Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Boxes, bikes, bottles and (Nice) blogs

Last week I finished the VAT and today I was looking around for a suitable box to package up my account books and papers to send to our accountant. The postman arrived and, as if by magic, provided me with the right size box. Inside it was a bicycle seat for M's bike. He was going to cycle to the station last week, when I went to the dentist, and after 100 yards, the seat fell off. So when the son & heir was here for the Bank Holiday weekend, he asked him to hunt down a seat on the internet. Our son found a site called Wiggle, and apart from sending this perfect box (and the saddle), they supplied us with a bag of sweets too.

The bicycle riding gene, like the camping gene is something passed from father to son (in our case). It has nothing to do with me. I prefer four wheels; then at least I know the vehicle won't fall over.

Anne ( has nominated me for a Nice Blogger award, for which I'm most grateful, but unsure I'm deserving of such an award. Anne, who is also a recipient of this award, doesn't seem to know how to include this on her own site, and I'll have to wait for someone technical to explain to me how to do it, too.

We had a lovely weekend with the family and subsequently friends. The sun came out. Wasn't it lovely to see it? We were able to sit out in the garden on Saturday, and we went out for lunch with son and family, including two of my granddaughters on Sunday, and sat outside for that too. The place we went to has a dovecote and a lake and the girls bought seeds to feed the ducks at the lake. Everyone was in good temper - except me, as M had made his clean shirt dirty by going into his workshop in it, having, the previous day, sat in an ancient and disgusting tee-shirt all day, without changing. I did a bit of screaming at him, and of course, even after he'd changed for the restaurant, he very quickly got chocolate sauce on the replacement shirt.

When the family had gone, on Monday, we joined some friends for lunch at a French restaurant in Clandon and had a beautiful meal. I felt very reluctant to return to normal work on Tuesday, particularly as the washing basket was full of M's shirts.

I listened to Laurie Graham on the radio one day last week. We, at the reading circle, read her book, Future Homemakers of America, and all enjoyed it very much. I thought she was American, but it turns out she has an American husband and is herself, English. She talked about how the title of one of her books had to be changed for an American market. This made me even more convinced that A Bottle of Plonk's name has to be changed for marketing on Virtual Tales ( I am going to discuss it with Dave of VT next week.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mouth Wide Open

If someone told you that you would subject yourself to lying flat on an uncomfortable chair; having a huge needle thrust into your gum; having to open your mouth repeatedly and really wide, over and over again during a half hour period; having a great lump of plasticine or playdoh bunged in your mouth, squelching through your teeth, and then having it yanked out again, almost taking the healthy teeth with it; having a mini hoover placed within to clear out the crumbs, and then when released from the ordeal, returning home with a wonky smile; trying to eat a soft roll only to find it escaping and devouring a cup of tea and slurping it out of your mouth, you would tell them they were crazy. I must be crazy – I’ve put up with all that, and I’m paying for it too. My first experience of having a crown fitted. (And I still have to go back to have the permanent creation installed.)

Last night was our regular Goldenford ( meeting and it went well, apart from Anne being absent. We missed you, Anne. ( Our sales are ticking over and we are still exploring selling ideas. Now that I’m home, lots of jobs are waiting. Replenishing food stocks at Sainsbury’s; dealing with washing and ironing and the last leg of the bookkeeping are on the agenda for this afternoon. When I’ve sent off the VAT return and the books, perhaps I can think again about writing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Food, Glorious Food

After the food preparation of the last couple of weeks, the family visit went well – as they always do. There were errors – last night, I defrosted the stuffing, and this morning, I lost it and found it again. But it wasn’t till the end of the meal that I realised I’d put it in the oven to reheat and forgotten to serve it. There were also excesses – see below. And now – because it was a busy day – I’m struggling to stay awake and there is still some work, in finding homes for those excesses or over bought items and odd things like washing the large tablecloths and removing the extra leaves of the table.

I don’t do fancy food. We had pate followed by roast turkey and roast potatoes and vegetables, including fresh runner beans from my sister-in-law’s garden. Then apple crumble (apples from my garden – cooked and frozen a year ago) and fruit salad. In the evening, there were various savoury bits and pieces, followed by trifle, chocolate brownies and meringues. That was the theory – but my brother in law popped into Sainsbury’s on the way and brought with him a trifle and chocolate roulade and SiL2 brought an enormous chocolate and caramel meringue, which was so rich that when we had each had a piece, we could eat barely anything else. Consequently, I still have a large percentage of my desserts - half an apple crumble/fruit salad/trifle/nearly all the brownies and half the meringues; This would be fine – in past times, the aftermath of a family visit was that no cooking was required for two to three days, as we ate our way through leftovers. But M & I are both trying to be more restrained and lose some weight, so we will be having a battle with our will power during the next few days. I managed to get BiL to take home his trifle and I froze the roulade, and can freeze the chocolate brownies too, for my son & family’s visit next weekend. We also acquired chocolates and biscuits. I was inspired to write A Bottle of Plonk when a New Year’s Eve party left us with so much wine, I started wondering whether some bottles just kept going round in circles without ever being consumed. Now I wonder whether I should be writing an equivalent book about A Box of Chocs or similar.

But enough of food. It was a lovely day. As an only child, I have always enjoyed family gatherings with my two sisters in law and my brother in law and their respective spouses, etc. And after all the tension before, as I try to remember what I should be doing and juggling the various things in and out of the oven, once they arrive, they dive in and organise me, which I so appreciate. On this occasion, SiL2’s son and daughter came too. This particular nephew works in a ski resort in Switzerland and had come over for a couple of days, and my niece, a recently qualified solicitor in Reading, has been offered a job in Geneva and so will be quite near to her brother. He is going back in a few days; she is starting her job next week, so it was lovely to see them both.

When I’m preparing food in the evenings, I always listen to the radio, but sometimes I find the so-called alternative humour at 6.30 on Radio 4 absolute rubbish. Recently, though, I’ve enjoyed Alan Davies in About a Dog, which I’d regard as traditional humour, but it makes me laugh, and now, though that’s finished for the moment – Ed Reardon is back. He is the wonderful writer, who does no work, recycles old scripts and tries to earn a buck by giving Creative Writing classes to a group of cynical no-hopers. It’s great. I’ve also been thorough enjoying the Woman’s Hour serial, The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby, who was a great friend of Vera Brittain. I’ve always meant to read her work, since watching Testament of Youth.

When I read Writers’ News last week, I was interested a piece on the Frome Festival short story competition. Although I didn’t get beyond the short list of nine, and I didn’t therefore get a mention in the short piece that was published, I was one of more than 450 people who took part. That’s given me heart to look out for the next competition to have a go at.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

All work and no playmates

Not much writing is getting done this week. We have family coming on Sunday for lunch and the rest of the day. I’ve been doing some advance cooking for that, as there will be nine of us for lunch. I’m also working on the bookkeeping for the VAT return – due in at the end of August, and have promised our accountant that I’ll send him our account books immediately after that.

Tuesday was a write-off. M reinstalled the shower. Oh what a grim day. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for fear that I would be hauled in to help, and sure enough, at one point I found myself standing in the shower, trying to support one of the glass doors and help connect it to the metal bar above. I have never wanted to be the plumber’s mate; I am always hopeless at this type of job; I longed for him to ask our neighbour for help. But he didn’t. When the door wouldn’t go in the right place, he had a rethink; at this point, I remembered I had to pay some money into the bank. What a relief to escape. I took as long as I possibly could, and because some resurfacing work was going on in Knaphill, actually managed to get held up in a traffic jam. When I got back, M had managed without me, but left a great deal of mess – bits of metal, screws, dust, etc. I cleaned it up as best I could, thankful that the job was over.

It was also a grey, miserable day, that felt as if autumn had already arrived. I felt very down by the end of it. I hear now we might have a bit more summer weather next week. I hope so, because I feel in need of it. Also no writers’ circle, reading circle or Goldenford ( meeting this week. I felt bored and lonely with only virtual friends to play with.

I have been discussing A Bottle of Plonk with Dave at Virtual Tales ( I’ve been looking at the other titles on the site, and come to the conclusion that my cover is not right for the virtual market (which I suspect is younger than a bookshop market). I think Plonk should have a more romantic cover than its current design, so I may be assigned an artist to deal with that. Just as a reminder, this is the current cover.

I’ve been reading The Gawain Quest – our most recent Goldenford book. I wasn’t involved in the editing, so I haven’t read it before, and though it’s not the sort of genre I would normally go for, I’m enjoying it. I’m impressed at the amount of research that’s gone into it. Next week we Golden Girls will get together again to discuss next year’s publications.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Basking in praise

Today, I finally got my notification from the Winchester Writing Festival of my second prize in the First Three Pages of a Novel Competition.

I now have a catalogue of Piatkus books and can choose £50 worth. I’ll browse over that during the weekend. I also have a certificate, though it’s in the name of Jackie Luben. It should really be Jacquelynn, as because of its individuality, its my ‘brand’. However, I suppose that’s the problem with me mainly using the short form. Best of all though, is the critique from Adrienne Dines – coincidentally, her first name is the name of one of my important characters – and the comment from an editor at Piatkus. Believe it or not, I didn’t go in for this competition thinking I would win anything. I did it because on the basis of a critique I got a couple of years ago of one of my short stories, I made changes and submitted the story to a competition at Radio Southern Counties. It became one of the finalists, was recorded and won me £200, which I was delighted about. I am still awaiting the short stories I sent, to work on them.

However, let me indulge myself by quoting from the words of praise from the Piatkus editor and Adrienne Dines.

Piatkus (publishers):
‘You have an engaging narrative voice, and I was immediately drawn into the story. I though your writing was very clear and the pacing just right, and your ability to create an appropriate atmosphere was very impressive.’

Adrienne Dines (author):
‘This is a popular type of story – the unfolding of family secrets – and I wondered when I read the synopsis if the writer would be able to carry it off. There is an amount of travelling into the past, which if not carried out successfully, can leave readers frustrated and confused.

However, my fears were allayed on reading how Lady M (my pseudonym) handles the first three pages. We are brought right into the scene and the atmosphere is skilfully built, humming with suspense. Her physical descriptions of the house and its atmosphere are detailed – evocative images and well-chosen vocabulary. I particularly like the way this writer varies her sentence length to keep the pace just right.

Setting the story between Surrey and the West Country with an American heroine gives the novel broad appeal.
This writing is confident and I can see Tainted Tree being a page-turner if she can keep it up.’

Isn’t that nice?

Well back to other happenings.

The footpath has now been closed, 100 yards from where I live. Fortunately, they’re still letting us in and out. A few posts ago, I gave the Pirbright laboratory an incorrect name. It is actually the Animal Health Institute. From my limited knowledge – having friends who’ve worked there, over the years – they are very careful and people have to shower before they go out. My brother in law, who used to trouble-shoot computers there, said it was an absolute pain if you accidentally left something in the car, which you later needed. A shower was necessary on the way out, and then, of course, a second one, when the job was finished. They had the cleanest workers imaginable.

The Range Rover has gone. I think it’s going to be cannibalised for spare parts, which is a well-deserved fate for it. Instead we have this nice neat turquoise (or maybe it’s pale blue) van with a little light on top, so that M can pretend to be important and on a mission somewhere when he drives it. The garage who sold it to him have put compartments in the back, for plumbing gear, electrical, etc. This is presumably in the hope that he will start to develop orderly habits. But I wouldn’t put much faith in that. It will soon go the way of former vehicles. I may even give it a little warning – that its life of being cared for and nurtured is now over.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The moments we regret

After all, I will not have to let M destroy my car. The guy who is interested in the Range Rover hasn’t taken it yet, but in the mean time, one of M’s customers – a large car repairing company had a nice van for sale. This customer is particularly trustworthy and I encouraged M to buy it, feeling sure it would be reliable. Even if he has to write off the Rover, it would be a shame to miss out on this. I asked M what colour it was and he thought about it and came up with ‘red’. However, it’s here now, and I see it’s a rather nice shade of turquoise.

I had to take my Nissan to the garage today. They summoned me due to some fault on the headlights and carried out a free repair. As I had to leave it for two hours I walked into Guildford and browsed. It was a lovely day, and I was glad I hadn’t taken my anorak (just in case) or my umbrella (just in case). I ended up buying a cardigan in Debenhams and some tops for GD2 (belated birthday present). When I walked back with my purchases, I felt very virtuous – a half hour walk accomplished. Then I rushed out again after lunch to the bank, and returned home and spent an hour on the bookkeeping. So a full day.

I’d been to the bank yesterday, for some reason being completely disorientated. There was a man varnishing the front step, and when I tried to go in, he said ‘It’s closed.’ A burly security guard appeared and barred my way. ‘It’s supposed to be open on Wednesdays,’ I said petulantly, ready to get into an argument about how they dared to close it on yet another day. ‘It’s Tuesday,’ they both shouted at me. They must have thought, ‘Poor old dear, doesn’t know what day of the week it is.’ True.

I visited The Archers’ website a couple of days ago, and started a thread about the pronunciation of the letter ‘H’. My goodness it sparked off nearly 200 subsequent comments, both disagreeing and agreeing with my view. I won’t go into that here, as I don’t want to start another war along the lines of ‘regional accents’ and people being superior, etc.

On the way to the garage I listened to Madeleine McCann’s mother being interviewed on Woman’s Hour. Many people are critical of her for leaving her children. I think it’s very easy to do something thoughtless that seems safe at the time, but which you never stop regretting if something happens. I can remember leaving my son at ten months old in the bedroom when we stayed at a hotel in Majorca. He climbed up the parallel bars of the cot and landed on the floor, and we found him there crying when we went up. Much worse than that was when I was late picking up my daughter from school when she was about five or six and she started walking. When I found her, she had reached a road, and was hesitating there. Thank goodness she didn’t attempt to cross it. Surely everyone has done some stupid things in their lives and have been lucky, because nothing serious resulted from it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A shot rang out

Actually, it didn’t, and that was what Philip someone was complaining about on A Good Read, on Radio Four on Friday. He rejected two short story collections because not enough happened to them, and said that he longed for someone to say, ‘A shot rang out.’ I could sympathise with this. All through the courses I did on Virginia Woolf, I complained that there was no plot. Yes, her writing was brilliant, and her non-fiction was extremely intelligent, but a good read? No. If Tainted Tree is published, it will not be regarded as literary fiction. Not chick-lit either, intelligent, I hope, but above all, a good read.

Summer came at the weekend, and probably just for the weekend. I sat all Saturday afternoon in the garden, reading the Reading Circle choice, Old Filth by Jane Gardam. Quite enjoyable, but I wouldn’t rave about it, despite it being the Orange Prize winner of three or four years ago.

Foot and mouth has also arrived – in this area – as everyone is aware. M & I took a walk to the Animal Virus Institute to see what was going on there. Nothing was happening, but the road was lined with cars and a bus with BBC written on it, while ITN had a van with a great tower rising from it. In the last epidemic I was at a farm on the Welsh border for a writing weekend with others from Guildford Writers. Let’s hope there’s not a repeat of that.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Teething problems

Not a great week, really.

A bit of drama on Tuesday night, when M had side effects of the medication he's on. We spent the evening together at the casualty department of the Royal Surrey Hospital. Memo, please anyone in the area, do your bit to save the hospital. I was very stressed, and spent half the time in the loo with my stomach reacting to the stress (as it is prone to do) and also to the half pound of cherries I consumed before I knew about M's problems. He, in the mean time, went to sleep.

All was well - just teething problems (unfortunate turn of phrase, see below) with the medication and basically, keep taking the tablets. However, I missed Guildford Writers ( - and I had my piece all typed up ready to read. I haven't managed a new story for the Guildford Festival short story competition (Up my Street). I would have preferred it to be an open competition and recycled one of my other short-listed efforts. Nor have I written anything for the next Writers' News comp. Somehow the time keeps ebbing away.

I have been waiting for my back copy of the Evening Standard, to see whether the article about Pride and Prejudice and publishers was in there. No post arrived at all yesterday, and a great pile of it today - was there a strike or something yesterday? At any rate the ES was with the mail, but no article, in the end - just a letter from me with my thoughts on the topic.

I still haven't dealt with this post; I was busy most of the day; I had two joints of turkey to cook and carve and put away in neat packages for lunch in a couple of weeks, when M's siblings and spouses come for lunch. At least I've got that behind me, and this weekend nothing's happening at all.

During the week, both my vulnerable teeth had new problems. The filling in the one that's due to be crowned broke a couple of days ago, and the tooth that gave me problems on holiday has broken again in another place. Fortunately, this time, it's not scratching me, but I'm afraid of chewing anything other than soft pap. I have resorted to biting with my front teeth like a Bugs Bunny, as the damaged teeth are on either side of my mouth. My dentist isn't due back from holiday yet and my next appointment with him is in three weeks' time.

Irene and I had a good day out on Wednesday, when we visited bookshops to show them the range of Goldenford books. They didn't say definitely that they would take them, but they definitely took us seriously. It was such a nice day, particularly after the previous evening. The sun was shining and we were both in summer clothes - such a change.

We also had an order from the wholesalers, Gardners, for copies, which is becoming a regular monthly event. People are actually going into shops and asking for our titles, or buying them on Amazon. Still time to get one of them for your holiday reading.