Friday 30 September 2011

Being invisible

A Serbian beggar, fed up with being ignored, has apparently taken to placing his cap and shoes on the pavement, together with a sign saying "invisible beggar" (fair enough, although I think that "hungry, homeless and invisible" might have been even more poignant). But it's working, for nowadays he sits in the cafe opposite and watches the cap fill up with money.

This is an inspired idea. We've all come across the invisible policemen (most of them, especially when you need one), and the invisible train manager who makes unintelligible announcements from the region of the ceiling, and the invisible traffic warden, who manages to stick a notice to your car windscreen in the time it takes to nip out and buy a packet of Polos, although you never see him.

What invisible job would you like? I think I'd like to be the invisible writer in residence at some very prestigious seat of learning. I would, of course, consent to become visible, on request.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Magpie Tales

"Oh, I do love to dance in the rain!"
Said my niece, on a visit from Spain.
But she ran out of clothes
Since she'd only brought those.
So she said, "I won't do it again."

I know. Awful. But I saw the picture, and I just had to have a go... (thanks to Magpie Tales for the picture)

Am I the only blogger...

...having yet more blog-relatd problems? Today, rather than not being allowed to sign in or out, or having my follwers confiscated, I'm not allowed to post any comments on other people's blogs. I have tried (hi Alan, Librarian and Gail, among others) but have had to give up. If this goes on, I may even have to do some serious writing.

What is the world coming to...

Monday 26 September 2011

A lesson from a spider

There is a spider in our garden (all right then. Our courtyard). In fact, there are probably lots, but this one keeps making his web across the doorway, and inevitably, someone walks into the web, and he has to start all over again. I inadvertently destroyed it again last night, and by this morning, it was completely re-built. He must have been at it all night. But I have decided to move him to another spot, where he can build undisturbed, for while I am not a particular fan of spiders, I'm a great believer in the live-and-let-live thing.

But is there a lesson to be learnt here? I asked myself this morning. For those of us who keep writing and find that what we write isn't sufficiently wanted/needed/appreciated, should we perhaps move our little writing webs into another place; another genre? My agent wants me to insert something "dark" - a secret, perhaps - into my next book, and I am reluctant to do so. But if I follow her advice and move out of my comfort zone, maybe, just maybe, I shall be a blockbusting overnight success.

I might even dedicate it to the spider.

Saturday 24 September 2011

My daughter's a domestic goddess

No. This picture isn't of her. But she is a domestic goddess just the same.

I have just phoned her, and this morning she's made (not heated up; made) waffles for breakfast, and now she's made eight individual shepherd's pies and a pecan and something-or-other cheesecake and lemon ice cream for a dinner party tonight. She gives a lot of dinner parties.

I don't really do dinner parties. For me, they are the suff of nightmares. Will the people get on? Will the food be ok? What if eveyrone want to leave immedately after the coffee. AAAAARGH!

I panic over the menu. I try new things, and worry that they won't work. And as for things that have to be turned out (ie of moulds) - they are the worse of all. I shall never forget the fresh fruit jelly that promised to be so irresistible, with its jewel-like pieces of fruit in a glorious suspension of fruit juice, to be served with cream. Mmmm. Except that, guess what? As, with trembling fingers, (the jelly wasn't the only one trembling) I 'turned out' my jelly, it wobbled uncertainly for a few agonising seconds, then fell to its knees and collapsed in a messy heap. See what I mean? And that's only one example (the shoe-leather ratatouille being another). As for the guests, there was the night of the died-in-the-wool left wing friends versus the very-public-school right wing friends. That was a night to remember. And there are others, but I won't bore you with them.

So, my daughter (whom I love dearly, who is one of my very best friends, and to whom I can say just about anything) is a domestic goddess (she also makes amazing fancy dress costumes, and gives wonderful Hallowe'en parties for her kids, and and and..) and I am not. She is hosting yet another dinner party tonight, and we are going to sink ourselves in a bottle of wine and a DVD.

That's all.

Friday 23 September 2011

No more hearty meals for the condemned man

As a postscript to my last (below), apparently Texas is no longer letting prisoners choose their last meal before they're executed. It seems that some of them have been making exorbitant demands (how dare they?), and in any case (says Texas) they don't deserve a special meal. They're criminals. Let them eat the same as the other prisoners.

It's good to know that compassion and humanity are still alive and well in Texas, even if 400+ prisoners (since the 1980s) are not.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Death in Georgia

I have been feeling enormously sad at the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last night. This man was on Death Row for 20 years, and had already had three stays of execution. After all that, his execution was delayed for four hours. Is that enough punishment for a man who has maintained his inncence throghout, and whose last words were a plea to the victim's family to find the real killer? Seven of the people who testified against him at his trial have since withrawn their testimony, and another man has confessed to the murder. But no matter. Revenge has been exacted, and so that's all right then, isn't it?

On a happier note, my own Death Row prisoner (the one I correspond with) has had his sentence commuted to life without parole. I only found this out by chance, and am delighted for him. Apparently:

"during a June 23 hearing, it was revealed that the lone juror at
the murder trial who held out to sentence **** to death and refused to
join with other jurors who preferred a sentence of life in prison was never
questioned by defense attorneys during jury selection."

Astounding, isn't it? One juror was in favour of the death penalty in this case. Just one. And if he had been questioned by the defense, presumably D would still be on Death Row.

It beggars belief.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

What's in a name?

Our window cleaner calls himself a "Glazing Enhancement Specialist", and this lofty title appears on all his invoices (okay, little pieces of paper he leaves if you're out). Don't you just love it?

So - what posh name would you give to your day job (if you have one)? And more to the point, what would be a more impressive name for a novelist/short story writer? (How about Imaginative Escritory* Operative?)

*There's probably no such word, but I like the sound of it.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

I'm on the train...

Well, I was. Earlier today. And behind me was a woman who apparently works for a well-known publishing house (I'm being discreet here, though heaven knows why, because she certainly wasn't), and for nearly the whole of the journey, she was busy talking on her mobile, organising her day. Loudly.

Among other things - lots of other things - I gathered that her name was Jo, and she was trying to get hold of Miranda and Michaela. She was also trying to track down an author to sign a contract so that they could give her her advance, and another author had said she was too busy to take part in Radion 4's A Good Read (at this point, I had to restrain myself from leaping up and offering to go in this person's place). She was also planning to stay somewhere for five days, but it was going to cost $350 per night. She was a bit shocked, but it seems that she's going to go anyway.

You may say that I shouldn't thave listened, but I had no choice. I couldn't concentrate on my own book because my new friend Jo was talking so loudly. And while some of what she said was quite interesting, I couldn't help wondering why, if she could afford to stay somewhere for $350 a night, she couldn't also afford to travel first class, and leave people like me in peace.

I wish that instead of having Quiet Carriages, invariably impossible to find, the railways would have Noisy Carriages, and put them right at the back. Oh, and Jo, if you should happen to read this, next time please, please KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN.

Thank you.

Monday 19 September 2011

Downton Abbey

Are we the only people on the planet who don't think that Downton Abbey is the best thing since Upstairs Downstairs*? Watching it last night, we were so bored that we barely managed to make it till the end. The characters seem wooden (apart from fabulous Maggie Smith, who could read the telephone directory and make it sound ilke magic), the plot whisks hither and yon, in and out of the trenches, and back to a candlelit dinner before you've had time to draw breath, and the dialogue...

"War is reaching its long fingers into our house and scatttering our chicks," says the lord to his lady (or the oher way round; I forget) as they get into bed. Does ANYONE ever talk like that in a private domestic situation? Okay, so I'm not privy to the conversations among the nobility, but nonetheless, this beggared belief. And the cliches: "war has a way of distinguishing between those things that matter and those that don't" (one soldier to another, as they stand together in their trench). Really? Now, who would have thought of that? Surely not a soldier, surrounded by dead companions, up to his knees in mud?

And before I get completely shouted down, this is just my opinion, expressed on my blog, and I'm open to the opinions of others. So please be gentle with me!

*One of our favourite programmes ever.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Laundry mysteries

Okay; so everyone knows that one red sock can turn an entire load of washing pink (without, incidentally, losing any of its own redness; a bit like giving blood, but without needing the cup of tea and biscuit afterwards), and that if you put ten socks into the washing machine, you will only retrieve nine afterwards. But can anyone explain how a duvet cover*, put in separately, will invariably eat every last garment that's put in with it? And when you think you've finally emptied it (the duvet cover, that is), there's always one little item (possibly the lost sock?) curled up smugly in a corner, to be found much later, slighly damp and a bit sort of crispy.

*I know, I know. You should always button up the duvet cover first, and tie up the socks separately in a little bag, but life is far too short for faffing about doing that kind of thing.

(Incidentally, I've always thought it might be fun to have a kind of sock-pairing party. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and a bag of odd socks, you throw them all (the socks, not the bottles) into the middle of the room, and then everyone leaps in and tries to make as many (approximate) pairs as they can. They get to keep the socks. This can of course be done to music.

Friday 16 September 2011

The love of chapters

I've just read a novel which has no chapters; it was just one lengthy narrative, with no sub-divisions of any kind. And it made me realise something: I love chapters.

I love the way they break the story up; the "I'll just read to the end of this chapter" thing; the way each one is a link in a chain, with a hook (of excitement/uncertainty/mystery/expectation or whatever) to lead the reader on to the next. They also give the opportunity for a clear change in POV or scene. They are a useful device, for both reader and writer.

I always write in chapters, generally quite short ones, and I don't think I could write in any other way. I tend to edit each one as I go along (which is probably bad practice, but never mind), and so each one has several little drafts of its own (I think this is probably a relic of my short story days).

How does anyone else feel? Do chapters really make that much difference?

Thursday 15 September 2011

My writing day

Talking to book/library groups, I think we're all often asked what our writing day is like. This happened again last night, so at the risk of boring them (and you):

I'm an early bird, so wake about half past six. I need two strong cups of coffee, and then I write for a couple of hours before breakfast (I don't really care for breakfast, so that doesn't take long). After a shower, I write from about ten until one, and then stop for a sandwich. After lunch, I'll go for a ride, and then fit in another hour of writing before making the evening meal. The rest of the day is my own time, although I often find myself going back to the PC to look over what I've written during the day.

And if you believe that, you'll believe anythihng.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Greetings cards (again)

My favourite is still "Happy Easter from the Dog", but here's one that comes pretty close:

Happy birthday to my partner's friend.

Dear friend of my partner
On whose behalf I have bought this card
You'd think he'd find time to buy one himself
But being male he find it too hard.

There's more to this "poem", but I was getting odd looks as I copied it down in the newsagent's (I certainly wasn't going to buy it). So - come on all you (we) guys who want to get into print (and presumably earn some money). Ridiculous subject apart, we HAVE to be able to do better than this. In fact I'd love to run another competition, but it's getting expensive! (Sorry, Joanna. I've bought the tea towel, and it will be on its way by tomorrow.)

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Writing from a child's viewpoint

This blog started out as a place for my thoughts about writing and books, and immediately fell off the rails and became a general ramble. Time, then, for a book-related post.

By one of those odd coincidences, I have recently read three novels in which at least part is written from a small child's POV, and in the first person. The first was Emma Donoghue's Room; an immensely successful novel, which has won many plaudits. For me, however, it didn't quite work. The child is just five, and yet much of the vocabulary he uses is way beyond that of even the brightest five-year-old. This spoilt the novel for me, although many wouldn't agree. I also found the names for household objects (Chair, Table, Bed etc)used without the definite article contrived and irritating.

The second book was Nell Leyshon's Devotion; a brilliant if slight (in length) novel about the break-down of a family, told in four first-person voices; the mother, father, and teenage and six-year-old daughters. Leyshon's novel doesn't seem to be doing especially well commercially (I happened upon it in the library) and this is a great shame, because I think she really does manage (as much as is possible) to get inside the heads of the two children, and the book is altogether a wonderful if tragic read; I really recommend it.

The third novel is Chrsitopher Wakling's What I Did; like The Slap, the story of the aftermath of the public smacking of a child, and told from the point of view of the six-year-old involved. This one I find particularly irritating (I'm only half-way through). The "thoughts" of the little boy seem to me contrived and unlikely, esepcially (again) in the vocabulary he uses. For example, would a child of this age really use the word "extraordinarily", and then "air looms" for "heirlooms"? It borders on the cute/twee, and for me, it doesn't work. This is a shame, because the story is an absorbing one, but several times I have been sorely tempted to give up on it because of the style. The actual story could have been told in the third person, and I don't think it would lose any of its impact.

In conclusion, I think from now on I will avoid novels told in this way. It can work - just - but it's very, very difficult to pull off. After all, how many of us can remember our thought processes at the age of six? We may remember what happened and how we felt, but that's a different thing altogether.

Monday 12 September 2011

Turn to crime and get into print

Yes. This seems to be the answer. Last week The Times published a cookery column by someone whose only claim to fame is having served time for being responsible for 10%of the world's illegal cannabis trade.

So there you have it. (Or you could be be a disgraced politician - they seem to do quite well, too.) So why not give it a try. It's almost worth it, isn't it? And think of all the time you'd have to write while you were inside. After all, there presumably isn't much else to do, is there? I haven't seen many mail bags around recently.

Please decide for me...

...because I can't decide which limerick I like best out of the amazing efforts below! if you could post the name of the writer who you think deserves to win, I'd be very grateful. Having just had a long week-end of kids, my brain hs turned to minestrone soup; all bitty and confused. I mean, there's tea towel at stake. This is important. I can't afford to get this wrong.


Thursday 8 September 2011

Off tripleting

I shall be looking after these three until Monday. Should be fun. Don't forget the maagnificent competition (below). There's already one stellar entry.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Win a tea towel!

As an apology for the very dull post about tea towels (below), I thought the least I could do would be to provide this golden opportunity to win one (a nice one).

All you have to do (all, she says...) is write a limerick on the subject of dull presents/unwanted gifts/that kind of thing, and post it on the comments here, and the winner will receive this magnificent prize in about a week's time. I'm away triplet-minding from tomorrow afternoon until Monday, so I hope there will be some brilliant limericks to read (and there certainly were, the last time I did this) when I get back...

On the other hand, if no-one enters, I shan't have to buy the tea towel.

And now for something completely different...

...tea towels. That's right. Tea towels. What could be more boring than that?

As everyone knows, tea towels are given as presents. Dull presents, like calendars, from people who have given up trying to think of something more interesting to give. But I have a problem. All - and I mean all - our tea towels are worn out. My rule of thumb is that if there is more hole than tea towel, the time has come to throw in the - well - the tea towel.

So today. I shall have to go out and buy some. For us. Something I've never done before. But they won't have that lovely softness of a very old tea towel. They'll be all unforgiving and stiff and resistent. I shall avoid witty/picturesque/silly tea towels. I want the kind with stripes on the ends.

But I bet I won't be able to find any.

(A final thought. How on earth have we managed to WEAR OUT tea towels?)

Monday 5 September 2011

No, I don't want a bigger penis!

One of the problems with having a name like mine is that I am often taken to be a man, and as such can be subject to man spam. This must happen to (for example) Lesleys and Chrises as well, and it's infuriating. So in case the people who advertise the above happen to be reading this, please accept, finally, that I don't want a bigger penis. Or, come to that, any kind of penis. I'm a woman. Frances, not Francis. Got that? I'M A WOMAN!

On the other hand, if you've got something that will...oh, never mind.

Sunday 4 September 2011

We got there...

...and back! The views and Corsica were as wonderful as ever, but the hotel...

Downstairs, it was palatial - all crystal chandeliers and snowy tablecloths and flambuoyant flower arrangements - with restaurant prices to match (we could only afford to eat there once), but once we got into our room it was like a very down-market boarding house. No chest of drawers, a tatty desk, and one of those pieces of furniture designed to hold a chamber pot*. Two missing light bulbs, no proper mirror, and floorboards which not only squeaked but howled and sang (not just ours, but those beside and above us). Madame (the owner), who I have to say worked ALL the time ("dormir est mourir" she told us), nonetheless depends on the staggering views for her clientele, and while they are indeed staggering, the views aren't exactly hers; she doesn't have to polish and maintain them or pay for new ones. No flies on Madame.

But we had a good time. We kept wine and whisky in our wardrobe (we had to buy a corkscrew) and ate shop-bought snacks on our little balcony, and spied on the people on the terrace below, as they drank their cocktails (12 euros apiece). All in all an interesting exprience, and a lovely holiday, but it's nice to be back.

*chamber pot not included