Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alien Fruit

OK, the fruit is now long gone and some of it was delicious and some of it tasted like old socks. You couldn't tell which was which from the outside, and all of it was very very drippy indeed.

Prize for the inside looking least like the outside goes to this one, number three, still unidentified. The skin was like thin brittle cardboard to cut through but once I did, suddenly all this 'stuff' came oozing out. I kid you not. I was worried hundreds of alien eggs had been left to hatch inside:

But I resisted being sick and for the sake of research I slurped those little ET babies and they were DELICIOUS. So much so I'd had the whole lot before I realised. Slightly disturbing though to see the inside of the shell looked just like I imagine the surface of a planet a long long way from here to look, even down to the tentacles:

So what's next on this blog? Don't say I don't spoil you all with random excitements. I know Bob is itching for another quiz....

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rain rain go away

And as it continues to pour I'm trying to capture my memories of Saturday's sunshine and just being able to sit out on a bench at Sissinghurst and watch the world go by.

And here's the bench at the bottom of the staircase up to Vita Sackville West's famous tower writing room. Although I think she probably didn't sit on it sideways ...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Taking the long view...

(taken at Sissinghurst, Saturday)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A fruity quiz...

We are at the moment a sick household. I'm not quite in a nurse's outfit, but nearly. However there are advantages - not least this amazing fruit bowl which arrived the other day.

An upmarket take on a bunch of grapes, I guess, but it's making us feel a little inadequate. We can identify the grapes, the melon was beautiful, peaches divine, but what the heck is this ..


or this ...




...and this ...


Answers from more sophisticated blog readers than me would be very much appreciated!.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Meditator

I've been meditating for several years now. A day without either meditating or writing makes me very angsty indeed, a day without both and you REALLY don't want to be around me. I can scribble or chant wherever I find myself, helped - on the meditating side - by downloading ebooks on to my ipod. However, this means how the reader sounds is all important - nothing worse than having someone who grates at your nerves whispering into your ears. At the moment, I'm hooked on Shakti Gawain. Her pink bubble technique always makes me feel ... well ... pink and bubbly, and I find I can relax the minute I hear her voice.

But now Shedworking has spoilt my tranquility because I have become overcome with desire for The Meditator. Mind, the photographs are a bit like those old Joy of Sex illustrations - nice idea, but the haircuts are more than a little distracting.

Gosh, I'm coming across all judgemental today - I am a Virgo so it's allowed, but I think it's into the Meditator for me until I've calmed down...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On being random...

I've been tagged by Scott Pack to tell you six random things about me, so here goes:

1. I know all the words to 'Flower of Scotland' and can sing it with gusto when encouraged (or even when not).

2. My first drive after passing my test was to take Alan Titchmarsh (then a relatively low-profile editor of Amateur Gardening) to the station after he had lunch with my mum. We nearly crashed, very badly. In fact it was so awful that when we met again a couple of years later at Chelsea Flower Show he went white as soon as he saw me.

3. The first concert I went to was to see Genesis play in Birmingham. Paul, my boyfriend, had booked us both into a men only hostel for the night so we had to walk round the city because we had no money for a hotel.

4. The house I live in used to be Beau Nash's illegal gaming rooms.

5. I have sent off, today, an application to do a post-grad qualification in Garden History.

6. One of my ambitions is to write and publish a graphic novel.

And I tag Nik, Clare, Sue, Patricia, Deborah and Cathy.

Phew, this tagging is exhausting. Here are the rules, one of which I see is to post the rules...

Link to the person that tagged you - i.e. me.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write six random things about you in a blog post.
Tag six people in your post.
Let each person know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
Let the tagger know your entry is up.

In London tonight?

From Pulp Net:

Fiction at the Newsroom with James Meek & Gordon Burn

Authors James Meek and Gordon Burn have placed news at the heart of their current novels We Are Now Beginning Our Descent (Canongate) and Born Yesterday (Faber). Tonight they read short sections from and talk about the writing of their novels with Lane Ashfeldt, in the appropriate surrounds of the Newsroom.

"Gordon Burn is right. The news is now a novel" Mark Lawson

Ticket Offer: [To avail of this half price offer, use the £3 option and quote "Subscriber offer" on door.] A small number of tickets will also be available on the door. Online ticket sales.

When: Wed 23 April, 6.45pm.

Where: Newsroom, the Guardian and Observer Archive and Visitor Centre,
60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA. Map

A Pulp Net event in association with the Newsroom, Faber and Canongate

Doors open to the Newsroom gallery exhibition 6.30pm - a retrospective of photojournalism by Guardian photographer Don McPhee.

Air Bear

I should be going to New York next week but for all sorts of reasons, I'm not now, so as compensation I've been watching this video of the plastic bags tied to NYC subway vents by the artist, Joshua Allen Harris.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The eternal lament of the writer....

It made me laugh to catch sight of this (the other side of the Tender cow below) when I was nervously walking to my writer's workshop. Luckily they loved - if not me - my story, so all was well.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Alternative things to do with books, No 1

This beautiful little bird, (which could also be Things that Make me Happy, No 2), has sold out sadly but the artist still has some lovely things there.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Problems, problems...

Just what do you tell the kids when you go in for plastic surgery? But luckily there are experts around (as always) to tell us how to do it properly.

Now, I'm not necessarily against cosmetic surgery. But I am anxious about encouraging the four to seven year olds the book is aimed at to think that being beautiful is what it's all about. One suggestion, apparently, for talking about a nose job is that it will make Mummy look "not just different, my dear -- prettier!."

My, I feel sparklier just thinking about it. A short story here, surely?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Things that make me happy, no 1

Finding this mini Etch a Sketch in a toy shop yesterday.

Not only does it fit neatly in my handbag, but it seems that - somehow, by some miracle - I can now master the art of the curved line by twisting both buttons at the same time.

If you're jealous, and far too busy to visit a toy shop, you can get yourself a virtual one here. Move over the Blackberry, eh? Actually I'd love to organise a massive collaboration where a whole lot of writers get given an Etch a Sketch each and they have to write one word which I then shuffle round until I make a short story. It could even be an exhibition - I can see the room lined with Etch a Sketches - where the visitors get the chance to change the story simply by deleting the old word with a few shakes and replacing it with their own word.

Heck, it could even become an Olympic sport.

Anyone know how we could get funding?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Apologies and flying

OK, I didn't mean to offend everyone who might have ever e-winked at me yesterday, and of course I don't actually vomit, it's just I'm British. I don't wink, and so I'm at a loss at how to respond. Toss me some e-pink bunnies, or golfballs, on the other hand, and I'm your girl. ;-)

And so moving swiftly on to things more tranquil ...

Beautiful birdsong here, and this was my view from the table when I was spoilt at lunch yesterday:

After my companion had got over his mortification at me taking photographs and not being generally as cool as him, we agreed that it was amazingly tranquil to be up that high. It was as if everything had stopped moving down below and even time had been suspended.

Then on the train home, I was reading from my lovely new edition of Virginia Woolf's Selected Essays, when I spotted this in the essay, Flying over London:

'Nearer and nearer we came together and had again the whole of civilization spread beneath us, silent, empty, like a demonstration made for our instruction; the river with the steamers that bring coal and iron; the churches, the factories, the railways. Nothing moved; nobody worked the machine, until in some field on the outskirts of London one saw a dot actually and certainly move. Though the dot was the size of a bluebottle and its movement minute, reason insisted that it was a horse and it was galloping, but all speed and size were so reduced that the speed of the horse seemed very, very slow, and its size miute. Now, however, there were often movements in the streets, as of sliding and stopping; and then gradually the vast creases of the stuff beneath began moving, and one saw in the creases millions of insects moving. In another second they became men, men of business in the heart of the white city buildings.'

And in any other business, I'm very pleased to say my website has now been updated. There's no guestbook, but if you visit and have any comments, I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Status alert!!!!!

I know I'll get bored of facebook soon, but it's not happening not just yet. One of my pleasures is the way we all get the chance to put little sentences by our names to tell the world how we're feeling. It reminds me of the six word autobiographies there was a craze for some time ago.

Of course, some are better than others. Despite years and years of telling my kids that I am not their friend, I am their mother and that gives me the perfect right to tell them to do their homework or tidy their room, it seems on facebook, we are all friends together. Therefore, I get to see their status alerts. Which has caused some problems. For them. As they are reminded by their mother - not their friend - that prospective universities, employers etc etc, could very easily see their profiles. Therefore to write about not doing any work, getting drunk, or calling their boyfriend rude names, just isn't on.

Still, some of my 'friends' are geniuses at this brief description. George Szirtes, in particular, makes my day. Every day. Here is his at the moment:

George Szirtes is picking up little bits of his professional life and making a daisy chain of them. Pretty is as pretty does.

See there is another strange thing about these status alerts which is that you have to write in third person. And then it is placed by your name like one of those banners flying behind aeroplanes. Wherever you go, you can't get away from it. It's attached to your shoulders, and however much you might flap, that little sentence you thought fun at the time is telling the world that maybe you don't have such a good sense of humour, after all.

Which brings me to another of my daily joys - the way people - ok, including me, especially me - change their status alert again and again to make sure they've got it right. Perhaps they add a little jokey aside at the end, after it's been printed and they see it may look too pompous without one of those winking faces some people insist on using even though it always make me want to vomit. Or else they've been contacted by friends worried about their emotional status. But it's possible to keep track of the changes, so it's a real work in process. And we all get to be voyeurs on other people's insecurities which may not be nice, but sure is interesting.

In fact, it's so easy to get obsessed with the workings of facebook and what your 'friends' are writing about themselves, that I can forget to actually ring them up or see them in real life and talk to them. After all, I've spent most of the day reading exactly how they are, so what else is there to say? Well, you had coffee and hobnobs this morning, then you felt sick because you'd eaten too many, but I'm glad the writing went well after lunch, although annoying about the weather, still good you enjoyed the film you went to with your husband.

As one of the best 6-word autobiographies has it:

Must remember: people, gadgets. That order. -- Brian Lam

And how could I write about facebook without mentioning the most addictive thing of all:

Sarah is veritably the scramble goddess.

If you want to see just how quick I am, watch this video and then double it. Really. I promise.... Would I lie to you, even electronically? just challenge me to a game and see for yourself.

Sarah is always up for scramble...

Sarah didn't mean to be suggestive...

Sarah enjoys a game of scramble....

Sarah is ....

Monday, April 14, 2008

Writing Buddies

I've had several writing buddies over the last few years, not just because I find it friendly, but because I'm not sure I'd get anything done without them. Having just send off my weekly goals to my current brilliant buddy, I thought I'd say a little about how we do it.

Each week, on a given day, we email each other a list of five to ten goals for the week. These could be small - from filing some stories - to big - FINISH NOVEL! - but they need to be reasonably achieved. An extra dimension is that one needs to be frightening - to ring an editor about a story idea, maybe, or to apply for a residency or to send something off to a publication we might not normally consider.

And, at the same time as writing our goals for the coming week, we review how we have done on the previous week. To be honest, I often find I finish the list in a rush just so I don't have to admit defeat, but it does mean that things that wouldn't otherwise get done are completed.

Other rules:

1. We are careful not to clutter up our goals email with chit-chat so it can be kept in a separate file and not leaked into normal e-conversation.

2. It seems to work best with just two people, although I admit I've never tried it in a group. There seems something about just being two that makes me think I'll let the other down if I don't do it.

3. The goals are all related to our writing - not our personal or university - life.

4. Also we keep each others goals so we have a record, not to chase but to cheerlead. Writing can be so lonely, and it feels amazingly supportive to have someone who knows what you are doing on a week to week basis - and actually asks how you've got on. Plus it's inspiring to read what someone else is doing - it always feels to me like a privileged insight into another writer's process.

I can't remember where I first heard about this system, but I think it was in the writing magazine, Mslexia, several years ago. I know it works because I've done things, achieved things, I would never have done if they weren't on my list. And it's very often the frightening things that I would have put off and put off that have garnered the most results.

If anyone wants to know more about how we do it, or if you want to share your own experiences, I'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Yes, we have a winner!

I will never now doubt that this blog gets read, all I need to do is to put a free competition up be be reassured by the entries received (even if some of you are shy about leaving public comments). So, let's start the countdown for the grand winner of the Very Cool Competition...

I'm just going to add a bit of tension by talking about something different - which is what they do at the Oscars. Have you noticed? And then they flash to the faces of the nominated who are thinking, 'just bloody get on with it.'

So, first of all, a selection of dog t-shirts from Harrods Pet Department (none of which are the prize, but just look at that sweet dog tutu. Sadly I think Tally is just a little bit too old for it):

(Or this one, which made me laugh out loud:)

But now, the moment you've all been waiting for, here's the winner:

Congratulations, Nik! As soon as I get the t-shirt from the lovely Bluechrome Publishing I will send it on to you.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eye eye

To London last night to listen to Tobias Hill, Caroline Bird and Don Paterson read poems on the theme of EYES. It was part of a series of readings organised by the charity, Poet in the City.

Some random notes I made on the train on the way back from the reading, and also the discussion afterwards:

* We remember 75% times as much by scent than any other sense (from a question from a member of the audience about how important sight was in poetry)

* A week from which you can't remember any clear images hasn't been a good week at all (Caroline Bird)

* Tobias Hill talked about his good eyesight and how this influenced his poetry. A member of the audience said she was a visual artist with short sight and she found this useful in her work, as she could get the form but not get overwhelmed by the details. And also short sighted people see things better close up.

* Tobias Hill said he looks at things first and only then uses his imagination. I think I mostly work the other way round, and will get inspiration from snippets of stories heard and then look for images, but I might try to be more conscious of my process.

* TH (again) in his poem, Repossession, had the beautiful image of a derelict house becoming 'homeless'...

* and before reading a prose poem, said that poetry on the page was like dried soup. It needed to be read to become whole.

* Don Paterson said that most poets he knew loved watching films, and there were close links between films and poetry.

But I was only half listening towards the end because I kept thinking of a short story based around 'I see what you mean' - someone that actually does SEE images of meaning. Hence it's my prompt for today!

(nb the photograph of a useful portable collection of false eyes comes from a visit to the Wellcome Library, where the reading took place. They are, worryingly, exactly the same colour as my eyes.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Walking round London in my bra ...

... has to be worth a few quid, surely? On 17th May, for the second time (I must be mad), I'm going to be taking part in the Moonwalk, which is a walk of 26 miles through London during the night. It's in aid of breast cancer, hence the bra - even the guys walking have to do that!

For the sponsorship page for my team, click here, and I will be forever thankful!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sitting comfortably...?

(from BB's blog. I'm not sure what BB stands for, I think it must be Beyond Beautiful - I love this blog)


So you've bought and enjoyed the book ... you have, haven't you? ... so now it's time to wear the t-shirt. And you don't even have to buy this. I have one t-shirt, modelled above, for you to win. Just send me an email with your address on it to and I'll put the names in a hat on Friday and the first one pulled out will get a t-shirt and copy of the beautiful little book containing stories by Sally Spedding, Patrick Chapman and yours truly.

Just think how happy you will be wearing all three of us ...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Rock on!

I've just booked tickets for Rufus Wainwright, and am so excited I forgot to look at the small print until after. Otherwise this line might have put me off:

Please note, some patrons enjoy dancing at some of the non-classical concerts. Should you be disturbed by their enjoyment please notify a steward.

Still at least I know what to do now if some other concert-goers persist in enjoying themselves on the night...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"I must learn to love the fool in me - the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbour and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility and dignity but for my fool." - Theodore Rubin

(thought for the day stolen from The Troubadour's e-newsletter)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Orzipanikanitkcz*

I've purposefully left this post to after noon because I've got into enough trouble this April Fool. I sent out an email to my walking group saying we should start 5.30am walks, but they seemed to think I was just being extra bossy which has got me worried now that I've taken my self-appointed leadership too far.

However, there's a story, The Faery Handbag, in the excellent and fantastical collection of short stories by Kelly Link:

which takes a magic handbag as its central theme. The handbag (made from the skin of a dog who still lives inside) was used by the narrator's grandmother to keep safe the whole village in Baldeziwurlekistan when raiding parties came calling, but they just stayed there. So while one half of the bag is big enough to hold 'a chicken, a egg, and a cooking pot', the other half is made large enough
'to hold all of the village and all of the people under the hill and mountains and forests and seas and rivers and lakes and orchards and a sky and stars and spirits and fabulous monsters and sirens and dragons and dryads and mermaids and beasties and all the little gods that the Baldeziwurlekistanians and the people under the hill worshipped.'

Trouble is that the narrator's boyfriend, Jake, pops into the handbag one day to have a look, and she can't get him out. I thought about this story again when I saw this photograph of Katie Holmes. Surely she's got at least a couple of ex-boyfriends in there, not to mention a whole range of Baldeziwurlekistanian gods?

*Orzipanikanitkcz = the bag of skin where the world lives.