Monday, March 31, 2008

Making to do lists ...

... is quite my favourite hobby, so this is one tattoo I'm very tempted by:

and from the same source, a salt and pepper set that makes me salivate with desire:


I'm not sure I'm overly keen on the title of the blog post - 'Fancy Sarah Salway on your chest?' - but there's a chance to win a t-shirt for the new Cool EP over on the bluechrome blog. All you have to do is to buy one of the short story collections from Patrick, Sally or me. (You won't actually get any of us on your chest, you understand, just a t-shirt, but that's better for everyone, really.)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Has anyone else wondered why...

... no man seems able to even look at a tea cosy without wanting to put it on his head?

Friday, March 28, 2008

See you in Oxford?

I'm going to be joining Oxford-based Your Messagers to read some short pieces as part of the Oxford Fringe Festival, on Wednesday 2nd April, 6.30pm at Borders, Magdalen Street. If you're around, do come and say hello!

Refuge Radio 4 Appeal

An email I'm happy to pass on from the charity, Refuge:

Thank you for kindly donating to Refuge during the past twelve months. As a valued supporter of our work, we would like to let you know that on Sunday 30 March 2008 Honor Blackman will be reading the BBC Radio 4 Appeal to raise funds and awareness for the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge). This will be a chance to hear more about how your brilliant support is helping the thousands of women and children who are experiencing domestic violence.

The BBC Radio 4 Appeal is a three minute appeal on behalf of the BBC's chosen charity for that week. It encourages listeners to donate over the phone, online, or by post.

The Appeal will be aired at 7.55am and 9.26pm on Sunday 30th March 2008, and then at 3.27pm on Thursday 3rd April 2008, on BBC Radio 4: 92.4 - 94.6 FM and 198 LW. You will also be able to listen again online at for a week after the first appeal broadcast.

Please help us to raise as much money as possible by listening in and helping to spread the word! We want to tell as many as people as possible about the broadcast, so let your friends know and ask them to tell their friends as well! The more people who listen the more money will be raised - all of which will go directly towards providing a potentially lifesaving Helpline service for women affected by domestic violence.

Please spare five minutes of your day to listen to the Appeal and forward this email to as many friends and family as possible. Thank you.

With warmest wishes from all at Refuge and Women's Aid

For further information on the appeal, please contact
Refuge, International House, 1 St Katharine's Way, London E1W 1UN registered charity number 277424


There's a great sounding exhibition opening near me in Tonbridge on Sunday. Finite is looking at recycling - or as the website says:
This exhibition started life with just seven artists, all passionately concerned with what is happening to our world, deciding that their art could say something, that it could just possibly make a difference. Now 1½ years on, it has grown to thirty artists, a much bigger space and a connection with a new direction for Hadlow to become a Carbon Neutral community. The artists have been joined by people and organisations who can show that an alternative is possible and how we can all help make a difference.

It's appropriate it's being held in Hadlow because this is the first college to offer a degree in sustainability and is aiming to set up a sustainable community.

There's even going to be - FINALLY - a use for all those odd socks...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pop up alphabets...

This little video had me gasping with appreciation at just how clever - and funny - this book is. Just look at that C to D flick...

I saw it, via Alex, here

Another good site featuring typography here, and of course, another very good book about the alphabet here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter traditions

One of our annual activities is the Great Wind-Up Animal championships. Every one gets to choose their own competitors. Some dogs have been known to try to get in on the act by pretending to be toys ...

But when the confusions are sorted out, there's a sense of tension you can almost taste when the animals line up on the starting blocks ...

Of course, there are people who always spoil it by putting competitors in compromising positions ...

And there are very complicated rules which, although I am the only person who understands them, does not mean at all that the stakes are against anyone else but me winning. Personally, I think it bad luck, and not cheating at all when someone gets a fish that sadly doesn't move out of water..

Yep, these are the sort of intellectually challenging games I like ...

What this blog has been missing...

a chunk of Bryan Ferry at his best ...

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I guess I'm a prime example of what Malcolm Gladwell is talking about in his book, The Tipping Point. I've had the book on my shelves for what seems like years but it was only when I read about it recently here that I opened it. We are all waiting for the right kind of information so that we can act. When that information comes at the same time to a lot of us, then that's how something becomes a phenomenon. But it needs to be the right information, and it needs to come from the right source.

Phenomenons generally interest me, so in my latest novel I have a character who works in trend forecasting. Mind you, her job is a relatively small part of the plot - in fact, it hardly forms any part - so it comes back to that old question of just how much research you need to do in all the different aspects of your novel. I do know a little about trend forecasting but do I need to become an expert? My worry is that the more I get interested in the small details, and go off on tangents, the more messier the book will become as I try to fit EVERYTHING in.

But that's a worry I'm trying to hold over until the editing process when I work out what can stay in and what needs to be lopped off. (And, look, this post has just gone off at a tangent.)

Gladwell's book is interesting from another point of view. When I worked in PR, trend forecasting was part of my remit. I was working with high-fashion, quick-moving consumer products so I always needed to know what was coming next. Actually going out and just walking round the shops was part of the job, as jammy as that sounds now. Reading The Tipping Point reminds me of that time, and I started to think how I could apply it to my writing process. It's certainly easy to spend too long isolated at the desk and not enough going out and seeing what's happening in real life. But part of Malcolm Gladwell's thesis is that it's the small things that make the difference. So yes, it's important that my big plot lines are working and my structure is in place, but at the end of the day, it's just as likely to be the way my character unfolds and folds his handkerchief - as I watched a man do several times yesterday - that readers will remember and that give a reality to my bigger picture. Particularly when, for example, I'm trying to build up an obsessional character. So my walking round the shops yesterday has meant that the hanky folding entered the novel last night and fits perfectly - strange though how that man will never know his little habit has been captured in just this way!

One section of The Tipping Point sent shivers down my spine. It's about an experiment which involved 59 couples who had been dating for three months, until, and I quote: 'Half the couples were allowed to stay together, and half were split up, and given a new partner whom they didn't know.' (that was the first shiver - who would join in such an experiment - didn't they mind having to split up!!) Anyway, all the couples - new and old - were then given 64 statements along the lines of 'Midori is a Japanese melon liqueur' each of which had one word underlined. (second shiver - I use to handle the PR for Midori but lets not go off on that tangent).

The couples were allowed to look at these statements for five minutes and then as a pair had to write down as many as they could. The pairs who knew each other remembered substantially more items than those who had the new partners. (oooh, BIG shiver.)

The conclusion is that when people know each other well, they create a joint memory system - based on who is best suited to remember what kind of things.

I'm tremendously excited about this. Just think of the story potential here if we're writing about relationships.

Apparently it's the loss of this kind of memory that makes divorce and presumably widowhood so painful. We lose the 'storage' we've had in our partner. Not just their physical presence, but half our memories have gone.

Given that I'm writing about old people, nearly all of whom have lost their partners, this is the kind of idea which sends me immediately back to the page. I do remember reading that in married couples it is the woman who holds many of the family stories for the next generation, I just hadn't pictured it so effectively as some kind of filing cabinet before.

It's exactly what Gladwell is talking about - we can do something completely different - like, for me, reading a business book - and start to make connections with our work. I find this the most exciting thing of all. Getting inspiration from just everywhere and seeing where the different routes will take me. Heck, it's even quite cool.

Friday, March 21, 2008

On being cool

Perhaps it's the shopping trolley or the knitting, but the fact I could be cool is causing hilarity in some circles. Nevertheless, I am one of the three authors in the brilliant bluechrome's latest short story initiative. The Cool EP has stories by Patrick Chapman, Sally Spedding and me, and costs just £3, money which will be refunded if you want to then buy any of our short story collections.

You can find out all the details here, hey, you can even buy one there, and what's more - we're getting to go on tour like proper cool writers. I think I'm even going to be allowed to sing. More details soon.

AND I STAND CORRECTED ... they are currently only a £1 from the bluechrome site.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wild thing!

Somehow I am not expecting great things, but I have taken the plunge and followed fellow bloggers such as Cornflower into the exciting sock knitting sphere.

I've been unwell recently - for some reason I want to say out of sorts, under the weather, under par, a bit blue, perhaps because they all sound like my mum talking and that's a strange kind of comfort - so I wanted something new to do that wouldn't be physically taxing. So far, apart from the inevitable teenage sniggers, it's been good. Better than good. I went to fashion college, I LIKE making things with my hands. What I forget sometimes is how much I NEED to do it. It's as if my hands remember how to do things all on their own, and that's amazingly reassuring. Like growing vegetables and making soup.

Anyway, I will keep you posted with the progress of the socks.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's a lovely day!

This is especially for Alex at Shedworking, who will be having some lovely days, and sleepless nights, for a little while to come! I know it's a gazebo, but it was the closest I could find to Fred in a shed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

We think...

...that Joshua Ferris's, Then We Came To The End is one of the best books we've read for a long time.

And the reason we've started to talk in this strange plural way on this blog is not because we're suffering wild 'we have become a grandmother' delusions, but because it's how Joshua Ferris manages to get across the group mentality of some offices so perfectly. It's certainly the first book I've (phew, there I am again) read which uses the plural narrator, but it works.

And when he separates off from the mob to give these vignettes of individual workers they seem like small jewels. I'm gushing, because I really enjoyed how every page seems to have something glittery on it. He feels like a very generous writer who hit a sweet spot when writing this book - I could almost feel the heat coming off the page. How about this paragraph:
'How we hated our coffee mugs! our mouse pads, our desk clocks, our daily calendars, the contents of our desk drawers. Even the photos of our loved ones taped to our computer monitors for uplift and support turned into cloying reminders of time served. But when we got a new office, a bigger office, and we brought everything with us into the new office, how we loved everything all over again, and thought hard about where to place things, and looked with satisfaction at the end of the day at how well our old things looked in this new, improved, important space.'

I did laugh a lot when I was reading, but what worked for me was that it wasn't just funny. I'm going to go back and examine just how he managed to get the characters so completely and independently in just a few lines. Marcia - the woman with the unfortunate 80's style hair who has a new hot haircut which makes everyone look at her just a bit differently; Jim - who has a sign on his wall saying 'The Blank Page Fears Me'; Larry who has made a co-worker pregnant and can't bring himself to ask her whether she is going to keep the baby or not; Karen Woo - who always has to be first with the news; Benny - who gets left a totum pole in a colleague's will and isn't sure what to do with it so ends up paying a fortune to a storage warehouse ... I've worked with variations of them all. I'm actually slightly frightened I am a little bit of them all.

Perfectly judged blurb on the inside cover, by the way, from Geoff Dyer, who says: 'Laugh? It almost made me wish I had a job.'

Saturday, March 15, 2008

So how do you feel?

Catherine Smith and I had a wonderful day at the Wellcome Collection in London which proved to me - as if I didn't know - that a day away from my desk (and the computer) feeds my writing appetite.

So it was appropriate that the exhibits that struck me particularly were all about our relationship with food. It's hard to miss John Isaac's life-size I CAN'T HELP THE WAY I FEEL:

He says of his figure that he wanted to show how our physical self-image can be a metaphor of the way we're governed by our emotional landscape. It really resonated with me - I've had days when I've felt like the figure above and had a shock to see someone normal looking back at me from the mirror. Also days when I'm so knackered, I feel like a tiny stunted figure too. Interesting to think about how the outside rarely reflects the inside though.

In her piece, EAT 22, Ellie Harrison recorded everything she ate for a whole year:

Not one morsel passed her lips unless she was photographed with it. As well as the book, she'd recorded the images in a non-stop slideshow which felt as if you were hallucinating to watch it. It was like one of those children's flicker books, seeing food being endlessly consumed in a variety of different settings.

And I remember this kind of portion control plate - not that we ever had one, although it brought back horrible memories of sitting in front of really terrible food and having to eat it all up 'because of the starving children'. I could never understand how it helped them, but it still feels wrong to leave food on my plate somehow. Am I the only one?

And just to show how far removed we seem to be from the ability to manage our own hunger and nutritional needs, here are only a few of the diet books on display at the exhibition ...

More pictures of shoes for bound feet, sex aids, and portable false eyes from the Collection coming soon...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Some messages I like to see ...

(all taken on a walk round London, Thursday 6th March)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tell me this...

I promise this won't turn into a shopping blog, but could someone tell me why, when they will enthuse over blue streaks in my hair or my red cowboy boots, do my family threaten to disown me if I take my new shopping trolley even one inch outside the house?

Look at it, a thing of beauty indeed. And not a shred of tartan to be seen. Elasticated waists and velcro shoes here I come..

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Red sky at night ...

The colour of my mystery Christmas bulb ...

But most of all my beautiful new boots which have been making me smile all day ...

More about The Thing

Further to my last post about The Thing, I've just got this email through:

Hello THING subscriber,

By now you will most likely have received issue 3 of THE THING, by Kota Ezawa. If not, that means that it is coming very soon.

You will most likely also have noticed that issue 3 is in a variety of languages. And most likely you wondered why on earth we would send out THE THING in so many different languages. We just wanted to make sure that you all knew that all of these different languages are an integral part of issue 3. And we are very serious and very excited about the way the whole issue is activated because of this.

We overheard Kota speaking to an interviewer at the wrapping party about the use of multiple languages in this issue, and we thought it was the best way to address this. When asked why he wanted to incorporate the different languages, Kota mentioned that as a kid he remembered listening to the song “I can’t get no satisfaction,” by the Rolling Stones. He said that he didn’t know what the words meant but that he really appreciated their sonic quality. For him (at that time) the meaning was not as important as the way the words and the music activated the space.

We suspect that there will be many of you who, like Kota, are satisfied with not knowing what the text means and are interested in the way issue 3 activates the space between object, text and interpretation.

And we also suspect that many of you will be interested in it from this same standpoint but still want to know what it means. So within the letter to the editor that was packed in each issue, we included a link (in English) to lead you to the translation. If you looked for it, but couldn’t find it, it was most likely because your mind said, “this is Mandarin. You can’t read Mandarin. Stop reading.” So for those of you who would prefer to cut to the chase, we are including the link right here:

One of the things that excites us about issue 3 of THE THING is that it is about a process of coming to an understanding. It’s not about what it actually means. Put another way: the work involved in interpreting the issue is the point of the issue.

I'm really interested in this, because I think there's something here I can use for my writing process. My first action was to rush to the internet to look for a solution after opening my strange looking box:

There was apparently an explanation in the text, but my response was exactly that of a headless chicken. The email above even says: 'If you looked for it, but couldn’t find it, it was most likely because your mind said, “this is Mandarin. You can’t read Mandarin. Stop reading.”'

So how does this apply to my writing? Well, if I had waited a bit, and, rather than just stamp a certain meaning on what I was looking at, I had just let another kind of understanding come to me, wouldn't I have enjoyed a better, more exciting, experience? Instead of locking the 'meaning' door shut - phew, I understand what I'm supposed to think now - I could have just wandered the corridors for a bit longer and perhaps bumped into some new ideas. After all, "the work involved in interpreting the issue is the point of the issue." I'm reminded of this quote from Richard Kearney:
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.

It's all about allowing some space in my writing to let something different, maybe better, come through. And I don't think I've been letting that happen recently. Too much talking, and not enough listening!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Weekly writing prompts

Sheila asked if I could put up the list of last weeks writing prompts for ones she missed and have now slipped off the side panel, so here goes:

Sunday 2nd - different chairs I have loved
Saturday 1st - the sound of love
Friday 29th - the things I have stolen
Thursday 28th - what you didn't say
Wednesday 27th - Before computers
Tuesday 26th - There was never any need
Monday 25th - Let me tell you about the plan

And for today - If I could do it all again

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A difficult letter you need help with?

Then there's help for you on ebay here. Clare from Three Beautiful Things is experimenting with a new business idea. These are the letters you can have:

Love letters: a romantic gesture sure to delight.
Apologies: say sorry gracefully with a letter from the heart.
Condolences: a sympathetic letter in a time of grief
Complaints: a well-written letter increases your chance of getting results
Round robins: share your news without sounding boastful

Just a look at her blog shows that any letter she writes will be both beautiful and interesting, unless of course you ask for a dull letter. Which, while not being against the law, would be a shame.

Happy mothers day...

A day of cakes ...

and no arguments ...