Tag Archives: Life

Book or Ornament?

This might seem an odd dilemma but the question is prompted by something that happened yesterday on a rare day out of the office. Mum had asked me to ‘be her’ for the day (interesting!) as she had booked a trip with the U3A with a close friend and neighbour but in the end was unable to attend. Despite mounting workloads and waning energy levels on my new gym programme, I had of course agreed and we had a really fun day at Hatfield House in Herts!  Great company 🙂

One of the rooms in this stately home I loved was, of course, the library, pictured below. Rows and rows of ancient books and despite knowing they would not like greasy fingers on the covers, I knew I had to… some compulsion that said inside my head: touch the book. My friend did too of course! We only touched one, but don’t you just love the feel of a real book? So many of them, from fiction to psychology although hard to read the authors or the titles on them, shame, they all look the same! So, of course, poking fingers got reprimanded with a ‘don’t touch the book’ which I ignored, almost touching another in protest but I am aware these are priceless artefacts and if we all poked the books would not live another 500 years. I get it, but that voice inside did not! See, the thing is, these are books. They were born to be opened and read and enjoyed and now they are nothing more than ornaments and somehow I find that sad… what do you think?

 

Hatfield House Library

The Library, Hatfield House, Herts, taken September 13th, 2017

I think it was a day of rebellion because there was also a dog groomers on site where they had the stable doors flung wide open so you could watch, an invite to see the doggies get clipped.  So, when an Airedale looked at me from where he was being pampered and wagged his tail I naturally said hello there. So then the woman who was in there reprimanded with a don’t talk to the dog. I ignored that too, … don’t open the door and invite us to look in if that is the case! Books are made to be read just as dogs are made to be social!

Later, in part of the old house, we walked around what had been a massive kitchen, read the sign that said ‘Do not touch the kitchen utensils’ and guess what we saw? The gong. Oh yeah… a gong for announcing that dinner was served. We looked at one another and seriously, seriously wanted to pick it up, I mean, to apply the same philosophy, and allow it to be what it was made to be… oh how much we wanted to do that… but even we (rebels that we are) thought that might have finally been a step too far! But imagine giving it a lease of life once more… 🙂 I so wish my inner rebel had done it now! Darn that self-control!

But seriously, I am all for rules and preserving history etc… but a book is made to be read, is it not? It’s a library but not a functional one so is it really a library if no one reads? Is it really a book if simply on a shelf? History needs to be living and breathing and even if greasy fingers spoil books at least they get to be books and not ornaments! There resteth my case!

I will leave that for you to ponder and for me to wish I had taken that gong now and made my protest to the world! Pick up the books, smell the books, read the books!!!

A collage for you all…

 

Some pics of Hatfield House, including me in hat to tame the frizz, and very cheesy grin… Knight in shining armour anyone?

 

 

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When Patience is What we Need… but is Hard to Find

It’s Tuesday. Take a deep breath and look ahead. 🙂

The weekend (and the start to the week) brought a few challenges and now I feel as if everything is a waiting game — but I have to rise above that see what lies ahead; climb the tree to see the view… stunning isn’t it.

My little house is Wales has once again had to have the price lowered, so now it is well below its true value but I need it to sell, more so than ever. It’s time.Fingers crossed that things pick up with the market. Renting it out is not an option now, I need to sell to release funds for our happy future! Patience is something I have in oodles (we need it as writers, don’t we!) but when it seems people think I am not doing enough to sell it (I am!!! Really really I am!) and so start laying down ultimatums on time frames then it just puts me under even more pressure! HELP! Yikes… I might just explode. Let’s be hopeful! The problem with something like an auction (something else I have considered)  is it will sell for far less that its value and so I have also to be realistic if I want us to move on here and have money for a life! So I am resisting this option; also with the advice of my estate agent. He says, ‘Hold fire, the market will pick up.’

Yep… I know this stuff is not directly writing-related, but it is in that challenges all muck about with creativity, right? And all this comes at a time when everything feels a little mixed up for me; broken foot, so no gym… the other half has some health issues… we want our own place so much… for both our wellbeing… and so I can refocus my writing in a new creative space. That’s what it’s really all about and at the moment … you know the ‘stuff’ of life seems to get in the way. But know this, good friends out there: I post this because being a writer always does bring many challenges and sometimes, even for me, ever the happy optimist, I must face such hurdles. But I will win because I always do! I will regain my positive mojo. And some people, after all, face far worse challenges.

It’s not an option to move back to Wales, much as I love it… although maybe we need a little trip there to recharge a few batteries? Or even a little trip somewhere closer? But I can’t move back even though it has been ‘suggested’. Firstly I have sold some furniture now, I would have the costs and upheaval of moving, but it’s not that. I do truly love that house, but my life and my partner is here now. I can’t walk away from that. The gym I love and the new friends I love are here. You can’t go back to move forwards, not with something like this.

So after a bad day yesterday… it’s time to look ahead again, breathe in, be thankful, write, edit and love.

Because without love, we have nothing.

Here is the link:

House in Snowdonia

Make me an offer!!!

Thanks for reading!

Have a peaceful and inspiring day!

 

 

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All that Buzz

It’s Monday and it’s a day full of hope and all the excitement a new shiny week will bring. So are you ready?

We have Canvey Writers tonight when we put into action our plan for 2017, and it looks exciting. Year 3 of the group and it’s time to jazz it up a bit.

I dreamed the other night that someone stood in front of me and said to me, “If you could write a mission statement to live your life by, what would it be?”

I pointed to the one I wrote for myself; the shorter version of it — the one that sits on my wall in my office: Changing people’s lives, one story at a time.

But then the stranger in the dreamer said, “That’s great, Debz. But what about one that reflects how you live in general. And I heard myself reciting the slogan of Havens Hospices, who I collected money for recently and realised that while I can’t steal theirs, I am going to borrow it because I don’t think there is anything better. And I will leave you with that message today:

Make every day count.

Do it…

excited

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Friday’s Editing Tips [Formatting]

While formatting will be changed for Kindle and the like, it is good practice to get into a submission-ready standardised way of formatting your work as you write. Then change fonts and spacing if required by whoever you are submitting it to but generally most follow the same basic guidelines.

Here are some tips from a handout I like to share:

A Few Simple Tips For Formatting

 

Always check the guidelines for submission with the publisher or agent. Likewise, always check the rules and the submission guidelines when submitting to a competition or anthology. They will have their own in-house styles and rules. However as a rule of thumb the most preferred formatting is:

  • Times New Roman (Ariel sometimes)
  • 12 point
  • Double Spaced (remove extra space between paragraphs)
  • Double speech marks – although some prefer single (some even say if they want straight or curly!)

(Just make sure you are consistent.)

  • Rugged right (justified leaves gaps in the text) and editors usually prefer this as it appears too uniform otherwise. This is using the ‘align left’ tab not the ‘justify’ tab.

 

Paragraphs

The default tabs in Word are usually fine (sometimes they might ask for certain indents but not usually), set for double spacing (sometimes 1.5) and click box – don’t add extra space between paragraphs for the whole document. Start the piece or a new section to the far left, then indent for new paragraphs. Look at books as this will give you the idea:

e.g.

And so it began.

It was the summer of 1974…

 

Use an indent for a new paragraph or speaker (also includes reaction by a speaker so the reader can easily follow the conversation).

If you change scene, extra line space – no indent.

For a large time gap or point of view change also consider using asterisks for a larger scene break.

 

… She never stayed to hear his reaction. She couldn’t watch the man she loved just walk away. Not today. Not ever.

***

Peter drank. Perhaps not always the best answer but today Peter drank to forget.

 

Here we changed point of view. The formatting tells the editor/reader the switch in point of view was intentional. Again look at the way books do it and be consistent in your text. You will find your own style.

 

Dialogue

Always indent when a new person speaks unless it’s after action:

Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. “What the hell was that?” he said.

Avoid hanging saids like:

Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. He said,

“What the hell was that?”

(Move it up onto the same line.)

Again look at books. If you’re given another character’s reaction to what a speaker says start like a new paragraph.

e.g.

“It looks nothing like an alien or a lion,” said Joe blushing.

Peter dug his hands into his pockets and shook his head at Joe.

 

Thoughts are sometimes also expressed like dialogue. This is completely unnecessary for a single viewpoint character narrator when it’s clear it’s all his thoughts (so you can also lose expressions like he thought.) But excursions in a third person narrative to direct first person thoughts or with an omniscient third person narrator it is preferable to use italics. These make it clear it’s thoughts and differentiate from dialogue.

e.g.

He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound, like a bird maybe. It put him in mind of a parrot screeching but longer notes, more persistent. Whatever it was it wasn’t going away – (all character thought)

It’s going to get me – (switch to first person direct thought).

Rather than:

He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound. “Maybe it’s a bird,” he thought. “Maybe like a parrot but more persistent.” He stood back. “Whatever it was,” he thought, “it wasn’t going away. It’s going to get me.”

 

If you get into the habit of using the correct formatting it makes it easier when you submit and it also tells the editor you do know about writing – it’s far more professional. It also shows them you know how to follow rules which is essential if they decide to publish you. It’s surprising how many writers don’t read. Read as much as can not only do you then pick up the right way to format but you also see what works best.

 

Also make sure you use things like hyphens (-) to connect words and en dashes (–) to separate clauses and em dashes (—) for interruptions

Also for ellipses do not use three or more full stops control-alt-period (…) not (…).

 

Make sure you follow the guidelines, so if it says no identifying marks, remove your name from headers and footers. If it asks for page numbers at the bottom, insert them in the footer. If it asks for Ariel font, no indents (The Costa Prize does this!) and saved as a PDF, then do exactly as it asks.

 

Make sure you follow the rules of competitions: themes, word counts, previous submissions etc.

 

Have a great weekend everyone!

Ready to write

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Count your blessings

I saw something on Facebook that said get a glass jar and every time something good happens write it down and fold the paper and put it in the jar. I think this is a wonderful way to think in a positive way and focus the mind to think about good things and not bad ones. I think I could count many blessings every day; that I get to do what I love, that I write lists and do everything on them; that I have the most wonderful friends, a great family, a man who tells me every day how much he loves me. I think we must all think that way.

This week as I look at it in review I have subbed Chutney with a new synopsis; finished an edit and have the report to write today, fitted in three gym classes yesterday, helped someone pass the next level of their PT course by being their guinea pig in a training session the day before, set up a JustGiving page for our gym challenge and met the lady from the charity, got banners, T-shirts and balloons and arranged a visit to the hospice; arranged to see my best mate Sunday as a pre-birthday lunch and plans with a couple of friends for lunch next week. Hopefully my poorly man will be well enough to take me out Saturday but if not then we will have to postpone the birthday celebration until he is well… that will stretch it out, right?

If we can see the good and the positive and not the negative side of life, which we all know is there, we will see that counting our blessings is a wonderful way to live and imagine the joy we will have reading those little notes in that glass jar this time next year.

That is all, have a wonderful weekend everyone… 

jar2

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Legacy

I write stories with the hope that part of me will be left behind long after I’ve gone. I will take readers on a journey long after I have shuffled off this mortal coil. Not having children means I leave part of me behind in my writing; the best part I hope. My mind.

So it is with great sadness that I begin 2017’s posts with the passing of the literary legend, Richard Adams, known most for Watership Down although he told me his favourite was always The Girl In A Swing. Now, what a legacy he leaves in his literary works!

I knew Mr Adams from the age of fifteen when I wrote to a number of my heroes asking for their support in my campaign against seal culling. While he declined my offer to take part in a sponsored walk, claiming to be in his sixties and having recently had a hip replacement, he did offer to come to the school for free and talk about the plight of the Canadian harp seals. And boy did he talk with fire and emotion. Not a dry eye in the room! He also signed books to us and the one that I have and hold most dear is Plague Dogs that bears the inscription: To Debbie, whose comrade in animal rights I am proud to be.’

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Friend  Mandy, Richard Adams, me at fifteen

 

After that, we attended several talks, marched against the fur trade in London with the likes of Bill Oddie and while Richard was unable to march he did talk. I also visited him in his Whitchurch home many many times over the years. I recall sitting a great number of times in his library with its impressive stained glass window looking at the first edition of the likes of Beatrix Potter in total awe.

Somewhere I have lots of photos that I must dig out! I remember him taking Mandy and I to a bird of prey sanctuary and we took lots of photos.

After that I kept in touch with him and his wife, Elizabeth, and so began a dialogue; letters almost every week at one point, then every month, him telling me his erudite tales of his travels all over the world, me twittering on about Barry Manilow concerts and college. It didn’t matter, it was a dialogue that I will treasure for all the years of advice and fun he brought to those replies. What stood strong was our shared compassion for animals and when we won the first battle against the seal cull he phoned me from Brussels where he was campaigning to tell me the good news. I then went on the radio to talk about it.

He learned of broken hearts in my love life, successes and failures at uni, at work, serious health issues… and more Barry Manilow — who he confessed to not knowing but he would try, although he preferred classical music!

My parents and I have seen Benwell’s his home many times in all the seasons and I have sat with him in his garden admiring the roses more times than I can recall. He told me of the peacock who regularly visited his garden and he asked to read some of my work long before it had been read by anyone else.

When I had my first publishing success he asked for a signed copy, can you imagine! He has sent me many signed copies of his novels over the years! So I sent him Making Changes in which I had the first story and many others followed. He was very complimentary saying that what I did so well was capture voice… and never to give up! Many of these short story collections grace that magnificent library of his, when the people from Oxford University come as he told he had left the collection to them, what will they make of that? My novel is there of course as well and my graduation photo sat on his desk for many years.

When he turned ninety the last thing he wrote for me was a wild animals story for our charity collection for Born Free, Gentle Footprints. I initially asked him for a foreword, thinking that was cheeky, when he peered at me over his glasses and asked, “My dear, you are not going to ask me to write a story for this worthy collection?” Yes!!! Of course, I told him and he did. It’s unusual, almost experimental and it gets into the mindset of a leopard in a unique and interesting way.

I later interviewed him for the book (Virginia McKenna wrote the foreword in the end!) about animal stories that have most inspired him. He did want to attend the launch at Hay in 2010 but mobility issues and being hard of hearing kind of stopped that in the end so Virginia did that (incredibly well!) without him. But I did talk to journalist Paul Blezard and we managed to visit to celebrate his 90th with cake and had this in the Independent On Sunday…

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/richard-adams-forever-animated-by-the-life-of-animals-1974572.html

If you want to read his last story and also support a cause dear to his heart, profits to Born Free then here it is… I have a story in here and edited the collection!

gentle-footprints-cover

Buy me (please note there is not an audio download so do not use that link!)

I continued to visit Richard until a couple of years ago when he was still having chess lessons from some of the champions on a weekly basis and his mind was as astute as ever. But sadly with his mobility issues and his wife’s declining health, she has always cooked for us over the years, a wonderful woman and a ceramics expert, and writer, we realised that us going there was harder for them and while we insisted she did not have to cook, we would just pop in, I think we all knew the last time we went, was probably going to be the last. I did still send the occasional letter, and always a Christmas card but the replies stopped coming, as you might expect.

So it was with great sadness I looked at my phone last Tuesday (December 27th) as we were returning from a day out to see that he has passed away.There was a missed call from the BBC and a request to talk about him on air; which I did gladly. Only a couple of minutes on BBC Radio Wales, but I felt it was right, as someone who had got to know him well over the years.

Here’s a photo we took when we visited on his 90th birthday… God how fat do I look?

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Phil (friend and journalist), Richard Adams and me! 2010

I don’t know if I can go to his funeral although I have asked when it might be, but I do know that this man, this wonderful, intelligent, kind, erudite man was an amazing writer and a fearless campaigner for animal rights all of his life… and that for me he will be so dearly missed.

I wonder if he did ever listen to Barry Manilow? Perhaps it’s best we never know.

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richard

 RIP Richard Adams, 9 May 1920 – 24 December 2016

A dear friend, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, husband…. will be dearly missed.

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Countdown 3

Today I am posting an extract of my short story that won the Bath Short Story Award in 2013. I remember with great excitement when I read the email! I was staying at my friends in Liverpool, and that evening we were seeing Bon Jovi in Manchester! I then had a phone call and told them I would be celebrating the win at the concert!

I later had the pleasure of meeting the lovely team when I went to Bath with Mum, just about the same time as my debut novel came out, and they did afternoon tea in my honour (oooh!) and then I ran a workshop in Bath on how to write a psychological thriller!

I am still in touch with them and met up with the lovely ladies at the London Short Story Festival last year. I always congratulate the new winner each year, but am very proud to have won the inaugural competition.

Learning To Fly

 My brother always cried when he watched TV movies.

“I thought scousers were supposed to be ’ard,” I told him.

“Everyone’s got a sensitive side, Jen.”

“Not me,” I said.

“Even Tom Boys are allowed to cry.”

“Yeah, whatever,” I said.

 

It was my brother that found the blackbird’s nest that spring. It was my brother that taught me to believe in happy ever after. And it was my brother that was killed in Afghanistan.

We found out on a Wednesday. It was raining. Mum said the rain meant something. Yeah, it meant the washing was wet on the line. It meant the blackbirds didn’t fledge. And it meant I was never gonna see our Robert again or make fun of his bright orange cagoule.

Dad was standing in the doorway holding a plastic milk bottle and saying all we needed was another cup of tea, like that would bring him back; like that would make everything alright.

“I don’t want any more tea,” Mum said.

“Nor do I,” Nan said. Then she said, “People always do that.”

“Do what?” Dad said.

“Make tea.”

“Who?”

“On the telly. When someone dies they always make tea.”

“Oh,” Dad said.

And then he just stood there fiddling with the green lid of the milk bottle and looking at me. So I said, “Go on then, I’ll ’ave another brew,” even though I never wanted one. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know anyone that had died before, not really. Floss died, our dog, but that was different, she was old and she died in her sleep. That’s how I want to go. I don’t want to be blown up by a bomb in Afghanistan.

It went quiet for a bit when Dad made the tea, we heard him clinking a spoon and it was ages before he came back in. When he did he looked liked he’d been chopping onions again. Mum looked up then and said, “I knew.” She was sitting at the table looking down at her hands, holding a photograph of our Robert. “I dreamed about it last night.”

“Don’t be daft,” Dad said.

“I did,” she said. “I dreamed our Robert was standing by the bed telling me he had to go. He was with his Grandad Harry.”

“But Grandad Harry’s not dead,” I said.

“I know,” she said. Then she added, “Best give him a ring to make sure.”

“I wish ’e was dead,” Nan said and she got that look when she thinks about the trollop from the chippy – the one Grandad ran off with.

“He was there,” Mum said. “I’m telling you, he was really there, stood at the bottom of the bed.”

“Shut up,” Dad said.

 

They buried Robert in a box with a flag draped across it, while some fella played the trumpet, only Dad said it wasn’t a trumpet, it was a bugle. I told him I didn’t care what it was.

“It’s to do with the shape of the bell,” Dad said. “A bugle is conical.”

“Conical? How can a bugle be funny?”

Nothing about that day was funny.

“Anyway, what does it matter?” I said. “What does any of it matter?”

“Everything matters,” Mum said. Then she sat in the dark and cried.

And Dad got drunk.

And Nan said she would stay with us for a bit, until we felt better but Mum said we’d never feel better. So Nan sat in the dark and cried too. And she said it was a pity Grandad Harry wasn’t dead and then she started talking about the trollop again. That’s when I went outside to see the blackbirds because I promised our Robert I’d look out for them.

But I was too late. The blackbirds were gone.

Our blackbirds had all left while some fella in a poxy uniform played the bloody trumpet. I felt CRAP.  Crap in bold and underlined. Only really I felt worse but I couldn’t think of a word for worse.

“It’s not fair,” I said. I said it out loud, in the garden with no shoes on and wet grass between me toes. I said it as I looked up at our Robert’s bedroom window, where we used to watch the blackbirds making their nest. And I said it to God, not that I believed in God anymore. What kind of God lets people like our Robert get killed? Mum says it’s not God’s fault, she says it’s the Prime Minister’s. But it’s too late now. I hate God and I hate the Prime Minister.

“It’s not fair,” I said. “None of it’s fair.”

I don’t know if I meant about the Prime Minister, not seeing the blackbirds fledge or our Robert getting killed in Afghanistan.

It all felt the same.

 

My brother said the Latin name for the blackbird is Turdus merula. I laughed. “It can’t be,” I said. “Turd? You’re making that up.”

But he wasn’t. Robert put on his Birds DVD and David Attenborough said, “Turdus merula is one of the commonest British birds.” I couldn’t believe David Attenborough said the word turd; and on the TV. He also said, “It’s only the males that are black, the females are brown.” And he said, “The female is the one that builds the nest.”

“That’s the same as girls,” Robert said. “When I get back from Afghanistan I’m gonna find a nice girl to marry and start a family.”

“I’m never building a nest with a boy,” I said.

“You will,” he said.

“Won’t.”

“You’ll find your wings one day.” And then he looked at me really hard and said, “Til then you’ll ’ave to share my nest.”

“Yeah,” I said and he hugged me.

“Don’t get killed in Afghanistan,” I said. Only I never said it out loud. I whispered it into the hood of his sweatshirt when he was hugging me.

           

Nan stayed for the whole of the summer after our Robert got killed in Afghanistan. I don’t even know where Afghanistan is. My mate says it’s where them dogs come from, the ones that look like greyhounds with long hair. I said I hope none of them get killed because of the Prime Minister. Our dog, Floss, would’ve been dead scared of guns. On bomby night Robert used to sit with her under the stairs and hold her till she stopped shaking.

 

Dad said he was fed up not being able to watch his programmes on the TV when Nan was there. “Why do we have to watch Emmerdale Farm?” he said.

“It’s called Emmerdale,” I said. “They dropped the Farm.”

“Oh,” he said.

“Not like Corrie,” I said. “That’s still called Coronation Street it’s just that everyone calls it Corrie.”

“Oh,” he said. Then he said, “We ought to watch educational things.”

“Like David Attenborough?” I said.

But Dad said he didn’t like David Attenborough so he wouldn’t watch Robert’s Birds DVD. I reckon that’s not the real reason though.

But even when Nan left, Dad still watched Emmerdale. And he still called it Emmerdale Farm. And Mum still sat in the dark. She would watch home movies of me and our Robert. She cried all the time so I told her David Attenborough said we ought to use recyclable tissues. She looked at me weird.

“It’s about being ecologic,” I said. “We get through loads of tissues in our ’ouse.”

But then I wondered: if we did, would Mum’s tears come ’round again on the recycled tissues. So I told her I’d changed me mind…

 

©Debz Hobbs-Wyatt 2013, published in full in: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Reads-Short-Story-Award-ebook/dp/B00GIIZYXG

 

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