Posts Tagged ‘writing’

It was half term a few weeks back. The SSF was away (on some sort of endurance test to northern climes, as it turned out) and I had unmitigated freedom to contend with. On a whim, I set about redecorating the kitchen. I like painting and I like orderliness. I was orderly. I was methodical. I wrapped my brushes in cling film every evening. Things were going surprisingly well until, after flicking through a few home design magazines, I had the brilliant notion of a ‘feature wall.’ I tried a few test pots out on designated wall, creating a Kandinsky-ish effect. The results were hideous. None of the shades I had chosen remotely resembled those advertised. This spontaneous need for colour injection had slowed my progress. Hastily I covered the mess with a calming neutral and decided an outing was required.

I have a list of Places-I’ve-Been-Meaning-To-Visit. Checking through this by now extensive directory, the thought occurred that several sites I had highlighted belong to the National Trust. So, quicker than you could spit at the mention of Michael Gove, our new Environment Secretary (latterly the destroyer of our education system as we knew it), I performed a complete moral U-turn and decided to sign up for membership. I can’t believe I’m even admitting this, so critical of this institution have I been in the past. And still am and probably still will be.

It didn’t start well.

To explain fully the signing up scenario I’ll have to confess to a recent personal event. I had a birthday. A fairly monumental one as it happens but one that comes with a few welcome perks such as free prescriptions and eye tests, a national rail card and reduced price entry to practically everywhere. Everywhere it would seem, except the National Trust.

After a lengthy drive eastwards to deepest Kent one morning, I arrived at my first planned property intending to join up there and then. However, wielding my driver’s licence as proof of age cut no ice with Miss Twinset who filled in my particulars. She very sweetly and ever so slightly smugly told me that to qualify for a Trust discount one has to have been a member previously for five consecutive years.

Unusually I held my tongue, bit my lip and whatever else most people do in situations such as this while thinking that with age must come acceptance. I imagine if I’d have had a membership of anywhere for five consecutive years then the chances are I’d have done everything on offer pretty much to death anyway: what would be the point of a monetary enticement?

I kept quiet. The new old me signed up meekly and, clutching my temporary pass in my gnarled old hand, I picked up a welcome pack which, I was horrified to discover, included an emblematic sticker for my car. I had now well and truly joined the ranks of those who frequent gift shops to buy local jam and tins of themed biscuits.

I had arrived at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, former home of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat and author husband, Harold Nicholson. The couple bought the place in 1930 and set about making a home for their family. Vita developed her love of gardening here and took delight in planting, designing and experimenting. She lived a fairly wild existence, had many liaisons with other women and a decade long affair with Virginia Woolf but always remained married to Harold.

 

 

When she died in 1962, Harold decided that her legacy should be preserved for us all to enjoy and left the place in the hands of the National Trust. I have to say, they’ve done a good job. The place is beautiful. It helped that the sun was shining and the day warm, but I spent two or three hours just wandering around the gardens and taking the long walk around the lake.

I even had time for a quick lunch in the ubiquitous cafe before heading off to the next place on my list. But that’ll have to wait for another day. This membership thing may well catch on.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Hello 2016! Over half way through January and already I‘m writing the sixteen part of the date with consummate confidence – no slipping back into last year for me. Yet what have I done so far? Nothing but feel lackadaisical, that’s what. Everything is an effort. Maybe it’s the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having that assists my sluggishness – particularly in the writing department. However, thankfully I don’t think I’m alone. Several blog posts I have read lately seem to be complaining of similar afflictions. So I’ll heave myself out of my malaise and share my recently read titles and my new book pile, purchased delightedly with Christmas money gifted specifically for that purpose.

I started the Christmas break (it seems so long ago now), by reading the book club choice – “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?by Jeanette Winterson. This sorry autobiographical tale details her early life with a monster of an adoptive mother and how, against all odds and between bouts of being locked in the coal cellar she collected a forbidden library of books, taught herself literature and wound up at Oxford University before embarking on a career as a writer and journalist while seeking her biological mother. The title refers to a comment the adoptive mother made to Jeanette when she discovered her having a relationship with a woman.

This was an interesting read if only for the fact that she and I are of similar age and my own childhood was in complete contrast to hers. While I was riding my Raleigh bike with its Sturmey-Archer gears carefree through the leafy lanes of Surrey she had run away from home ‘up north’ and was living in the back of an abandoned mini car, wondering from where her next meal was coming. I won’t reveal the outcome of her search in case anyone chooses to take this on. To sum up – it’s a quick read but not an easy one.

Next up was “A Spool Of Blue Thread” by Ann Tyler, recommended by Lisa. I had only read Ann Tyler once before and hadn’t particularly enjoyed her so this was started with some apprehension. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this family saga spanning three generations. We start and end with Denny, the black sheep of the family and Tyler’s writing is pacy, winding us through various time frames and familial relationships using mainly dialogue. Her characterisations and her descriptions of place create a vivid visual picture. It’s a very clever story and well deserving of its place on the Booker Prize shortlist.

After seeing the film “The Lady in the Van” I just had to read Alan Bennett’s book to find out if the film was completely true. Both the film and the book are enchantingly British, very funny and well worth a watch or a read – preferably both. I’m not saying any more than that lest I spoil it for you!

Having enjoyed the above title so much I decided to revisit and indulge in Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.” This is a compilation of the series of monologues he wrote to be performed both at the theatre and on BBC television. They hark back to the early eighties but lose none of their wit and poignancy over thirty years later. I‘ve read these more times than I probably care to remember but each time I find a new gem of an observation or turn of phrase that has me laughing out loud. The book I have lists the name of the actor who originally performed each one and the cast list reads like a night at the BAFTA’s. I find these monologues highly inspiring and am hoping that by reading them again now will send a jolt of creativity across my stagnant bows.

So…that’s what I have been reading and this is what my new book pile looks like:

image

Having looked at Pauline’s new year list recently, I’ve pre-ordered two titles from hers – “The Forgetting Time” by Sharon Guskin and “The Reader on the 6.27” by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent. Neither title is available in the UK till later in the year so I’ll have a lovely surprise when either turns up on the doormat.

So many books…so little time. I keep the ones I might conceivably read again – the others I pass on, not minding if they are lost to me forever. Rather that than lend a precious title to a friend who returns it in appalling condition. This happened once, which inspired this 300 flash fiction. I haven’t lent anything to her since…

LENDING

As she adjusted the vertical blinds at the far end to stop sunlight streaming through the window and discolouring the books Margaret noticed with distaste that Ms Elizabeth Rivers was in again.  Only last week she had said to young David (work placement, not permanent staff); she had said to him, she said, that she would rather never lend Ms Rivers a book again.

While she tidied her pristine work area and wiped her computer screen with a vanilla scented wet-wipe, Margaret kept a disdainful eye on Ms Rivers rummaging through the shelves, opening a book, reading a page, turning it over, reading the back cover synopsis, ramming it back on the shelf, repeating the process with another title. The state her last selection had come back in had been a disgrace – corners bent over, unidentifiable smears on covers and, worse still, remnants of what looked like blueberry muffin squashed between the pages of “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”

David arrived from the kitchenette with yet another mug of coffee which he placed with exaggerated care onto a cork mat next to his keyboard. He looked at Margaret somewhat defiantly she thought, and nodded in the direction of Ms Rivers, who by now had chosen two titles and was looking for her third. Margaret turned her attention to Mr Dawkins, another regular who had an insatiable interest in Military History, and who treated the books he borrowed as if they were precious relics. Swiping his card with a flourish, Margaret heard David dealing with Ms Rivers who was remonstrating loudly.

“I’m sorry, Ms Rivers” she heard David say, “Your card appears to have been withdrawn.”

Margaret, head down, busied herself by straightening a pile of leaflets.

oooooooOOO~OOOooooooo

 

Read Full Post »

It has been noted in some quarters that my blog posts have been rather erratic of late. There’s a reason of course. Of course there is. I’ve been distracted. I’ve finally fallen into the abyss and fully discovered the varying possibilities of our digital age: I have been on-line gaming.

No, no – not that sort of online gaming – I’m not gambling or even paying for anything although I have for some time played a form of Scrabble over the airwaves with various family members which, there is no doubt, is addictive. Occasionally, whilst cogitating over the best word to play to maximise my score, an advert will pop up suggesting other games I might enjoy. Until recently I have studiously ignored these. However, in an unguarded moment I found myself clicking through to something called ‘Candy Crush.’ What an inane yet thoroughly absorbing waste of time that is. I spent the best part of a weekend trying to pop some imaginary plastic bottles, convincing myself that the time invested was improving my hand-eye coordination.

When I realised the full horror and implication of what I was doing, I deleted all the data from my machine and am forcing myself not to be enticed to click on anything that may unwittingly bring the wretched thing back. It’s like giving up chocolate for Lent. It makes me wonder how many man hours are squandered in a computer-based workplace as bored employees covertly click through to complete the next level of whatever game they are hooked on. Thank goodness I’ve been in a classroom over the last couple of weeks otherwise I too may have been tempted.

Subsequently, to alleviate the grieving process having parted company so brutally with the luridly coloured ‘Candy Crush,’ I’ve been in search of other more worthwhile pursuits. This was also a sub-conscious diversionary tactic as I should be getting down to some creative writing, re-writing and editing of short stories as I’m meeting up with writing friends shortly to share progress. (Ladies: you’ll be disappointed).

Anyway, I’ve found something new to me that is likely to occupy me to the point of obsession: Flipboard. I’ve been aware of this online magazine collection for a while as I’ve clicked on blog links I’ve been reading but I’ve never really explored its potential till now. There are topic categories to cover all interests, drawn from various media and you have the choice to create your own ‘magazine.’ It’s like having a scrapbook where you can squirrel away lots of fascinating articles and read them at your leisure. What’s more, you can share your created magazine with friends.

In a fit of inspirational non-imagination, I have created a magazine with the same title as this blog. (Well, there’s nothing like streamlining, is there?). I’ve started to fill it with articles that interest me and which, I hope, may interest you. So if you can’t find me blogging as regularly, then you might like to drop in on my Flipboard magazine – click here: CHARACTERSFROMTHEKITCHEN – and see what I’ve been reading. I always wanted to edit a magazine…On the other hand, the articles I find might provide me with some sorely needed inspiration.

Happy reading folks!

Technical note: Flipboard seems to display best as a magazine on Ipad but loads perfectly well on a Windows laptop in scroll format.

 

 

Read Full Post »

As we race towards the sharp end of the summer term with the dreaded sports day and activities week safely out of the way, the long summer break looms ahead and my postings are likely to be more erratic than usual. Without the daily routine that term time requires I fear that my time will merge into a summery haze although I have every intention of concentrating on some story writing and editing. beach-scene120412[1]

However, if last summer was anything to go by I managed to fail miserably on both of those counts, so I’m not promising anything or indeed setting a deadline that I will feel obliged to fulfil. I shall keep up with reading as many blogs as I can so won’t have evaporated completely from the stratosphere and I shall hopefully find some interesting places during August that will be worth blogging about later.

Before I go though, I must just share this with you.

The autistic son of an acquaintance of mine was recently banned from his school bus for a few days apparently for causing damage to said vehicle. He sat down next to a sign which clearly stated:

TAKE HAMMER AND BREAK THE GLASS.

So he did.

Enjoy your summers!

 

Read Full Post »

Things have been rather fraught here this week. The atmosphere at home has been charged with every emotion imaginable. If I compare it to something like the thrill of winning marathon gold to then be told that, as you cross the finishing line, you’re about to face extensive root canal work, should give you some idea of the peaks and troughs we’ve been experiencing.

I am talking about Son’s book. (I mentioned it last year in my post ‘Waiting for D-Day,’ which if you haven’t already, you can read about here ). His three years of research and writing about the 101st American Airborne’s time in England prior to the D-Day invasion in 1944 is on the brink of being published. (Marathon gold).

Proofs came back last week and while the cover and layout were perfect, inevitably there were minor changes required – a typo here, an upper case there and captions to check for the umpteenth time. (Root canal work).

Now that’s all been done, the book is back at the publisher’s awaiting final approval, there is nothing more Son can do but sit tight and wait and let that malignant enemy of all writers, self-doubt, descend.

So while being immensely proud I’ve been doling out pep talks and reassurance in equal measure. It’s exhausting. (And far more nerve-wracking than it ever was waiting for exam results). All being well – and it will be – (I have faith), his book will be available at the end of the month via Amazon. I will of course post details here as soon as he has a release date.

phone photos 010

My walks on the common therefore have been even more welcome this week. A sanctuary where there’s no phone coverage and where I can begin to deal with all the thoughts buzzing in my brain; to prioritise my own writing tasks I need to have finished by the end of the month and to let a dose of fresh air inspire me.

phone photos 008

I begin to see the wood for the trees.

phone photos 007

As the late afternoon sunshine sends its lengthening Giacometti shadows I turn for home, wondering which end of the spectrum I’ll be facing this evening. I trudge in my waterproofs over the slowly drying heath land and spy the season’s first wild crocus; green shoots of possibility pushing heads tentatively through a dormant tangle of brown bracken.

android phone 010

 There’s an analogy in there somewhere but for now I’ll just do what’s needed.

Read Full Post »

I have a couple of items to share mid-week. The first is an addendum to last week’s post on the merits or not of Halloween. A non-blogging friend, who seems to read my ramblings on a regular basis, sent me an email describing her memories of Halloween Bonfire parties. I thought they were too good to keep to myself, so have reproduced her message here:

 As children we celebrated Halloween with a big party for all the children in our road.  My parents couldn’t afford fireworks therefore Halloween was a big bonfire with lots of games:

Courtesy Clipart

Courtesy Clipart

buns on the washing line, bobbing the apple, blindfolded tasting (disgusting!! especially tasting a spoonful of some hideous spice!!) and Dad always told us a gruesome story about Lord Nelson – we were blindfolded and I vaguely remember having to stick my finger in an eye socket (half an orange) and walking the plank (an old scaffold plank, child balanced on it, Dad made it rock a bit, child had to jump but actually you were only a couple of inches off the ground).  All very terrifying and all brilliant fun.  My Dad has always been really creative.

Always baked potatoes and sausages in rolls. So our Halloween didn’t go outside the garden, no ‘trick or treats’ and we had a sparkler to finish!

 Very fond memories and one that I continued with my own children until very recently.

 Now, doesn’t that sounds like a great family tradition in the making? My friend can have the last word on this one.

 Secondly, I am sure many of you are aware that November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – have a go at writing 50,000 words in thirty days and get a first draft of that ever elusive novel down in black and white.  I know that two of our blogging chums have taken up this daunting challenge and I’d like to wish them both the very best of luck. Interestingly, they are both also long distance runners. Writing a novel is like running a marathon – it requires dedication, determination and perseverance, even when the going gets tough; which it undoubtedly will. Runners have to warm up, train regularly, whatever the weather. Sustained writing requires similar strengths: do it every day – not just when the creative urge strikes. To commit to writing what amounts to just under 1700 words a day is no mean feat, as the rest of us know all too well.

So, just as if they were running a marathon, I shall be standing on the sidelines, cheering them on, delighted when they cross the finishing line.

Read Full Post »

Haute Couture.Valentino

 Back in the day, when I was a student at the London College of Fashion, I attended fashion and couture shows virtually every week as part of the course.  Sitting amongst the world’s fashion press at everything from Norman Hartnell to the Prêt a Porter; Jean Muir to the Top Shop Collection, we were expected to take notes and file reports on each show, to get us practising different writing styles. As I had decided fairly early on that fashion writing was something I definitely would not be doing, it all seemed pretty irrelevant to me; I couldn’t get to grips with the insincerity of the industry as I saw it then.  If anyone who has seen The BBC’s comedy show, ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ thinks its portrayal is over the top, I can assure you it isn’t – I have known people exactly like the two main characters, Edina and Patsy.

So when a friend suggested that we meet at Somerset House to view the Valentino exhibition, I went expecting to be underwhelmed. We didn’t book which was foolish as we arrived in the middle of London Fashion Week. A biting north wind was rushing along the Thames at a rate of knots and the queue, huddled against the brickwork, wasn’t. In spite of being British, I’m not good at queuing and neither, fortunately, is my friend. Attempting to retire to Tom’s Deli in the courtyard proved fruitless – we didn’t have the required passes for Fashion Week. Things were going from bad to worse.

While we were curmudgeonly bemoaning our bad luck and ignoring the fact that it was down to bad planning, we were approached by security who suggested we joined a much shorter queue to buy timed tickets for later in the day. Marvellous! This achieved we were then ushered to the foyer where Tom’s Deli was selling cardboard-cup coffee and flapjacks. All was not lost and we settled down for a catch up as we waited our turn to see the show.

Now for a bit of fashion writing:-

The exhibition is a celebration of the life and works of Valentino who, in 1959, at the age of twenty-seven,  returned to Rome from the couture salons of Paris, (notably Guy Laroche) and founded his now iconic label. In 1965, together with his partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, he opened his fashion house on the Via Condotti in Rome. He remained at the helm of his empire until his retirement in 2007.

 He designed and dressed everybody who is anybody – from Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly, Princess Diana and Julia Roberts to Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga.

The first part of the exhibition concentrates on Valentino’s private archive of correspondence with the glitterati – letters of thanks from Vogue editor Anna Wintour; signed photographs of Elizabeth Taylor; photographs of Valentino with Meryl Streep and Ann Hathaway on the set of The Devil Wears Prada; a Christmas card from Prince Charles. After this very personal glimpse into his life, we go upstairs to tread the catwalk between 130 seated and standing mannequins clothed in the most exquisite Valentino couture. The fabrics and workmanship that go into creating these works of art is breath-taking; each one is sewn by hand by one of Valentino’s ‘ragazza’s’ (girls).   The exhibition then takes you through the process of their creation, demonstrating on film the painstaking work of the seamstresses and showing samples of work in various stages of completion.

So, there we have it: I was overwhelmed and I did appreciate it – couture is just another art form, after all. That just didn’t occur to me before.

Something else I didn’t appreciate when I was younger: the necessity to moisturise one’s neck.

Read Full Post »