Wednesday, 19 September 2018


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

My local library has a Play Reading Group. It’s similar to a Book Club in the sense that we all read the same text, except we read the plays together, each picking up the various parts as the evening progresses. 

Last night we read ‘The Chain’ by Jack Rosenthal, a comedy involving the joys and disasters of moving house as viewed by several different households in the same chain. 

I read several parts: an upper class gent who before he moved out of his old home removed all the light bulbs and unscrewed the door handles; a young woman who was hoping that the adage ‘new house, new baby’ would apply to her; a removal man who had nothing to say apart from a few grunts and expletives.

It made me think about the value of effective characterisation. For the audience, the actors add actions and facial expressions, accents and variations in speed and volume of delivery, all of which give an individuality to the dramatis personae. As play readers we had the benefit of the playwright’s stage directions. But in prose the ability for the reader to distinguish one character from another is down to the skill of the writer.

Yesterday’s Play Reading Group was a useful reminder for me to consider speech patterns and ‘voice’ when writing my short stories. 

And as I had a good time and enjoyed meeting new people, I shall continue to attend just for the fun of it

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Benedick and Beatrice

Much Ado About Nothing
I ended my trip in style tonight watching ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk. The play was performed in a forest clearing by just six actors from the Red Rose Chain Theatre Company. Open air theatre has a magic of its own but when produced, directed and acted with such skill as was the case tonight, it rises beyond magic to something truly majestic.

The magic of open air theatre
Somewhat fittingly, considering last week’s #Swanwick70 also had a 1940s theme, tonight’s play was given a wartime setting. 

‘Much Ado’ was my set text for A level English. I remember being taught that in Shakespearean times ‘nothing’ was pronounced as ‘noting’, which double meaning is appropriate for a play where much of the mischief, for good and for bad, is caused by people overhearing conversations and spying on others.

Benedick and Beatrice, so in love (well, maybe)
Listening to strangers frequently provides a good prompt for a fiction story. As I return home I must pay attention to the conversation of those around me in hopes that I will find inspiration to get back into my writing. And in the imaginary world I can create as much mischief as I like, as long as no one recognises themselves in the story.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Awesome People

Ziggy the Dragon-Slayer
I have had a super time staying with my fabulous family. We have played amazing card games, walked Ziggy the wonderful dog, eaten incredible food and drunk marvellous wine. 

And together we have watched three superhero films: Iron Man 2, The Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: HomecomingThey are all classic tales of good versus evil, of the fight for what is right. 

But for all their heroism and special powers, the superheroes are portrayed as ordinary people with human failings. Iron Man is depressed, reckless and a drunkard; Mr Incredible struggles to cope with fatherhood; Spider-Man is naive and conceited.

The villains meanwhile have their good points. Vanko acts out of misguided loyalty to his late father; The Screenslayer was traumatised by her father’s murder; The Vulture is a man who took his responsibilities to provide for and to protect his family too far.

By coincidence, ‘Heroes and Villains’ is the theme for the current 1500 word short story competition being run by Jesmond Library, closing date 29 November 2018.

Time spent relaxing with family is an excellent thing - it needs no excuse and is never wasted. But with this coming competition in mind, I can also claim that a weekend immersed in superhero films is vital research.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Zzzz - time to reflect

Reflections, the lake at The Hayes, Swanwick
Swanwick 2018 is over. Goodbyes have been said, addresses exchanged and social media details shared. Brigadoon-like, the Writers’ Summer School has disappeared into the mist. It’s magic will not be seen again until it emerges twelve months later into the bright sunshine of August 2019.

Waking up the first morning after Swanwick was a little disconcerting. I reached for my programme to find out what exciting courses are happening today and where I should be and when, only to realise I’m no longer at The Hayes. Instead I started reading through my notebook to remind myself of just some of the many things I have done, seen and learned this last week. 

One particular phrase that stuck out was one used by Bradford novelist Amit Dhand, the guest speaker on Sunday evening. When events weren’t going well, or seemed stuck in a negative pattern, his father would “change the narrative”. He would do something unexpected. Amit told of the time his father shared a beer with local youths who, up to that moment in time, had been regularly throwing stones at the windows of the Dhand’s corner shop. His actions ‘changed the narrative’. 

I shall continue to dwell on that lesson. I can’t rewrite my history. But I can do something to alter my future. So when I get bogged down, whether in my writing or in actuality, I will do something to ‘change the narrative’. 

Friday, 17 August 2018

Yes, I can

#Swanwick70 - Day 6

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.”
Martin Luther King
The final course I attended today was not strictly a writing course. It was titled “Succeed on Purpose” and was a light-hearted look at how the mind works. We explored techniques to change the way we think and by so doing change the outcome of our actions, allowing us to succeed on purpose.

The tutor encouraged us to write down a goal, to commit to it, to visualise how that success will feel, then to plan and act as necessary in order to achieve that end. And so I shall take that first step and record my goal here.

My goal is to have my children’s A-Z published by December 2019.

There, I’ve said it. Now all I need to do is to make it happen.

Thursday, 16 August 2018


#Swanwick70 - Day 5

I attended a short course on writing Erotic Fiction earlier this week. Some very ‘interesting’ pieces of writing were shared during the workshop. But I will not be repeating them here in this blogpost.

I shan’t reveal the bawdy words to the parody version of an old music hall song which, and at their request, I was tricked into reading out loud to a table of old ladies.

Nor shall I record the conversation tonight in the bar which caused such raucous laughter.

None of these things can ever be spoken of. 

It’s all censored. 

Because, of course, what happens in Swanwick must stay in Swanwick.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Write Your Life

#Swanwick70 - Day 4

Secrets lie beneath the surface
One of the advantages of Swanwick is the huge variety of courses and workshops on offer. None have to be booked in advance and you can switch from one to another. Or do none at all.

So far I have learned about Writing for Competitions, Publishing, Niche Publishing and Erotica.

For my specialist course I chose “Write Your Life” to find more about Memoirs. According to Laurie Lee, the purpose of autobiography is “the laying to rest of ghosts, an ordering of the mind, a celebration of living and an attempt to hoard its memories”.

Despite this, I have no intention to write about my life. Nevertheless there are techniques used in writing memoir which are transferable to fiction writing and I hope these will give depth and substance to my future short story writing.

This all makes Swanwick sound very serious but it certainly isn’t. Everywhere people are smiling and there is much jollity. 

And although we have passed the halfway point there are still two very full days of laughter and good humour to come.