Saturday, August 25, 2007

The end of the world and terrible danger ahead...

I should have known better than send Lemony Snicket a fan letter, but I got bored tonight so re-read one of his Series of Unfortunate Events. Loved it all over again, looked up his website and fired off an email. Here's the reply....

Dear Writer

Thank you for your message. When you wrote it, you probably thought you might receive a reply from Lemony Snicket. You were almost wrong.

I’m sorry to tell you that a letter from Mr. Snicket could put you in terrible danger. For instance, Mr. Snicket wrote a number of letters to a woman named Beatrice, the most alarming of which are contained within the book The Beatrice Letters, and she subsequently died a sad, horrible, awful death that still plagues me to this day. This is an extreme case, of course, but you can see why you would never want to receive a letter signed by Mr. Snicket.

There is at least one thing more dangerous than a letter by Mr. Snicket, however, and that is a book by him. Each of the books in A Series of Unfortunate Events have been more dreadful than the last. The End, the thirteenth and final book in the series, is the most upsetting of all.

Sadly, your message to Lemony Snicket suggests that you may have already read one or several of his books. While I’m sure he is somewhat grateful for your interest in the Baudelaire case, hopefully it is not too late for you to stop before The End. Wouldn’t you prefer to read something else?

With all due respect,

Anonymous Representative
HarperCollins Publishers
Department of Vital Fan Disclosure

p.s. You also probably shouldn’t visit , sign up for AuthorTracker, or view The Vile Videos.

But just in case you panic and think I really have been captured by Count Olaf, I should probably tell you I'm away for the next week. In hiding. Normal service will be resumed in September.

Healing through stories

I've been a fan of Frida's notebook for some time now, and - like a few other blogs - it's become an extraordinarily privileged part of my day in that I can visit so many different worlds from the comfort of my computer. Today's post really hit home though, when Frida talks about how hard it is just to listen to other people's stories, but also how important that listening can be. I do encourage you to start visiting the blog yourself. The photographs are amazing, and there's humour here as well as an insight into what's happening in this desperate situation, but this post is particularly moving. She describes compellingly the conflict she feels about her need to record certain facts as part of her job as a human rights lawyer, and her understanding of how the story needs to be told in order to be part of the healing process (and I do hope she won't mind me using her words):
"Where is the time to simply listen? To listen to the story as the teller wishes to tell it. To let it be, perhaps, for today, explaining that I would like to document this story as a human rights case but that in order to do that I will need to ask more detailed questions. To ask if I could return to do that another day, once the storyteller has had time to think about what he or she wants to get out of telling the story to me. Where is the time to do that?"

I've done a fair bit of listening to other people myself as well as reading and researching into narrative therapy, but reading Frida's words tonight made it clear once again just how important stories are - outside books, as well as in them. And why I need to find time to just stop talking myself and listen more. I don't mind saying I feel in awe of her sometimes - she's doing amazing work.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Home is Where Hatred Is

The powerfully titled pamphlet - 'Home is Where the Hatred Is' - is a collection of poems by seven women writers, all of whom share the experience of having to leave their country of birth in order to find a safe place to live and write. Many of the poems hit a punch - as good poetry does - through their simplicity, showing more than any newspaper report what it must be like to have to leave everything familiar behind, including (maybe especially) language. I must have re-read Huriye Gunes's 'My Sister' many many times and although it's only seven lines long, it still moves me to tears every time. 'Read the biographies,' asks the editor Lynette Craig (see below) and when I did, I was struck by the energy of the poets involved; it made me realise why creativity can - and should - matter so much. 'Life-enhancing' is the apt description on the back of this book, and that's what I was left feeling after I'd read the whole of it. Very very lucky too.

Because I was so impressed, I asked the editor Lynette Craig to explain a little about the project behind the poems and this is what she wrote:
"I first met Soheila Ghodsitinat in a workshop for exiled writers, which I was running under the auspices of Exiled Writers Ink and Islington Enterprises. She is an energetic and determined writer who had the idea of getting several of her writing friends together to put out this booklet. She didn't wait for approval but set about finding the funding and organising its production herself. Of the seven women whose work is in this collection, five are London based and actively engaged in writing and performing projects. They are typical of the vibrancy in the exiled community.

"Often exiled writers have endured hardship and suffering; some are only too aware of a lack in language skills. Undeterred by all this they seek out courses and individuals who are sympathetic to their aims. So this is where I came in and agreed to edit the booklet. Loss, persecution, wandering, a need to belong, nostalgia are all themes in this collection but tempered by humour and endurance. When you have read the poems, read the brief biographies at the end of the booklet. Then try to define 'home'."

The poets featured in the pamphlet are:
Nora Armani
Valbona Voca Bashota
Sofia Buchuck-Lluvia
Soheila Ghodsitinat
Huriye Gunes
Sifundo Msebele
Nela Melic

editor Lynette Craig; design Maryam Hasemi
ISBN 978-1-905599-32-5

Copies are available from Soheila Ghodstinat at

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The novel as war

In the current edition of the Paris Review, there's an excellent interview of Norman Mailer by Andrew O'Hagan.

At one point in the interview, O'Hagan asks:
'Might it be said, in any event, that writing is a sort of self-annihiliation?'

Mailer replies:
'It uses you profoundly. There's simply less of you after you finish a book, which is why writers can be so absolutely enraged at cruel criticisms that they feel are unfair. We feel we have killed ourselves once writing the book, and now they are seeking to kill us again for too little... yet if you're writing a good novel they you're being an explorer - you're getting into something where you don't know the end, where the end is not given. There's a mixture of dread and excitement that keeps you going. To my mind, it's not worth writing a novel unless you're tackling something where your chances are open. You can fail. You're gambling with your psychic reserves. It's as if you were the general of an army of one, and this general can really drive that army into a cul-de-sac.'

There's an videoed interview here.
Look at me! I've joined the Simpsons. You can be simpsonized too... (but that link's not working - so here's the website -

Signing off

Probably it's not a surprise that I really love letters - the shape, the sexiness, the joy of them, what they can do, of course, but just letters on their own really - so I'm really excited to find out about The Boneyard - a three acre site in Vegas for decommissioned neon signs.

And you can see an aerial shot of it here (although the marker looks as if its in the middle of the road).

More photographs here. (Link, as in all good links, from BB)

(ps talking about photographs, I'm not sure why I've suddenly gone such a funny shape in my own mugshot. Any advice would be welcome!)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Killer heels...

Isn't this exactly what happened to Carrie in Sex and the City ... but somehow it's even funnier with these newsreaders laughing.

I picked this up from here when I was hoping to find some serious business advice, but it's better to have such a good laugh. Mind you, now I've stopped giggling, I'm worried as to what she was doing carrying a watering can anyway. I really really don't want to have to lug one around to complete my outfit next season - especially if it's still raining.

Mood Music ...

... quite literally here. Choose how you feel and let the site choose some music that's just right for you. Is it me or is it quite a beautiful design too? Something really pleasing about all those little diagrams, a kind of nerdy DJ who would definitely alphabeticise every song. What do you mean you're happy? We're still only on the L's of feeling blue...

And here's a cold shower for those of you who got a little excited by my last post...

Sunday, August 12, 2007


So this is Sexy Sarah here, with poems about grandparents, birthdays, and cherry trees; tips on writing porn; cleaning ears safely; ways to write your name; pictures of camels; a how-to of bathroom etiquette; fathers singing; confessions of solitaire addiction; gluten-free recipes; top sheds; dark characters and the last word on all your homework problems....

Nope, haven't gone mad - just off for a couple of days and have been checking up on how people reached this site through their google searches in a pathetic attempt to make sure I still get visitors. Welcome!

And my writing prompts for while I'm away are going to be all of the above - I particularly like 'Tips on Writing Porn' as a short story title...

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Don't ask me why but I have been thinking a lot about the need to be a superhero recently. One of those questionnaires I had to fill in for publicity about two years ago asked me what superpower I'd like to possess, and I said 'invisibility'. This worries me now - maybe it's all those readings I've been doing recently, but if I'm going to save the planet I want everyone to know about it. Yay, yay, yay, go supersarah! But in the meantime, here are some superheroes teaching yoga. I know, I didn't believe it either. How cool is this site?! Just look at that little playmobile pirate doing downward dog, he's going to get dissected by his sword if he's not careful! And here are Spiderman and Barbie having a go. Spiderman's in there with more than a chance, if you ask me....

Anyway, superpowers or not, it seems, according to this site anyway, I'll be signing a happy song as I fly merrily around. I rather like this too - something's definitely up with me, all this cheeriness and merrily popping my head up above the parapet. Still, as my grandmother would say, enjoy it while it lasts because a pigeon's going to poo on you soon enough (well, she'd never have mentioned the actual bodily functions but we'd have got the message). Have a beautiful day everyone!

Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2

"Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away"

You see the beauty in life, especially in ordinary everyday moments.
And if you're feeling down, even that seems a little beautiful too.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Saving bookshops

I can't remember the first time I was taken to Heffers bookshop in Cambridge and allowed to choose my own book. I can't even remember what book it was, although I was always a sucker for stories about posh girls (being absolutely not one myself) so it was probably a Madeline. Or at least, I'd like to think of it being a Madeline book because those twelve little girls in two straight lines still give me pleasure every time I re-read them. What I can remember though is a full size mirror in the children's bit of the bookshop that made you look as if you had a funny shape, that moment of panic when there were TOO many books I wanted, and the excitment when I had chosen and rushed up to my father, to see then what my two brothers and sister had chosen. God, how lucky was I? Not just to be given books, but to be allowed to treat bookshops as somewhere normal, even fun, and not places you might not be allowed to go into if you're not the 'right sort' (as some people think). Because the four of us Peplow kids were absolutely not the right sort. We never learnt the art of staying still and not sticking our fingers up our noses and respecting personal space - and all those things the kids who won the Blue Peter badges seemed to know. With us, there would always be an argy-bargy even as we went through the bookshop door, with one kid shoving another out of the way; as the youngest, I was born with an effective elbow-technique. In fact, that's probably where I learnt it. Let me out first, mum! Only to find out I was last. Doomed to disappointment from day one.

Anyway, I digress. These trips were probably monthly and they were different from our weekly visits to the library. The library was wonderful, but part of the pleasure was that it was for everyone. The bookshop and the books we got were simply for us. We'd all be clutching our books as we drove home, and then retreat to separate parts of the house to read them. It was probably the only time we were quiet.

Now, if I have any time to spare in a town, I'll head straight for a bookshop which probably expains my to-be-read pile. Someone once told me that buying a book is actually buying the time to read that book. I've got at least a year saved up for me by the side of my bed alone.

So this a long preamble as to why I've signed this petition to save the Waterstones in Wood Green from Me and My Big Mouth. This is what Scott says:
This would be a complete disaster for the area. We do not need another clothes shop, mobile phone shop or fast food shop. Our kids need bookshops. We have started an online petition in the last few days which has already gathered over 200 signatures including those of writers Chris Salewicz, Jonathan Harvey, Lucy Gannon, Chris Lang, Paul Gilroy and Rafaella Barker. We have also complained to the local councillors, Lynne Featherstone and David Lammy MP, the Mayor and alerted the local press. There's no spam, no junk mail, no access to your email address and no money required and it only takes a minute to do. This is purely about supporting the idea of keeping the only good bookshop in our area and helping kids develop a love for reading.

Wood Green High Street is already full of clothes shops and this is the only dedicated bookshop for miles around. As you may be aware, Wood Green is an underprivileged area with quite a large ethnic minority population and it just seems that closing the only decent bookshop in the area will have a devastating effect. It does not seem to be an accident that Waterstone's are trying to do this in the school holidays when we cannot contact local schools and colleges.

This is not just about somewhere to buy books. This is about supporting a place where mums can have a coffee while their kids browse the books and develop an appetite for reading at an early stage, where the staff are actually knowledgeable and helpful, where kids can meet local authors at signings which bring books to life. We will certainly be opposing this move to the last and contacting all the local papers. We very much hope that Waterstone's will reconsider.

The link to our petition is below where you can read some comments from local people about this decision. Please sign it and forward on to your friends. If you have any other writers, celebs who you think might be willing to email-sign please forward it to them.....go on, this is your chance to show off that address book!

You can sign here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Three Wednesday Things

Some favourite fashiony sites today - these are ones that make me smile because clothes should, above all, make you smile, and sometimes I think I forget that.

1. Starting with the anti-fashion The Brown Dress blog - Alex Martin decided to wear the same dress EVERY DAY for a year. This is the diary. (Her recycling project is equally fascinating - I'm tempted to join her 'slow fashion movement'.

2. A Dress a Day is almost the opposite, in that it is a different dress every day. But these are dresses with a difference - I have to say this blog has become an obsession for me, and my sewing machine is slowly inching out from the pile of dust it's forgotten under.

3) And now for something completely different, The Budget Fashionista is all about shopping. But who can resist a headline like: 'Can you wear a cocktail ring?'....


The only slightly obsessional Alex at Shedworking has started a fascinating series of Great Fictional Sheds. So far, he's put up the shepherd's hut in Far From the Madding Crowd and Yoda's hut from Star Wars, but now, just when I was really enjoying myself, he's gone on holiday, presumably with a great stack of books to search through in the hope of finding a shed or two. Alex has put in this paragraph from Hardy which made me laugh, as I could just imagine Hardy putting in as an aside: 'and that's why women should never be allowed a shed of their own. They just don't understand why us men need to be alone sometimes...' (The 'she' of course is Bathsheba):
"It was not exactly the fault of the hut," she observed in a tone which showed her to be that novelty among women -- one who finished a thought before beginning the sentence which was to convey it. "You should, I think, have considered, and not have been so foolish as to leave the slides closed."
Mind you, if Alex finds other photographs of the young Alan Bates to accompany future postings, I shall leave him in complete peace in his shed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow...

Neil Gaiman's reading ME, and not only that I've got my own label on his blog! I love Neil Gaiman's labels. Actually, let's be honest, I just love Neil Gaiman. This calls for a shake of the Mighty Oracle at least. I am one happy woman tonight - and thanks to Nik for letting me know!

Monday, August 06, 2007

I'm often moved by posts I read on other blogs, but nothing's hit me quite so much recently as this one from the paris breakfast blog. It just makes me think of how many other dreams have been lost like the one this woman had, and how lucky I am to live even a little bit of one. I can't stop thinking about the mother taking pleasure later on in inspecting how the garments were made, rather than just what they looked like. It's like writing - one real joy of reading is taking apart a story, novel, whatever, to see how the writer created it. And the post is certainly well written, with just the perfect proportions and absolutely straight seams.

Arvon Magic

So it's over, but if I ever had any doubt that there is such a thing as Arvon magic, any day over the last week would have convinced me. From the minute we all arrived, separately and a little defensively maybe, at the Hurst for our short story course, the sun shone and it didn't stop until we left on a grey Saturday morning. Of course, everything was helped by the fact taht there were sixteen (eighteen including Jean and I) committed writers present, and we even managed to have fun as well. The last two nights were spent enjoying fantastic short stories, some of which had been written over the previous three days, and there was even a short story slam, won by our youngest contestant, sixteen year old Clemmy who came up with alternative deadly sins. My highlights included sitting writing by the lake, the 'saucy' chocolate pudding, hearing complete stories I'd seen just one day earlier as little more than notes, and being shocked into silence (for probably the first time in my teaching career) by some of the secrets held by the 'characters' produced in a writing exercise. Thanks to everyone who participated - it was a real celebration of writing of the best kind - when a 'how to do it' turns into a 'this is how I've done it'. I'm not sure I've heard so many different writing voices in one room as I did during the evening reading sessions - proof that writing courses don't turn out clones. That was magic enough.