Saturday, 12 August 2017

NIBSing in August

Our most recent meeting was a little thinner for numbers (holiday time!) but was no less rich in material created because of it. So for your enjoyment, here are two ideas for writing inspiration - and two pieces of flash.

One of our activities was based on a book I'd read on my holiday - The Keeper of Lost Things, a stunning debut by Ruth Hogan. I'm not going to say much about the book - other than 'READ IT!' - because it is a beautiful story, and as an author I was struck by how cleverly it was constructed. Dotted throughout the book are the stories behind the lost things, and it was this idea - of writing the story behind the lost object - that I thought we could use as inspiration.


So, as is often the way before a NIBS session, I ran round the house collecting things that people might have lost.



I chose a button badge with 'I read, therefore I am' written on it and came up with this...


     "Ow!"
     She jerked her hand and the last book out of her bag and stared at the bead of red on her finger. Then she almost threw the book onto the pile and sucked her stabbed digit, tasting metal and salt.
     Perhaps she ought to wear the badges on her lapels instead, like most other people did? Except that this was her book bag, and she always used it to bring her books back to the library. It wouldn't be the same without the many book-related badges rattling gently on the fabric.
     She checked her finger. Still there. Not bleeding any more. So which of the badges was it this time? She reached for the bag and-
     "Hullo, Jean. What you been reading this week, then?"
     Her cheeks glowed. Frank Abbott was talking to her. "Um..."
     "I had a rather tasty little gothic horror to keep me up at night, but I see you're a bit more of a fantasy buff?"
     They both glanced down at the pile of G.R.R.R. Martin.
     "Um...yes...I..."
     Frank took her elbow in one hand and grabbed the straps of her bag with the other, dragging it across the counter. It snagged, momentarily, and there was a metallic 'ping' but neither of them heard it.


Our second exercise used paint charts. No, not the individual colours like I've used before (to create flash like this one called Planet Fever). Whole paint charts, which double up as inspiration if you can't think of colour combos for your own rooms.



Because there are so many pictures of rooms, decorated all sorts of ways, I challenged the NIBSers to find a picture of a room and write about it. There were some smashing pieces as a result - in one, an author described a particular shade of red as 'Bad Day at the Abbattoir' - which gave me a whole new idea for rewriting the paint names as something more realistic. Like a shade of green - 'The Morning After'. Or blue - 'Frostbitten Toes'.

Anyway, in the paint books were quite a few studies.

Study? Or writing corner?

Now 'study' to me, is a bit different to a mere writing space, and in my head, drums up a totally different image to the photo - like the one above - that I was looking at. Most showed writing spaces rather than studies, but it set me thinking about exactly how small a space would you need to claim it as a study...?

   "And here's the study." Andy flung the door open. Or he would've done, except he remembered - too late - that the door opened outwards, onto the landing.
   There was an embarrassing wait while he asked his clients to back up a bit... a bit more... I think one of you needs to step into the bathroom, please, thank you... and finally he could pull open the door.
    Mr and Mrs-to-be surged forward and there was a three-way shuffle while Andy manoeuvered himself into the bathroom to allow them to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the narrow doorway.
    "It's a bit small," Mr said.
    "Well, you don't need lots of space to be sat down really, do you?" Andy pulled his mouth into what he thought was an encouraging smile. "Notice the high level shelving for all your books and papers and pencil pots." He watched the backs of their heads as they lifted their eyes to the ceiling.
    "In any other house that'd be called a picture rail," Mr muttered, taking one step into the study.
    To be fair, one step is all that could be managed. And when he pulled the desk chair out and sat on it, the back legs ended up on the landing, forcing Mrs-to-be to take one step back. "The desk is tiny."
    "It's a space-saving design, created by the previous occupant in a midnight moment of genius," Andy chipped in, hoping he'd remembered that right.
    Mr swivelled in the chair and fixed him with sharp eyes. "It's just a wider than normal windowsill."
    "Yes, it doubles up as one of those too." He was getting flustered now. He really needed this sale.
    Mrs-to-be flung her arms around Mr's neck and hugged him. "Darling, it's perfect. How much is it again?"
    Had he done it? Andy choked the words out. "Three hundred and fifty thousand."
    "We'll take it," Mrs-to-be said, before Mr could open his mouth...    

Monday, 7 August 2017

Something old, something new...


My old kitchen is reduced to this:



My new kitchen arrived. Most of it looks like this...



The rest of it? Well, it looks like this...



...and this!


I'm reliably informed it will look a whole lot different 
again by tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Slow cooking a kitchen

Things are progressing - slowly - in the kitchen.

Jack came last Sunday. Kitchen ripped out. (See previous blog post if you missed it)

Monday, the skip arrived.

Electrician came Tuesday. New wiring in.

Wednesday...nothing happened, because the electrician had allowed two days and didn't need them, and we think it was too late notice to get the plasterers in a day earlier.

Thursday. Plastering and insulating. I suppose I should've expected a bit of a mess when I was asked if I was having a new floor, because if we were, they wouldn't bother putting down protection... But blimey O'Reilly! It wasn't just the odd splatter of plaster here and there - everywhere was covered. There were great dollops of the stuff I've had to chip off, because the floor we will be having won't be very smooth if I leave them. So, a bit disappointing that the level of tidying up wasn't as high as other workmen we've had before, but the plastering itself was good. Pretty much all the walls and the old Artexed ceiling are now smooth and lovely.




Friday...nothing happened. And watching plaster dry is almost as interesting as watching paint dry. Mr Squidge said we should've rigged up some time lapse photography.



Today, we've welcomed the Squidgelings home from their separate, second camps of the year; Squidgeling T told us about white water rafting at Holme Pierrepoint and announced he wanted to cook more (!), while Squidgeling J hasn't stopped telling us about her adventures with i.Doody's Circus at Poacher 2017.

And STILL we're waiting for the plaster to dry. It had better dry by Monday. The fitter's coming back then because the units will be ready for beginning the rebuild.

It might actually start looking like a kitchen again, soon... *fingers crossed*

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The arrival of Jack the Ripper

To be honest, he's more 'Jack-the-ripper-outer'; he arrived about half past two this afternoon (yes, on a Sunday) to start taking everything out of the kitchen ready for the refit.

Just before he started, my kitchen looked like this:





As a result, my dining room now looks like this:



It's the hall - but I didn't fancy bins and
cat food on the carpet!

There are a few bits and pieces down in the garden room - kitchen table, chairs, a few pots and pans - as well as three cupboards and a chunk of worktop we've salvaged from the old kitchen to reuse as a bench seat/cupboard combo in the garden room. Fingers crossed, Mr Squidge will still be able to work round it all to fit the insulation and internal walls this coming week...

By the time Jack went home, my kitchen was (understatement of the year) even barer:




And just look what's in the yard!


Too late to change my mind now. Skip arrives tomorrow. Plasterer soon after.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Cooking up a storm of memories

We're about to have our kitchen refitted. We've been in our house for 25 years and the kitchen we have was put in well before we moved in. It's still a good kitchen but it looks dated, so we've gone for it - decided to have it all taken out and replaced.

At the moment, I'm clearing out the cupboards, finding all sorts of stuff that has collected over those twenty five years. Like...

Thirty assorted conical party hats, most foiled but some covered in smiley faces; 300 red, white and blue drinking straws; millions of disposable forks and spoons (no knives though. Weird) and party bags that were never used in the 'birthday' cupboard. 

Lids with no tubs and tubs with no lids; the 'nibble pots' we used to use for snacks at bedtime when the kids were small (now Squidgeling T just 'nibbles' straight from the cupboard); three teapots (yup - three. Why, when I usually dunk a teabag in a mug?); a squillion wine glasses; thirteen glass pudding dishes from when I had a thing about posh creme caramel; two aprons that have never been used; various vases of odd shapes and sizes; cook books we've barely used... You can imagine what the charity shop's going to say when we turn up with some of that lot.

The art cupboard's been sorted and the Hama beads, acrylic paints that are still liquid, a margarine tub full of leaded pencils and various sheets of assorted card, and decorative edged scissors have all been forwarded to a friend who runs a craft club.

Out of date packets and tins (severely out of date - 2013!) have been binned (there weren't many as we're pretty good about using stuff up) and expired medicines from Mr Squidge's various operations bagged up and returned to the chemist for disposal.

And the grand sorting of the Squidgelings' artwork... Oh. My. Word. The memories that dragged up... I've always loved having the kids' art displayed, even if it did make the kitchen look a little cluttered. As new artworks were created, the old ones joined a growing pile on top of the cupboards - and it goes right back to when Squidgeling J could just about hold a crayon and Squidgeling T was at the finger painting stage.

I found the random circles that had had to be labelled as bits of the car Squidgeling T insisted he'd drawn. The fire engine I'd drawn for him to colour in, completely red and with a small tube attached for the hose and a piece of paper stuck onto the roof for the ladder. Squidgeling J's first attempt at writing her name and a proper, colours-in-the-right-order rainbow over our house-with-the-blue-door. The very wonky Taj Mahal (you can see every single brick) from Year 3. The banner that was made to celebrate Mr Squidge's Coast-to-coast charity bike ride. Hand drawn Pokemon creatures, and robotic dinosaurs that transformed into planes...

I realised I've not had fresh artwork for a long time, and it'll be strange in my newly fitted kitchen to have bare cupboard doors, but at least I've kept some of the very special pieces to look back on in years to come.

It's been quite liberating to get rid of things we don't need and to focus on what we do. I'm just hoping that, when we put everything back into the new cupboards, we won't suddenly want something we've let go...

Refit begins next week, fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Holidays!

Just got back from our holiday in Greece. Seven sun- and sea-filled days with the rest of Family Squidge, staying for the first time ever in a (nearly) all-inclusive hotel with water sports, sailing and fitness activities.

I had a completely computer-free week, which is why I've not blogged for a wee while. You know what? I didn't miss it either. Perhaps I need to give myself a break from the electronics and social media every now and again, focus on what's important.

Anyway...while various members of Family Squidge were off doing all sorts of energetic stuff  - Squidgeling T and Mr Squidge went cycling nearly every day; Squidgeling J sailed Lasers and learnt to windsurf and paddle board; Mr Squidge also learnt to sail (with some spectacular capsizes and a few head encounters with the boom); Squidgeling T had a go at water-skiing and remained upright - I pootled about in a kayak or sat by the pool or the sea, rubbing in the Factor 30 and soaking up some rays.

Squidgeling J on a paddle board

Squidgeling T about to water ski

Oh - I did Aqua Aerobics too. Unfortunately I'm so short, I couldn't reach the bottom of the pool properly, so I had to tread water pretty much the entire time...! And on the last day, I had a joyride in a catamaran with Matt. They go SO fast! (And you get a very wet bottom because it's only a mesh platform between the two hulls...)

Me, on a catamaran with Matt the instructor. 

I wasn't completely lazy though - I took Rurik with me. For those who don't know, he's not a fifth member of the family. He is the main character of a novel I wrote just after the very, very first draft of StarMark, about nine or ten years ago. I've been thinking about reworking the story for a while, and while away, I came to a decision. More of that in a mo.

There are some things that stand out for me from this holiday.

Instructors - so patient and informative and friendly. Those in the kids' clubs are especially worth mentioning. The trust that the kids had in these young people was incredible. The most-said name of the week was definitely 'Archie', usually preceded by ''Come on...' though we realised there were quite a few young Archies about!

Swallows...there were hundreds of them! And a lot had chosen to make their nests in the corners of the room balconies facing the sea; it got very noisy at times, especially as there were a lot of baby birds. The nearest nest to us was on a neighbouring balcony, but the adult birds were sitting on eggs rather than feeding babies. We did see one nest fledge from the corner of the terrace restaurant, which was really funny as they couldn't work out how to get back into the nest again and kept colliding with each other. It did mean that, combined with the bats that came out from under the roof tiles at night, the resort was pretty well mozzie-free, with only a few bites between us. Thank goodness!

Feed me!

Sunsets. Awesome sunsets, especially the one the night we went to Lefkada.

One of our evenings out, at a very trendy hillside restaurant

Family Squidge in Lefkada. We're all the same height because
the bridge is a steep curve...and guess who stood at the top?!

Activities. Such a range...though doing the Vounackered 100km bike ride in 39 degrees didn't appeal! I could've gone to the spa, learnt to sail a one-man dinghy, windsurfed, paddle boarded, kayaked, done HIITs (a fitness thing, apparently), Pilates, yoga, played tennis...

Food. Delicious. Lots of it. Huge variety. And such lovely waiters in their turquoise checked shirts. And the egg lady...she'd been doing the fried/omeletted/boiled/poached eggs at breakfast for seventeen years in the same hotel. She was never without a smile and a 'Hello, lady!'

New friends. Having always had self-catering holidays, usually where there were very few English speakers - tourists or as a second language - in the past, it was weird but rather lovely to be able to chat to folk over a drink or dinner or during the activities.

Definitely came away grateful for the break after the stress of exams and all the usual end-of-term stuff. And it was good to have thinking time about writing, which means I'd better tell you about that decision I made.

I've got two novels on the go at the minute - my thief story, which sort of got passed over because of the course I've been doing with church, and the Crystal Keeper's Daughter which stalled half way. Neither of them are completely rubbish, but neither of them fill me with enthusiasm. Then I've got Rurik. His first adventure (there are five planned) was completed a few years back, but having read it through while away, I realised that, compared to Kingstone or StarMark, it reeks of fairly novice writer.

So...

I've decided to rewrite what was 'Adventure in Ambak' as 'The Mage of Merjan'. Rurik will become...Rhoda...or Ulrika...or Rika. Female, anyway. And she is going to have SUCH an adventure - it may well be the start of my first ever series! So I'll be working on that over the rest of the summer and into the autumn, with the aim of finishing the rework by Christmas. (I've got a kitchen being refitted and a daughter potentially going to uni in the meantime, so I'll grab the time where I can!)

Enjoy whatever you're doing for the holidays, and I'll be back soon.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

A lovely launch - and thoughts on reading your writing aloud!

Last night, I attended the launch of the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2017 Anthology.



I was longlisted for the prize along with nineteen other stories, all twenty of which were subsequently published by Dahlia Publishing. It was the first time the prize had been offered; Farhana, who runs Dahlia Publishing, had hoped to get around thirty stories submitted. In the end, there were one hundred and two!

It was interesting to find out that half of the entries came from within Leicestershire, half from outside, and there was also a fifty-fifty split between male and female authors. According to the judges - writers Rebecca Burns, Divya Ghelani, Nina Stibbe, Grace Haddon and bookseller Debbie James - the standard was very high, meaning that there were some interesting discussions over which stories should make the longlist, then the shortlist, and then the final four...

At the launch, there were readings from nine of the authors; I was one of them. I have to admit, I love reading my work out loud. Perhaps it stems back to my am dram days and being on stage, but maybe it's because I can project my story the way I imagined it, bring it to life rather than leaving it flat on the page.

It was very interesting to hear the other authors read, too. For example, Karl had never read his work in public before; he did a really good job! I did feel for him, remembering how I felt the first time I read at the Ivy House when Stories for Home was launched...

Having read the anthology at the proofreading stage - I always like to do that, to see what company my story's keeping! And to get an idea of what the judges were looking for - I knew which stories had jumped out at me on the page. (Yes, I do have some favourites in this collection!) I also knew which ones hadn't connected with me to quite the same degree, but remember, reading is subjective; we all have different preferences. What struck me at the readings is that some of the stories I had enjoyed on the page didn't lend themselves quite so well to being listened to - and vice versa.

It set me wondering whether, as authors, we write for readers - which of course seems obvious! - or if some of us do write so our work can be listened to when read aloud?

Of course, reading your work aloud helps you to spot glaring mistakes and a lot of authors do that as part of their editing process, but I'm not sure they're thinking 'one day, I might have to read this aloud and I ought to drop in a speech tag here' or 'can I get my tongue round that tricky bit of word play?'

I think that, personally, I am aware of how my work sounds when being read, because with children you often have to share stories verbally until they can cope with reading for themselves. You also have to do the silly voices or the shouty bits, slow down to build the tension or speed up as the action starts... Perhaps, subconsciously, I also put that to use in stories written for adults? And maybe, thinking about how the story sounds to a listener might actually affect the way I write?

Hmmm. All food for thought.

Having said all that, of course it was still a real privilege to hear the excerpts read aloud at the launch, because each of the authors breathed a new dimension into their particular story, bringing it to life. Some of them turned into real performances! Huge kudos to:

C.G. Menon                                       Aunty (Winner)
Siobhan Logan                                   Switching Off the Metronome (2nd)
Debz Hobbs-Wyatt                            We Went There (3rd)
Lynne E Blackwood                          Five (Commended)
Karl Quigley                                      The Man Who Wasn't
Asha Krishna                                     An Evening Out
BevHaddon                                        Death and Biscuits
Matthew Rhodes                                A Peculiar Circle

And kudos, too, to all the finalists who were present at the launch but decided not to read - this time! Your stories are every bit as wonderful, and I look forward to reading them all again, savouring every single word.

A Literary Launch...

Here's to next year, another prize, another great collection of short stories?