Monthly Archives: April 2012

Pictures at an Exhibition

I’m writing at the moment, lots and lots of writing, it’s good not to be blocked. I also don’t want to be interrupted, I don’t want to be asked to pick children up from the gym, feed the hens and I don’t want to read other people’s books. Mainly I don’t want to read other people’s books because it is time I could be spending writing my own; but partly because I don’t want to realise that their turn of phrase is neater than mine, like a finely turned ankle. Even when on a roll, when the characters take the plot to new heights rather than turgid dead ends and when the right word trips off the fingers rather than hangs tantilisingly on the end of the tongue reading somebody else’s work usually manages to reduce me to a wobbly inadequacy.

Yesterday evening I began to read Camilla MacPherson’s Pictures at an Exhibition and I closed the book this afternoon. If I hadn’t been reading in church this morning I probably would have stayed in bed until I had finished it. Okay, Camilla went to the same school as me, but if I hadn’t like the book I just wouldn’t have written a review. I’m a bit of a wimp like that. I’d have muttered something mundane on FB and conveniently failed to get around to a review.

Reader, I loved it. Books based around letters written in the past are at huge risk of overdoing the pathos or are reduced to ridiculous plot twists to bring everyone together (The Postmistress was certainly guilty as charged on both fronts). Despite a miscarriage, a failing marriage, the inevitable temptation of infidelity the book holds on course and doesn’t tip into either trap.

The fine thread holding the plot together is woven by Daisy through her letters sent to a distant cousin in Canada from Blitz beleaguered London. Daisy decides to view the single painting on show each month at the National Gallery during the war. Whilst most of the artwork is locked away for its own protection, a single painting each month is released. Art, like everything else, is rationed.

Sixty years later Daisy leads Claire through the debris of her failing marriage picture by picture. Lost in grief after a late miscarriage Claire has carefully constructed a wall between herself and her husband and takes painful pleasure in the placing of each new brick.

As Claire begins to see more in a painting than oil and canvas she also starts to extrapolate Daisy’s life into her own. The question is what happens to Daisy and will that help or hinder Claire recover from her grief?

You will need to read the book to find out.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pictures-at-Exhibition-Camilla-Macpherson/dp/0099560445/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335709695&sr=8-1

Saturday short story

The Signature

It was a long way to the bus stop, much longer than he remembered. The rain had filled the potholes with mucky water and his shoes weren’t shiny anymore. He hoped it didn’t matter, but he thought it might and stopped to hold onto a lamp-post as he rubbed the toes of his shoes on the backs of his legs. Holding the pen tightly in his hand deep in his pocket he bent his head to the rain and marched on.

The other people at the bus stop weren’t interested in him and he squeezed into the end of the shelter next to an old man getting the last puff out of his cigarette before the bus arrived. The smoke made him feel sick and he leant against the glass wall to steady himself. The old man turned around and looked at him, but then took another drag and turned away.

It was getting darker and some of the cars had started to turn on their headlights. Slowly, one by one the streetlights turned themselves on and glowed gently above. The more lights came on the harder the rain seemed to fall and the longer the wait for the bus. He checked his money again, but without letting go of the pen in his other hand. It was tricky and he almost lost a fifty pence coin but the old man in front picked it up for him.

“Here you are lad; you don’t want to be throwing money away.” He smiled and breathed his smoky breath over him.

“Thank you”. He tried to smile back without breathing and ended up coughing and taking in a huge gasp of smoke. The old man looked as if he were about to speak, but the bus arrived, spraying them both in water as it pulled up to the kerb. The queue moved forward and shuffled on board. When it was his turn he stood on tip toe and pushed his coins across.

“Half please.” He looked up warily, but the bus driver hardly noticed him and punched the machine. He took his ticket and looked for a seat. The downstairs was almost full, there was a seat near the back but he didn’t like the look of the woman sitting next to it and there were too many bags he would have to climb over. He took hold of the railing and climbed upstairs. There was more space here but his favourite spot at the front had been taken. He opted for a window seat halfway back and rubbed the condensation off the window so that he could see outside.

The street was full of shoppers; most were heading home, arms tired and heavy from their bags. A few stopped in the cafes with steamed up windows that lined the streets. Occasionally a door would blow open and he saw families sharing hot chocolate and sticky buns. He felt a warmth swell up inside him. That could be him, maybe next weekend he would be one of those families, maybe he would help his mother carry lots of bags full of new things. He tugged his sweatshirt down over the top of his jeans. It was too small and he felt the cold air run up his back as he leaned forward. He wondered if he could go into a proper shop next weekend and buy a new one, one that fitted and had never been worn by anyone but him.

The bus lurched to a standstill and he grabbed the seat in front of him. He peered out of the window and looked around. This wasn’t his stop yet. The shops had thinned out and had been replaced by houses. Big houses, houses with gardens in the front as well as the back. Several people had already put up their Christmas trees and they stood proud in big bay windows, some people had even put lights up in the trees in their gardens. He thought it looked like fairy land. Gradually the houses and their gardens got bigger and he couldn’t see the trees in the windows, they were too far away. He thought he was probably in the right spot now and rang the bell. The bus was empty and the bus driver looked at him as he got off.

“You all right lad?” he asked kindly. Are you sure this is your stop?”

He nodded and clutching the pen in his pocket even tighter he jumped off. It took him a little while to find his bearings but armed with a pencil drawn map he had copied from his father’s A to Z it didn’t take him long to find the street he was looking for. The houses here was amongst the biggest he had ever seen with long sweeping driveways, neat lawns and imposing gates. He stopped. It had never occurred to him that he might not even be able to get as far as the front door. At home all the doors opened directly onto the street, the locked gates were an unexpected setback. He counted the numbers of the houses as he walked; it looked as if the one on the corner was the one he was looking for. Like all the others it was vast and imposing but it never occurred to him to turn back.

Luck appeared to be on his side, for while number six hundred and sixty six did have gates, they were wide open and he was free to walk up the driveway. Even in the gloom of dusk the garden seemed pretty; there were flowers, absent in all the other gardens laid low for winter. He stopped to smell a climbing bush covered in tiny white flowers and was surprised by its heady scent. Then he noticed tiny lights scattered through the branches of the trees like teardrops. He had never seen anything so beautiful.

He heard voices and was suddenly drenched in light. The front door had opened and someone was calling him.

“Hey you! What are you doing?”

He ran towards the door but was momentarily stunned by the intense heat, in sharp contrast to the winter chill. He wrinkled his nose slightly, there was a strange smell, it reminded him of bonfire night. There was a sort of singed and burning feel to the air. He shoved the pen towards the woman in the doorway and then whipped his hand away as if shocked by a jolt of electricity. Surprised, she took a step back and looked down at the boy and then at the pen. She frowned.

“You left it behind. At our house. You gave it to my dad to sign the papers, the ones that mean we’ve got money now.” He paused but as the woman said nothing he went on. “You said if he was going to sign his life away he might as well do it with a proper pen.”

“Ah yes, I do remember. It was kind of you to return it. But how did you find me, you must be a resourceful young man?”

“You’re address was on the paper, look I copied it out.” He showed her the scrap of paper with the crudely drawn map and the name and address clearly written in his round, childish script.

“Miss Lucy Ferr?” The woman nodded.

“That is certainly me,” she smiled a little “It’s cold and late, and I should invite you in, but I think you father would prefer that I sent you on your way, you don’t belong here,” she paused and a smile that never quite reached her eyes, slipped across her face, “well, certainly not yet.”

He didn’t move.

“Thank you.”

“I’m sorry?”

“For making it different, for making the bailiff men go away, for just you know, making it so we aren’t poor anymore.”

“Don’t thank me. Thank your father, it’s him I’ll be collecting,” and with that she took the scrap of paper from his hand burning his fingers as her hands slipped against his, stepped back and closed the door. A waft of bitter smoke slipped through the door before it slammed shut and the house was plunged into darkness.

learning to ask

Asking for help doesn’t come easy, certainly not to me.  It’s not that I don’t want to admit to needing help, it’s more that I don’t want to be a bother.  But unless you ask, nobody knows what you need.  Unless you learn to articulate your needs they will remain unmet.

Writing is a lonely business.  Personally I like that.  I will come out and say I am not much of a team player; if there is a job to be done I prefer to get on and do it myself and if somebody else has done it I have to sit on  my hands to stop myself redoing it the way I would have done it.  I can be a right royal pain in the backside to work with.  The idea of writing a book with somebody else freaks me out, I just cannot imagine how they do it, but Nicci French (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) are proof that it can be done, and very successfully.  But probably not by me.

However,  sometimes I wonder if I am writing in a void.  I have thousands of words neatly stacked away in one and a half novels and various short stories but nobody to read them.  I have no idea if they are any good, readable, a load of rubbish or somewhere in between.  I have shyly told a few people I write, but aside from my internet friends, only a few of my IRL friends know.  Well that was until last night.

I came clean on Facebook and asked for readers and criticism.  With two exceptions everybody I know on FB I know IRL.  They know me as a colleague, friend, mother, whatever.  Almost none of them know me as a writer.

I was terrified, it’s fine for someone you don’t know and will never meet to give you a hard critique on Authonomy.  It is quite another for someone you will have to face every day to come back to you and say “whoa, love your cakes but not so keen on the books”.  Worse still, what if they don’t even want to read anything you’ve written.  “I’ve seen your cakes but don’t fancy any of them.”

I wrote the post, I looked at it.  I had a glass of wine.  I asked the opinion of the dogs (I really did).  I closed my eyes and hit submit.

They replied in droves, yes they would love to read it.  Please send it to me.  I have a friend who has a small publishing house would you like me to contact her?  I was staggered.

So, in the light of my earlier post on graciously receiving I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who responded to my post.  And I would like to say thank you for proving to me that you only have to ask.

saturday short story

Fondant and Fancies

The red elastic band pinged and caught Penelope’s finger as she opened the post. Wincing only slightly she placed it neatly to the left of her place and flicked deftly through the envelopes. She placed those of interest to the right of her place and the remainder were put with the elastic band to be popped directly in the recycling bin after lunch. Moving her glass of sparkling water to one side she cast her eyes over her diary whilst Martha Kearney discussed how the rise of the humble denim jacket might save the British fashion industry with the Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer.

She closed her eyes and ran through the following day’s meetings. She found this both therapeutic and useful. The parts played by the other participants could be honed and tuned to her satisfaction leaving her completely in control on the day itself. A position she found infinitely preferable to being on the back foot. Her presentation was dusted down and she hung out a couple of client meetings to air. It was only when she got to the part when Christopher returned from Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon that her blood slowed to a trickle and collected somewhere around her lower abdomen. She was out of cake.

Christopher liked a slice of cake with his tea. No matter that Penelope was a high flier, albeit from an age where high flier tended to refer to Lancaster Bombers rather than shatterers of glass ceilings, Christopher expected a perfect slice of Victoria Sponge (margarine not butter in the interests of his cholesterol levels) to accompany his cup of tea and Red Box.

Penelope retraced her steps along the following day’s programme and spotted a small window of opportunity between Morgan Stanley and Freshfields. Gloria, the most aptly named receptionist Penelope had ever met, had waxed lyrically, or rather gushed openly, about a boutique bakery newly opened on Barrington Lane. So long as she kept to her schedule she would have a full ten minutes to pop in and acquire some kind of sponge for Christopher. Problem solved Penelope sighed deeply and put her mind to more pressing matters. The bakery was in the schedule and all was well with the world.
All was marginally less well with the world at 2.44pm the following afternoon when Penelope finally extricated herself from her 12.45 at Morgan Stanley, a full forty minutes behind schedule. She now had only thirty minutes to find the bakery, acquire something suitable to appease Christopher and still make her 3.30 at Freshfields.

Following Gloria’s surprisingly accurate directions Penelope found herself in front of a small but perfectly formed salon. This was not a bakery; it was not even a shop it was a boudoir..
There were roses peering nervously from behind rolled gold chains, red hot hearts which sparkled seductively and enticed voyeurs into their shuddering depths. Bollywood style fancies with rouged corners and gold tipped leaves rubbed shoulders with virginal white wedding cakes with no more than a single, deep vermillion rose stark against the wealth of white.

Penelope felt a wall of heat creep around her. She could not walk through the door into this den of multicoloured treasure boxes. This was no bakery, it was a chocolate bordello.
She steeled herself and pushed open the door. The smell of pleasure knocked her momentarily off her course but she was made of stronger stuff and marched, eyes forward, towards the counter.

“May I help you?”
“A cake,” she stuttered. Looking around it became increasingly clear that her idea of a cake, a neat Victoria sponge, perhaps lightly dusted with icing sugar, was so far removed from the creations which surrounded her as to be from another planet.
The girl on the other side of the counter smiled. No she didn’t smile, she melted into a smile; a vanilla cream with a hint of gold leaf at the corners smile. Fear coursed through Penelope and made her strong.

“That one,” demanded Penelope, pointing at a mini wedding cake complete with gold chain and dusky tea rose trim. “And one of those,” a lime green fondant fancy with electric pink floral finish and old gold rope edging was next in the box. Who cared what was inside; the visual feast alone would sustain Penelope for years. She pointed and grasped and filled her rose gold box with a cacophony of colours. Wrapped with a deep magenta ribbon her box of delights teased and tempted her throughout her final and deeply dull meeting of the day. Once it was finally over she ran out of the building, flinging her pass at the shocked commissionaire, stole a cab from under the nose of an unsuspecting tourist and took herself and her spoils home.

Milo mewed as she unlocked the front door. But for the first time Penelope ignored the cat for today she had riches, goodies. She threw her coat across the hall table; it slid unnoticed to the floor as she reached up to get a cut glass cake stand down from the top of the chiffonier in the dining room.

One by one she placed her glorious haul on the glass. Pink and mauve on the top tier, green and crimson on the middle and on the bottom layer, the most rich and gaudy, the ladies of the night of the confectionary market. Penelope swept her fingers around the rim of the glass like a lion circling its prey.

Deep breathing was the key to self control. She concentrated on the in breath and slowly on the out breath. She looked at carriage clock alone on the mantelpiece. One minute to five. One more long and slow breath. The key creaked in the lock. She stood and slowly, carefully and in complete control she processed towards the front door holding ruffle rose cupcakes, rich ribboned rose festooned fancies, kitsch kaleidoscope cakes. She wrapped herself in them and as Christopher opened the door she offered him cake.

pride and poetry

Do not hang your head,
nor let it sink
on your shoulders, hold it high.
For you are strong, you know it all.
“I’m right!” your battle cry.
 

Sing out your name
Shout it abroad
for all the world to hear.
For it is great, it should resound
on every listener’s ear.
 

Turn away
from little things,
they’re of no import to you.
Little people deal with them.
You’ve greater deeds to do.
 

Concern yourself
with lofty thoughts,
with issues of the world.
For great and small will seek you out
for mysteries unfurled.
 

But when you’re gone,
your body sent
deep below the sod.
Will we look upon your grave
and know you were no god?
 

For pride is such a fickle friend.
She has no mystery.
Your greatest deeds,
your finest hours
are merely history.

lucky seven

I love questionnaires, I love quizzes, I love the “how many countries have you visited/weird foods have you eaten?”  I am a market researcher’s wet dream and we are not talking my body here.   So it is no surprise that I am a sucker for blog tags too.  That is until I realised this one was asking me to post a random excerpt of my writing.  Hah,  you think, stupid woman, you have a bloody great link to the same.  Ah, I reply, but this will be out of context, there will be no preamble so loved by Victorian authors; no family tree on the inside cover to which you can refer when you can’t remember whether Troy is Margarite’s nephew  or philandering brother.  No you are about to get a stray paragraph.  I hope you enjoy it, I will have sweated both blood and tears writing it!

The unstoppable Jackie Buxton has tagged me in Lucky Seven.  Check her out at http://jackiebuxton.blogspot.co.uk/ .  Glass Houses is currently out on tour looking for an agent, it won’t be a long trip 🙂

The deal is as follows:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

So here, and with no preamble at all, are the seven sentences from line seven on page seven of The Dorothy Summer.  I promise the age was pure coincidence.

There was a brief hiatus when I was about seven when she settled down in Brighton with a chap who wrote Biology text books.  Settle down is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration.  I was forbidden to visit and there were murmured conversations about the kind of “parties” she and Cyril held.  But like everything else, that too ended in tears.  Dorothy was incapable of sticking at anything, jobs or boyfriends, they all had a very limited lifespan and their death was always celebrated or commiserated at our house.  While my friends had grandparents or cousins come to visit for their allotted ten days over Christmas or the summer, we had Dorothy arrive for an indeterminate time.  She came with drama, frequently with tears and almost never when my father was home. 

And now I hand you over to:

Nicola Vincent Abnett http://www.nicolavincent-abnett.com/

Jake Barton http://jakebarton.wordpress.com

Sandie Zand http://sandiezand.blogspot.com

Anna Sugden  http://annasugdon.com

Victoria Morley http://thethinkling.blogspot.co.uk/

Seymour Jacklin http://seymourjacklin.co.uk/

Caroline Smailes http://www.carolinesmailes.co.uk/

Enjoy .

graciously receiving

It is better to give than to recieve.  That may or may not be true, but the result of such indoctrination is that very few of us are able to recieve a gift with grace.  You think I’m talking garbage.  Okay.  The last time you were complimented on your appearence.  Did you say:

A)    Thank you.

B)     Oh, I got this in the charity shop, I’ve had it years and there’s a dog poo stain just here, see?

C)     Oh my gosh, but not as glamorous as you,  I love that dress it’s so gorgeous and really shows off your wonderful waist.

I thought so.

Answer A is the only one which recognises the gift of the speaker, acknowledges that they have taken the time to notice.  The other two are, in my opinion, rather rude.  Answer B implies that the speaker doesn’t know what they are talking about and Answer C dismisses the compliment as worthless.

Few people are able to accept gifts with grace.  As a result we miss out on so much.  Most people are inherently generous and kind.  We want people that we like, love or respect to be happy, we want to be able to help where we can.  Yet we are so often blind to the many gifts that pass by us each day that that is indeed what they do, pass us by.  We don’t believe that he really meant it when the chap next to you at dinner offered to hear you play the cello. Why? Because he is a music critic who happens to know somebody wanting to set up a string quartet, so why on earth would he offer to hear you play?  Quite.  I rest my case.  But how many times have you said, “they didn’t really mean it.”  Too many.

Take up the offer, accept the gift, and do it with a smile and a gracious and grateful heart.