Thursday, November 30, 2006

With a currently dodgy internet connection, I'm not able to carry on normal life. Or my life as I normally lead it, which is half on the ground, and half via the computer. I can't rely on blogs, emails, websites to add that little frisson. Heavens, if this continues, I may have to speak to real people instead. But today I seem to be 'on', which is good news as I have been waiting to listen to the 'new voices' at the national poetry archive. Not surprised that Dylan Thomas is the most requested voice, but it's Siegfried Sassoon I want to hear.

And just to add to my miseries, here's an Internet Addiction test. At least there's a blog for us sufferers to log on to and talk about it.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Oh my. Go here for this amazing photograph of an elephant foetus still in the womb. I can't stop clicking back to it, and am counting the days off until the tv series, Animals in the Womb comes to Channel 4. What I find fascinating is how these different animals are already developing the skills they will need in the outside world. The dolphin foetus learns to swim apparently 'in its own private swimming pool' in the mother's womb, and the ever-clever dog,
'is no less remarkable. In just 63 days, the dog foetus is armed with all the basic tools necessary to survive, including a highly acute sense of smell and the ability to detect sounds beyond the human range of hearing.'
I'm a bit worried about this, to be honest, and it's back to the usual bad mother question. When my second child was born, she must have already been subjected to hours and hours of watching that loveable dog, Spot, while, heavily pregnant, I slummed it with my first child on the sofa watching the videos. There's no doubt that, once she was born, she responded every time she heard the song. What I'm trying to work out now is what possible evolutionary use it will be for her. I knew I should have been listening to Shakespeare instead, but oh, I did (OK, still do) LOVE Spot.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Well, I'd hoped to be a novella at least in this 'Find Your Literary Personality' quiz, but apparently I need to mature a bit before I reach those heights...
You scored as A coloring book. Children love you--and so do many adults. They find you approachable, simple and friendly, all of which perfectly describe you. Instead of throwing big words around, you communicate in the international language of pictures. In order to be as open as possible, you present yourself simply, allowing those around you to customize you to their liking. Sometimes this results in you turning into a primitive masterpiece, and other times you resemble a schizophrenic's daydream. So long as the one talking to you understands you, you're happy. Zen and the art of crayon-sharpening.

A coloring book




A classic novel


A college textbook


The back of a froot loops box


A paperback romance novel


An electronics user's manual


Your Literary Personality
created with

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When my friend Anne told me about a scheme to knit scarves for the lions in Trafalgar Square, I thought she must be joking. But Stich and Bitch are doing exactly that. Groups from all round the world are busy knitting bits of the scarf (or possibly four so the lions don't squabble), and they'll be joined together to make a magnificent 43.5 foot scarf, which will be draped around the lion(s) in the New Year before being auctioned off for cancer research charities. One of the groups taking part is Men Who Knit. I don't know why their website salutation 'Good day to you manly knitters' should make me so uncynically happy, but it does. Almost as much as the news of how another London knitting group, the Cast Off Knitting Club were once asked to leave the Savoh Hotel after complaints of impropriety when they held an impromptu knitting circle there.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I was teaching a dayschool yesterday on using setting in writing, and we came to the conclusion it was impossible to be neutral about place. Interesting then to see this project about a very different map of London, organised through the Museum of London. Londoners - and presumably visitors - are being encouraged to write in with their memories of a particular road or place in London, and these are then mapped and categorised under different emotions - so you can take a virtual walk through a London seen through a focus of Beauty/Horror or Joy/Struggle to take two examples. One of my favourites is from the guy who remembers building a treehouse in Bolton Gardens with his school friend, from which they used to fire waterpistols at passers by. They thought they were safe because it was a private garden but one man they soaked apparently jumped over the fence to get them because he was so incensed. I love this - it makes me want to go to Bolton Gardens and write about those boys. I can just imagine the mixture of fear and excitement they must have felt when it happened...

Friday, November 17, 2006

“The most wasted of all days is that on which one has not laughed.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

(And thanks to Dovegreyreader for the link.)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"An adult is one who has lost the grace, the freshness, the innocence of the child, who is no longer capable of feeling pure joy, who makes everything complicated, who spreads suffering everywhere, who is afraid of being happy, and who, because it is easier to bear, has gone back to sleep. The wise man is a happy child."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I know this isn't the comfy armchair I've been searching for, the one that just lets me put my legs up, sit cross-legged, whatever, while I read and write, but how beautiful is this, and other fruit-filled creations from Tom & Smith. Do look at the Bulbs chaise lounge if you visit their website.
I witnessed a wonderful 'senior moment' over a pub lunch with my father and mother-in-law recently. My father had asked my mother-in-law something about her childhood.
M-I-L: Do you know I can't remember.
F: Never mind, I can't remember what I asked in the first place.

And then they both carried on eating their lunch.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

For another poem about writing, here's Billy Collin's Tension, which has as its epigraph, the instruction:
“Never use the word suddenly just to create tension.” Writing Fiction

Monday, November 13, 2006

Phew! I have been saved from the need to buy the Goddess Guide for the time being by this very funny article in the Guardian by Lucy Mangan on a week living to the rules of modern etiquette books (which comes via the Book Bar). Or have I? Re-reading the article, I see no mention of living like a Goddess. And besides, The GG comes with a recommendation from India Knight who we all have a strange passion for in my family. I can't even say it's interestingly unreciprocated, because she has absolutely no idea we exist, whereas we try to read every word she's written. Is that stalking? Is there a guide to that?

At least, the cookery Goddess, Cream Puffs in Venice, has sussed out how to get the right advice - she asks herself what she should do in tricky situations. (And if that's what being a Goddess means, I'm definitely getting that guide). On her blog, CPinV writes:
"Is it wrong to eat an entire raised almond coffee cake all on your own?


Phew! I was worried there for a second.

Oh, but look... I've stolen her raised almond coffee cake to eat on this blog too; it's just that it looked too delicious for her not to share. Can you blame me?
Life Lines: Six Poets For Oxfam
Winter Poetry Reading 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 7.30 pm
Oxfam Books & Music
91 Marylebone High Street, W1

Ros Barber (new collection from Anvil due out 2007);

Katy Evans-Bush (widely-published poet featured in The Like Of It, Baring & Rogerson);

Ruth Fainlight (winner of the Hawthornden and Cholmondeley Awards; author of Moon Wheels, Bloodaxe, 2006);

Tobias Hill (novelist and poet, author of The Cryptographer and Nocturne In Chrome & Sunset Yellow);

Michael Rosen (broadcaster and lecturer; Selected Poems is forthcoming from Penguin, February 2007);

Eva Salzman (author of Double Crossing: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe).

Hosted by Todd Swift, Oxfam Poet in Residence

Admission free, suggested donation £6
Please contact Martin Penny to reserve seats
Telephone: 020 7487 3570; email:
I can't stop thinking about one of the strangest stories in the papers over the weekend. A couple, Lynda and Ian Gammons, went through a kidney transplant together (Lynda donating one of her kidneys to Ian) and now apparently he is turning into her - sharing her love of shopping, cooking and - hurrah - dogs. All things he says he 'despised' before. Although she tries to explain the shared hobbies by saying they're just spending more time together, and presumably he's pretty grateful to her for the gift of a kidney, they do admit that they even think the same thing at exactly the same time, something they put down to the memories held in cells. I love this quote from him:
"Strangely, my old tastes and interests haven't changed — now I just have extra dimensions. So I listen to Black Sabbath while I bake the scones and I still love bird-watching and rugby."
The first signs that something was changing apparently happened in the supermarket when he turned to her and said he was enjoying it, and did they need more eggs? I would have loved to have seen the look on her face. I know I'm generalising hugely here but have you noticed how many husbands just cling to the trolley for grim life in case they'll be asked for an opinion on washing powder, while their wives dart in and out of the aisles filling it up - a bit like a dog on a walk who covers twice the distance. Anyway, the possibilities with this story for character development in writing are endless. There's something particularly moving too about how, when they first met in school, he fancied her straight away because she carried a briefcase while the rest of the girls had satchels. It's all in the details, and surely only a matter of time before they make the movie.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I've said before on this blog how much I love the free weekly cartoon sent to my inbox from Harold's Planet. There's something about the stupidity of Harold's face that makes me laugh, so I was pleased to get notice of their Christmas Show, SMIILING-IS-FREE, to be held at the Dray Walk Gallery, 91 Brick Lane, London E1 6QL, from Friday 15th December to SaturdY 23rd December. They promise original artwork from £5 to £500, and not just my man, Harold.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Memories for Life Colloquium: The Future of our Pasts

British Library
12th December, 2006

The Memories for Life Network announces a colloquium, to be held at the British Library Conference Centre (Euston Road, London) on 12 Dec 06

The colloquium, sponsored by the EPSRC funded M4L network and the British Library, will consist of a series of panel discussions, intended for a general audience, a poster session, and keynotes.

Memories for Life (M4L) is a project that brings together a diverse range of scientists, academics and experts to study and understand how memory works and to develop the technologies needed to enhance it. In today's technology-rich society human memory is supplemented by increasing amounts of personal digital information; emails, photographs, Internet telephone calls, even GPS locations and television viewing logs. The challenges that lie ahead include the development of prosthetic memories, the storing and retrieval of a lifetime's worth of digital memories and the issues of trust and privacy. This is a problem of international scope, and beyond what can be achieved by a single research team or research grant, and offers the possibility of revolutionary advance. As such, Memories for Life has been recognised as a Grand Challenge for computing, by the United Kingdom Computing
Research Committee.

The Future of our Pasts, on the 12th December at the British Library, will bring together representatives from all the fields involved in the M4L project including psychologists, neuroscientists, sociologists, librarians and information professionals, and computer scientists in one of the most wide-ranging gatherings of memory and information experts in recent years.

For detailed information on the Colloquium, see the website above.

To register and confirm your booking for the colloquium please email your name, organisation, contact details, and any special dietary requirements (eg vegetarian) asap and not later than 30th November 2006 to

Attendance is free, but the audience is strictly limited to 200 places. Lunch will be provided.
A friend's just sent me these photos in an email called: 'Why dogs hate Halloween'. My favourite has to be the hot dogs, although the spider's mighty cute too...

There's an interesting interview on NPR with William Zinsser, author of the classic guide On Writing Well, about the challenges of writing personal history. One of the quotes from his essay, How To Write A Memoir, feels particularly useful:
"My final reducing advice can be summed up in two words: think small. Don't rummage around in your past -- or your family's past -- to find episodes that you think are "important" enough to be worthy of including in your memoir. Look for small self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you still remember them it's because they contain a universal truth that your readers will recognize from their own life."

But it's what he has to say about readers that really makes me think:
"Who is this elusive creature the reader? He is a person with an attention span of about twenty seconds. He is assailed on every side by forces competing for his time: by newspapers and magazines, by television and radio, by his stereo and videocassettes, by his wife and children and pets, by his house and his yard and all the gadgets that he has bought to keep them spruce, and by that most potent of competitors, sleep. The man snoozing in his chair with an unfinished magazine open on his lap is a man who was being given too much unnecessary trouble by the writer.

It won't do to say that the snoozing reader is too dumb or too lazy to keep pace with the train of thought. My sympathies are with him. If the reader is lost, it is generally because the writer has not been careful enough to keep him on the path."

Barthes said writers had to 'cruise' the reader; I guess it would be a pretty poor seduction if the seductee went off to make a cup of tea, or even fell asleep during the fireworks.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Welcome Laurie Stolarz's new book, Bleed - which is visiting my blog today as part of its Girlfriends Cyber Circuit tour.


Ten teens, one unforgettable day

Over the course of a single day, the lives of ten teenagers will intersect in powerful and unexpected ways.

Among them are Nicole, whose decision to betray her best friend will shock everyone, most of all herself; Kelly, who meets the convicted felon she’s been writing to for years; and Maria, whose definition of a true friend is someone who will cut her. Derik discovers his usual good looks and charm won’t help him get the girl he really wants, while Joy, a fifteen year old waitress, hoping for true intimacy, narrowly escapes a very dark fate.

Seamlessly woven together, this collection of interconnected short stories paints an authentic portrait of today’s teen experience that is at once funny, moving, and often very haunting.

What the Critics are Saying:

“Stolarz expertly weaves a combination of stories the reader will remember for a long while.” – Anne Keller, RandomReads

“The reader is swept along in this masterful plotting of characters as their lives intertwine in most unexpected ways. Laurie Faria Stolarz has captured perfectly the angst and folly of the teenage world.” –

“…a funny, yet poignant book of interconnecting short stories in which the lives of 10 teenagers are seamlessly woven together….The author demonstrates the ability to identify with today’s teen experience…” – School Library Journal

Hyperion Books, September 2006
Hardcover $15.95
ISBN 078683854X
Ages 14+

Also Available by Laurie Stolarz:

The Blue is for Nightmares Collection
Llewellyn Publications
Ages 12+

Nightmares. Dark Secrets. Premonitions of Death.

Welcome to Stacey’s World!

With over 250,000 books sold, the Blue is for Nightmares Collection is now available as a boxed set, including a copy of Stacey’s spell book, filled with some of Stacey’s favorite home remedies.

It begins with the dreams. White lilies, the death flower. Being chased through the woods, knowing she cannot outrun her pursuer forever. Visits from the spirit of a girl who was murdered. Threats and taunts from an unseen assailant.

But that’s only the start. When the dreams begin to spill over into Stacey’s waking life, that’s when the nightmare really begins.

About the Author:
Laurie Faria Stolarz grew up in Salem, MA, attended Merrimack College, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston. She is currently working on Project 17, the companion novel to Bleed, also for young adults. To learn more about Laurie, please visit her website:

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A public debate on political writing
...with Gautam Malkani, Dee Jarrett-Macauley and Nina Steiger

Is all writing a political act?

Whatever you write, whether it's fiction, poetry or plays, you've almost certainly dealt with political issues in your work. But how do writers approach political issues in their work? Do they have a responsibility to tackle these issues and to what end? What are the key components of political writing?

If you've ever wanted to tackle these issues then come to Politically Speaking. Through this public debate our panel of established authors will explore all these questions.

Followed by a question and answer session - come prepared to probe!

Chaired by Judith Vidal-Hall, the panel includes Gautam Malkani (author of Londonstani), Dee Jarrett-Macauley (Moses and Me), and Director of Soho Theatre’s writers’ centre, Nina Steiger.

DATE: Thursday 9 November, 7pm – 8.45pm
VENUE: Stephen Lawrence Lecture Theatre
Greenwich University, off King William Walk, London SE10 9HY

Nearest station: Greenwich (Tube) or Cutty Sark (DLR)

TICKETS: £5 / £2 concessions (inc. students)
in advance or on the door.

Find out more by visiting us at
I have become obsessed with Buffy. When she's on TV, even in the oldest repeats, my children know to call me and I will come running, no matter what I'm doing. When Buffy's on, I don't hide my eyes, or shout out 'No, do NOT go in there'. I don't need to. Buffy can do it. She's the girl. I'm with her every step of the way, willing out more and more ghouls to come and get us. Just let them try.

Although I keep begging her, my daughter refuses to watch it with me. She says I enjoy it too much. That I become blood-thirsty when Buffy's on. She's right.

After each episode, I feel exausted. I need to sit down.

'You've been sitting down,' my son points out.

'I want to sit in quiet,' I say. 'Turn this rubbish off.'

He does. No one crosses me for at least half an hour after my Buffy dose. They don't dare.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

WELCOME to Leading the Dance, my collection of short stories from Bluechrome which has the auspicious official publication day of November 5th. Nice to know that, each year, the anniversary of the book's publication will be remembered with such a blaze of glory (despite not being grown up enough to have an Amazon sales ranking just yet):

Friday, November 03, 2006

Work on the novel has been sloooow today, but I have not despaired. I have usefully filled in my hours working out my age on other planets. Who ever said the internet encouraged people to waste time obviously had no idea what they were talking about. Actually, I'm puzzled - why when I filled in my date of birth correctly, does it give my earth birthdate for 2007 as one day later? Am I missing something, or is this some dire warning for me?
So, when you go to exhibitions do you read the descriptions first, or do you look at the art? There are definitely two categories of visitors - well, actually there's a third - the ones who are glued into the earphones and have that superior look that tells you how you should have got the 'tour' too because they're finding out so much more than you, and because they have to press certain buttons at certain points they have to stand in front of certain pieces so you can't see them. Truth is, I'm a 'nervous' art appreciator, although I'm learning to just relax and enjoy.

Anyway, the David Smith exhibition at the Tate Modern has definitely been one of my highlights of the year, because I forgot to bother about what I 'should' be thinking and just started feeling. And, yes, I also read the descriptions and was pleased I had with certain pieces such as the Home of the Welder.
Home of the Welder was made shortly after the Second World War, and reflects Smith's personal circumstances. He had just been released from his wartime job as a welder, which he believed had restricted his creative work. Like a coded autobiography, various elements in this sculpture relate to his dreams and frustrations at the time. The millstone, for example, was identified by Smith as representing his job, while images of women and children may reflect tensions in his childless first marriage.
But most of all I loved the energy of it all. It was interesting watching people came out - we bounced, although those of us who were particularly skittish slid out thanks to Karsten Höller...
This is what David Smith said about his work:
I like outdoor sculpture, and the most practical thing for outdoor sculpture is stainless steel, and I make them and I polish them in such a way that on a dull day, they take on the dull blue, or the color of the sky in the late afternoon sun, the glow, golden like the rays, the colors of nature... They are colored by the sky and the surroundings.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Climate March, Saturday November 4th 2006

The 4th November is the Saturday before the UN Climate Talks (COP 12/ MOP 2) in Nairobi (6th-17th November). On this day there will be demonstrations and events, demanding urgent action on climate change all round the world ( see ). In Nairobi, itself, there will be a demonstration a week later on Saturday 11th November, midway through the Talks, whilst the delegates are actually present.

Only coordinated international action has a chance of averting the massive threat posed by the catastrophic destabilisation of global climate so these Talks are a critical opportunity for world leaders to act. Their failure to do so, so far - due especially to the spoiling tactics of the US under George Bush’s fossil-fuel industry dominated administration - is something that threatens the lives of billions and even the very existence of life on earth.


10.00 am Cycle protest assembles at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, South side (Holborn/Temple tube) For more information on the cycle ride click here.
11.30 am Cyclists arrive at US embassy : musical protest with "Seize the Day".
12 noon Rally at US Embassy, Grosvenor Square.
Speakers include George Monbiot, Colin Challen MP, Caroline Lucas MEP, Norman Baker MP, Zac Goldsmith.
1.00 pm March for Global Climate Justice from US embassy to Trafalgar Square
1.45 – 2.00 pm March joins “I-Count” Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square
1.00 - 3.00 pm “I-Count” Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square See further . First hour is 'warm-up' & 'arrivals' up to main event 2-3 pm.
A snippet in my daily newspaper today starts with the assertion that most pre-school children want to be a celebrity when they're older. Not for doing anything, you understand - or at least what that might be is not revealed - they just to be famous. But what's more shocking to me is that the article goes on to say that this is what the parents were saying their kids would choose as a career, not the kids themselves. Admittedly the survey was only for pre-schoolers, but even so. It just seems to suggest such a lack of ambition - although at least becoming an astronaut was the fourth choice. Joining the fire brigade was second, and most strangely of all, architect was number three. But then I started to wonder if it was because kids get their ideas from TV rather than the 'real world' - X-factor, Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder. Mind you, David Cameron seems to be on TV every time I turn it on these days, but strangely he wasn't mentioned.
I've been looking for poems about writing recently. Any suggestions welcome, but in the meantime, could I do better than this one?

The Circus Animals' Desertion
William Butler Yeats


I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Via Patry's blog, there's some interesting thoughts on writer's envy here. (Is that triple-blogging I've just done there?)
The British Council's New Writing initiative have just issued their latest theme, Memory. Check out Abdulrazak Gurnah's short story, My Mother Lived on a Farm in Africa. It's a magical example of using the fluidity of time and memory in writing.
Nothing to do with writing (well, maybe my shopping collection of poems!), but some November sample sales...

What: Temperley London Sale
Why: Up to 80 per cent off past season’s stock.
When: 1-4 Nov. Wed., 2-7 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: 20th Century Theatre, 291 Westbourne Grove, W11 2QA (020 7229 7957).

What: Macmillan Christmas Market
Why: One hundred and fifty stalls selling organic produce, linen, handmade toys and knitwear, from £5.
When: 6 & 7 Nov. Mon., 6-9 p.m. (£20); Tues., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (£5). Ticket proceeds benefit Macmillan Cancer Support.
Where: Royal Horticultural Halls, Vincent Sq., SW1P 2PE (020 7795 0055).

What: Pringle of Scotland Sale
Why: Seriously discounted clothing and accessories, from £50.
When: 7-10 Nov., Tues., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Wed., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Pringle of Scotland, The Courtyard, 255a Pavilion Rd., SW1X 0BP (020 7259 1660).

What: Orla Kiely Sale
Why: Past season clothing and accessories at discounted prices.
When: 16-19 Nov. Thurs. & Fri., 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: Studio Voltaire, 1a Nelson’s Row, SW4 7JR (020 7819 0159).

What: British Designers Sale
Why: Clothing for men and women, including Jenny Packham, Marithé + François Girbaud, Alexander McQueen, 120% Linen. All from £20.
When: 24 & 25 Nov. Fri., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Chelsea Old Town Hall, King’s Rd., SW3 5EE (020 7627 2777).

What: Browns Bridal Sample Sale
Why: Up to 60 per cent off wedding dresses by the likes of Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, Badgley Mischka and Roland Mouret.
When: 26 Nov. Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Browns Bride Shop, 59 Brook St., W1K 4HS (020 7514 0056).

What: Ann Louise Roswald/Lou Lou and Law Sale
Why: Up to 80 per cent off previous season fashion and accessories.
When: 27 & 28 Nov. Mon., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tues., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Where: 11-13 Corsham St., N1 6DP (020 7250 1583).