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Book 4: Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge

crippen-book.jpgThe last book in the Reading Challenge – and it has been a challenge, as I deliberately chose books I would not have picked up in a book shop. The final book I selected was Crippen by John Boyne.

I had heard of Crippen, of course, but given his notoriety, assumed him to be a serial killer – apparently this was not the case. He was convicted of, and hanged for, the murder of his wife. I knew nothing of the background so didn’t know if this was a true crime story or an elaboration on the facts.

I’m having a hard time with this review: the writing itself is fairly good, but the way that it is set out is quite tough to follow. You need to be alert to read this book, as it flits between place and time with each (long) chapter.

It was an engaging enough read (once I got going) but, at times, not a pleasant one. The way in which the author portrayed Crippen made you feel as though he sympathised with him, as you would with a victim of prolonged domestic violence, who had finally snapped. This made me feel a little uncomfortable. Had he used artistic licence or was this really a case of a man driven to the edge by a cruel wife and a domineering mother? I’ve never understood the yearning to write about a historical case and to turn it in to a work of fiction: either it’s based on the facts or it’s a different story altogether.

It was hard to pick up, but also hard to put down (maybe in part due to the long chapters – I hate to put a book down mid-way through a chapter). I’ve had this book for almost a fortnight and only just finished it. That speaks volumes, as I can read a book I enjoy in a day. I’d give this book 5 out of 10. I’d rather read the facts if I wanted to read about a particular crime – I actually had to do some research on finishing this book JUST to clarify things in my mind!

I’ve really enjoyed being part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge, and hope that I get the opportunity to do this again. I think everyone should try to read something new, now and again: you never know what you might find!


Creative Writing: week 4

Had reservations about choosing to write a poem for this week’s class – I’m not a poet, but did feel I wanted a challenge. The theme today was ‘returning’, whether it be to a place or a person. Surprisingly, there was very little criticism except that the way the poem reads is a little short and ‘jaunty’, as one would write a comedic verse, rather than slow, lengthy and sombre as the material suggests. I had tried to curb my natural tendency to waffle (and inadvertently moved towards the haiku we’d studied in week one – I hadn’t even noticed this until it was pointed out). It was suggested that I omit some words, or extend some lines. Judge for yourself:

The Bungalow

I return, heavy-hearted.
My grandma, departed.
I sit alone, weeping.
Suddenly, my heart, leaping:
I hear her speaking!
Or was the house creaking?
On my face, I feel a touch…
Or a draft? Thought as much.
Her perfume lingers
like lavender fingers
stroking my senses –
my body tenses:
I catch her reflection!
On closer inspection,
was it a trick of the light
or an angel in flight?


3rd Annual Charity Night in aid of Marie Curie, Newcastle

It’s that time of year again – this year, it has been EXTREMELY difficult to get prizes. Not only are people busy, companies are tightening their belts and there are so many deserving causes out there that they can’t help everyone. Nevertheless, I am not prizeless: ordinary people have dug deep and donated things to our raffle. It makes me feel all warm and glowy inside, that people can be so kind. If you wish to donate something, please contact me via the form on this site.

As usual, the highlight of the evening will be our popular quiz – teams of up to 6 people are welcome and there is a prize for the winning team. The questions are general knowledge and the aim is to have fun…while trying to win, of course! Aside from that, there are various stalls: a well-stocked tombola, a bottle stall and a Name the Bear game – basically, you’d be pretty unlucky to come away empty-handed. We also have a raffle with prizes such as an M&S christmas hamper, bottles, vouchers, collectable teddy bear and much, much more (star prze to be announced soon). As if that isn’t enough, for your £10 ticket you also get a buffet, entrance to a prize draw AND you’re helping a fantastic charity – wow!

So, if you’d like to join us on 19th November 2011 – use the ‘contact me’ form on the website for further details. I really hope to see you there.


Karma Kindle cover:

Try saying that quickly!

Have been working on a Kindle cover for Karma – as you know, I hated the girlie pink cover on the original version of Karma. It’s just not me…and it certainly wasn’t Paige! She isn’t a girlie girl!

My cousin, Mika, kindly agreed to act as my model and spent yesterday dressed as a devil/angel, while my hubby took some photos to try and capture the idea I had in my head. The photos were great, so if they don’t look good, it’s my photoshopping that lets them down. I am a newbie to photo editing and was learning both Photoshop and Picassa as I went along. I have posted a mock-up of what the cover might look like, so please feel free to let me know your thoughts. I believe that most kindles are black & white, so obviously the cover wouldn’t be in colour – use your imagination.

karma-e-cover.jpg

I hope it would make you want to pick the book up…


Creative Writing: week 3

Week three of a ten week course – where does the time go?

My haiku, which I mentioned a few weeks ago, had mixed feedback. Firstly, I’d got confused with the way they should be written (can I blame my ME/CFS for the confusion – probably not): syllable-wise, they should be 5 -7 – 5. Mine weren’t: mine were 7 – 5 – 7. I’d either created a new format or made a mistake. The first went down ok, but the second (and the one I liked most) was picked to bits. Better luck next time.

This week was ‘Childhood Memories’, and I enjoyed this. I’ll post it and let you judge it for yourself. Surprisingly, it had no bad feedback… It’s called ‘The Club Trip’.

“Trip day! Trip day,” my little sister whispered, as she sneaked in to my bedroom. She jumped on to the bed, narrowly missing my feet, and shook my leg, as if to wake me. “Trip day,” she repeated, urgently, but quietly, knowing that we were not supposed to get out of bed until called. At five years old, Lyndsey was as cute as a puppy and twice as eager for attention.

Downstairs, sea-side sandwiches were being quickly and efficiently constructed: they were egg, salad cream and tomato, but as we only ever ate them on the trip, we knew them as sea-side sandwiches. There was one essential ingredient, but this would only materialise once we had arrived at the coast. Flasks were filled with piping hot tea and coffee, and juice cartons were packed in to sturdy navy-blue shopping bags.

Similar scenes would have played out at our grandparents’ house and at those of our cousins. The Club Trip, as it was more formally known, was a rare chance for extended families to enjoy a day together. Throughout the year, our parents contributed to a trip fund, culminating in a day-long excursion to the coast: this year’s exotic location was Cullercoats.

Dressed in matching blue towelling playsuits, hair in identical ponytails, my sister and I placed our buckets and spades beside the bags at the door. Our other grandparents had given us a fifty pence piece, with a request that we didn’t waste it. We tucked them in to our pockets, and our parents exchanged a look, knowing that the coin would burn a hole in those pockets. Clock-watching, we waited for the inevitable words from my mother…

“Right, girls, go to the toilet one last time before we leave!”

When we got to the social club, the coaches were lined up: their drivers leaned against the sides, cigarette smoke wafting around them. People greeted our parents, and my sister and I strained at mam’s hands, trying to free ourselves so we could find our cousins. Mam’s grip was firm. So was her voice, “We’re by a main road. You don’t want to get knocked over before the trip.” I never wanted to get knocked over, but especially not before the trip. To distract us, my mam would reach in to her bag and pull out some ‘sucky-sweets’ – mine were usually Murray Mints, and despite pleading for chocolate, my sister would have something fruity. I was sensible and always chose mints, but my little sister often asked for chewing gum or chocolate. I knew better because I was older: you could not have chewing gum because if you swallowed it, it would stick your insides together. That’s what mam said. My mam was like a wise owl: she was all-knowing and seeing.

We were ushered to a battered blue bus. My stomach churned, as various odours filled my nostrils: a vain attempt to mask months’ worth of stale tobacco, body odour and general mustiness with very strong disinfectant. Fortunately, the day was still young and the bus still cool or my travel sickness would have been an issue. On family summer holidays, many a hat, bucket or shopping bag had witnessed my kinetosis, and none of these were better for it. I slipped a buttery Murray Mint in to my mouth and sucked, noisily.

The coach whined, as did the excitable, impatient children within. Not Lyndsey and I: we had been promised 5p if we were the first to see the sea. We had never won, for my dad always knew where to look.

When we disembarked, in the car park, the mothers would head over the dunes, trying to restrain their brood, while the fathers would head for deckchairs and windbreaks. Families would be reunited, as they sought the best spot on the beach. We ran to my grandparents, our cousins already surrounding them.

My grandfather was teddy bear-like: he was cuddly, warm and comforting. He smelled of Old Spice, and Bryl-Crème, with a hint of whisky. Although he was losing his hair, it added to his character and we, the grandchildren, all fought for his attention. He told us stories and rhymes which never had an ending – we would beg him, laughing, to finish them, but he would just recite another. Tired as he was, he never tired of us.

The day seemed endless. Hot and bright in the sun, we wiggled our toes in the sand and played chicken with the waves. We beckoned to our parents and they would hitch up their skirts, roll up their trouser-legs and join us. At lunchtime, picnics would materialise on tartan blankets: pies, crisps, sausage rolls and our beloved sea-side sandwiches. We’d tuck in, our teeth grinding against the secret ingredient: sand. Grit-like, it always seemed to get in to the filling between the bread. Our juice was warm by now, but no less welcome.

To end the day, we’d head to the shops and the arcade. I was mesmerised by the flashing lights; loud, throbbing music, the aroma of candy floss and the noise of slot machines, paying out: chink, chink, chink. It excited my senses. We would hold our fifty pence pieces, in clammy little hands, torn between playing on a machine and buying a souvenir. I was eight and I was sensible, so I’d buy a souvenir and go on the slot machine next year.

Back to the coach, we’d sleep throughout the long journey home, dreaming of blue skies, yellow beaches and the gaudy flashing lights of the arcade.

Cullercoats is only a forty minute journey from Crawcrook, but as a child, it felt many, many miles away. I never try to recapture the trip and never make sea-side sandwiches, but if I see a slot machine, I like to have a go. I’m still sensible, but now I’m older, I realise that memories are the best souvenirs.

Feedback, good and bad, welcome. I’m really hoping that this will get me writing again.


BBC Good Food Magazine

pear-tart.JPGTake a look at November’s magazine: yep, that’s me in the Taste Team.

It’s just another one of those things that I signed up for, while idly browsing the internet. I made four recipes: Pork with a maple sauce, beef with anchovy toast, turkey stir fry (my favourite) and a pear and cardamom tart. I love to cook, but did feel quite pressurised when doing these recipes: my guinea pigs (people, not animals) were quite happy with the results, though.


And relax…no, really, relax!

So, I woke up this morning and my body protested against the idea of leaving the bed today. Several medications (and hours) later, I was heading to my Creative Writing class. I know it’s weird to have written a novel and had it published and THEN decided to learn about creative writing but

a) I’ve never done things the normal way
b) It would be arrogant to think that I couldn’t learn from other people
c) I really don’t know much about writing in the first place

The room was silent (which I hate) – there was no small talk (which was odd), so I was even more nervous. When the course began, there were 7 females and 1 male. The tutor said the dreaded ‘introduce yourselves’ thing and we had to say if we had any prior writing experience. I hadn’t intended to mention my book, but then thought it would look like I was hiding something if I didn’t. There was another novelist there, too, and people that had done commercial writing or attended other creative writing courses.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’d hoped everyone would chat and bond – how can you share your work with people you don’t trust? I’m not saying the group is untrustworthy, but just that we haven’t had a chance to get to know one another. I’d love to get to know some real people, rather than solely my ‘virtual’ friends online. This was why I opted to do a course in the real world, rather than on the internet.

Some people felt able to share some work they’d prepared. I wouldn’t have wanted to at this stage, nor do I at any other stage, but it’s an obligation. I’m not comfortable reading aloud and I find it tiring. Some people have an aptitude for this: not me!

Today, I learned about Haiku, which I’d never really understood. I have to prepare one for next week. I like learning new things, but worry that this course is going to be challenging in more ways than I’d anticipated… I’m still tense now, almost three hours later!