Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 31 October 2013

Clothes Maketh the Man

I just read this blog over on John Scalzi’s site and it got me to thinking.

The truth is, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’d been wondering whether there was a blog in it; I simply wasn’t sure how interesting it would be to many or most of my readers.

I love clothes. 

There, I’ve said it.

Clothes maketh the man.

Well they don’t, obviously, but it’s something my grandmother used to say in order to persuade us to dress neatly and appropriately and to care about our appearance. She didn’t need to say it to me; I already cared.

Apparently, I am a flamboyant dresser. I’ve been told that I am, so it must be true. In fact, I was told by someone, and I was so surprised that I asked another someone, and they confirmed this assessment.

I love clothes. I have always loved clothes.

John Scalzi doesn’t much. That’s cool. I get it. I also get the essay he linked to about poverty consciousness, about fitting in, about putting your best foot forward, about belonging, about how best to allocate limited resources, about speculating to accumulate. I’ve done a little of that in my time. I do a little of that every time I dress to shop or to go to the hairdresser, knowing that I'll get better service because of it.

I do so love clothes.

Just to prove it, here I am with the husband,
at a convention in jeans and a shirt,
and a jacket and boots
I’m heading off to a convention this weekend. I’m attending the Black Library Weekender. I always enjoy these events; whether I’m there in my own right or whether I’m simply accompanying the husband, I always have fun. I love the Black Library guys and the other freelancers, and I’m awfully fond of a lot of the regular readers. I’m in a form of nerdy geek heaven and I’m happy there.

Earlier this week I decided that I’m bored with jeans. I’ve been wearing them since my teens. I’ve been wearing them for more than thirty years, and I wear them by default, for ease, and, oddly enough, for the sake of conformity. 

For someone who actually likes clothes that’s not really very satisfying. So, earlier this week I picked out my wardrobe for the weekend and I didn’t include any jeans. Then I updated my status on Facebook to that effect.


If the comments my status update generated are anything to go by it would appear that if a woman isn’t wearing jeans she must be wearing some form of sexually fetishistic fantasy wear... Or perhaps my FaceBook folks and convention goers everywhere just happen to see me in a very strange light.

I am taking up the gauntlet. I am leaving the jeans at home. OK, I’ll be honest, I’m packing one pair for emergencies and incase I chicken out. I’m going to attempt to prove that it is possible to be a woman and a convention-goer and to be properly attired in clothes that my grandmother would find acceptable, but that won’t make anyone else point and laugh.

I do love clothes, and I hope that by the time the weekend is over some of you will love some of my clothes too, or, at the very least, recognise that it is entirely possible to manage for two days without a pair of jeans and a shirt, even if they are flamboyant.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Q: How long does it take to write a novel?

A: Moustache!

That’s right... It’s November.

OK... It’s actually only October 30th, but on Friday it will be November, and half the population of the planet will be trying to write a novel while the other half tries to grow a moustache. Naturally, there will be a subset of people who will attempt to do both of those things simultaneously this November... and not all of them will be men.

November's activities… Not for amateurs!
I’m not entirely convinced that attempting to do either one of those things is necessarily a good thing, and trying to do either one with any degree of success in thirty days is, frankly, asking for trouble. For those mad fools who think that they can do both... well, I can only marvel at their courage and wish them luck, because they’re going to need it.

As someone who writes full-time and calls it a job, I marvel at anyone who chooses to write part-time around a full-time job while they get their writing career up and running. It’s damned hard work, and utterly admirable. It’s for the young and enthusiastic, for those who have no responsibilities, a huge reserve of energy and a very thick skin.

Frankly, I’m not sure what to think about the thousands of people who take on NanoWrimo every year for fun!

Writing is many things, and one of those many things is its own reward... when it’s going well. Writing sucks in the writer and spits out his half-digested remains. Writing is an all-consuming way of life. Writing is more than a pass-time, more than a hobby, more than the sum of its parts. Writing is a compulsion, a driving force, a necessity. 

Writing is power.

NanoWrimo is much talked about and praised and enjoyed and endured by thousands of people, some of whom are writers, some of whom take it hugely seriously and many of whom spend every waking hour that isn’t devoted to their day job tapping away at a keyboard. They spend their leisure time and time that they could be spending with their partners and families holed up in the dingy corners of lonely rooms, trying to fulfill their dreams.

It is anathema to me. 

I am disciplined. I have to be. I am commissioned to work on certain projects that I schedule throughout the year, and I deliver them to deadlines. It is my job. I do not understand how it is possible, though, for a person to write fifty thousand words in thirty days when it is not his job. It would be like me trying to run a marathon one Sunday morning without training for several months first. I couldn’t do it, and if I did somehow manage to do it, the results wouldn’t be very pretty.

The husband and I have given up a great deal over the years in order to do what we love to do, but there was always a light shining in the distance. There was always a reason to do it, a career to be had, a living to earn.

NanoWrimo doesn’t seem to me to offer a beacon. It doesn’t seem to me to offer hope. The winners are simply those who manage to write their fifty thousand words. I wonder if it’s enough. For some of you it might well be, and good luck to you. Creativity is a wonderful thing and I wouldn’t deny anyone the pleasure or the power of writing.

However, if you’re going to write, may I suggest that you have the courage of your convictions? If you’re going to write, may I suggest that you submit your work for competitions and to agents and publishers? 

Put yourself out there!

Right now, Angry Robot Books has an open submissions window for all things SF, F and WTF (Yes, you did read that right!). Take a look over here at the guidelines.

Also right now, Mslexia is accepting submissions for new poetry under the heading Troubled Minds. Look out for a new short story competition from the magazine in the Dec/Jan/Feb issue, and for the regular novel writing competition.

Hell... There must be dozens of competitions out there for writers, and lots of them must be worth taking a look at. While you’re at it, pick up a current copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to check out agents that might take an interest in your work, and read Carole Blake’s From Pitch to Publication.

There might just be a more productive way for you to spend November than growing that moustache or even than banging out 50 thousand words of fiction...

Tuesday 29 October 2013

SAD now!

So, we’ve hit another milestone in the year, and it’s all down hill into winter.

As it happens, the autumn is a pretty one, and the sun is still shining, so I’m determined not to feel blue about it. Lots of us will, though, and soon, now that we’ve turned back the clocks.

Which kinda begs the question: Why in the 21st century do we still feel the need for daylight saving?

It can’t be anything more than habit now, can it?

As someone who tries to eat locally and seasonally, I’m one of the few who still feels the passing of the year, who still feels the slow down into winter, who still gains a little winter weight, who still responds to the natural urge to hibernate. With the invention of the electric light bulb and central heating and air conditioning, and with summer fruits and vegetables being shipped in from all over the World all year round, it’s virtually impossible to tell what season it is except that it gets dark out.

One William Willet was the first in Britain to seriously advocate for daylight saving way back in 1907. He was a keen horseman and resented the wasted hours of sumer daylight early in the morning before it was time to rise. He died in 1915 before British Summer Time was introduced in May 1916.

BST was introduced in an effort to save fuel and money, and in response to Germany introducing the scheme during World War I, and some version of daylight saving has been in existence ever since. During World War II Double Summer Time was introduced whereby the clocks were set two hours ahead in the summer and an hour ahead in the winter, making the most of evening sunlight throughout the year, but particularly during harvest time when older children were expected to help bring in the harvest. 

Between 1968 and 1971 the UK experimented with British Standard Time when the clocks were permanently set to British Summer Time, but the experiment was discontinued after a three year trial period.

I have no particular problem with British Summer Time. Those long, languorous summer evenings can be delightful, after all. The real jolt happens for me in October, when the days are already shortening rapidly. When the clocks are put back in the last week of October, darkness suddenly comes crashing in at teatime, and a pall comes over me that never quite lifts until the spring. There’s a name for it in our modern times; they call it S.A.D or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s rife.

I wouldn’t mind so much, but I wake up in the mornings in the dark, too. It doesn’t seem to actually alleviate that problem either.

The fact is that a winter’s day is short this far north of the equator and a winter’s day is going to be short the same distance south of the equator, and moving the day back or forth by an hour isn’t going to change that, just as it isn’t going to change the length of a summer’s day when it’s summer a long way north or south of the equator. That’s the nature of our planet and the angle of tilt of its poles.

The shortest day of 2013 falls on December the 21st. In London on that day, sunrise will occur at 08:03, long after most of us are up and about, transit will occur at 11:58, and sunset will occur at 15:53. In total, daylight will span only seven hours and fifty minutes, and most of those will no doubt be overcast and/or wet; after all, we are talking about December. Does it make very much difference whether our lights are on for an extra hour in the mornings of those wintery days or for an extra hour in the evenings? I somehow doubt it.
William Willet's Sundial in Pett's Wood
Permanently showing BST

It might make a difference to mothers walking their small children home from school, though, that it gets dark at 5pm rather than at 4pm. I know it would have made a difference to me.

The biggest difference of all would have been not to shift time around at all. I realise that we’d very probably stick with Greenwich Mean Time and my winter evenings would be as dark as they’ve always been, but at least I wouldn’t get that sudden jolt into darkness that I suffer every October.

My children are all grown up now, but when they were small they suffered terribly when the clocks were changed. 

There’s a reason why the start of the autumn half-term holiday always falls on the weekend when the clocks change. It’s because it takes kids , and some adults, too, a while to adjust to that change. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to expect young children to go through that change twice a year. I know my kids always suffered. I wonder how many good, productive school days are lost when the clocks change. I wonder how much teachers dread the weeks after those weekends at the ends of March and October. I wonder, too, how many working days are lost every year because of the clocks changing, because people arrive late to work, having forgotten to change their alarm clocks, because they’ve simply overslept, or because they take a duvet day to recover from the change over.

In 2016 we will have had a hundred years of British Summer Time. Perhaps we should mark the anniversary and then let this anachronistic practice die out.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Whatever Happened to Feng Shui?

It was all the rage a few years ago, wasn’t it?

We were all supposed to arrange the furniture in our rooms in particular configurations to optimise our creativity, to stimulate our money corner or to incorporate our happiness chakras... Or am I just mixing my mysticisms now?

Joking apart, environment can be a big part of any process, not least the creative one.

I’ve spoken before of how I’m easily distracted. I’ve talked about the blank, black and white screen I work on when writing, rather than a busy desk top, and I’ve talked about the desk I hardly ever use, looking out onto an empty yard lest I be distracted by anything crossing my visual path, as it were.

The husband is a fish of another stripe. He has a room in which he works, and very beautiful it is too, layered with books and objects and works of art, with things to look at and play with and refer to, to distract and stimulate him every hour of every day. I have huge office envy, and no wonder.

I was mostly responsible for designing and building the husband’s room, and I helped to dress it when the time came. That was two... almost three years ago, and I followed his brief, but the time had clearly come for a change. The husband has had a flea in his knickers for a little while now where his room is concerned. He was looking for something new and different and stimulating.

This week that change happened. This week the husband and I effected a big office rejig. This week the husband and I effected an office rejig so big that it spilled over to include a big archive rejig, took a total of two whole days and included me making, from scratch, a new window treatment.

It turns out that he was right, though.

To begin with I was resistant to the husband moving his desk from a central position in the room to a position against a wall. Why would anyone, given the space and the choice, have his desk face a wall?

I couldn’t see it, until we moved the desk, and then everything became plain.

It was about focus, and it was about a room of two halves.

When the desk was in a more central position, the husband sat with limited space to move his chair backwards into bookshelves, but he could see out into the room. This was his plan. He wanted to be able to see out. The position of the desk also divided the room into the working half and the sitting half.

When the desk was moved against the wall, suddenly the husband could move his chair and have good access to the whole of the rest of the room, opening it up to him. As to looking out, when he was looking out into the room his focus was never drawn. Facing the wall covered in images, reference material, clippings etc, there were dozens of things for his eyes to fall upon: lots to take his attention and pull his focus.
The husband hard at work in his re-jigged office

His new position allowed him to see out of the room, too, if the door was left even slightly ajar, and for me to see in. His desk had previously been behind the door, making it impossible for us to connect unless I entered the room, effectively cutting the husband off from the rest of the house.

The room feels bigger, lighter and more spacious, and the furniture has more uses. The library table is in a brighter spot, under the window, can be extended easily, and is less cluttered so that the husband can use it to spread out his maps and reference materials without further cluttering up his desk. The bookshelves are more accessible, too.

We’ve all had teachers who’ve said that a tidy desk reflects a tidy mind. In our house we like rooms to grow organically until they’re in a natural state of a place for everything and everything in its place. It’s taken nearly three years, but I think that the husband’s room is just about there, now.

Since the room was completed, albeit only a few days ago, the husband’s work rate has been prodigious. Long may it last!

So, if you want to make a change, if you’re struggling with your process, if you feel a little slow or a little dull, try moving the furniture, and, if you’re not sure how why not have a look at a few style guides, or even at a bit of feng shui. 

If I was going to say a couple of things they would be that furniture should never stand against walls (yep, I know!) and that, where possible, chairs and sofas should always have legs rather than fall right down to the floor. Pictures should always be hung at eye height (you’d be amazed how many people hang pictures badly), and that you’ll need more lighting than you first think.

Don’t take my word for it, though... What the hell do I know? And experiment, because you might just surprise yourself, the husband certainly has.

Friday 25 October 2013

A Very Special Brand of Politics

I’m never quite sure how much of a fan I am of that man Russell Brand. Sometimes he amuses me and sometimes he seems witty. I rather liked one of his early attempts at a form of journalism when in 2002 he interviewed Mark Collet of the Youth BNP. You can see the interviews on YouTube (parts one, two and three).

Russell Brand with the New Statesman
Russell Brand’s latest project sees a return to politics as the guest editor on the ‘Revolution’ edition of the New Statesman this week.

As I said, I’m never quite sure how much of a fan I am of Russell Brand. I’m naturally cautious of anyone who might be considered a loose cannon, not least because I might be at risk of being one myself. I’m always a little wary of those who struggle with control and discipline as Russell Brand freely admits he has, and yet he clearly has the discipline to remain drug free, and he clearly has the discipline to work long and hard at his career. He might not always have been in control of his baser instincts, but he’s very obviously sharp of wit, clean of conscience and deeply caring of certain things.

What's more no one in his right mind takes on Jeremy Paxman lightly, and Russell Brand does it with a degree of confidence that is almost disarming.

Russell Brand is a comedian. On the surface, he isn’t necessarily the sort of man that one might think of taking seriously, and yet, in his interview for Newsnight to discuss his role as guest editor for the paper, Jeremy Paxman did take him seriously.

Russell Brand might be an ex-junkie; he freely admits it. He might wear ridiculous trousers and his hair could probably do with some attention. I don’t really want to see acres of his exposed chest, his choice of shoes generally doesn’t impress me much and his giddy, childlike behaviour invariably puts me off watching him on the television. That's all about image though, and we might just be damned if we judge this book by its cover.

The image
It turns out, as many of us have half-expected at various points along the way, that Russell Brand is nobody’s fool. He knows what he thinks and he knows how to express his thoughts in a considered and cogent manner. There were no kneejerk reactions from him, there was no bluster and there was no dissembling.

Russell Brand would not be baited by Jeremy Paxman and he would not be intimidated by him.

On the other hand, he more-or-less failed to answer Paxman’s questions, too.

Russell Brand doesn’t claim to be a politician. In fact, Mr Brand claims to despise all politicians as entitled, duplicitous busybodies, and perhaps he’s right, because most of us have thought something similar at one time or another.

I was impressed by the interview and by how these two men sparred throughout their ten minutes together.

In the end, though, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Russell Brand has missed his vocation. I couldn’t help thinking that Russell Brand would make a very good politician, because he said only and exactly what he had come into the interview intending to say, and that’s what the most practised and the most professional of politicians always seem to end up doing. 

Fancy that.

Take a look for yourself; if nothing else, this is a wonderful performance from both men.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

In Need of a Lecture

Some weeks prove to be a bit of a challenge.

Least said soonest mended.

I hope that I’m back here for a little while, and, who knows, I might even have a little bit of something to say.

Some of the ways I spend my time when the black dog descends and I fail to be productive is to watch documentaries and tune in to Radio 4. If I simply sit in front of mindless television, I soon withdraw into my head, and that way real madness lies. So, it’s Netflix for non-time-specific stuff and Radio 4 for current affairs.

It was actually the husband who pointed me in the direction of the Reith Lectures on Radio 4.

Grayson Perry with Sue Lawley who introduced
the Reith Lectures on Radio 4
I’m familiar with the annual lectures, named for Sir John Reith, the first director general of the BBC, which were inaugurated in 1948 to enrich the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. A leading figure of the day is invited to give a series of lectures in his or her field, and this year Grayson Perry CBE, the contemporary artist and potter, and winner of the Turner Prize 2003 is talking about “Playing to the Gallery”.

Ever since the YBAs burst onto the scene in the late eighties and early nineties, and began shaking things up, the press has been up in arms about contemporary art. Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Sam Taylor Wood, Sarah Lucas and Mark Wallinger, to name but a few, have been praised by the British art establishment and condemned in the tabloid press. They’ve become huge celebrities, seen their stars rise, along with their prices, and are recognised as much by their faces as by their works. 

The British art scene hasn’t been so vibrant, so exciting, probably since that young upstart Turner began to exhibit in the 1790s. The British art scene probably hasn’t been so controversial since Turner in the 1790s either.

Whatever happened to drawing? people ask. That’s not real art! they exclaim. And it’s not just people, it’s critics, too, it’s the press. The arguments about what constitutes art and the loss of skills and techniques, and what should and shouldn’t be taught in art school have been raging for years. I know this, because I was in art school for three years between 2006 and 2009 and my in-laws were both in art school in the fifties. I also take a private art class, I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are practising artists, and the husband and I collect art. I have any number of conversations and even heated discussions about what makes art and who qualifies as an artist, and what constitutes conceptual art and whether it qualifies as 'real' art, and whether skills are enough to give work meaning.

I’ve heard two of the series of four of Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures so far, and very interesting they are too. He doesn’t shy away from the tougher questions, or from the controversy. He attacks them head-on. He is sharp and funny, and hugely articulate, and he makes his points with conviction. He is also a very lively and unpretentious speaker.

Grayson Perry knows his stuff. He is without any obvious prejudice, and yet he nails his colours to the mast without a whiff of self-consciousness. He also tackles questions from the likes of Nicholas Serota and Will Self with confidence and humour.

The Rosetta Vase 2011 by Grayson Perry
The Reith Lectures are not always such a relaxed affair. I have heard them delivered in a much more formal, dare I say po-faced fashion, but you don’t get any of that with Grayson Perry. You don’t get any bluster and nothing is mealy mouthed. This is a man who knows what he thinks, and he knows that there are opposing views. He is assured and good-humoured and he is confident that he will be heard and understood. He is a kind of Everyman in the art world and it rather suits. him.

If I was you, I’d listen to this. You don’t have to be interested in art to understand what this debate is all about; you’ve been on the periphery of this argument for twenty-five years, if you’ve bought a newspaper during the past couple of decades, and I’m betting that you probably have. I'm also betting that you, too, just like everyone else, come with an opinion, and that it couldn't hurt you to listen to an inside point of view. You never know, you might even be a little bit surprised by some of what Grayson Perry, who is, after all, a very skilled potter, has to say.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Got a Feeling

On days of heightened emotion... massively heightened emotion... I wonder whether writing is the best outlet.

On days when all I can do is cry and howl and rend, I wonder whether it’s fair to share my feelings... I wonder whether it’s fair to me; I wonder whether it’s fair to the present me to try to express in words what I find so consuming, and I wonder whether it’s fair to the me in the future should I ever try to remember what this was like... and I wonder whether it’s fair to you.

I wonder whether it’s fair to the work or to the memory of the feeling.

When there is an ocean of emotions, when they overwhelm me in ways that it is almost impossible to give any kind of voice to, I wonder whether it can even be done... I wonder whether words come close to being nearly enough to convey what it is I’m feeling or how or why.

It can’t be done... I know that it can’t, and I’m bereft all over again.

It might be true, for me at least, that not all feelings are for sharing, but it shouldn’t be true that I don’t have the words to express myself.

This isn’t fiction, though.

Fiction is so much more clearcut, so much neater. Fiction has to make sense. This doesn’t. 

This accumulation, this history, this reaction, this utter grief doesn’t drive a story, doesn’t activate a plot, doesn’t describe a character... it just is.

And this is my pain, today.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Look Who’s got The X-Factor!

I’m not much of a Saturday night television viewer. It’s usually date night, and if it’s not, you can pretty much guarantee that the husband and I will be entertaining or being entertained. 

I have watched a few episodes of X-Factor on catch-up, though.

I knew this kid. He was at school with the younger dort. He was a funny little thing, quick-witted, outgoing, full of energy. He and the dort went all the way through primary school together, and then to different secondary schools.

He popped up again when they found themselves at the same youth theatre company and in the same sixth form.

Josh and the dort at the school prom
I always liked Josh. He was the kid who was unembarrassed to call me Nik. He had the stones to use my bathroom when Lily’s wasn’t free, and he was the kid who brought his drunk mate round to my house when he needed looking after. He was the boy who turned up, unexpectedly for lunch on Easter Sunday, happy to accept the extra Easter egg that I kept in the cupboard just-in-case. He’s the kid who’ll always stop and speak if he sees me in the street, and who still visits regularly for no particular reason.

It’s not just talent that will get you somewhere, although Josh has plenty of that. He and the dort regularly acted and sang and danced together in musicals produced by the local youth theatre. Of course talent is a requirement, but hard work and a big personality help, too, and a bucketful of charm and confidence, and more than your average shot of intelligence.

I always had a feeling that Josh would do OK. I thought he might go into musical theatre, but I wasn’t surprised when, back in the spring, the dort said she was getting on a train to London to meet Josh and his new band in their cramped little flat. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was making ends meet, tending bar and stretching his tips to keep the band going.

The little bugger was tight-lipped when it came to auditioning for the X-Factor, though. The process must already have begun the last time he visited and I had stern words with him about his future, and urged him to take some classes and find some direction for his talents. It turns out that he already had. 

Kingsland Road with Josh second left
It turns out that with his buddies Connor, Thompson, Matt and Jay, Josh formed Kingsland Road and broke the back of the X-Factor challenge, making it through the early rounds to boot camp and then to Gary Barlow’s house in New York.

Last weekend Kingsland Road featured in the first of the X-Factor live shows, and they acquitted themselves really rather well. Whatever happens now, and I hope it all works out well for them, Josh, the little dude I remember from when he really was a little dude, has got his foot in the door. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s well on his way to becoming a pop star, because he always had the X-Factor. They say that birds of a feather flock together, and I can’t help thinking that he and the dort were always made of the same sort of stuff.

Maybe, one day, I’ll see him on the stage in one of my favourite musical roles. Who knows, perhaps after his pop career, he’ll go on to have that career in musical theatre after all.

Good luck to Kingsland Road. I might be biased, but it looks to me as if they’ve got a decent shot at winning this thing!
Here's the band singing I'm Your Man for 80s Night on the X-Factor

Monday 14 October 2013

Once More With Feeling

It’s strange how things work out. 

It’s always baffled me how the two dorts could be born less than two years apart, but also less than a fortnight apart on the calendar. 

Almost stranger is the fact that the husband’s birthday is the day after the younger dort’s, so it was a pretty busy weekend.

It was lovely to have the dort’s 21st on a Friday, though, and the husband’s birthday on a Saturday.

I’ve spent quite a lot of birthdays with the husband. The first was his seventeenth, and I remember it vividly. I believe I bought him a cheesecloth grandad shirt with my Saturday job money. He looked rather dashing in it, if I remember rightly.

Some things have changed a lot since then, and other things hardly at all. Sometimes the mists of time make everything look rather hazy, and when I look back we seem very distant and very young, At other times it’s as if it was yesterday and everything is crystal clear to me.

Mostly, I don’t feel very different, and certainly not about him, and that’s something else to celebrate!

All this celebrating took place at Knowle Hill, courtesy of the Landmark Trust, my very favourite holiday home specialists. It’s a house of two halves, and we shared it with the dort and her boyfriend on Saturday night and with the dort on Sunday night, although we had it all to ourselves on Friday night.

inside the summer house
It’s two buildings on either side of a courtyard with a cosy summer house on one side, which has very efficient underfloor heating and a lovely stove in the fireplace against the rainy autumn weather we had, with the rest of the house opposite. It’s very comfortable and all the views are good. The outside of the brick building is as pretty as the inside, and the whole is secluded in woodland and gardens, complete with a pretty grotto beneath the house and ponds and cascades close by, which were worth walking to despite the drizzle. 

There’s a calm about the house that seems to consist of more than the sum of its parts. It isn’t just because there are no near neighbours, that there is only a single track down to the house and no roads nearby, that there is no wi-fi connection and only an intermittent mobile phone signal. It isn’t just because there is no television there, or radio, or any risk of being intruded upon, except by the occasional dog walker passing the house on one of the public footpaths. 

the brick cottage across the courtyard
There’s something else about the house that makes it very comfortable, very easy to live in and feel part of very quickly, a home from home. I don’t know what it is, but the atmosphere there is immediately very welcoming. I had no problem kicking off my shoes and curling up in an armchair with the log books, and it soon became clear that everyone feels the same way about Knowle Hill. Almost everyone who wrote a record of his stay in the house talked of eating too much, drinking too much and having a thoroughly relaxed time, and many spoke of return visits. Some even wrote of Knowle Hill as their favourite Landmark, and that is very high praise indeed, considering how wonderful many of the Trust’s buildings are; let’s not forget that Astley Castle won the RIBA Stirling prize for architecture very recently. I even wrote about it in this blog.

The husband and I, and the dort and her boyff had a lovely time over the weekend, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we decided to return too.

We even cooked a slap up roast that we’d promised ourselves to celebrate two birthdays! The meat was locally, organically reared and bought at the highly recommended Chantry Farm shop at King’s Newton, so it was bound to be good; their sausages and bacon made for a couple of pretty fabulous breakfasts too. 

Friday 11 October 2013

Keys and other thoughts

Today, my younger daughter turns twenty-one!

I’ve made lots of things in my life, but the idea that I’ve made two whole grown-up women is absolutely extraordinary. I’m not quite sure how it happened, or how the time went so fast.

I have a cumulative parenting record spanning forty-four years! That’s staggering!

A woman goes through all sorts of things when she has a child. I know that I did... everything from chronic, and I do mean CHRONIC morning sickness right through both of my pregnancies (Kate Middleton had nothing on me), to my pubic bone separating, to a thirty-seven hour labour...

A woman goes through all sorts of things when she has a child, but nothing can prepare her for actually meeting the person she brings into the world. Nothing can prepare her for the overwhelming feelings that come with that person, feelings that never fade.

I’ve never  known another person like the dort. She’s the funniest, cleverest, most creative young woman I know with the biggest heart and the most captivating nature. She turns every head and when she’s on stage she’s totally mesmerising.

Today, the dort gets the key of the door. It’s a strange milestone, a throwback to the days when twenty-one was the voting age, and I’m not sure why we hang onto it as a special birthday, but it does feel special.

Children aren’t grown-ups at eighteen. The dort was still in school when she was eighteen. She thought she was an adult, but I knew that she wasn’t.

She is now. 

She’s her own woman, and she’s a wonder to me.

I might have raised her, and I know that I had some influence over her... I might even claim that the dort takes after me, and she does in some ways, but, in the end, the dort is ploughing her own furrow, now, and I couldn’t be more proud of who she is.

Time moves too fast, but there are still rare moments when I catch a glimpse of the little girl I raised just as I used to see flashes of the woman that the dort would grow into while she was still a little girl.

I came to motherhood young, and now I seem to be surrounded by people with small children. If you’re one of them, I urge you to enjoy them, to savour every moment that you can, because it is all over far too quickly. Very soon your children will be adults too.

There is an upside, of course, because the day will come when you get to really see what you made and spend time with the results of your labours of love, and there’s an awful lot to be said for that too.

Happy 21st Birthday Lily. Loves! XXX

Lots of lovely Lilys

Thursday 10 October 2013

Self-Publishing: The Experiment

So... It’s on!

My brother, the man responsible for
this experiment!
I’m going to publish Addled Kat myself with a little help from my friends, and, of course, my brother.

The first thing I’m going to do, though, is give all of you a look at the first chapter of the novel. It’s by way of market research, and, I suppose a teaser. Here’s the link, or you can find it in the list on the right. Have a read, and tell me what you think. Is it Chick Lit, and do you like it enough to want to read any further?

I’m also going to blog about my experiences doing this. I’ve always said I would never self-publish and I’ve given lots of reasons why I wouldn’t, so now that I’ve changed my mind, and I’m actually doing it, I thought it might be worth sharing the ups and downs of the process.

Anyone who has any experience at this should also chip in with stories and advice.

I’ve decided to use one of Amazon’s platforms, although I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll go for print, digital or both, so views on formats are also very welcome.

Now all that remains is to actually make that book!

I’m inclined to have mixed feelings about all this, but I’ve decided that I’m going to shelve any negative thoughts and stick with the positive. Whatever I’ve thought in the past, it’s always exciting to have a project to work on, and it’s always exciting to have a new book coming out.

I enjoyed writing Addled Kat and it had a very good reception from my beta readers. It’s unlike anything else that I’ve written before, and it’s unlike other things in the market place, apparently, so, who knows?

I do believe it’s good. I wouldn’t be putting myself out there if I didn’t.

So, here we go... The countdown begins. 

This is T minus X days until Addled Kat by Adelie High is available through Amazon.

You heard it here first!

Wednesday 9 October 2013

*Waves* at the Ukraine

Blogging is a wonderful thing. I feel utterly blessed that I’m able to spend time most days doing it. I put my thoughts out into the ether, and there they hang for everyone and anyone to dip into them... And I do mean anyone.

I’m waving at the Ukraine for a reason, and it is this: For about the past week, more people in the Ukraine have been reading my blog than almost anywhere else in the World.

Most of my readers come from the English speaking World. They’re from the UK, the USA, Canada and Australasia for the most part, with a smattering in Europe. I also happen to have a decent number of readers in parts of Asia, particularly China.

I know all this because there’s a nifty little World map on my statistics page. It’s divided up into countries, which begin white, and, as the blog is viewed by more and more people, the countries turn progressively darker and darker green.

I remember one night when Argentina suddenly turned a brilliant green. I was writing about Ian Rankin on the blog, so maybe he has a following in Argentina, and the whole ‘Any Publicity’ thing has got legs. Who knows?

On another occasion Cyprus suddenly turned black. Yep, in the space of a matter of minutes, 89 people clicked on the blog and, so far as I could tell, they were virtually all  Cypriots. Why? I have no idea. I hadn’t mentioned Cyprus or anything Cypriot. I hadn’t, for that matter, mentioned anything Turkish or Greek, nor had I mentioned any rivalry there might have been, or might still be between those two nations. I can only think that a dear old friend of mine who lives in Nicosia was at some sort of event and mentioned my name, and every single person she knows took out his or her smartphone and looked me up... If so, that’s kinda cool... If not... What the hell happened?

Kiev looking utterly beautiful!
Right now, the Ukraine is a very dark green spot on my World map, the darkest green, in fact. A little bit of me would love to know why. It’s true for today, and it’s true for this week, and yet that fine country is the same pale green as Russia for the month, and the all time stats put the Ukraine in the same colour bracket as the whole of Eastern Europe. 

The subjects for my blogs over the past week are various, so it can’t be that, and I haven’t mentioned that part of the World since the  last time I had a pop at Putin, which was more than a fortnight ago, and, beside Putin isn’t Ukrainian.

Perhaps they’ve just got a huge crush on Miley Cyrus, whom I wrote first this and then, tangentially, this blog about this week, or maybe they’ve got a thing about public service or Joanna Trollope or one of the other subjects I got my knickers in a twist about this week... Whatever brought them here, I hope they found what they were looking for.

It’s hard to fault being popular, so I’m going to wave at the Ukraine and try to enjoy the attention while it lasts. 

I wonder who’ll be up next.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Customer Services anyone?

Did I miss a news update? Is the recession well and truly over?

I know that house prices have had an upturn and that, as a consequences, housewares are beginning to sell again (and why, oh why, do we call them housewares of all things?) But seriously, do my senses deceive me or does everyone suddenly have money to burn?

The reason I ask is because I was in the dreaded Bluewater last night. It’s not my favourite place to be, but the dort’s birthday is fast approaching and we like to spoil her just a little bit. The place was lit up like a Christmas tree at eight o’clock at night, but was otherwise pretty well deserted.

We parked all of a dozen yards from the entrance, because there couldn’t have been more than a handful of cars in the car park, and we strolled in. 

That’s my kind of shopping.

I like to be attended to. I like to be helped. I like to be able to point and pay.

To help out shop assistants, I always make sure that I dress well and wear make-up. It’s much easier for them to deal with someone they know is a serious shopper, after all. I’m not there to browse, I’m there to spend money. 

I had a list.

In one department store, I approached the dort’s favourite make-up counter. There wasn’t an assistant for miles around. I knew what I wanted, but I couldn’t find it on display. I opened cupboards and still couldn’t find what I wanted. Eventually, someone wandered over from another counter. She told me she could only help me if I knew exactly what I was looking for, because she didn’t know the brand.


I got what I wanted and asked if her brand carried another product. She told me it did, but that her brand was expensive.

Since she clearly didn’t think I could afford what she was selling, I decided that I wouldn’t bother spending my money with her, and I moved on. All she had to do was be pleasant. All she had to do was take an interest. All she had to do was manage not to insult me. Bad move, girly.

It was fine, the shopping centre was empty, and there were plenty of other places that would take my credit card.

Choice, Bluewater where they chose not to serve me
So I chose not to spend my money
I saw something in a window that I thought the dort would like, and the husband and I went into the shop. It was all terribly designer, but once in a while, for a treat, we don’t mind going the extra mile. I walked twice around the shop, but couldn’t find the item in the window. I walked around again, and then realised that none of the young, fashionably dressed, dissolute individuals ‘manning’ the store could be bothered to ask if I needed help. So I mentioned their fail to the husband, loudly enough for the sales assistants to hear, and then we left without buying anything.

It’s one thing being employed because you look good in the clothes, it’s entirely another making yourself useful and earning your sales commission.

Does no one take pride in their job any more?

My first proper job was in retail. I sold shoes on Saturdays, and every single sale was attributed to the member of staff that made it. Those sales were tallied up, so that we all knew where we stood in the pecking order. If I didn’t make more sales than anyone else on a Saturday, as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t doing my job. There was no incentive, no reward... I just expected to work harder and do better than other people. We all did, I think. 

Most of the sales staff I encountered last night seemed to have no more ambition than to waft about fragrantly. 

It was the same in almost every store we went into. In fact, our best experiences were in the shops where we didn’t expect help.

We saw something in another window and went into the shop. The boy in the shirt covered in daisies was lovely. He tried to take the article out of the window, but was stopped by the store manager, who then wasted a chunk of our time looking for one in the back. The boy ended up taking the one out of the window, because it was the last one. The poor  kid had known it all along, and was prevented from doing his job, because his boss didn’t want to have his window display disrupted.

The customer, it turns out, especially if she is me, is the least and last consideration of your average shopkeeper.

I’m a great shopper. I know what I want, I don’t waste time, and I’m endlessly nice, so why can’t I get decent customer service?

The really daft thing is that sales assistants are shoppers too, so why don’t they do as they would be done by?

I haven’t got a clue, but if things don’t change, I’m going to begin to do more of my shopping on the internet, and if people like me start resorting to that sort of nonsense, our High Streets and shopping centres really will start to die out.