Tuesday, 31 December 2013


Forget dieting and going to the gym. My resolutions are to enjoy myself, have a proper holiday for the first time since 2001, and self-publish at least two books. Hope you all have a wonderful, healthy, happy, satisfying and successful 2014.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Writing for fun

I have been writing professionally since 1970, when I joined North-West London Press as an advertising feature writer, producing blurb about holidays and restaurants, interviews with local businessmen and more or less anything that didn't come under the heading of news.

From there, I moved to a rock music magazine and after ten glorious years of lunching with the likes of Marc Bolan, producing fanzines for The Police and the Bay City Rollers and going into the studio with bands like Yes and Deep Purple, I moved to romantic fiction and as well as editing a love story magazine, I started writing and selling first short stories, then romantic novels, mainly for teenagers (Pan Heartlines, Point Romance).

For decades, I have worked to deadlines. I gained a reputation as someone who could write well under extreme pressure. My first novel was written in just five weeks - all 80,000 words of it - to fit in with the publisher's schedule and this time last year, I was battling against the clock to write 90,000 words of Perfect Lives in seven weeks. Being 30 years older than I was when I wrote that first book, I found the pressure almost killing. I got RSI in my arm and was so stressed I couldn't sleep, yet so exhausted, I could do nothing but write, write some more, then flop in front of the telly.

Two days ago, it struck me that I have never written a book just because I wanted to. Never written just for fun, with no deadline and no publisher breathing down my neck. So yesterday I started one and have so far written nearly 4,000 words. It is a black comedy in journal form, loosely based on my present predicament as an older woman living in a love-hate relationship in the house of very eccentric man. I don't know if I'll ever finish it but I tell you what, it's excellent therapy!

I may publish the odd bit of it here from time to time, as soon as I have gained some confidence in it. I have never tried writing humour before - apart from a funny article for a men's magazine about typing errors, e.g. 'she squashed her large beasts into a size 38F bra, then pulled on her black lace French knockers.' I enjoyed writing that.

If I have written 6000 words by Christmas Day, I shall crack open the bubbly. In the meantime, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and successful New Year. May all your dearest dreams be achieved and may you be loved and appreciated. You deserve it!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Four days in Highgate

What a non-stop series of pleasurable activities I enjoyed this week! My friend in Highgate, North London, kindly lent me her keys while she went on a National Trust walking holiday in Sussex. So on Tuesday, I lugged my bag of clothes, presents and cards there, passing through St Pancras station en route, then two hours later I was back at St Pancras enjoying fish cakes and three big glasses of vino with my literary agent, Jenny.

Next day I awoke to thick, chilly fog, but dragged my hangover out of bed and went for a walk up and down the steep slopes of lovely Waterlow Park, home to Lauderdale House where I celebrated my 60th birthday (eek!).


In the evening, I got together with two old friends and we sang our lungs out in the raw night air, bellowing every verse of four pages of carols at the annual charity Highgate Carol Service in Pond Square. The trees were covered in fairy lights and there was a magical atmosphere. After that, we decamped to the Cafe Rouge for more food and wine.

On Thursday lunchtime, I was back at St Pancras meeting an old school friend, Eryl, plus my namesake Tony Read (no relation), an excellent astrologer. Yet more food and wine! On Friday, I lugged a slightly lighter bag (and heavier stomach) home via St Pancras and coffee and cake with my friend Jill at the Patisserie Valerie.

Now I am back to face the problem boiler - cost £150 so far, and plumber will be back next week - and another tooth threatening to ruin my festive season. Wish I could have stayed in Highgate, preferably for ever. Of all the parts of London and Greater London I've lived in, Highgate is where I have been the happiest. I wish I still lived in the tiny cottage I sold in 2003. It's worth £600,000 now! O great god of the Lottery, hear my prayer and please deposit a fat sum into my bank account tomorrow. That £2.60 you gave me today as my Euromillions prize was surely a mistake and you need to go to Specsavers as you missed a few 000's off!

Monday, 9 December 2013


Oh deary me, I didn't realise how long it was since I last wrote anything. I don't know where the time has gone. This just has to have been one of the speediest years ever. Does anyone else agree that the older you get, the faster time seems to go? I wonder if it's because we are no longer doing all the new things we did when we were young, that required our brain to stop and take note and learn, thus giving the impression that time was passing more slowly.

I can remember a school lunch break seemingly lasting for hours as my best friend and made daisy chains and stood on our heads! Yes, we'd find an indentation in the field, wad our school cardigans into it, making a soft cushion, then up we'd go, staying with our feet in the air for as long as we could. Somewhere, there is a photo of me indulging in this ungainly pastime, but I've had a look and can't find it. If and when I do, I promise to let you see nine-year-old me with my skirt tucked into my knickers and my toes scratching the sky.

I have been doing a lot of editing lately, working on an author friend's last minute revisions before she hands her book to her publisher. This time last year, I had a two-book contract and such high hopes, but sadly, it all came crashing down. I was hoping to have self-published Book 1 this month, but my agent says there's no point in publishing it until I have a website, and so far, I just haven't been able to think of anything to put on one. My mind is blank. I've looked at lots of author's websites and they are all so whizzy and colourful, displaying lots of book covers and wonderful quotes about their work. All I have is the cover of one so-far-unpublished book. My agent says there is no point in showing the covers of my old work, which is now out of print. So I am stumped. I think I would rather stand on my head!

Actually, I don't really see why a website is so necessary at this point. The only time I look at writers' websites is if I want to know when their next book is coming out, or it's an author I have only just come across and I want to find out more.

What do you think?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

My week away

As I haven't seen my sister for two years (unbelievable!), I booked to go to the Lake District, where she lives, on Monday the 11th, then come back on the 18th via an old school friend in Liverpool and a KT Tunstall concert at the Philharmonic, scene of all my old school prize-givings and carol concerts. I spent ages working out the journey to try and get tickets at a reasonable cost and was thrilled when I managed to get tickets to Penrith, Liverpool and Euston for a mere £41.

My sis put a slight spanner in the works by suddenly remembering she had to man a bookstall at a fair in Kendall on the Friday and Saturday which, as I wasn't arriving till late on Monday afternoon, only gave us three clear days to spend time together. Then the second spanner arrived: she couldn't drive me to Penrith to catch my train to Liverpool on the Saturday as Kendal lay in the opposite direction, so she offered to buy me a ticket from Oxenholme instead.

While this was going on, my friend in Liverpool was waiting to hear what time I would be arriving, so she could pick me up, but my sister wanted to leave it till the last minute and buy a ticket actually on the day. Just as well she did, because dramatic events were on the horizon.

A very close friend has aged parents up in Southport. They had just moved into her brother's house so an eye could be kept on them, when her brother's water tank sprang a leak and they had no central heating or hot water, which meant the Aged P's had to be moved back into their own flat. This coincided with her 94-year-old dad being admitted to hospital, leaving no-one to care for her 93-year-old mum, who has a failing memory and can no longer look after herself; it had been Dad who did all the cooking. Not knowing when she would be coming back, my friend couldn't put her cat into the cattery so she asked me, very apologetically, if I would drop my arrangements and move into her place to feed the mog, who is a very pretty and affectionate ginger and white rescue cat who craves company and mopes if he's left alone. She did, of course, offer to reimburse me for the cost of my journey. And the very next day, the day before I was going to her place, I took a chocolate from a box of Cadbury's Roses, thought it was a soft-centre, bit into it, found it was sticky caramel and broke a tooth!!!

There is a reason why I am going into all these details, so stay with me. I spent a warm and pleasant week in North London, during the course of which I went to see the film Philomena, which, having experienced parting with my own baby, I found incredibly moving. Even the fact that they charged me double and I didn't find out till two days later (I raised the roof and now have a voucher for a free visit to the Odeon), didn't diminish my enjoyment. My friend came back on the Tuesday evening, her father having perked up and her brother's water tank having finally been fixed, and offered to pay for me to travel up on the Wednesday, but as that would have only left me one proper day with my sister, quite apart from the fact that I hadn't packed my hiking boots and fell-walking clothes, I declined.

The next day, I had my broken tooth fixed and the dentist said it was a good job I hadn't left it, as the dentine was exposed and it soon would have started giving me hell (which would have been halfway through my stay up North).

Thank goodness I declined my friend's offer to buy me another ticket, and not just because of my tooth! On Saturday, I had an email from my old school friend which said it was a jolly good job I hadn't gone, because there had been a plumbing disaster in her block of flats, nobody could use their loos or run any water, and she had had to go and stay with her son. On Sunday, she told me that though KT Tunstall herself had been very good, the seats I had paid for were in direct eye-line with the lighting rig, which beamed coloured lights directly into her eyes so she had been forced to spend most of the gig with her eyes closed. I can just imagine the migraine I would have got.

So in the end, it all worked out for the best, especially as various unexpected people landed on my sister, wanting to stay because of a local film festival, so it would have been pandemonium, sleeping bags at dawn. I don't plan to book another trip till the spring now. Will that one run as planned? Who knows. Fate works in mysterious ways and whatever it has in store, I shall just have to go with the flow.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Stocking up for winter

Our new next door neighbours were having the garden cleared. As a result, we have acquired a goodly heap of firewood which should keep the wood burning stove going for a while!

Trouble is, while the living room gets nice and toasty, the central heating in the rest of the house goes off, due to the thermostat being in the warmest room, so while certain members of the household, both furry and hairy, are lovely and warm, those forced to earn their living by tapping a keyboard are f-f-f-freezing!

 So I think I'm going to need this furry hat that I found in a charity shop today. It was brand new and still had its Accessorize label attached, showing that its full price was £20 while I paid a mere £6.00. It grips the ears rather too tightly but at least it won't blow off in a gale!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

My cousin, the legend of Atlantis!

Very excited 'cos I just had a call from my cousin, Merv Read, telling me he has a bit part in the new BBC1 series, Atlantis, which starts on Saturday. I had no idea he was even interested in acting, let alone doing it. Apparently, three years ago he signed on with two film extra agencies and it all went from there.

His debut was in a Minnie Driver film, Hunky Dory, which was shot in Wales, which is where Merv lives. Filming for Atlantis lasted for twelve weeks and apparently he is 'very prominent' in the crowd scenes in episode one, in particular.

He is about to start filming something new. I bet he soon bags a speaking part because he has years of experience declaiming his poems at Poetry Slams, going by the name of Read the Rock Poet, and he is also a songwriter.

It must be in the blood, because I have been writing songs since I was six years old and also write poetry - and am reading some in public at Uxbridge Bigfest's Literature Lounge on Sunday afternoon. Big marquee in front of the Civic Centre, if anyone happens to be passing!

Cousin Merv

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Book on the way...

I've chosen a cover for Perfect Lives - not too different from the one the original publisher was going to use. The designer is going to come up with half a dozen layouts for me to choose. Suddenly, it's starting to feel real, though it's been a very long haul considering Book 1 was originally scheduled to come out last December and Book 2 in April.

At least I'll hit the Christmas market this year, though I won't have the weight of a big publisher's marketing department behind it, worse luck. A friend of mine, James North, who has a thriller, Deep Deception, coming out soon, reckons he's spending over an hour a day bigging up his book on Twitter. He blinded me with science, telling me about apps he's got that tell him whether his followers, who he in turn is following, have done it just to bulk up their own Twitter audience and, having claimed him as one of their followers, have promptly 'unfollowed' him. Something like that, anyway.

Honestly, life seems too short for all this diddling around with tweets when I'd rather be writing. Or do you think he is doing the right thing? He tells me that if I don't follow his example, my book will just languish in cyberspace and sell about three copies. He could be right. I have just read this article:


It feels like a full-time job! Perhaps I'm just living in the wrong century. Would Tolstoy have been able to write War and Peace, or Proust scribble all those volumes of A La Recherche du Temps Perdu if they'd had to spend hours tweeting, posting and blogging?

Think of Dickens, though. When it comes to self-promotion, he was your man, always on the road giving readings from his latest works and wowing and wooing the ladies. Yes, I think Dickens would have tweeted. Oh dear. Better get started. Though I have taken a leaf out of Dickens' book (Great Expectations!) and volunteered to read an extract at the Uxbridge Bigfest Literature Lounge event on September 29th. Wonder if I can find a section that's clean enough for public consumption? Or shall I set the marquee simmering with a love scene? The one under the Brazilian waterfall perhaps. Clothing optional. Look out, Uxbridge!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wolf Winter

During my work as an editor and literary consultant, I have handled hundreds of manuscripts, but only one or two have made me tingle with excitement and the knowledge that here is a very, very good writer. Of these, just one grabbed me so much that I decided that if she had no joy placing it with an agent, I would jolly well try and sell it for her myself. This book is Wolf Winter, by Swedish writer Cecilia Ekback.

Imagine how thrilled I was when Cecilia emailed me a few days ago to tell me that she had sold it. In her modest way, she didn't boast about the size of the advance, but having read the news item below, I gather it must be pretty massive. I am absolutely delighted for her. This success couldn't have happened to a nicer person and I am so thankful that I could play a small part in getting her the recognition she deserves as an author.


Wolf Winter will be out sometime next year and with its unusual setting - 18th century Lapland - vivid characters and haunting subject matter, I fully expect the movie moguls to be bidding for it, too!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Blackburne House class reunion

Yesterday, it was the turn of the southern contingent of my school classmates to meet up. To our delight, some of the northerners (I went to school in Liverpool) came down for it, too. We met in the ground floor cafe of the National Gallery. The table was booked from 11am  to 1pm when there were plans to go for a picnic, but as it was raining, we stayed put till 4.30!

It was wonderful catching up with what everyone had been doing over the last few decades! Some of us hadn't seen each other for a staggering 50 years! Yet we soon acclimatised to each other's grey hairs and wrinkles and it was just as if we were still in Miss Arthur's English class together, trying to work out the hidden meanings in Browning's My Last Duchess, or ducking the blackboard rubbers chucked by Miss Hodgkinson, our fiery French teacher.

Blackburne House (aka Liverpool Institute for Girls) closed 25 years ago and is now an education and conference centre and even has an award-winning cafe http://www.blackburnehouse.co.uk/

The days that saw us sprinting round a frosty schoolyard, chasing a netball in our yellow Airtex tops and regulation navy-blue knickers, to the sniggers of the art students over the road, are long gone. We reminisced about the 'phantom flashers' who hung around in the street below our first floor classroom; about who who went out with whom; and I learned the sad story of how our headmistress ended her days, lying alone and undiscovered in her flat over a Bank Holiday weekend, having suffered a stroke. Poor thing. She was a rather remote, cold individual who never looked you in the eye, but she was fiendishly intelligent and spoke fluent Russian. It was she who encouraged us to learn it up to O-level standard - though we only signed up for the classes as they were held in the boys' school down the road. What nobody told us was that the boys in the Russian class were two years younger than us, and horrible lot of little yobbos.

It was fascinating to learn about what we'd all done with our lives. A surprising number had become teachers. L became an air stewardess, then a purser, travelled the world and married a pilot. J  married a jazz musician. E. married a Spaniard and lived in Spain for many years. Many of them are on their second marriages now. I feel I've lived quite a dull life by comparison!

Robbie Burns said, 'Oh wad some Pow'r the gifite gie us/To see oursels as others see us.' I wanted to know what I was like in my teenage years, so I asked them all what their abiding impressions of me were and I wasn't prepared for the replies. They all said I was 'horse-mad'! I'd quite forgotten that phase of my life. I went off horses once I discovered boys, but my sister and daughter are still horse-mad so maybe it's in the genes. I was also known for my singing and poetry-writing. I can't say I've done a lot of singing over the past couple of decades. Maybe I should start again. It really was a brilliant day.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Goat's cheese and welly boots

Sorry I've been a bit quiet on the blog front.While I was in London cat-sitting, I met up with friends and went to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition before it closed. It was the very last day and not too crowded, and I thought the selection of artworks was much more interesting than last year's. There were two paintings that caught my eye but when I saw that a print would cost £2000, I soon dropped the idea of purchasing one. There was also a mirrored sculpture which I would love to have had in a large room (if only I had one!), as it reflected light and shapes in a most interesting way.

I'm back now. I didn't do as much as I'd wanted to because my stomach was playing up again (it took a violent dislike to the goat's cheese tart I ate at the RA) and I slept badly and didn't have much energy. But it made me realise how much I miss the buzz of the capital. When I got home, I couldn't think of a thing to do except glue myself to the computer as usual whilst yearning to walk in Regent's Park or along the canal, nip down to Oxford St, visit the Kentish Town charity shops and the fabulous Fresh and Wild health food shop in Parkway, spend an evening at a poetry reading or at the Jazz Cafe... it's all there at your fingertips and I miss it so much. I also loved being able to have lunch with friends in north London and not have to give up all day to do it, as it takes so long getting to and from Hillingdon.

While I was there, I went to see a flat for sale, but it was hopeless. Huge, lofty, dark lounge and tiny, cell-like bedroom and a balcony overshadowed by enormous trees that plopped leaves, raindrops and pigeon poo onto your head! I am now toying with the idea of renting...

I have been commissioned to write up the story of how I found my daughter, for a store magazine. I think it will be in the Christmas issue, so I'll let you know. They want to do a tie-in with the Long Lost Family programme. Don't know about you, but I am addicted to it, and feel a surge of tearful emotion every time a birth parent is reunited with the child they had to give up. If I hadn't found my daughter by myself, I would definitely have applied to go on the show.

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend, everyone. Hope those at the Reading Festival have taken their wellies!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Books old and new

A few days ago, I went to my storage unit, took out three boxes of books and brought them home to see what I could bring myself to live without. It was tough. Boy, was it tough. It was like waving goodbye to dear friends who were off to the other side of the globe forever. Yes, you could visit them (i.e. re-buy them), but it wouldn't be the same. Yet perhaps those books, like the mythical friends, belonged to another era of my life. Maybe I had outgrown them.

So out went the psychotherapy books I had studied for my foundation course in counselling. I never went on to take the diploma or the MA because at that point, in 1994, I was made redundant and couldn't afford the course fees any longer.  I kept the books for ages, thinking I might continue with the course one day, but now, out they have gone, together with the realisation that once you've reached your sixties, it's hardly worth the £10,000 investment to train for a new career when more relaxing pastimes beckon. Like writing.

When the books went into storage ten years ago, Google had hardly begun. Now, if you want to know the origin of a phrase or saying, or check a literary quotation, you just have to tickle the keyboard, so out went Brewers, a thesaurus and two books of quotations, plus some travel books, as I don't think I shall be going back to Corfu or Rhodes, or walking the Lycian Way with my flat feet and wonky ankle.

Four very dated books from the 1970s went, too, but I have hung onto the poetry books, even though some of them smell of mildew, having got damp when Mr Grumpy's workshop, where they used to be stored, leaked. Some are first editions of R.S. Thomas, and others compilations that contain some of my favourite verses and aren't available any more. But the copy of The Oxford Book of Verse, with gold-edged pages, that I'd had since my school days, was so badly mildewed and foxed that I was forced, very reluctantly, to bin it as I knew the charity shop wouldn't want it in that state.

Once a goodly heap had formed in the hallway, I crammed some of them into a doddery wheely case and trundled them off to the Salvation Army Community Store, our closest charity shop. It's over half a mile away and our road is not only very rutted but also dotted with doggy-do, so I had my work cut out, picking up the bag every time the heavy weight inside it made it tip over when the wheels hit an uneven bit of paving, and lifting it over the unpleasant deposits.

My right arm was strained in its socket by the time I got there, but I decanted everything and told them I was coming back in a bit with some more. Halfway down the road on my second trip, the bag laden with a heavy table lamp as well as books, and carrying a separate bag containing a bulky blanket and some clothes, my back and shoulders began to protest. Telling myself I would reach the main road in another five minutes, I carried on hauling. I crossed the road with the bag only tipping over twice, reached the door of the shop and was appalled to find it closed and the windows shuttered. I had only been there twenty minutes earlier. They knew I was coming right back. Why the f*** didn't they tell me?

By now the sun had come out and the temperature had soared. I looked enviously at all the people swooshing past in their cars and, for the millionth time, regretted the fact I had given up on my driving lessons. By the time I was halfway back up the road with my loads, I was sweating and my glasses were misting up. My limbs hurt and I was beginning to feel a bit woozy. By the time I got back, my head was swimming and I felt quite faint and had to lean on the wall, then stagger to the kitchen for a glass of water. My back was so sore, I couldn't bend and my arms were trembling from hauling the wheely bag. I was just exhausted.

Mr G, who was lying on the sofa as he had a bad headache, opened a bleary eye and said, "Why didn't you ask me to drive you?" "Because you weren't well," was my noble reply. It was partly true. The other reason was that until I met him, I had spent years coping alone. If something needed to be taken somewhere, I carried it. But I was 16 years younger then. On Thursday I paid £38 to the chiropractor to ease the pain in my back and neck. Now I have wrecked them again. When will it dawn on me that I'm not 30 any more?

There is still a big pile of books in the hall. I have snatched back two already. By Monday, the charity pile will have halved and my bookcase will have toppled over in an avalanche of words and paper, probably with me underneath it, muttering my own epitaph: In libris, mortis. On the other hand, I have just finished reading some books that can now be added to the Sally Army pile.

One is Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn. I had to persevere through the first chapter, pushing myself on even though I was irritated by Nick Dunne, the narrator, but this book has a slow fuse and once it really gets burning, the plot roars along and it kept me up till 3 am two nights running. I'm still not sure which is the stronger, the pin-sharp characterisation, or the clever plot and the way Flynn, like skilled rug maker, weaves together strands that were always there, but you hardly noticed them forming. It fully deserves the accolades it received.

The second book I finished in the last three weeks took me on a trip back to the Sixties, being Margaret Drabble's The Waterfall, which was focused minutely inwards almost to the point of self-indulgence. Much as Nick Dunne had irritated me, Jane, the heroine of The Waterfall made me want to slap her, she was so wet and wimpish and selfish. Yet how very well drawn she was. Her emotions crawled all over the story like drowsy bookworms, with insidious, almost hypnotic slowness. I was slightly relieved to reach the end, but felt refreshed by having dipped into a slow, literary style of writing which probably would be unacceptable to publishers these days, more's the pity.

Last night, I finished Growing Old Outrageously, the true story of the trips taken by two school friends now in their late sixties, Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth Davies, who hadn't seen each other for decades and yet decided to team up and travel the globe. I thoroughly enjoyed the inside stories of ghastly Russians and gallant gauchos, but felt the authors were being a bit restrained, a tad genteel, perhaps, compared to the book I could have written about the things a friend and I got up to in Turkey in our fifties (the baguette in the carpet shop springs to mind!). However, I know my friend would NEVER allow me to write the bare truth. (A novel, then? There is a wicked glint in my eye...)

I have been dipping in and out of Kathryn Marsden's Good Gut Healing and as a result, have started taking Aloe Vera capsules before meals and praying that they help calm my IBS.

Right now, I have two books on the go, a 'real' one - Margaret Forster's Isa and May (am loving it so far) and a Kindle one - the notorious The Cuckoo's Calling by Galbraith/Rowling, which is entertaining but a little shallow and patchy, a curate's egg of a book with some bits, if not actually bad, then decidedly dull. But I like it enough to plod on, catching a chapter while travelling on the tube.

Still on the shelf and settling me salivating each time I glance at it is M C Scott's The Coming of the King, the second in her Rome series. I love the way she doesn't flinch from describing bloody battles, and the wealth of imperceptible research that has gone into recreating historical scenes that reek and shriek of authenticity. I'm keeping it for a holiday. I have one coming up on Thursday, five days of cat-sitting in Camden Town. Hmm... there's lots of interesting things to do in Camden. Maybe there won't be time for much reading at all!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Perfect Lives latest

Perfect Lives is my spicy Young Adult two-parter that was supposed to be published last Christmas. Having gained release from the contract, I was about to self-publish the original chic-lit version in which the characters are all ten years older than in the teenage version, when my agent decided that, seeing as we had the YA version in PDF format, we may as well go ahead and publish that and then she could take it to the Frankfurt Book Fair and try to sell Foreign Rights.

I feel so battered by the experiences I've suffered since my erstwhile publisher asked me to rewrite it, first for the YA market and then for the New Adult market, that I will just be glad to see it in print in one form or another. I shall let you know when it's up there on line. I'm hoping the ex-publisher will allow me to use the same cover they had chosen for it. It was a very simple silhouette of a couple kissing.

Mind you, as the book has three female 'stars', perhaps it should be in triplicate!

Five weeks ago, I sent the revamped Sweet Temptation, a historical 'bodice ripper' first published by Futura thirty years ago (gulp!) to HarperCollins. I have yet to hear anything, so I am looking for other romance imprints to submit it to. If I don't hear back from HC in another three or four weeks, I may self-publish that, too.

Can any fellow authors advise me on income tax on American sales? I've heard that if you're not careful, you can be taxed in the States, then any remaining profits get taxed in the UK, too. Personally, having first-hand experience of the blood, sweat and tears that go into writing a book, I think your first £50,000 of sales (chance would be a fine thing!) should be tax-free. Who'd like to join me in lobbying the government?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Liverpool nil!

I was so looking forward to it but because my stomach problems are always worst in the morning, I left it till 11.30 before deciding I felt fit enough to set off. I got to my local station with my backpack, queued at the ticket office, asked for an off-peak return and was told that if I couldn't specify that I was getting the 13.07 (which I couldn't as there wasn't enough time to get there), it was going to cost me £89! I almost fell over. The website had quoted £51, which was bad enough, but I was prepared to swallow it because it was my fault (or my stomach's) that I hadn't booked in advance.

By now there was a line of impatient people behind me so I said, "That's too much, I've changed my mind, I'm not going," and stomped tearfully off. Then I rang Mr G who had dropped me off and asked him to come and get me. He was nearly home (I live 3 miles from the station), and I had to wait on the corner where all the drug dealing goes on until he appeared.

It was only when I was almost home again that I realised what I had done. Completely forgotten that I had a Senior Railcard! It arrived a few days ago, I put it in the safe and remembered to get it out this morning, but somehow hadn't registered the fact that I even had one, let alone had it on me. That would have cut the price down a bit. He asked if I wanted to go back again, but it was too late. The last off-peak train leaves Euston at 14.07 and I would barely make it, as it takes an hour and half to get into London from here.

It's really hot here today and I am sitting by an open window feeling a total idiot, a miserable failure. And no, I can't go up for the day tomorrow as Mr G will be out, so bang goes my lift to the station. That means leaving at 7 am, taking two buses to the local station, fighting through the rush hour into town, then rushing on foot from Euston Square to Euston, then having to pay a fortune to get a train at around 9, which is peak time. Anyway, my stomach is always terrible till around 11, so I can never go anywhere first thing in the morning. I had to cancel a 9.30 am dental appointment last week because I was in awful pain and couldn't leave the loo. This happens to me every day and the pills from the doc don't seem to be working.

Once, you could buy a nice,. cheap day return to anywhere - and buy it on the day you were travelling. That was pre-nationalisation, of course. Now, they just want to squeeze as much as they can get out of us. If only, if ONLY I had passed my driving test years ago. Then I could have hopped into my car and set off when it suited me, not had to get a train at a certain time as dictated by a rail operator. I am so fed up and instead of being sympathetic, Mr G makes it worse by telling me there's no point in my ever arranging to go anywhere because, "You know you won't go." I want to... I really, really want to. I just need to get my stomach fixed. But how? I think the doc has given up on me, too.

I started with stomach problems when I was four years old and was taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis, but they decided it wasn't that and I caught dysentery while I was in there and had to stay in isolation for a month. When I was a teenager, I was taking a bottle of Milk of Magnesia tablets every two days (I took an overdose of aspirin when I was 17, so that probably wrecked my stomach). In the 1970s, I was told I had IBS but no solution was offered other than to eat a bland diet. In the '90s, they found inflammation of the stomach lining and ulcers in the duodenum. I took pills, had the helicobacter antibiotics and felt a little better, but not completely cured,  But since I hit my late fifties, it's got an awful lot worse. Any bright ideas, anyone? I just want to be able to lead a normal life and not wake up feeling ghastly every day.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Liverpool or bust!

I was born and raised in Liverpool and attended the Liverpool Institute for Girls, Blackburne House. I didn't make the last class reunion, which my beloved English teacher, Miss Arthur (now 83) attended, but there is a mini one organised for Friday morning. It will be - gasp - 50 years since I have seen any of them, with the exception of one, E, who moved to Spain in the 1970s and who I went to stay with in Mallorca one freezing February. I tell you, snow and tiled floors make for one cold home!

Usually, I would book well in advance to get a cheap ticket, but I was told not to, as there was some dithering about whether Friday was going to happen or not. Then I was about to grab a ticket from the Virgin First Class offer, where I could have travelled in style for £30 each way and free tea and coffee, but the offer expired while I was waiting for another classmate, also travelling from London, to get back to me about her train times.

Suddenly, the day of travel is almost here and I have no ticket and will have to queue at Euston Station's ticket office to find out what vast sum it will cost me to go there on Thursday and come back on Friday. I can stay the night with C, my oldest friend of all, whom I met on my very first day at Booker Avenue County Primary School when I was five, so I shan't have a hotel bill to pay. C is mad on Scrabble, so several fiendish games are bound to ensue and she has an amazing vocabulary, far better than mine as it includes loads of scientific words. She has a Physics degree and used to work as a lab technician. She also studies old Latin. Wonder if they'll allow any elements of nil illegitimi carborundum?

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Looking for an agent?

If you're an agent-less writer, there's nothing more depressing than wading through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, sending off a submission package to any agency that looks as if it might accept the kind of books you write and usually getting a pro forma turn-down by reply. That is, if you are lucky enough to get a reply at all.

So what I am going to do to help my fellow scribblers (and myself, of course!) is list any I come across by name. Hannah Sheppard, who was mentioned in today's publishing business e-newsletter, www.b2b@booktrade.info is the first. I think I might give her a try, as I also studied Eng Lit and was accepted by Liverpool Uni. It's always good to have something in common to chat about in your submission letter as it breaks the ice!


D H H Literary Agency Appoints New Agent Hannah Sheppard

Posted at 12:27PM Tuesday 16 Jul 2013
D H H literary agency is pleased to announce that Hannah Sheppard has joined them as a Literary Agent.
Hannah Sheppard studied English Literature at the University of Liverpool where she set up a small poetry press in her spare time. She has since spent over a decade working in trade publishing: first at Macmillan Children's Books and more recently running Headline Publishing Group's YA and crossover list. At Headline she commissioned authors such as Julianna Baggott, Jennifer E. Smith and Tanya Byrne whose debut novel, Heart-Shaped Bruise, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger and longlisted for the Branford Boase Award. Tanya was also shortlisted for New Writer of the Year at the National Book Awards
Hannah is especially interested to work with authors writing children's fiction, young adult, new adult and crossover but is also keen to explore adult fiction – particularly women's and crime/thriller. She likes stories that push the boundaries, have a strong voice and, often, a dark edge. Hannah is passionate about stories and helping writers develop their ideas for commercial success.
Agency director and founder David Headley said: "I've long admired Hannah's commercial perceptiveness and ability to nurture and develop authors. I'm delighted that she has agreed to join our growing agency."
Please visit D H H Literary Agency website www.dhhliteraryagency.com for more information.


If psychological thrillers and suspense are your bag, then you could try Charlie Brotherstone at A.M. Heath (www.amheath.com). Here's what he has to say...

'I am particularly on the lookout for psychological thrillers and suspense, particularly those with an interesting premise that gets people talking. Good examples would be M.L. Steadman's, The Light Between the Oceans, and a book called The Miniaturist that will be published next year. Both are debut novels with a high concept hook.'

Charlie goes into greater detail in his blog: http://amheath.com/blog/


If you write historical fiction or fantasy, Ella Diamond Kahn of the DKW agency (ww. http://dkwlitagency.co.uk) might be the agent for you. She seeks strong, original historical fiction, whether it be suspense, romance, time-travel or anything else, with engaging characters and an intriguing setting. She is also looking for 'accessible science fiction and fantasy'.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Trollopuss and the Slug

I may have quoted these songs lyrics of mine aeons ago, but now that we're on the subject of slugs, it seemed high time to share them with you again. I've written the melody to go with it and one day I might actually get round to recording it and posting a link. I wrote it after seeing little Trollop (aka Trollopuss, RIP at the age of 21), lying in the middle of the lawn one evening, curled around a fat, juicy slug.


Trollpuss in the garden gave something a hug.
When we went to investigate we found it was a slug,
Fat and grey and greasy, curled up nice and snug,
From the look she gave it we could tell they were in love.

Trollopuss and the slug, oh Trollopuss and the slug,
From the look she gave it, we could tell they were in love.

A cat can look upon a queen, it can look upon a king.
For a cat to look upon a slug, ain’t that the darnedest thing?
Curled up close together, lying face to face,

That slug gave her the slippiest kiss that lips could ever taste.


Feather and feather, fur and fur can dally, date and dance,
But gastropod and feline – God, they haven’t got a chance!
If they got round to making love, what would they call their brat?
Would the bug be a furry cug or a little slimy slat?


The moral of this little tale is, know when you are beat.
Sometimes on life’s slippery trail you must admit defeat.
When her lover tried to slither off, the poor heartbroken cat
Gave that slug one last big hug and squashed the bugger flat!


(c) Lorna Read 1999

Slug-Slingers Anonymous

Come on, I bet you've done it, too. Slunk out under cover of darkness with a torch to light your way and illuminate those giveaway silver trails, betokening the fact that you have a Gastropoda munching away at your Rhodiola.

If you're brave, you'll pick up the thing with your bare hand, flinching only slightly as the glutinous mucus slimes your fingers. The less brave will don gloves. Having investigated and discovered that slug slime isn't actually poisonous,.I now go bareback to pick them up. Indeed, there's even something slightly kinky about palpating the squidgy body of a slug, or watching as a snail retracts its slippery 'foot' and regards you with beady, bulbous eyes from the tips of its tentacles as it nervously contemplates its imminent fate.

At last, with snail pail or slug trug in hand, it is time to contemplate the pesky molluscs' disposal. Some go in for the salt treatment, but that only leaves you with a bucketful of snot in the morning, guaranteeing that, as soon as your sleepy eye lights on it. your breakfast will be hurled even further than the slugs.

I happen to favour the sporting chance method. I look to left and to right, decide which neighbour I feel least kindly disposed towards, then, one by one, I pick each slug or snail up, pull back my arm and, with a bowler's swing, launch the thing on an arcing trajectory over the hedge. It then has a 50/50 chance of a soft landing or a shell-splitting concrete one. Any road up, the hedgehogs will dine well. However, I do live in fear of hearing feet crunching softly in gravel, then getting hit in the eye by a soggy slug hurled back by a next-door member of Slug-Slingers Anonymous doing their own 10 pm snail trail patrol.

As to where they hide in the daytime, I just pulled back a clump of petunias in my blue pot, and what did I see? Enjoy your flight, my friends! *demonic cackle*

Thursday, 27 June 2013

New opportunities for writers and illustrators

For those of you who don't get Writers' News, I thought I would pass on the following snippets of information. First, it's always good to have a name to send one's sample chapters to, and second, to find a publisher who is actively seeking books is like finding that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (Don't know about you, but I find the ends of rainbows have a habit of suddenly relocating to the next field or garden, just as one gets there. No wonder that gold is so hard to find. Mind you, a metal detector might come in handy, too!)

Scholastic Books: Samantha Smith, former director at Little Brown, has joined as fiction publisher.
Headline: Mari Evans, formerly of Michael Joseph, is the new head of fiction.

Harper Impulse is the new digital romance imprint from HarperCollins. The editor, Charlotte Ledger, says 'We're very open, as long as it's romantic fiction or women's fiction with a romantic element.' They want all lengths from 30,000 to 80,000-plus. Manuscripts, which must be completed, should be emailed as a Word document in double spacing, together with a short synopsis and brief author bio, to: romance@harpercollins.co.uk

US publisher Harlequin, which includes Mills & Boon, are seeking women's fiction by UK authors (across all sub-genres including romance - look on their website for examples) and also crime, thrillers and psychological suspense. See website for submission guidelines.

Fancy yourself as a cookery writer? Luscious Books (www.lusciousbooks.co.uk) seek mini cookery books containing recipes for special diets. A submission form is on their website and authors will receive a jolly good 50% of net royalties.

Can you write fun books for young children? Templar Publishing, who publish the Ology, Amazing Baby and Happy Snappy books, are accepting submissions from both writers and illustrators. Fiction titles should be sent as hard copy with SAE to the submissions team at The Templar Company Ltd., Deepdene Lodge, Deepdene Avenue, Dorking, Surrey RH5 4AT. Artwork should be sent as a PDF file. Email: submissions@templarco.col.uk. Website: www.templarco.co.uk

I'm going to send some work off and will let you know how I get on!

Just before I sign off, I must share with you the following joke - thanks to Writers' News again!

A writer died and was given the choice of going to heaven or hell. He asked for a chance to check each place out before making his decision and first, he was given a glimpse of hell. To his horror, he saw rows and rows of writers chained to their desks in a boiling hot sweatshop, being whipped as they worked. 
"No way!" he exclaimed. "Let me see heaven, please." So he was whisked off Up There and couldn't believe it when, once again, he saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a sweatshop, being whipped as they worked. 
"I don't understand!" he wailed. "It's just the same as hell."
"Oh, but it isn't," replied a booming, commanding, unseen voice. "Up here, your work gets published!"

Monday, 24 June 2013

On Hold

That's how my life feels right now. I can't do anything but the most gentle exercise because, if I do, it's just like seeing stars, an explosion of jet black ones and silver and gold glittery ones in my recently damaged eye.

I haven't done any creative writing because the thing I really want to work on, which is an account of all the strange, psychic and supernatural stuff that has happened to me, requires me to consult a diary which is somewhere in the mouse-chewed depths of my storage unit.

My two-book saga, Perfect Lives, is still not published and my agent is not getting any sense out of the publisher, who keeps fobbing her off with "So-and-So is reading it at the moment, then after that we want X and Y to look at it and give their opinion about the amount of sex in it" - these are books which have already been accepted and paid for.

The revamped Sweet Temptation, a historical 'bodice ripper' I wrote decades ago and decided to reissue, has stalled because of... well, sex again! I showed it to a publisher who reckoned that it was a bit tame for today's market and needed more raunch. I started, then stalled because I think that after the huge number of sex scenes I put into Perfect Lives, my imagination has developed Brewer's Droop!

Even my attempts to find a new abode are on hold. I was due to see a flat today but when I got to the station,. no trains were running, owing to damaged overhead cables, so I had to ring Mr Grumpy, who was halfway home after dropping me off (I live three miles from the nearest station) and he had to turn round and fetch me back again!

So, is there any progress on any front? Well, I won £2.50 on the Lottery, which is almost enough for a cup of coffee. One more win and I'll be able to treat myself to a nice G&T. Cheers!

Monday, 10 June 2013

New dress

I never buy 'smart' clothes as I don't go to the kind of places where one would wear them. It's 20 years since I used to go to awards ceremonies and magazine launches and I can't see me every being required to go to that kind of thing again. In fact, I could squirm in embarrassment when I recall some of the stupid things I said to my superiors after imbibing too much of the pre-dinner free champagne. It's a wonder I didn't lose my job. Hang on a minute, I did! I was made redundant in 1994. Oops!

Anyway, today, I gave in to temptation, and here's why...


A miracle happened in ‘my M&S’
in the shape of a size 12 (“Yes!”) Little Black Dress.
Understated but flirty, designed in good taste,
it featured front zips and neat, nipped-in waist.

By the Sale rail my timid hand doubtfully hovered
As I thought, should I try it, or aren’t I that bothered?
I’m a good size 14 and I’ll never get in it –
but hey, I’ll just try it, it won’t take a minute.

Well, I struggled and squeezed and then suddenly, wow!
It had slipped into place, I shall never know how.
It perked up my bosom, shimmied over my hips
and extracted my waistline from chocolate and chips.

I stood and admired this extremely svelte gal
while thinking of new shoes, hair-do’s and Lo-Cal,
for one extra ounce would be its undoing.
The seams would all split and the zips would go Boing!

I peeped at the price and from forty-nine quid
it had come down to twenty-six. Really? No kid!
But where would I wear it? Posh parties ain’t me.
I’m more jeans and tie-dye than smart LBD.

But some little devil prodded me in the pocket,
saying, “Buy it and flaunt it. Show the world you’ve still got it.”
So here I am, guys and I’m ready to rock.
I’m devil-may-care in my magical frock!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013


Actually, it should be 'eye' in the singular. Long story short, I got a torn retina in my right eye, spent hours at first my local hospital, then an eye hospital in central London, then had my torn bit lasered by a doctor who was using the wrong machine because he had left his own glasses at home! After three or four nerve-racking attempts, he asked the consultant for help.Mr Consultant, very grumpy at being snatched away from his private patients, mended my eye with the correct laser machine, then swept out before I could ask all the questions that were on my mind, such as, would the various attempts with the wrong machine have caused any damage to my eye?

I can barely see out of it at the moment. Everything is blurred, covered in what looks like a black sandstorm, and I can't work or read as the eye I am now relying on is my 'bad' eye. It's the good eye that developed the tear. Apparently, it's more likely to happen in people aged 60-70 with severe short-sight and green or blue eyes. I tick all the boxes.

Luckily, a friend assured me that when he suffered the same thing, it was two or three weeks before his vision began to improve. Cross your fingers for me and I'll carry on crossing my eyes!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Creature comforts

I think you could say that Charlie, the stray ginger mog, has settled in.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Book news

My agent emailed to tell me that the publisher who is still hanging onto Perfect Lives is considering starting a new list with ten books, one of which will be mine. The decision will be made any day now. Ooh, the suspense!

Meanwhile, I have another publisher interested in reissuing the revamped version of my first ever novel, a sexy romp called Sweet Temptation which I wrote under the pen-name of Caroline Standish, as an e-book. No advance but a good royalty. I've mentioned another idea of mine, too and she's asked for sample chapters so I need to get scribbling.

I am also polishing up a synopsis for my agent. She represents children's books only, which is why I am going it alone with the adult stuff. She likes the title and the general idea, so that's a good start.

Off to north London tomorrow to view some more flats. I don't have high hopes, as one looks a bit boring and the other a bit small, but... you never know, do you?

Sunday, 5 May 2013


Looking back over my posts, it seems that I whinge far too much. But I'm afraid I'm about to have another one. A BIG one. For I have been done over, robbed, mistreated, right royally shafted. I can't think of another way to put it.

It's all about the bloody house next door. When our neighbour told me not to rely on him buying it off me (which was the only reason I was buying it in the first place, to secure it for him until his money came through), I panicked at the thought of getting stuck with a house that needed tons of work and potentially having to sell at a price that wouldn't cover my buying costs. So I backed out and copped a fee of nearly £1000 from the solicitors for the work they had done so far.

I have spend the last week flat-sitting for a friend. Perfect peace and relaxation in N. London, a chance to lick my wounds and make new plans, confident I had made the right decision. But while my back was turned, machinations were afoot. The neighbour spoke to his bank and his solicitor and decided to put in a direct offer on the house for less than he would have had to pay me, as 'middleman', but more than I had offered for it. So I have lost a large amount of money, my feelings as well as my pocket are very hurt and I am furious with Mr G who, I feel, could have supported me; as he is pally with the neighbour, surely he could have found out his true intentions. Or maybe he knew them and wasn't going to tell me.

On the one hand, Mr G has been saying that the house purchase is 'none of his business', yet on the other, he has already told the neighbour that he may as well buy the searches I have already paid for, in order to speed up the buying process. I feel a lot has gone on behind my back and nobody has been on my side. That's what hurts. Mr G refuses to discuss it and I am left with a large hole in the wallet. It seems that the last sixteen years with Mr G haven't counted for very much and in reality, I am on my own and probably have been all along. Time to move on?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Missed houses. misty lenses

Apologies for not having posted much lately. There's been a lot going on, not all of it good. I backed out of the house next door and a For Sale sign has just gone up and I feel quite sad and wistful. I didn't back out on a whim. I was buying it to secure it for the guy next door, who was going to buy it off me next year when he got his money through. But ten days or so ago he collared me in the street and shocked me by saying, "I don't want you to rely on me."

Well, of course I was relying on him! I knew there was no point my buying it otherwise, as it needs heaps of modernisation and I don't have the cash. That put me in an awkward position and I didn't know what to do, so I mentioned it to a property renovator friend who toyed with the idea of lending me her builders to do it up in return for a split of the proceeds, until she did the sums and realised there wasn't enough profit in it to make it worth her while. So I would have been stuck with it. Mr G told me I wouldn't cover my costs if I sold it without improving it, so I backed out and the solicitor has slapped a bill for £900 on me, saying we were near completion. Then, to cap it all, Mr G has now started telling me I should have bought after all and spent £20,000 on a rear extension which would have been easier than rebuilding the illegal loft rooms. Why didn't he suggest that earlier? Too late now.

On Tuesday, I trekked into North London and saw a gorgeous flat. It had two bedrooms, a lovely garden and... oh joy... a bedroom with nobody above it. The agent said I had to make an offer there and then or risk losing it. I said I needed to sleep on it, as it didn't have much in the way of storage and I needed to think about it, and by the next morning he'd sold it to somebody else.

As well as all this, a friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy on Monday. I went over to see her today and apparently she had a severe reaction to one of the drugs and nearly died! Thank God she is recovering now. I hope she will be okay. She's certainly optimistic and determined enough.

There is a faint light of hope flickering on the publishing horizon. In my last post, I mentioned the latest hot genre, New Adult (what an appallingly unimaginative name). Well, the publishers are researching it and there is a possibility that my sexy book Perfect Lives, that was supposed to come out at Christmas and didn't, might be their first New Adult title. Please cross your fingers and toes for me...

Meanwhile, I have been buying lots of books for my Kindle. I have got into Judy Astley and have bought three of hers, plus three 99p books from an Amazon offer. I only read my Kindle when travelling. Yesterday, it made a half hour tube journey and a 50 minute bus ride pass so quickly that I almost missed my stops. I had been to the British Museum to see the Ice Age exhibition and found myself in tears of deep emotion. I felt connected to all the humans who have ever existed and in awe of the artistic impulse that lives in all of us. I wonder how the man or woman of 23,000 years ago who carved a reindeer's head on a piece of mammoth tusk would react to the sight of modern day people peering at it through the glass of an air-conditioned case whilst plugged into an iPod telling them all about it?

For a brief spark of a moment, I felt as if I were looking through a telescope at a fur-clad figure chiselling away with a sharp stone, his or her skin ruddy in the glow of a fire. For a microsecond, eyes connected across the millenia, deep-set brown with my own myopic hazel. Then the lens misted and I was back in 2013. Slightly regretfully.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

New book genre

At last publishers have invented a slot between Young Adult and Adult fiction. It's called New Adult (nothing very imaginative there!) and here is a link to a very good article about it. I might just have a go...


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cat nap

Flad is so old and stiff that he can't curl up into small ball the way he used to. So we decided to treat him to the biggest cat bed we could find. However, he doesn't quite seem to have got the hang of it, does he?

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A shock and a knock

The shock was a complaint about my work. The knock was to my self-esteem. I am still trying to come to terms with both. Here is what happened...

About three years ago, an old boyfriend I hadn't seen since 1981 tracked me down on the internet. He has a high-powered job in the Intelligence services and had started writing thrillers and asked me to appraise and edit them for him. We agreed on a fee and the work began. He was a new, raw writer with a tendency to over-wordiness and an inability to get under the skin of his characters, but he wrote terrific, authentic-sounding scenes and his plots were very good. A few drafts later and he had a much better grasp of writing techniques and his work had improved considerably. However, after several tries, he had failed to find an agent or a publisher.

Ten months ago, I proof read the final version of his first book and last week he decided to send it to a publisher who had expressed interest in the first three chapters. Yesterday, I received a withering email from him telling me I had done a rotten job and that, on re-reading his manuscript, he had found loads of typos and words omitted from sentences. I was horrified. I always do a final read-through before sending a job off to a client. I recalled that he had made a few changes to the book, which he had discussed with me, but he insisted that the version he had found the errors in was the same one I had worked on.

I was terribly upset. I won't say that proof reading is my favourite job. Writing is what I enjoy most. Creative editing of other people's work comes second. Proof reading is, to me, the equivalent of ironing, my least favourite housework chore, the reason being that by the time I am at that stage, I have already been over the book several times during the editing and rewriting process and, unless there is a gap of a couple of months and I am coming to it afresh, I am, quite honestly, getting slightly bored with that particular story. I think an author should bring in a pair of fresh eyes to do the final check.

Perhaps this is where things went wrong. Maybe, knowing the story so well, my eyes skated over it too fast and I missed things. But I doubt it. If I am being paid for something, I like to do a thorough job. So last evening I emailed him three times, asking him first, to send me some examples of things I had missed (he was adamant that he was reading the same version of the book that I had proofed for him); second, offering him his money back; and third, apologising as grovellingly as I could.

I haven't heard a thing. I am very upset, wondering how I could have done such a sloppy job. It's not only my professional confidence that has been knocked, but my personal confidence, too. He is (was) a friend and the fact that he is so angry with me, so scathing about my professional abilities (I have been editing and proof reading for a staggering 43 years!), has damaged our friendship. I don't think he will ever want me to work for him again. No wonder they say that you should never mix business with friendship. I once wanted desperately to buy the flat in Camden that a friend was selling, but she refused to sell it to me for fear that if I was miserable there because the neighbours were noisy or the freeholders causing problems, I'd blame her. She said she would never sell a home or a car to a friend. I think 'never work on a friend's book' should be added to the list. I am certainly never going to do it again.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The self-publishing lottery

As I am planning to go down the self-publishing route myself, I read every article I can find about it. It really is lottery, a rags-to-riches dream. The Mail On Sunday's (I only buy it for the word games, honestly!) Live section this week contained an interesting piece by Rob Waugh on self-publishing success stories, the main interviewee being Hugh Howey, who went from stacking shelves to a seven figure salary with Wool and its subsequent sequels.

I subscribe to an interesting daily newsletter called Book to Book ( b2b@booktrade.info ) and this morning it contained a link to an American blog called Salon which carried a feature by would-be bestseller writer John Winters on his attempts to promote and sell his e-book. Its wry, self-deprecating humour made it an enjoyable and empathy-provoking read, so here is a link:


Having read it, I don't think I shall be rushing to make a promotional video! Yet still I wonder about what makes a good e-book and what doesn't.

Since getting my Kindle at Christmas, I have bought, or downloaded for free, quite a few books, several of which were recommended by fellow authors, and although most of them have been carefully edited and checked for typos, one in particular (no, not yours, Eileen; that's in the first class category!) shocked me because of the number of careless and avoidable errors it contained which spoiled a potentially gripping story, because the glaring mistakes - spelling and punctuation errors and phrases left hanging in the air, seemingly unconnected to the sentence that contained them - soon dominated my attention, to the point where I was playing spot the error rather than spot the plot twist.

I know that few writers can afford to pay for a professional proof reader or editor, but surely they know someone whose grasp of the English language is a bit better than their own and who will, for the price of a pint or two, go through their manuscript with a read pen? Yes, you spotted the deliberate mistake. It's a homonym, a word that sounds the same as another but has a different spelling and meaning. In my job, I come across similar errors all the time and I'm sure the good old Spell Checker is to blame a lot of the time. All it takes is two or three such glitches to make the reader doubt the author and lose their trust in the story, on the grounds that if the author can't be bothered to get their spelling right, then perhaps they are incapable of writing a good plot and unworthy of being paid £3.99 for the benefit of the doubt!

My bedtime reading at the moment is Proust. Having avoided In Search of Lost Time (my French isn't up to A La Recherche...) all my life, I put it on my bucket list and am now on pg 47 of Volume 2. This is writing as done by a scientist/surgeon peering at life and emotions through a microscope. No writer would get away with being so long-winded these days and taking three pages to describe the scenery by a river. Neither would they get away with writing paragraphs that are three pages long. Reading it is like watching paint dry very slowly and speculating on the former existence of the paint bristles trapped within. But by God, I'm sleeping well! Throw away the Zopiclone. Proust should be prescribed on the NHS for insomniacs everywhere, but don't, DON'T, whatever you do, try and read it on a Kindle. One paragraph will last for ten small Kindle pages, you'll lose the plot and be found in the morning babbling wildly and trying to spread marmalade on your e-book reader. If that's not Bibliomania, then what is?

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Digging up the Ancestors

A lady who lives across the street kindly offered to spend a few hours in the library researching my family tree, something I have always wanted to do but found I was absolutely no good at. Having tried and failed to find my grandparents on the 1901 census, I had given up.

My maternal grandmother was called Lucy Savage. She said she was related to old pop singer Terry Dene through his wife, Edna Savage, who was also a singer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_Savage). Oddly enough, I spent several years vainly pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter and warbling away in obscure clubs and restaurants, so perhaps I inherited a smidge of the musical gene.

At first, my neighbour opted for the wrong Lucy Savage, but had an instinct that the details weren't correct, so now she has found the right one and, to my great joy, has unearthed an ancestor bearing the truly amazing, Dickensian name of Asquith Beedle! He was a glass-blower in Castleford, Yorkshire, and married a lady called Rose Pollett.

What I want to find out about now is my grandfather's family. I'd like to trace the Dickinson line back to see if my mum's tale of them having lived in Standish Hall, Wigan, Lancashire is true. She told us that my grandfather used to visit the family vaults in Standish every so often. However, the hall doesn't exist any more, having burned down in the 1920s and the land it stood on is now a pig farm. No reflection on my ancestors, I hope!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Coming back to life... slowly.

I postponed my birthday meal (b-day is tomorrow, folks!) until a week today, as so many of us are ill. This latest bug seems to be taking its toll. I don't mean the sickness one, I mean the hacking cough, streaming cold, earache and deafness one, which I have had on and off for the last six weeks. I spoke to a fellow sufferer today who told me that a friend of his brother's took a whole month off work with it and just stayed in bed! An extreme case of man-flu if ever I heard one.

My head is still a bit swimmy, my sinuses see-saw between the runs and the bungs, my ear hurts and I feel slightly in another world. My appetite has gone and I feel extremely tired. I went down to the shops today, only a ten minute walk, and on the return journey I felt as if I were climbing Mt Everest. My legs ached, I was panting for breath and I had no energy at all.

So, knowing that I can't feel much worse, I am about to welcome another fellow sufferer and her partner into the house (she went to the doctor and got antibiotics but they haven't helped at all because it's a virus) and open a bottle of wine. It's kill or cure time!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Midnight lurgy

When I started this blog, I intended to write about all my health problems and my attempts to fix them by trying various remedies and seeing what worked and what didn't. To the relief of most of you, probably, I have ended up hardly mentioning health matters at all! But this post is, I'm afraid, all about being struck down with a tummy bug, so avert your eyes if you are feeling at all delicate.

Having had four weeks with a ghastly cough, I was delighted when it finally went. But my delight was short-lived when Mr Grumpy caught a cold and gave it to me a fortnight ago. On Monday, I was just starting to snuffle a bit less and was beginning to make arrangements again. In fact, I had things booked in for every day this week and was wondering when I was going to be able to fit in my latest editing job.

When I flopped into bed around 11.30 on Monday night, I felt fine. At just after 1 am, I awoke and didn't know what was going on at all. The whole room was not spinning, but whirling round, as if I was on some ghastly fairground ride, and I was so boiling hot that I thought my body was going to explode and I was spontaneously combusting.

I was very scared. I don't think I have ever felt quite so peculiar and unwell. I even wondered if I was dying. Wondering if I needed the loo, I lurched there, clutching furniture as things were still whirling. Then I started to feel nauseous. The only handy receptacle was my plastic waste paper basket, so I emptied out all the tissues, receipts and packaging material from my latest Amazon splurge, and rang Mr G on his mobile. We both keep our phones on all night. We've slept in separate rooms for several years now because of my insomnia and his snoring, and since his strokes, we both decided we should stay in phone contact in case he had another one in the middle of the night. But this time it was I who was in need and he who was too deeply asleep to hear the ringtone. (Turned out he'd switched it to Silent, the b******!)

Clutching my waste bin, I staggered up the stairs, hauling my way up the banisters, world still whirling, and found him asleep with Flad. He took a lot of waking. In fact, I wondered if he was dead! But finally the bedclothes heaved, his head emerged from beneath the duvet, the temperature having gone down to only 7C indoors, and he kindly got up and sat with me for two hours in the living room, listening to my groans, both of us swathed in blankets. By now, I was well and truly suffering from what can only be described as a 'both ends job', if you know what I mean!

I wondered if I had caught the Norovirus, but he felt my head and said it wasn't that as I didn't have a temperature. I felt as if I had been poisoned. I had terrible stomach pain, but not the cramps you get when you have a gastric bug. He and I had both eaten his home-cooked shepherds pie and he was okay, so it couldn't have been that. The only thing I had consumed that was any different to him was a tiny plastic container of something called Tipples. A friend had given me several at Christmas, I'd discovered one at the back of the fridge last night and had drunk it and had merrily remarked that it tasted a bit like sick. Many a true word... Mr G pointed out that, if it contained cream, it could have gone rancid and upset my stomach. He had made porridge a few weeks ago, not realising the milk had gone off, and he had been very ill, too.

By 3 am, we had both decided I wasn't about to snuff it, despite my getting heart palpitations. So he went back to bed and I was left to cope alone with the hell of frequent attacks of vomiting and diarrhoea. I found two Immodium Melts and took those and after one more attack, that particular end of my body stopped misbehaving. In fact, it has probably stopped functioning forever, knowing how strong Immodium is! I was still sick a couple more times, then was finally able to fall into a coma-like sleep, propped upright on several pillows, only to awake with a completely stiff neck and horrible headache, which I've still got.

As soon as the chemist's opened, Mr G went out and bought me some Dioralyte rehydration sachets, the unflavoured sort, thank goodness, as I couldn't have stomached blackcurrant, and I sipped my way through a couple of sachets of that. By the evening, I felt able to nibble a plain digestive biscuit. Today, I feel very feeble, my cough is back and I can hardly sit down as the whole of my undercarriage feels as if it has been scalded, then scrubbed with a Brillo pad. Every time I have a pee, I have to lean far forward to ensure it doesn't touch the painful areas. It's misery, but I hope I shall be okay by the weekend as it's my birthday on Sunday and friends are taking me out for an Italian meal on Saturday night - though one of them has now been felled by bronchitis. Oh, miserable winter days! It's been too cold, too long. I've almost worn out my thermals! Roll on, Spring.

I am now trying to summon up the energy to change my bedding, something I think all of us want to do when we've been ill, to get rid of the sweaty, germ-ridden sheets and swap them for some fresh, clean new ones. One odd thing has resulted from my spell of illness, in that a spoonful of sugar in my tea tasted so awful that I have cut down to a quarter of a teaspoonful. Maybe the diet starts today!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Although it's now almost eight years since I found my daughter, having been separated from her for a bleak 36 years,  getting a Mother's Day card from her is still a terrific thrill. This year, she has proved that she truly is her birth mother's daughter by sending the kind of card I would have sent my own mum, all three of us sharing the same smutty sense of humour! It bears a water colour picture of a colourful rooster and inside she has written, 'I thought you'd appreciate a big...' (fill in the word yourself!).

Mr Grumpy loves the website thedogsdoodahs,com, which has a great range of cards for all occasions, many them quite ribald, plus templates that enable you to design your own. He send me one from Flad to me and inside it reads, 'Fank u for cuddling me.' Aaaah!

I hope all the mums reading this got their well-deserved quota of cards, flowers and warm, loving wishes today.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Find an Agent!

I really like this idea, so I have decided to reproduce the whole article on my blog. Although I already have an agent for children's fiction, I don't have one for adult books, and I consider £12 is peanuts, considering the legwork it saves! What do other writers think?

The Writers' Workshop Launches Agent Hunter – A Simple Digital Way To Search For Literary Agents

Posted at 4:42PM Monday 04 Mar 2013
Britain's largest consultancy for new writers, the Writers' Workshop, today launches Agent Hunter: a website offering a simple digital way to locate literary agents and publishers. It is the only fully comprehensive, fully searchable list of agents, agencies and publishers in the UK.
Harry Bingham, a crime fiction author and head of the Writers' Workshop, says, "Printed directories have traditionally offered little more than a list of literary agencies with basic contact info. Agent Hunter brings literary agent search into the twenty-first century."

Agent Hunter brings together all the available public information on every literary agent. Where possible, the site includes biographies, photographs, Twitter accounts, likes and dislikes information, links to interviews and articles appearing online – and much more.
The site also makes it easy to search for literary agents in a logical way. For example, a writer can look for "literary agents who like historical fiction and are seeking to build their client lists". Or if a user particularly enjoys a certain author, they can use the "Who represents who?" function to find the relevant agent.

Laura Wilkins, Manager of the Writers' Workshop, comments, "We haven't just scoured every publicly available source for information on literary agents, agencies and publishers, we've approached every agent too – and we've been thrilled at how positive the response has been."
An annual subscription to Agent Hunter costs £12. Journalists and bloggers interested in reviewing the site can obtain one of 50 free subscriptions by contacting the Writers' Workshop.
Harry Bingham is the author of six novels and has also written two books for the Writers' & Artists' brand. (The group's most notable publication is the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, a traditional resource for writers in search of agents.) The Writers Workshop is the UK's largest editorial consultancy for first time writers and also runs the Festival of Writing in York: the country's largest writers' conference.

Harry Bingham and Laura Wilkins can be contacted on 0845 459 9560 or info@writersworkshop.co.uk.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Still no publication date

Every time I think of what the publisher put me through last autumn, making me race against the clock to get my book finished in time for publication at Christmas, steam comes out of my ears. My hands and arms were so painful I could hardly use them. My shoulders were so stiff and tense that I awoke with a headache every day. I was completely exhausted and all for nothing. My book didn't come out as they had discovered that asking for graphic sex in a teenage book was a step too far.

Ten days before Christmas, I made a valiant attempt at toning down the sex in Book 1, hoping that would allow for publication at Christmas after all. I heard nothing. January went by. Still nothing. By February, I was going crazy. I finally emailed the commissioning editor, who told me that various people had been off sick, including him, and they were also interviewing for new staff.

Now it is the end of Feb., a full two months since I sent in my revised chapters. Apparently the new recruit is now reading all the different versions, with a view to deciding on the amount and tone of the sex scenes. From what I can gather from their lack of speed and enthusiasm, they might have decided to hold back publication till NEXT Christmas! Still, I've had most of the advance so that's mollified me a bit. Only a bit, though.

In reality, I am so disappointed, I could weep. In fact, I have sniffled a bit on occasions. But I know that doing what psychotherapists call a 'poor me' won't get me anywhere, so I have now embarked on tweaking old, out of print books of mine, in order to get them onto Kindle. The first will be Sweet Temptation, which was published in the UK by Future and in the USA by Ace Books, back in 1982 (gosh, what a long time ago!) It's set in the era just before Victoria, and I have discovered one slight flaw in the plot, in that an ultra fussy young wealthy lady would never go to a ball in a carriage drawn by mismatched horses. It would have to be four greys, or four chestnuts, not two of each. This has meant rewriting a plot strand near the end of the book.

I have just emailed the manuscript to a friend who has promised to read it and let me know if the new version works, and if it does, my next task will be choosing a cover design. Any tips will be gratefully received!

Now I am working on bringing my old Pan Heartlines books into the 21st Century by adding computers, mobiles, et al. This is proving to be far more work than I had previously imagined. I never knew how many plots relied on people not being able to get in touch with people as the public phone didn't work, or they didn't have a phone in their bedsitter. You could be standing waiting for a boyfriend outside the cinema and think he'd stood you up when, in reality, he'd had some personal disaster and had no means of telling you! What a lot of plot twists ensued from situations like that. Now, it could only happen if someone's phone had been stolen or the charge had run down. Also, the type of colleges people attended and the courses they studied have changed, too. I had two characters meeting on a shorthand and typing course; now, that's far more likely to be an IT course, or training to be a legal secretary.

The glory of revisiting these old books is that, as I wrote them so long ago, I have absolutely no idea what happens in them! I am reading them as any reader would and it's great to be able to take an impersonal, critical stance, allowing me to strengthen weak sections and add more description and emotion. I'd love to hear from anyone else who has undertaken to rewrite an old book of theirs.

Well, must get on with editing someone else's book manuscript now. When the writer in question can't spell or punctuate, it can take me a week to do, which means a week away from my own books. Still, I shall return to them with even more enthusiasm as soon as I've finished adding commas and deleting ellipses which have about seventeen dots in them instead of the acceptable three. Cheers for now!

P.S. I've just noticed that this is my 1000th blog post. That's worth raising a glass to tonight!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A plan at last. Well, maybe...

Last week, I had an offer accepted on a house on the council estate in North London where I bought my last house. I sold the latter when Mr Grumpy had his strokes in 2007. He had only just finished doing it up for me. He had spent months putting in a downstairs loo, adding a conservatory, decking the steeply sloping garden in tiers and improving the kitchen and bathroom. I sold it in order to be with him while he recovered.

Another house came up on the estate, which is now about 70% privately owned. It was in a better spot, quietly tucked around a corner and the houses on either side were owned by elderly people, so I reckoned it would be nice and peaceful for my writing. BUT... it was unmodernised. It needed rewiring, re-carpeting, a new kitchen and bathroom and goodness knows what else, but I reckoned I could just about manage it if I did it up bit by it, without Mr G of course, as he is no longer able to do that sort of thing as his right hand doesn't work too well.

I put in the offer and then, lo and behold, my old house came onto the market, beautifully modernised of course, at only £10,000 more and, if someone could move quickly, it would only be £5000 more. Suddenly, my purchase of the other house didn't make sense, so I pulled out, intending to buy my old house back.

Then my god-daughter rang from Vancouver. She had lived in the house for two months while she and her husband waited to move into the house they were having done-up and she reminded me about all the things I would hate if I moved in. The nosy neighbour who popped out the moment she spotted you in the garden and wouldn't take the hint and shut up and go away; the noisy kids who played out on the communal green opposite the house - a no-no for writing as both bedrooms had windows on the front so there was no escape; the old, redundant TV aerial that creaked and banged against the chimney and kept you awake every time it was windy (I had rung loads of people to try and get someone to remove it, to no avail). And then the were the rabbits, who came in from the school fields at the back and ate every single thing you'd planted.

So I am not buying back my old house, BUT... I have another plan. The house next door to Mr G, which is empty because our lovely 98-year-old neighbour has gone into a home, is being sold. It needs tons of work, far beyond my financial capabilities, but our other lovely neighbour desperately wants to buy it and turn it into his dream home as it sits on a third of an acre plot and has a HUGE garden, half of which has degenerated into a spinney full of foxes' dens and lots of bird life. So I have put in an offer. I will write there all summer and at the end of the year, when our other neighbour gets his accident compensation through, I shall sell it on to him for a small profit, by which time I will, I hope, have sorted out my tons of boxes that are costing me £238 per month in a storage unit, and will have downsized enough to move back to North London at last.

Friends disagree with this sideways move. However, another has come up with a cunning plan involving getting planning permission for two houses and selling to a developer. That would upset our neighbour. I need to do some thinking. More anon...

Friday, 22 February 2013

Charlie's little problem

Charlie, of course, is the ginger cat who ran away from his home a few streets away and has moved in with us. His previous owner informed us that he had a problem with crystals in his urine and was on a special diet. The reason I mentioned this will shortly be revealed.

The first time Charlie did it, I thought I was mistaken. The second time, I was mystified. The third time, I wasn't sure. By the fourth time, I was. You see, if you stroke Charlie when he's lying curled up in his bed all sleepy and warm, he, er... how can I put this politely?... gets aroused. I have never known this behaviour in a neutered male before. I stroke him, he begins to purr, then he starts to knead with his front paws and the next moment, his head is 'down there' and he is licking himself with gusto.

I have Googled the problem (found myself watching some very strange YouTube videos!) and kept coming up with answers that told you to take the cat to the vet as he most surely had... a urinary problem. Well, I'm sure if Charlie had one of those, we'd know, as he'd be in obvious pain and distress. Instead, he's a happy, well-fed cat. I reckon the reason his last owner took him to the vet was because she'd been on Google, too, and the reason he left home could have been the fact that he hated his special diet... and wanted to be allowed to indulge in his favourite vice without being stuffed in a pet carrier and carted off to the vet's yet again.

He doesn't behave this way if I stroke him while he is sitting up, so that's what I will have to do if I don't want to be subjected to his embarrassing behaviour. Embarrassing for me, that is, not him. He looks perfectly contented. We used to have a cat called BC. I think we'd better rename Charlie BJ.