Wednesday 26 March 2008


Last Friday, Winchester was transformed from a charming little cathedral town, into the setting for a three hour re-enactment of The Easter Story: the trial, crucifiction and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

With a fresh script written by writer and director, Philip Glassborow, the RADA trained actor Israel Oyelumade playing Jesus, a specially composed piece of music by Sir John Tavener plus other music, a cast of hundreds plus members of the army and their vehicles to emphasize the Roman Occupation, and all the backstage team and support units, it was bound be a spectacular experience.

Despite snow in the morning and a rainstorm right at the beginning, over 10,000 people turned up to watch the story unfold, starting at Oram's Arbour (Winchester's first Roman settlement), continuing outside the Law Courts, a procession following Jesus carrying his cross down the High Street and proceeding to the Cathedral, where Jesus and his two fellow companions were to be strung up on crosses set high above the main Cathedral entrance.

As a Christian, I was thrilled that this Passion was going to take place. My own church - Christ Church - was one of the many churches and organizations that were involved, and Winchester was buzzing with speculation days before the event.

On the Friday afternoon, I was in town and standing outside the cathedral, chatting to one of the organizers and looking with horror at the three crosses, with red tapes ready, fluttering menacingly in the wind, and black plastic bags over the tops of the crosses, like faceless heads. It really brought home to me just how disgracefully we had treated Jesus and it still surprises me that he so readily forgave us, that he came down to earth specifically to be crucified. In fact, the passion of The Easter Story interlinks abhorrence of his death with over-whelming joy at his resurrection. The Easter Story is a very nasty one but I am eternally grateful that Jesus was prepared to do that for ALL OF US.

Anyway, disliking cold or crowds or hours of hanging about, I thought I had been so clever in booking a window table for supper that evening for my husband and me at the new French Bistro, right opposite the Cathedral. At least we would be able to see the procession from our window and follow it into the Cathedral grounds and see the ending, which is the most moving part of all.

So, we set off about seven and headed for Oram's Arbour, hoping to catch the tail end of the action there but they had already moved on so we then went to the Law Courts. But it was absolutely jam-packed, so we walked further down, to the bottom section of the Law Courts. But, again, it was too crowded: there were hundreds of people tightly packed on all levels, listening intently to the exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

It was clear that many people had opted to stay in one place so that they would at least see some of the action close up so the High Street was already pretty packed, and we took to the side streets to reach our restaurant.

Talk about 'the best laid plans of mice and men'! The cathedral grounds were also filling up but from my window vantage point, I would be able to see the procession, with Jesus at the head, at roughly the same time that our meal would finish, by my calculations, so we could slide out and witness the end. BUT and it's a big BUT, the procession had entered the Cathedral grounds from another entrance and so we missed it!!!

Talk about being more than a little miffed!

However, a DVD has been promised of the whole proceedings and I shall buy a copy so we can watch it at home. And there are a number of websites with pictures and details so I've already had a taster of what I'll see and quite honestly, it did look spectacular.

Just google Winchester Passion if you'd like to learn more. You won't be disappointed.


I was so sad to read, on Monday, of the death, at such an early age, of Corinne Bailey Rae's husband, himself a gifted musician. Last summer, a group of us saw her play at the Glastonbury Abbey Musical Extravaganza and the whole performance was just beautiful: her voice, the music, the lyrics, her friendliness, her always smiling face. My daughter bought me a double CD and a DVD of her music, which I am currently playing in my car, and listening, now, to these love songs of hers I keep wondering how she is and my heart and prayers go out to her. This is a tragedy that shouldn't have happened; reminds us how fleeting life actually is and how we should cherish each new day.

Monday 24 March 2008


* TRIBUTES by Nora Roberts ((Piatkus 2008) - read Nov/Dec 2009

My friend, Sheri, has been recommending Nora Roberts for some time because we're both heavily into crime fiction (sounds like some kind of fetish) and she said that Nora Roberts wrote crime fiction. However, I found Tribute eventually at my local W.H.Smiths under the Romance Section, so initially I wasn't too keen to read it, 'cos I'm not into romantic fiction.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I started to read it. There are crimes involved but the emphasis is definitely on relationships.

The two main characters are Cilla McGowan, once a T.V. actress and now into renevating property. The property she's renovating in this novel is the farm house owned by her famous actress grand-mother, Janet Hardy, who died under mysterious circumstances.

And her closest neighbour is Ford Sawyer, who is a free-lance writer and illustrator, and very convienently unattached.

So, the focus is about how their relationship develops against a background of the unfurling of the mystery as to how Janet Hardy died and who is trying to stop Cilla from renevating the property.

I found myself drawn into the story pretty quickly because the two main characters are just 'darn attractive', plus the rest of the characters are interesting, too.

Plus, the descriptions of the farm house and its renovation were very enjoyable.

And Nora Roberts' writing style? Fully and extensively descriptive, is how I would sum it up, including the sex scenes (not that I'm interested in such things).

I shall certainly read another of her books.

She also writes under the name J. D. Robb, described as 'futuristic suspense'novels. Sounds promising.

Apparently, she's highly successful and prodigious, so I'll have plenty of tomes to enjoy.

* TOO CLOSE TO HOME by Linwood Barclay (Orion Books 2008) - read Sept/Oct 2009

One thing is for sure - Linwood Barclay does not write literary prose, which is why I like him!

The emphasis in his writing is character and plot and just like his last novel (his 1st?), he takes an ordinary family and puts them into a nightmare situation. For most of the novel you've no idea what the actual answer is, which makes for a perfect page-turner of a novel. He's easy to read and the story and characters pull you in effortlessly.

The plot of this novel goes like this: the central family of dad, mum, and teenage son live next door to a house where the family have just been murdered but they are far more involved than they care to be. I shan't say anymore. Buy the book if you're interested and need an easy, exciting read.

* THE WHOLE TRUTH by David Baldacci (Macmillan 2008) - read on holiday in September 2009. This is another best seller that had me scratching my head in puzzlement. Why so popular? In fact, I considered ditching it before even reading a quarter of it but John's alternative 'The Budda of Suburbia' didn't appeal and so I stuck with it.

I'm glad I did, because it got better until near the end and then it was just ridiculous. The plot is based on the desire of an extremely rich arms manufacturer who wants to restore the old balance of power world-wide by creating a phony crisis.

Nothing wrong with the plot. It was exciting and fast moving and the chapters were short, which makes for a good 'no-brainer' read. Plus, the description of 'perception management' (companies who artificially create situations for wealthy clients) was fascinating.

What infuriated me was that there were a number of chapters 'telling not showing' to move the plot along and I found them tedious and lazy writing; the characters were one-dimensinal and I couldn't visualise them; and with each new setting came a description which appeared to come out of a travel guide.

For example, anyone who has been to Amsterdam several times will know that The Bulldog it is famous for its coffee shop, where cannabis is sold, and not as a hotel.

However, all that said, I would recommend it because it is generally a cracking good read and its flaws are bearable. How's that for a recommendation!

Very aware that my novel 'Cyprus Blues' (unpublished) has long chapters and I've tried everywhich way but can see no way of shortening them without an editor to guide me. However, 'Winchester Blues', which I've now started will certainly have shorter chapters. Or perhaps I just need a boob enlargement, a racy life style and a willingness to tell all to the media, like Jordan.

On the subject of Jordan, it's in the news that leading booksellers are considering boycotting her latest autobiography (4th in 5 years or 5th in 4 years) because they don't want to be seen to exploit her fans. Maybe so or maybe they just want a better deal with the publishers.

However, frustrating as it is to see Jordan in print so often when she doesn't even write the darn things, I think the booksellers should give their customers the choice.

And also, when I was part of the 'Sexy Shorts' forum, where the writers exchanged news, one of the writers, who worked in W.H.Smiths, praised Jordan for her willingness to do personal signings to promote 'her' books. She certainly has an astute business mind and you can't fault her for that.

* FAMILY CONNECTIONS a collection of short stories by Chrissie Gittens (Salt Publishing) - read August 2009. What a delight it was reading these short stories, all so very different and yet maintaining the theme of relationships. Most are set in present time and are based on the kind of situations you or I might find ourselves in, although there are two exceptions: a fairy tale and a story set in the future. Thet are all short and perfectly crafted.

At last, a short story writer who doesn't use obviously flowery language, I thought. Very down to earth and no-nonsense kind os stories. So impressed was I that I took my favourite story - Onyx, about a tenant getting revenge on an unscrupulous landlord - with me on holiday to see more closly how Chrissie achieved this. I could get some good writing tips here, I thought.

However, I was most surprised at the results of my research. I highlighted all the adjectives and adverbs and found, to my astonishment, that the story was rich with such parts of speech. And then I highlighted the verbs and saw what a variety she used.

To me, this is what makes a good writer. They use a richness of language that doesn't shout out 'Hey, this is very descriptive writing - look at me and never mind about the story'. No wonder many of these stories have been published previosly or been read on Radio 4 (who I know, to my cost, only use stories of a very high standard.)

* DEVIL BONES by Kathy Reichs (read August 2009). Kathy Reichs is a best selling author. A working forensic anthropologist, she uses her knowledge in her writing and boy, don't you know it. This is the first and last book I shall read of hers. It was all about the forensic stuff, which became really boring. Characterisation was weak and the plot slow and tedious and quite gory at times. Bones have been found in an old building and it appears that some kind of witchcraft is involved. Yawn, yawn. And the main character, Dr Temperance Brennan, is an alcholic. How novel. As you can gather, I didn't rate this book highly and am perplexed at how she sells so well.

* CHANGE OF HEART by Jodi Picoult ( read June 2009). Boy, am I glad I found this writer because she really knows how to tell a good story. This one is about the dilemma that a mother and daughter face: the daughter needs a heart transplant and the only heart available would be from the murderer of the rest of their family. Shay Bourne, on death row, feels that this will be his only way to redemption. But he's due to be executed by lethal injection, which would make his heart unsuitable. Enter attorney, Maggie Bloom, an anti-death penalty campaigner, and Father Michael, Shay's spiritual adviser, who has his own secret.

It's compelling reading and I kept pushing myself to read more because I wanted to know more. And Jodi Picoult's style is easy to read; I'm somewhat jealous at how good she is. She presents the story through the eyes of several different characters, which seems to be one of her trade marks, as is flashbacks, and all her characters are drawn sympathetically, no matter who or what they are. My favourite in this novel is Maggie's father, Rabbi Bloom, who has a wonderful sense of humour.

If you're not put off by the controversial themes, including, in this novel, is Shay Bourne actually the Messiah? (that should really get Christians rattled), then it's a great read.

* BRISTOL SHORT STORY PRIZE ANTHOLOGY 2008. When I entered The dog in the Pram for the 2009 competition, I ordered a copy of the anthology of last year's winners and runners up, 20 in all.

The standard of writing was very high and I enjoyed all of stories bar one, which made me feel very uncomfortable. There are obviously a lot of very skilled writers in the UK, all vying for publication, which explains why there are so many rejections: a publication can only include so many stories.

The range of subject matter, mood and style was wide so there was a good balance and variety.

My favourites (none of which were in the first three) were:

*'Facing Facts' by Susan Akass, a very funny story despite the seemingly somber setting of a widow faced with the problem of sorting out her recently deceased husband's possessions.

*'Life Sucks' by Fran Landsman, again a funny story about a teenager who discovers an uncomfortable secret about her father.

*'Virtue in Danger' by Nick Law, a salutary tale set in a time of brothels and rogues and written entirely in verse.

*'Killing Me Quietly' by Dominica McGowan', a far blacker take on the death of a husband.

*'Intervention' by Charlotte Mabey, about the dilemma of a young man with first-aid knowledge.

* 'Burying The Presidents', yet another funny story and certainly not what I expected from the title.

* 'Going Down Brean' by Rebecca Watts - my very favourite. It's a gentle, nostalgic story of a small group of children taken on their annual day-trip to the sea-side, accompanied by the church vicar and the formidable Mrs Chubb, who won't stand for any nonsense. The descriptions of the small, pleasurable activities that the children indulge in, plus their meticulous choice of small gifts in the old gift shop, brought back very many happy memories and the ending is brilliant.

The short story is a difficult genre to write and to read because the writer is trying to say so much in a relatively few words. Full-length novels have the luxury of development of characters and plot, the continuity of the build up.

I personally enjoy reading and writing short stories that tell a story. It's been fashionable for some time with short story writing that language is often more important than plot and characters, that the more flowery the language then the more likely it is to be published (apart from national magazines like Women's Weekly and The People's Friend, where the feel-good factor is the most important criteria). Also, there seems to be a penchant for gloomy or fantastical tales. My kind of story writing doesn't really fit in with these criteria but it's just the way I prefer to write and I'm hoping that, one day, the good old-fashioned story will become fashionable again.

However, this anthology is a really good read and to purchase a copy log onto

* THE OVERLOOK by Michael Connelly. This is another of the Harry Bosch detective novels and it progresses at a fair lick, engaging interest immediately and maintaining it throughout. Connelly has such an easy writing style, with just the right mix of plot, characterisation and description and there's always a real sense of place in these novels. You do actually feel as if you are in Los Angeles. My only criticism would be that I found the cessium part of the plot somewhat far-fetched but sexy, maverick Harry makes up for that in bucket loads,

* GEORGIANA DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE by Amanda Foreman. This work of non-fiction, based on extracts of diaries and newspaper articles, is a real Jekyll and Hyde read. I haven't seen the film, which looks lavish from previews, although why they chose stick-thin Keirly Knightly is a mystery because apparently Georgina had a most ample figure, but I had heard an adaptation on Woman's Hour, which was excellent, so reading the book seemed a good idea.

Reading the book, though, is a different matter and it's very much a 'dry' read. The sections about Georgiana are just about bearable but the vast descriptions of the politics of the time left me with no option but to skim read. So, no, I wouldn't recommend this book.

Georgiana, by the way, was the Princess Diana of her time, married to a husband who didn't love her and kept a mistress, literally under the same roof, and who fell in love with some-one else. So it should have been far more interesting than it was. Very glad to have finished it!

*THE READER by Bernhard Schlink. This is the novel made into a film which got Kate Winslett (do you spell her surname like that?) her Oscar. I chose to read it because the story sounded most interesting - the German woman who seduces a young boy only to be revealed as a guard who worked at Austerlitz etc and was possibly responsible for a number of deaths.

It's mainly an interesting read and I could really imagine the character of Hanna Schmitz being played by Winslett, portraying her detached, unemotional personality. But the novel (a translation) breaks all the rules about show rather than tell and when Schlink tries to examine the role of Germans during the Second World War and the concentration camps, it felt rather forced.

I'm glad I read this novel but I wouldn't want to read it again.

* FACELESS by Martina Cole. This is definitely commercial fiction and Cole breaks many of the rules of fiction: she includes great chunks of telling rather showing and repeats each character's motivation endlessly; the editing is suspect at times:she has obviously experimented with several ways of saying the same thing and then not totally deleted all the redundant words and sometimes commas are not used correctly; and her main character, Marie, who has just been released from prison for a double murder (but I don't believe she did it),speaks in a very middle class way, when she's supposedly working class, apart from a few "me's' instead of 'my's' and the occasional 'fuck'.

HOWEVER, not only am I really enjoying the read but also, Martina Cole is a best seller and must have made more than a few bucks and I still can't find an agent, so I don't feel in way superior about her not particularly fantastic writing skills. Her characters, most of whom are scumbags, are believable, if somewhat over-stated, and she writes about an underclass where drugs, prostitution and violence are prevelent so it makes for a fascinating read. I don't know what 'rocks' are but I'd certainly not like to get addicted to them.

Okay, the Festival is over, so here's my second 'take' on novels I've been reading recently.

But before I do so, I want to set the scene about my reading preferences.

Because I studied literature for 'A' levels and then my degree in the 1960s and 1970s, I've already read many of the great novels of literature. Favourites that readily spring to mind are: 'War and Peace', Doctor Zhivago', 'The Alexandrian Quartets', 'Gone With the Wind', 'Madam Bovary', 'How Green Was My Valley', 'Pride And Prejudice' in fact, all of Jane Austen's novels, 'Tess of the Durbevilles', 'Far from the Madding Crowd' (don't you just hate the hypocrisy of Angel!),'Exodus', 'Catch 22' (brilliant), 'A Town Like Alice', 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'( a real weepy) - the list is endless. I also had a penchant for authors like Alistair Maclean, Agatha Christie, Jack Higgins etc, what I would call more commercial writers.

The only writers I have a real dislike for, despite the fact that are world renowned and I know that technically they are brilliant writers, are D.H.Lawrence, E.F. Foster and Joseph Conrad. Their novels are just too dark for me and somewhat boring. I would also never even attempt work by authors like Proust: life's just too short.

There are very few authors that I've come across who make me laugh out loud, which is a real pity, but both Evelyn Waugh and Lyn Truss do that for me, plus Tom Sharpe and not forgetting 'The Little World of Don Camilo'series. I'd love to be able to write a comedy -I think that making people laugh is a wonderful gift - but it's very hard to do, which is why there are so few genuinely funny novels about.

If you come across any, then please leave details in the comments section!

More recently, I've become addicted to crime novels, particularly those written by Michael Connelly (I'm partly in love with Harry Bosch, who is the detective most featured in the novels - although he must be hell to live with), Mo Hayder and Mark Billingham. I'll also read anything by John Le Carre, who is the greatest living novelist of our time, in my opinion. But because I want to break into publishing, I'm devouring novels that are very popular with agents/publishers/book awards/the general public in some hope of seeing where my Cyprus novel would fit in.

Most, but not all, of the novels I'm reading are set in modern times, which I now prefer, and here are my comments on what I've been reading recently:-

by Stef Penney. Set in the wilderness of Canada before modern days, where life is rough not to say extremely cold. Laurent Jammet, an ex-fur trader is murdered and the teenage son of the main character, Elizabeth Knox,disappears, presumed to be the killer, so Elizabeth sets off to look for him. This is a phenomenally praised novel, recommended in Mslexia as a perfect example of novel structure.It's certainly beautifully crafted and written BUT I just couldn't relate to it in any meaningful way. I didn't like any of the characters , apart from the bolshie one of the sisters, and didn't care what happened to them. I don't like cold or snow so that didn't help and there were only brief references to wolves. I only finished it because the last few chapters were more dramatic and I did like the way that all the threads joined together at the end. Not enough wolves for me, though.

* WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by Lionel Shriver. I'm the only person I know who has read this book because the subject matter is so dreadful: Kevin is a high school killer in America and the whole awful story unfolds via the letters his mother writes to his father after the fact, examining in detail the possible reasons for their son's cruel streak and tracing all the warning signs starting from when Kevin was born, a limp and unresponsive baby right from the word go. I spent most of the time I was reading this book being angry with all of the family: the workaholic mother, the inconsiderate father, Kevin himself who's a complete little shit and even the perfect sister. HOWEVER, I just couldn't stop reading it because it drew me in and engaged with me as a reader. It was a fascinating, if morbid, insight into school serial killers and although I was very angry with all of the family, I could see what led Kevin to commit his crimes and it was quite chilling: there for the grace of God go I, sort of effect. And the last few chapters were breathtakingly fantastic and the ending a total surprise. THIS is the book that really excels in structure and plot development and I want to read it again to see just how Shriver weaved in the clues so subtly that I was gasping with surprise and horror at the end. Woman's Hour on Radio 4 serialized it and the episodes I caught were just as good. What a cleverly written book but not for the faint hearted!

*NO TIME FOR GOODBYE by Linwood Barclay (what a lovely name) and recommended by the Richard and Judy Book Club. Set, again in modern America. I was initially attracted by the mysterious plot: a teenage girl wakes up the morning after a tremendous argument with her parents only to find the whole family have disappeared. Intriguing. Years later, Cynthia is now married with a daughter and the mystery of this bizarre situation is gradually revealed. Told from the view point of the husband and written in a most natural, conversational way, I was hooked from the start and it just got better and better and better so, really, I can't recommend this book highly enough. Easy to read but beautifully and intelligently written, I sometimes re-read paragraphs straight away because I loved the language and phrasing that Barclay used. READ THIS BOOK is my suggestion.

* PRIME WITNESS by Penny Morgan. I chose this book because not only is it a sort of a thriller but the author used to teach at the college just over the road from us and I wanted to give support to a Winchester writer. This is a most unusual and fascinating novel (a first novel, too) about a series of crimes centred around two Centres for Animal Behaviour Studies, one in Hampshire and the other in The States. The witness to the first murder is Caro, a bonabo (part of the ape family), and who is committing the crimes is really less important than the structure around which the plot is set: animal experimentation and the highly contentious issue of not only animal rights for animals, in particular apes, but their 'human rights'. It's a most interesting subject and although I found the novel rather slow to begin with and I got a bit confused about who as who, I ended up not only enjoying the read but desperately wanting to cuddle and be cuddled by a bonobo, which is not as kinky as it sounds. I defy you not to fall in love with Caro by the end of the novel if you choose to read it.

* NINETEEN MINUTES by Jodi Picoult. There was an article about the author and the novel in Mslexia, which inspired me to read the book. It was claimed that Jodi Picoult dealt with the same gritty themes as Martina Cole but was the better of the two authors.Having the read the book I can say that that is one of the biggest understatements I have ever read. Picoult is a fantastic writer, easy to read but with a great use of language. Sentence structure, character development, pace...everything is far superior to Cole, in my opinion. The secret of great writing is for it to appear effortless, for the reader to feel totally confident that every sentence reads well, that the language used is just right and affording the reader some intelligence. Picoult has this ability in bucket loads and she is definitely a 'find' for me. I shall be reading far more of her novels, particularly when I want to read something that I know I'll enjoy.

'Nineteen Minutes' is about a school serial killer in America and I was interested to see how this compared with 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. It's very, very different, which is not taking anything away from Shriver's novel. There are far more characters, many of whom are very likable, including the killer, Peter, and present and past scenes alternate, which gives a gradual insight into the Peter's motives, which I found very effective. As with '...Kevin', you know who is the killer right from the off so it's the understanding of why which is of interest. I found myself feeling very sorry for Peter. He seemed to have no other alternative, which is very chilling to admit. The surprise is, given the problems that we have in society, which is shadowed by what goes on in schools, that school serial killings don't happen as often as they do and political correctness means that often firm action doesn't take place to stop, for example bullying, when actually it should. That's the teacher talking in me. Anyway, Picoult is a great writer and I suggest that you check her out.

* A DOG YEAR by Jon Katz. I took this book to Italy with me and have just finished it and I'm still smiling because this is a delightful book. Non-fiction, it's the account by the author of his adventures in training two Australian border collies at his home in New Jersey under the watchful and wary eyes of his two placid, peace loving golden labradors, Stanley and Jules. If you like dogs, enjoy having a good laugh (here's another writer for my funny novels list) and you don't mind crying uncontrollably a couple of times (even on a public beach), then this is the book for you.

Devon is the fist border collie to arrive and he's classed as the most troublesome dog in the world, although the author has certainly not encountered our dog, Archie. He's highly strung, badly damaged and a whole load of trouble. Lying on an Italian beach this summer, I laughed uncontrollably at the description of how Devon manages to escape from the backyard, over and over again, leaving no clues. This dog knows how to open a fridge, attacks moving school buses, and makes his feelings about being left alone in very visible ways. It really is amazing that Katz manages to tame, love and adore this dog.

But not content with that, he ships in Devon's cousin, Homer, who's cute and adorable and initially under constant attack by Devon.

Like 'No Time To Say Goodbye', it's set in America and written in a very conversational way. Descriptions are only included when essential to the story and there's no attempt here to write something literary or to create beautifully flowery language. This is not to say, however, that it's not well written. Katz is a masterful writer and a great story teller.

Our first dog was a border collie (Syder) and our present dog a very disturbed rescue dog so a lot of the antics of all the dogs rang very pleasurable bells. You may even enjoy this book if you're not a dog lover!

* GORDON'S GIFTS by Sally Petch. This is a delightful novel about a chap, Gordon, who knows that he is dying and sets about donating his money anonymously to people who he thinks either deserve or need it, which causes lots of misunderstandings and problems. Set in an English village, it has that 'feel good factor' and Gordon and most of the people he becomes friends with are likable, interesting and believable. I came across this novel purely by chance: signed copies were being sold in a charming restaurant/hotel near Chichester. Given the plot, it could have been mawkish but it wasn't - it was a real pleasure to read.

* A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS by R.J.Ellory (another Richard and Judy Book Club choice). I have just finished this novel and I'm soooooooo relieved because it was really tough going. About half way through, I considered ditching it altogether but decided I had already invested so much time in reading it that I might as well continue. Three quarters of the way through, I considered skim reading that last quarter, but with grim perseverance, I struggled on and YIPPEE! I finished it yesterday.

The novel is set mainly in the deep south of Georgia, America:it starts pre-second world war, flits occasionally to New York and eventually jumps in time to the sixties in both New York and Georgia.

I chose this novel because the plot sounded interesting: young girls are being attacked, murdered and their bodies mutilated so who is this terrible murderer? It's written through the eyes of Joseph Vaughan, a young boy, who is deeply affected by these murders and we see him grow into a young man and then a middle-aged man and still these murders haunt him until he finally discovers the culprit.

So, why did I find it so tedious?

a. It didn't seem to know what kind of book it was because although the murders were the thread that weaved their way, plotwise, throughout, there were an awful lot of other issues tackled e.g. the war, writing a novel, unusual relationships, so there was no real focus. The murders and the investigations were by far the most interesting part of the novel but they were all diluted by the many sub-plots. (At one stage, though, Ellory devotes a short chapter describing the different stages of one of the attacks from the viewpoint of the victim and I did find that chapter exceptionally moving. I understood what the girl was thinking and full marks to Ellory here for capturing, in a most convincing manner, those thoughts.)

b. Too many things happened that just didn't ring true for me, particularly in Joseph's relationships. In fact, I didn't 'get' the character at all. Although he babbles on ad infinitum, I couldn't see him in my mind or understand his character and, quite frankly, I eventually didn't care. And there was no real understanding of the murderer's motives. Ellory tried to explain this in almost a throwaway manner and , for me, that wasn't good enough.

c. But by far the most irritating aspect of the book was the writing style and here is the irony because the writing style is by far the best thing about the novel. In fact, Ellory's use of language and imagery is breathtakingly wonderful and creative. I've never read such original but appropriate language. If Ellory extracted all his descriptions and put them into some sort of dictionary of great imagery, then it would make a fantastic reference book for any writer. BUT this was also the downfall of the book because there was SO MUCH description and over-use of language that it totally submerged the plot and multiple sub-plots, stifling the flow of the narrative and negating dramatic impact. Time and time again, a single idea or description took a whole paragraph, Ellory using a variety of ways of saying the same thing (although absolutely beautifully) but eventually I just wanted him to get on with the story.

This should be entered for the Booker prize because don't the judges look for the quality of the writing, irrespective of how boring the book can be? I shall certainly ask my husband to read this novel to get his opinion. He actually enjoys reading Proust so there really is no counting for taste: 'one man's meat is another man's poison' kind of thing.

BUT I'm glad I persevered with this novel because:-

a. It has inspired me to improve my own imagery and descriptions so that they are original and interesting (hopefully!) and not cliched.

b. It's been an excellent lesson for me not to bog my own writing down with too much description and inner thought. A good writing style should, I believe, blend so seamlessly into a novel that it's a means, albeit a very skillful one, of moving the plot and characterization along without becoming 'the star' of the story.

So now I've started a Ben Elton comedy about an imaginary reality t.v. show, rather like the X Factor, and Elton doesn't mess around with too much clever language - the plot zooms along most satisfactorily. I'll have to include Ben Elton in my list of writers who make me laugh because I'm already finding it a lot of fun.

*CHART THROB by Ben Elton. This is a light, amusing book based upon the reality T.V. show The X Factor. It plots the meticulous manipulation of wannabe stars to squeeze as much 'good television' out of each programme. Acts are chosen, not because they can actually sing, but because they can be shaped into some kind of 'story' that the audience can relate to - either loving or hating. The twist is that Prince Charles is one of the contestants and I have to say that he is portrayed with some affection and the language he uses is so him that's uncanny. The judges are quite obviously Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, which just about sums up my opinion of them. My only criticism is that the novel trundles along at the same pace so it gets a bit monotonous but generally it's a lot of fun.

*RITUAL by Mo Hayder. I think that Mo Hayder has lost her edge as a crime writer. She's obviously happy with the genre that she's chosen - weird, gory, unsavoury scenarios - and she's now churning them out rather pedantically. This is another Jack Caffery case and he's now moved to Bristol and is involved with an African ritual case of murder. It's all very predictable and, because it's to a set formula, used in her previous novels, lacks surprise or shock. Cut off hands, a character with webbed feet, blood sold as an a lucky omen... so what! Everything is tacky and distasteful. Jack Caffery having sex in the back of his car with a prostitute... surely, the guy can do better than that. Plus, she drags in some kind of wierdo, who brutally murdered the killer of his son, for no obvious reason but to titillate. Sorry, Mo, but it just doesn't hang together. You'll have to do much better if I'm going to buy your next book.


new pearls can now be found in the posts section

The best way to make God laugh is to have a well-constructed plan (Myron Rolle)

The name, the ring, all that stuff - there was nothing wrong with any of it. It was the husband bit that was wrong

The best thing in the world is when the person you love loves you (Eddie, played by Timothy Spall, in Jimmy McGovern's wonderful T.V. Drama 'The Street')

Democracy has to be more than two wolves and a sheep discussing what they're going to have for dinner

"Do you know why an advertising man won't look out of the window in the morning?" Jeremy Clarkson
"No." James May
"Because he'd have nothing to do in the afternoon." Jeremy Clarkson
(Taken from Top Gear - such a deliciously un-politically-correct TV programme)

I am who I am (God)

"How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean" (Arthur C Clarke)

"Sometimes I think we're alone in this universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case the idea is quite staggering" (Arthur C Clarke)

"The best stories achieve a balance between enlightenment and entertainment" (Arthur C Clarke)

There's always a loose link in the chain (Lester Freaman in The Wire)

Celebrity should be traded on the stock exchange - it's a very tangible thing (Wendell Pierce who plays The Bunk in The Wire)Life has its own way of finding tasks for you

It's difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future

If you can read and have the will, you can accomplish anything (Jenny Kingsley in Pen Pusher)

A culture is no better than its woods (W H Auden)

A hero is some-one who saves you and we all need a hero, whether we know it or not

If you spoil your children, you weaken their character

Better the difficult wrong than the easy right

It's better to be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond and both are infinitely better than being a fish, either small or big, without a pond

An unexamined life is a life not worth living (Socrates)

Adam and Eve had many advantages, but the principle one was that they escaped teething (Mark Twain)

Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain that they are their own (Socrates)

Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore, and that's what parents were created for (Ogden Nash)

You can't reason with ignorance (I made this up and it's heartfelt!)

A genuine Christian is someone who aspires to perfection but accepts that it is only possible with the help of Jesus Christ (and that's only after you've died) (a profound pearl and one I made up myself and believe )

Happiness is not getting what you want - it's accepting what you've got (BBC1 Spooks)

Either every-one matters or no-one matters (BBC1 Spooks)

The cause of death is birth (appeals to my particular, some would say, warped sense of humour)

The pragmatist's epitaph: I did my bit as best I could and you can't say fairer than that

I'll say this for Greek men - they have good teeth

If you only got one shot, one opportunity, would you capture it ... or just let it slip away? (Eminem 2003)

There's always hope where there are good people around

"The job isn't about picking the story we life best." (Detective Bunk - The Wire)

"You cannot lose if you do not play." (Colonel Daniels - The Wire)

"If you play in dirt, you get dirty" (Police Officer McNulty - The Wire)

The truth is the truth and sometimes it's a bitter pill

The devil triumphs when good men do nothing

Teenagers are indeed God's punishment for having sex

Better to be mutton dressed as lamb than mutton dressed as mutton

"Early bird...dead worm" (Marlo (gangster/drug dealer - The Wire)

"I want all the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any." (Mahatma Gandhi)

Short Stories

I have had 3 short stories published nationally and all thanks to some-one whose name I can't remember! When I do, I'll add it in. YEAH! CHRISSIE GITTINS. Anyway, she is a poet who was doing some poetry work with my daughter's primary class in London and my daughter, Lou, told her that I had written a lot of short stories (at least 25) but just couldn't get published. As well as trying Radio 4, I had sent all of my scripts to every popular women's magazine that accepts unsolicited fiction, particularly Women's Weekly, but to no avail.

So, this very kind poet wrote down the names of a number of non- mainstream subscription publications and I took it from there.

My first success was with QUALITY WOMEN'S FICTION, which was founded by a writer called Jo Good, although there were plenty of rejects before I finally got the go-ahead. I WAS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED! AT LONG LAST!

The story was called September in Italy, about a couple's rift set against the background of an enormous storm, which are most spectacular on the Mediterranean coast. At first the story was rejected because there wasn't enough imagery in it, so I re-wrote it thick with imagery and it was accepted. Sadly, the magazine has now been sold on to an American writer and I don't subscribe to it any more.

The other piece of information that was on that single, hastily written sheet of paper, which proved so successful for me, was the name of the wonderful MSLEXIA magazine, which contains a selection of short stories and poetry plus articles about writing. It comes out 4 times a year and I love reading it; it's a fantastic magazine for writers and long may it continue!

Well, what I read in one of the editions was the name and contact details of 4 new small publishers who were looking for new authors, so I took pot luck and sent my story Renaissance to ACCENT PRESS, founded by Hazel Cushion.

I had never heard of Accent Press before - I don't normally look at who has published the book I've just bought - so was unaware that I actually had, on my shelves, a collection of short stories published by Accent Press, from their 'sexy shorts' series.

Blissfully unaware that one pound from each sale was donated to a cancer charity, I sent off my short story Renaissance which is about a young woman recovering from breast surgery and set in Florence.

I was so delighted, surprised and temporarily gob-smacked when I got a phone call from the editor, Rachel, to say that they would like to put the story in their next short story collection, entitled SAUCY SHORTS FOR CHEFS, and could I send a recipe because each story was to be accompanied by a recipe.

I had briefly mentioned in the story that my character had a romantic meal with a very gorgeous Croatian man whom she had met, so I racked my brain for a suitable Italian recipe.

Now, my husband, who is a fantastic cook, had already bought an ice-cream machine and concocted two recipes for ice-cream: one which contains products with a very high fat content (for him) and one for me, using soya milk (Alpro), reduced fat cream etc. So I decided to send the latter because it is much healthier than regular ice-cream (but it still tastes great) on the grounds that some-one recovering from breast cancer would want to eat more healthily.

This book was to be sold nationally, in bookshops like Waterstone's, and whole process was like a dream come true for me. All of the writers who contributed, donated their stories but, to be honest, I really didn't care that I was not going to receive a penny: seeing my story and name and my husband's recipe in actual print was payment enough.

As I was reading SAUCY SHORTS FOR CHEFS, I could see that most of the stories had a direct link with the accompanying recipes and mine didn't so I consider myself very lucky and more than a little amused.

Accent Press sent all the contributers advertising material and I promoted that book as hard as I could, handing out leaflets and arranging with the two Waterstone's in Winchester to advertise the book and for me to sign copies.

I almost lived in Waterstone's at the time, checking on progress, signing copies, and advising them that it should be in the fiction section and not the cookery section!
And to cap it all, we had a launch party at Antony Worrall Thompsons's Notting Hill restaurant (he wrote a forward for the book).

This is a picture of most of the contributors to SAUCY SHORTS FOR CHEFS in A W T's restauarant.

This was the fourth book in the sexy shorts series and most of the writers had contributed before and so knew each other. However, I was made very welcome and I had a super time. Two of my friends are crazy about A W T and I had promised to get them signed autographs but he wasn't there; he was on holiday with his family. So, I wrote to him afterwards and explained the situation and he very graciously sent three personalized signed photographs: one each for my friends and one for me, which is framed and hanging in our dining-room.

This is the cake that Jane Asher made for the party for SAUCY SHORTS FOR CHEFS, in the design of the book's cover. (The cake was yummy!)

Hazel had also organized a special chat room on the web for all the authors involved and for months we sent messages of encouragement, information etc. It was such fun.

Then Hazel announced that she was going to publish a fifth sexy short: SEXY SHORTS FOR THE BEACH. So, I wrote a chick-lit story entitled THE LOVE BUG and hoped that it would be accepted, which it was. This was about a family on a Greek holiday, each one affected by 'the love bug.' Again, I promoted the novel like mad and this time we also got glossy book marks as well to advertise the book.

You can read THE LOVE BUG from the bottom of this blog if you so wish.

With both these books, I wrote an article for my local newspaper, The Hampshire Chronicle, about each publication, and both were printed. I sent my own pictures, too, and the one for SAUCY SHORTS FOR THE BEACH was also published. Some-one on the chat-line had explained how she had donated a copy to her local library so I did that with SEXY SHORTS FOR THE BEACH and to date, it has proved very popular.

This is the picture that went with the article in the Hampshire Chronicle for SAUCY SHORTS FOR CHEFS. My husband and I have tried valiantly to turn it the right way round but it refuses to budge. If YOU know how to do this, pleases leave a message!

This is a photograph of me handing over a copy of SEXY SHORTS FOR THE BEACH to the chief librarian at what was the Winchester Library (now called The Winchester Discovery Centre.)

Interestingly, each of my stories was based abroad: Italy (2 times) and Greece. My husband and I are lucky enough to take foreign holidays and that's where I get so much of my inspiration from. I tend to do quite a lot of writing on holiday until the sun and wine totally incapacitate me.

Since then, Hazel has not published any more sexy shorts, concentrating now on novels and education books, but because of her, I was published twice in national paper-backs and I am eternally grateful to her for that.

I now concentrate on novel writing but occasionally, when I see a writing competition advertised in Mslexia, I choose a short story I have already written, re-edit it and send it off. Short stories are not as popular as novels but I have faith in those that I have already written and I am very, very patient. One day some of them might just see the light of day in a bookshop. Who knows...


I stumbled into journalism purely by chance, which seems to be the story of my life!

It was a number of years ago and I was doing a correspondence course with THE WRITERS' BUREAU, which I found extremely helpful, particularly my tutor MARGOT RANERI.

Anyway, I was doing the creative writing course, which consisted of about a dozen different detailed assignments involving all aspects of creative writing, so I was a tad surprised to receive an assignment about journalism, but reasoned that it must be part of the course so I spent some considerable time on it, as I did with all the assignments. AND I was doing everything long-hand because I didn't have a computer. I was, literally, one of those stone-agers who didn't even know how to turn one of the damn things on.

The final part of the assignment was to write a short newspaper article for a local newspaper. I decided to base mine on my friend, Prue Daniels, who had taught herself how to dress make and tailor so she could make clothes for her family. Word spread that her work was good and it developed into a small business that she operated from home. The 'hook' was that she made curtains for one of the exhibitors at The Ideal Homes show, which most people have heard about.

So, I interviewed Prue, which, to my surprise, I felt totally at ease with, as if journalism were my 'raison d'etre', and wrote the article and sent off the assignment to THE WRITERS' BUREAU. And they sent it back, unmarked, saying that it had been a mistake on their part, that the assignment wasn't part of my course. So, I sent it back again and reasoned with them that I had spent several months doing this assignment so could they please make an exception and have some-one look at it, which, to their credit, they did.

Then I sent the article about Prue to one of the local newspaper that I had researched but it was sent back: thank you but no thank you. So, I put it away and left it for about a year.

I can't remember what prompted me to dust it off and send it to another newspaper. It was probably because I was sorting out my writing, came across it and thought I'd try again with another newspaper: The Hampshire Chronicle.

This was just after the 9.11 atrocity and, hoping to entice the paper with the possibility of an article about a friend of mine, Kath Cocklin, who was very much involved in the aftermath of the Twin Towers destruction, I mentioned this in my accompanying letter. And I got a phone call! Yes, we'll have the article about Prue but we'll also have the 9.11 article! AND we need photographs.

I'm not a photographer but I was game to at least have a go.

Now all I needed to do was to ask my friend, Kath, if I could interview her!

Luckily, she agreed, so I went to her office in Winchester, interviewed her, took some photos on my little camera, wrote the article and sent it plus photos off.

I was really proud of that article - my very first - because it was centered around 9.11 because, like many people, I was deeply affected by that event. It seemed so monstrous an action that it was hardly believable and I felt sure that World War 3 was about to start if America retaliated immediately.

I was on my way to Forest Mere Health Farm when I heard the news on the radio, thinking at first that it was a hoax. Only one of the towers had been hit then. By the time I got to Forest Mere, the second tower had been hit, and later on, the third plane had crashed into The Pentagon and a fourth had crashed missing it's target because of the bravery of many of its passengers. So, I spent my days there, alternating between therapies, exercise classes and watching CNN news in my room.

Our family have a lot of relatives and business friends in America and the restaurant at the top of one of the towers was sometimes used for business meetings and we also have a friend who used one of those air-routes regularly, so it was a tense time checking that people were okay, which, thankfully, they were.

But for my friend, Kath, who runs a business helping business people re-locate from America to the UK and vice versa, she wasn't so lucky. The husband of one of her staff in New York State was lost in one of the towers, so she flew to New York to attend the funeral and offer support, at a time when most people were too frightened of flying, and that's what my article was about, entitled: New York - grieving city of courage and comradeship

After this first article, all my pieces were accompanied by photos I had either taken myself or set up and I'm really proud of that.

As well as the two articles I had published about SAUCY SHORTS FOR CHEFS and SEXY SHORTS FOR THE BEACH, which I have written about in my short stories section, I have had the following articles published in The Hampshire Chronicle:-

* Putting a prayer into every stitch - about my friend, Prue's, tailoring business.

* For Sally, well-being and beauty go hand in hand - about beautician Sally Tucker, who does the best facial I've ever had.

* Spreading the word on a three-week walk - about the vicar of my church, Christ Church, his beliefs and the special evangelistic event he and the church were part of.

* Cara's planning a men's fashion revolution- based on Winchester College of Art student Cara Craven, who specializes in creating textured details for men's clothing.

*B&B with the personal touch. Winchester has a number of B&B's but the one I wrote about - Wolvesey View, run by John Holder, is special because it was once the home of the mother of the actor, Alec Guinness.

The ones that got away:-

Unfortunately, I couldn't get these articles published , which I thought was a big pity.

* The Boys Who Rock . This was about a group of students from Eastleigh College who had formed themselves into a dance group, inspired by the film 'Billy Eliot.'Under the guidance of dance teacher April Inglis, who I used to teach, they were due to put on a show at Winchester University, with dance students from Bellemore School, Southampton, where the singer Craig Davies went to school. The article was to advertise the show and celebrate the positive things that school kids were doing, as opposed to all the negative media coverage. But the editor in charge of the education section of the Hampshire Chronicle wanted to re-write it under her own name and neither April nor I wanted to be privy to that. The show itself was tremendous and there was some genuinely serious talent and I was disappointed that I wasn't going to be the first journalist to record it.

* Rugby Fans Reclaim The Flag. I submitted this article about a first-hand account of the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia when England won in the dying moments because of Jonny Wilkinson's drop kick. I had watched the match and was elated when England won, inspiring me to write a short story - God, Girls and Saint Jonny (not published YET)- so when a family friend, Annitta Engel, a rugby fanatic who was at that match, visited us for the week-end, I just knew I had to write her story. I suspected that I had missed the boat time-wise but went ahead anyway and I had a superb picture of Annitta and her two friends decked out in the Union Jack colours. This was just before Christmas so I e-mailed a number of national papers and actually got a response from one (which one I can't remember but the editor was called John major, so I remembered that name), but once he realised that I didn't have a photo of Prince Harry at the match, he lost interest.

Now why do I suspect that newspapers aren't that interested in good news stories...

And finally:-

The Magical Music of Morocco. This was an article based on the blog I wrote for daftnotstupidabout the Xmas Night Lila in Essaouira, Morocco 2007. I also sent pictures of the Gnaoua musicians which were very good indeed (possibly because my husband took them!). I sent copies off to 7 daily and Sunday broadsheets and so far, 5 have returned. Either the papers are holding onto them or they've chucked them, despite the inclusion of S.A.E. I'm hoping for the former!

Novels I have written


* The Adventures of Mr Motty

This was a children's novel, loosely based on the stories that my dad would tell my brother and me, about an engine driver called Mr Motty, his steam trains, his assistant, Tommy, a flying bed and a talking pig called Gertrude.

This was in the 1950's and I think I'm right in saying that it pre-dates the later stories of engine drivers, flying beds and talking pigs! However, the fact remains that they have now been covered, so when I come to re-write the stories, I need to make them very special indeed. No pressure then!

When I feel that the time is right, I'll really get stuck in. We have a steam train that operates in the summer, nearby, at Alresford (The Watercress Line), which will be handy for research.

One of the many things that I've learnt about writing is that research is essential, even if you don't use most of it in your writing. It just gives you a sound basis, knowing that any facts or descriptions you use are authentic.

*Cyprus Blues

This is my recently completed first adult novel, which is set in Cyprus.

The story charts one year (July 1973 to July 1974) in the relationships of my four main characters:-

KATE- on holiday in July 1973 before starting her first teaching job. She's beautiful and innocent and totally unable to resist the charms of Jack, who is an expat artist, living in Cyprus.

JACK- handsome, sexy, charming and a total shit. He's fed up with his one-girl-a night existence and when he meets Kate, he sees her potential as his meal ticket and woos her into staying in Cyprus and moving in with him.

ELLIE- a young Greek Cypriot girl from London who has just taken part in an arranged marriage with Tony, a Greek Cypriot from a mountain village. Her 'dowry' had been a supermarket and flat, which has set Tony up nicely but quickly becomes a prison for her.

TONY- his only love is his country and everything else comes a poor second, even his own mother. (Ellie doesn't come anywhere in his scheme of things). He's part of the EOKA terrorist group determined to get rid of the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios.

The way these four interact is against the background of growing political unrest, which culminates firstly in the Greek Cypriot coup, in which Tony is heavily involved, and then, a week later, the Turkish Invasion of Northern Cyprus.

Other characters include:-
BIG AL - Jack's hippy friend, who's an expert at rolling joints, and has rejected his aristocratic background and work as an archaeologist to enjoy the good life in Cyprus.

POPPY- his waif-like girlfriend. She's a very young runaway from home and totally dotes on Big Al.

CHRISTINA - Tony's first love and now Jack's married mistress.

COSTAS - Tony's second-in command-who would jump through flames of fire for Tony in his own bumbling way.

ERNIE - the CIA who is paying EOKA terrorists like Tony to do America's dirty work.

MICHAEL - the divorced Greek Cypriot father of two of Kate's pupils who falls in love with Kate.

MARIE - a fellow teacher with Kate, married to HUSSEIN, a Turkish Cypriot doctor.

The characters are all fictional but the coup and invasion are real events, and America's involvement is now well documented. I should know about these events: I was living in Cyprus at the time and was refugeed, so I can safely say that I know what I'm writing about.

Who lives and who dies? Will Kate and Ellie escape from their disastrous relationships? And what will happen to the tourist paradise of Cyprus? You'll have to buy the book to find out!!!

But in order to buy the book, it needs to be published and the prevailing wisdom is to find an agent first, which is what I am trying to do. So, if any agents/publishers are reading this and like the sound of the novel, then look out for my manuscript when it lands on your table! Or, better still, leave a comment with details of how I can contact you. Fingers crossed!

THE NOVEL I AM WORKING ON NOW is a murder mystery set in Winchester. Most of the action is centred around Winchester High (fictional name) and I'm not giving things away when I tell you that the head teacher is the first to cop it. The DI is a feisty detective called Alexis Khan, a female cop with balls (metaphorically).

I've spent so many years in teaching that I want to draw on that experience in this novel, plus the idea of bumping off a head teacher was just too tempting to resist, although my, daughter, also a teacher, asked if I could bump off an Ofsted inspector, too.

I had already plotted out this novel several years ago, but since I've started my research on police investigation procedures, I'm going to have to start from scratch with the plot. However, most of my characters are good to go, so to speak. I'm really excited about writing this - it'll be a lot of fun.

However, one of the things I've learnt from my research is that police procedures and forensic science are so advanced now that it would be very hard to get away with murder so I don't recommend it! Some people, though, just don't care...


When we returned from our Italian holiday in September, the latest reject from an agent greeted me cheerfully from the letter box. I wasn't too surprised because it was the Blake Friedmann Agency and I knew that they were very reluctant to take on more writers because Carole Blake wrote about this in her column in Mslexia. And in anticipation of this, I had already decided to re-write my introductory letter, including a better pitch about the novel.

Fuelled by plenty of fine wine, I had composed a pitch on the balcony of our hotel in Italy and John was so impressed that he said that I should write it down, but being far too lazy and, quite frankly, incapable of doing it there and then, I decided to leave it to the next day.

Sadly, the next day I couldn't remember what I'd said so John agreed to create one for me, assuring me that he was pretty good at pitches because he has to do so many for work. It was, when he eventually completed it after many reminders, brief, snappy and just right.

John, by the way, is my unofficial manager and I may get round to paying him one day if the novel gets published.

So, armed with this improved pitch and also adding far more about my intended audience, I produced what I considered to be a much better introductory letter. I chose three more agents from my trusty Writers and Artists Yearbook 2008 to send this letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters, as is usually the given thing to do, and had even prepared everything in large envelopes.

All that was needed was to weigh the darn things (thank you Royal Mail for making it as difficult as possible to send anything through the post - don't they care about their customers?) and attach the appropriate postage. (A few months ago, the Royal Mail changed the cost of their stamps after I had sent such a package and therefore, the inevitable return of said package three weeks later did not have quite the correct amount of postage - it was something silly like six pence, and I had to pay a quid plus the six pence just to get the package. Again, thank you Royal Mail!)

ANYWAY, although convinced (and you have to be to put yourself through this gruelling endurance test and the multitude of rejections) that I had written an enormous best seller and why on earth didn't agents recognise this?, I decided to re-read the first three chapters.

Now, I've read a lot of fiction since writing Cyprus Blues, and in particular, two novels that really got me thinking about writing style. (I've reviewed them in the reading section of this blog site.)

The novel that I really liked was 'No time to say good-bye' by Linwood Barclay. And what I liked about it was the fast moving plot and skillful use of language which enhanced the story but didn't get in the way. No 'arty-farty' use of language is how I would describe it. And since I've recently discovered that it actually won the Richard and Judy Book Club award, I reckon that that is a successful way to write.

However, the novel that had me groaning with exasperation because of the over-use of flowery language (brilliant though it was) was 'A Quiet Belief In Angels'by ...It almost drowned the plot and spoilt dramatic impact.

So, with these two novels in mind - how I wanted to write a novel and how not, I reviewed my first three chapters and boy am I glad that I did so. Given the benefit of having had a break from Cyprus Blues and having re-written my introductory letter and having already started Winchester Blues, I had a much clearer idea of my target audience.

Therefore, you won't be surprised to hear that I immediately recognised that my writing style was suspect. Plot, characterization, setting are, I believe, still bloody good but I was using far too much flowery, descriptive language when it simply wasn't needed.

I had been saying for some time: 'I'm not bloody re-writing the novel' but I knew that if I had any chance of publishing it, I would have to do so. 'If a job's worth doing...' sort of thing.

So, I've re-edited the first three chapters and been brutal about what to keep in and what to delete. Cliched phrases like 'a shiver of fear ran down her spine' were the first to go. And then I deleted a lot of inner thought. Because the first part of the novel is in the first person and because I wanted my readers to have a really good understanding of the characters, I did want quite a bit of inner thought. But I had included far too much, not allowing characterisation to develop slowly and giving far too much away at the beginning of the novel as what was to come. So, that delete button was hot, hot, hot with constant use.

I'd already bought a much better thesaurus, which every writer should have, and I ALWAYS record each chapter and play it back, following the text on the screen. This really gives a good idea of what sounds good and what is awkward or out of place.

I'm so tempted to send the three revised chapters etc to my chosen agents but, ever the optimist, I would not like to have an agent phone me up and ask to see the complete novel because it's not fully revised. So, I'm playing the patience game and working steadily through each chapter. I reckon I should be finished by the end of the year, at the latest.

Winchester Blues can stay on the back burner a while and, hopefully, my sharper editing eye will pay dividends when I get back to it. I've already written the first three chapters so I feel that I have at least made a start. Anyway, I know I shouldn't be in too much of a hurry in finding an agent in this present economic climate: they probably need some space to re-adjust to a much tighter and more precarious market (i.e. even more tight and precarious than before!)

There is this little thing called Christmas which is looming up and in the past, that has taken a chunk out of my writing time, but this year we're going to be so casual about it we'll almost be falling over backwards. I'm a Christian so it's an important time of the year for me but I don't need to worship Jesus by buying and wrapping (!) a ton of presents or slaving away in a kitchen worrying that everything will be cooked on time and then eating and drinking so much that I will feel guilty for weeks afterwards and have to do double shifts at the gym. We'll be taking the dog to the beach on Xmas Day and I can't think of a nicer way to spend the day, apart from being in Morocco!

If you, too, feel harrassed and stressed at this time of the year then remember - YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT! Be a rebel: Say NO!


Easter has passed and I still haven't continued with Winchester Blues but for several very good reasons:-

1. Just before Xmas, I received another couple of rejections from agents (for Cyprus Blues), so I decided to re-read the first three chapters AGAIN to make sure in my mind that they were worth re-sending. And I noticed AGAIN some weaknesses and as a consequence, have re-edited the WHOLE novel AGAIN and am very pleased that I have done so.

The areas I was particularly interested in AGAIN were:-

* the opening paragraph, which I have changed

* overuse of exclamation marks of which, I realised, I had been terrifically guilty of

* length of paragraphs - mine were often far too long so I've corrected that

* flowery language - again guilty of that and I hope I've rectified that

* working on the principle of less is more, I've cut out all the surplus. Plus, I've tightened up my introductory letter AGAIN and sent it to The Writers Workshop, who give a free evaluation. I know it's a 'hook' to draw you in but I like their website , which is full of very valuable advice for writers, so I rate them highly

* I did want to cut my chapters in half because I think they're too long, particularly commercial fiction, which is my genre, but the structure of the novel is so tight and complex that it just wouldn't work. But I'll use much shorter chapters in Winchester Blues

2. Wanting to keep my hand in at short story writing, I re-edited a favourite short story of mine - The Dog in the Pram - which is futuristic/science fiction story - and sent it to two short story competitions (The Bristol Writers Competition and The Exeter Writers Competition), in the almost sure knowledge that I couldn't possibly win BOTH.

I've also written a brand new short story called The Miss in Marple, especially for The Marple Writing Competition. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the competition advertised in Mslexia because I used to live just outside Marple (a smallish village near Stockport, Manchester and The Peak District) and have very happy memories of the place. (Best place in the world, actually.)

So I took a true story that I'd heard and thought would make a great short story and set it in Marple. I so hope I win a prize so that I have a great excuse to go up there, which I've been wanting to do for ages.

3. I've been doing a lot of writing on my blog and sticking photos in (such a time consuming task but well worth it). I'm getting a small but steady stream of readers and it's wonderful knowing that I do have an audience, albeit it quite small. So, I guess I'm a communicator as well as a story teller. You see, one learns something new often without deliberately thinking about it.

BUT I'm itching to get back to Winchester Blues, particularly as I have a much clearer idea in my mind as to how I want to write it, having learnt so much about my writing over the last YEAR. Only, don't hold your breath. I tend to things at the only pace I'm capable of, which is very slowly!

And, no I'm not going to re-edit Cyprus Blues again unless an editor asks me to. But as you can see, being a writer is a lot of hard slog.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

March 19th: Visitors to my blogsite!!!

Hi, this is Maggie here and I'm bemused. How come these increased visits to my blog site + the daftnotstupid blog site? Since just after 2pm ( started, I believe, in Berlin- or so my husband tells me) I've had over a hundred hits on my own site. Not that I'm complaining! At first, I thought someone had hijacked my site and flooded it with spam, but apparently not. Is this because Van Morrison has just issued a new CD, or what? Can some-one please explain!
Anyway, hope you're all having a good day.
Love Maggie x