A few of my favourite things

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I’m not a person obsessed by possessions.

I know we all like to think that– who of us in the developed world want to admit we’ve hitched ourselves to the consumerist bandwagon and that we fall for every TV ad and poster trying to sell us products we don’t need for money we don’t really have. We all want to think we’re immune and few of us really are.

But maybe I consume less than some people. I rarely buy clothes, which of course means everything I wear is faded, all my woollens resembling neglected Old English sheep dogs, all my hems fallen and trailing thread. I bought some knickers a few months ago, but only because the gussets were shredded on the old pairs. Gusset. Is it only me who sees some graphic, anatomically correct image at the mention of that word? Oh, it is. Moving on…

I’m not obsessed by electrical items, either, though I adore Dominic Silverstreak, my laptop. But, then he and I have shared so much, have such an intimate relationship, that he’s no longer just a way to record my mind’s dribblings – we’ve passed into something more spiritual, man.

I recently got a new phone but only because someone else didn’t want it anymore. The old one had become a bit of family a joke, being ten years old and vaguely brick-like in form. But I didn’t see the point in an upgrade costing hundreds if the old one sent texts and made calls- that’s what phones are for, isn’t it?

I do have a weakness, though. Something I find hard to resist spending money on, something that binds me in its spell, that pulls me zombie-like from the high street and into ink – scented caverns of delight. Books. Give me a two-for-one deal or a second hand book stall, and my fingers get twitchy, I’m searching for something, any lump of papery gorgeousness I can buy and feel slightly less myself if I walk away empty handed.

It’s the same with writing magazines. Show me a cover claiming to know the ‘guaranteed way to snare an agent’ or how to ‘improve your prose and make huge wodges of cash from what you love’ and it’s in my bag before I can blink (Okay, I pay for it first.)

Of course, this lack of consumerist urges means I’m the subject of grumbling come my birthday and Christmas. When asked what I’d like I shrug and say, ‘Books. Maybe a book token’. This answer is usually greeted with the complaint that I’ve asked for the same thing every year for decades and people seem to have a problem with buying the identical gift each year, even if it makes the recipient a very happy, book-laden bunny.

I don’t claim this lack of materialism to sound virtuous or superior. I have no control over how I feel. I’m not saintly or highminded and I don’t abstain from spending a fortune on shoes (which, apparently as a woman I should be genetically hardwired to do) because I’m above the grubby exchange of the consumerist society, but because I’m just not bothered.

I do have one possession I would hate to lose.

It lives in a silver cardboard ring box I picked up from a jeweller, though it’s not a ring.  I forget it’s there for weeks on end. I only take it out every six months or so, but when I do it’s tarnished, grey and grubby looking. I guess it’s uninspiring and dull to look at, but to me it’s magical, a time machine.

My Tudor sixpence.

Husband bought it for my birthday nearly seven years ago. A big purchase, he spent much more on that tiny piece of silver than he usually would on anything, but it was that coin that triggered my YA novel idea.

That coin made me realise I had to learn how to write before I could give my characters the lives and adventures they deserved. It led to years of writing badly, to a course with the OU, to meeting my online writing group, to us creating an anthology together, to me becoming a published author and winning a national prize.  It led to me rediscovering something I adored, that defines who I want to be and what I’d like to do for the rest of my life.

Would I have become a writer without that wonderful gift? I hope so, but who knows. I only know that coin represents a turning point, a love and a confidence in my own creativity that had been missing.

Thanks hubby, for my sixpence and for a new life.


Writing 101 Day Twenty Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

Now, obviously, if my house was burning down, I’d throw hubby over my shoulder, tuck ‘the boy’ under one arm and Dominic under the other, clamp the family photos between my teeth, then run for it.

But I’ve chosen the coin for what it means just to me and the way that one little piece of metal triggered a spark of an idea which ultimately led to this blog and everything else that’s come from my scribbling obsession.

And for that, I have to love it.

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Time Travel and what to do with it

silhouette-391653_1280I’m writing a novel, one of three that are at a not-a-bad-effort-but-not-quite-there-yet-stage. Two of the books are good ideas, they have ‘legs’ and I know one day I’ll return to them, jiggle them into some kind of readable format and have them published.

But there’s one, my true love, my first…

It’s YA and features Edie*, a ginger headed, arsy teenage girl as the main protagonist. She finds time travel, an old lady with a dozen miniature poodles, a two-thousand-year old psychopath who decides the best thing is just to kill her as nastily as he can… You know how these things go.

Edie’s the teenage me I wanted to be. Mouthy and self-confident when I was painfully shy and reserved, brave and headstrong when I was chicken and biddable (Okay, maybe my Mum would disagree with the biddable bit…)

Edie’s a great girl, if a bit of a handful, but she does have one talent I would **skin a badger for – she can travel through time. Well, to be precise she can travel BACK in time, and there are restrictions on where and when she can visit, but I ain’t publishing a synopsis here, so let’s just say she’s a Time Traveller.

Time travel is a popular subject in fiction, recurring and reinventing itself since Mark Twain and H.G Wells and is it any wonder? Who can seriously say there isn’t at least one period or event they’d like to visit? Roman, Elizabethan, Victorian… there’s some time, Somewhen, we’d all like to see. I’ve included these eras in Edie’s travels (or will include in sequels- yes, planning sequels before I even snare an agent!) I just need to set a whole book in World War II and I’ll have the secondary school history curriculum covered!

What would I do if I could time travel like Edie?

Well, I reckon my research would be a lot more through. I can imagine what a Tudor privy smelt like, how it felt to wear armour in the Roman arena, but if I could go back in time… Of course, I’d need to live long enough to return to the present and with my running/fighting/thinking on my feet that could be a big ask.

Would I go back in time and tell myself to start writing earlier, go back to the teenage me and tell her I needed to stick at my studies or I’d spend the next decades in low paid retail work?

I dunno. I reckon living in grotty bedsits and lodging houses with fungus growing out of the walls, living with arsonists, bipolar sufferers, drug addicts and folk in witness protection has all added to my knowledge of people and filtered into my writing.

Maybe I’m better for being a late starter.

N.B One thing I won’t be doing if I time travel is killing my own Grandad. And why is it always Grandfathers and not Grandmothers (we’ve all known some awful old ladies, let’s be honest) and why do scientists think the first thing we’ll do if we discover time travel is go back and murder a family member?

Scientists are weirdos.

*And for those interested in reading my Edie novel… You’ll have to wait a little longer. An agent submission package is about ready to send out. If only I could see into the future and discover who’s more likely to pick it up, I could save myself a lot of hassle!

**No badgers were skinned in the writing of this post.


Writing 101 Day Nineteen. Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

In the dark, all alone

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I’m in bed for the longest time, trying to fall back to sleep, trying to ignore the pressure in my tummy, but I won’t sleep while I need a wee so badly and I don’t know what to do because I know what’s out there.

But it’s no good and I think if I have to do it then make it quick, so I kick off my duvet, though it’s caught round my foot, and I push away my panda and my Sindy dolls and the others and I put my feet to the floor, scuffing dolls and bricks and books out of the way as I go.

It must be later than I thought, because I can’t hear the telly downstairs and all I can hear is snoring and the creak of the boards under my feet and the odd snap and crack which I tell myself is just from the house, just the voice the house has at night, nothing more.

I reach the door and wait. I want to be fast, so fast nothing can catch me, but I need to be slow too, because what if there’s already something waiting out there on the landing? But I know I won’t see it until it’s too late, because it will be hiding in the darkest shadows, breathing shallow, waiting for me, just me.

I think of Dracula and Frankenstein and ghosts and mad men, arms round their backs, all tied up in special coats, screaming between the bars of their cells. And I think of the faces that come at night, rushing from the darkness, their blank, open eyes, their hollow mouths buffeting my cheeks and I want a wee more than ever.

I step out on the landing, the door creaking so loudly I’m worried it will wake someone and I hope it will wake someone then I won’t be alone and I won’t have told anyone I was scared because I’m really too old to be scared of the dark.

The loo is across the way from my room, past my parents’ door, past my brother’s, very close but so very far away when you’re afraid, when you’re alone.

I run, open the loo door, switch on the light, lift the lid and sit, not daring to look down, not daring to look, in case the SOMETHING is there, staring back, in case it will reach up and snatch me. In the day I’d take my time, pick at the walls, peel off the brown paint with my fingernail, but not at night, at night I wee as fast as I can and I wipe myself, though not as well as when it’s light, and I won’t stop to wash my hands or to flush, because that means I’ll be longer, in the dark all alone.

I’ve pulled my pyjama bottoms up and it’s time to turn off the light, but I need to look first, need to check there’s no one there, nothing there, so I look out onto the landing and I see the brown swirly carpet and the airing cupboard, the Firebird paintwork and there is nothing, though I know that won’t stop me thinking there is. I can’t put it off any longer, so I pull the light switch and it’s dark, so much darker than before and the panic hits me, blinding, deafening and I worry I’ll be paralysed by it, that I won’t be able to run.

Then I’m running – one, two, three, four, five steps across the landing – I’m through the door, over the floor, in my bed, the duvet pulled over my head before I can think. I was sure this time there’d be a claw on my shoulder, teeth in my heel, but I’ve escaped, I’m alive and I wait for my heart to settle, for the shivering to ease so I can sleep again.

And I hope that tommorow night I won’t need a wee.


Day Seventeen: Your personality on the page

Today’s Prompt: We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.

Today’s Twist: Write this post in a style distinct from your own.

Here’s a stream of consciousness from a very vivid childhood memory. I think I watched too may scary movies as a child…

Lost and Found

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The ring hung from Grace’s finger, clashing, overlapping with her own rings. The problem was money. If only they had more money, she would never have found it.

If Simon’s salary was higher, she would have gone straight out somewhere swish and stylish like Liberty or Biba and bought herself a new winter coat. She could have donated the old one to the Salvation Army or to Mrs Bloom a few doors down. It might have been too small but with eight children and a runaway husband, her neighbour couldn’t afford to be picky.

But although the coat was drab, the cut five years out of date, it was serviceable. So when Grace found the pocket lining had come apart, her heart sank. Make do and mend.

Grace had pushed her hand through the split seam, the frayed silky edge tickling her wrist as she felt for lost pennies. There was definitely something, round and solid- but she couldn’t tell what it was. As she opened her fist, the dull gold had glowed in the light. Her stomach jerked.

Simon’s ring.

He’d never worn a wedding ring, said he wasn’t ‘the type’. But she’d wanted something for him, something he could wear next to his skin. Something he could look at and think only of her.

Grace had bought it from Mrs Bloom with money scraped from the housekeeping. It had belonged to Mr Bloom- a gambling debt repaid in jewellery. One of the only times he’d actually won, apparently. It was the stone Grace was drawn to, the flash of blue. Mrs Bloom had wanted more for it, but she had that lean, hungry look common just after the war, when rationing had cut bone deep. In the end, they’d agreed three shillings.

And Simon had loved it- Grace had known from the heat in his eyes. He’d never taken it off.

Then it vanished.

He’d tried to make a joke of it, of what a dolt he was- not to be trusted with anything. But Grace was devastated. How could he be so careless? Did he know how hard she’d saved, how much she’d gone without? She’d thrown the teapot, taken a nick out of the cupboard door. She’d known she was being unreasonable, that the loss was no reflection on how much he loved her. But once she’d started to cry, to shout, something hot and painful was unleased. It was as if a reservoir of grief was tapped- unceasing, constantly replenished- and she couldn’t find the way to dam it.

Then one day, Simon returned with a bunch of roses- the palest pink, with soft, fleshy petals. A few days later had come a new teapot and not a heavy, brown-glazed one, but bone china with trails of ivy painted on the handle. She hadn’t dared to ask where the money had come from.

But there were other things. His face softened when she talked about her day and when she spoke- even if it was only about the price of fish, or how cheeky the new bread boy was- he folded his paper, turned down the radio and she basked in his attention, sparkling like sunlight in a pool.

And now she’d found the ring.

She could show him. He might smile, laugh, pull her to him and kiss her cheek. He might.

The front door banged.

‘Grace? Where are you?’

Grace opened her underwear draw, slid the ring between a blue petticoat and a pink. She thought of his hand, sliding over the slippery fabric and smiled.

‘Coming!’ she called and headed for the stairs.


Today’s Prompt: Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.

This is linked to Writing 101 Days Four and Thirteen- Lost and Found– and imagines Grace (the old woman with dementia in the previous posts) as a young woman.

Sicily on East Street

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I’d been watching a toddler get a lecture from his mum: his look of utter misery, her restrained rage. I’d never seen anyone look as worried as that little boy did just then. Maybe that’s why it took me a moment to register that someone had asked me a question.

‘I said, mind if I sit here, love?’

There was a walking frame and its owner. She was an elderly lady with a face like a peach that’s been in the bowl too long.

‘Just need to rest me legs.’

‘No, of course.’ I smiled and went to move my shopping bags from the bench.

‘Ooh, my arse ain’t that big,’ she laughed.

I forced a laugh, left the bags where they were and she settled down beside them.

‘You working?’ she said.

‘Not today. I’m going to meet a friend, but I’m a bit early.’

‘Right, right.’ She stretched her legs out in front of her, flexing her knees. ‘Where you meeting? Café is it?’

‘That’s right.’

‘I used to run a café.’

‘Really?’

‘Know the place across there- the fruit market?’

I could hear the owner calling ‘strawbreez,’ ‘taters by the pand,’ torturing the vowels out of shape. ‘Git your peeeches, pand a punnet.’ I thought of the lady’s soft wrinkly face. I nodded.

‘Well, that used to be a café, that did. Best café on the street. And I should know, cos I ran it.

‘Clean as a whistle- spotless. None of your plastic tablecloths with drawing pins stuck in ‘em- we had proper cotton, all red and white check like you find in Italy. And no sauce bottles with all the top gummed up neither. We put our sauce in those squeezy plastic tomatoes- wiped clean every day.

‘Proper tea too, not stewed in a big pot and the bacon was always done just right with no rind on, you know?’

She talked about how busy the cafe had been, that people from the television studio had gone there for breakfast because her fried bread was so famous. She’d had photos taken and mounted on the walls.

‘There was a competition in them days,’ she said, ‘back in the seventies, for the best café in South Bristol. Who do you think won it four times in a row? Me, of course.’

‘You must have been very good.’

‘Oh, I was. Would’ve won a fifth too if it wasn’t for the landlord. Decided he wanted us out and the amusement arcade in- greedy git. The day I found out, I was so angry. You know what I did?’ She nudged me as if about to share a confidence.

‘Err, no.’

‘I found out where he lived. I left my sister-in-law in charge of the cafe and I got on the bus- two buses it was. I went up to his house, over the other side of the river. Big house, with a gravel drive and columns- columns, do you believe it? I knocked on his door. This woman answered, all pearls and a twin-set. I says, “Is he in?” she says, “Is who in?” but she knew who I meant. She vanished inside and found him.’

Her voice had dropped to a whisper.

‘He came to the door, just in his shirtsleeves, no jacket- shirt buttons underdone to there like he was a singer in a club. He smelt like meat and sweat- like a pig. A good foot and a half taller than me, he was, but still I didn’t care. I stood right up close to him.’

She leaned towards me. Her eyes seemed suddenly flat, the sparkle swallowed by something darker. Her top lip formed into a curl.

‘I says, “If we was back home in Sicily, you’d be in trouble, boy. Back home, my Poppa would’ve taken his belt to you. The buckle’s this big- big as my fists together. I seen that buckle take a strip of skin two inches wide off a man’s back. Do you know what my Poppa is? He’s Cosa Notra.”’

She caught her thumb a vicious tug with her teeth. ‘”My Poppa ain’t afraid of no one and neither is Rosa. Remember that, if you want to keep what you’ve got.”’

She leaned back on the bench, her lip still curled at the memory.

I looked at my phone, eager to be gone.

She muttered, ‘Know what he said? Nothing. I left. He said nothing.’

‘Err. Did he evict you?’

‘Nah. He offered me a twenty-five year lease.’

‘So you kept the cafe?’

She shrugged. ‘No, I’d got tired of the long hours and smelling of fried bacon.’

I felt I’d missed something. ‘So why…?’

She leaned forward again, resting her hand on mine- she smelt of peppermint and unwashed clothes. ‘My Poppa used to say- “Always make sure other people see you win. Even if you’re not bothered about the race.”’


Today’s Prompt: Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.

Inspired by a meeting on my local shopping street. If you’re reading, Rosa- all respect due.

The Lego red jumper

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Oh, hell, what’s the matter with him now? Crying in the park… God, I hope no one sees.

I only married him because he was handy. The first day we met, he offered to fix my car, to clean out my bunged up guttering… He reminded me of my dad- so practical. Good with his hands, you know. He wasn’t one of these drippy modern men who talk about their feelings all the time and have to call in an electrician to change a light bulb. I thought, ‘you’d better hold onto this one, Soph. You don’t get many of those to the pound.’

Then on the wedding day, in front of all those people… He cried when we exchanged vows, cried during the speeches. I was so embarrassed; I wanted the ground to swallow me. You could see people looking, smiling to themselves. Afterwards during the reception, I made a point of going round apologising to people- I knew he wouldn’t. Oh, they all said the right thing… ‘It’s nice when a man’s in touch with his emotions.’ That’s what Aunty Brenda said, sarcastic cow.

Up until that moment at the altar, I’d been upset Dad wouldn’t be there to give his little girl away. But when David started to cry… I’m ashamed to admit, I was pleased. Pleased poor old Dad didn’t have to sit through such a spectacle.

I never once saw my dad cry. When he knew he’d have to have his legs amputated because of the thrombosis, he just said, ‘You gotta go somehow, love.’

So brave. Didn’t cut down the cigarettes, even after the diagnosis. A proper man, my dad.

  ***

I was just thinking we’re so lucky with this weather. Above seasonal norms, the weather lady with the big eyes said. I was thinking of the weather lady and her soft brown eyes, of it finally being dry enough for me to look at the roof. Sophie’s been nagging, but it’s just been too wet and…

Then I saw her. An old lady sitting on the bench alone, knitting. Bit of an eccentric by the looks of her. Still in her slippers, dressing gown cord holding her coat together. It crossed my mind that maybe she was a bit confused, that she’d been wandering. I thought about ringing someone. Sophie would call it interfering, but you’ve got to look out for people…

We were just drawing level and I was being nosy, looking to see what the old dear was knitting. I thought, ‘Right, Dave. If she’s making some mad bit of stringy underwear or something, we’re stepping in and Sophie can moan all she likes.’

But then I saw it. A little red jumper. And it was the exact shade of red. Not tomatoes, or post boxes, but colour of red Lego bricks. The colour of my favourite jumper when I was six. The last time I saw it, it was hanging from my dad’s hand…

I remember thinking that if he was going away, it couldn’t be for long because he hadn’t packed many clothes in his holdall. But then he asked if he could borrow my jumper.

‘But it’s too small for you,’ I said. I think I was actually worried he might try it on and it would be all stretched out of shape by the time I got it back.

Then Dad said, ‘It’s not for wearing, Davey. It’s so I can look at it and think of you.’

His eyes were all bulgy-looking and I remember being very worried then, because you only need things to remind you of someone when you don’t see them for a long time.

I started crying, wrapping my arms around his neck, gripping one of my hands with the other, thinking that if they couldn’t separate us, then I’d have to go with him, or he’d have to stay. I thought of Action Man and his curly, rubbery fingers and I pretended I was him and gripped and gripped. It was a shock when my mum pulled me away so easily. I’d tried so hard.

Dad was still clutching my jumper as he walked out of the door. The last thing I saw of him was a flash of red as he vanished round the corner of our road.

***

Nice bit of sun, this. I could just ease me slippers off, get some warmth to these bunions of mine. Ooh, look at these two coming along the path.

Now, she looks like she’s been chewing a wasp, that one. Chewing a wasp with a rod up her backside. Not comfy. And he’s crying, poor man. Not surprised if he lives with that. ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure’ my old Ma used to say and she weren’t wrong. Ah, love him. Give the man a cuddle, you flinty old cow. Ah, well. You makes your bed…

Now, where’s that girl got to with my babies? I needs a dog to measure this thing against, or I’ll keep knittin’ and knittin’ and it’ll be too long and get all tangled up in their paws.

Here she is now.

‘Edie! Where you been with them puppies? Bring Bluey over and we’ll give him a fitting…’


Today’s Writing 101 Prompt: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry.

This is a happy house

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When most people meet me they find I’m Friendly, Affable, Smiley, Mumsy (like a group of really tedious dwarves) but my fiction is often Dark, Scary and Violent, the kind of dwarves you don’t want to meet on the walk home from the pub.

I’m a glass-half-full person, carrying a hidden Gothic underbelly.This means I can be totally chilled and positive (Global Warming? Man, the earth will survive. Nuclear annihilation? Nothing a nice hot chocolate and group hug can’t sort) whilst simultaneously being drawn to graveyards, spiders and creaking door hinges.

I’m Mary Poppins wearing Morticia Addams’ undies beneath my frock.

So, when it comes to music, my favourites allow me to dip my toe in sorrow, go ankle deep in heartbreak, and sink up to my neck in melancholy. Sometimes, It’s good to wallow.

First up…

Last beat of my heart, by Siouxsie and the Banshees.      Forget My Way or Wind beneath my Wings, this is the only track so far I’m definitely having played at my funeral.

When I hear it, I’m twenty again, listening to this for the first time. I’m sitting on the floor of a scruffy flat, desperately in love, wrapped in the arms of that love, wishing the four minutes of this song would last for the rest of my life.

From the opening drums to the introduction of an accordion and the off-kilter lyrics, it’s not mainstream. But as a piece of music to accompany my coffin disappearing behind those crematorium curtains, I can think of none better.

Next please…

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Wiiliams.      Let me just say, I am NOT a classical music fan. Generally speaking, you put me in a room with a symphony playing and I’ll feel instantly depressed… and not in a good way.

But this music moves me. That opening sweep of strings can bring me to the verge of tears.

I don’t know if any clever boffin-types have done studies on this, but I definitely think there are notes/ key changes/ chords that have a direct connection to the emotion-triggers in our brains. They’re like magic buttons you can press to make you feel.

Vaughan Williams isn’t considered a world-class composer by many and the ‘hook’ is  from a work of 1567 by another man, Thomas Tallis, but if I want to take the hand of Melancholia and sink beneath the waves of her welcoming sea, I choose this one.

And finally…

Well, it could be Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins, the tiny, perfect pearl that is Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths, Close to Me by The Cure, Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) by Florence and the Machine…

But I’m gonna go forHappy by Pharrell Williams. I shouldn’t, I know. I like nothing else by Pharrell and he needs a good slap for teaming up with Robin Thicke and making Blurred Lines (no, no link for that one- if you want to listen to that rapey, sexist drivel you can find your own way).

But the sun’s shining and sometimes I need to take off my black lace gloves, expose my pasty white skin to the world and soak up some Vitamin D. And it’s the catchiest song ever- damn it!

Clap along…


This was written for the Writing 101 Day Three challenge. It’s late. Soz.