Monday 24 October 2011

Bloghop: Dodging Detention

Today, I’m taking part in Haley Whitehall’s blog hop. Officially it took place on Saturday but I thought I’d give everyone else a chance to hop and then keep it going into the week. In truth, I’m afraid my weekend took over and now I feel like I forgot to hand in my homework so am doing my best to dodge a detention. How am I doing so far? You can help by popping over to the participants’ blogs and having a read, they’re all worth it.  If you like what you read, please do comment.

You can read more about the blog hop here.
Here are the participants:

Amber West

And I need to nominate three further blogs which I’d particularly recommend. Three! I’ve done this in the past, generally with numbers of ten so some of you will know how much I squirm, even when choosing larger numbers. I’m going to list the first three which spring to mind but with a promise to try to work out how to list all those I’d recommend in a nifty little link on the edge of my blog. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages and it might help assuage some of the guilt of those missing from my list here. I would never make a judge, if this is anything to go by, would be more emotional than Kitty Brucknell - OK, a close call perhaps.

My three, in no particular order, are… Nicola Morgan’s witty and hugely helpful site on all things to do with writing and getting published. Sometimes serious, often witty, brilliantly observed and never, ever disappoints. One word: dry. Ok, ok, I don’t do succinct even though I try – and it’s beautifully written, always.
Thanks Hayley. And I’m very sorry for handing this in late…

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Horses for Courses

As part of the annual Literature Festival, a couple of friends and I went to Ilkley to hear authors, Isabel Ashdown and Marika Cobbold speak.

When I posted our plans with great excitement on Facebook, a respected friend left a flip comment stating in no uncertain terms that he’d like to leave the house on a drizzly Sunday evening to hear two people talk about writing, as much as I’d like to mistakenly find myself in the opposition stand at a football match. I admit to being a little offended on the authors’ behalf and deleted the comment. However I rallied myself with a sharp attempt at rationality and the voice I’d use with the children to remind them about horses for courses.

However, it did get me thinking, why DO we like to hear writers talk about their work?

The three of us make a motley crew. One friend is very well read and always has something intelligent to say without a hint at any pretention. With the pick of all the classics at her fingertips, I remember her choosing Dancing In My Nuddy-pants for a since disbanded book group as she wanted to see if we could see what her daughter saw in the humour – like all the books we ever chose, it received a mixed and lively response.  

Her reason for attending the authors’evening was simple. She was exhausted and stressed and needed an early night with a hot water bottle but as there was a dearth of culture in her life of late, it was important she came.

Our second member is more of a non-fiction reader, finding herself all too often frustrated by ‘contrived’ novel plot and subplots, but she is also open to persuasion. It would be fair to say that she was keen to be somewhere other than her own home, having spent as long as she could bear in recuperation after her death-defying 53mph fall from her bike down an otherwise spectacular mountain in the Pyrenees.

Then there’s me, also a book junkie but generally incapable of remembering an author’s name, or indeed the title of their novel. However, I can be relied upon to describe the cover and central plot line in detail, enforcing an impromptu quiz-cum-charades game for anyone daring to ask what I’m currently reading.

I’m always keen for ideas for new reads, although I like surprises so a teaser will suffice and anything more makes me jumpy.  Hearing about the gem from which the book was born and how the characters become who they are, always interests me. Book signings are a bonus and impress my children but I wouldn’t say I was a groupie - just who would get the washing on, help with homework, scrub the toilet, write a novel while I wasted such great chunks of quality time flying around the country? - however, that isn’t to say that I didn’t stutter and fluster and leave her looking a little perplexed when I first met the wonderful Maggie O’ Farrell. So bad was the spectacle I made of myself, I didn’t join the end of the very long line for her book signing at a second meeting, for fear she’d recognise me.

But more important than all of that, I enjoy the company of fellow writing hermits who spend more time than can possibly be good for them, on their own at their keyboard for precious little pay and months, nay, years of little feedback. Hearing writers speak is like attending my own group therapy session; an evening with a motivational guru doubling as mediator between the frustrations of breaking into this hugely competitive and ever-changing market and the reminder that there are few better places to share your days than in your imagination with your characters. It’s comforting to know that in my insanity, I share wholesome company.

Many thanks to Isabel Ashdown and Marika Cobbold for a truly inspiring, supportive and entertaining evening in Ilkley.  I’d already cried for Jake and reminisced with a wince reading Ashdown’s Glass Hopper and Hurry Up and Wait (I spared you the charades) and recommend both for a smile and a cry. After laughing out loud at Cobbold’s uplifting take on life and writing, I was compelled to let Guppies For Tea leapfrog my To Be Read pile. I'm currently engulfed with anger for Gerald, frustration for Amelia and great sympathy for Selma whilst recognising that she would, truly, be a difficult house guest.  It’s an amusing but soul searching read which I’m in no hurry to finish - although, happily, Cobbold has six other novels to her name.

And the other two of our motley crew, did they enjoy the evening? Yes! We bought four books between us. “Fascinating,” my death-defying friend said,“put me off wanting to be a writer though.”  

Back to those horses for courses. 

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Run that by me again.

Today I became the proud owner of my first ever hearing aids. I know, I know, I’m doing well for 80, I hope I hear you cry. Actually, I am a mere 43 years of age, simply have the hearing of a pensioner. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to hear your grandchildren tell you about their holidays,’ the literature asks, I’d settle for hearing my own children offering to do the dishes when we’re on holiday, I’d suggest.

I had great expectations for my aids, as did my family and friends. In fact, I’m not sure who was more excited. It’s hard living with someone whose favourite phrase is, ‘Run that by me again’. I thought they might change my life, hand me a seat back in the world of school halls, pubs, children’s concerts, in fact, in anywhere that has a ceiling over six feet high. Don’t get me wrong, I can function in such places but I often use up my ‘pardon lives’. I read once that social settings will allow you two chances at a ‘pardon’ and by the third you have to try something different. What it meant was that by the third, your interlocutor will decide that you are a: an idiot, b: not concentrating, c: not giving their company the attention it deserves – or a combination of all three. It’s quite easy to gauge what should be an appropriate response (that isn’t to say that I haven’t, famously, got it wrong sometimes) if you don’t mind simply nodding or shaking your head at opportune moments in an effort to keep the conversation moving. But this base level of chat doesn’t really lead to a riveting evening for either party.

And then there’s the TV. With all my training into following plots through settings, actions and two out of every three words on a good day, make that one if strong accents are involved, I could be a veritable Inspector Clouseau with 100% of the dialogue available to me. It would be nice not to have to read subtitles which are half a sentence behind the words I can half hear, too, grateful as I am to them for transforming my viewing experience over the past few years. Whispering, I wonder. Are the hearing aids that good? It’s only when you’re hard of hearing that you realise quite how much people whisper on TV and in films. I’m all for authenticity but what directors fail to grasp is that people whisper so that others can’t hear.

Excitement? Definitely. Anticipation? Certainly. But trepidation was uppermost as I entered the room to take ownership of my aids. What if they didn’t work? What if the reality was that I just don’t concentrate? After all, I spend a fair amount of time away from this world in the company of fairies or what’s politely called, my imagination. Granted, my audiogram would attest otherwise, pronouncing me profoundly deaf in certain frequencies, but perhaps the recording equipment has been faulty every time I’ve been tested, that I happen to turn up every year precisely when the machine has mysteriously malfunctioned, leaving no evidence in its wake, nor needing an engineer to fix it for the next guest? The aids are very expensive, you see. I do feel guilty about spending our savings on my hearing when I can still, almost, function without. So what if the benefit doesn’t justify the spend? When I discussed this with the audiologist, he chuckled a little, offered a shake of his head, 30 years of experience in his smile and said, ‘Just you wait.’

So, off I trot with tiny cones pushed into my ears, a wire hooked around the back connected to an inch long receptor and my remote control to turn my hearing up and down, with its potential for hours of amusement should it fall into the eagerly-awaiting hands of my children. In truth, I didn’t trot. I walked, very gingerly, out of the hospital doors, eyes darting in every direction. There was just so much going on - a lady’s crutches tip tapping across the linoleum to the right, a man coughing in A&E, a siren which wasn’t  from the hospital car park but an ambulance was clearly on its way. The traffic was so loud, so close, I hardly dare cross the road. I made it to my car feeling like I was in a Bond movie. I didn’t even need to look to know that there was a man approaching who had bought a newspaper which he didn’t intend to read until later because he was forcing it into a loudly scrunching bag. I’d already learnt that you can tell the speed people are walking just by the sound of their feet tapping on the pavement. I never realised that my seatbelt makes a noise when you pull it across. I know I can't hear crickets, I wonder if I will.

I had a few minutes for my favourite past-time: a coffee and a scribble in a well-known coffee outlet. My friend called en route. ‘I can’t talk,’ I whispered, ‘you’re too loud.’ We persevered, the phone held six inches away from my ear but when I entered the coffee shop mid-conversation, I had to walk straight out. Everyone was so noisy! How could I possibly carry on my own conversation? 

I’ve learnt that the hearing aids ‘wake up’ messages to the brain which have been redundant whilst hearing has been disintegrating and that this heightened sensitivity calms down once the brain has regrouped and worked out which sounds it really needs to focus on. Clever, isn’t it! Much as I enjoyed the new sensation and hearing sounds I never knew existed, amusing as it was to hear every word of the news set at 36 instead of 60 or, rather, maximum volume, I admit it was quite tiring and a little unsettling. My first impression is that, yes, in a fairly significant way, these aids will change my life but, for now, it was quite a relief to unplug my ears, tuck the aids back into their nifty little box for the night and snuggle down with just me, my tinnitus and a little normality for company.