when my manager suggested I go on a Time Management Course. I think everyone nominated for this development training felt the same way, feeling that we packed as much as we could into a day. What on earth could such a course tell us that was new?

The funny thing was that I found it rather a drawn-out course, spread (I think) over two days when it could have been delivered in a morning!

However, it handed out tips that instilled habits for the rest of my life. Lists of tasks figured rather prominently. So did goals, short-term and long-term. Things that needed to be done in working towards a goal were divided into ‘urgent’ and ‘important’, some of course falling under both headings. An estimate of time that a task might take was factored in. Many files and folders were recommended, available to purchase.

Ever since, I’ve kept a scribbled ‘to do list’, never a Filofax system or anything electronic. If I have five minutes to spare, I don’t despair that there’s no time to write up a blog post, or install my new printer, but I can email a friend about arrangements to meet that evening. That’s a very simple example, but you get the gist. Maybe you do this too, even if sub-consciously with mental lists, maybe the rest of the world thinks like this, but I do wonder. People who spend half an hour on the phone complaining about how run off their feet they are, don’t do this. (Nobody I know of course!)

In Shades of Appley Green time management is a real bone of contention between our heroine, Steph, feisty single mother of two, and her boss, Greg, who in her eyes is overly cautious, and she hates him with a passion for taking her to task. Early on their opinion is divided over the idea of senior people using the Internet. He sees dangers, she sees opportunities. He likes rational use of method, she loves people. As the plot develops he becomes increasingly critical over her use of time, in her eyes quite unreasonably!

‘What do you see as the problem areas in your job Steph?”
She thought for a moment. “I think the greatest problem is always time. Or lack of it.”
He nodded, looking down, his face serious. Then he gazed up at her in that very direct way of his.
“This is clear even to me. Do you feel you lack focus sometimes?”
She felt herself bristle. She worked hard, she did everything she could for her clients in the time available.
“Possibly. It’s easy to go down the wrong tracks sometimes,” she admitted.
“If time is the key problem area, there is no place for getting derailed down sidings and dead-ends. Is there? Would you agree?”
“Yes, but it’s not always simple to stick to the mainline fast-track.” Perhaps, she thought, anger rising, you would like to spend a few days doing my job. Role reversal! How great that would be!

I guess the reader suspects that her loathing of him is a clue that actually this is a man whom she will grow to love! But how on earth?

Available as paperback or KIndle:  On Amazon

Monday, 8 February 2016

Two Years On ...

Taken at daughter's wedding October 2015
Two years ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer, with a secondary tumour in the liver. Today I had the result of my latest 6 monthly scan and all is well. With every check-up the prognosis gets better but if, if, if it were to recur, then the more time passes the more slow-growing the tumour, and the better able my body would be able to cope with more surgery and chemo. I don't think about that too much.

There has been much breaking news recently of famous people who have sadly passed away from cancer somewhat before their time. I hope this post will help to redress the balance as there are many more who survive the dreaded ‘c’ word which should give hope to people currently reeling from the shock of a recent diagnosis or feeling the ill effects of treatment.

I wrote here before, a few months after my diabolical diagnosis on 29 January 2014 (the photo there was taken about two months before in Australia, when I was blissfully oblivious of my condition), and again after my second operation, which at the time seemed like hell, but I got over it! 

The actual year of surgery and chemotherapy was one where physically I went through a rich variety of discomforts, lethargy, and post-op pain. Unable to do many normal things, I watched far too much daytime TV!! But on the plus side I had comfort from friends and family, felt at ease with the world - and became quite the expert (not really) on antiques and bric-a-brac! My husband and I enjoyed lunches with old friends and two memorable holidays, slotting them in between operations and courses of treatment.

Then 2015 was a year of gradually getting back to usual activities, like doing the Edinburgh Festival. I also finished my fourth novel, Secrets in Appley Green, set in the Sixties, but beyond that, I’ve also taken up a few new things.

I ran some writing workshops and hope to do more in the future as it is great fun to meet up with people who want to write a novel but need a kick-start!

More recently, having written articles for the online LoveaHappyEnding Magazine about  ‘People who put life into village life’, I am now a monthly columnist, writing on the same theme, for the glossy magazine, Surrey Life! It’s lovely reaching out to villages to acknowledge people who do great things for their local community. If you know of any such hero or heroine, either in Surrey or elsewhere, please do contact me. (Tweet me your email address in a DM. Give me a prod on Twitter if you need me to Follow you, in order to do this.) My debut article is already done and dusted and will appear in the April issue of Surrey Life (in shops mid-March).

Last week I painted a vase in a ceramic ‘class’ for novices! Ta-da! Not exactly a masterpiece but very therapeutic.

I went to my first lunch meeting with the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA), as recently joined. I've also committed to a study project with King’s College, London, carrying out mental exercises and ‘brain training’ to improve understanding of the ageing brain and the causes of dementia. Take a look if you are interested in taking part. The latest new venture is becoming a member of Rock Choir, an uplifting thing to do despite the fact I can’t sing! Oh yes, and I love going to operas streamed into cinemas live from Covent Garden Royal Opera House … 
On the other side of the coin, if there is something I don’t feel sufficiently excited about doing, then I don’t do it!

So – for anyone going through what I went through, or something similar, please keep positive and take heart. The chances of surviving cancer and a sunny future are so much improved these days compared with years ago. It’s hopefully something to get through, get over, move on and do new things!!