Straight from the Lexicographer’s Mouth: An Enjoyable Talk about the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)

A delightful review of our recent local ALLi group meeting by friend and fellow ALLi member Debbie Young. Debbie introduced me to ALLi at the writers’ day where I first met her, ‘and the rest is history’ … ALLi brings Indie writers together …

Debbie Young

A  report about a fascinating talk about the Oxford English Dictionary by Edmund Weiner

Cover of OED The paperback edition is just the tip of the iceberg with a mere 120K words and 1k pages

Anyone who loves words would have been as rapt as we were at the Oxford Authors’ Alliance last night, when Edmund Weiner, Deputy Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, came to talk to us about his work preparing version 2.0 of the OED. This mammoth task employs sixty people, and though it began in 1993, they’re still only 30% of the way through the task. They are effectively detectives, examining everything ever written in English to come up with comprehensive definitions of how every word has been used through the ages.

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Altruism and the British way of Life?

I have been thinking about Jo Cox: what if anything will be her legacy?

Jo Cox – the Labour MP who was brutally murdered on 16th June this year – I hadn’t heard of her until her death by murder in the street was announced on the BBC one o’clock News. The media went all of a flutter. We learned many remarkable facts about this woman, emphasising how much she had a heart for the poor and underprivileged of the world.

As one of her friends wrote (Change.UK website) ‘Jo’s life was one of service. Not lip-service, but true service. She was a humanitarian who campaigned for human rights in Darfur and Syria and a strategist who rethought child protection, world trade and education.’

Her mistake seems to’ve been her universalism, her inclusiveness.  A quote from her maiden speech in the House of Commons included these words: While we celebrate our diversity … we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” 

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Remember this? Where can we go from war, violence, rape, persecution?

The motivation for her killing appears to have been that fear which takes hold of a person, or people, or a country, when threatened, or rather when they think they are threatened. When it appears to them, or they are persuaded, that their livelihood, familiar culture, homes, will be stolen by aliens, their familiar culture smothered, they will become increasingly ignored and deprived.

Isn’t this just what is motivating refugees and migrants who are fleeing from homelands where they face persecution, rape, death by war or terrorism? Or at the least, starvation and poverty?

Ironies of June 2016

Just a week after Jo Cox’s violent death, our country voted whether or not to leave the European Union. I checked the dates: June 16th – June 23rd, 7 days. Her family had behaved with a quiet dignity towards the media hype. Various of our politicians meanwhile continued behaving with arrogance and extreme unpleasantness as they fought their media campaigns.

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1,000,000 men killed or wounded

Then the next irony: just a week later (July 1st), we held public memorials to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme (July to November, 1916), which killed many thousands of young British men. And churned up miles of the French countryside, and was one of the worst occurrences of Europe being at war with itself. Indeed the numbers of soldiers killed and wounded, on both sides, is around a million. There surely should be a lesson here.

And, if the EU needs revising – which it does – and if the refugees streaming into the Eastern corners of it are going to survive with lives worth living – then this country will have no say.

Foden relatives
Ancestors … we can’t ‘turn the clock back’ and find security …

You can’t walk out of the family and then expect to influence its decisions.

They are, maybe, people like  us …

After the 1939-45 War, Europe was awash with refugees. Britain’s positive aid response was brought into being and organised by new charities Oxfam and Christian Aid. Both still exist, today working in countries such as South Sudan and Syria, often in partnership with the country’s own help agencies. It’s the kind of work Jo Cox was involved with. Today people are on the move in huge numbers … it has happened before … An article I read today, (by Paul Valentin, International director of Christian Aid) gave these figures about refugees within settled populations:

In Jordan, 1 in 3 people is a refugee

In Lebanon, it is 1 in 4

In Britain, it is 1 in 525

Fear and media hype make people fear being over-run. Fear of otherness may make people unable to accept those whose culture is not their own.

Expressing my thoughts about the motivation of Jo’s murderer, a violent acting out of his fears, another member of our family pointed out that ‘Maybe it did make some people think, maybe it made the vote closer. We shall never know, but maybe some people regret …’

Maybe it did.

But with the divisions of our country clearly delineated, the pound down, the hate crimes up, the government in turmoil … this is a sad, ironic, summer … in which we now hunt for hope … I hope for generosity to develop as the whole country looks back on ‘Brexit’ and the other events of June 2016 … and remembers Jo Cox and what she believed in …

Books and boots .. the next Mullins story willcentre on the teenagers ..

And I go on writing … trying to bring to life life the challenges of living today …   

Upcoming Event:

Monday 25th July 2.00pm (NOTE: this our recording time – I suspect it may be going out later in the day, after 5.00pm and will post on here to confirm)

I’m talking about my books and Indie Publishing, with Debbie Young of the Alliance of Independent Authors and presenter Eve Ahmed, on

That’s Oxfordshire

our local TV station … if you are in the UK – even as far away at Cumbria – try to catch us!

Mari’s reading Life: Four Books from my Kindle

Wrote this in the Summer House office: beautiful sunny day!

Are you a Kindle or a paperback fan? I admit to preferring paperback (easier to underline, and flip back or even forwards …). But, the Kindle’s useful: to buy and read books which aren’t stocked in our local Independent Bookstore (tiny, and very exclusive) or our large but tourist-oriented emporia – Waterstones and Blackwell’s.

So, Four books from my Kindle…

My books featured on postcards - a touch of publicity
My books featured on postcards – a touch of me-publicity

I write books about women’s lives … (Baby, Baby, and The Labyrinth Year …)

I read books about women’s lives (though not exclusively – I just read one (by a man) about Mindfulness …)

But it’s a paperback, back to the Kindle…

Two are Austen re-writes: the Austen Project rolls on …

I read Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (updated Pride and Prejudice) with interest. Northanger Abbey was a set text at school. (Ever noticed that name – North Anger Abbey?)  We were set to read, alongside Jane’s ‘spoof’, The Mysteries of Udolpho (published 1794) by Ann Radcliffe, to appreciate the irony of her take on women’s popular literature of her time. Girls back then were in a Gothic Novel phase: sound familiar?

McDermid moves further into ironic observations of teenage girls obsessed with boys, and with reading scary tales of vampires and mysterious discoveries, in this amusing story. Reviews on Amazon vary, some even in the ‘I threw the book across the room’  style. Some reviewers had not read Austen’s original.  Unless you have read Austen’s novel, how can anyone fully appreciate this clever update? McDermid exploits both the Austen writing style and the recent teenage/YA fascination with Gothic themes. Moving the action from fashionable 18th century Bath to the contemporary Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the story is a silly riot just as it should be. A fun read, well written and well observed.

The Sittenfeld, (which I read second) is set in Middle America, Cincinnati, Sittenfeld’s family home. I noticed, after I’d read it, that Amazon advertises the book as ‘humour’. Humour it may be, but satire is more like it. With far too much about specific Cincinnati eating places, roads, neighbourhoods. Sittenfeld’s Prep I enjoyed, but in her Sisters I found a sleazy and uninteresting slightly satirical take on the foibles of humanity. So how does Eligible do Pride and Prejudice?

The updated characters – Elizabeth is a thirty-something magazine journalist with a selfish married boyfriend, who on fancying Darcy indulges with him in ‘hate sex’ left a nasty taste, because it didn’t capture and update Austen.  Sexual tension between Elizabeth and Darcy in P and P expresses itself cleverly in witty dialogue, not in simple lust. The fact that this is how a 30-something might behave today doesn’t justify substituting foreplay for that Austen’s stylish sharp amusing verbal interplay. Which credits her Elizabeth with a self-confident intelligence and ability not usually allowed a woman of her time. And Austen’s subtle irony doesn’t imply contempt for those she depicts as ridiculous (Mr Collins in P and P). Darcy is attractive, yes, but in Eligible we have the updated Colin Firth in wet shirt, not the Darcy of Jane’s novel. Sittenfeld’s writing lacks stylishness. And she’s lost the plot, updating with no more reference to Austen than writing a loosely based ‘comedy of manners’ which picks out social types and holds them up for our prejudice and amusement. Austen uses wit: Sittenfeld relies on curled lip contempt.

That said, some of it is indeed quite funny, especially the lampoon of a wedding (Jane Bennett the pregnant bride) on reality TV, which brings the story pretty much to a close. But no, I wouldn’t call this, as it is advertised, The Summer Book’. Plenty more out there to choose from for beach reading. Or is it simply that I don’t go for this writer’s work?

Two by One

My other two latest reads in the ‘women’s novels’ genre are delightful books by an unknown, compared to McDermid and Sittenfeld: Vivienne Tufnell’s Square Peg and Strangers and Pilgrims. Tufnell is a fellow member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors).

These are straight novels, placed in unusual settings and displaying a deep observation of nature (as in human) and nature (as in the wilderness around us). They are pleasure to read, as Tufnell writes well about what she knows, displaying a real eye for compassion and acute observation/insight.

Square Peg tells the story of a young woman whose husband is studying to be a Vicar. Without satire or lampooning, but with incredible insight, she accurately captivates the culture of a residential College. The men study, while wives languish producing endless babies or darting into the outside world to work in the real world of contrasting environment. It didn’t have to be a Vicar-factory of course: any residential College would do, but an extra spin comes from the religious angle.  Group hysteria among the wives with their inward looking lives, deprived of a wider community or a job, creates the crisis, for the main character, Chloe, (a civil engineer by training, but raised by a sensible, but hippy-type, Gran) is so ‘different’ in so many ways that they spook themselves she’s some kind witch. Okay, today such colleges are mixed: but it totally captures when they weren’t…

Strangers and Pilgrims explores another assorted group, who gather at a remote venue in hope of healing from emotional pain. Cleverly Tufnell weaves her story to demonstrate of how the healing takes place: not by the miracle workings of the mysterious Warden or the holy Well, but by the relating, co-operating, living together, of the six lonely and hurt individuals, over about a week. It is realistic, and down to earth, and the surprise at the end gathers up the meaning: who is this Warden, who nobody has seen?  Does s/he exist? (And it is not a predictable solution, nor is it a spirit or God …)

Tufnell deserves a wider audience. Her books are delightful: great reading on the beach, or anywhere that a person can curl up, undisturbed, with a glass of wine or a mug of tea.

And the Mindfulness book?   That’s for another time!

HULF & to Pay or not to Pay? Author Pages …

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.56.30Here’s a very brief post on the  blog!  Here’s wondering if any of you nice followers have discovered my Author Page … or investigated what I wrote when I’m not writing the blog or doing one of a hundred thousand other things?

For example, this weekend, promoting my work (and hopefully entertaining an audience) at a book festival along with other authors, many of them, like me, members of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

On Saturday (23rd, Shakespeare’s Birthday …) the Hawkesbury LitFest will be taking place – all day from 10.00am to 5.30pm … a great  gathering of authors in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. H.U. is a friendly place – especially friendly to Books and  Reading … (Also to Italian food at the Fox restaurant, and to cakes, coffee and tea at the festival Cafe).  It’s friendly to authors and a crowd of us will be going along to read, discuss, promote, hopefully sell our work, and to meet other authors and our readers …

me reading at Hawkesbury 23 APril 2015
me at HULF 2015 (copyright Clint Randall)

You may live far away, in South Africa, Canada, or the USA – but have a look at the Mari Howard Author Page on Facebook anyway … have a look at the LitFest adverts to see what we’re (I’m) doing this weekend, and let me know, via blog comments (if you have an opinion: should Facebook ask authors to pay to promote their pages? I am undecided – this is not a rant either way – I am just wondering, would the promotion be worth the cost?  At $10 a day?)

And thanks for following .. welcome to several new readers …

HULF poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Readers and Writers: Obligations and Entitlements?

You don't have to read them ...
Must-reads?
Integrity creativity duty vocation

A selection of words (above) which come to mind … Lately I’ve read a couple of articles which surprised me with ideas I hadn’t thought of.

In this new situation …
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For dancing with the fingertips …

Both seemed to be tied to the idea of ‘the digital age’: a strange but prevalent concept which sweeps up together everything which stems from spending time using our fingers to press buttons, sending messages across the ether.

One, about perceived obligations, the other of perceived entitlements. Like do we, as writers, have an obligation to our readers … to respond to social media, to appear at LitFests and interact with them?

Didn’t Charles Dickens perhaps kick this off, with his book tours, when readers could assemble to hear the author read to them from his books? And did Dickens feel he had a obligation? (Or were  his publishers responsible, sending him around on book tours to boost sales?) Whatever, if blame must be found for readers’ expectations of obligations, I’ll I blame Dickens!

You can read the article here:

I noted that A.L. Kennedy ‘isn’t convinced that new forms of communication have imposed any new duties on them to connect with their audience. Readers should, of course, be offered the same courtesy any human being can expect from another, Kennedy says, but any engagement beyond the “usual human stuff” depends on the author.’

And on the other side we have

Here we find Alison Morton, a successful Indie author, and member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) who is tired of Indie authors expectations of entitlement … to be read, to succeed, to be listened to, on the difficulties of selling our books which face those of us who don’t belong to a big, well-known, publisher …

But I am entitled!

Am not sure I’ve ever felt ‘entitled’ to anything. But we do have to raise enough awareness of our existence, we are encouraged to develop a platform, to get heard of, and to work on having bookstores accept that our work has the quality and the care lavished on it to compete with what comes from the well known trade publishers. A question of balance, and of working on these areas with politeness, integrity, and actually delivering the goods. Great stories, well written, well edited, well packaged. The public does deserve that.

Advice from ALLi's professionals
Advice from ALLi’s professionals

Integrity, creativity, duty, vocation … words I’d prefer to hear of writers than ‘entitlement’. And reading the ‘comments’ I picked out this to agree with, (from the wise and balanced response of Fiona Cameron, an Indie author herself) ‘but I’d like to think we are all entitled to politeness (or, at the very least, we are entitled not to be dealt with rudely – I think there’s a subtle difference) from book-selling professionals.’

Morton ends by saying Our ‘competition’ is the non-reader and other leisure activities that seduce our potential readers, not colleagues published differently,’ and of course that’s the point: some people just don’t read, the digital/TV/game-playing ‘age’ offers other, possibly easier, ways to sit and engage in fictional worlds.

So Why Obligations and Entitlements?

What I wonder about is, why these words? Both seem to carry a lot of weight: why choose the heavily emotional, rather than lighter, more ‘friendly’, less self-directed, ones? Is this symptomatic of becoming a society which is divided, us-and-them, verging on hostility?

If so, what makes an apparently more ‘egalitarian, libertarian’ society likely to use demanding words?  Is the reading/writing world, the creative world, becoming increasingly solipsistic? If so, is the ‘digital age’ a legitimate cause?

How to spend a Bank Holiday Weekend: Selling and sorting

BB, H for H, TLY
Late summer bank holiday isn’t known for its predictably splendid weather, but we HULF Pop-Up LitFest people were hoping.
HULF Indie Authors arriving and preparing the marquee
HULF Indie Authors arriving and preparing the marquee

Here’s some of us at the Hawkesbury Village Horticultural Show showground, preparing our marquee, and hoping that our location – next to the Pimms Tent and opposite the Local History Society stand, will attract customers!

Saturday’s weather was fine, bright and warm …

There were lots of stalls and attractions …

and floats from the carnival procession (this one won 2nd Prize in the competition)

We’d thought we’d do some readings from our work to attract the customers … but look at the opposition!

the oppositionjpg

The marquee was also opposite the biggest, loudest, screamy-est fun fair ride!

We abandoned the readings idea (next year we’ll find a quieter spot maybe with the Teas)

But, we made some videos of readings, and we sold books!

What drives sales?
ALLi authors and their partners, selling briskly at 4.30pm ...
ALLi authors and their partners, selling briskly at 4.30pm …
  • Good covers,
  • a blurb that hooks the reader in …
  • enthusiasm from the salesperson (in this case, we were all there as authors selling our own books) …
  • belonging to a supportive community (we were all members of ALLi, re-meeting after the LitFest for World Book Night back in April, at the Fox, and re-meeting each other – authors Ali Bacon, JohnLynch, Ellie Stevenson… and more I’d not met before… ).
  • Glasses of Pimms from the Tent, and later cups of tea – all brought round by Debbie who’d organised our appearance at the Hawkesbury Show …
  • wanting to succeed …
  • and keeping on until the end … in the last hour, we all made more sales than through the previous three and half.

Find out more about Hodge Publishing at http://hodgepublishing.co.uk/about-us/ – where you can buy our books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year 

‘… just finished The Labyrinth Year and want to tell you I thought it was a super read.  Baby, Baby was good but the sequel is even better!’  (review extract)

Monday, typically, it rained

Back home, Monday was dark, damp, and drear. But the plan was already in place!  It was time to do some attic clearing …

Files of course notes, assorted mugs, roller skates, random clutter, and possibly that thing you've always been wondering where it went ...
Files of course notes, assorted mugs, roller skates, random clutter, and possibly that thing you’ve always been wondering where it went …

There’s always something which has gone past the sell-by date of memory lane stuff … 

Despite the rain, and the effort, a welcome day of family involvement and catch-up, plenty of stuff taken to the Dump, and plenty more for the charity shops …

A Bank Hol of Boots and Books ...
A Bank Hol of Boots and Books ...

A good late-summer weekend!

And now, back to the desk and the Mullins family, and what does ‘love’ mean?

New novel, new theme, familiar characters …

Wedding Cake
Wedding Cake

‘Love’ is possibly one of the most indiscriminately used in the English language. Whatever do we mean – and what do others mean when they hear or read the word we’ve spoken or written?

Valentine's Day Cookies
Valentine’s Day Cookies

As the twin towers burned and fell, messages of I love you were sent across from desperately trapped employees of the companies who worked in those buildings. A child reluctantly writing a thank-you letter to a hardly known relative, for a badly-chosen present, learns to send love from …

We commit our lives to one another – or we express merely our lust of the moment … calling both acts prompted by love … There was once a popular phrase in some circles, Smile, God loves you …present-day preachers constantly refer to God’s love or even God’s unconditional love …

We love this beach
We love this beach

We’re told we shall love or hate a film, a book, a political candidate’s agenda … we love chocolate, reading, your new hairstyle, your hat.

I also love belonging to ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) … and I loved being part of the first Hawkesbury LitFest back in April so much that I’ve committed to joining the ‘pop-up LitFest’ at the Hawkesbury Annual Show on 29th August … and we also love our cats … even on the desk (no, not on the desk…) …

'We love to eat ... but here are 2 of life's puzzles: biscuits, but where?'
‘We love to eat … but here are 2 of life’s puzzles: biscuits, but where?’

Enough examples: we say we love, yet we deceive. We say we act in love, but act selfishly, or out of despair. We use loving our children both to protect them from harm and to push them academically.

We endlessly use the L-word as a reason, or excuse, for emotionally driven behaviour.

In the Mullins family story, book 3, I want to look at how our concepts of ‘loving’ is operating in Max and Jenny’s family and extended family, and in another family, their friends Shaz and Elliott, parents to Alice’s friend Charlie. Elliott is also a partner in Max’s medical practice. How does Elliott use love?

How do the characters ‘love’ each other? How does this ‘drive the plot’?

The Mullins Family novels: Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, an on-going tale ...
The Mullins Family novels: Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, an on-going tale …

If you’re anywhere nearby, why not visit

Hawkesbury Upton Village Show, Hawkesbury Upton, South Gloucestershire -gates open 12.30pm Saturday 29th August 2015

Hawkesbury Upton Show

Writers’ Homework: Go to the Ant and 2 Reviews

There’s an ants’ nest in the compost bin, and all the worms have disappeared.

Our compost bin

Hopefully, they’ve moved to the apartment below, leaving the ants with the penthouse. But can I be sure? And what gets the ants to find fault with their new home, and move out, taking their vile offspring – their eggs – with them? Which won’t kill the friendly compost-processing worms?

All this before the writer’s had a moment to do the shopping and settle at the desk. Procrastination it is not. We love our compost bin, we want to be eco-townies, it’s our contribution to recycling everything possible, because there is no ‘away’.

And in the cause of neighbourliness, today there is the monthly coffee meet-up for all of us in the road who work at home, or are retired…

So, is it now Go to the ant, thou sluggard …?

Social interaction is always necessary and often productive to the busy contemporary fiction writer. So, no, not first to the ants – or to writing. Though I’m not about to ‘put you in my novel’, you and you and even you keep us writers in touch with what’s new on the street (sometimes literally). All of us writers are curious students of human interactions, and contrary to popular belief, not all of us are introverts. Whether just quietly listening, or energetically joining in, social activity sparks ideas.

Besides making sure we don’t lurk in an ivory tower, writers need to keep reading. Friend and fellow ALLi member Debbie Young (she who organised the HULF LitFest), recently urged and reminded us that writers should exercise their minds by not just reading books  but writing reviews. (http://authordebbieyoung.com/2015/04/12/why-authors-should-review-books-plus-my-latest-book-review-for-vine-leaves-literary-journal/ ). Having a cold recently justified time off and I read 2 1/2 novels, all Indie published and available on Kindle. And all in the rather nebulous genre where my writing also fits.

A fish in water: covers sell books!

First off: A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon. After meeting Ali who was introducing our short readings at the HULF, (URL), I bought her book. From its cover, I guessed this would be a fun read. It was obviously neither crime  nor sci-fi fantasy.  Those legs, testing water, indicated it might be

A covers which draws you in …

quite thought-provoking. A slow start where I wondered where we were going to go to, but soon the story began to intrigue: Ailsa and her friends, just leaving school, and heading to Uni really ‘because it’s what you do next’, hang out in typical YA fashion. As Ailsa decides to buy fish for supper,and worries whether she should move to Edinburgh when she starts Uni or travel in daily from her home, we realise that her family life is distinctly dreary. She is a young carer for her Mum. And Dad took off years ago.

The book then swings into action. Ailsa’s compass points for finding meaning in life are distinctly wobbly. The story follows her bumpy ride through grabbing some life for herself, falling into relationships, and discovering her best childhood memories could be nastily tainted.

Indeed it’s a detective story without the bodies and the crime. Or is it? Throughout, Bacon keeps us guessing, while evoking painfully this stage of life: a three-some day out, your perceptions of who people are.

Here we begin to see more clearly how Bacon’s older characters have been weaving a ‘tangled web’ of deceit which now impacts  down the years. And how she leads us towards a satisfactory conclusion…

Finding writers like  me

Setting out, I hoped to introduce you to the next one I read: newly published Chasing Down the Night by Francis Guenette, third in the ‘Crater Lake’ series.  A great page turner, similarly featuring a group of young adults finding their feet … I love these books for the realism and the conquering of some tricky hands which life had dealt the characters. I am encouraged by these writers, to know that there are others who are tackling the tough questions about finding meaning, a place to be and people to be with and respecting their characters in stories told without sentiment, problems sorted while an easy life is not promised. I feel kind of proud to be writing in a genre which though not wildly popular at present, is deep and thoughtful and life enhancing.

Blueberry cake for the class reunion

For today, I’m having to leave Francis Guenette’s book, along with Nancy Freund’s Rapeseed, for another time … I have some icing to put on a cake …  As for the usefulness of the coffee morning …a good chat about rising house prices and changing neighbourhoods … and somebody mentioned cloves. Apparently scattering ground cloves on an ants’ nest will send the ants scuttering off to find an alternative home.

Here’s hoping the des res down the garden is soon vacated.

A Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon available from the usual on-line stores … or order a copy from your local bookshop and support booksellers!

Writing: Glasses full at Hawkesbury Upton

To become a writer is to expect disappointment…  wise words, from a wise writer. His quirky, lighthearted, semi-fantasy writings are deceptively wise. His name is Alexander McCall Smith. 

Wonderful, life-affiriming books
Wonderful, life-affirming books

And at a rather bad time in my life, a friend’s kindness was to introduce me to his wonderfully affirming stories.

An Indie Author Life seems about the worst idea in the world. Edit and publish your own books? Write, design, and print your own publicity? Promote yourself on social media? Find your own readers?

Fun at The Fox: the Hawkesbury Upton LitFest

One of many ways to promote our books  is to follow up every opportunity to appear before an audience, willing to invite them into your stories by reading an extract or two. Thursday  was World Book Night, and over a hundred people gathered at The Fox, Hawkesbury Upton, to celebrate.

The Fox Hawkesbury Upton
The Fox Hawkesbury Upton

It was a  warm sunny evening, and the initial readings could be held outdoors in the marquee, giving the event a summery feel.

Later, after the official opening by Katie Fforde of the Romantic Novelists Association, a  huge-er than imagined crowd meant we were packed in the Function Room like happy, book-loving sardines.  Authors (gathered partly via our membership of ALLi http://allianceindependentauthors.org/)  were wreathed in smiles, locals curious enough to purchase a pint and join the fun gathered to hear a bit about the writing life. And more 5-minute tasters of Indie authors’ work.

Katie Fforde opens the Festival (photo Clint Randall)
Katie Fforde opens the Festival (photo Clint Randall)

Situated in a village rather than a large town or city, had a really cosy feel, and The Fox was providing not only the venue but dinner in the restaurant and/or B and B for some of us.

I was able to read from both my novels (Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year) about the Mullins family – Max the GP and his wife Jenny, genetic researcher – and my ‘Wannabe’ poem found a use illustrating the apparent romance of being writers … (see blogpost  Trips and Tropes ...  ) 

The LitFest Effect …

Friday morning was time to take a walk around the village: rolling green Cotswold countryside, wild flowers, a sloping lane bordered by woods, and the ancient, part-Saxon, St Mary’s church.

field of cowsWhere a friendly local dog-walker borrowed a key and showed us around. After a few over-busy months, and a series of appliance disasters in our house, elated by the country break, ‘Writing this now,’ I wrote on Saturday evening, with that quote from Alexander M S in my head, (Radio Four  Saturday morning)t- ‘I’ve still got that now all the exams are all over feeling … ‘ 

It was actually time to affirm the whole quote …

To become a writer is to expect disappointment…  until you remember that the glass that’s half empty is also half full.

Half full, half full, I am telling myself … Thursday to Saturday maybe it was completely full … but even  if I (and others) sold nothing, the glass is not half empty (as here in this intellectual city we so easily think) … no, it is definitely half full – and it will be full again …  Mma Ramostwe of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is so encouraging, as she says,  ‘... it is well known …’

From an Amazon review … (G.Heppel, Kindle Edition,  http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Labyrinth-Year-Mari-Howard-ebook/dp/B00T81L1AU)

… Alice and Zoe, Max and Jenny’s children, are beautifully realised characters in their own right, not drawing attention to themselves, fitting into the story exactly as they should.

TLY with MSF stickerThe conflicts begun in Baby, Baby of religious fundamentalism versus tolerance, scientific progress in genetics and fertility against the risks of new procedures, are more relevant than ever, and Mari Howard does an expert job of weaving these themes into her story without ever letting them weigh it down. In her wonderful, accurate portrayal of the different strands of Christianity, she shows how faith and science don’t need to be mutually exclusive …

P1200017 - Version 2 

Writers in real life …

Vintage, retro, call-it-what-you-will

Last week I so liked Debbie Young’s piece on her lovely Village Shop that I re-blogged it. The story of the warm sheltering shop for the kids waiting for the school bus; the concept of a shop serving a small community; a place people can meet and connect with others without travelling there first; the delicious display of new bread … The very fact that Hawkesbury Upton, unlike many, is a village which has a shop where residents can not only buy useful items but chat and relate … Too tempting to compare that with living on the outskirts of a city with appalling traffic,  more estate agents than most people know what to do with, and franchised coffee shops …

When there was room for a cat

Can’t have it all ways

However … back then, in retro-land, and for decades of the past, ordinary women did not, (on the whole) figure much in the creative arts.  (Who knows what wonderful stories of daily life we’d otherwise have, by people who didn’t live in grand houses, travel by carriage, or attend balls at the Assembly Rooms?) We are in the age of  ‘thing-led’ modern living. The almost-universal ownership of household appliances has freed  us as much as any Equality Acts. With the laundry spinning away in a machine I multi-task daily at my computer … writing, relating, researching … Having that satisfying feeling of the Good Housekeeper as well, as the load flaps later on the line … a writer and a painter …

Until something happens that demonstrates our utter dependence on electricity, on-line shopping, deliverymen, and worst of all the computer! I am now without a washing machine. Ours ended the wash Saturday a week ago, with a drum of soaking wet clothes and an “F-21” display on it digital face. (Along with an ironic smile perhaps?) Just as we were about to go walking with friends.

Off at last!
Me behind the camera as ever!

So now, piles of washing in the basket … no space for the cat! And the store just rang today to say due to computer problems, they now can’t deliver the (abundantly necessary) new machine t ill April 1st …March 14 – April 1st in old money, washing-wise.

Thankfully, I know how to hand-wash, I only had to watch my Mum throughout my childhood.

Simple technology…

And I don’t throw things away … we love this, even though it’s ancient, hideous, and clutters up the utility room. It’s a spin dryer, circa 1973 …

And then there’s been the kindness of friends, the load done in the neighbour’s machine … a blessing, (though maybe less amicable than down by a river, bashing the clothes on a stone?)

The ‘too busy’ that we all are

Looking back, how’ve I confidently become so busy? Middle of trying to promote Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, my 2 Indie-

Two colourful Book Covers
Two colourful Book Covers

published novels, (getting the hang of Amazon and Goodreads’ more obtuse and hidden-away pages, where you the author can promote your writing …); making notes about number 3 in the series. Then the family remember there’s an unpublished one, and in an area which has become a hot topic now. We rescue it from the attic: it’s good. It’s well written in a previous style and comes with positive comments from my creative writing teacher of many years ago. (A short course I’d forgotten about.) It’s highly controversial. It’ll need to be published under a different name.

For a few days, it is horribly tempting …  it needs a revised ending … but …

Sticking to the plan

Whatever: I’ve also committed myself to the Indie Author Fair at Foyleshttp://allianceindependentauthors.org/  – time to also meet other ALLi authors).

HawkesburyUpton advert
http://hulitfest.com/

And to the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. Beguiled not only by the chance for publicity and to read from my books but … the concept. A LitFest in a rural setting, run by locals, small enough to really meet other authors and even potential readers.

One of life’s puzzles …

2 of life's puzzles
2 of life’s puzzles

With all the automated living in the world, choices still have to be made. I’ve chosen IAF and Hawkesbury Upton …

What would you chose … if your old novel found in the attic might’ve hit the headlines, but at the expense of destroying relations with readers of your first two? Just not ruthless enough, I guess