Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Spooks and Sea Shanties

Just got back from Liverpool, where I did two memorable things - revisited spooky Speke Hall and went to a Fisherman's Friends concert.

Speke Hall ( dates from 1596 and became derelict in the 18th century and the wonderful Great Hall was used as an animal shed. But it's been restored and is marvellously creepy, full of secret panels and priest holes and sloping floors that make you feel as if you're very drunk. My friend C and I went on Sunday morning and I got a shock when I came face to face with an Elizabethan lady (actually one of the volunteers in period costume).

That's my friend, just in the photo on the left. Just look at all those wonderful Elizabethan timbers. (On the house, not my friend!)

Fabulous cobblestones. Can't you imagine the clatter of hooves and the rumble of carriage wheels passing over them?


About five years ago, my dear late friend Louise co-opted me into the Falmouth Shout shanty group to sing at the Newlyn Fish Festival. On the same bill were Fishermen's Friends, who were about one million times better than us (sorry, Shout!) and I just couldn't get enough of their singing. They already had a cd out, but hadn't hit the bigtime like they have now. Indeed, they recently had an entire hour-long TV documentary devoted to them. Here's their website:  where you can listen to some of their music. When they sang Andy Barnes' The Last Leviathan, I couldn't stop crying, as that was the song Louise always sang so beautifully. Do look it up on YouTube. It's about the very last whale in the world that has just been harpooned and is dying. It's just about the most moving song I have ever heard and I'm getting all teary just writing about it. Think I'll go and grab a reviving coffee now.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Writing Competitions

Just received this from the lady who runs our local writing group. I was a member once, but I stopped going as it was held in the library and the loo was always locked, and as the meetings lasted 2 hours and the journey there and back was at least half an hour each way... well, 'nuff said!

please see below some links for 2 upcoming writing competitions - some great prizes at stake.
Firstly there is the Brit Awards Writer of the year for a novel - £10,000 prize plus the chance for all work considered commercially viable by the competition readers to be passed on to agents and publishing professionals:
Dear Writers, Publishers and Friends,

National & International Submissions Deadline - March 30th 2012 Unpublished, Self Published (£10,000 prize) and a Published Writer category.

Click Here to Enter your work today! <>

 Make Money Writing<>

Click here for some very useful advice <> .

Could you be the Brit Writers’ Awards Writer of the Year 2012?


Secondly for those of you interested in writing for theatre, the High Tide festival is a great platform for emerging writers:

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Got the blues...

I am feeling depressed. The fact that I have just watched one and a half episodes of Death Unexplained, the documentary set in my local coroner's court, can't have helped. I feel as though my life is totally stuck. Can't write, can't get my stuff out of storage as I can't move, estate agents aren't returning my calls so I can 't even get to view any properties (in London, there is such a shortage that they're getting snapped up before they even make it to the agents' websites), and at the same time Mr Grumpy is chip-chip-chipping away at me, sapping my confidence and making me wonder if I am in fact losing my marbles.

I'll give you some examples. I tried to open a file containing my latest editing job. My computer said it was Read Only. I downloaded it and pressed the button that was supposed to convert it to an ordinary Word document. Nothing happened. I waited and waited. I tried again. Then I emailed it to Mr G's computer and he of course did it in a trice. When I asked if he could tell me how he'd done it, he said, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, "You haven't got the patience." I tried to protest but he cut through my remark and repeated his words even louder, this time telling me I NEVER have any patience, for anything. This is so untrue. I have endless patience for him!

The other day he gave me some black pudding, which I like in small doses only. I didn't fancy it for lunch today in the slightest but he insisted I had to eat it now or it would have to be thrown away. So I picked up a knife and started slicing it, whereupon he got up, looked over my shoulder scoffed and said I was using the wrong knife (I'd chosen the sharpest of the small kitchen knives) and I wasn't cutting it, I was hacking at it and no wonder it wasn't slicing cleanly. At this point, I felt like slicing HIM cleanly! Back to that coroner's programme, I think.

We actually saw the local coroner in our street once. Across the road from us, a man had died in his deckchair in the garden and for three days his next door neighbours had been cheerily calling, "Good morning," or "Good afternoon," as he sat there with his newspaper in front of his face. They weren't unduly worried about not getting a reply as he was a notorious Mr Grumpy, too.

My tooth is niggling away beneath its temporary filling and I can still only chew on one side of my mouth. This has been the case for nearly three years now. The dentist said he was going to take it out. Now he says he's changed his mind and wants to do £600-worth of root canal treatment. I am going away to Liverpool this coming weekend, and am terrified of my tooth flaring up while I'm there. For three whole years my life has been dominated by toothache. And for seven whole years it's been dominated by Mr G. I can't go on like this. Something has got to change. I feel like doing something crazy, such as buying a flat I haven't even seen, just to get there first, before anyone else. One day I'll be able to unpack my boxes. One day I'll be able to get my deckchair out of the shed. Perhaps I'll even persuade Mr G to sit in it!

Oh, whilst on the subject of The Blues, I've just remembered one of my favourite cartoons, which I wish I'd kept. An old blues musician lay dead on his bed, his guitar by his side. Above him was a 'thinks' bubble containing the words, 'Well, apparently I didn't wake up this morning.'

Well, it made me smile...

Monday, 20 February 2012

Another literary lead

I subscribe to a daily book business newsletter ( which quite often yields useful nuggets of information. It's always handy to have the name of someone at a publisher or literary agency, as I said recently, so here is a other for your list. I had never heard of this agency before but when I checked out their website, it had a nice vibe. Has anyone had any dealings with them?


Press Release: Miscellaneous Announcements
D H H Literary Agency Appoints New Agent Jennifer Muller

Posted at 10:56AM Friday 17 Feb 2012
D H H literary agency is pleased to announce that Jennifer Muller has joined them as a Literary Agent from 1st February 2012.Jennifer has been involved in the publishing industry since 2001. Simultaneously working in the United States' largest mystery bookshop, The Poisoned Pen, and its independent publishing partner, Poisoned Pen Press, she had many roles including assistant editor and associate publisher. In 2005, she helped to create a UK branch of Poisoned Pen Press.
After a hiatus from work while raising her family, Jennifer is eager to establish herself as an agent, which she sees as a natural progression from her previous roles. She is excited to seek out new talent and is motivated by a love of editing and working with writers to develop their novels to their greatest potential.
Agency director and founder David Headley said: "I have been looking for the right person to join me and help build the agency's fiction list. Jennifer is the ideal candidate, combining excellent taste and strong editorial skills with commercial instinct."
Please visit D H H Literary Agency website for more information.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Playgroup

My friend Jane's new novel, The Playgroup, is being published today. If you click on the link to her website, you can read the first chapter. I was surprised to find it was 59 pages long - quite a lot to give away for free - but it is a nice, zingy read. She's having a launch party in London tonight but I have stupidly double-booked myself as the invivation came so long ago that I forgot all about it. Doh!

More writing leads

A few days ago I posted a link to a year-old tip list of what publishers were looking for. Today, the 2012 version popped into my in-box! Here it is, though it's a bit heavy on the non-fiction side.

And here is an all-too-true movie clip about the kinds of things agents and publishers are always telling us poor writers.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


You're a bit confused when you get woken up in the middle of the night. I could hear muffled bangs and crashes and at first I thought it was Mr Grumpy stumbling to the loo in the middle of the night. Then I heard a deafening crash and shot up, terrified, thinking perhaps he'd had another stroke and was flailing around. I was terrified, heart pounding as I climbed out of bed. Then I noticed the outside security light had come on and was gleaming through the curtains so I looked out of the window - it was 1.15 by now - and saw the garage door swinging wide open.The locks had been broken.

Not thinking for a moment that anyone might still be lurking, I dashed out in my pyjamas and socks, but there was nobody to be seen. Next, I went upstairs and woke Mr Grumpy. He came down and found all his most expensive equipment like his chainsaw and electric hedge-trimmers were missing.

"Get in the car and drive round the streets, they can't have got far," I said. I also suggested ringing the police, but he thought it wasn't worth it... that they wouldn't be bothered with such a small crime, which amounted to about £1000-worth of stuff (not small in my book!). He also said it wasn't insured. He then proceeded, in minus 5 degrees C, to get out his drill, which hadn't been taken, and nail the wooden garage doors shut.

I am furious. Anyone who's been burgled knows that it feels like a violation. And we have a good idea who was responsible, too. A very dodgy pair of Irish tinker types, who were doing hedge-cutting in the area and did a job for our next-door neighbour, came round and asked Mr G if he had some hedge-trimmers they could borrow as theirs had just broken. Mr G kindly unlocked the garage, which gave them a jolly good view of the contents. They gave him a business card 'in case he needed any jobs doing', ha ha, and when our neighbour tried to ring them a day or so later, the numbers didn't work.

It's now 1.53 am, I have had a mug of tea with a shot of whisky in it - for shock, of course - and I am going to back to bed, though actually I shall probably read my book for the rest of the night. It's one of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody mysteries, in case you're wondering, which feature lots of nocturnal goings-on, murderers clambering across balconies, shadowy figures wielding knives, the odd tomb robber and a whole host of evil villains in disguise. Somehow, I don't think I shall get any more sleep tonight.


It was 5 degrees C in my bedroom when I woke this morning after a fitful night's sleep (probably because my head and face were so chilly). It doesn't sound so bad if you say 40 F, but it's still too cold for me. Mind you, Mr G says the temperature in his bedroom in the attic (where my laptop is permanently plugged in, the battery having died) was 27 degrees F. That's below freezing! It's a wonder (a pity?) he didn't go into hibernation!

What IS wrong with this house? Could it be something to do with the fact that he hand-made all the windows and they don't fit, and the curtains flap in the draught? I have GOT to move. Went to see a lovely house yesterday but unfortunately there was a building site next door where a block of flats and an office building are due to be constructed. As peace and quiet tie with warmth at the top of my wish list, I couldn't even consider it. Shame. Why didn't they refrain from putting it on the market until the building work was finished? Or maybe they can't stand the thought of living through months of heavy construction work, either.

Nothing ever goes simply in life, does it? I went to the the dental hygienist yesterday and while she was busy chipping away, a filling fell out. Oh dear, more expense. At least I have loads of editing work. Four jobs have piled up, my sister is visiting next week so she can see Fairport Convention with me, and the weekend after, I am going to stay with my friend in Liverpool and go to see Fishermen's Friends at the Philharmonic. That's the concert hall where we had all our school prizegivings, so it will bring back a memory or two. I don't think I have set foot in it for forty years! (Should I be admitting that? Oh, vanity, thou art my main failing as a human being! Apart from criticising Mr Grumpy, that is...)

Monday, 6 February 2012

The teeth are gritted (even if the roads aren't).

A writing friend rang me tonight and told me about Tulisa (who?) getting a three boook deal. I can't repeat some of the things we said, which boiled down to how hard it was to get a publishing deal these days unless you were a young female celeb with big boobs, or a male comedian with a raunchy past. So I was glad to find the following blog, which expresses my thoughts on the subject perfectly.

Am I being unfair? Or just jealous? It seems patently obvious that in these strapped-for-cash times, just plain talent doesn't cut it any more. You need a name, some fame, or even some blame.

A walk in the snow

Although the patch of woodland at the end of the road isn't that extensive, or even that wild, I still managed to stray off the path and get lost, as the track was blocked by a fallen bough and I had to force my way through the prickly undergrowth. I could have done with a machete.

    I loved the way that having a snowy upper surface emphasised the shapes made by the boughs.

                              Something had dug for hidden treasure in last autumn's oak leaves...

                                                            Probably this little fellow!

                          The deserted playground in the park beyond the woods looked quite surreal.

                     And whatever species of canine left this footprint, it must have been huge!

As I headed for home, a pallid sun looked like the silver moon amongst the branches, turning the woods to monochrome.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A must-read for all my writing friends

Perhaps you have already encountered this list of what editors are looking for. Yes, it's a year old but I still found it eye-opening - and I'm pretty sure most of those people are still there, and won't have changed their wish-list much.

I subscribe to a daily book business newsletter - - which often contains info about commissioning editors and publishers; who has changed jobs, who has launched a new imprint. I have just started keeping a list so that I have a name to send sample chapters off to.

When I help get submission packages together for authors, my first piece of advice is always to ring first and get a name to send your submission to because Dear Agent, or Dear Commissioning Editor just doesn't cut it. It shows you haven't done your homework and your work will wing its way back unread - or, worse, be frisbee'd into the nearest bin!