Sunday, September 30, 2007

At first bite...

So I'd only been on facebook a day when I was bitten by Alexandra and turned into a vampire. But now I can't bring myself to bite other people so I'm going to have to stay at lowly vampire status and at the whim of others who are moving swiftly up the ranks. Yes, on facebook I am feeling my age, not least because I am trying to stay well away from the teenagers I know who are also on there. At least, at least, I haven't lied about it (my age)(or not yet anyway). Not like one of my daughter's friends who told me over breakfast about one of her friend's friends (stay with the story, these are teenagers who have hundreds of friends while I just have seventeen at last count). Anyway this friend of my daughter's friend's friend found her dad's profile saying not only that he was ten years younger, but that he was single too. Oops. He should have just joined one of the groups I'm now a member of - 'A nice cup of tea solves everything.'

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Good looking event...

Another Scatterlings evening at the Marlowe on Wed 10th October

On Wednesday October 10th at 7.30pm in the Marlowe Theatre Bar, in
Canterbury, Scatterlings are putting on another of their evenings of poetry
and music.

A varied programme of thought-provoking, entertaining and (sometimes) comic
poetry from the prize-winning trio of poets - Mark Holihan, Geraldine Paine
and Sue Rose - two of whom are shortlisted for the 2007 Canterbury Poet of
the Year Award; sharp lyrics and heady music from Steve
Antoni, London-based singer-songwriter, who has performed all over the
country, including London's Ronnie Scott's and Maidstone's Soul Café; and
jazz and classical standards from Kevin Kay-Bradley, trumpeter and pianist,
who has played at Westminster Palace, among other places. The evening, which

will be MC'd by Lynne Rees, should be great fun - so why not come along?

Tickets (£7.50/£6.50) from the Marlowe Box Office on 01227 787787

We would also appreciate it if you could send this email on to any lists you

think may find this of interest.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Sue Rose/Geraldine Paine/Mark Holihan for Scatterlings

At last...

...a soap opera worth watching. This news story about the death of Flower, the queen of Meerkat Manor, has whetted my appetite. I love meerkats, and this paragraph from the studio executives about the consequences of Flower's death is just classic:
Up in the air now is the fate of Zaphod, Flower's partner and the dominant male of the Whiskers mob. If losing his mate proves too much to handle, his brother Youssarian—a former top meerkat who has been pegged as having "social problems"—could rise again.

Flower and Zaphod's son, Mitch, also has exhibited leadership qualities in the wake of his brother Shakespeare's death, and he could be a force to be reckoned with, as well.

It's also unsure who will become the new female leader of the extensive clan. Flower's daughter Mozart is a possibility, but despite being caring and compassionate, she has estranged herself from the family more than once.

And just to get me even more excited, there's a good game here. Anyone want to join my mob? You get free lemonade and a special handshake... Alex, where are you?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Fact

(Cor, can't seem to stop posting today. Blogging vomiting - must be an after-effect of the virus.)

Anyway, this fact just exemplifies why I LOVE fashion - and it's how the pencil skirt, this season's must-have, was inspired. Apparently, it was influenced by Mrs Hart Berg, the first American woman to fly in a plane, and who tied rope around her skirts to keep them from flapping in flight.

So now you know - it'll certainly be a comfort to me that I don't have to look like a pencil as I hobble around.

What would you rescue?

One of the best writing exercises I do with students is to give them a random object - even a half-used bottle of bubble bath once - and they have to invent the character who would rescue this object above all others from their burning house, and why. It's amazing how the stories come tumbling out. Well, this is definitely something I'd rescue...

I just love looking at it - there's something so soothing about the colours, but also in the texture of the textiles, which is why it hangs just outside my bedroom. It's designed by Anne Kelly, and, because I know Anne, it's been fascinating to see how an artist develops her work through the years and also the influences - travel, family, life - that seem to form a dialogue between her and her work. This is, of course, the same with writing but it takes longer for books to come out, which means its harder to read the clues. And there's always the feeling that, by the end of the book, you aren't the same person who started out writing it. I'm not sure whether it's the same for artists, but I'm interested in that.

And because the picture above doesn't do Anne's work justice, here's something I nicked off her website.

Because sometimes you need to be childish....

...pop a few pink bubbles and listen to them fart.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

All clear now...

At last the virus has gone. Pesky thing. And I can go back to the important things in life, such as being amazed at how much Neil Gaiman's dog is the mirror image of him and wondering if the same applies to me and my dog. To be honest, this isn't a new thought as I was once asked whether I'd picked her especially because she looked like me, a question I might have appreciated more if she'd been a graceful greyhound rather than a rather scruffy, fat and bearded border terrier. Anyway, I'm going to put some pics up of Tally and me just to see if you can tell the difference.... (ps I'm the one without those spooky green spots in my eyes but it has to be said we both look a little confused)

Monday, September 24, 2007


My computer is sitting there internet-less at the moment due to an outbreak of 'Dialer.generic'. Can't quite work out what this is, or more infuriatingly for deleting it, where it is - but it apparently causes my internet connection to ring high-cost phonelines for no reason I can work out. So if you've emailed me recently, or if I haven't emailed you, be patient. The wonderful Danny is on his way to put me back on the internet highway!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Kids Company

I felt incredibly proud and excited when a publication came through the door the other day with my name printed inside. For once it wasn't something I'd written, but the newsletter for the Kids Company. Can't tell you how happy I was to see my name on the list for major donors. I might whinge about it sometimes, but I know how lucky I am to be writing and when I got the first cheque for my advance for Tell Me Everything, I knew I wanted the Kids Company to benefit from my publication. This wasn't just because of the subject matter of my book, but also because the charity is about something I really believe in - using creativity and fun, whether it be writing, arts, theatre, to help vulnerable people find a different route through life.

I heard about the Kids Company first when the founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, was interviewed on the radio about the constant struggle to get funding and I couldn't help wondering what it must be like, day in, day out, persuading people to give money for something she could see was working so well. This is a quote taken from the newsletter from one of the kids involved in the recent 'Demons and Angels' exhibition:
'That night was special but also a bit sad once the night was over. Something really special happened in creating the exhibition, people worked together and work was created that was honest and painful. It was an absolute privilege to be part of this. I really think that something has shifted in me by having my piece in the show, perhaps a part of my childhood has been laid to rest.'
And yet, probably the day after that first night Dawn talks about above, the team who organised the exhibition were back in their offices begging for more money just to keep afloat.

But this post is sounding like a charity broadcast and it's not meant to be. It's also not about how wonderful I am for giving money - the opposite in fact, being part of the Kids Company is a real privilege for me. And I like the humour of it. The first line of Camila's letter reads:
'I am reporting that my ballet lessons are going very badly. I haven't managed to get into a tutu but the Kids Company is thriving.'

"We aim to return to children their childhood." This is the main aim of the Kids Company - how could I not feel lucky to be a small part of that?

Friday, September 21, 2007

What's your name?

Lauren obviously knows one or two things about names, her blog is called 'All the GOOD blog names were taken" which made me laugh. This list is inspired by one on her blog:

1.YOUR ROCK STAR NAME: (first pet & current car) Charlie Golf – we let my daughter choose the name of our rabbit when she was small and had to live with a Volkswagon in the family!
2.YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (fave ice cream flavor, favorite cookie) Vanilla Blueberry – perhaps a bit too fruity although I love Vanilla as a first name – am going to steal it for a character!
3. YOUR “FLY Guy/Girl” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three letters of your last name) Ssal – now I sound as if I have a lisp!
4. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal) Green Dog – hmm.
5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you were born) Jane Bedford – not going to be the exciting femme fatale I think. More the mousey girl next door who yearns secretly for the hero!
6. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first) salsa – fancy a dance?
7. SUPERHERO NAME: The + second favourite colour + favourite drink – The Blue Champagne – sounds as if I’d be too busy partying to do some saving!
8. NASCAR NAME: (the first names of your grandfathers) Alfred Albert – am confused, what’s a Nascar anyway?
9. STRIPPER NAME: (the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy) Coco Mars – like this one a lot, I can see the act!
10.WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names ) – oops, I don’t stand a chance, my mother didn’t have a middle name so I’d just have to be William.
11 SPY NAME: (your favorite season/holiday, flower) Autumn Rose – I’m not a spy, I’m still stripping!
12. HIPPY NAME: (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree) Toast Oak – hmm, time to stop I think!

Want to be happy?

Then join the Happiness Project.

The Petri Project is full of good advice too, as is Nicholas Bate although he is more business-based, but perhaps my favourite 'feel good' blog is Clare's fantastic Three Beautiful Things.

ps and the answer to yesterday's puzzle is, of course, that the surgeon was the mother (and I'm convinced Alex knew that, he was just spoiling for a fight - things can get boring sometimes even in a shed).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Daughters and Wives

In discussion with a writing friend about good books to read, we were suddenly struck by how many authors had used daughters and wives as terms of possession in their titles eg:

The Memory Keeper's Daughter
The Storyteller's Daughter
The Time Traveller's Wife
The Gravedigger's Daughter
The Bonesetter's Daughter
The Rector's Wife
The Pilot's Wife

An admittedly quick search on reveals no husbands or sons used in the same way, although there is the film of Steptoe and Son, and the intriguingly entitled How to Kill Your Husband and Other Household Hints by Kathy Lette.

This trend worries me now I've noticed it, although I'm interested in how all of the above are written by women. But more worrying for me is the fact that, without thinking too much about it, I automatically presumed the professions in the titles to be held by men. Reminds me of that old puzzle:

A father and son have a terrible car accident and the father is killed. When the son is taken into the hospital, the surgeon immediately says, 'I can't operate on him. He is my son.' Who is the surgeon?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why I love being with women...

Actually before you get me wrong, I really really love being with men too, but my time last week in France with six fantastic women was just perfect. It felt like living in one of those character development exercises. You know, the ones where you ask your characters off-the-wall questions in order to bring them to life. Forget the whole parent, childhood, school, work scenarios, we went straight to the heart of the matter and really got to know each other by debating endlessly these questions:

1) Do you dry between your toes or not?
2) Is it important to wear matching underwear?
3) Should you eat one of those little squares of chocolate posh hotels put on your pillow if you have already cleaned your teeth?

And for the record, my answers are:
1) No
2) Yes - the one time I don't is the time I get run over by that bus
3) Just one square?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The new cover design for Leading the Dance. I love this so much it makes me feel fuzzy inside, particularly the way the polka dots go over the spine! Look at that fourth dancer, all ready to cha-cha. Who knows, saxophone yesterday, maybe dancing lessons for me tomorrow?

Monday, September 17, 2007


Have just done it - booked my first saxophone lesson...

Still time to enter...

Pulp Net/Bloomsbury Festival Short Story Prize
Entry fee: £6.00
Closing date: Sunday, 30 September 2007
Word length: 2500 max.
For stories with a Bloomsbury connection, theme or setting, in any genre. Prizes (1st £500, 2nd £200, 3rd £100) will be presented on Sunday 21 Oct at the Bloomsbury Festival. The winning writer has the option to read an extract from their story at the festival.

Open to all. Bloomsbury Festival has a number of no-fee places for local residents who cannot afford the entry fee; if you wish to enter and may be eligible, please email

The Bloomsbury Festival is a contemporary, multi-disciplinary celebration of the creativity of this famous area. The 2007 Festival runs from 19th - 22nd October.

As time goes by..

So, as I lift my head finally from my pillow and assess the state of my post-birthday hangover... no, not at all. In fact, the opposite, I've been away in France teaching and having myself a little bit of heaven. Perfect place, perfect students, and more than a few pieces of perfect work produced. More of which later. But when I came back, I found myself in one of those time-travelling moments. My son had only got himself a record player - now sold as 'nostalgia' - and discovered lots of my old records. Now, I've always been nervous when I get into one of those music coversations, not least because I was the youngest of four siblings so always had to listen to 'older' music about which I wasn't allowed an opinion because I was 'too young to understand', but mostly because I am always being told my taste is really bad and several people have made it their job to educate me into proper music (and normally given up). So I was a bit worried about what I might think of my teenage self. But, hey, it's not that bad, is it? Oh, don't raise your eyebrows like that. I don't really care any more. I loved these records!
And the one thing I'll never apologise for is my taste in heart-throbs. Look at these two men and tell me they weren't worth those nights of weeping over because they'd never be mine...

(Actually I hope my sister doesn't read this because that Who one is hers and having listened to it again this morning, she can't have it back, and if she tries I'm going to tell mum and dad she's being mean to me again....)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Happy birthday to me...

And happy birthday also to Philip, Karen and Hilary (because this seems to be a writer's birthday - any other 11th Septembers out there?) - but mostly because it's my blog, happy birthday to ME!

I've got a dream day ahead - still reeling from seeing a fabulous production of Saint Joan last night, and looking forward to Ten Canoes tonight with a perfect lunch-date along the way. And in between I'm going to do some writing and reading of my own.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I feel...

Actually, I feel fine. I'm just trying to get this blog into Jonathan Harris's research project, We Feel Fine, which has been searching through the world's blogs to accumulate snapshots of how the world is feeling. Jonathan is an artist, storyteller and computer scientist who, through his work, is trying to make personal sense of the web to 'show off a world that resonates with shared emotions, concerns, problems, triumphs and troubles.'

So I feel... happy to have listened to his talk here and excited by this work which links up all of our secrets. 'The soul of the internet', someone called it.

More on Norman

Now it seems I can't enough of Norman Mailer. After reading and making copious notes from his interview in the Paris Review, I was browsing in the Aladdin's Cave of Galignani's bookshop in Paris, and came across his collection of essays, The Spooky Art. This is a good find for me at this time, because I found inside an explanation for something I accept but has often puzzled me. I seem to work best when I get myself into a bored gloomy state - being alone in a strange city or town really makes my creative juices flow. And in retrospect, I'll look at these times as good times, even though I seem to spend most of them watching couples, and friends, and family groups with real, physical envy, wishing I was with anyone else than myself and my note pad!

However, Norman Mailer writes:
I've found that I can't do serious writing without getting into a mild depression. (Note! I am not speaking of a clinical depression.) An ongoing bad mood can be, however, a avital part of the process, because to begin with, it's perilous to fall in love with what you're doing. You lose your judgment. And for the simplest reason - the words, as you are writing them, stir up your feelings too much. Odds are, if they excite you disproportionally, they may do less to others.'

Who was it who said, of writing,: 'Kill your babies'?

Here's another quote of Mailer's I underlined:
Writing is wonderful when you talk about it. It's fun to contemplate. But writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable. You put on weight, you strain your gut, you get gout and chilblains. You're alone, and every day you have to face a blank piece of paper.

But before we get too gloomy, I like this observation best because it sums up just how lucky I feel most of the time to be writing:
I remember Elia Kazan saying one day at Actors Studio, 'Here, we're always talking about the work. We talk about it piously. We say the work. The work. Well, we do work here, and get it straight: Work is a blessing.' He said this, glaring at every one of us. And I thought, He's right. That's what it is. A blessing.

And I do consider myself blessed, even if I have to be mildly depressed to do it best....!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


That's me. Just popped over to Sophie's blog because she's always interesting, got side-tracked on this quiz and am now going to work out how I can get a life because this is - apparently - me in book (er play, surely,but hey, let's not be too dull about it) form:

You're Waiting for Godot!

by Samuel Beckett

Many people think you're extremely dull, but you're just trying to
patient. Really patient. Patient to the point of absurdity, quite frankly. Whatever
you're waiting for isn't going to just come along, so you can stop waiting. I promise.
Move on with your life. Change of scenery might do you good. Heck, any scenery might
do you good. In the meantime, you do make for very interesting conversation.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

And yet another good-looking event...

Sunday 16 September, 7pm
Telegram books - - is hosting an evening of new writing by women at

The Cella, Sanctuary Cafe
51-55 Brunswick Street East, Hove, Nr Brighton (01273 770002)

with readings from award-winning Canadian author Alayna Munce, local author Kay Sexton and poet
Maria Jastrzebska.

Alayna will be reading from her new novel 'When I was Young and in my Prime', Kay will be reading
from 'Two Tall Tales and One Short Novel' and Maria will be reciting a selection of her work.

It is free to attend and promises to be a fascinating and stimulating evening. A chance to
support some great new works, network with other writers and have fun!

Alayna Munce will also be reading at 7.30 pm on Thursday 20 September at Queens Park Books, 87
Salusbury Road, London NW6 6NH.


Jeremy Page, editor of the literary magazine The Frogmore Papers
which recently entered its twenty-fifth year of publication
introduces readings by contributors to the 70th issue including

Ros Barber, Clare Best, Ian Caws,
Judith Kazantzis, Rachel Playforth
and Catherine Smith

‘This magazine might exist just to show how good a low cost poetry mag
can be.' 10th Muse

Tuesday 16th October at 5pm
Quiet Room, Meeting House
University of Sussex


Written words...

In the middle of a complicated texting conversation aimed at arranging somewhere to meet a friend for lunch, I suddenly realise I have another option and dial her number direct. She answers straight away - of course she does, she's holding her phone waiting for me to text back - but sounds surprised, almost defensive to hear my voice. In seconds, we have our plans all sorted, but when I finish the conversation I have the feeling I've transgressed some (unwritten) rule - that there's something strange now about actually speaking to someone rather than relying on the written words of email or text. At lunch though we can't stop talking. A minute after we part, the text alert tone on my phone goes. 'It was lovely to see you,' I read. This time I don't call her back but text instead. 'You too,' I write. 'Let's do it again soon.'

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Seeing sideways

Now I'm an expert at procrastination, but even I hadn't thought of being this crafty. Puts a whole new light on writers seeing things from a new angle...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Here's one I made earlier...

You don't get to be a writer without being obsessed by books. I've never understood writers who profess never to read anyone else's work, or have found one who didn't use to haunt libraries or other people's book shelves when they were a kid. BUT it's not solely for the words, there's a deep pleasure in the physical being of books, the way the covers open and sometimes - if you're lucky - slap back together with a satisfying noise, the slight flaws you get sometimes along the edge of the paper, how it feels in your hand and the smell, oh the smell. One of my best moments ever was finding Bloomsbury had put one of those thin red bookmarks in the hard cover of Something Beginning With. It really was like a present.

Anyway, I've just come back from a week learning how to make books for myself. It was surprisingly hard work. The group I was in went into overdrive from day one - starting at 9am and sometimes not finishing until we were chucked out of the workshop at 10pm. But what a luxury to concentrate on one thing for so long. Our first day was spent visiting Khadi papers for possibly the most orgasmic half hour of my life. So many colours, so many papers, so many textures. Yum, yum, yum. Then we calmed ourselves down by realising we were going to have to do something with all the papers we'd bought.

This is one of my books. I wanted to do something with one of my poems, Night Letters, and what better way to package it than to make a bed?

The poem unfolds in concertina fashion from the headboard - each stanza slowly following the next in a way I like much better than just reading it on the page:

And although my handwriting might not be perfect, I did get to write with a gold pen:

Just spending a week concentrating about the structure of a book (and for the purists among you, I did spend most of the time learning how to make a book 'properly' with sewn on covers, careful measurements etc before letting myself loose on having fun with the bed), makes me think even more why we haven't moved on from the basic shape of a traditional book. Of course, B S Johnson did try to change everything, particularly with his The Unfortunates, but I can't help noticing that even this positive review uses both 'infamous' and 'notorious' in the first sentence as if he's done something he should be ashamed about.

But children's publishers know all about tactile pleasure in books - Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar must be as popular with parents as well as kids for the way you get to play with the pages. I remember from when my kids were small, books that rattled, or scratched, and, of course, popped up in surprising ways.

Maybe it's just that strange shaped books don't fit easily into bookshelves once we become adults? Can't be tidied away and forgotten about? I'm on a mission now to find adult fiction books that let me play as a reader, not just with the words, and won't let themselves be tucked away. Any suggestions gratefully received.