Friday 19 December 2014

The Happy Prisoner - Monica Dickens

For years - as a child - I looked at the pink cover of this book. It has been on the bookshelves in mum's sitting room for half a century - the Mermaid edition of the 'The Happy Prisoner'. The archaic illustration on the front cover shows a youngish man in a very old-fashioned wheelchair. He's in a contraption with a high back but with a single wheel at the front. What fascinated me as a child was the pretty cottage in the background, a well- dressed woman serving tea on a tray and this young chap wrapped in a blanket. An odd but intriguing scene.
So now, as I clear mum's house, very gradually, I fancy I will actually read the book whose cover held me in its grasp for such a long time. The irony is my family couldn't find the copy on mum's bookshelves so I had to search Google and Alibris to find the exact edition. Finally I found the Mermaid series - the whole could be a good present for a minor collector.

I have only recently learned Monica Dickens is the grandchild of the more famous Charles. All the more reason to actually look inside the cover and discover her as a writer. It was a timely read in that mum is a 'happy prisoner' in her bed - unable to walk.

So now, close to Christmas, I have a purchased copy of  the book and mum has moved, finally to a nursing home in which we hope she will settle.

Since I last wrote my blog such a lot has happened. At the beginning of November our senior district nurse filed an incident report against mum's care agency as her health was deteriorating The nurse said all her ailments were avoidable ( with proper care). After Remembrance Sunday mum began to decline and didn't want to eat. All the local medical professionals wanted her in hospital - I was so relieved at this suggestion. I had already told mum - the weekend of  15th November - that if she didn't eat she'd have to go into a ward. So on the evening of Tuesday 18th November she was back in a hospital bed - all her test results came back sound but she was debilitated by not eating enough.

So, as I walked past the Acute Stroke Unit, I thought we were back to where we started on April 20th. Easter Day. Mum had had a massive stroke.

Charlotte Ward got mum eating and drinking again so she was ready for discharge quite soon - medically fit for travel. But no-one thought she should be at my brother's home nor my home without 24 hour care. The care package hadn't worked at our house and my brother couldn't contemplate an extra carer in his house 24/7 on top of his full time job as a solicitor. Again, I was quite relieved. I knew mum needed a nursing home but it's a huge step. We found one near the hospital in Bath. But even that took some doing. So few beds and just because we want a place doesn't mean the home will take a patient and all the while we had to convince mum this was a 'convalescent home' . A white lie.

My brother became convinced that Atholl House near his home in Tettenhall was the right place for mum. So, finally, after a lot of planning, and a curious journey north, she has a bed. Mum was drinking tea when I left her there, and I was happy with the hygiene and the atmosphere. Mum's room is large and bright and the day rooms are good for visitors. A cuppa always on hand. I was happy to leave and will be happy to return.The 'happy prisoner' is settling in to her new situation.

The final irony in this circuitous journey from A&E and Acute Stroke Unit on April 20th was  travelling up in the ambulance on Tuesday 16 December. The conversation went thus:
'Dave', said the ambulance driver.
'Yeah, Dave,' said his number two.
'The ambulance has gone in to limp mode. Ring the depot and get an emergency vehicle.'
So Dave-number-two rang for a replacement vehicle.
'Hello Roy. We need a rescue vehicle. We are at Bridgwater,' said Dave-number- two.
'No we aren't,' I piped up, ' We are at Broadwaters near Kidderminster. 17 miles at most from the nursing home.'

One and half hours later the patient was fine, but the ambulance was sick. I found myself in a pub and  mum was fast asleep, oblivious to it all. I'd given her a valium at ten o'clock.

If this isn't a black comedy I'm not sure what is but we hope mum will have a happy Christmas - near the majority of her family - and manage to enjoy something of the best of what a nursing home can offer. Meanwhile I will be searching her bookshelves for the 1952 edition of. 'The Happy Prisoner' and I hope the two Daves got rescued in time for a cool Yule.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Testament of Middle Age

I have been reading Vera Brittain for book group and to help with setting the immediate post-war atmosphere in my own novel 'Coming of Age'. Looking after my mother who had a massive stroke on Easter Day resonates, for me, with Vera Brittain's observations, as a battlefield nurse, in 'Testament of Youth'. On page 394 she compares the post-operative soldiers in her WW1 hospital for the battle-wonded with the medical patients - some of whom are delirious.
She writes
'These acute medical cases were a disturbing contrast to the sane, courageous surgicals. Wounded men kept their personalities even after a serious operation, whereas those of the sick became so quickly impaired...'
I liken this to the fragmentation of my mother's personality after her stroke. Thank goodness we are not dealing with dementia but how different would it be if she were in a hospital bed following an op for cancer, for instance?
As it is my mother, as I knew her, wouldn't recognise herself when she wakes up and calls 'tea' as if shouting above the heads of people queueing up at drinks stall. Mum hasn't kept her personality entirely, but nor has she lost it entirely. She is in pain now and is eating poorly. The pain can be alleviated with paracetamol, thankfully, but her immediate concerns overshadow our conversations.
Last Sunday mum watched the Remembrance Sunday service and had a roast dinner with us. The family were down but since then mum seems less than herself again. She isn't 'talking to dad' meaning her own father anymore. Nor is she asking when the wanderer will return. By this she means my own father- he died in 1993.
Her personality has been diminished by this dreadful stroke. She is comfortable in her medical bed - with a super quality air mattress, but never have we been so concerned with bodily functions and interpreting the needs of someone trapped in a weakened body. We persevere and have good friends but I do wonder whether her care package is good enough. Considering the huge costs heaven help us if the NHS folds. Private care, as I see it, is run for profit and is very poor value for money.

Monday 22 September 2014

My next novel?

I remember  pieces in The Observer telling the rest of us what it was like living with a parent who was dementing. I also remember a radio play revealing the madness brought about by an elder ( now known as Alzheimers) tap, tap, tapping all day long at her daughter's home. This was a revolutionary  story thirty five years ago.
Now, I wonder, do I keep a diary and produce a work - a novella? - relating to the care system from my point of view - the daughter of ... We have had a very difficult few days. We thought the Care Company's package - agreed in June with site visit, costs and timings - was agreed. Then, ten days before mum was due to live with us temporarily for two months - respite for my brother - I 'found out' the company had no staff. We have rung about thirty five nursing agencies, care services, NHS and social services since Thursday. We have contacted friends and friends of friends. We have a quasi package ready for Monday ... we think .

Finally my family will rally round on Sunday and help out -  it was either that or mum would have had to have gone in a care home in Bath - precisely what we have been trying to avoid.

I would like to hear from anyone who has experience of the care system for an elder - more specifically a stroke patient - especially in the Bath area. Apparently certain areas in the UK are under a terrific strain carer - wise. Bath is one of those areas, it seems.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Mum update - mist to the grill

With a little good fortune, and the wind behind us, mum will be coming to live with us in Bath at the end of September. This isn't permanent as after two months mum will return to my brother's. She is eating and sleeping well! Mum is still enjoying reading the paper, looking at photos or watching her favourite DVDs. She tires easily - but at ninety, who cares? She says she misses her own home but has liked looking at the photos I've taken of her garden. We've spent three days with her this week and have nothing but praise for her carers from Bluebird Care. So far so good! No use in her left arm at all but mum's speech is good and she still has that sense of humour. We press on ...
I use the experience of living with a stroke patient in my novel 'Coming of Age' . Turn your own secrets into gems on the page. I paraphrase, but it's all grist to the mill ... or mist to the grill!

Monday 15 September 2014

First world war and all that!

My novel 'Coming of Age' begins in 1918 when 8 million women in the UK got the vote. The thrust of the story is the moving forward of women's lives but I could hardly not mention the war. In other words I had to look back too. As polling day 1918 was held on December 14th I couldn't leave out Christmas either. Of course not all homes in the UK wanted a Christmas Tree in December 1918. Not all the fit and able troops had returned, so some homes weren't places for celebrations, other families had lost loved ones through battle or disease, and of course the Christmas Tree was felt to be a non-British tradition.
I hope readers will feel I've engaged with the conflicts ( small c) of the time.
As for another conflict ( larger 'C'?) :-
Although I am a Scot by name I find I keep thinking of Alex Salmond as not the Old Pretender, nor the Young Pretender, but the 'New Pretender'.  All I'm going to say is  it's a dangerous world out there for a brand new country ...

Sunday 31 August 2014

It would have been easier to move house!

August for us has been a hardworking month - yes another of those events. I'm glad it's over and really pleased it's now September. How fortunes and priorities change! I wouldn't have welcomed September when I was still trundling to 'the institution' i/c SEN teaching.
As well as sorting mum's house and garden I have made my study at the top of the house- that meant two strong men carrying my bureau up two flights of stairs. I have cleared said bureau and my old study has also had paperwork &c moved to the new study. Moving documents and files - plus chucking a great deal - took two or three days alone. The old study has been transformed into a new sitting room. Furniture has been painted, new curtains & paintings hung, shelves tidied, a new sky box installed today and, finally, the room looks like a living room. The walk in wardrobe has had the paintings in there moved back to Richard's studio. In order to get into said studio even more paintings were successfully lifted to a waiting car for a car boot sale over the bank holiday. Books and paintings ain't light.
I washed Richard's numerous paintbrushes and stored his non framed works in big shelvings which lean with the excess weight. But there is space on the bookshelves to accept some of dad's books 'Europe in the Seventeenth Century' , Toynbee's histories etc. Yes I managed to sell paperbacks at the car boot too. That made space!

The downstairs sitting room carpet has slices of duck tape stuck over it so we know where to position mum's all singing & dancing bed and hoist when they arrive. Our sitting room now has a trolley with various creams & potions on it - so it looks more like a sideward than a dining room - and the downstairs bathroom shines with its fresh coat of paint. Our bedroom cupboards house all the necessary bedding leaving the wardrobe at the top of the stairs for mum's things. Yes that was another major sort out.
We await the mini fridge - when it arrives it will go in the upstairs galley kitchen. Even our main kitchen has been organised today. Every cupboard cleared, wiped and replenished. I don't think one room in the house has got through August without a new lick of paint, furniture being moved in or out of it or some other sort of reorganisation. Roll on September. I need a change of pace!
Thank goodness we are in Devon soon - I need a good rest - so there will be no more blogs for a while. There will be no more moving of furniture either!

Monday 11 August 2014

A room of one's own

Now that mum is living at my brother's he is having a new gas fire installed in one of his sitting rooms - so last winter was the last cosy coal fire in his house. But the change will give him family time and privacy when the carers are with mum or she's having physio.
We don't have a granny flat like my brother so I've had to create 'a room of our own'. Mum will be in our dining room - on an 'all singing - all dancing bed' next to her hoist and our new improved downstairs loo and shower room. Some stylish screens will give her some privacy.  Hopefully - in a practical sense - she'll have all she needs and she can watch the television with us when she wants to and share with us at meal times.
But we also need ' a room of our own' so I've opened up the small kitchen upstairs and created another little sitting room too. We now have a nice white toshiba flat screen upstairs, so we can watch the box while mum has a sleep. Friends have helped moved the bureau to the top floor in the house - so I can 'get back to my desk' as a couple of agents have said to me. Yes - I am still working on my novel - but researching and preparing rather than writing. After all - when mum is with us - I truly will need a 'room of my own' away from medical needs and television. It takes some planning! And mum's not coming to us until October!

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Well done mum!

Mum is now out of hospital and living at my brother's. He has a granny flat - bedroom with shower room& loo, a  lovely sitting room and kitchen - and a hall lined with books - from Philip Hensher to Primo Levi. My brother has brought mum's TV and favourite box sets over to her new rooms.She no longer mentions the house which was her home for fifty years. It must be very hard to give up one's independence and home, to say nothing of making do with a paralysed left side. However she can see her grandchildren and her carers are very good. Mum is eating well and we hope to raise a glass for her birthday.
Next week is her ninetieth. There was a point a few months ago when I thought we wouldn't have her with us for the big nine-oh. But - fingers crossed - she'll just about make it! Well done mum!

Saturday 12 July 2014

The stooping figure of my mother ...

... wrote Laurie Lee in 'As I Walked Out...' He was born one hundred years ago but we were unable to join the centenary celebrations in Slad as mum was still in hospital.

Just like Laurie Lee, watching his mother wave to him as he leaves her, I have seen mum wave us off from her driveway,whenever we started our journey back home to Bath, on countless occasions over the years. Until twenty years ago both she and my father would stand in the space left by our car and wave us off. As they did so we would make our way past just seven houses either side of Nightingale Place, a pretty name for an address. Then we would turn out in to the lane and they would wave once more. As we turned and drove past the woods our car would have been out of sight to them - so just before that I'd see their hands make one final farewell gesture.
Laurie Lee's opening lines in 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning'  always resonates with me - especially when I wave at mum who is herself waving us goodbye...
   'one gnarled red hand waved in farewell'
and for years I have wondered when the last time would come. When would I not see my mother waving us farewell?

It seems that time has arrived. She has waved us her last goodbye, from her driveway at least. Mum cannot go home again. I wonder whether she has said her goodbyes to her house - in her mind at least. She and dad moved there in nineteen-sixty - almost fifty-five years ago. It's a lot to give up.

Whenever I wave to her at hospital she is lying in bed and one hand rises above the bedcovers to give a weak wave. And still the words of Laurie Lee come into mind.

From now on I won't see mum as a stooping figure because she will be seated - in a wheelchair  - or lying in bed.

She did come out to the tea rooms with us on Friday - but in a wheelchair. That was her first time in a public place for almost three months. I don't know how she will feel about not being able to walk to the shops or to a cafe. I hope she adjusts to being wheeled out. It's a big  change when you're one month off reaching the great age of ninety.

Time will tell.

Monday 7 July 2014

Move him into the sun

We are planning to see mum's physios and occupational therapists at the end of this week. They were hoping to get mum to stand longer ( supported) each day but fear she may have plateaued. We've all tried to encourage her to get into a wheelchair and go out into the sunshine. However I feel we have reached an impasse there too. Mum is tired and reluctant to do more, it seems. But, at almost ninety, perhaps it's too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

We find she's sitting out of bed a little more - perhaps that's the best we can hope for now. After all she can still read, listen, talk, eat and drink. And she still has a sense of humour! Perhaps these are more important than being pushed out into the sunshine.

I am reminded of Wilfred Owen's 'Futility' -  Move him into the sun Gently.
Or - as in the original - Move him into the sun
                                     Gently its touch awoke him once

Perhaps we should just let mum be. Sleep is what she wants now.

This hiatus - the stroke and its after effects - gives me time for reading and researching life for mum's contemporaries. Born in the nineteen-twenties this age group has seen much, spared the horror of the first world war, but thrown into the confusion of the second. Going through mum's photographs, in a weak attempt to begin moving her home to my brother's - so some sorting has to be done- has given me access to paraphernalia from between the war years. Just right for my novel 'Coming of Age'. However there has been little time for writing. Trying to keep our house and garden going, and doing the same at mum's house takes its toll. But the sun is warm, the weather glorious, and we've had time to enjoy it. Every July I'm keen to get out before the summer holidays leave Bath so crowded we can barely walk on the pavements. Plenty of swimming to do too.

Use it or lose it has never been more true.

So kind of people to continue to ask about mum. It's likely to be much the same now, I think. A chat, a glance at the paper, a drink and a joke, then a bit of a sleep. As long as mum's content then perhaps that's what we should settle for too.

Monday 23 June 2014

So - an austerity march in London today. My collection 'Austerity and Other Cuts' is still relevant and, sadly, may still be relevant when I'm nearing the end of my novel 'Coming of Age.'
I've workshopped the first three chapters of 'Coming of Age' and am pleased with the feedback. It puts a spring in one's step when peers like your work.

Dorset was lovely - we've been lucky with our holidays in terms of weather and location. Beautiful cottages - so we booked again for September. These breaks give me thinking time and it's wonderful to people watch - all grist to the mill for a writer.

Off to see mum again this week. Hoping there might be news re: her care plan. She's sitting up longer each day - that's all good news, but we'll have to see how much measurable progress she's made. We can give my brother a break from hospital visiting too and find out if she's been in a wheelchair yet.

All very hopeful for the possible respite care we can have in place in Bath for mum but it's so difficult for a wheelchair on our steps - at least 12 of them. Help!

Saturday 31 May 2014

Who is the child and who is the parent?

Had a beautiful time in Devon. However I wasn't inspired to write about the rural idyll, the babbling brook and the flower festivals, the village fete or the peaceful hilltop cemetery overlooking the Devon landscape.

For my entry for the Bridport Prize I felt able to capture the conflict one has when roles are reversed. Who is the child and who is the mother when the former cares for the latter?

Of course I refer to my elderly mother, post-stroke.
Mum is doing extremely well. She has begun to stand - using a support - and she has feeling back in her left arm. Now that her hair has been done and she's eating and drinking a normal diet she's much brighter, and looks it.Yesterday she was sitting out most of the day - reading a magazine. Today she wanted to know what was happening in the world of politics. I was able to give her part of the newspaper to read about the Lib Dems and their troubles.

She wanted me to be at home with her - to take care of her - along with Richard or my brother. She knows she'll need nursing care but she wants her family to be her nurses. Who is the child and who is the parent? It's not black and white - although I tried to capture the shifting roles on the page. Time will tell.

Friday 16 May 2014

Away in Devon

I am enjoying working on my novel. It's the development of my novella 'Coming of Age'. The minor characters in Eliza Augusta's life are having their own story told. We still see Eliza Augusta as the 'matriarch' and I hope the whole celebrates the talents of women who, for the most part, have to get along financially without men - or  a family life with children - in many cases. They find different ways of living. My novel will still span 1918 - 1978. In that way women's suffrage, (1918)  at the start of the novel, is balanced at the end with Mrs Thatcher's rise to become PM. Two important events which are good bookends for the work.

I know one or two agents at our Anthology Launch on Tuesday wondered if the novel was a saga . It's more a fictional study, based on interview and research, of women's independence through those years.

Speaking of independence - mum had a drink of tea yesterday. She can't hold the cup herself yet - well she needed to be sitting up for that - but it is progress. She may move to the rehabilitation community hospital next week. That's where the real physio starts. I do hope to see her sitting up - and more especially - in a wheelchair and dressed - so we can move her about. I think it would do her good to not feel she has to be bedridden. That would be great progress.

In Devon for a holiday so I will sign off from my blog for a couple of weeks. Let's hope the sun continues to shine!

Tuesday 6 May 2014

You can't push the river

It is interesting that I interviewed my mother about her memories, loves and hobbies only last year. Given her recent stroke it's a reminder that we can't always put things off until another day. Another day may not arrive. When I took down notes about her life history she was then eighty eight - and I garnered some rich material.
      I plan to develop my novella 'Coming of Age' and expand the stories of the minor characters. One of them is Vi, born in the nineteen twenties. The central character Eliza Augusta, will remain- it is her history. She gets the married-women's vote, aged thirty, in 1918. The novella follows her life through to 1978 when our first woman prime minister was elected. However there is much back story to be used - my mother's story, for instance, as ARP warden and switchboard operative, model and secretary.
     The character Maud can be developed too. In my story she will go on to become one of the few women bus conductresses and licensee of a chain of pubs. Other interviewees have professional jobs - from the 1950s onwards - and their story can be told. They all revolve the great master butcher - Eliza Augusta  - sister, aunt or great aunt to Vi and other minor characters.

     It is also good to know that my mother's story will not be lost. Tonight she was lying in her hospital bed, she had been sitting and was dressed. She still has the tube feed but her hair was brushed and she looked stronger. Tomorrow, we are told, she can start having real porridge.
     'Mum. You can have real porridge tomorrow. You like that don't you?'
     'Depends how they make it.'
     'Have you had these little puddings and drinks today?', I ask.
     'Don't like them.'

      Thank goodness for real porridge then! Maybe she'll make ninety after all. Maybe she'll gradually be able to eat again. You can't push the river.
       She's had a massive stroke but still knows what she wants and where she wants to go after hospital. But so glad I interviewed her last year - last week it looked as if I might have been too late to say anything to her of real worth.

Tuesday 29 April 2014


Having written about the loss of disability benefits in my story 'Single File' and overseen the SEN and disability policy (and various rewrites) at school I'm now debating whether the after effects of my mother's stroke are considered disabilities. Does my mother have special needs herself,now, after years of working with severely handicapped children and young people? Is the paralysis down her left side temporary or permanent? Can she sit in a wheelchair without being able to sense her left side?

   We are so glad mum can speak, listen, recall and respond. We are so relieved she can at least swallow little meals. But, at nearly ninety, this massive stroke has taken it out of her. Mum is very tired. I try to read to her, show her 2 minute films on the ipad, and she enjoys it. She reads the headlines in the paper to me and reads messages in her cards-then falls asleep. Her body needs all the energy it can get to recover and repair, it seems.

   We are hoping we can find some nursing provision which means she can be at our homes for a few weeks at a time. Is this a pipe dream? I don't know but I think it's what she wants. She looked after folks most of her life and has rarely been ill - until now. Ninety is a bit late for learning how to be ill! But none of our elders have been in institutions for long. Mum did the caring - now it's her time to be cared for.

Pass the baton on. Pass the baton on.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Trussell Trust

It seemed a bit of a blow to me, as a writer detailing the effects of Austerity, when The IMF showed there was an upturn in Britain's economy. Oh no! What will happen to all my material for stories about the difficulties faced during the cuts? My sidelong glances at situations brought about by being laid off  - such as in 'Gardening Leave' - or the fear of losing disability benefits in 'Single File' - these scenarios would be irrelevant in a booming economy! But on the same day as the IMF report the Trussell Trust showed there was an ever expanding list of people in need - folks who cannot afford to buy sufficient food to live on. It seems my stories 'Austerity and Other Cuts' will remain relevant for some time to come. They may be more than social satire-maybe more a commentary on life in Britain - despite its being the sixth richest nation on the planet. For some it is the best of times ... For others it certainly isn't.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Joy and Sadness

It was with great joy that I opened our anthology 'A Cache' to see my piece 'All the Responsibility - None of the Power' in print. Two encouraging forwards from Philip Hensher and Naomi Alderman and an acknowledgement for my part in the editing of the submissions were good to see.
    It was, however, with great sadness when I took down the 'Happy Easter' cards. It hasn't been a happy Easter. A little after eleven o'clock on Easter morning mum, who is coming ninety, was slumped over the sofa bed. I called 111, and the paramedics were on the scene within minutes. Of course mum had had a stroke but she was treated quickly once at hospital. She was out of A&E and in a bed in The Acute Stroke Unit a few hours later. She was trying to talk- it was slurred but she was understanding us.
     Monday morning was a terribly low point. We were told the survival rates for her age group and what damage had been done following what had been a massive stroke. She'd had a bad reaction to the treatment (anaphylactic shock). In essence the treatment hadn't worked. It had not dispersed the clot. We were told the worst. Thankfully mum didn't know. She was talking and was aware of the other side of her body - despite what the scan said. It was a terrible few hours.
     Yesterday, Tuesday, was a much better day. The second consultant was much more optimistic. Not based on what he saw of the scan but what he saw of mum. He was able to communicate with her and mum was thinking clearly. Good for her! She was talking more freely and there's even a chance she may be able to take fluids. The instruction 'nil by mouth' may be removed.

Monday 31 March 2014

Readings, short lists, judging submissions and the anthology

After a busy few months April should be the busiest of all. After arranging reading events, (with musical accompaniment !) and making reading to others as natural an experience for me as possible,  I'm back helping judge the submissions for the Bath Short Story Award. A fantastic opportunity to see how other short story writers are faring. Thank you Jude Higgins for inviting me along as reader.

As I write this blog my website is almost ready, the cover design for the BSU Creative Writing Anthology is done, the Anthology itself is being prepared for the printers and my collection 'Austerity and Other Cuts' has been shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbit prize. What larks! Soon we will have an anthology and we can all start thinking about literary agents. I have just ordered another set of business cards ready to give out at the Anthlogy Launch in May. I thought writing was a quiet, leisurely activity!

Have yet to finish reading Polly Toynbee's critique of Cameron's mid-term 'report' but have begun Nathan Filer's Costa Award winning 'The Shock of the Fall'. So lucky for BSU Creative Writers that 'one of our own' won Costa. I am also planning to read one of the larger works on 'Austerity'  - critical pieces that more or less say austerity measures haven't worked all through history.

I have more plans to develop my novella 'Coming of Age', following up the interviews I've done with women who didn't have a grammar school education but who had some paper qualifications despite the advent of World War II. 1918-1938-1978 are becoming significant years in this piece of writing.

I am putting my story 'Migrants' on hold until I see what interests literary agents. I have written four chapters for my novel 'Outside the Wendy House' (aka 'Where's That Cardboard Dinosaur?'). It's a satire on (mostly) state education as we know it in England - or should that be as I know it ?!

Thursday 20 March 2014

Over the last two weeks I have been busy arranging an evening of readings. On my birthday, March 14th, friends and neighbours celebrated and shared their creativity. Two of us read our short stories, to an appreciative audience. Paul showed us a film he made, which is available on You Tube. Jan and Richard talked about the inspiration for their art work and ceramics and Sue read chapter one of her story for young teens. We were missing a musician, but, next time, we hope Geoff, a guitarist, will enchant us.

Saturday 22 February 2014

My collection of stories is ready!

I await peer feedback on my last two short stories. 'Coming of Age' is the least satirical of my pieces. It contrasts the life of Eliza Augusta with Kathryn, her great-niece. Eliza Augusta is a master butcher and enjoys having the 'married women's vote' aged thirty in 1918, about a month after the end of WWI. Much later in the story we meet  Kathryn, who is entitled to vote at the age of eighteen in 1979, just as Margaret Thatcher is about to lead the country. The two women have very different educational opportunities. Both are successful but only one knows how to cook a shoulder of lamb!

My final story 'Some have Entertained Angels' is based on the biblical verse '.. be kind to strangers for some have entertained strangers unawares.' It considers the reaction of a comfortably well off educational psychologist, Rachel, towards her friend and one-time neighbour, Angie. Angie falls on very hard times, takes antidepressants and suffers a fatal accident because she can no longer afford electricity in her tiny bedside - a far cry from the three bedroom house she rented next door to Rachel's comfortable Victorian villa. Rachel is full of remorse that she failed to help Angie when she needed it most. But her concern is, of course, too late.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Short stories - getting all my ducks in a row!

My three short pieces, which received distinctions or good reviews from readers,
All the Responsibility-None of the Power, The Inspection and Single File  seem strong stories to form the equivalent of the first three chapters of Austerity and Other Cuts.

They all link with each other through the theme of education.

Medical Mayhem is a group of short stories which satirise government diktats on the NHS and they make up another six stories.

My novella is The Climate King. Sylvester is a profiteer who becomes a millionaire during a frightening heat wave. He rubs salt in the wound when the floods come and he is still 'on the make' selling expensive sand bags to vulnerable people suffering the effects of torrential rain. It is no comfort to me that this story was written last spring - long before the heatwave and certainly well in advance of the recent floods which have upset so many lives. Fay Weldon said I must be psychic or be with the zeigeist. My plan is that The Climate King will form the middle third of my collection.

A longer story, Coming of Age, which spans the years 1918 - 1978 begins the last third of the collection. It is less satirical but is a comment on how women's lives have changed, such that some don't realise how important it is to vote, despite the married women's vote having been so hard fought for, and won, in 1918.

Finally two very short pieces Gardening Leave and Some have Entertained Angels end the collection with another more sombre piece, about real poverty in Sierra Leone, which is simply called Austerity.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

September to now

Looking back I now see that it wasn't until December 6th that I finally got my marks for the MA Creative Writing. That was the day I visited Fay Weldon - the day after Mandela died - and we discussed the editing I should now do. In essence she feels my longer short stories could have 2-3 chapters each as they are full of material. Good to know!
We have had a few meetings to discuss the MA Anthology - title, layout, house style, cover design and the editing team are working through forty one submissions. I had just four submissions to edit. The bios are very interesting. Many people have been published, many more haven't, it seems. At the first anthology meeting we met the BSU publisher and discussed the timing and role of the copy editor too. All good stuff.

I am now preparing three short stories for the Janklow and Nesbit prize - that's a great opportunity to be directly in contact with publishers again. All my pieces have been workshopped and Fay has read them all and made her suggestions. As Julia King says - this is the time for editing. My story 'Migrants' will have to be put on hold, but am re-reading Rose Tremain's 'The Road Home' and other pieces about migrant workers. My piece, simply called 'Migrants', will include dialogue in Latvian (thanks Ieva!) and  is a learning experience - a Damascene moment - for the well-to-do of Bath and Wells - who realise, finally, what life is like for the migrant worker. This realisation changes and enriches their lives too.

Friday 17 January 2014

Happy New Year : radical editing!

Happy 2014!
So pleased Fay Weldon thought my manuscript worthy of a distinction. Sadly a second marker wasn't so enthusiastic!  Julia Green, who lives nearby, thinks this is a time for radical editing. The MA is over but the Anthology beckons, as does the Janklow and Nesbit prize. We are no longer student writers!