Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Laws of Leaf-Raking


1. You clear a patch of lawn, turn your back and next time you look, you find a capricious breeze has covered it in fresh leaves. (Hold your curses, this is but baby steps as far as leaf-raking goes.)

2. Just as you are releasing a load of leaves into the garden waste bag, one side will flop inwards and they’ll land back on the grass again. (Okay, mild swear word is permitted.)

3. Never attempt to clear leaves off the rake by hand as it’s guaranteed that you’ll have scraped up some poo. (Fill in your own reaction.)

4. You build up a goodly leaf heap, pause in your raking for a rest and find your dog or toddler joyfully jumping in it and kicking leaves all over the place. (Adopt Joyce Grenfell tones as you shout, “Don’t do that!”)

5. You accidentally step on the rake. This could result in two things. A) Whilst your stiff boot sole prevents injury to your foot, the rake handle whacks you in the face, giving you a black eye and lump on your head the size of Snowdon. B) A trip to A&E for prong-extraction and tetanus shot. (Much swearing is now permitted.)

6. It starts to rain. You stop raking, promising to finish the job tomorrow. You wake to find foxes have played hide and seek in the leaf bag and ripped it to shreds and every leaf is now happily lying on its back in the grass laughing at you. You sigh, reach for a beer and then it snows and you know you won’t have to look at a leaf again for a very long time. Three cheers for Mother Nature!


7. You finish the job, drag yourself wearily in, looking forward to a restorative hot bath and drink, then spouse says smugly, “I have a gizmo in the garage that could have made the job much easier for you, if you’d only asked.” (Murder is now permitted.)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Book Title Trends

Thirty years ago, my very first book was published. It was called Sweet Temptation and was written under the pen-name of Caroline Standish. I hadn’t spent long agonising over that title. The publisher wanted something that sounded passionate and sexy and this was the first one I suggested. However, thinking about it now, I can see that it has no relevance at all to a historical romance set in the 1820s. I have renamed the revamped version The Earl’s Captive, which is much more relevant to the storyline and it should be up on Kindle soon.

Titles go through phases. In 18th century Britain, the fashion was to name a book after the hero or heroine, hence Clarissa (Samuel Richardson), Tom Jones (Henry Fielding) and Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe). In the last few years, there has been a fashion for long titles that almost tumble off the cover: The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Nighttime; After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings and Flew Away (Joyce Carol Oates). However, this is nothing new. I remember my shock, back in 1976, at seeing the unwieldy title, If You Meet Buddha On The Road, Kill Him (Sheldon Kopp). Of course, I read it just because all my friends had their noses stuck in it, and it was debated avidly after a few drags of wacky baccy. Well, it was the Seventies!

What is the purpose in choosing such long titles? Were they picked for shock value alone, to make the random browser intrigued enough to pick the book off the shelf? When I see a lengthy title, my innate book title prejudice kicks in and I think, ‘If the title is so over-wordy, I bet the contents will be, too,’ and I am instantly put off. Or I decide that the author is showing off.

There have been titles I’ve hated so much that I nearly didn’t read the book, even though the reviews were good. One example is Gone Girl, which struck me as being so ungrammatical that I expected the content to be lazily written. It wasn’t, of course, it was just my title prejudice at work at work again.

I have just been scanning recent book releases (once, it was only records and the odd animal that were ‘released’) and the fashion seems to be for descriptive titles that reflect the contents. There’s Vanessa Curtis’s amazing, heart-wrenching The Earth Is Singing; Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling, which I can’t wait to start; Peter James’s The House on Cold Hill; Kate Morton’s The Lake House; Bernard Cornwell’s Warriors of the Storm. Good, strong, unpretentious titles that lure you in by their very simplicity.

I wonder what will come next, in 2016? Titles containing foreign words and phrases? Kathy Reichs has already set this trend with Déjà Dead and Death du Jour. Literary quotes? Psychobabble titles? Computer-term titles? Ooh, The Keyboard Killer! I feel a plot coming on.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Scared Stiff?

I have been in quite a few terrifying situations at various times in my life. I have been threatened with a knife twice; been at gunpoint once; been stuck on a steep, high mountain side with no handholds and my feet sliding away beneath me; had an attack of vertigo when I was almost at the top of a tall ladder; been in a descending plane when it had a near miss with another that chose to amble across the runway just as we had almost touched down...

There have been others, some even worse. Some so bad, I don't even want to talk about them. But, despite my terror, my fear for my life on each of these occasions, I have never, ever, been 'scared stiff'.

I suppose the expression was invented to describe a sensation of being frozen to the spot like a rabbit in headlights; of being so terrified that you turn instantly into a pillar of salt, an Anthony Gormley statue or a relief figure on the Elgin Marbles. Perhaps this happens to some people. Not me. Rather than being scared stiff, I am scared wobbly.

Yes, whenever I am truly terrified - when, walking home in the dark, I hear footsteps stealthily approaching behind me, or sounds outside my ground floor bedroom window at night - I am instantly transformed into one of our ancestors from millions of years ago, before bones developed, when we were still amoebae. I become a thing of jelly. I quiver. My leg bones turn into slugs. My heart flutters with the speed of a hummingbird's wings. I am utterly useless, but I am not stiff. Especially not my bottom lip!

Hang on... Did I say 'utterly useless'? That's wrong. In moments of sheer terror, one faculty has never deserted me and that is the power of speech. When I was dragged up an alleyway at knife point back in 1966 as I was walking home from a nightclub at 3 am, full of supreme confidence that my very youthfulness would protect me from danger (and still with enough energy to walk four miles), my tongue was my saviour.

Remembering something my mother told me when she was on the point of being murdered (be patient, all will be revealed in my memoir!), I started speaking to the young man who had seized my arm and was pointing the knife blade at me. I talked... and went on talking in a low, hypnotic tone, telling him he didn't really want to harm me and he knew what would happen to him if he did, until eventually the hand holding the knife dropped and I seized my chance and ran back down the alley to the main road. My tongue saved me from the gun threat, too. That's another long story and that, too, will be in the memoir.

Let's hope that if I ever get scared wobbly again, I'll still have the wit to use that ultimate weapon - words. When in a tight spot, talk, talk, talk. Or even sing!