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?

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Blatant book plug!

Need some summer holiday reading?

Like a bit of fantasy with twists and turns that'll keep you 
guessing right to the last minute?

Why not try StarMark or Kingstone?

Both have received really good reviews (nothing less than four stars) so far - and Kingstone's only been out a month!  





And if you DO take a punt on either of them, let me know what you think. You can leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or anywhere else that takes your fancy...

Available to order via Waterstones, Blackwells, Barnes and Noble, the Big A and probably other places I've not discovered yet, as well as being ACTUALLY available in around thirty 
Barnes and Noble stores in the US.


Happy holiday reading!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Looking back and looking forward

Bit of a long post today, so grab a cuppa and settle in for an update!

Looking back...

I told you about my birthday, didn't I? Well, one of my presents was to go on an evening of glass working with the lovely Judith of The Creation Station. (I'd done some stained glass work - gosh! FOUR years ago! - and fancied trying my hand at making glass coasters this time)

Making glass and firing it in the kiln is very different to stained glass work; Judith explained that you can never tell 100% how a piece will turn out after firing, and that you have to learn to love bubbles in your finished work. There are many ways to make the coaster - we used bullseye glass, and you could sandwich other glass fragments, snipped rods, powders, flit or thin sheet copper between two layers of glass which, when fired in the kiln, would blend together as they melted and make the final piece.

To begin with, we practised cutting float glass. As you can see, it was a bit hit and miss as to whether I got a straight line or not!


Once I managed to do it fairly consistently, I was excited to get going on the coloured stuff - but my first problem was deciding on a colour theme. Just look at what we had to choose from...




There were so many colours - I tried to put together a rainbow, but apparently you don't get purple glass very often because it's very expensive: contains gold. So I ditched that idea and looked at shades of green, but still wasn't happy. Eventually I plumped for aqua and white, selecting a mixture of opaque and transparent fragments with the aim of cutting simple stripes.


Second problem. Could I cut the glass? Could I heck! There were a variety of different tools on offer, and I must've tried each one, but I couldn't seem to make the scratchy noise that told you you'd scored the glass well enough to snap it. I had felt reasonably confident on the float glass, but the coloured glass is slightly thicker and Judith also said that some glasses are harder to cut. (Made me feel better - could blame the glass, not my ability with the tools!) Anyway, eventually I had prepped my first coaster.


It took me so long to prep the first one, I panicked and did my second coaster in a terrible hurry. I found some iridescent glass fragments - the blue had textured ridges in it, too - and chopped them into little squares and strips and triangles.



Everyone did something different - here are all the designs laid out on kiln paper on the transporting boards.



The coasters were fired over the next few days, and returned to us. The results were not too bad at all.
Bubbles and stripes!
The striped one is my favourite - pretty square, not too many bubbles, good blend of colours. The slight wibble in the outside edge is because I wasn't too good at getting the strips to cut exactly the same length. The other is good for different reasons - it has a serious bubble issue! This makes it impossible to use as a coaster, but makes it beautifully tactile. Apparently it could have been because I used too much glue (we secured the pieces for transport with teensy dobs of PVA), or I'd not cleaned the glass properly (grease from fingers can have this effect) or it may have been just too big an air gap, that would not have happened if I'd added some chunks of clear glass in the gaps. Whatever happened, I like it! It sits by the TV and the iridescence catches the sun...

I realised two things about myself as a crafter at this session. One; I like immediate results. By which I mean that sending the coasters away to be fired and not knowing exactly how they would end up was not a pleasant feeling for me. Something to do with controlling the result, maybe? Perhaps that's why I knit or crochet or draw - you can see the piece building up, albeit slowly, and know what you're going to get at the end. Two; I'm a bit anal about patterns! I love to see random colourways and blends of patterns, but I am incapable of doing that myself and feeling comfortable about it. There has to be a certain amount of symmetry or balance in what I create...maybe that's why I wasn't entirely happy with the placement for the bubbly one.

I'd have loved a longer session, trying out the different effects you can get on coasters or jewellery pieces. Perhaps I'll try to persuade Judith to do a whole day? It'll give me a chance to get to grips with those tools and learn to cut properly.

So that's glass working. Next - the garden room. Last time I wrote about it, it was weather tight. Now, it has cladding, insulation, ventilation, and a floor. Still not completely finished - internal walls, electricity, some landscaping and finishing touches required - but it IS useable. 

We've also treated ourselves to a new patio set (the old one was about ten years or more old and very, very broken!) which goes really well colourwise with the cedar cladding on the front. Best bit of it though is that it's a collapsible table, which means it won't take up much space for storage when it's folded down, but we can have just half of it up and push it against a wall inside the garden room to give me a table for typing on. Assuming I ever get in there to write...



And then there was Mountfest. This is the annual PSA (Parents and Staff, as opposed to the more usual Parents and Teachers) Garden Party, which is one of the biggest fundraisers for Mountfields School, where I used to work and still help out as a volunteer librarian. the school. I was given the opportunity of having a table for my books, which seemed like a good idea, because the children know me through my work in the library and my love of stories already. Perhaps there'd be a few sales, though from past experience I know that people don't come to these garden parties with lots of money.

Anyway, I set up the stall (old sari bunting rather than the rainbow flags because I've obviously put my rainbow bunting somewhere really safe - I couldn't find it!) with my books and a Granny Rainbow treasure map game;


For the game, basically, Granny had lost her potions and if you chose the same square that Mr Squidge had (answer in a sealed envelope which I didn't see beforehand!) then you won a jar of rainbow sweets. If you look closely, you'll see all the pictures had something to do with a Granny Rainbow story...although as one eagle-eyed Phoebe told ma "The frog should be pink!" Put that down to colouring too late at night. There's one thing that WASN'T in a story; the squirrel is the school's logo. You can also see why I didn't illustrate the books - my violin is shocking, and apparently I draw 'angry cats'!


I only sold four books, but there were some interesting conversations with members of staff who didn't realise I wrote, and with children who'd moved on from Mountfields but still remembered Granny Rainbow. It's all about being seen, isn't it? I raised a little bit of money for the school, too, so it was all good.

So all of that's stuff which has happened. Looking forward, then...

On Friday, I will be at the launch of the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology, reading from my longlisted story 'The Pink Feather Boa Incident.' The anthology has twenty stories in it, and there are some real corkers. You can buy copies of the book here on Dahlia Publishing's site.


Then it'll be a family holiday, followed by The Kitchen. After twenty five years in this house, we are having a new kitchen! Which is all very exciting, but at the moment I'm having a minor panic because I'd set my heart on having pale grey unit doors, but all the colours we've received as samples so far are brown and way too dark...

Blog posts may be few and far between over the next month or so, but I'll do my best to keep in touch! 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Kingstone, out in the wild

I am prepping a blog for the Scribbles, and it's going to be a big one! In the meantime, here's a link to Bedazzled Ink's blog post, where they hunted out copies of Kingstone in the wild...

Think Casey and Claudia did a bit of sneaky 'face-out' rearranging!

Looks to be in some good company...

For fellow authors, it makes for interesting reading when finding out why Barnes and Noble have chosen the apparently random stores across the US to stock the book in...

And while you read that, I'll carry on prepping my blogabout the garden room, glasswork, a garden party...and anything else I can think of!

Catch you later.

Squidge x

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Half a century old

Last week, I was fifty.

I wasn't bothered by it - age is just a number, after all - but it was a funny old day.

For a start, I had hormones. Yes, I know we all have them, but at a certain time in a lady's life, we get even more of the little blighters. So a fair chunk of my birthday was spent tearful and emotional, which made everyone think I was upset about the big 5-0, when it was simply my body choosing the worst possible moment for an outbreak of hormonal angst.

Secondly, it's exam season here and both Squidgelings are in the thick of it, so no huge celebratory get-togethers planned for the sake of revision. Squidgeling T had an exam in the morning, so all presents were delayed until he got home just before lunch. In the meantime I went shopping, made a couple of appointments, and opened some cards.

I had suggested that it would be perfectly okay for folks not to buy me anything, because I am very blessed and didn't need anything. But, as is the way, I was treated to lots of goodies from various friends and family who decided to spoil me on my 'big' birthday;


Basket of rainbow flowers, supplied by the lovely
Madeline's Gifts and Flowers

Gardening featured...and yes, that is a basket of chocolate frogs

Of course there were books...to read and to write in

New cycling gloves after the old ones perished (only lasted me twenty seven years)
a personalised bracelet with my name - spelled correctly!
rainbow mat, and my super startled sheep.

Other presents arrived over the course of the day - a writer's toolkit, a hamper from our financial consultant, potful of cornflowers, a pottery heart, beautifully scented lavender and bay candle, and a 'vintage' t-shirt which states '1967 - all original parts' on the front!

Family Squidge went out for lunch at The Griffin Inn, Swithland. I don't usually take pictures of my food, but I ate the best lamb dish I have ever tasted. I swear there was half a sheep on my plate... Lunch was definitely the highlight of my day. So nice to spend time with my family, eating good food and having a laugh in lovely surroundings.

Birthday drinks - the wine glass isn't really THAT ginormous!

Half a rather delicious lamb...

Family Squidge

All told, it was a pretty low key day, really. I don't feel any different - in fact I feel a lot better than I did, because the hormones have made themselves scarce for the moment! - I don't look any different, (I'm already grey!) and life isn't any different to what it was before.

Except that I'm fifty.

Or - as one person put it - twenty five for the second time.

Hey ho. Here's to my Fabulous Fifties, and whatever comes next.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Supporting Stories for Homes 2

Just to say that my short story - Potato Soup - written in support of the second Stories for Homes anthology (due to be published later this year) is now LIVE on the SfH website.

Follow this link to find it with the rest of the online anthology. There will be more to follow in time...

If it makes you feel all homey and warm, why not try making your own potato soup? There's a good recipe here, on BBC Food.

Picture from the recipe on the BBC site.

And please, support Shelter too, the housing and homelessness charity who are the reason SfH came into being...