Month: March 2016

Writing Retreats

Yeah, yeah… if you are really serious about your writing you’ll find the time and space to do it anywhere. Proper writers don’t need to get away from it all. Writers just need a desk and a piece of paper… I’ve heard all the comments as to why it isn’t necessary to go on a writing retreat, how it is a waste of money, an indulgence even.

However… blogging as someone who is a wife and a mother and who lives in a very friendly little community, getting more than thirty minutes of peace and quiet at a stretch at any time of the day is a rarity. The thing is, if you sit on your backside for a lot of the day, making things up, there is a sizeable section of the population who do not consider that what you are doing is ‘work’. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to interrupt because it doesn’t matter.

It does.

Remember the man from Porlock? Samuel Coleridge Taylor had ‘seen’ the whole of Kublai Khan in a dream and was busy scribbling it down when he was interrupted by the man from Porlock after just fifty-four lines of fabulous poetry. When his unwelcome visitor had departed, Coleridge found his vision had too, and the poem was never completed. I am not saying anything I write is even close to Coleridge’s literary genius (heck, I wouldn’t put my self in the same country – possibly not on the same continent!) but being interrupted just when you have the perfect turn of phrase, the perfect scene, the mot juste is unbelievably frustrating and it happens, if you work from home, on a daily – sometimes an hourly – basis.

Worse, as a wife and mother I am expected to do the shopping, sort the house out, cook food and generally look after my family – I know! They are so unreasonable… but, seriously, if I were a bloke I’d be able to get away with shutting the door and demanding that I must be Left In Peace. Fat chance of that if you are a woman.

So, I go away. I go away to France, to Chez Castillon where I can switch off my mobile, ignore Real Life, stay in my room all day and just appear for meals. It is bliss. It is peaceful bliss.  Even better, I am in the company of other writers who are happy to talk about plot points over lunch, who understand about emotions and the difficulty of getting them on to the page, who will brain-storm you through a tricky patch…And then there’s the competition regarding the Word Count. ‘I wrote two thousand words today,’ says a fellow writer casually, over dinner. Two thousand?! Hell’s bells. So the next day you are determined to equal and possibly better that amount. After all, if she can do it, so can you. Two and a half thousand words… three… amounts you would never achieve at home suddenly  become possible. As does hitting that deadline.


So, yes, writing retreats are worth it. If only for the sake of one’s sanity

The picture above was taken from my room at Chez Castillon.


The Town Meeting

Last night was the town’s annual meeting where the residents get to question what the council has got up to in the previous year and raise issues they’d like to see addressed in the next one. The sad thing is that while the town councillors are the public face of local government,  well over 80% of the services the town’s inhabitants enjoy (or not) are provided by the next two tiers of government – the district council and the county council. So… double yellow lines? Nope, county. Pot holes? Ditto. Planning? District… and so it went on. Litter? Oh yes, that’s us. Good to know we’re doing something for the community.

It is hugely frustrating that the people who know the town the best i.e. the town’s councillors, who have it’s vested interests closest to their collective heart, seem to have so very little input as to what really happens in our bailiwick. Which means that while we get the blame for what goes wrong, we’ve got our hands tied behind out backs when it comes to putting things right. Still, if, like me, you stick your head over the parapet, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people take pot shots at it.

On the other hand, one local stood up and thanked the councillors for all their hours of unpaid work they put in. It was a lovely and unexpected accolade and made such a wonderful change from the normal comments which generally imply that we’re in it for the money, the back-handers and the bribes. Really? And no, we’re not. Anything but.

The Day Job

I write books. It’s what I do for a living. Now, if I told you I worked in retail I don’t suppose there are people who would assume that I owned half the high street. Neither, if I said I worked in banking, would my acquaintances think that I was on multi-million pound bonuses as standard. So why, why when I tell people that I write novels do they all assume that for every one I get published I receive hundreds of thousands of pounds? Isn’t it a given that every author must be as wealthy as JK Rowling? I wish!  Most years I don’t pay income tax – not because I have off-shore bank accounts, not because I make sure my taxes are filed in Luxenbourg or Eire, but because I simply don’t earn enough. I met a young lady on a writing course. She was fed up with working and wanted a quick route to early retirement and had hit upon the plan of writing a book to achieve this. Last I heard she was still doing the nine-to-five. Of course she’d bought into that other myth – that everyone can write a book and if you start at ‘Chapter One’ fill four-hundred pages with reasonably grammatically correct English, then write ‘The End’, publishers will be queuing around the block to take you on. Sure, if you have the perseverance and application to put 100,000 words down, one after the other, then you too could write a book. Whether it’s a book other people would like to read is a moot point. The thing is, almost everyone can read and write, and lots of people read books for pleasure. Therefore, it follows, if we can read books we ought to be able to write one.  We don’t have the same attitude to things mathematical – we can almost all add up and take away (well, almost all of us) but we don’t read spreadsheets for pleasure. As a result, despite our basic maths skills, the vast majority of us don’t think we could audit a set of company accounts or work in the Treasury. So, please, next time you meet me, don’t ask me when I’m ordering the yacht because, unless I get really, really lucky the biggest floaty-thing that I’ll be purchasing is a rubber duck for the bath. Or unless I win the lottery and, frankly, the odds on the latter are probably better.


And More Critters…

I think, no means no!

A lovely close-up

Obviously, the food tastes so much better when you can stand in it

I love this little chap – having a snuffle in the gravel



And this is a nice bit of footage…

I think, maybe, Spring has sprung


It seems as if I am feeding more than just hedgehogs in my garden – there’s a blackbird who has learned that there is a ready supply of food, first thing in the morning. Of course I have bird-feeders in the garden but I don’t fill those till about nine so what’s a blackbird to do if it’s famished just after dawn. Raid the hedgehog house seems to be the answer!


Luckily, this little chap left enough for the blackbird.





The Pub Quiz

Our local pub runs a weekly quiz. It is pretty popular and my team try and support it as much as we can. Not that there is much in the way of prizes – the most you can win is a round of drinks but no one minds because it is the best fun to be had in the town on a Wednesday night. The great thing about the quiz is that the winning team is mostly determined by blind luck. It’s a bingo quiz and to win you have to get a line of correct answers on your five-by-five numbered grid. Every team has a different grid with the numbers from one to twenty-five and the answer to question one goes in box one, question two in box two and so on. The answers are drawn out randomly. It is possible to get every single question right and be beaten by a team who only got five answers right but got their answers in a straight line because of the luck of the draw. It is genius! And because there’s no big cash prize on offer, no one really cares about the winning. Obviously, getting a free drink is always welcome but this is genuinely a case of a competition where the taking part is far more important than coming first

Did The Earth Move For You?

In an earlier post I said we don’t get earthquakes where I live. It was a claim I made with a fair degree of confidence but maybe I should have kept my mouth shut because  we’ve just had one. OK, if you come from California or Japan you would have pooh-poohed our earthquake because it only managed to measure 2.7 on the Richter scale but, for all that, it was an earthquake. And, as such, it had to be one of the most exciting things that has happened here in a long time. Of course, because it happened in the small hours, I suspect that most people slept through it. I certainly did. Still, it’s given everyone something to talk about in the post office queue.

The Parking Conundrum

So, here’s the thing – what is the town going to do about parking? One of the aspect I love most about this place is that you can park for up to three hours for absolutely nothing. That’s right – zilch. It’s great, I love it. In a town this size you can accomplish everything you need to – that’s even time for a hair-do without incurring exorbitant parking charges. In the nearby city you’d need a mortgage to pay for the same amount of parking. But, here’s the rub, you need to find a space first. If it’s dry and I’ve not got a lot of shopping to get, I do the decent thing and cycle into town – it’s about five minutes on a bike and the way is pretty level. It means I’m not taking up a parking space, I’m getting exercise and even my old bike which has three gears (uphill, downhill or flat) can just about cope. But if I’m doing a supermarket shop it isn’t really viable. Usually I solve the problem by hitting the town before nine; the supermarket car park is empty, as is the store, and I can be done, dusted, home, shopping unpacked and enjoying a cup of tea before the school-run mums have even dropped off their little darlings and are thinking about cluttering up the the aisles with their youngest in their buggies and prams. But shopping early isn’t always possible and that’s when I really sympathise with those who gripe about the lack of parking bays. I see their point, but what is to be done? Build a multi-storey in the middle of the conservation area? Start charging huge sums for the privilege of coming into the town by car… build an out-of-town supermarket? I wish I knew the answer but what I do know is that until the good burghers of this parish find a solution the situation is only going to get worse and worse. And with nearly a thousand houses being build around the town as I write this we need a magic wand – and sharpish.


I re-home hedgehogs – someone has to do it. And, to be honest, I love it. So far, the local wildlife hospital has entrusted me with ten. Given that the entire country has an estimated population of only one million, I think that’s quite a lot. I assumed, when I got the first batch, that they would disappear for a sizeable chunk of the year when they hunkered down for their big sleep. Not so. Mine have been romping round the garden every night since their arrival and eating their bodyweight in food. Hopefully, as well as snarfing bowls of cat food, they’re hoovering up the slugs and snails that devastate my hostas – or should I say, have devastated my hostas? I have pretty much given up growing them in utter despair at the damage that gets wrought every year. Maybe 2016 will be different if my prickly friends get their act together.

Not a lot happens in a sleepy market town in middle England. The days roll past, most of them much of a muchness with the other days of the week: Mondays are different because it’s bin day; Tuesday is market day; Wednesday the running club meets but frankly, that’s about it. There is a lot to be said for living somewhere like this – no cyclones, no earthquakes, no fire, flood or famine. No terrorism, no insurgency, no warfare. Frankly, it’s dull. I like life being dull. There is an ancient Chinese curse that goes ‘may you live in interesting times’ and, believe me, I can think of little worse.  Some people complain about the lack of events that happen round and about this town, but not me. I’ve lived in other places – both in UK and abroad – and somewhere quiet and parochial has a lot in its favour. For a start, people really care about their town; they get involved in the issues that are going to affect them or change things – sometimes because they want to see those alterations and sometimes because they don’t but, either way, they get involved because they care. And that aspect of the town is, I think, worth a lot more than it’s main line to London, it’s nearby motorway, the good school and the other things that make this place a ‘desirable place to live’ as the estate agents describe it. And long may it remain