Friday 29 July 2011

Sparkfest! Something a bit different

People write for many reasons and I definitely write to be read. Even though there is nothing better in life for me than those heady days when the words are appearing on the page as fast as I can type and the characters are writing their own story, I don’t think I’d be able to justify the time spent on it if I didn’t have the dream that one day somebody other than me, and my trusted critiquing readers, would be entertained by it.  I really enjoy researching, editing, re-writing even proofing but this first draft stage is my ultimate love. Put me in a cafĂ© with a notepad, pen, a cappuccino and an hour and I defy you to find anybody happier with their lot than me.

That’s probably why I like blogging. I get to scribble down my thoughts in a disjointed fashion and, unlike submitting a novel for potential publication (which is nonetheless exciting in its own way), receive instant feedback. So, please excuse what my 11 year old would describe as ‘random cheesiness’ and let me thank you for reading, it makes me very happy to think somebody is interested enough to click and often, gets to the end of my ramblings.

I also enjoy reading other people’s blogs. I like the quick insight into other people’s thinking, subscribe generally to those that read a little like a monthly magazine feature. I like the wry take on life, the ones where you smile and think, ‘yep, I’ve been there,’ or ‘help! I’m still there, are they watching me?’

Blogfests are a way of finding new blogs and introducing new readers to yours and so the Sparkfest (great title!), hosted by Christine at The Writer Coaster caught my eye. I appear to have signed up. Unless something untoward happens between now and then – I should be wary of making such statements as three days off a big deadline I once returned from holiday with a fixator holding my wrist onto my arm after throwing it around the drum of a spin drier at full pelt, the night before supposedly driving home (domesticity, I find, is very overrated) I didn’t hit the deadline but I did type one handed to deliver the piece a couple of weeks late - I’ll post again between the 22 and 26 August with my answers to one or more of the questions below.

The criteria below are copied over from Christine’s blog, please click the image to go straight there. Please sign up too, keep me company J


As writers, we're always striving to get out a message of inspiration to others. This blogfest is a celebration for those who have done this for us. Join the Spark Blogfest, aka Sparkfest, by posting your answer to any of the three prompts above (or make one up as long as it fits the theme).

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

Wednesday 20 July 2011

I’ve been thinking about tears

This week is my youngest daughter’s last week at primary school. The Headteacher is also retiring so the week is passing with great aplomb. It culminates in the Year Six Leavers’ Assembly; always a tear jerker. I know because I went to my eldest daughter’s last year and managed not to cry, oh, at least until I sat down. My equally stoic friend and I rallied ourselves and stemmed the sobs until the sight of one of the leavers at the edge of the stage bawling her eyes out. Sadly, it transpired that she wasn’t looking forward to secondary school one iota but, you’ll be relieved to know, is absolutely fine now having raced to the end of her first year.

I don’t have a good record of coping like a brick. I remember when my eldest daughter was finishing her first year in reception and word came out of the Leavers’ Assembly. Said daughter knew nothing of it but she was only five. Off I duly trotted, hand in hand with my youngest, taking our seats in church only to realise we’d mingled with a different set of parents to whom I usually attached myself: this special assembly wasn’t really aimed at everyone, more the parents of enormous children, six years older than mine.

I stayed, it would have been rude to leave, and this time lasted a minute or so longer before reaching for the tissues to dry the tears shed at children, and their memories, whom I’d never met before.

I was thinking about crying, how these kind of tears are more about happiness than sadness and that nature has missed a trick. Yes, it’s the end of an era and that’s always a moment to ponder. Yes, every milestone is a more tangible reminder of the fact that the day will come quicker than we ever imagined that our babies will leave home for ever. But mostly, these are exciting times. This transition to secondary school has enjoyed much frenzied anticipation and it’s hard not to be swept along  - separate classes for every lesson, just imagine! Bunsen burners, tri-pods, language labs, computers in every classroom, not just the ICT room, or rather, suite; not just one but four netball courts, more people in their form than there were in their whole year group at primary school, more than double the amount of students in the year as there were in their whole school. It’s a world of newness and a slurry of peers and opportunities which we know, as adults, have the potential to make these next years the best of their young lives.

So nature, why the tears?

I see how love and hate can be closely aligned. I see how disappointment and anger that something so powerful didn’t work, could take energy from the original intensity of love and tragically transfer itself to bitterness. I understand how great despair and sadness can literally lead to an outpouring, a very basic way of showing our dislike for the situation in a way we did as babies. 

But happy and sad? They’re poles apart aren’t they?

I think that human nature is wanting and as we evolve further as a species, a new emotion, a new sound, a new method should form to show we are feeling great pride and enjoyment, no longer to be confused with pain and despair.  Children would understand this reaction to their performances; adults would no longer feel physically drained at the end of the show.

My daughter and her friends have been rehearsing for weeks for their end of year play to be performed twice today - don’t get me started on how I’ll react to that one - and, I wondered to myself, could be perhaps a little performance-d out.  I asked my daughter if she was looking forward to the Leavers’ Assembly which follows on Friday.

Oh yes, she said. It’s funny watching the parents cry.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Baghdatis, the race is on!

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to experience a day which we know we’ll remember forever. Yesterday, with my centre court ticket for Wimbledon in my hot little hand, this was that day for me.

After hitting a ball relentlessly against our tin garage door before progressing, much to the delight of the neighbourhood I’m sure, to the pitted, gravel courts near my grandparents and the instant game of doubles which was me and my three sisters, my love for tennis was cemented around my twelfth birthday. This was when I finally procured a racquet of my own. It was a white Slazenger with a purple handle and was Juvery of-the-moment compared to the wooden racquets loaned out at school. There wasn’t a speck of steel or graphite and the head was only the size of a large tea plate.

I should point out here that, although an enthusiastic amateur, I don’t recall ever winning anything more significant than a hearty handshake. Even if I’d had the skill, which I didn’t, I certainly didn’t have the head for it.  ‘Don’t throw it all away now,’ the little voices would say. ‘Just don’t do a double fault for goodness sake, don’t do a double…’ Oh dear.

It didn’t matter. Tennis for me was more about meeting my friend, Rachel, at the town club (it wasn’t as grand as it sounds) and bashing the ball back and forwards over the net as we discussed our burgeoning love lives, our fast deteriorating school and the general trials and hairspray which accompanied teenagehood in The Eighties.

Lack of skill, height and hunger for the game were major contributory factors as to why my tennis never went any further but it didn’t stop me following Wimbledon on BBC2 every year, in the days when McEnroe still had the anger and the headband and Connors wasn’t stopped from jumping over the barrier to sit with the crowd while the slightly befuddled umpire attempted to sort out whatever battle of wits he’d generally started.

Yesterday, the first two matches went pretty much as the winner would have planned.  Caroline Wozniacki, the number one seed, finished off her opponent’s Wimbledon in an hour.  And Roger Federer showed us why he has won quite so many tournaments to date. Both were incredibly impressive. But it was a little like viewing a painting from an undoubtedly talented painter which you wouldn’t hang in your home; you can appreciate the skill but you’re seeing it with your eyes and not your heart.

Then came Novak Djokovic and Marcos Baghdatis. Although a fan of Djokovic (largely, and I apologise to tennis purists, because he always signs autographs and smiles when his opponent hits an unassailable winner), I found myself cheering for another seemingly nice guy, Baghdatis. Djokovic had won the first set and I didn’t want my day at Wimbledon to end any sooner than it had to.

When Baghdatis won the second, I flung my arms in the air like it was my child out there. I’d lived that second set with him, my heart pumping harder, willing the stunning rallies to continue and for Baghdatis to finally outwit Djokovic. I found myself thinking positive thoughts on his behalf.  Ranked 30 places behind Djokovic, I willed Baghdatis to tell himself that he was his equal.

And when they sat down at the end of the third set and Baghdatis was trailing two sets to one, I thought to myself that winning tennis matches at this level is a little like the battle to publication. It’s understood that tennis players have talent, it’s also true that without the self-belief and determination to go with it, they will not succeed. Assuming a writing competence, this is the same of writers who are not yet published.
‘What’s the difference between a published and an unpublished writer?’, thriller writer and witty man, JR Ellory, asked us at a writers’ conference. ‘The unpublished author gave up,’ he said.

Djokovic crashed out of Wimbledon in 2010 and vowed he’d come back better.  He changed his diet and the way he trained and an amazing year followed. I’m not sure all writers will get published who continue to submit the same rejected material - but have a re-read, act on some new feedback and chances must surely be higher.

It is hard to receive that stinging slap to the face when your baby is rejected, without rubbing the sore patch for a while. But tennis players don’t take months off.  They take a day, perhaps, but then they’re back out training, tweaking their game.

Baghdatis’ submission for the ultimate prize in tennis was rejected yesterday. He’s never yet won a Grand Slam. Many, even some close to him, will think he never will.  But nobody can influence the outcome more than Baghdatis and come the next major tournament, I know he’ll be back out there trying again.
Will Baghdatis win a Grand Slam tennis tournament? Will I get published? Marcos, the race is on.