Happy Hallowe’en?


So what’s it all about? Why is Hallowe’en suitable for children?

Our ancient ancestors tamed scary things using myth and ritual. Hallowe’en, with witches, ghosts, and the undead, is the festival of fear: of the unknown, of the different, as the long dark nights begin. Coming before the festival of light, which anticipates the promise of the return of life  – Christmas. Both have moved far from their roots…

Could Hallowe’en have become again a necessary festival, to let off the head of steam created by not believing in an ‘Other’? Or (since the enormous popularity of this autumn festival grew as my kids were in junior school) was its establishment helping to give teachers a way to hold back the autumn term’s anticipation of Christmas? Stories and craft activities around Hallowe’en abound, witches are creepily popular, orange paint is fun to use and masks can be made and worn…

And back then, some parents definitely and strongly disapproved. Though I have this feeling that the religious groups don’t really need to fear that evil will be let lose in a big way by Hallowe’en… but, stop there, I believe it can be.

So, is it ‘really evil?’

 – Hallowe’en is a marketing opportunity. Like Christmas, it functions around stories, and even more around dressing up, games and decorations, with costumes  for sale weeks before.

– And Hallowe’en costumes aren’t necessarily all ghouls and ghosts, there’s been a move towards exploiting prejudice, or rather, stigma. Not only death, but disfigurement, deformity, mental illness, criminality, and other ‘nasties’ are being marketed. That, I think, is very scary, as well as being retrogressively evil. Stigma’s as old as society: in our scientific, techno-driven, politically correct age, there’s officially no magic and no witches (at least in black raggedly garments and tall hats). But when ‘monsters’ can be explained away by faulty of DNA, and we know perfectly well that there are no ‘undead’, it seems some of us need them. So Hallowe’en industry says it’s okay to mock, and to stigmatise, and encourage fear.

But it’s not just about celebrating creepy things…  How to see in the Dark

 – One explanation of the origins of Hallowe’en is the ‘Eve’ of All Hallows, the day before the church celebrated the lives of all the ordinary people we have loved and lost. It can become a celebration of love, not fear. One young mum I know is baking love heart cookies for her children to take around their neighbours as gifts on Hallowe’en. For her family, these are ‘to illustrate God’s love’: but even if you don’t believe in God, a heart cookie to remember the people you loved, and who loved you, is a  heartwarming idea.

– The festival falls at the time when darkness really sets in. To live through the darkness, we all need light: we can symbolically turn away from the coming cold and dreary weather, and celebrate thankfully that we have both light and heat in our homes, and in our world.

 – We could also remember that without sunshine, we lack Vitamin D, and buy supplements/choose foods to help us through the long dark days. And anything else, like books, DVDs and getting together with friends that makes us laugh or feel joyful – and drives away depression.

And what about all things orange?

 – Orange not only about sitting at the fireside. The American festival of Thanksgiving (the last Thursday in November) is a bit too late for a Harvest Festival, some areas are already expecting or experiencing snow: so instead they chose All Hallows Eve, the end of October, to give thanks for the harvest. Huge bright orange pumpkins make wonderful decorations…some can be lanterns, with funny faces, a candle illuminating the inside. candle. In North America, some of these squash grow so huge that small children can actually get inside…

I hope your Hallowe’en will be a fun, thankful, and joyful welcoming of the change of the seasons, while the natural world rests ready for the spring, and looking forward to the cosy things we can do indoors (especially reading good stories!)

 

Where did (summer and) the writing go? Research time …

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A sunny day at the local farm, when we picked raspberries for jam

So, finally, August was summer! Then September began with dank, wet, days under a lowering, deep grey sky. After a few moans about the annual angst of shoe-buying for kids, all the writing Mummies I know began lively blogs on the happy theme of new coloured pencils and shiny notebooks… new clothes, new shoes, new thoughts, new space to write! …Autumn is not the End of Summer but a happy time of New Beginnings!

True to history, autumn begins the academic year in the northern hemisphere, since it was time to plant the crops. So summer counted as year’s end, with the harvest brought in … then back to school, back to the desk. Thankfully, the sun’s also back. New beginnings are looking brighter and more possible.

We have a new (and first) grandson so there’s a new beginning in our family … All

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Beginning to  know a new little person

grandparents are besotted with a new little one. He is a magical baby, growing by the day and beginning to observe the world around him—colours and shapes beyond Me and Mummy! After a jumbled year interrupted by computer problems, and deep doubts about writing and publishing, (and with the weirdness of the political happenings here in the UK), back to the desk. To revive the Work in Progress. And with a revised Hodge website  which embeds the blog.

Though quite honestly, (see  Altruism the British Way of Life) the world scene, “Brexit” and the American election prospects put fiction writing into question: is it pointless? Is it irrelevant?

But would giving up change anything?

Where is Love You to the Moon, caught in the events of this crazy year? At Hawkesbury Litfest, on the fiction writers’ panel discussing ‘Write what you Know – or Not?, we all agreed that even if the novel is centred on your own locality and workplace, it’s very much not autobiography. Even a family story is more than that.

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Research, observation – or autobiography?

Fiction demands research, facts to build the skeleton which shapes the plot. This is (mostly) as true of contemporary fiction as of historical. If political or medical facts, say, don’t fit, it’s the plot which has to change. What makes Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stand out amongst fantasy fiction is the verisimilitude of the languages (they work) and his enormous knowledge, accumulated for decades and beginning in his teens, of mythologies.

Thankfully I’m not writing fantasy so my inability with languages won’t spoil the story. And my  novel’s set in 2007, not 2016, so nothing about the current complications facing our government.

Where my research will be centred

The science driving the plot in Love You to the Moon, and how this affects and is employed by the characters, needs firming up. Will one of the strands work better driven by research on diabetes or mitochondrial diseases – either, or which?

And what’s on the school curriculum for teenagers of 13 and 15? How have they reacted to the rise of terrorism? What are they reading, in 2007, and what’s the career path for a woman academic scientist with two children and husband with a time-consuming job and a social conscience? Which iPhone belongs to what years? Small details and large ones …

Emotional and physical growth, increased insights for characters and author?

Meanwhile, the characters wait in the wings —but ten years older…What is different for them? Are Max and Jenny still together? What’s Daze been up to?  What kind of a teenager is Alice?

research booksAfter a break, concentrating on reading, painting, enjoying our local nature reserve, and not thinking about whether or not I would actually write this third book in the series, I’m going back to re-reading about the Edwardian scientific research that made possible Dolly the Sheep, which first excited me into writing Baby, Baby.

books (Islamic authors)

And the books from non-Western writers who convinced me to explore diversities nearer home, and develop a cool and unemotional writing voice. Back to new beginnings around hidden cultural diversities, the impact of medical science on social attitudes, the ups and downs of family life.

And am hoping the sun shines (not metaphorically, factually) through autumn …

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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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!

Hawkesbury Literature Festival Two!

The First Venue: The Fox Inn

This year’s Hawkesbury Literature Festival (the second, and expanded, version) has spawned a whole host of author blogs: so where to begin? As we drove West to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, rain lashed down from a uniformly grey-ed over sky. It didn’t look promising. It continued raining steadily as some us gathered at the Methodist Hall to help lay out the pop-up cafe and display our books. Outside the Fox Inn the marquee, put up for the children’s art and writing activities, stood in the downpour.

But the weather’s total turn-round overnight meant Saturday promised a wonderful day. Moving between the Fox, the tent, the Methodist Chapel and the Hall, authors, visitors, and volunteers enjoyed  blue skies, bright sunshine, and attractive gardens full of spring flowers.

My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!
My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!

If there was anything wrong with Hawkesbury this time it was there was so much to do and to see. The Tent buzzed with children doing art or writing sessions, and adults viewing the illustrators’ work and the colouring books, the cafe buzzed with Tea-and-Coffee drinking, cake-eating, cheese-tasting the Cornish Yarg, chatting and book-browsing. (That’s the Yarg, in the bowl at the front of the photo, and William Fairney’s book title? Fifty Shades of Yarg … you get it?)

Performance poet Dan Holloway kicks off the poetry reading session

And there were sessions on poetry, (one beginning ‘I stubbed my toe on a  hedgehog ...) and on ‘Writing with or from Difference’, besides last year’s Fiction category, divided into several sections, and all featuring in both Readings and Panel discussion categories.

As a participating author, this year I enjoyed my first experience of being on a discussion panel (two: ‘Contemporary Fiction: Write What You Know – or Not?’, and ‘What’s the Point of Poetry?’).

It’s always interesting to learn how other people ‘work’, their motivations and their approach to creative activity. A number of us on the Fiction panel go for the ‘get the story all down, then edit’ method, and one at least said she doesn’t usually know how the book will end when she is at the beginning. I’m actually not usually that kind of writer: I’m apt to begin a writing session with a bit of editing on the last bit I wrote, it seems to get the creativity going. We all agreed that whether or not you set out to ‘write what you know’, research will enter you life as you turn your well-known environment (Jackie Kabler’s is working as a TV journalist/presenter) into the settings your plot.   Lynne Pardoe’s stories come straight from her experiences as a social worker – and have happy endings. Ali Bacon continues to experiment with how far or not she writes what she knows, and enjoys producing short stories. Jackie set her story within the TV Newsroom but someone had murdered her boss … which she certainly hasn’t witnessed … and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn told us how her editor had suggested that although she had researched Venice and knew it well, the enthusiastic  descriptions needed editing down. Nikki Owen’s story features a woman with high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome, which she doesn’t have but obviously found fascinating enough to enter into and create a story. Thomas Shepherd does have Asperger’s, but his story, a fantasy, doesn’t feature this. Some find the research time a necessary evil: others really enjoy digging into what they don’t know. And we seized the chance to enlighten our audience about how much writing what we know is autobiography: no, it pretty much always isn’t.

So with sessions on contemporary, historical, sci-fi and fantasy, and writing fiction from a point of ‘being different’, what was the most popular with the audience? It was this one: the skill of writing about your or another’s difference or disability: making the ‘difference’ work for your writing, overcoming  by your  writing, sharing what it is like to be inside what counts as difference. Read Thomas Shepherd’s blog about participating in this discussion here.

Debbie Young, Festival Organiser, with Dan Holloway and ShIrley Wright, poets

At the same time, learning more about other authors, how they work, why they write, is tremendously unifying: books are the bottom line, and within that, a huge diversity of interests, styles, attitudes, and lifestyles.

Recently, we’ve hosted, as a City, the huge Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival – a chance for celebs and well known authors to be gathered into one place and for audiences to hear them speak and have them sign copies of their books.

Blackwells Oxford LitFest Festival Marquee … parked near the Sheldonian Theatre

A small Festival like Hawkesbury has a totally different feel: a chance to interact with readers, and fellow participants. Hawkesbury aims to be inclusive: we were a mixture of Indie and ‘trade published’ writers, of amateur and professional poets. None of us could claim ‘celebrity’ status, and this makes for a truly festive and for-the-people feel, offering a ‘platform’ to everybody and aiming to give exposure to new names in the writing business. And so back home, and to writing Love You to the Moon …

Find my books at Hodge website, or on Amazon here and here …

Photos of Hawkesbury Literature Festival with thanks to Joanna Penn, author and very active member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors), photo of Blackwell’s marquee and the Baby, Baby/The Labyrinth Year publicity card my own. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mothers’ Day, Mothering Sunday, who do we include?

Anyone who’s read my books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon ...)
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon …)

will know they feature families and several different kinds of mothers. Professional women struggling to juggle the work and the family; a pastor’s wife expected to mother the congregation as well as her five growing children; a mother who has escaped a violent teenage marriage, been forced to abandon her child,  and worked in a women’s refuge … Though all are western mothers, and only one has suffered the trauma of the stillbirth of a malformed baby.

This Sunday is Mothers’ Day

or as it used to be known, Mothering Sunday. The middle Sunday in Lent, when (as you may already know), domestic servants had a day off to go and visit Mother.

Hedgerow spring flowers
Hedgerow spring flowers

Many of them would be just kids, really: girls the age we now count legally as children, girls who’d now be in school, girls too young to marry, and who we count as being too young to be seduced into sex. Sent out to earn a living as young teens, some as young as twelve, living in a servants’ attic, eating in the servants’ kitchen surrounded by adults. A visit home to Mother and the sisters and brothers was a real treat. They might take Mother a bunch of flowers, picked from a hedgerow along the way …

In fact, it’s a day about showing love.

So, here we are on Mothers’ Day
Me and my daughter, summer 1981

with cards, shop windows and catalogues of possible gifts, and for churchgoers a service where little  bunches of flowers are given out to the mums.

The churches have also, so as not to leave out the childless, so as to be inclusive, led the way to this becoming an all-women’s day.

It’s a good intention: but is there actually a reasonable argument for keeping this day to specially celebrate and be thankful for mothers? For what they do, for what they go through to produce, nurture, and protect, children? Hoping not to hurt anyone’s feelings, I think there is.

Every-Mothers’ Day

We might up-date celebrating mothers by being aware of mothers world-wide.

Well off, well educated, mothers in Western countries, aren’t in the majority of women on the planet. And we have health care to ensure that (usually) pregnancy, birth, and the post-natal days are safer than ever before. Clean water, a warm home, an income, maternity leave, all work towards happy motherhood. Postnatal depression can be treated.   

Most young girls here have not gone through FGM, with all that does to intercourse and giving birth. 

Most have not, at puberty, had an arranged marriage, which nicely puts an end to education, can lead to pregnancy  before they are fully grown and developed, can lead to dangerous childbirth, or at worst to death.

Most western women do not develop a fistula from going through complicated, protracted labour and delivery in a poverty stricken area without enough doctors, nurses, or trained midwives: for us, the minority, there are maternity units with skilled staff who can perform a safe caesarean.

But all these events give a very realistic picture of being a mother in, say, somewhere like Afghanistan, or many African countries..

Mums in the refugee camps in Europe
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters

Having fled war, mothers living in makeshift shelters are having keep an eye on their young girls. Living in a tent, or substandard group housing, girls are vulnerable to abduction, presumably to be used for sex. It isn’t nice: it’s a terrible worry for parents. Especially for mothers, who know what sex with an older, maybe roughly forceful, man would be like for their young girls.

So, it’s a day about love?

I would really love to see Mothers’ Day become a day when we think about the reality of being  mothers. While being thankful to our mothers, and for our own safe birth, let’s do more than that. 

That’s not to say we need to deny ourselves giving and receiving flowers, chocs and hugs … But whether or not we are mothers, inclusivity might mean showing empathy to mothers less fortunate: giving to an organisation which cares for women as mothers.Let’s make Mothers Day about love and generous inclusivity 

Find out about fistula, FGM, and other related topics:

Information on FGM, and other related topics

What is a fistula, how are they caused, why are they so dangerous and excluding? 

AUTHOR EVENT:

Celebrate books and reading:

It will soon be time for the second 

 Hawkesbury LitFest … Saturday 23rd April, all day

at Hawkesbury Upton … author readings,

talks, poetry, children’s activities … in a Cotswold

Village setting 

Writing a Series: re-meeting my characters …

What’ve you been doing? Haven’t seen you in a while …

Yes it’s been while … Now Christmas is thoroughly over: it came with a pile of reading for the dark December/January evenings … I’ve read for review and I’ve beta read a couple of emerging books. And that’s where I’ve been. I need to write up a couple more reviews. All are Indie novels, some in genres I don’t usually read. (You can read my review of Francis Guenette’s Maelstrom on Amazon, or on Goodreads here) This is a novel by a writer whose ‘Crater Lake’ series I’ve enjoyed, and was a departure for her into something rather different. though stamped with the Guenette interest in landscape, indigenous peoples, and her insight into human psychology. P1210724Another was a debut YA fantasy, Philip Davies’ Destiny’s Rebel (available also on Amazon). For contrast, I’m reading (non-Indie) Khulud Khamis’s Haifa Fragments .

As a writer, I’m something of a rebel: for one thing, those writerly myths – the special pen or notebook, the childhood spent with nose in a book, the early stories scribbled in an exercise book … hum … here’s a writer whose serious work began on a keyboard, who drew rather than wrote all those early attempts at storytelling, (the art teacher even at A level was critiquing my work as, ‘Ah – it’s very narrative, isn’t it?’). And my handwriting doesn’t either deserve a special pen or get one. As for the notebook …

Myths aside, when I began writing, (and after those early attempts, two whole novel-length typescripts but not quite there yet) I really wanted to do something different. What is more exciting than the world of life sciences, especially the microscopic world where life begins? The cutting edge of biological science, the ‘how and why’ basics of cells and reproduction?

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

‘Write what you know’ is a (disputed) piece of advice: interpreting that as ‘write what thrills you’, I invented Jenny Guthrie’s world, set her up with a passionate relationship, and took her on a journey into a world she’d been taught to shun, religious fundamentalism. Research for Baby, Baby was thrilling, (especially being taken to look behind the scenes at fertility clinic, and viewing slides on an electron microscope). I added heaps to my biological knowledge, and got to know much more than I actually needed, and it was all fascinating.

In the follow-up, The Labyrinth Year, Jenny’s attempts at being a ‘feisty female’ academic and a yummy mummy leave her wondering where she went wrong. That was, fictionally, back in 1997.

sennen beach – Version 3
What might this picture say about how we understand love?

 I’m busy getting to know my characters again. Here’s a writerly myth that works for me: let the characters speak to you, and let them as far as possible lead the story. Research is underway (hence tardiness with the blog), and rumoured to include mitochondria and human embryos. Parents and teenagers are causing problems, and friends are sharing confidences. Stepsister Daze (the artist who crept sneakily into Baby, Baby although the book wasn’t meant to be concerned with art, galleries, and suchlike) will as always try to steal the limelight, though her language has ‘mellowed with time’. Genetics is still in there somewhere, and love is being interpreted by various characters in a selection of ways.

So far, Max is keeping secrets to himself.

Confocal_microscopy_with_spectral_imaging-_Five-color_observation_of_organelles_in_Marchantia_polymorpha_thallus_cells_(17594447615)
Confocal microscopy shows us these organelles, (tiny organisms inside a cell)

I’m now getting excited by the possibility of learning more about the mitochondrial research recently approved by the HFEA . And though these mayn’t appear in the book, I have to find a photo which shows organelles … hopefully in creative commons.

Looking to the future, and in the real world : Hawkesbury LitFest, (known as the HULF) will be back on 23rd April again this year. I’m booked to read along will many other Indie authors who appeared last year, and some new ones. This year’s Festival will include poetry and children’s authors.

HULF poster

If you’re anywhere in striking distance, (Hawkesbury Upton is a Cotswold village in South Gloucestershire, UK), do consider joining us!  23rd April is a Saturday this year, and this year’s Festival will run all day. Readings, a selection of panel discussions, and books to browse and buy …

Writing a series: re-connecting with a vision of my characters

 Cambridge: Clare College bridge
Clare College, Cambridge: the bridge

So – when I began Baby, Baby, and even when I decided there was more to tell, and embarked on The Labyrinth Year, series were popular.  But I hadn’t thought in terms of a series. Love you to the Moon (the ‘work in progress’, novel 3 of the Mullins Family saga) now finds Max and Jenny as long-established professionals, into their forties, and parents of teens. It is 2007, and daughter Alice is almost the age Jenny is in some of the backstory scenes of Baby, Baby.

Sennen Village Primary School
Sennen Village Primary School

This is where the writer must skilfully re-connect with the characters, and imagine them forwards through the maturity (or not) that comes with time. Construct a backstory: career events, giving birth and raising kids, all that makes a family saga real for the reader. I shudder at the character changes we’re sometimes presented with by TV soaps – just to fit in the latest cliff-hanger story-line, and I dread falling into that myself!

Clare College entrance, where Jenny met Max
Clare College entrance, where Jenny met Max

Part of me even tries to suggest that this mis-matched pair would surely have parted by now?

If you, reading this, are a writer, I wonder how you would embark on re-finding Jenny, age 42? Last time I knew her, she was barefoot on the beach at Sennen, ten years younger, exiting a labyrinth drawn in the sand by her stepsister Daisy (known as Daze).

01/09/2004 11:23
The sand at Whitesands Bay, Sennen Cove

Daisy’s idea was that everyone walked the labyrinth, carrying a stone or other object to represent something they will leave behind as they move on…

 

Jy's stone 2
Jenny kept the stone which she’d forgotten to leave in the centre of the Labyrinth

… But Jenny finds, as she leaves the path, that she’s still carrying her stone. It feels heavy in her hand.

This led me to say, There is more, here … we should continue the  journey…

Like Daze, I’m a visual artist, so I’ve turned to studying the photos I’ve taken, over time, of the key places in Jenny’s life so far …

Lobster boats, Sennen Cove
Lobster boats, Sennen Cove

… the journey from Sennen Primary School, where she was the new girl in Year 2, after her parents separated …

 

 

 

Camb market
Cambridge Market (where Jenny unexpectedly meets Daisy, pregnant …)

to the local Cape Cornwall secondary school in nearby St Just…

 

to studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge

Typical lab desk, Oxford University Dept. of Pharmacology
Typical lab desk, Oxford University Dept. of Pharmacology

 

 

and her career as a research  scientist in Oxford …

Where next, Jenny? And who with?

 

 

Who are your friends and mentors, what is happening back in West Cornwall, and how is it for you, being a career scientist, a wife, and Mum to two bright teenage girls? Is there drama in this – and, who’s perception of love will drive them to despair?

 

 

DSC04335.JPG
 Oxford Canal

The Labyrinth Year begins with a narrowboat holiday,

 

 

and takes Jenny to speak at a conference in California,

 

 

then ends with her career as an Oxford scientist in jeopardy ..

Oxford University science area from the Parks
Oxford University science area from the Parks

N Ben's garden 2008 - 2

And who is trying to take over the storytelling next?

Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon ...)
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon …)

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?