Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My writing prompt for today is ... golden shoes.
I can't remember the last time I've been so excited to get a book through the post, but today my order of Pug Hill by Alison Pace came from Amazon, and I was literally dancing round the kitchen. I love pugs with a passion my own dog, a border terrier, barely forgives me for, so as soon as I heard about this novel set in a part of Central Park reserved just for pugs and their walkers, I knew I had to read it. Checking on the internet, I see that Pug Hill really does exist, and I was also pleased to find out that the author Alison Pace has a blog, on which I read that she is about to speak on the emerging trend for 'dog lit'. If I didn't have to work today, I'd be in paradise, but sadly the pugs will have to wait until tonight!
JUNE EVENTS at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL
Tel: 020 7269 9030 Fax: 020 7269 9033

George Saunders 31 May at 7 p.m.
George Saunders, whose work has been described by Thomas Pynchon as "graceful, dark, authentic and funny", and who was recognized as one of the 20 best American fiction writers by the New Yorker, will discuss and read from his new collection of short stories, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Bloomsbury), which includes the winner of the National Magazine Award, The Red Bow. He will be in conversation with Scarlett Thomas.

Gautam Malkani on Londonstani 8 June at 7 p.m.
One of this year's most talked about novels, Londonstani, set close to the Heathrow feed roads of Hounslow, exposes a city where young Asians struggle to assert their own brands of Britishness whilst simultaneously trying to preserve ties to their parents' traditions. Written in the swirling slang of these young men, it explores aggressive machismo, tribalism and racial integration in Britain's neglected suburban communities.

Stephen O'Shea: The Cross and the Crescent 21 June at 7 p.m.
In partnership with the British Museum and as part of their Middle East Now programme (18 May to 3 September), Stephen O'Shea will read from his new book Sea of Faith (Profile) and lead a discussion with Robert Irwin and Inayat Bunglawala on the shared history of Islam and Christianity, and the lessons that can be learnt from the past.
NB This event takes place in the Reading Room of the British Museum. Tickets are £5 (£3 LRB subscribers) and are only available from the BM box office (0207 323 8181 or details at:

Platonov's Fourteen Little Red Huts 29 June at 7 p.m.
In association with Academia Rossica, Robert Chandler, leading translator of the Russian writer Andrei Platonov, will introduce the play, explain how it came to be written and compare the relative differences in translating a play from prose. After a brief interval, a shortened version of the play will be performed by professional actors under the direction of Noah Birksted-Breen of the International Freedom Network. The play, written in 1932-3, addresses the hunger, trauma and confusion which accompanied a period of rapid collectivization and the unmasking of unexpected "class enemies".

Other Events upcoming:

* Bill Buford on Heat July 13
* Michael McClure on The Beard July 24
* Jenny Diski July 27
* Banipal Arabic Writers August 15
* Andrew O'Hagan on Be Near Me September 13 (changed from August 31)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The shortlist for the Turner Prize has been announced and I'm torn between using these two as my writing prompt for today. On the one hand, I love the idea of using Mark Titchner's 'dream' quote literally, and having a character behave along the lines of The Dice Man where everything she dreams must come true, but on the other hand there's something about the haphazard structure of Rebecca Warren's sculptures that's calling me...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Am all thought-out at the moment, but this Bubble Wrap link came up on a forum I'm a member of, and is proving deeply satisfying. Go pop... you know you want to!

Friday, May 26, 2006

There are some different reading suggestions from Dan Rhodes up on the Pulp website, and good choice of best opening line -
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
From A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
- although I'm in favour of Carson McCuller's, The Heart is A Lonely Hunter. I remember reading it in a bookshop for the first time, and just feeling a chill of delight because I so badly wanted to read on, and yet it was satisfying just in itself:
In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.
Not forgetting fashion rainwear for the dogs, of course.
I got this wonderful umbrella from my mother-in-law for Christmas, and if there's anything that could cheer me up as the rain keeps pouring down, it's being able to go out under something beautiful, and that can make other people smile. Very pleased then to offer my first rainy-day fashion tips by finding the Umbrella Art site, and falling in love with this one in particular:
And my writing prompt is going to be ... butterflies in the rain.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Well, only my second contribution but I'm already looking forward to reading everyone else's. Not one of mine today, but in tribute to one of my writing heroes, Raymond Carver, whose birthday it would have been today, I'm going to suggest you read Loafing. It's also raining here and miserable and I feel like doing nothing, so it's the perfect poem for justifying that. Here are the last lines...
Malingerer! my uncle yelled at me
so long ago. He was right.
I've set aside time today,
same as every day,
for doing nothing at all.

How does Carver manage to get so much atmosphere in so few words? And so my writing prompt is this extract from Last Fragment, which always makes me cry:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

(from 'Last Fragment')

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Erotic Writing and Women

On Wednesday evening 14 June, join critically acclaimed author and anthologist Mitzi Szereto at Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross for a discussion about the writing and publishing of erotic fiction. Topics to include censorship, the reaction of the media and buying public to erotica by women, a discussion of good sex writing versus bad sex writing, plus information on the major imprints in the erotic market. Mitzi will be joined by Emily Dubberley of Scarlet, a sex magazine for women which currently attracts 40,000 readers per month. The event is sponsored by Women in Publishing, a non-profit organisation devoted to promoting the status of women in publishing.

Date: Wednesday 14 June 2006
Time: 6.30 for 7 p.m.
Venue: The Boardroom (3rd Floor, off the music section), Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road
Admission: free to members; £3.00 non-members

Mitzi Szereto has more than a dozen books to her credit, including the critically acclaimed Erotic Fairy Tales: A Romp Through the Classics; The World’s Best Sex Writing 2005 (non-fiction); Dying For It: Tales of Sex & Death; Wicked: Sexy Tales of Legendary Lovers; and the Erotic Travel Tales anthology series. She’s also penned several best-selling erotic novels as M. S. Valentine. Mitzi is the pioneer of the erotic writing workshop in the UK and Europe, teaching them from the prestigious Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands. She’s been featured in publications ranging from the Sunday Telegraph (London), Independent (London), Toronto Star, Family Circle, Writing Magazine, Scarlet, and Forum to Bravo UK Television, Telecinco TV 5 (Madrid), and BBC Radio. Her outspoken views on the erotic literary scene have made her 'the author and editor who has put the "literature" back into erotica.' Her work as an anthology editor has earned her the American Society of Authors and Writers’ Meritorious Achievement Award. Originally from the USA, she now lives in England.

For further details, contact:
Yep, you have read that right! Abe Books have put up a selection of authentic looking but unlikely sounding books as part of their birthday celebrations. The Not Books Campaign also includes one on 'Chicken and Beef, favourite Airline recipes' which, sadly, I'm sure someone somewhere has put a proposal in for.

So my writing prompt for today is going to be to come up with a list of strange book titles, and then write from one of them!

Monday, May 22, 2006

“Whether or not you write well, write bravely” Bill Stout

And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... brave writing.
I recently subscribed to the American fiction magazine, Glimmer Train, and have read the two issues I've received so far cover to cover. It's the best short story magazine I've read so far, so I'm pasting below an email I've just received from them:

Dear Readers and Writers,
In these crazy times we have to keep our eyes on the things that matter most: the life and health of our families, our communities, the planet. And to keep our sanity, some of us need to reserve a bit of time for reading and for writing.
If you already subscribe to Glimmer Train Stories and Writers Ask, we two sisters thank you so much for your support.
Glimmer Train Stories is an intimate collection of beautifully written, emotionally affecting, literary short fiction by both established and emerging talents. Although each quarterly issue is quite handsome, there's nothing commercial about it. There are no ads. And rather than simple lists of professional achievements, each author bio provides readers with a most unusual and personal glimpse into the writer's life. Find out what we're publishing these days—the very best of all the wonderful fiction that is submitted to us. Subscribe, and you'll find yourself eager to check the mailbox as each new season arrives.
Writers Ask is a different animal. It looks like a newsletter—16 big pages, no ads—but you'll find no news in it. Instead you'll read the insights and perspectives of dozens of well-respected authors talking about their techniques, their personal and professional challenges, and what they teach their creative-writing students. Especially valuable to writers, it's also great reading for the seriously curious.
Subscribe online: Thank you.
Warm regards,
Sisters and co-editors

Sunday, May 21, 2006

So this morning at 6am, we arrived back to this wonderful pink confection of a tent in London's Hyde Park after walking for seven hours, and covering 26.3 miles ... and we were still smiling! The Moonwalk rocked right from the minute my train up to London stopped at the first station along the way and a small group of other walkers in pink caps got in. And the same thing happened at the next, and the next, until I was full up with a mixture of nerves and excitement. When I got a taxi to the park, the cabbie told me about a friend of his who had breast cancer and was walking also, and only charged me half fare. Hyde Park was full of women (and some men) wearing the same pink hats, t-shirts with glittery pink bras on them, some wearing tutus, grass skirts, angels, devils, some with bras lit up with fairy lights, bras covered with fruit, ... and the queues were snaking their way towards this breast shaped marquee photographed here. 'Like Jordan's wedding,' someone said. Well, she would certainly have approved of us as we stripped down to our bras!
As we all set off - 15,000 of us with staggered start times - the starter said how proud she was of us, and that seemed to be the theme of the walk. 'You're doing fabulous, girls,' people shouted at us all the time along the route, 'we're so proud of every single one of you.' My friend and I agreed how proud we were to be women there tonight, and how beautiful we all were with our different shapes and ages and fitness levels, and so many of the men walking said how proud they were to be included too. Do I sound gushing? Well, it was a wholly non-cynical evening - non-competitive, ego-free and supportive - and how cool to be walking round London powered only by yourself. And London did us proud too. The rain held off (mostly), the cars passing hooted for us, people came out of pubs and houses to cheer us on, and we even managed to do some high-speed window shopping as we passed through Knightsbridge. One drunken guy came out of a bar straight into the middle of our snake of walkers. The look on his face as he spun from one woman dressed only in her bra, to the next, and then to a guy wearing a bra too made us laugh so hard. I'm guessing he'll wake up this morning wondering if it really happened. We walked over Tower Bridge, past Battersea Power Station, through Chelsea, round the Nine Elms flower market, in front of Buckingham Palace and back to Hyde Park. By the end, I could feel every muscle in my legs, my feet felt I was stepping on glass, and it's been the first time probably since I was a child I've cried tears of pure and utter tiredness, but, boy, did it feel good crossing the finishing line. A really whole-hearted thank you to the organisers, the crew who were just brilliant, organising us and cheering us on although they were probably colder and much more knackered than us, and also, of course, to all the people who sponsored me. It was worth it - in the middle of all the reminders of loss (names and photographs of people who have died commemorated on t-shirts and the sharing of stories about friends and relations on every side), to me what the Moonwalk was most of all was a celebration of, and optimism in, the future. I just wish we could have harnessed some of that power and sent it to Downing Street (where, by the way, we didn't walk).
And my writing prompt for today is ... tired feet!

Friday, May 19, 2006

I'm really proud, nervous and excited to be doing something quite mad tomorrow night - walking 26 miles (a full marathon) across London in my bra and in the middle of the night! It's part of the Walk the Walk charity fundraising programme, designed to raise money for cancer charities, but also to raise awareness too. And it seems to be succeeding - there will be 15,000 of us. If you want to support the charity, and my effort, then I've just set up a webpage at Bmycharity for raising sponsorship. Every little helps ... and I'm sure I'm going to find plenty to write about!

Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting Katharine Hepburn

And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... different ways to support yourself.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

We work to become, not to acquire.

- Elbert Hubbard
My writing prompt for today is going to be ... clever dogs, stupid owners.
For Poetry Thursday...

The man who used to live in our house before us (three years ago, actually not three months) was a solicitor working from home so we still get about three letters for him a day. I used to forward these on religiously, but gave up about a year ago because thought they couldn't really be that important. There are mornings when it still worries me though, so this poem came about ...
Gone Away

Three months after you move in
and the letters keep coming
until you stop forwarding,
let them pile up by the door,
dusty, unread. Only sometimes
do you flick through, imagining
the offers, demands, claims
unclaimed from all those women
waiting patiently in Kettering,
North London, Leicester
and, once, Rome, for the response
that now will never come. Mr Jones
of Forest Road, can you afford
to ignore us.
Those cat tongues
licking envelopes never opened,
a puzzle of what might have been.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

If I'm honest, the town where I live, Tunbridge Wells, isn't known for being an active feminist centre. It's a by-word - if you don't know it - for the kind of old-fashioned Colonel who has time to write letters to newspapers about anything even slightly new or radical, and a quick google for the catchphrase, Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells brings up 39,400 entries! So hurrah - once again - for the internet as I've just discovered feministing, and can get a daily feed of what's happening in New York. There's also a great interview with the founder, Jessica Valenti here, and I just liked her more and more as I read on. This woman is FUNNY. And inspiring. This is what she says about blogging:
Blogging is my activism. I mean, I certainly do “real world” activism as well, but there’s something really satisfying about doing Feministing. I think about it as a blog that has the potential to inform women’s activism. I think that feminism and blogs just make sense together. I mean, the whole feminist mantra of “the personal is political” is played out in a really amazing way through blogging.

Though blogs and women’s organizations really should be collaborating more. I always think back to how when the Bureau of Labor Statistics said they were going to stop reporting on women’s wages (they’ve since reinstated the reporting), Feministing posted on it almost immediately. They tried to bury it with a two sentence little release in this obscure place on their website. Several months later I got an “urgent action alert” about it from a women’s organization. If the immediacy of blogs could be combined with the grassroots organizing power of women’s organizations . . . I think it could be really something.

I've no excuse now. Not even the town where I live. Yours undisgustedly...
This photograph of a fish feeding frenzy is going to be my writing prompt for today. Just look at the size of those mouths. It was taken on the last day of a holiday in Marrakesh when we felt full up of all the usual tourist jaunts, so we asked a cab driver to take us to where no tourists went. He dropped us at the edge of what looked like a dusty concerete park, with no way we could see of getting home. OK, we thought, this is exactly what we asked for! The only thing that kept us going was the number of local families around, so we followed them and came to this pond full of people running round the edge shouting and laughing. Children were throwing bread in and having to be pulled back by parents because these fish were literally jumping out of the water to get the food. Across the other side from us was a small building and when we asked we were told that it had belonged to a member of the royal family a long time ago, who would bring his concubines there and throw them in the water the next morning if they didn't please him. Can't imagine what the fish would have made of that!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

From The New Writer Magazine:

Time is running out for you to enter New Writing Ventures, our series of awards for emerging writers of fiction, poetry and creative non fiction. There is an award of £5000 for the winner, and £1000 for the two short-listed writers in each category. Both winners and short-listed writers also gain a place on unique a year long development programme devised by The New Writing Partnership in collaboration with Arts Council England, East and writer Kate Pullinger. The closing date is May 31.

We are thrilled that Ali Smith , Chair the creative non-fiction strand of Ventures, has been short-listed for a fourth major literary prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain's oldest literary accolade. Smith's The Accidental was short-listed for the Man Booker prize last year and recently for the Orange prize for women's fiction. It has won the Whitbread Novel of the Year.

She will be on the other side of the judging process as chair of the selection panel to choose three of the best up and coming writers of non-fiction for New Writing Ventures. She is joined by Michael Laskey, chair of the poetry panel and Candida Clarke chair of the fiction panel…….Patricia Dunker, Professor of Creative Writing at The University of East Anglia, continues The New Writing Partnership’s association with this prestigious institution, by joining Candida and Courttia Newland on the
fiction panel……Just two weeks to get your entry in!!!

Selection panels:
Fiction: Candida Clarke (Chair), Patricia Dunker, Courttia Newland
Creative Non-fiction: Ali Smith (Chair),William Fiennes, Edward Platt
Poetry: Michael Laskey (Chair), Roddy Lumsden, Esther Morgan

For full biographies of the selection panels, eligibility criteria and entry form, please see our website:

The New Writing Partnership is a registered charity, no: 1110725 The New Writing Partnership receives its core funding from Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council, The University of East Anglia and Arts Council England, East.
More Book Lists
This isn't a tag though - it's a list of 30 'forgotten' books issued by Waterstones. I've only read five (those in italics) - in fact I've only HEARD of five, but did love those ones so that suggests to me the others might be worth searching out too.

Revenge Of The Lawn by Richard Brautigan
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Death and The Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry by BS Johnson
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
Dry Bones by Richard Beard
Mirror Lake by Thomas Christopher Greene
Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
Journey By Moonlight by Antal Szerb
Too Loud A Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
Trip To The Stars by Nicholas Christopher
Daughter Of The Forest by Juliet Marillier
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Woman On The Edge Of Time by Marge Piercy
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
The Pursuit Of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman
Drama City by George Pelecanos
Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban
Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
Double by José Saramago
Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum
Mists Of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

And my writing prompt for today is going to be taken from one of these titles ... Revenge of the Lawn.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I said in one of the comments that I'd post an exercise from John Lee's Writing From the Body, so here goes. The book is divided into chapters such as Fearless Writing, The Dance of Trust and Timing, Taming the Critic or Lighten Up!, Answers from your Body, which all end with writing exercises or meditations. This one is from the chapter called Inspiration: The Breath and The Word. In the chapter, Lee talks about how as writers we should be aware of how we are breathing when we sit down to write. If we start with a tight chest, and not thinking of our breathing, our writing will suffer. 'We must fully reclaim the breath,' Lee says, 'because without it the body withers and so does our writing. The message written by the tight chest, the stilted body, carries no duende, no darkness, no belly stretched wide by the breath. Such writing is a mere whistle. It rises up like a ghost, substanceless, with a mask for a face, and we do not believe it.' Since reading this, I've tried to breathe deeply before I start writing, and really open up my body. It's a way of reclaiming space too. Here's the end exercise:
Breath exercise: Sit quietly in a straight-backed chair, feet planted firmly on the floor, hands resting in your lap. Take full, deep breaths, filling up your lower abdomen with life-giving air and letting your attention sink down out of your head and deep into the rest of you. Let your attention connect to your breath, and let that breath be like a diving bell as you descent deeper and deeper into your body. Taking full, deep breaths, allow your attention to go down to meet whatever feeling, memory, smell, sight or sound is trying to rise to meet your descending attention. Taking full breaths, you may begin to experience a little lightheadedness - this is normal. Breathing fully, continue to watch whatever arises within you. Staying in your bodily awareness, continue to breathe deeply and fully as you pick up a pen to write what you are experiencing.

Well, I love my food and I love my jewellery - so what better way to combine the two? This necklace and earrings from Legge and Braine made me laugh.
It seems like another lifetime ago, but at the beginning of the year, I posted this picture of my writing room - undergoing construction - and despaired of it ever being habitable again. Well, now I'm back home and it's wonderful. I fell in love with this second-hand desk, which arrived about ten days ago and is where I write very happily, if messily, now (and yes, that is a disco ball above my laptop):
I think I'm going to have some fun too. The first thing I did when I set my desk up, was to write it a poem - to settle both it and me in our new home - and this is what came up, completely out of the blue. Let's face it, my new desk is very definitely a minx!!
It's when they're not watching, I do it.
A thin biscuit slipped from my top drawer,
nibbling round the edges, my eyes fixed
on his, and that's all it'll take. He waits
for the crumb falling on to my bottom lip,
the one I'll put my finger up, my ring
finger up, to brush away, and he shakes,
shakes like a lamb being led to slaughter.
Round and round, the biscuit will turn,
biting towards the centre, until it's gone,
and he's released, until the next time.
I'll shut the drawer, get back to work,
as if nothing has happened, just how
it never does, not when they're watching.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The To Do List blog is fast becoming a passion for me. I particularly love the comments to each list, because they seem to me to be stories in themselves. One comment thread on a list just up 'What I love about you' not only questions whether he does actually love her cats, but also starts a debate as to whether men will really get it right about the best way to approach women. So in the interest of harmony, I offer all men this site of cheesy pick up lines. After all, if a strange man approached me with the line 'Are you lost, ma'am? Because heaven's a long way from here', I'd fall straight in his lap (with the grace of an angel, of course). Yeah right.
I love finding new writers I know I'm going to enjoy. I'm not sure how Judy Budnitz has passed me by, but as I've only just got one book of hers so far, her short stories - Flying Leap - it's obviously my lucky day. Too often I love the idea behind a short story, but find it's not carried through (one of the dangers of the genres, I suppose), but these stories are crafted brilliantly. My favourite is 'Average Joe' where a guy suddenly gets attention because he's been nominated the most average man in America. Even God comes calling:
"The next day was Friday. I stayed home from work.
That morning God came to me. No fuss, no fanfare, no limo, no cohorts in sunglasses. He came to me as I lay in bed."

Of course, God needs help too from this Average Joe:
'Joe, I need your advice,' God said. He sighed and put his head in his hands. I mean, he would have, if he'd had a head and hands and was built that way. That's how despondent he was.
'I don't really think I'm qualified to advise you,' I said. I was trying to be humble; the Bible says God likes that.'
'I think you can, Joe,' he said. 'I need you to speak for the poeple. Tell me, Joe, what ails them? Why are their spirts weak? Why don't they believe in me any longer?'

I LOVED this story, and the conclusion which I'm not going to reveal in case anyone buys the book! I think it's the combination of exact detail and surreal imagination, which makes the whole thing believable. It might be a flight of fancy, but Budnitz never falters in letting her characters question that it might be happening, and so the reader goes along too. The phonecalls from sales people are very funny too, and felt like a subtle revenge for all the times those phonecalls interrupt precious writing time.
And so my writing prompt for today is going to be ... a sales phonecall that goes off script.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My writing prompt for today is going to be .... spring, and i'm going to try to follow the rhythm of this poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.


Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
--When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
--Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightings to hear him sing;
--The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
--The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
--A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
--Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
--Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The best writing workshops point out the things you know are wrong with your work, but hope you'll get away with. I've been struggling with several things about my latest novel at the moment, see the interview I did with Mark Pritchard, but a workshop I went to last weekend, pointed out a possible fatal flaw which is that I hadn't really worked out the motivation of the main characters. It hurt - all the best and most useful criticism hurts - but now I've picked myself off the floor, I've realised I need to change things. And this is part of the process of writing for me, learning to give up the wonderful idea I have for a story and let the characters I'm writing about take over a bit. Why oh why will I never learn! After all I know this quote from Richard Kearney almost off by heart:
The novelist becomes someone who discloses rather than imposes, who listens gently when the city quietens and sleeps, so that he might ‘hear the ghosts of stories whispered.’ And at such times, the storyteller feels himself in the presence of something greater than himself.
And here I go imposing rather than disclosing all over again! I do feel sure I'm on the right track now, but I'm still enjoying reading stories at the moment about how other writers struggled to find their way through their work. This one by the poet, Esther Morgan is possibly one of the best I've seen, Journey of a Poem. It feels like such a generous and useful thing for other writers to share when things go wrong, as well as when they're going right, and I particularly like finding out the thinking that goes on between her different drafts.
And my writing prompt for today is going to be .... 'When the city quietens'.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Books about writing are such a personal thing - I've had friends thrust books into my hand that I just can't bear - which means I'm hesitant about giving my own favourites but I've just had to do this for a magazine and wanted to share. So here goes... These are the books I LOVE and would never ever lend to anyone!
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, Shambhala Publications Inc
Anne Lammot, Bird by Bird, Anchor Press
Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, The Poets Companion, W W Norton
John Lee, Writing From the Body, St Martin’s Griffin
Julia Cameron, The Artists Way, Pan Books
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, Harper Perennial
Susan Wooldridge, Poemcrazy, Random House
Poetry Thursday

The more I blog, the more I discover how good other blogs are! Couldn't believe my luck to discover Poetry Thursday recently, set up by Liz Elayne and Lynn, and am determined to join in with a poem every week. So here's my first. This is an old one of mine, and won third prize in a Poetry London competition. I wrote it in the British Library when I was researching Freud's theory of family romances, and it resonated with me so much that I had to stop reading and write. I remember really clearly as a kid absolutely knowing that these people pretending to be my mum and dad weren't really, and that any day now my real mum and dad, the prince and princess, were going to drop by and claim me! It was a salutory experience to think that my own daughter was probably doing exactly the same thing - and so this poem came about...

Different Lives

My daughter’s trying on different lives
for size. She tries to catch me out,

snakes her arms around my neck,
pushes herself back into my lap.

Tell me about my real dad, she asks.
This is a game we’ve played before.

I close my eyes. He smells of home,
of ginger biscuits dipped in warm milk,

you know how you sip it to send you to sleep.
Sweet dreams he always said when he kissed me

goodnight. Once we stood under a street light
and he wrapped me in his coat,

buttoned it round the two of us. Sleep tight
I’d tell him.
My daughter nods, her head heavy

on my chest, she murmurs an echo of my words
sleep tight, sweet dreams. I watch her go

as her father lifts her off my lap, cradles
her up to bed and I hear her sleepy plea

Tell me about my real mum. Alone, I strain
to catch his words, just out of reach.

And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... the different life I could have had!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. Vita Sackville-West.
Today I have been busy writing, clapping the net over my own particular butterfly, and now I'm tired out. It's an almost physical exhaustion although I've hardly moved at all. I'm going to sit in the afternoon sunshine and just freewrite around my writing prompt for today which is ... a day slipping emptily by.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hah! My email system has this rather weird and disconcerting habit of picking out words in my emails and offering 'appropriate adverts'. Today a friend wrote and asked whether I fancied going to watch some dance at the local theatre. I didn't particularly, but I was very excited by the opportunity offered in one of our appropriate adverts' to enjoy the excitement of a pole dance in my very own home with my very own removable pole, one of which I could even pack up and put in a natty bag to carry with me between office and home. Well, it makes a break from editing, I suppose. Mind you, I'm not quite a novice at these things - I went to a stripping class once with another friend. Actually I'm exaggerating, it was called Six Ways to Remove a Glove and all we did was dance with feather boas and remove gloves, plus a certain amount of 'bottom work' (don't ask), but I can't remember the last time I'd laughed so much. All my other 'class mates' were, like me, women of a certain age, and most seemed to be mothers at the local Catholic school. In the reception area before, one asked another whether her husband knew she was there. 'God no!' she replied. 'He thinks I'm learning how to knit gloves.'
And so my writing prompt for today is going to be ... gloves. I'm not sure whether they're to be removed or not.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Here are details of a BBC Radio 2 competition that looks fun:
“Imagine an encounter with your own music legend and use it to create imaginative, original drama. Be funny, be bold, tell a great story in less than 10 minutes. You can meet anyone, be anyone, go anywhere, do anything! Turn your dramatic ideas into a radio drama between three and ten minutes long and it could be broadcast on the Mark Radcliffe show. Deadline for entries midday Friday 2 June 2006.”

For more information, go to the Radio 2 website
English PEN presents Ghostwriters with Toby Litt, Hilary Mantel and Patrick McGrath

Tickets must be booked before the event.
Tuesday 16 May

People have been telling stories about them for millennia, but why are we so haunted by the idea of ghosts? As they say in Hollywood, there is nothing there in the dark that isn’t there by day – except fear. To put a shiver down your spine on a spring evening, authors Toby Litt, Patrick McGrath and Hilary Mantel get together to compare notes on their own spooky writing and ask what it is about ghosts that has a curious effect on writers’ imaginations, in a discussion chaired by PEN’s own Simon Burt.
Time: 7- 8.30pm

Tickets: £5.00
Venue: Adam Street Club, 9 Adam Street, London. WC2N 6AA
How to book: Call 020 7713 0023 or visit
If it's very painful for you to criticize your friends -- you're safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that's the time to hold your tongue.

Alice Duer Miller (1874 - 1942) US poet, author
I hope this is an urban myth, but one of the writing organisations I belong to, New Writing South, has this little bit in the newsletter about a would be children's author who, after receiving numerous rejection letters for his manuscript, decided that no-one was actually reading it.
So what he did was type out his washing machine user guide, called it The Tin Drum and sent it off. He got back the standard and polite reply: 'We think this work has merit but it's just not for us.'

And - I just have to do this - my writing prompt for today is going to be a rejection letter which tells more about the person doing the rejecting, than what's being turned down!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you should begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.


It would have been the birthday of one of my most loved and inspirational writers, Angela Carter today. I was lucky enough to meet her once, when I was organising a literary conference for readers of Cosmopolitan magazine. We had a fantastic line-up - Fay Weldon, Deborah Moggach, even Maya Angelou, and the day was just full of inspiration, fun and naturalness. Magic. So whatever happened to REALLY good literature and women's magazines? Seems to me that the magazines that are continuing publishing new stories are the ones for older women.
And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... Freud spoke to me in a dream last night (because he did, and I'm definitely going to have to write about what he told me!)
Well, I'm ashamed to say it's taken me as long to work out how to do the format tags for this list as it would to read all these books, but finally I'm able to respond to Debra and Patti's challenge about what books I've read. Thanks guys, this was fun and I've learnt something! I will be underlining and striking with abandon from here on! So this is the list I received, with instructions....
Look at the list of books below.
Bold the ones you’ve read.
Italicize the ones you might read.
Cross out the ones you won’t.
Underline the ones on your book shelf.
Place (parentheses) around the ones you’ve never even heard of.
Here goes nothing!

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--Douglas Adams
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (and went back to this recently because of the Capote film)
The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (this one's on the bookshelf but I'd be cheating to claim it because it's my kids!)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling (but it's on the bookshelf and much loved by the kids)
The Life of Pi—Yann Martel (heavily overrated in my view but I've got friends who LOVE it, so might have to go back and read again)
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (on the bookshelf but I've never actually finished it!)
The Hobbit--J.R.R. Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
1984 - George Orwell (a treasured one, this one)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—J.K. Rowling (as above - not being snobby about not reading this, but I've tried and can't get into them at all)
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Probably my favourite on this list)
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (made me weep and weep)
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Atonement - Ian McEwan (cop out ending)
The Shadow of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Dune - Frank Herbert (keep getting recommended this)
(Sula by Toni Morrison) (hah, was feeling cocky, but am now ashamed. How have i not heard of this!)
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (Was on my shelf but has gone walkabout)
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
The Moor’s Last Sigh - Salman Rusdie
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Schriver (Was reading this morning about the struggle she had to get this published!)
Disgrace - JM Coetzee
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kuresh (I love this man ... as a writer)
Small Island - Andrea Levy
Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake
Ivanhoe - Walter Scott
Patrick Suskind - Perfume
Bernand Shlink - The reader
(Father and Son - Larry Brown)
(Crooked Hearts - Robert Boswell)
(She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb)
Postcards - E. Annie Proulx
(A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (stories) - Robert Olen Butler)
(Defiance - Carole Maso)
Being Dead - Jim Crace
And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, by John Berger - Wonderful!
(Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard) (ashamed I haven’t heard of this – will read)
(Bear Attacks--Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero)
(Desert Notes--Reflections in the Eye of a Raven, by Barry Lopez)
(River Notes--The Dance of Herons, by Barry Lopez)
The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald
(Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow)
(The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus)
(The Last of the Just by Andre Schwartz-Bart)
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (Loved the film of this too)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (keep getting mixed reports on this one)
(A Bell for Adano by John Hersey)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Herzog by Saul Bellow

The books I would add are...
Ripening Seed, Colette
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
The Woman Warrier, Maxine Hong Kingston
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
The Lover, Marguerite Duras

And I'm tagging ...


Friday, May 05, 2006

When I was young, I admired clever people. As I grew old, I came to admire kind people.
- Abraham Joshua Heschel
The heroine of my next novel, Tell Me Everything finds books by the French author, Colette, in the library just when she needs them most. Colette is one of those wonderful writers who can be a shivery role model - you admire, but aren't quite sure you'd have the courage to follow! However, it was a real pleasure in the writing process to go back to the novels and get lost in that summer hazy atmosphere the stories evoke for me. And even more of a pleasure to read Judith Thurman's brilliant biography of Colette's amazing life, Secrets of the Flesh - A Life of Colette.. It's one of those books where you spend as much time making notes as reading, because each page contains a gem. Sorting out my desk this morning, I came across pages and page of scribbles I'd made and each one is worthy of its own writing prompt...

'For I felt, each day better ... that I was, precisely, born NOT to write.'
'General ideas were like dangling earrings; they didn't suit her.'
'For a child, the unwillingness to thrive can also be a form of revenge.'
'There are people who fling themselves into the path of your existence, and plunge it into chaos.'
'He even had trouble controlling the pages of his evening newspaper.'
'So many women want to be corrupted, and so few are chosen!'
'Jealousy is the only suffering we endure without ever becoming used to it.'
'The widespread adoration of women was also an implacable way of subjugating them.'
'swindled of what I had been secretly plotting to relinquish.'
'no one who has tried both to mother and to write can honestly say they are not, at times, conflicting vocations.'
'that graceful, complimentary manner of unfaithful husbands.'
'A woman reaches an age when the only thing left to her is to enrich her own self.'

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

From my sister, about tomorrow:

wow....did you know that On the first Thursday of May, 2006 at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.
This will not happen again in our life time........ Theres an interesting fact to tell ur grandchildren!!
And on the subject of being 'sad', I can't stop drooling over this beautiful book cover which I found on Patricia Storm's excellent blog, Cover Me With Love. A must for everyone who enjoys the tactile/visual side of books, as well as their content!
There has been so much about happiness recently that it's easy to feel guilty about not being happy. But sometimes there are times when you're just going to feel sad. And you need to, without someone popping up to make you 'feel better'. I think that's why I like this site so much. The Saddest Thing doesn't seem to me to be about voyeurism or feeding a negative itch, but about giving space and recognition to emotion in all its different forms, and I appreciate the fact that it was artists who created it, rather than psychologists.

So that's going to be my writing prompt for today .... the saddest thing I own.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

And this too.... I LOVE this idea:
Legend Press looking for stories for new collection
Following the success of ‘The Remarkable Everyday’, Legend Press has announced details of the second book in the series, to be launched late-October this year. Developing the theme, Legend Press is looking for fictional stories of between 9,000 and 12,000 words that follow a character for a single day from a particular cultural angle. As with TRE, the story must provide an interesting and original everyday insight with a diverse range to be chosen for the collection. Legend Press is not looking for any political message or planning to provide an exhaustive list, but just a fictional snapshot into the lives of different people from different backgrounds. It also stresses that this doesn’t necessarily mean focusing on the main religious groups, but can be an examination of any cultural aspect of life. Again, Legend Press is looking for an individual insight, which means a strong focus on the character’s thoughts, actions and emotions. As an examination of the everyday, sci-fi, fantasy and thriller fiction is not recommended.
Legend Press is now open to submissions and hopes all writers will look to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity and challenge. Writers should send their work to Legend Press, 13a Northwold Road, London N16 7HL, along with SAE for returns. The deadline for submissions is 30 June 2006 and writers will receive royalties from the collection. Legend Press is also happy to answer any questions, which can be sent to
From a New Writer email:
Arts Council website boosts budding authors
An opportunity to see your own work in print in a new X-Factor-style scheme called, whose Bestseller Chart launches this month. is aimed at publishing books by new authors and distributing them through major booksellers. New members join YouWriteOn for free. They review and rate the opening chapters of each others work before the site randomly sends them on to other members. Each month the five highest rated writers will enter the site’s Best Seller chart and receive a free critique from literary professionals, including established authors and a leading London literary agent.
The author with the highest rated opening chapters will win the site’s Book of the Year Publishing Award and the completed book will be distributed through major booksellers including Amazon, W.H. Smith and Waterstone’s.
Edward Smith, the Development Manager of, said: “The website is a great way for new authors to develop as writers with the help of their peers and guidance from literary professionals. It will help talented new writers to get noticed and published. The Arts Council are really behind the project as a way for new authors to get a voice.”
YouWriteOn’s innovative ratings system was devised by professional authors, including Phil Whitaker, whose debut novel Eclipse of the Sun was shortlisted for the Whitbread.”
Edward Smith said: “We plan to launch new successful authors as all our members will be able to self-publish their completed books through the site. Already many members reviewing new authors’ submitted chapters have said that they would buy the completed books. Our aim is to help all writers develop, and to help talented writers get noticed and published."
The writer Mark Pritchard has been working on a really interesting series of interviews with writers, What Are You Working on? and I was honoured to be asked to take part recently. It's fascinating to see the challenges writers are going through AT THE TIME of writing, rather than when they've been overcome. I particularly liked the quote from Laura Krughoff about the differences in writing short stories and novels:
The first draft of a short story has always been my least favorite part of the writing process -- I've always felt subject to the tyranny of finishing. For that reason, I've been really surprised by how liberating and fun diving into a draft of a novel has been. I'm enjoying the feeling of having a work in progress -- knowing I get to be with these characters and this material for a good long while.
From The Writer's Almanac today:

It's the birthday of lyricist Lorenz Hart, born in New York City (1895). He's famous for writing the lyrics to songs like "Blue Moon" (1934), "My Funny Valentine" (1937), and "The Lady Is a Tramp" (1937).

As a young man in his twenties, he was drifting around, writing verse in his spare time, when someone introduced him to a teenage composer named Richard Rodgers. They worked on a series of amateur musical comedies together, but their future didn't seem promising. Rodgers was just about to give up on music and go into the underwear business when their show The Garrick Gaieties (1925) became a huge success. They went on to write several successful musicals together, including Connecticut Yankee (1927), The Boys From Syracuse (1938), and Pal Joey (1940).

Lorenz Hart wrote,
"Blue moon,
you saw me standing alone
without a dream in my heart
without a love on my own."

And my writing prompt for today is going to be .... watching someone standing on their own.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Two strong messages about just getting on with the writing today. First of all, a quote sent in an email:
"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time. The approach must involve getting something down on the page: something good, mediocre or even bad. It is essential to the writing process that we unlearn all those seductive high school maxims about waiting for inspiration. The wait is simply too long." --Leonard S. Bernstein
And secondly, an interview with novelist Matthew Sharpe in the current edition of Glimmer Train. Asked whether he thought it important to have a disciplined plan as a writer - writing every day etc, he replied:
"Oh yes. Otherwise I'd die. I think the more you show up at the computer or the writing pad, the more likely it is you will discover the inspiration. There's a nice metaphor, which I am going to mangle, from Mary Oliver, the poet, where she talks about this wild part of yourself that doesn't want to be tamed, but if you show up at the same place and time every day and you offer it your rigor, it will trust you more and it may be more likely to show up, too."

And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... discipline.