Friday, July 18, 2008

And more and more...

Wow! I am no longer nobby-no-mates in my gang of one. Things are moving apace.

a) We now have members in England, Scotland, France, and two in America.

b) There's been this beautiful photo spread

c) Alice Elliott Dark, one of my favourite writers and author of one of the Best Short Stories of the Century, has agreed to be our International Relations Member, giving us this stirring promise, "I'll carry on the fight in America."

d) In addtion, we have made the following appointments:

As well as being smoking, Alex has been appointed Facebook Group setter-upper. Come and join us there for trolley discussions

and Clare has been unanimously appointed our Beautiful Member.

e) And we have even been asked our first philosophical question: 'What is the point of all this?'

I am away now for two weeks, so this blog will be quiet (no prompts either, I'm sorry - please feel free to use the comments to share any ideas for writing you may have) but have no fear. I will be scouting for members overseas.

The Shopping Trolley Appreciation Society

Well, things are going much better than expected. We now have twelve members (four of whom are men) and some of these have even joined without being threatened with violence.

The coloured membership card has gone to our new leader, Hilary, who I don't mind stepping down for because any gang that has her in it will be the coolest group in history.

My dad is the deputy chairman and official speech maker (yay, nepotism rules).

Anonymous Bosch has gone straight into number one member spot with this wonderful photo essay

Anne is our design chief.

Cathy wins the brightest trolley prize (hers is fluorescent pink)

Alex wins the smoking trolley member prize not just because he's hot but because he's offered to smoke a pipe while wheeling his,

and Nik is a valued member because he's joined despite his fears that we might all be a bit 'bonkers.' Oh, wait that was just me.

The rest of us are humble members (but as we all know, those with trolleys will never be absolutely humble because we can always aim them at unsuspecting ankles when they're busy condescending to us)

Vacant positions currently - Trolley Society Membership Member and Trolley Society Facebook Group Setter-up Member and Trolley Dolly Member....

Oh, and stop press ... we have just had our first American member join so we are now an official International Society.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Want to join my gang?

A few of us (well, ok just me) have been exercised by the ridicule given to those wondrous beasts that are shopping trolleys. So we (yes yes, just me so far,no need to keep rubbing it in) have got together to form an appreciation society. It will have officers, special handshakes, activities etc etc, and we're even going to have special membership cards (see above). Golly Miss Molly, this is going to be spiffing. Anyone who wants to join can email me and I'll send them one of the above cards (although not in colour. That one's just for me cos I'm the leader and everyone else gets black and white photocopies. Hey, stop whining, no one said this was going to be fair).

I am picturing the future and it has small wheels.

Holiday Reading...

I haven't packed a stitch of clothing yet for my two-week holiday starting on Saturday, but what I have been doing is deliberating far too long on what books to take. This is the pile as it currently stands (or topples)...

I can't tell you exactly how much agonising has gone into getting it even this small, but there will have to be further pruning and it will hurt. It always does. I notice my partner has been hiding his books in case some of them have to go so he can fit mine into his suitcase (it's happened before).

Although what exactly would happen if I went on holiday and didn't have a vast choice of what to read, I'm not sure. That's something that's never happened before, and it never will.

But this year as indeed with every year, I'm now more than half way through a book I'm really enjoying...

and because I'm not going to finish it before Saturday I will have to make a decision. Do I take it, knowing I'll probably finish it on the plane out there and then have to lug it around for the rest of the holiday? Or do I leave it behind to make more room for the books I haven't started?

Decisions, decisions. Who ever knew holidays were so stressful?

And this is a semi-answer to Nik's snappily titled post-a-photo-of-a-random-bookshelf-(or book pile)-almost-meme.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Rejt Advice

Not my headline but one from Mslexia Magazine for an interview with Macmilllan and Picador publishing director, Maria Rejt. I'm not sure I've ever quite forgiven the magazine for heading an article I wrote about finding your own voice through studying other writers The Art of Plagiarism - after I'd been really really careful to say DON'T copy in the piece. Not only that but they spelt Plagiarism wrong - a fact which was pointed out to me gleefully by several hundred students. They did put a graceful apology in their next edition but if you google me it still comes up with something like - Sarah Salway argues that copying other writers is a good thing. Argh. OK, I was saying something like that but context is all and that bland sentence isn't something I really want to have on my record. But but but, nevertheless, it's still a great magazine, I was proud to have written for them (and to have had several of my poems published by them) and I look forward to it and read it avidly every month. This issue is particularly good as it has the results of their annual poetry competition. (Dads by Carole Bromley is particularly wonderful, and I was glad to look her up and find other moving poems online.) Anyway, anyway, back to the Rejt stuff. Her advice:

1. Don't be scared of the knock backs. If you are that sensitive then you shouldn't be writing. It's an endurance test.

2. Discover a new writer every year, even if you just read one book. Seek out the best because it will give a context to your own voice.

3. There is no book that I have come across that I have published - or have been disappointed abut not publishing - that didn't need editing. The great thing is feedback, feedback and then a little bit more feedback.

Ah, yes. I'm going to print this out and put it on my newly cleared noticeboard.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More blankets...

Further to my last post, I've been hunting round and here's Craig Thompson's blog. Fascinating.

Oh, you should read this book...

I can't remember whose blog it was on which I first read about Craig Thompson's Blankets, but I wish I could, if only just to thank them.

This is a HUGE graphic novel - or as it says on the front, 'an illustrated novel' - with 582 pages. After a while the experiences it outlines of extreme bullying, being an outsider, falling in love for the first time so so sweetly, complicated sibling relationships, learning to cope with a relationship breaking down together with the hints of more dangerous narratives of abuse and depression, feel as if they could only be told in graphic form. I was interested to see that Thompson includes Art Spiegleman in his acknowledgements because it gave me the same complicated feelings as when I first read Maus - should I be reading about this in comic form? Until of course I stopped thinking and just started seeing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A handful of stones

Slowing down and paying attention is probably the most important thing a writer can do. Fiona Robyn's been doing this for several years now at her blog A small stone. Now she's opened the idea up to us all. This is what she says about it: Every day I try to pay proper attention to at least one thing, and record it on my blog. I call each chunk of writing a small stone. I think this is a brilliant idea, and I'm certainly going to be joining in and adding this to my bloglist.

You can find out more here.


More from my recent visit to Bishops Castle, because I wanted to record some of the other graves we found in the churchyard there. We had the good fortune of being shown round by Peter Norton, who as well as being the Church Warden, has just published an excellent walking guide to the area and knows everything there is to know about the place. He took us first of all to see the grave of the African. This was given Grade II listing last year as part of the bicentary year of the abolition of the slave trade, but the origins of the 'I.D' buried there are still a mystery. Also as to why it's facing away from the other graves and into this dark corner:

This is what I've managed to find on-line:

The Grave of an Unknown African 'I.D.' in St John the Baptist Church, Bishops Castle

The headstone on this highly unusual grave has an inscription which reads: 'Here lieth the Body of I.D./A Native of Africa/who died in ths (sic) Town/Sept 9th 1801/God hath made of one Blood, all nations of Men. Act 17 ch. ver. 26'. Nothing is known for sure about who this 'native of Africa' could be, though there is a record in the burial register of the internment of a John Davies on 12th September.

The lack of information about this individual is an evocative reminder of the human impact of the slave trade. The likelihood is that he came to Bishop's Castle as a servant in one the local country houses. But the quality of the headstone, with its elegant decoration and inscription, indicates that the person had achieved some status but the time he died. The quote is also one that the abolitionists used, suggesting that it was erected by someone with sympathies to the movement. In addition, the position of the grave is very curious, turned away from the others in the area with the inscription hidden from general view.

Overall, the historic importance of the grave is as a rare contemporary reminder of the stories of the many millions of unidentified individuals who were taken from their indigenous lands during the slave trade.

But if anyone else has anything else to add, I'd be really interested.

Another grave had resonance because of a conversation we'd had at breakfast. I'd been talking about a discussion I'd been involved in about a grave inscription: 'She'd done her best'. Was that a good thing, or a bad thing to say? Our views were divided down the middle - half thinking it was condescending, and half considering it a compliment. So it was interesting to see this inscription - if you can't read them, the words at the bottom say, 'She hath done what she could' - which carried a similar sentiment.

That is until we looked at the date and saw it was Christmas Day - maybe she'd only managed to put the sprouts on before giving up!

And it is the lack of gravestones in this spot which is probably the most poignant. This was where the bodies of people from the old workhouse in the town were buried. It's kept clear now as a sign of respect, but Peter reckoned there were probably more bodies buried here than in the rest of the graveyard.

In fact, I could probably write something about every grave there - what's the significance of this cat, for instance?

It made me want to read all over again the manuscript for Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book which I've been lucky enough to have in my sticky hands before publication. It's a great book, and it has a real feel of a classic. Not least because I've been walking round every graveyard I've visited since reading it expecting to see little Bod, the book's hero who lives amongst graves and keeps one foot in the land of the living and one foot in the land of the dead. There's just the right mix of humour, and scariness, and the shiver you can't help but have that these are real people you're walking over. And they might just jump up and hold onto your ankle if you don't show enough respect. I can't wait for it to come out because I suspect, looking at Neil's record, that the hype is going to be lots and lots of fun.


I'm sure that there is a deep psychological reason why nearly every house I've lived in has an enormous amount of stairs. I long for wide and flat, but end up narrow and tall. Still, it has given me an obsession with uses of stairs rather than for just going up and down. This bookcase has featured before, but worth another few minutes lusting after nevertheless:

But it was these outside steps I found when browsing on Beholders Eye blog that really made me gasp (I found this site btw when browsing on Garden Monkey's wonderful blog):

What an amazing idea. I just love it when I see something I've never thought about before. And we have steps in the garden too, I could do this!**

And any of these too. Big Mouth's are featured on there, (Scroll down the book pics to the stairs) . So amazingly cool.

Oh yes, narrow and tall is where it's at. There must be a market for a staircase blog somewhere...

(**Isn't it always the joy of knowing you'll never quite get round to it that makes these pics so aspirational and lust-worthy?)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More than you really wanted to know...

... about me. A meme from Bookeywookey.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world:

Mars bars
Almond croissants
Hot sausage rolls (with mayonnaise)
Bacon sandwiches (with brown sauce)
Candy shrimps and bananas, maybe especially candy bananas, oh and sherbet spaceships. I like those a lot.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:

Oatcakes and honey
Raw carrots (ok, don't really enjoy all that much)
Chocolate (and even Mars bars sometimes - kept in the fridge and cut into slices)

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:

Have someone come in to make my bed with clean ironed sheets every day
Give loans to women to start businesses in developing countries
Get concorde reinstated for one more last flight so I can go on it with some friends and family
Hire Bryan Ferry to sing just for me
And then I'd give the rest away to the Kids Company to open centres everywhere

Five (non-academic) jobs that I have had:

Pea Picker
PR Consultant

Five habits:

Drinking coffee first thing in the morning - before I can speak
Singing to my dog
Saying 'and everything' at the end of every sentence.
Talking to random animals in silly voices
Buying books

Five places I have lived:

Ely, Cambridgeshire

Cloud Atlas wins Best of the Rest...

Scott Pack's announced the result of his 'Best of the Rest of the Booker", to find the book chosen from those who DIDN'T win the Booker prize but were shortlisted, and it's Cloud Atlas. Now, there's a surprise - I was on the panel to choose the ten books put forward for the poll, and this one was high up on my list, but I was gunning for Waterland for overall winner. Well, The Underground Man would have been my first choice but that didn't get on the shortlist.

Still a very worthy winner, not least because it should have won the Booker in its year, and I do like Scott's suggestion of cutting up David Mitchell's winning cake and rearranging the pieces. Made me laugh out loud.

You can see and hear David Mitchell talk about the writing process of Cloud Atlas here on Meet the Author.

Story Maps

I'm loving, really loving, the idea of this story, The 21 Steps by Charles Cumming, and how you can use the internet to visualise the plot. The story is told caption-form above aerial shots of London. But is it just me or did it make anyone else feel sick? I haven't managed to get to the end yet. It's not the content, it's the sensation - like reading a book in the car. I could never do that either.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Where time stops still...

Luckily I didn't meet any ancestoral ghosts in Bishops Castle, but spending time with the 'real' relatives was just pefect. My dad, two brothers, sister, nephew and I were all there to remember a special family member with a bench we'd had put up in the graveyard.

It was the first time we'd seen the bench, as it had all been arranged via the internet but I needn't have been nervous. It's the perfect spot, English countryside at its most beautiful, and with lots and lots of wild flowers around.

And the time even goes officially slower in Shropshire. See anything strange about the church clock?

It only has one hand, because, well, why do you need to know the time to the second when there's no need to hurry anywhere?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Away with the ancestors...

Just off to spend a few days getting to know this lot better ...

.. in the ancestral village, Bishops Castle, here ...

I've put up enough prompts for when I'm away. Don't cheat ...!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dancing in the Dark

It's been far too long since we've danced on this blog. (Lovely benches too)

Saturday, July 05, 2008

What to do, what to say?

I know it's not just because I'm the mother of teenagers that I can't bear to even look at a newspaper these days, but it makes it harder. I'm certainly not going to stop my kids from going out but as someone said it's the ones without knives who are getting killed. What am I going to do? Give them weapons to defend themselves?

So have a nice time, and by the way have you got your hanky, emergency money to get home, bus pass, flick-knife...?

This story in particular had me in floods of tears last night. Of course Shaki was begging for his mum, he was sixteen. Sixteen. That's younger than both of mine, and I still consider it my role to protect them. Eighteen teenagers have been killed violently in London this year, and that's not to mention the French students stabbed over 200 times last week. I know it's easy to get caught up in a wave of hysteria, and maybe I am over-reacting, but what else can I do? Nothing? I keep going through scenarios I've heard about why this should be happening:

1) as a country, we're scared of our teenagers - well, we have been for a long time. I remember the gust of physical anger and sadness I felt when I watched a middle-aged woman cross the road so she wouldn't have to walk past my son in his hoodie. I know she crossed because of him because I saw her cross back after she was 'safe' and look behind her to make sure he wasn't following her. I don't think he'd even noticed her. I wanted to run and challenge her, but I realised then I've done the same myself. Changed my path so I didn't have to pass a group of teenagers who were 'hanging around'. I certainly wouldn't ever smile at them, or say hello.

2) we don't give them any responsibility - yes, I agree, just look at the traffic round the school run. Don't we even trust them to find their own way? But, but...

3) as parents, we are too wrapped up in ourselves and don't want to lose our chance at fun - I'm pleading guilty here. I'm friends with their friends on Facebook, go to concerts with them and dance whenever I can. I can't imagine my parents doing any of those things BUT I'm sure they were just as wrapped up in themselves, and besides the fourth accusation against us is ...

4) we spend too much time thinking about our kids and putting them in the centre of our lives - can't win, I guess

5) there's nothing for them to do - or maybe there's just too much school work, too many hurdles to be got over, too many exams to pass so they lose the ability to think for themselves as to what they could do in any free time? Free time, what's that?

6) too much shopping and not enough nature - I've been thinking about this a lot since going to see Hugh Lupton's show about John Clare. He claimed the concrete jungles we live in now are sending us 'out of our minds'. An interesting phrase when you come to look at it.

So here I sit looking at that phrase, out of our minds, and going round and round in circles in mine. What to do, what to say? Does anyone have any suggestions? Or do we leave it all to the Government and the police to control our own children? Somehow, there's something a bit too Orwellian in that for me.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Teacher's treats...

I've finished my writing classes in Tunbridge Wells for the summer now, so last night I invited a mixture of students, local artists, writers and friends over for a drink and a reading. You can tell this particular reader is a Sarah because of her tiara. I would like to say I made her wear it, but I've come to terms with the fact I've never had a student yet doesn't do exactly what they want to do and hang my futile attempts at instilling an air of fear and authority.

From the emails I've had - and even the honour of it being a beautiful thing - other people enjoyed last night's 'soiree' nearly as much as I did. But it also made me think a lot because I've always considered my teaching as a way of funding my writing. But suddenly last night, as I listened to the readings and the conversations going on and remembering some of the exercises we'd all done together, I realised just how important teaching has become for me. It is a privilege to work with other peoples' writing and to share the energy of committed writers creating something together. I could never be one of those writers who live hermit-style, communicating only with the page. I need to be engaged somehow with the world. My challenge now is to keep the balance between engaging and writing. One nice thing about the kind of teaching I do is that it's not continuous. I get breaks like now - from July to September - in which to revitalise, think of new ideas, and get ready to start again. To this end, because I've got some exciting teaching prospects coming along, and a connected even more exciting project I'm working on, Clare and I have been sorting through my very very messy piles of teaching notes together.

And slowly, slowly, it's all coming together. I like to think of myself as a creative type who doesn't mind mess but I know now that's not the case. I like order. No, I LOVE order. I crave it. It lets me have the space to think of new ideas. Mind you, I've just spent the last five minutes stroking my new Clare-organised files.

No wonder she wears a tiara. She might not be a Sarah but she's the queen of the alpabeticised system. My only gripe is that she says I've got to learn how to use them myself because she's not going to move in and live with me but, hey, I have a tiara too (and mine's pink). I CAN do it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Summer Writing...

One of the things I'm looking forward to this Summer is talking at the Summer Intensive writing workshop - here are the details if anyone is interested, but I do see there are only two places left, so if you do think it's something you might like, it's probably worth contacting the organisers quickly:


Host: Shaun Levin
Type: Education - Workshop
Time and Place Start Time: Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 6:00am
End Time: Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 8:00am
Location: Highbury, London
City/Town: London, United Kingdom
Contact Info Phone: 07757644127

Maggie Hamand and Shaun Levin will be hosting an Advanced Feedback workshop in London during the month of August. The Summer Intensive is for writers who are working on a sustained project, and who are interested in working intensively towards completing a novel or a collection of short stories, as well as learning more about the publication process.

The emphasis will be on the form and structure of your writing project, and on a productive discussion about participants' work. Over the eight sessions, each participant will be offered three (3) half-hour slots for a critique of their work. Extracts will be emailed to all participants before each session in order to provide you with time to read and comment more closely on the work.

The writers Toby Litt and Sarah Salway will also join us to discuss their own writing process.

For more details about the tutors:

Please note that the workshop is limited to 8 participants.

Dates: Twice a week in August: 5 & 7, 12 & 14, 19 & 21, 26 & 28 August (8 sessions)
Days: Tuesdays and Thursdays
Time: 6-8pm
Fee: £220

please write to if you'd like to pay by cheque, bank transfer, or through PayPal.

Please forward this info to anyone who might be interested in joining. There are still 2 places left.

Forgotten books...

One of the joys of reading blogs for me is seeing books other people have enjoyed with passion, not just read with a critical eye. And the fact that these aren't necessarily new books is even better. There's a definite zeitgeist in publishing, and I find if I just read new books there can be too much of a theme or a 'same-ness' going on which I end up finding boring so I don't do the books justice. At the moment it's all getting a bit whimsical for me and it now feels like every bloody family has a secret. Of course I know they have because this is my own particular area of academic research, but I'm hungering for some robust old fashioned flights of the imagination. Or even books that make me laugh out loud.

Still, Scott Pack's Best of the Rest of the Booker list reminded me of some old favourites to re-read and some I hadn't got round to yet (an embarrassing number I already have on my shelves but hadn't read. It's as if when they're there long enough I think I HAVE read them. Don't know if anyone else finds this? It's a hope for osmosis - the words might leak into my brain somehow just from being in the same room.)

Anyway, the wonderful New Writer magazine has this tucked away in their newsletter and I now have my summer reading sorted as I have read NONE of the books that have gained such 'impassioned votes'. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki looks like a particular find I'm going to enjoy very much. By the way, I know that some of the links might say 'unavailable' but at least they say a bit about the book, and besides I love The Book Depository. They currently have my impassioned vote for on-line booksellers.

So, this is the piece from The New Writer News:


In 2003 we ran a survey in the TNW eNews to find subscribers’ most-loved novels. This was the Top 20, no real surprises: Pride And Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Lord Of The Rings, To Kill A Mockingbird, Middlemarch, 1984, Jane Eyre, Catch 22, Rebecca, The Great Gatsby, Bleak House, Great Expectations, Northern Lights, Anna Karenina, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes Of Wrath, Crime And Punishment, Sons And Lovers, Little Women, Lord Of The Flies.

But it was further down the list where things became more interesting with impassioned votes going to, among others:

We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
Songs In Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G B Edwards
Auto Da Fe by Elias Canetti
Almost Another Sister by Margaret Wilson
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

Tell us about a favourite book in a few words, particularly if it's not that well known, and we'll let fellow subscribers in on the secret in the magazine. Send by email to: with LOST CLASSICS in the subject line.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More sheds ...

Don't switch over, you've not found yourself on Shedworking by mistake, but some of these sheds you can vote for are really quite extraordinary (see the post below if you're still confused.) I want this one very badly, not least because I'm off to rainy old Iowa this summer...

And this one is the world's first psychedelic shed apparently. I really can't think why.

Who said creativity was dead. The shed world rocks!

Vote now!

As the literary editor of Shedworking Magazine, I feel I have a duty to bring the shed of the year competition to your attention. There are some real beauties there - international entries I see too. This is as exciting, surely, as the American elections (and it doesn't go on so long).

ps the shed above is knitted. I know! I'm going to get going on my own one after I've finished the socks.

Venice is a fish...

I do speak to people who aren't called Sarah, so I'm grateful to my friend Michelle for bringing this event to my attention - it's the launch of the wonderful sounding book, Venice Is A Fish.

Here's a bit about the event:

Date: Thursday, July 10, 2008

Opening times: 7pm

Venue: Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London.

Organised by: ICI

In collaboration with: Serpent’s Tail

Tickets £5. Free for our members but booking essential on 020 7396 4406

And here's a bit about the book:

This is not just another book on Venice, but quoting Erica Jong, ‘…A gorgeous tribute to one of the strangest and most beautiful cities on earth. Was it Henry James or Mary McCarthy who said, “There is nothing new to say about Venice”? Tiziano Scarpa has proved them both wrong.’

And the people involved:

Tiziano Scarpa reads passages from Venice is a Fish and talks about the book and the city with Michelle Lovric.

Tiziano Scarpa is a poet, novelist, playwright and essayist. His novels including Eyes on the Broiler and Western Kamikaze and his radio play Pop Corn received international acclaim.

Michelle Lovric is the author of three historical novels set in Venice. Her third novel, The Remedy, was longlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction.