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When a blog queen waives the rules

VIB award

I don’t normally accept awards, because I can’t cope with the general request to think up seven interesting facts about myself. But Naptime Thoughts nominated me the other week for the Very Inspiring Blog award, in which (since she has changed the rules) you are allowed to lie through your teeth. How could I refuse?? Also, go check out her blog. It’s very good.

The first instruction is how you would change the world if you were in charge.

blog award2

First off,  I would banish:

  • Hot flushes;
  • Telephone answering systems – especially the ones that go, ‘Okay’ in a really irritating Lancashire accent. ‘You’ve told me you want to pay £5 off your balance. Shall I take £5,000 out of your account?’blog award 3
  • Dirty laundry. Everybody is to wear paper clothes and be issued with a rubber (or eraser, ed). Except me, who shall wear Valentino and look coolly magnificent at all times.
  • The link between eating and putting on weight.
  • The phrases, ‘Where’s my (insert word of choice)?’ ‘What’s for tea?’ and ‘Mum, this car is embarrassing.’blog award 4
  • Parking machines;
  • Traffic wardens;
  • People who talk to me in the third person when I’m with my children, ‘Does mum want to come in too?’
  • Vets that call me mummy, ‘So mummy thinks you’re anally impacted, does she?’
  • Every single human being that says, ‘Going forward,’ when talking about the future. Or uses the words, ‘facilitate, empowerment, framework conditions, or significant outcomes.’
  • The North Sea.
  • Magazines that are forever telling you to go out and buy new stuff. I don’t need new plates or a new sofa for Christmas. In fact, I don’t need to read about Christmas in October.
  • blog award 6
  • All talk about Christmas until December 23.

(That’s enough moaning,ed).

Ok. Ten things I have to make up about myself, but that I wish were true.

Hmmm. Right. I would like to:

  • be a model on a knitting pattern, next to a man (or two, I don’t mind) modelling a balaclava;
  • blog award 5
  • speak fluent Japanese (and be able to show this off, regularly);
  • sing like Aretha Franklin;
  • play the banjo;
  • win a BAFTA (for anything, really, just so as I can go to the awards ceremony and make a very long speech);
  • make a Victoria Sponge that is more than 1cm tall.

So now I nominate:

Bruce Goodman, with the plea that he doesn’t stop blogging at the end of the year.

First Night Design, beautiful artwork, and great historical stuff;

Larry Woodgate, love his exasperated views of American politics;

Charles Yallowitz, check out his books;

Tara Sparling, one of the funniest bloggers I’ve read;

Sally, with her humorous views on motherhood;

Olga, who is possibly the kindest and cleverest blogger I’ve come across;

Mel Healy, really thoughtful stuff, and when he’s not being serious, very funny;

David Prosser, massive hugs;

Simon, check out his cooking – and his pictures.

All pictures via Creative Commons, courtesy of:

God: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_001.png

Annoying person: http://cdn.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/1331768942223_8086082.png

Clown car; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/Shriner_Clowns_Ferndale_CA.jpg

Balaclava: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3306/4619273877_b8d7380de6_z.jpg

Scrooge http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/01/92/41/1924169_d5367653.jpg

100 posts! Ain’t that dandy?

dandelion

This is my 100th blog post. Can you believe it? (No, ed) I find the fact that I’ve kept on writing, reasonably regularly since last September, utterly amazing. Me. Who would rather do the ironing than face the prospect of sitting down at a blank screen and thinking up something to write about.

One hundred posts. That’s (quick pause while I consult calculator) about 40,000 words. Wtf! That’s nearly a novel! And that’s not counting the (sometimes lengthy) conversations I’ve struck up with all the interesting people I’ve met here in the blogosphere.

It’s been interesting, and exciting and, at times, it has to be said, rather discouraging. Nobody read my first two posts. Which was not surprising because they were rather dull and worthy efforts on how to write an essay. I had just finished my OU degree, and they were really instructions to myself in case I forgot how to treat an academic subject (dunno why; can’t see anybody suddenly wanting me to knock out 3,000 words on Shakespeare).

In September I posted every day, and when I got 12 likes for Wtf? Guys, listen to yourselves. I thought I was really motoring. In October I missed a couple of days, but my readers slowly climbed. And then I wrote a piece about my mother playing Scrabble, Out of the mouths of Babes and Grandmas and was astonished when one of my students told me she’d read it out loud to her daughter. In a café. In London. Call me naïve, but I hadn’t really pictured anyone reading my stuff. Certainly not anybody I knew. I mean, like buttons and real people aren’t the same at all, are they? (You are naïve, ed).

Things dropped off a bit after that, and my posting became rather haphazard, and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere (not that I knew where I wanted to get to). I had started blogging with the intention, as a professional writer, of handing out advice to aspiring writers (whether they wanted it or not). And I couldn’t understand why nobody was coming by. And then I read a piece by Opinionated Man on blogging, who said that bloggers are all, if you like, a field of dandelions.

field of buttercups (couldn't find one with dandelions)

 

Nobody wants advice from people who think they are roses. They want to know how other dandelions are doing. And he was dead right. In any case, my stuff couldn’t really be compared to a rose. More like the stuff you mulch them with.

So I stopped and I wouldn’t have come back, if it hadn’t been for Bruce Goodman sending me a lovely email asking when I was going to post again (thanks Bruce!). And, when I did sign in, I found a really nice message from another fellow blogger, MikeW. So, that was how I discovered this place is a community. An odd one, since the chances are we’ll never meet in person; but, looking at it another way, it has the advantage of allowing you to talk to people you never would otherwise meet.

Then my daughter took me in hand. She showed me how to take advantage of Twitter; how to tag my tweets and told me also to tag my posts on Facebook. She also told me off about the dullness of my stock pictures, and that I should take my own at all times. I signed up for the WordPress 201 tuition, and everything kind of clicked. I realised I couldn’t bang on about writing all the time.  I wanted to write about family life and everyday stuff that was on my mind. And more people began to drop in.

And I don’t feel discouraged any more. I don’t have thousands of followers on WordPress, or more than 30 likes for any of my posts, but I do have a few close posting buddies who always drop by; there are others who pop in occasionally, and there are always new people popping into my reader, with new ideas and fascinating lives.

The most important thing is that, without a blog I wouldn’t write at all. And while I don’t like the thought of writing, I do like doing it.

So, thanks, WordPress, and here’s to the next 100 posts.

 

 

Roll up, roll up, for the snappy old writing process blog tour

stolen bride

The rather snappily titled ‘writing process blog tour’ has been making the rounds and I’ve been asked to answer some questions on how and what I write.

I was nominated for this by Bruce Goodman who posts a short story a day. He is funny and sharp, and you never know, even in 150 words, how his tales are going to end. Thank you Bruce!

So here we go:

What am I working on at the moment?

A romance set in the 1920s in France.  However, to earn my daily crust, I’m also editing a document about social partners in Europe. The combined effect is having serious effects on my sanity. I’m thinking of combining the two, so that the hero could be a designated representative for occupational health and safety, with the heroine attempting to organise a tripartite agreement on pay and conditions in the metalworking sector. They interface at a stakeholder seminar for hairdressers  in Monte Carlo, where he falls for her risk assessment techniques in the casino, and realises that together, they have a sustainable future in roulette. Yes? (No, ed.)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s written by me? I suppose I ought to say, because it’s sassy and funny and altogether marvellous. But so are most other romances I read. I think I just try to write something that will entertain people.

Mostly, I concentrate on making what I write fit into its genre. I was trained as a journalist, and when I became a sub editor, I spent a lot of time re-writing other people’s copy but making it look as though I hadn’t touched it. Actually, I’m going to wave a flag for sub-editors here. They are the people who write the headlines, correct the reporters’ spelling and grammar, cut out all the libellous remarks, and generally stop reporters and columnists making fools of themselves. (I give you the assistant editor who told the subs not to touch her copy and then praised George Eliot for his wonderful novels). More importantly, subs make the stories fit on the page. (It’s amazing how many reporters think that 1,000 words are going to fit in three inches.) And when I worked on papers we did it all so unobtrusively that, quite a lot of times, even the paper’s reporters were under the impression they’d written what was under their name.

Why do I write what I do?

I started writing romances, because my husband and I wanted to adopt children, and in those days (the 1990s) the social services insisted that I had to give up work. So I looked around for alternative ways of making money and thought of writing for Mills and Boon. It was an entirely practical decision. I knew Mills and Boon read every ms they received, and let you know within three months whether they were interested or not. I felt that writing a romance was merely an exercise in writing to style. And if I couldn’t do that, I thought, then I really wasn’t up to scratch as a tabloid journalist. Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, it turned out to be rather more tricky than I expected. I could write a snappy 300-word piece, but turning out a 50,000-word book was quite different.  I knew nothing about creating characters, or plotting, or anything much to do with writing a novel. At all. Still, Mills and Boon liked my first ms (but not enough to publish it) and then published the next five I wrote (under the name of Sally Carr).

By this time we’d adopted two children and then, to my enormous astonishment (after years of infertility treatment), I got pregnant (twice), so we had four children in three years, and writing rather went on the back burner.  A few years down the line, I thought it might be good to write children’s stories and I had a few of those published, and then real life intervened once more, and it’s only now, after starting to blog, that I have come back to writing again.

How does my writing process work?

My imagination just gets sparked by something. Then I let the idea grow and grow, and then, when my brain won’t hold any more stuff, I write. For example, I recently read a book by fellow blogger June Kearns and I was really captivated by the idea of setting something in the 1920s. Hers is based in England and Texas, but I’m setting mine on the French Riviera. (I’ve got the whole first chapter in my head, and I’m at the point where I’ve got to get it down on paper.) I’d never really been taken with the idea of writing historical romances before because, with the research involved, they seemed far too much like hard work. But the 1920s I can manage. And if I get stuck I can always borrow shamelessly from look up Agatha Christie or PG Wodehouse.

So there you go, there’s my contribution to the writing process tour. Next up, on Monday, May 26 is Ian Probert  a former sports and music journalist. In America, in the 1990s, his first book Internet Spy was a bestseller there and was made into a TV film. In the UK you might know him as the author of Rope Burns. He’s been posting chapters of his book Shotgun Reality, which is about as far from romance as you could possibly get, and frankly I can’t wait for the next instalment.

 

 

Blue soup and dog biscuits

tilly biscuit

You know that bit in Bridget Jones’s Diary, when she has a dinner party and ends up serving her guests blue soup and marmalade? Had a bit of a moment like that last night. I saw this recipe card in a supermarket, for artichoke and avocado salad, and it looked like the kind of thing that laughing, lightly tanned people eat at sunset on a beach somewhere, with a glass of pinot grigio. So, naturally, I thought I’d make it for my family. Because, of course, if you live with people who think egg and chips is halfway to heaven, they are really going to love an artichoke salad.

The ingredients were extraordinary. Powdered sumac, for example. (Isn’t that the stuff that grows in American forests and can kill you with a single touch? Ed). Sumac? Wtf? Still, they sell it in Waitrose (because that’s where the cosmopolitan intelligentsia shop, after all) so I mortgaged one of the children and bought a small pot. I got the rest of the ingredients in discount supermarket Aldi (because I need to save the rest of the children for a rainy day).

I’d just like to say here that I blame everything on WordPress. The trouble with attempting complicated recipes (or anything else) is that you have to think about them, and not what’s happening to your blog stats. So in between nipping to my computer to see if I was getting any comments, and shouted conversations with my teenage son on the lines of, ‘You mean you’ve had the entire holidays to do your homework and you’ve only found out about it now?’, I began.

Of course, I had failed to read the recipe correctly. The first thing it called for was half a ciabatta. Of course it did. So I got out two slices of Hovis, cut them up with a pair of scissors, put them in a bowl with olive oil and the sumac and then put them into the oven to turn into croutons. Then, feeling unusually domestic, I made a quiche and put it in the oven.

Then I went to check on my blog again and forgot where I was. Then I remembered about the croutons. Got them out of the oven just in time. Husband entered kitchen, looked at them, and said, ‘Are we having dog biscuits for tea?’

Got out large knife and chopped up husband other ingredients. Except the most important one, the lettuce, which I forgot. Took out the quiche. The pastry had collapsed, and I realised I had also forgotten to put any cheese in it. It looked like an omelette pond. Put salad on table. Put quiche on table. Called everybody.

Three hours later, the shy inhabitants of the house’s interior begin arriving in kitchen. Son looks at salad and picks up a crouton. ‘What’s this?’

‘Dog biscuit,’ says husband.

Son looks pityingly at him. ‘That’s not a dog biscuit, dad. It’s a futon.’

Onwards and upwards

Well, it’s been 30 days now since I’ve started blogging. I’ve written a post every day, except Saturday when I skived off (I’m sure my mum will write a sick note, if I ask her). Some have been thoughts on writing, some have been fictionalised accounts of my time as a newspaper reporter, some have been stories, and some have been rants about shopping and sexism.
I’ve been amazed at the nice things people have said; frankly any attention at all has amazed me, especially when Jools put me up for the One Lovely Blog award. The fact that people I’ve never met have struck up conversations over the web and encouraged me, has made me increase my writing output by about 1000% (although I’m no mathematician).
I came thinking I was just going to write tips on writing, in a take it or leave it sort of fashion, but found that, actually, I was learning from people who had much more to teach me. And of course, once you get involved in reading other people’s stories and about how they live, you can’t remain in splendid isolation, you become part of this extraordinary world of voices.
I’ve spent a lot of time here basically just gawping in wonder at other people’s skill; the stories they tell; the humour; the pathos and the strength.
So thank you, WordPressers. And on to the next 30 days. I wonder who I’ll meet next?

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