Friday, 26 December 2008

Boxing Day

Among our Christmas presents, Ian and I received a vegan cookbook, and an apron each. This is a gift from a friend who loves cooking and no doubt thinks (rightly) that we need a bit of encouragement. I'm a vegetarian and Ian is a vegan. But that's not the problem. The problem is that I'm a lazy sod when it comes to cooking.

When I first went veggie, I immediately bought a wonderful cookbook called 'The Junk Food Vegetarian' - start as you mean to go on. Years later and bored with the 'mix a can of this with a can of that' recipes, I began talking about doing some 'proper' cooking, and trying to convince Ian that it would be a 'fun thing' for us to do together. (Actually, Ian is better at cooking than I am, and not half as bone idle, but there's plenty of scope for improvement in both of us).

Now, will this lovely new cookbook join the others on our bookshelves that sit there and do bugger all to earn their keep? (er, well, maybe I expect a little too much of the books - they're not trained to do the cooking for us). No! My new year's resolution is: 'STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND JUST GET ON WITH IT.' That could apply to so many areas of my life, including my writing. But one thing at once. I'm going to put on my bright-red apron with the tomato image across my bosom, and I'll 'make' Ian put on his bright-green apron with the 'what d'ya call it?' a pepper I think, on the front. And we're going to cook.

On a more analytical note, I'm wondering why I hate cooking when I love eating. Hey, I think I've just figured it out. My old school cookery teacher is to blame! I remember my first attempt at making a casserole in a cookery class at school when I was thirteen. It was for an end-of-term exam, so the teacher had to taste it. I was proud of my offering, and it looked delicious. My teacher swallowed a spoonful and, oh God, I thought I'd poisoned her! She screwed up her face, made strange noises and looked ready to puke. The only clue I got later as to where I'd gone wrong was when she hissed: 'Ugh! It's greasy!' (I think it might have been because the copious amount of fat I'd fried the onions in ended up in the dish). Anyway, the whole class stared in shocked silence and then broke into laughter. Guess who came bottom in the exam.

But, over forty years on, all grown up now and undaunted by past humiliations, I'll don my apron and show 'em all. Not just yet though. Let's have another sherry and get boxing day over first.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Nearly Christmas

The run-up to Christmas seems often to be a time when things go wrong for me or my family. My dear mother-in-law, a lovely woman, aged 91, has fallen and broken her hip and shoulder. She underwent an operation yesterday; a worry in itself at her age.

I will probably not be blogging again until after Christmas. So, if anyone happens to be reading this:


Wednesday, 10 December 2008


I'm getting into a flap thinking that there must be things (what things?) I should be doing (or should have already done) to help with publicity of The Dark Threads. It's due out on 23rd February. Only now am I realising that date is not far away!

The proofreading still needs finishing. I should receive the manuscript back from my publishers this Friday for me to do my final check before it goes for typesetting in January. January? I wonder how that leaves enough time for review copies to be sent out.

I'm naive about all this and I hope I'm worrying unnecessarily, but something is pushing my panic button.

Thursday, 4 December 2008


This blog award was kindly passed on to me by Karen. Thanks Karen. I'll have a think about who to pass it on to. Being eager to post it onto my blog has at last made me learn how to upload images, something I wasn't able to do before.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Taking stock

I've just found out I reached the Final Round (though no further) in the Legend Writing Award. In the past I've been on the shortlist in 'Real Writers' twice, and got through to the final selection for Mslexia's 'New Writing' section. I've never won a short story competition (though to be fair to myself, I've only entered a few), but my tiny blips at the edge of the radar encourage me to write more stories, work hard at improving them, and enter competitions.

I'm taking stock of where I'm at with my writing, where I want to go, and what I might realistically achieve (ah, the latter is uncertain, but I'll get nowhere if I don't try). My main aim for the new year is to get down to finishing my novel, but I'm also going to work on my short stories.

So there it is. Today I'm fired up with enthusiasm for writing. All I have to do now is stop thinking, talking and blogging about it. Just get on with it!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Public Speaking

Guess what? I've been presented with a trophy for public speaking!!!! OK, it was only a 3-minute talk at my local speakers club, and I'm sure they took into account that I'm new to the club and inexperienced at public speaking. But, nonetheless, it was an ACHIEVEMENT for me, so I'm damn well going to be proud of it. I hold it for two weeks and then it will be passed on to the next winner.

At every meeting we each have to do a short talk on a topic we're given 'on the spot'. The trophy (a lovely sculptured figurine of a young woman reading a book) is awarded for the 'best talk'. Standing at the front of a room full of people and 'thinking on my feet' to give a totally unprepared talk takes me way out of my comfort zone. It's strange though. Sometimes, as happened this time, once I get going I feel like a different person. I become someone much more confident, someone who enjoys standing there and speaking out. Perhaps I'm really a secret exhibitionist at heart.

I was going to complete this 'blowing own trumpet' post (not that I'm a show-off) by including a photo of the trophy. But I still haven't figured out how to upload photos onto my blog. I size down the pixels, click on the picture icon, search for location... Nothing happens. Is there an easy way to do it, suitable for dimwits?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Morning Pages

A couple of years ago, influenced by Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way', I bought a big spiral notepad, named it 'Morning Pages', and off I went. Over several months I wrote three pages (A4 in longhand) every morning about anything that came into my head. The content didn't matter, the standard of writing didn't matter, I just wrote. Even when I hadn't a clue what to write about I managed to keep the pen moving. Words came tumbling out. Proving what? That my mind is always brimful of clutter? Maybe I should have renamed my spiral notepad 'The Art of Writing Rubbish'. I grew cynical, thought 'What's the point?' and stopped doing them.

Are Morning Pages a useful creative tool, or a waste of time? I still don't know, but I'm going to start them again. Feeling free to write anything without the inner censor getting chance of a look-in, appeals to me now. I want to get back to writing my novel but I stare at blank paper, thinking 'I can't do it'. Of course, aiming for a high standard of writing and being ruthlessly self-critical is fine at the editing stage, but there needs to be something there on the paper to edit. Could doing Morning Pages help to unblock my creativity?

I'm wondering who else does Morning Pages. Do you think they are a useful exercise?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

What's it about?

Once people get an inkling that I've written a book and it's going to be published, some naturally ask, 'What's it about?' Shouldn't this be the question I'm hoping for? I mean, even if they're only asking to be polite and don't really give a damn, it's an opportunity to grab their attention. If I can tell them what it's about in a way that captures their curiosity, maybe they'll buy it. Why then do I dread that question? How am I going to promote my book, for heaven's sake, if I don't stop curling up in embarrassment when asked about it?

Oh, it would be so much easier for me if my 'first book' was something topical and reasonably non-controversial, humorous perhaps, a novel, a children's book, or just about, well, anything else. And then I wouldn't have to explain, 'It's about me. A memoir.' I try to sound confident as I say this, try to put aside a lifetime of conditioning that tells me only people with egos as big as the pyramids write memoirs. And then, of course, they might be thinking, 'Oh no, not another misery memoir.' I want to explain that, erm, no, it's not like that. But of course they'd have to read it to judge for themselves.

A short pause, and then the next question. 'Oh, a memoir? Which part of your life is it about?'
'My teenage years mainly. Teens and early-twenties.'
'Anything in particular about your teenage years?'
'Well, it's about other things besides, but, erm, well... ' Here it comes, the conversation stopper. 'I was diagnosed with schizophrenia.'
If the questioner isn't looking embarrassed and changing the subject, maybe they want to know more. 'It's about the treatment I received and... and things.'
Now they might be staring at me as if I've got two heads, and perhaps thinking, 'Schizophrenia. That's a split personality, isn't it?' (I've been asked that twice recently and no, no, no, it's not. Where did that idea come from? Films like 'Psycho'?). Worst of all, they might be thinking, 'Eeeek! Would I be safe alone in a room with you?' At this point I'd like to stand up for people who have schizophrenia, help dispel the myths and raise awareness about this distressing condition. But I don't know how it feels to have schizophrenia. I only know how it feels to be perceived and treated as such.
'It was a misdiagnosis.'
A nervous smile. Yeah, well they all say that, don't they?
'A misdiagnosis of schizophrenia? But how... ?' I got this one at the quiz night, and of course it's a reasonable question. 'How did that happen?'
'It's a long story.' I don't know what else to say. Ten people are waiting to get on with the quiz.
'You'll have to read the book,' someone says.
'Let's start the quiz,' I say, smiling and trying to look 'normal'.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Putting off housework

Even though it's Sunday (shouldn't it be a day of rest?) I'll have to get off my fat bottom soon and declare war on clutter. My living room is a tip and our local vegan/veggie group descends on us tomorrow. Some time towards the end of last December when discussing the next 'Programme of Events' it seemed a good idea to show willing and suggest a quiz night at our place. Not until November though. Aeons away. Forget about it for now.

Ping! A message sneaked into my computer: an invitation via Facebook (yes, the group is on Facebook now) to a quiz night at Ian and Jean's. Panic Stage Two. What's gone wrong with time? Months are whizzing by. So they're coming tomorrow. Here. To sit (Oh God, not enough seats or floor space) in our small (and at present embarrassingly untidy) living room.

Don't get me wrong. It's great having people round. They're a lovely bunch. But I've been neglecting housework even more than usual lately. Ian is going to write out some quiz questions and make a (vegan of course) cheesecake. And me? Well, I'd better stop procrastinating (I like that word), hadn't I? Frame yourself, Jean.

'Frame yourself'. That phrase appeared somewhere in my manuscript and my copy-editor circled it and wrote above it, 'Meaning?' She'd obviously never heard of it. I thought everyone knew what it meant. But I divert . . .

Why can't I be like the people who always have impeccably neat houses, even when visitors drop in unexpectedly? Does an untidy room denote an untidy mind, as my dad used to say (though I don't remember him doing much in the way of housework)?

Even my desk, my sacred place for writing, is usually full of clutter, where papers, books, coasters, a cup with cold coffee dregs in the bottom and (wait for it) a packet of bunion relief pads all vie for space at my elbow. Not now though. I've shifted my stuff from the side of my computer, and it looks so neat and empty. It's unnerving.

Friday, 31 October 2008


Today I needed cheering up. Cold weather, thoughts of winter coming, always makes me fed up. So I re-read the feedback sheets about the talk I did at work last Saturday on 'Psychiatry: a former user's perspective'. I actually liked giving the presentation. My nerves disappeared soon as I got started and it seems to have gone down well. I got a phone call from the publicity officer at my publisher. She wants me to write articles for newspapers and magazines. I might 'lift' some of my talk where appropriate. Well, I can't plagiarise from my own work, can I?

I'm aware I've been neglecting my blog. I'm so busy at the moment. The editing was endless but I packed it in and sent my manuscript back to my publisher when I realised I was doing what Oscar Wilde says in this quote:

'I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took a comma out. In the afternoon I put it back again.'

I've got a busy day ahead tomorrow, helping with a training class at work. We're going to look at 'Suicide' (oh dear, that'll cheer me up, won't it?). But tonight I've got something good to look forward to. I've received my copy of 'The Yellow Room' magazine, the first issue of a women's literary fiction mag published by Jo Derrick (formerly Jo Good who used to publish and edit QWF). I've missed my QWFs, and I'm looking forward to the same high standard of stories in this new mag. I'm about to curl up in front of the fire to read it. What better way is there to spend a cold autumn evening?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Learning To Talk

A long time ago, or so it now seems, when I was still flushed with my success of giving a two-minute impromptu talk at my local Speakers Club, I approached my manager at work and volunteered (who? me?) to give a talk at the next training meeting. My talk was arranged for Saturday 25th October, which seemed a comfortable way off. But how time flies. Eeeek!! It's tomorrow.

Anyway, I've prepared it: sorted out my prompt cards, extracts, flip chart, and hand-outs. Today I presented it in front of Ian. The practice went well. It took forty minutes. That's OK as my manager said I've got up to an hour (including time at the end for questions and comments).

The title of my talk is 'Psychiatry: a former user's perspective.' Watch this space.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

My Book Cover

My book cover shows teenage mini-skirted me. That's how I looked in 1968 at the start of my psychiatric treatment which lasted five years. I'm really pleased with the cover, but... Now I find that when I proudly show it around, I often get the reaction: 'Oh, what a lovely photo!' and then they spoil it all by adding: 'Is that really you? I wouldn't have known!' So now I'm wondering if when I give talks to people who've only seen the cover, they'll have been expecting a pretty young woman to turn up. Well, sorry to disappoint, but it was a long time ago.

I did intend to put a picture of my cover at the start of this blog entry from the 'My Pictures' folder on my computer. But, after farting about for ages, it seems I still haven't got the hang of how to do it. Sorry about that, I'll figure it out later.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


My manuscript has come back from the copy-editor with lots of annotations on it, and a typed list of 'Editorial Queries'. Although they're fairly minor things, there's quite a lot for me to do. This is what's keeping me quiet at the moment. I'll be back to blogging soon.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Impromptu Talks

I've started going to a local Speakers Club. Who? Me? Why is a shy, quiet person like me wanting to learn Public Speaking? Well, because I think it'll be good for me. I still sometimes retreat into my shy, quiet mode, especially in a group. Besides, when I start publicising 'The Dark Threads' I'll need to speak out in public, calmly and articulately.

At each session of the Speakers Club, we have to do an impromptu talk. With no time to prepare or think about it, we're given a subject, can be anything, and off we go. Standing in front of about fifteen people, we have to talk spontaneously for two minutes. To me, this is being thrown in at the deep-end. It's harder for me than being told to give a twenty-minute talk but go home first and have a week or two to prepare it. But I decided to be brave and jump in at the deep-end. Would I be waving or drowning?

And I did it. Yes, really. I couldn't have been more lucky with the subject: 'Reading'. Just before setting off that evening, I'd got Ian to give me a topic and to listen to me practise. He gave me 'Books'. So it wasn't too bad. I wasn't exactly waving, but not drowning either. We meet fortnightly on Monday evenings. I'll have to do it again and again. Scary stuff, but I'll survive. Initiation over, I'm on my way. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Indie Bookshops

What do I know about independent bookshops? How often do I purchase from them? Very little, I'm afraid. But I intend to put that right. They need our support. I WILL support them.

So what's brought this on? Well, I visited one a few weeks ago. I didn't even know that the Saltaire Bookshop existed until I came across their website while browsing the internet for possible future venues to give a talk/reading. I found they hold regular events, with local authors as guest speakers. My book, The Dark Threads, doesn't come out until February, but I thought it best to start sussing out possible venues early.

So in I went to look around and chat up the owners. The place had a 'good feel' to it. The couple who run it are lovely; really helpful and friendly. I chatted, browsed the bookshelves, chatted some more, had a cup of coffee... and I said nothing about my book. We talked about how a lot of readers buy from Amazon and the big-chain bookstores, and never come into an independent bookshop. Yes, what a shame, I agreed. And, I was told, sometimes they get authors coming in who are only interested in what can be done for them: authors who want to publicise and sell their books there but never support independent bookshops themselves. Oh, that's wrong, I agreed, shaking my head sadly.

I must point out in my defence that by this stage I was NOT being two-faced. By then it had occurred to me how hard indie bookshop owners work to keep afloat in these days of 'big is beautiful'. It strikes me that the passion, friendliness and personal service of the small independent bookshops cannot be matched by glitzy three-for-two deals. I'm not pretending that I'll never again buy anything from big commercial chains. And yes, to be honest, I'm still hoping my book will be sold at Waterstones, Borders, and on Amazon. But I will also buy from local independents. I don't want them to go out of business. They provide an excellent service.

Ian and I are now regular customers of the Saltaire Bookshop. We've started going to their events - and very good they are too. And, yes, they do want me to give a talk there when my book comes out. Maybe that will be my easiest talk of all because by then it'll be just like home from home.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A Day in the Life...

Here's an enjoyable day in my life. Picture me in Borders. First, I wander around the shelves of novels, dipping into whatever takes my fancy. I have an eclectic taste in books, so I don't just make a beeline for one or two particular authors. Then, down the stairs to the non-Fiction, where I'm spoilt for choice with all the interesting topics. Armed with a pile of books, I find myself a chair - you know, one of those comfy, black, softly cushioned ones. The younger me would sit on the floor; I used to think those chairs were put there for old people.

Lunchtime soon comes round. But no need to leave. There's a cafe on the second floor. Over a pizza slice and a cup of frothy coffee, I do some people-watching. It's fun to fill in the dots, imagining the lives, personalities, interests, occupations of the people around me. All are potential characters for a short story or (when I get back to writing one) a novel.

After lunch, I lounge about reading magazines for a while, before returning to the books. There's a good selection of magazines here.

I'm back on the non-Fiction floor now, looking for mental health memoirs and day-dreaming about seeing 'The Dark Threads' among them. How would it look? Oh dear, there's a Davies too near the top of the shelves. I can hardly see it or reach it. Authors with surnames that get put at eye level are the luckiest. But you never know, it differs. There are 'D's' on the shelf opposite at eye level, so that's okay. My book in a big-chain bookstore? Could it? Might it? Will it? And if it ever does get there, will I be one of those cheeky authors who pull it out to face the front? Maybe.

And that's when I see it. Right there on a shelf, nestled in between 'known' authors. An anthology called 'Doorways in the Night: stories from the threshold of recovery'. The Local Voices publication. In Borders. I take it down, thumb through the first story in it: my autobiographical piece called 'Give Me Back My Words'. I just manage to stop myself from tugging at the arm of the man standing next to me and shouting in his ear, while pointing at my name, 'Hey, look! That's me!'

Excitement over, I spend the rest of the afternoon browsing, reading, browsing some more, reading some more... Should I take myself up to the second floor for a tea-break now? Maybe in a while when I get to the end of this chapter. This is the life.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention. I do sometimes actually buy books.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Now that I've got 'up to date' I'll blog in and about the present. I suppose that's what bloggers do. But I wanted to write first about my route to getting a publisher for my memoir.

I'm new to this blogging lark, so I'm just finding my way. I'll get the hang of it soon. I'm not new to writing personal diaries, but those were only for my own eyes. I'm not new to writing about myself and my views (well, yes, there's the memoir) but with that kind of writing, I could think carefully in the editing stage about how to phrase each sentence and take plenty of time to consider how I've written things before revealing it to 'the world'. Not so with blogging. Some of my blog might read like 'stream of consciousness' stuff that just comes tumbling out. Why? Because I haven't got the time or inclination to agonise over every sentence and whether or not I've used correct punctuation and grammar, like I might do normally when 'writing for publication'.

Of course I am going to give some thought to what I write here. I'll refrain from the temptation to 'have a go' at my enemies, and so on. And I won't betray people's trust - definitely not. And I'll edit out the boring 'had a boiled egg for breakfast' stuff if any of that creeps in. But what I mean is I feel freer in writing a blog; I don't feel my standard of writing has to be 'perfect' before I dare press the 'Publish Post' button. I'm hoping my blog will interest others (that people will actually read it), but I'm also hoping it'll help me with writing; a good exercise for being more spontaneous but coupled with awareness that it's not just for my eyes. Anyway, enough of my rambling for today.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Armed with a very positive report on 'The Dark Threads' from 'The Literary Consultancy', I decided to try a small, independent publisher. I'd heard of one with a good reputation called Accent Press and I'd read some of their books. I'd just finished reading 'Wannabe a Writer?' by Jane Wenham-Jones, a great book because not only is it full of practical advice, it's full of humour. Jane's book had me laughing all the way to the post box, and then, Bingo. Well, actually, it was back to the waiting game for over nine months (longer than it takes from conception to giving birth)... And just when I was thinking (sob, sob) that my beloved manuscript would end up growing whiskers in the back of a drawer, the phone rang.

It was a strange time for me when I got that phone call. I was dealing with my late father's affairs and had just been speaking on the phone to a snotty official who'd been insisting my dad owed some money when I knew he didn't as I'd paid it weeks earlier. When the phone rang again, I snatched it up in annoyance thinking it was the same irritating person. And it was Hazel Cushion saying they'd love to publish my memoir. Was it still available? Did I want to be published by Accent Press? YES!

And so here I am.

The Long Haul

The road to publication wasn't easy. A few years ago I had an agent, the late Maggie Noach. I thought I'd arrived, especially when she was so enthusiastic about 'The Dark Threads'. She said she was up late at night reading it, found it riveting and coudn't put it down. Imagine a leading London literary agent saying lots of encouraging things like that about my work. She invited me to her house for a meal and she was lovely. Her cat, Mittens, who jumped on my knee for a cuddle, also helped put me at ease.

Maggie tried to place my book with big name mainstream publishers. I waited and waited... Nothing. Just nice comments and a bunch of what I think are called 'rave rejections'. After I'd become unagented again, two more mainstream publishers asked to see my full manuscript and showed interest but, several months later I had two more 'rave rejections' to add to my collection, and both told me I should 'get an agent'.

Get an agent. Yes, but how? An agent who'd been interested at the time I got Maggie said, no, not now that my manuscript had 'been around'. Okay, I see, all the nice guys want a virgin. I tried a few other agents who held similar views. One did ring me to say she liked my writing and would be happy to look at something else. Trouble is I hadn't got anything else ready to show her then, and I wasn't ready to give up on 'The Dark Threads'.

It's Been Accepted

It happened. They said 'YES!' My mental health memoir 'The Dark Threads' is to be published by Accent Press in February 2009. Back in April I got THE CALL from Hazel Cushion, MD at Accent Press. My head's been reeling with pleasure ever since, though reality is kicking me up the backside right now. I'm finding more editing to do than I realised and can't imagine why I ever thought it was 'ready'. But that's okay, I can edit. Scariest bit comes next when I'll have to get out and about and shout. Helping with publicising doesn't come easy for shy, un-confident me. But, hey, it's great to have these things to bother about. I'm not complaining.

I'm fifty-something, with a rather big 'something' to add on to the fifty, and life is GREAT. I have a wonderful husband who, after 24 years of marriage, still makes my heart go bump-bump-bump when I look out the window and see him arriving home. My work as a mental health worker is interesting and fulfilling (after years of crap, boring jobs) and, since it's only part-time, I've got plenty of time for writing. My work-in-progess (a novel) is going well, or at least it was when I last looked at it before the distractions of April. And my first book 'The Dark Threads', a book I poured everything into I had to say that needed saying, is going to be published. It is. It is. IT REALLY IS.