Archive for category Non-writing

Just when you thought it was all over…

… the Olympians are back!

Mo Farah double vainqueur du 5000-10000m à Lon...

I thought that all those brilliant Olympic medal winners would be taking a well-earned rest. Perhaps sunning themselves somewhere or at least putting their feet up and indulging in a takeaway pizza and a large piece of chocolate fudge cake. But it appears there is no rest for the elite and a handful of our heroes were back in competition on Sunday at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium as part of the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix. And I was there to see them!

Long jump gold medallist, Greg Rutherford, high jump bronze medallist, Robbie Grabarz and 400m silver medallist, Christine Ohuruogu were all competing, along with several other London 2012 medallists from other countries. But the highlight was watching Mo Farah win the 2 mile event with a fantastic sprint finish! The stadium went wild.

So these high-achievers don’t sit back and rest on their laurels after a success and they don’t give up when they fail either. Do you?

When an editor accepts a story or you get placed in a competition – what do you do? Spend days telling everyone about it or just get back to your desk and write something else?

When the rejections come in do you throw in the towel and decide to write nothing more that week? Or do you get back to your desk and write something else?

As writers we have to be like athletes – constantly training the parts of our body that make us produce of our best. So whatever life throws at you, good or bad, get back to your desk and write something! The more you use that writing muscle the better it will become.

Lecture over. I’ll now attempt to take a piece of my own advice … and go do some writing!

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The Olympics (for the last time) & Win Afternoon Tea with Clare Balding at the Ritz

How was the Olympics for you?

I thought it was terrific – that wonderful opening ceremony, the wall to wall coverage by the BBC and the buckets of gold medals for Team GB. Last weekend I was lucky enough to get down to London to experience things for real. We stood outside Buckingham Palace in the pouring rain to watch the women’s Marathon and the following day saw Synchronised Swimming Duets at the Aquatic Centre in Olympic Park.

Inside the Aquatic Centre, London 2012

Inside the Aquatic Centre

Both places exuded a real ‘feel good’ atmosphere. Everyone was friendly, including fellow spectators, volunteers, police, London transport staff etc. It’s a shame that we can’t bottle this ‘proud to be British’ feeling so that we can take another swig when the doom and gloom of the double-dip recession hits home again.

Thank you, LOCOG for an amazing 2 weeks (and I don’t usually follow any sort of sport).

Clare Balding has played a major part in bringing these Games into our living rooms and, as well as being a sports commentator, she is also a writer. Her book, My Animals and Other Family, will be published on September 13th 2012. The book includes anecdotes from Clare’s childhood about her pets and she has organised a competition to celebrate its launch.

She wants to see your pictures, stories and poems about the pets that have touched you. The winners receive copies of My Animals and Other Family, and one winner will join Clare for tea at The Ritz.

To enter, go to Alternatively, you can email entries to

Closing date is September 13th 2012 and entry is free. Full terms and conditions are here.

So if you’ve got a poem tucked away about your beloved dog, cat or tarantula, why not send it in?



All the Bells – Work No. 1197

At 8:12 am today I took part in ‘All the Bells’ to ring in the first day of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The event was masterminded by Martin Creed and the aim was to ring all the bells in the country as quickly and loudly as possible for 3 minutes. It was timed to be exactly 12 hours before the opening ceremony of the Games, which starts at 20:12 this evening.

At St. Michael’s Church, Boldmere in Sutton Coldfield we chimed the heaviest 6 of our 8 church bells.  An official Olympic volunteer at the football in Coventry, Debbie, came along in her (very smart) uniform to support us and took the picture below (I’m the one in the middle with the black T-shirt).

All the Bells - Bellringing for London 2012 Olympics, St. Michael's Boldmere

All this Olympic mania made me wonder what happened to the 100 chosen to be ‘Olympic Storytellers’ after the invitation for us all to apply last year. I wasn’t successful and have heard nothing about it since. But a quick trawl of the web has thrown up the Olympic Story Tellers’ Website. Here each of selected writers has published their news and views of the Olympics. There are poems, photographs and blog posts – take a look if you get a minute.

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Mincing Your Words

Did you know that many of our swear words have religious roots? Or have you any idea where the phrase ‘mincing your words’ comes from? I’d never really thought about it until I heard Thought for the Day on Radio 4 last Monday with Clifford Longley.

He explained how years ago swearing in public could get a person arrested and punished. Bad language would be noted down by the police officer who had witnessed it and then, in court, the piece of paper would be silently shown to the judge so that he could decide on the offender’s comeuppance.

The most offensive swearing had its basis in religion and therefore contravened the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Hence, the reason that many people took offence.

To avoid the repercussions of their bad language, people used to ‘mince their words’ to disguise what they were really saying. Here are a few of the minced expressions:

By Our Lady (which referred to the Virgin Mary) became Bloody

God Blind Me became Blimey

Christ became Crikey or Cripes

By God’s Wounds became Zounds (I have to admit I’ve never heard of this one)

These minced words passed into common use at different times in the last few hundred years. So, if you write historical fiction and have characters with a tendency to bad language – take some time to discover exactly what they would have said and whether they would have been in danger of getting arrested for it!

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A Royal Day Out by a Proud Mum

I was a guest of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh at St. James’ Palace – at my elder daughter, Eleanor’s D of E Gold Award presentation.

Eleanor travelled from Leeds, I caught the train from Birmingham and we met for lunch at Victoria before strolling over to our appointment at the palace (via Fortnum and Mason, where I ogled some beautiful but exorbitantly priced leather-bound notebooks).

Once inside the palace the young people were drilled in how to stand in horse-shoe formation in groups of 30 for meeting the Duke. Whilst waiting for him to arrive, Phil Brown gave an interesting and motivational talk on his experiences in the 4×4 relay team in the 1984 Olympic Games.

Then it was the moment we’d been waiting for – Prince Philip’s arrival. He spent some time chatting with each of the ‘horse-shoe’ groups plus any of the parents he spotted wearing a Gold Award badge from their youth. Then the certificates were presented (unfortunately not by the Prince) and it was a proud moment when Eleanor’s name was called.

Eleanor is continuing the expedition skills she learned during  her D of E time by tackling the 3 Peaks Challenge (climbing Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike within 24 hours) in May in order to raise money for ShelterBox, which delivers emergency shelter to people made homeless worldwide by disaster. Her target is to raise £250 and she’s launched a fundraising page to supplement the cake sales and tin shaking she’s been doing at university. Please take a look at her page and sponsor her for this worthy cause if you possibly can. As they say, every little helps!

And that’s enough showing-off by a proud mum – next post we’ll be back to work and the subject of writing.

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Notes From a Hospital Bed

A few days ago I had to go into hospital for a minor operation. Like most people, I was nervous and tried not to think

English: Poster showing a nurse, with her arms...

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about the actual procedure. Instead I tried to focus on the more pleasant things – such as choosing which book to pack to fill the time before I went down to theatre, going shopping for new slippers (fruitless – they were all old ladies’ styles!) and the relief I would feel when it was all over. If I had dwelt solely on the operation I would have been stressed, anxious and maybe I would’ve chickened out of the whole thing altogether.

Sitting in the ward in a backless gown, thick white anti-embollism stockings and paper pants (too much information – sorry!), it struck me that it was all a bit like attempting a novel. The thought of the huge task of slogging away at 80,000 words strikes fear, anxiety and stress into the heart of any writer – and scares many of us away from starting chapter 1 at all. But taking our eyes off the task ahead and instead concentrating on the preparation (character sketches, plot, chapter outlines etc) and allowing ourselves (brief!) flights of fancy to a future book launch party makes things less daunting – allowing us to slip into the actual writing without too much worry, just as I slipped under the anaesthetic (well, after a couple of attempts by the anaesthetist at finding a vein for his needle).

So don’t let that unknown black hole of hard work frighten you off attempting a longer piece of writing – concentrate on the pleasanter bits to ease yourself into it.


Read for RNIB Day 2011

A blind man is led by his guide dog in Brasíli...

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Friday 14th October is Read for RNIB Day 2011 – the aim is to raise funds for the RNIB. Participants can do anything reading related – from organising a book sale or literary lunch to getting the office to dress up as their favourite book characters.

As my contribution to Read for RNIB Day, I will donate £1* to the RNIB for each new subscriber to this blog between now and midnight on Friday October 14th. To sign-up simply put your email address in the box on the right of this page. You will then receive each new post as an email instead of having to visit this website. It is completely free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

I do have a special interest in this charity because I am virtually blind in one eye. It doesn’t affect my life – I can still drive, work, read etc. but it does mean I try not to take my sight for granted and have regular checks at the opticians. 

Blind and partially sighted people can’t enjoy the simple luxury of reading a book without expensive technology. 

So here are some of the things that the money raised by the RNIB will be spent on to help blind people read and write:

  • £50 will pay for a birthday book, so we can send every child their favourite book in the format they want on their birthday.
  • £100 pays for a full day’s recording of Talking Newspapers – audio versions of the daily papers people with sight loss know and love.
  • £125 helps run classes that prepare parents to teach braille to their children.
  • £250 can help buy a braillenote machine, so someone with sight loss can read and write on their own again, rather than relying on others.

So please, stick your email address in the box and help me raise money for the RNIB.  

*My donation will be capped at £20 – in case I get spammed or I’m just more popular than I anticipated!


San Francisco and Writer’s Digest

I’m back!San Francisco Cruise

I had my bike ride – it was across the Golden Gate Bridge & I had my icecream – in the heart of San Francisco. (Apologies for the white lie about my holiday but I’m currently wrangling with my car insurance over the theft of my car a few weeks ago and it made me feel vulnerable about announcing to the world that the house would be empty.) 

Amongst many other things we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It contains a video installation that explores the art of story telling ‘without a beginning or an end and with no character or plot development’. I’m sure if we tried this as writers our work would be swiftly rejected. Maybe it’s different in the art world…

I also bought a copy of the US writing magazine ‘Writer’s Digest’. It seemed quite thin compared to our own Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum but there are a few things of interest on its website:

  • A series of writing prompts – responses of up to 500 words can be posted on the site or you could just use them to kick-start your own writing
  • Various competitions such as one here for a 1500 word story.
  • Writing Tips
  • Writing articles cargorised by genre such as Romance, Horror, Memoir etc.

So, if you fancy an insight into the US writing scene, take a look at the site.



Staunton Harold Bells

The picture shows the ringing chamber at Staunton Harold church in Leicestershire. The church is cared for by the Staunton Harold Church Ringing ChamberNational Trust and has 8 bells – these haven’t been rung since 1998 due to worries about the structure of the church.

When the volunteer guide discovered that I was a bell-ringer he offered to show me the ringing chamber, which isn’t open to the public. We went up the usual spiral staircase and into a chamber that time forgot. The blue sallies (the furry bits) on the ropes were thick with grey dust and the room seemed to have become a dumping ground for anything and everything.  There were a couple of peal boards on the wall recording the ringing successes of earlier generations but what I found most interesting was the ‘music stand’ in the centre of the room.

I’ve been ringing since I was a teenager but have never seen a ‘music stand’ in a ringing chamber before. The ringers would place notes on it to remind themselves of what they were going to ring (usually the ringers have the pattern of changes in their heads or it is shouted by the ringing master). In the picture you can see candle holders on the stand that would have been essential on winter practice nights before electric lighting.

I was very grateful to the volunteer guide for allowing me this peek into history.

What has this got to do with writing? Nothing directly, except that I found it interesting and wanted to bring it to a wider audience – and all my attempts to get an article on bell ringing published have failed.

But then I got thinking about all the generations of ringers that have stood in that ringing chamber – big burly farm hands, soldiers who perished in the world wars, the first women to learn to ring etc etc. Could there be a family saga set around the church and its ringing fraternity? Or maybe a short story about a mutiny amongst the ringers? Or a Midsomer Murders type tale?

So that abandoned ringing chamber could have a lot to do with writing…

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