Thursday 26 April 2012

Asleep On The Job

My tiny village is unusually awash with teenagers this week as they slip out of their houses for a breath of fresh air before returning to their rooms for another long stint of Exam Leave Revision.

I don’t envy them.

Although I do entertain the fleeting desire to re-take my Biology O-level occasionally (yes, I'm so old that GCSEs were the stuff of Tomorrow’s World), persuading myself that this time I really would find it interesting, I have had too many exam catastrophes in my past to ensure the rosy-coloured spectacles of school-induced nostalgia slip off my nose as quickly as I put them there.

There was, for example, my music O-level paper where the three hour written exam demanding four essays on Schumann and friends, turned out in effect to be a 90 minute paper in its entirety, a fact my fellow classmates and I first discovered when the examiner rang the ten minute warning bell after only 80 minutes. When we expressed our dismay to our music teacher he shrugged his stereotypically eccentric music teacher shoulders and said, ‘So, how do you think you got on?’

My most catastrophic mishap however, has to be the one involving the Sleeping French Professor.

I admit to choosing my university entirely on its location. I’d been brought up in Northumberland and moved away to the Midlands at a wistful age 10. I was always going to return to Newcastle to study. I never seriously considered going anywhere else. I do remember being relieved that there was a vaguely suitable course in German with French at the university but am ashamed to say that’s about as far as the research into my future went.

So I deserve no sympathy when I say that I had a love/ hate relationship with my course. The heavily language based German part I loved, the predominantly literature based French portion? Well, perhaps I’d have enjoyed it more if I’d understood the words.

I should also explain that I was studying German just at the time when the Berlin Wall was on its way down and our language assistant was a fascinatingly hip twenty-something year old with a dodgy leg (hence her being allowed to come to the UK in the first place, she’d explained) from the former East Germany, with many a mind-blowing story to tell – France’s Molière and Balzac didn’t really stand a chance, I’m afraid.

Our Finals approached. We had to do a twenty minute presentation on a subject of our choice. ‘There are no restrictions,’ the head of the French department explained, ‘but students tend to find a fresh angle to discuss on one of their favourite authors from the course.’

Not me!

I’d spent six months living in Paris and I thought it would be much more pertinent to talk about the differences in French and English diet, focussing heavily on eating disorders in both countries and the role of the media in them.

I know. I know.

Facing me were three terrifying members of the French department. The first was an ‘assistante’ from Toulouse who said, ‘oui, oui’ specifically two words before the end of all my sentences. The second was a professor known to me only by sight in the department, a portly gentleman with a thick, grey, curly beard which I remember as being an exact copy of the hair on his head. It’s perhaps a little unfair to claim that the third examiner was terrifying. He gave a sympathetic smile as I entered which only moved once during the conversation to perform a little ‘O’ shape when he read what my talk was to focus on, before it was firmly returned and remained intact to the end of my talk.

I remember very little of my presentation, only tearing up my notes in a fit of pique when I finally secured an exit from the stifling exam room. However I will never forget the professor, his upside down face contorting in his desperation not to fall asleep, his eyelids stretching and retracting, his mouth following their shape as he did his utmost to fight the all-conquering pull of sleep that I knew so well from many a stuffy lecture hall filled with soliloquys from Voltaire.

Mme Oui Oui from Toulouse did try to rouse him now and again with a brusque knock from her elbow but, as anyone who’s every suffered from bored-induced narcolepsy will testify, when that urge comes, it takes more than a jab to return the head to upright.

Needless to say, I didn’t do very well in my spoken French assessment and only marginally better in literature. Thank goodness I’d been captivated by every word spoken by our endearingly Communist German visitor.

At least I emerged with a story to tell and I do wonder if the Sleeping French Professor has ever told the tale from his position behind the desk.

So, over to you! Please share your exam nightmares with us. I know you have some tales to make us laugh and cry and cringe. Go on! We won’t tell…

Wednesday 18 April 2012

We Won!

Do you remember the caramel slices, the will-power required to resist and the crumbly, sticky, creamy yumminess when I finally caved in and launched into my daughter's pile of biscuits, baked to perfection?

Well... we won!

I say, 'we'. I provided the flour, the kitchen and other essentials, and performed a slight detour on the way home following a desperate text message to buy some emergency condensed milk, but, otherwise, my role in their creation wasn't huge. Nonetheless, the deal was that if I entered the competition on Scottish Mum's blog, then the £100 prize money - in the very unlikely event it should come our way, I was keen to stress - would be shared between us.

But, my youngest looked a little disconsolate, I do cook tea every Wednesday, she pointed out. She does and she does it very well. She also bakes tremendous cakes. So then we decided we'd split the fictitious prize money three ways. I'm not sure where poor Dad was during this conversation but he did enjoy the caramel slices and some would say, helped himself to more than his fair share.

The conversation moved on and we talked of doing something special together as a family, at which point I performed one of those annoying mother's painfully obvious tactical manoeuvres of changing the conversation; the fear of their disappointment weighing heavy.

But, we won! So, now we have to decide for real. I was rather hoping for a new iron, having dropped mine on the quarry tiled floor once too often. I think my children have designs on (a contribution to) Alton Towers.

I'm sure that in the ensuing conversation they will remind me that memories do last longer.

Many thanks to Appliances Online and to Scottish Mum for hosting the competition. Scottish Mum's blog is a great mix of foodie recipes and insight, as well as a number of other family related topics - well worth a look 

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Lucky Seven

Jane Rusbridge, author of the beautifully crafted, The Devil’s Music, who’s looking forward to the publication of her second novel, Rook, this August, (pre-ordered, of course) has kindly included me in her Lucky Seven list. You can find Jane on Twitter @JaneRusbridge and see her over at her gorgeous website

Lucky Seven is a bit of blogging fun where we extract seven lines from page seven or 77 of our Work In Progress and pray that at least one section will standalone as a piece of text. Then we challenge seven other writers to do the same.

The instructions for Lucky 7 are:
  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

My extract is taken from Glass Houses, my first completed manuscript which, after too many re-writes to count, is now in Submissionville again. Sprinkles of fairy dust are always much appreciated.

Line 7, page 77 of Glass Houses
Glass Houses is a novel about unlikely heroine, Tori Williams, whose life implodes after sending a text from the M62 motorway. Emerging a notorious public figure, Tori fights her way to a bold and improved existence. It’s just a shame her devoted husband isn’t on board... 

After weeks spent recovering from the injuries sustained in the crash, there are rumours that Tori is soon to leave hospital and interest in her has piqued again. The press attention is frenzied and security has been stepped up. Carly is Tori’s loyal daughter and she’s upset by what she’s just overheard staff on the ward saying about her mother’s plight; even they think she should be wheeled straight out of hospital and into the arms of the prison service.

The third security guard, tub-shaped and with the faintest whiff of blonde hair on his head, the remainder on his chin, stood pressed against the closed door to Tori’s room.

He smiled. “Hello you!” Carly felt his eyes settle on her sunken shoulders and her tatty bag which trailed on the floor, hanging on the tips of her fingers by the long strap. “Hot topic,” he said, inclining his ear towards the rest of the ward. “It’ll pass, always does.”
 Carly knew what people were saying, of course she did. She read the papers like everybody else. She leapfrogged photographers in her parents’ garden and turned on the radio to find phone-in debates handing out prison sentences like interest-free credit cards.

I was delighted to be given a second Lucky Seven tag by the talented Jan Marshall who I met on Twitter @Jan_Marshall and not only writes but produces cover art for fellow writers. You can learn more about her writing and see some of her designs here:  

This time I looked at my second Work In Progress, Misguidance. I will hold my hands up here and admit that I had to cheat as the sections on both page seven and seventy-seven were nothing more than a bunch of notes. The exercise was a reminder that Misguidance is very much a first draft and when I say I’m three-quarters of the way through my second manuscript, I am mindful that ‘manuscript’ is somewhat over-stating it and that ‘scribbles’ might be more accurate.

Still, I’m having great fun. I love this stage where the story is falling on to the page as fast as I can type and rather than break the flow, I quickly write a note to myself that should be ignored at peril – Check! What IS that word? Duplication! Plot hole! I think I must be tired! – and so the list goes on.  
So, I hope you’ll forgive the slight deviation from the rules to allow me to jump to line seventeen as the first significant place (with seven in the title, of course) from page seventy-seven of Misguidance where I could find seven concurrent sentences.

Line 17, page 77 of Misguidance
Misguidance is about Evelyn Leonard and her disastrous life. Evelyn has made some big mistakes but was dealt a bad hand and when stranger, Sarah Bentley puts together the full picture, she is able to sympathise. Eventually Sarah creates the perfect opportunity for Evelyn to start to put the record straight. 

Sarah and Cari, friend-cum-fellow-amateur-sleuth, are engaged in an awkward conversation with Bill, who has been working at Evelyn’s house following her largely unnoticed death, and who is extremely perturbed to have spotted Sarah ‘trespassing’ in the late Evelyn Leonard’s house.

 “I mean it you know,” Sarah said pushing the biscuit tin under Bill’s nose and giving it a shake, “a building career. My parents would have a fit but I’d love a physical job; whistling at men as they walked by, an all year tan...”
“…muscle-bound, perfectly toned body,” Cari interjected, casting her eyes over Bill’s beer induced paunch. She dunked her biscuit into her tea, retrieved it moments before it dissolved.
Bill took another chocolate chip cookie, smiled in place of a thank you and explained that Cari might get a tan building villas in Spain but in this country, was more likely to get piss-wet-through. “Anyway,” he said, leaning back on his chair, hands clasped behind his head and giving his intertwined knuckles a good crack, “I’m not a builder, I’m a joiner and you girls can prattle on all you like about my line of work but I won’t leave this house until I know what you took from Mrs Leonard’s place.”
He leaned back across the table, planted his elbows firmly on top, slurped his tea.

Thanks again to Jane and Jan for thinking of me.

The Next Seven:
The seven writers I have chosen are:
Can’t wait to read your extracts ...

Thursday 5 April 2012

How much will-power?

Please excuse the departure from the usual rough and tumble of this blog as I attempt to earn myself a nice little prize for my daughter’s to-die-for caramel slices. Ok, we’ll share the prize…

The story goes that my eldest, age 13, is always pipped to the cooking post by her younger sister who, somehow, has got into the habit of cooking a meal for the entire family of four, every Wednesday night. No, there was absolutely no bribery involved and yes, I have offered to be her sous-chef on several occasions and she never takes me up on it.

On this occasion, the house was otherwise empty, the coast clear and my eldest set about making these caramel slices. I should add here that I am not a big sweets person, would much rather have a sandwich than a cake, much to my three sisters’ annoyance. But these slices were creamy and gooey and crumbly and well, frankly, very hard to resist.

Instead of straightening her hair before school the next morning, my daughter set about assembling the slices on a plate. 8am came quicker than expected, as it has a habit of doing, and she shot out of the door, her wavy hair flailing behind her, asking that I cover up the caramel slices and put them away for tea. “Don’t eat any,” she called. “I’ve counted them.”

I have to ask at this point, just how much will-power does she think I have?

Tell me, what foods do you find impossible to resist?

So, this is my entry for the Bosch dishwasher competition and many thanks to Scottish Mum for posting the competition. I’ve just stumbled across her blog and it’s wonderful (saying that doesn't help me win, honest), it's full of serious and not so serious topics. You can find her at Fancy entering? Just follow the link but hurry, the closing date is 6 April.