a poor blogging history

I’ve been somewhere else – virtually. An Awfully Big Blog Adventure is a wonderful website run by children’s authors, one of whom blogs every day. I am delighted to be involved, but it means I’ve ignored my own blog.

See examples of what I’ve been saying over on ABBA:







I quite like a made-up word or two. I especially like the way that when you’ve used the word a number of times it sounds entirely unmadeup.

Unmade could be a good word for my blog as it’s been a while . . . but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.

I’m now a monthly blogger on the http://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.co.uk/ which is fun, but comes round very quickly. I’m writing a new book that I’m meant to deliver by the end of January. I’m cycling twice a week on interesting towpaths and cycle tracks and country roads all over the place and enjoying the bacon sandwiches at the halfway point.

Favourites this autumn have been Slimbridge to Gloucester Docks, Bristol to Nailsea on the Festival Way with lunch in the Waitrose cafe and to Nailsworth, eating at the Hobbs House Bakery Cafe. Longest ride so far has been the NewForest cycletta – see, you say it enough and it sounds like it’s always meant women only bike rides. The pic is me at the finish. I wasn’t smiling a few miles earlier.

The writing/cycling loop has been interrupted several times by school visits to run workshops in Kent, Bristol and Devon. This weekend, unusually, I’m running an event with a brewer who makes alcoholic drinks from whatever he can forage as part of http://unputdownable.org/ the Bristol Festival of Literature. I don’t know who had the idea of putting a children’s author with a booze manufacturer . . . maybe it was theotherandyhamilton. That could be a word.


where I’m writing


a green pepper and an ice pack at the Westbury Park WI

The WI has been part of my life since I was eight. We moved to a little village in Buckinghamshire and Mum joined the local group making many friends. Two of them, Bett and Dot, became my friends too. It might seem odd for a girl to have friends that are sixty years older than her but I liked them and that was that. After school I’d bomb to Bett’s flat, or Dot’s cottage, play cards or make a noise on Dot’s electric organ – I eventually learnt to play ‘Home on the Range’. I went to every WI fair, carol concert, sale, and plenty of committee meetings – because Mum became President and they were held in our house. Fast forward and my sister and I were in the audience when Mum performed in a dance spectacle with other WIers at the Albert Hall, and my wedding dress featured in a WI show of dresses through the ages – mine was the 90s. She’s been to Denman College more times than I can count, most recently to do Flamenco – not bad at 88! She’s currently Group Convenor, and many of the original friends aren’t here anymore but there’s a slew of new ones. When news got to me that there was a Westbury Park WI in the planning I was ready with my cheque book. So it was even more of a delight yesterday to be the February speaker, with my talk titled ‘From nought to published in 10 things’.

When I run children’s workshops I take a dustbin full of whatever takes my fancy and the audience choose which items to include in our story. I wasn’t sure the WI would be up for that but I can’t perform without my bin, apart from anything else I sit on it. So I found some items that could, at a stretch, mark ten steps on the journey from not-a-writer to my-name-on-the-spine and bunged them in. They were: a toy safe (I used to work in a bank), a Waitrose bag (I was carrying shopping when I first saw an ad for a writing group), a green pepper (my teacher was Louise Green!), tennis balls in a cannister (I heard the news that I’d won a short story competition on court), hand weights (my first novel was inspired by Hercules), a stethoscope (Lynda Rooke from Casualty performed one of my monologues), an ice pack (the cold-hearted agent that first rejected me), a white charger (as in horse, not iSomething – ridden by the agent that didn’t reject me), my Ilizarov frame (that I was wearing post-op when I heard from BBC Radio 4) and finally, my first book. I was a bit nervous but the smiley faces were encouraging so off we went, and an hour later we were spent. There was a lot of laughter and I had a red face so that’s a success according to my rather basic criteria.

Thank you, Joint Presidents and trustee sidekicks, for starting it all up. I hope to enjoy the WI for as long as my mum has.


Here she is.


maybe the best Christmas present

My daughter was given a crepe maker – it’s very cool. With hardly any practise thick, holey and burnt pancakes are a thing of the past. The favourite toppings are Nutella and banana for them, and good old-fashioned lemon and sugar for me. With the remains of the mixture someone got creative.


the next big thing

My blogs don’t usually have such grand titles. No surprise then that it’s not my invention. I was tagged by the lovely Rebecca Lisle, author of over 20 children’s books, and my task is to answer ten writerly questions about what I’m working on. The only trouble is, I don’t want to reveal anything, so the content is going to be slim. In honesty, I’d rather not do it at all, but like playground tag, I’m it, so here goes . . .

1 What is the working title of your next book? Bird. Ironic as I detest birds because of the flapping. A pigeon’s wing once grazed my cheek at Bristol Zoo Gardens and I shrieked terrifying all around me. I’ve taught the children to herd them away from me.

2 Where did the idea come from for the book? I visited California last year and went to an amazingly grand house that I’ve used as the setting. The revelation in my story is inspired by Mervyn Peake – a favourite writer of mine as a teenager.

3 What genre does your book fall under? Magic realism – I’m not a label fan so I wrote that reluctantly.

4 What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? Elle Fanning would be the heroine. I saw her in ‘Ginger and Rosa’ which I loved.

5 What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? A secret. (It is about a secret, but it’s also a secret.)

6 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I am lucky to be represented by Alice Williams at David Higham.

7 How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? I’m not there yet . . .

8 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? ‘Skellig’ but obviously not a tenth as good. All praise David Almond.

9 Who or what inspired you to write this book? My sister, who managed not to diss the idea when I drove to Newbury to make her brainstorm with me.

10 What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The unusual life of the heroine.

Well, that wasn’t so bad. Just got to work out who to tag and how to do it.

Right, I called the amazing wordsmith Sharon Tanton and have tagged Moira Young and Michelle Robinson  - you’re next.


Honiton Writers’ Short Story Competition 2013

What can I say? This is the fourth year that I have been privileged to judge the short stories written by children ranging from age 5 to much much older. It’s a delight. I’m always surprised by the variation, the voices, the twists and the tears. This year I was bowled over by ‘The Pirate Builders’, starring Saw-handed Stuart, and ‘Mrs Bishbosh’, the posh lady who dresses from the charity shop, ‘Pig-girl’, too quirky to adequately describe, and a spooky halloween tale with a surprising finale. The Battersea Dogs’ Home story made me cry and ‘The Two Donuts’, written by Oliver aged 5 at the time, was full of character.  In the oldest age group the very accomplished winner was unfortunately unable to attend but we applauded her entry about the country being overthrown by a mysterious lady. Second and third places were stories exploring sanity and death, all good stuff.

Meeting the children is great and afterwards there is always an opportunity to chat as we enjoy the food provided by the Deer Park Hotel – go there for a weekend break, it’s a blast from the past.

I hope to continue as judge until the day I am replaced by one of the children who has won in the past and is a fully fledged published author.


flying with the eagles . . . at Bristol Festival of Literature

Dick Dobbins, this crazy management trainer that I met on a course when Unilever were trying to mould me into something useful, said “If you want to fly with the eagles, Don’t scratch with the turkeys.” I didn’t take any notice because scratching and flying seemed equally attractive, but last night I had the pleasure of a company of eagles and flying amongst them was a high point.

First up was Sarwat, creator of a book I am going to have to read that mixes Indian mythology with paraphernalia from the Pitt Rivers Museum (go there – it’s in Oxford) and turns it all into an adventure.

Moira Young, Winner of the Costa 2011, shared the time, effort and craft that went into the novel Blood Red Road. I was pleased to hear she hadn’t just knocked it off while she drank coffee. Professional on every level.


The Golden Eagle in our midst was illustrator, Chris Fisher, with a portfolio that left his talent in no doubt. His rendition of Michael Rosen’s nonsense was excellent but didn’t get the laughs achieved by Hot Cross Bums.

I got home to find the Three Bears had eaten my tea. Never mind, eagles aren’t that fond of chilli con carne.


Appledore book festival

I am very pleased with the wonderful piece of artwork handed to me yesterday at the Appledore Book Festival. Charlie, from the local primary school, had not only read one of my books but had been inspired to draw her favourite character – Bee. The picture is going up on the wall of my study.

It was lovely to be invited to be part of Appledore’s literary fest, and interesting to visit for the second time, the first being over forty years ago. All I can remember from the childhood trip was losing my crab line to an ocean liner. I’ll remember a lot more about my author visit, mainly the laughing, the boy who uncannily answered all the questions about my past correctly, the poor librarian with no voice, the penultimate scene in the story Years 4 and 5 made up with me in which Matthew and Ella (our characters) shared a spot of cooking with the rats in the sewer and came up with a delicious chocolate cake! Not what I would have thought of but that’s the joy of it all.

The afternoon was finished off with tea from a pot in a china cup at Polly’s house which has an amazing front door with five keyholes to mark all the locks from all the years. Polly is the school’s organiser who put me on the list of authors, so thank you, Polly.

Off to Hillcrest School today to be entertained (I hope) by Year 6. Hotwells Primary tomorrow. Wonder whether anyone will have anything Tribish for me . . . a sculpture of Copper Pie made from beef crisp packets, a charcoal of Fifty, from the embers of all the fires he’s started . . .


Mickey Bushell and the spirit of the Paralympics

You must have heard of the butcher ordered to remove the Olympic rings from his window display of chops and ribs. Well, I had a similar run-in with the powers of the Olympic brand. Two years ago I approached my literary agent with an idea for a non-fiction book about young Olympians. I managed to recruit now-household names like Sam Oldham, Bronze Medallist 2012 in Gymnastics, Zoe Smith, plucky weightlifter who smashed the British Record at 2012, and Monday night’s Paralympian hero, Mickey Bushell, Gold Medallist in the T53 100m. Unfortunately, despite the glee with which my proposal was received, six months later there was no way through the web of sponsors unless I removed the words Olympic, Olympian, 2012 etc. I even used six degrees of separation to collar Seb Coe, who in fairness passed my email to the appropriate licensing manager, but rules are rules. Boo hiss!

Anyway, my enthusiasm for the Olympics didn’t suffer and I was one of the lucky ones who got tickets for both the Olympics and Paralympics. So, Monday morning we got up at 5.30, sped to London, parked at my aunty’s, picked up my nephew and were in our seats at the Athletics Stadium by 10.06.

Before Mickey even wheeled onto the track I was welling up. It was a glorious day, the atmosphere (rightly much hyped) was convivial, even joyous, and we (five in all) were full of anticipation. He cruised to a win in the heat, so quick off the mark, so confident. We were on our feet from halfway, shrieking. When I say ‘we’ I mean the whole freaking (word borrowed from Scott Johnson of The Morning Stream) stand. Rows in front and behind congratulated each other (the Paralympic equivalent of ‘Peace be with you’ in church) as though we had somehow affected the result. The Discus competition was taking place to the left and the Long Jump in front of us. Every competitor got a roar as they approached their turn and a cheer if we calculated the distances to be worthy. We leant forwards to urge on rivals as they sprinted past, and stood for the anthems. The guided running for those with visual impairment was a feat of co-ordination and it was great to see that both partners received a medal. We shared Wine Gums. We shared commentary. All immensely heart-warming stuff.

The afternoon was boiling hot so we ate on the sloping grass of the riverbank before heading off to the Olympic Park to watch the big screen. Dressage, then ‘Darling of the Pool’ Ellie Simmonds. We watched her Medley with growing delight as everyone knew (from the commentary) that no matter how far behind she was as she turned into the last length she’d catch them with her freestyle. And she did. Absolutely fantastic. Widespread cheering from lawns and lawns of folk all sharing that moment.

My nephew headed off home to Rotherhithe and my mum arrived. A keen athlete, sprint and hurdles, she was at the 1948 Olympics, and in fact her relay pal, Jean Desforges (who later married Ron Pickering the commentator), ran in the 1952 Games. Mum has been fit all her life and can still run at the age of 87. I knew she was going to love the stadium and I was right. I’d filled her in on Mickey’s heat, and his story, so she was ready for the final. And so was Mickey. He streaked ahead. His final position was never in any doubt. If we shrieked earlier, this time, from Row 8, I reckon he could hear us. Bellowing, we were. I loved it. I wanted to run onto the track and tell him that he was a marvel, but I cried instead. And so did my mum.

Our attention was held for much of the rest of the evening by the high jumpers, grazing bars from a hop on their one leg. It was a great competition, punctuated by Victory Ceremonies, and more track racing. Mickey came back into the arena to receive his Gold Medal. The camera zoomed in on him and he didn’t blub, which would have been out of keeping with an athlete known as ‘The Beast’, he just looked cool and collected. I can’t imagine how his mum and dad and his family felt, because I have only a tenuous connection with him and I was overwhelmed. Thanks, Mickey. Great day!

I enjoyed my day at the Olympics too. We watched the semi-final women’s hockey between the Kiwis and the Netherlanders and a session on the track including a 100m with the Usain Bolt. The hockey was full of passion, lots of goals and a penalty session to decide the finalists. We were at the goal end so had excellent vision of the five attempts to score by each side. Thrilling stuff.

Both events went, as far as I could tell, swimmingly. Transport, food, loos, seats: all fine. However, the thing you can’t package or sell, or dictate, is the feeling of being there. And for me, the Paralympics was a bit like going to the Proms, and the Olympics was more like the Opera. On the way home from the Paralympics we chatted to strangers on the tube. Doesn’t that say something.

p.s. My neighbour’s son has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. He is 8 years old and football mad. He went to watch the Dressage and was bowled over. He rides for therapy, but had never thought of it as a sport. Tick!


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