Sunday, 30 December 2012

"Life of Pi."

Richard Parker keeps Pi at bay.

Some time ago I mentioned a favourite novel of mine – "Life of Pi," - a Booker prize-winner by Yann Martell.
It has now been made into a film and yesterday I saw that film and loved the story even more.  For two hours I was mesmerised by the Indian boy, Pi and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.
The film’s gentle beginning has beautiful scenes of India and the family’s zoological gardens, but these are soon overtaken by the noise and chaos of a storm at sea with the tragedy of a shipwreck and Pi’s struggle for survival against both the sea and the tiger.
Suffice it to say that if you enjoy adventure; daring and bravery as well as the most beautiful photography and seascapes, then this is the film for you. It even has a surprise ending.
I strongly recommend it.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Cul-de-Sac

The Lights of Christmas
by Marjorie Morrison 
The twinkling lights of emerald green
And brilliant blue and white
Are piercing darkness, all enshrouded
In the black of night.

The cul-de-sac where I’ve lived for more than ten years is friendly, well-ordered and peaceful.  Dogs are controlled and the only children nowadays are visiting ones. Yet from the beginning of December each year, it is transformed into a sparkling wonderland. Lights of every colour decorate bushes and outline doors and windows.  Tall Christmas trees stand in rooms purposefully left with curtains open.

The next cul-de-sac is equally bright; their lights changing from one colour to another, making weird shapes and patterns over plants and bushes.
This is the first place I’ve lived where such enthusiasm is shown.  Long may it last.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Wear Valley Writers

Wear Valley Writers meet in the Town Hall library on Wednesday evenings, but last week we were a very small group, because of torrential rain.
Instead of the planned programme, we had an impromptu one. The titles of ten novels were chosen at random from the shelves:-

“Muddy Boots and Silk Stockings.”                 “Sisters.”
“A Friend of the Family.”                                 “Past Remembering.”
Full Circle.”                                                     “Star Light.”
“Going Places.”                                                “Emma.”
“Falling.”                                                          “The Price of Coal.”

The remit was to write for forty minutes and produce work that included at least five of these titles. As usual, it produced a variety of poetry and prose of a high standard.
I included 9 of the titles.

Parallel Lives.

       Emma was a friend of the family.  She’d known the sisters since school days when they’d skipped happily along the lanes together whatever the weather.  In summer they’d dawdled, tempted by the blackberries in the hedges or the cowslips in the meadow; picking bunches of flowers to present to the teacher as an excuse for their lateness.
     The girls had drunk the milk Emma hated so much – a third of a pint in a clumsy glass bottle – in return she’d whispered the answers to their hardest sums.
      Now she was past remembering the price of coal or understanding that few homes used it any more. She lived in the cottage where she was born and refused to move away.  She had a tortoiseshell cat and she kept a cow, although still she didn't drink its milk. Her chickens scratched at the bottom of the garden and when they laid an egg Emma boiled it for breakfast – three minutes exactly while she toasted her bread on a brass toasting fork at the open fire where her mother had cooked for so many years.
The sisters, on the other hand, had been ambitious and adventurous.  They were going places; each tired of being a clone of the other.  Mary moved to the city, becoming a buyer in Ladies Fashion at the most prestigious department store.  Margaret, very daringly, had travelled, finding employment on the great liners; wallowing in the richness of the food and the luxury of the furnishings.  But now life had come full circle and they were back in the village. They’d bought a four-bed roomed house with a landscaped garden and employed a man to care for it.
Emma was invited to visit but she wasn't comfortable there, so the sisters trudged down to the cottage in all weathers, occasionally even wearing muddy boots and silk stockings, but always pleased to see her. She walked them home, sometimes in star light, enjoying the same scents they’d known so long ago. 
Happy to be together where they belonged.

Monday, 19 November 2012

"Room to Write."

Last Saturday ten avid readers met at Whitworth Hall Hotel for the last Reading Group of the year. This group was formed by the “Room to Write” team – Wendy Robertson; Avril Joy and Gillian Wales – and has been a welcome addition to the writing.
Meeting alternate months in the warm and elegant surroundings of the conservatory; served with coffee in silver cafeterias or cool drinks in tall glasses, we often glimpsed brides and bridesmaids and all the paraphernalia of weddings, going on outside.
We agreed and disagreed on plots and dialogue and characters and every aspect of the authors’ work.
Originally the novels were from the 20th century and known as “Reading down the Decades,” including such authors as William Trevor, John le Carre, Ruth Jhabvala and Toni Morrison. At the beginning of this year it was agreed that each member should present a favourite book of their own, resulting in a diverse selection.

  • March        “The Road” by C McCarthy
  •                   “Honesty’s Daughter” by Wendy Robertson
  • May            “Suite Francaise” by I. Nemirovsky
  •                    “The Summer Book” by T Jansson
  • July              "The Secret Life of Bees” by S Monk Kidd
  •                     “Restoration” by R Tremain.
  • September.  “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by M Barberry
  •                    “Daphne DuMaurier’s Short Stories.”   
  • November.   “Letters to Ilio” by Barbara Laurie.
  •                     “Spies.” by Michael Frayn.

It has been a stimulating year with people who might never have met, but for their over-riding interest in literature.
Many thanks to the Team and happy reading to you all.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Introduction to Theatre

At a Food Festival in the stately grounds of Raby Castle a few weeks ago, I was surprised to hear children shrieking with laughter and shouting at the tops of their voices. When I turned a corner I discovered that the cause of the excitement was a Punch and Judy Show.

Mr. Punch at Raby Castle Food Fair.
In this age of Computers and High Tech equipment it was surprising to think that this old-established show could still hold their attention.  According to the date on the front of the booth, the show originated in 1662. Research shows that originally Punch did not have a wife and when she did appear in the 18th century her name was Joan, not Judy.
Ever since then it has been performed all over the country - in village fairs and city streets and even before open windows of graceful Georgian houses where Papas had arranged it.
Punch and Judy has often been a child’s first introduction into the world of theatre. The more violent it is, the more the audiences love it. Punch slaps characters over the head with his club; hits the policeman and hangs people; he even hangs the hangman with his own noose and when the crocodile takes a bite at Punch’s nose the children scream louder than ever.
It is timeless humour.  Long may it continue.
      What do you think of Punch and Judy?         
                 Do you love it or hate it?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Creative Writing Walk

Autumn Colours

by J R Cooper
On the High Plains; Bishop's Park
Autumn colours fill my eyes
Set the scene for winter skies
Longer nights and shorter days
Catching evanescent rays.

Experts tell us that the unusual weather conditions over the summer months have produced exceptionally good Autumn colours this year.  I can vouch for that!
On Sunday, on a Creative Writing Walk in the Bishop’s Park- here at Bishop Auckland - the colours of the leaves were absolutely stunning, beating any I’d seen in other locations.The walk was organised by Durham County Council, led by Chris Robinson who invited us to base our writing on Lewis Carroll and The White Rabbit and let our imaginations run riot along the 3 mile route. As I tried to imagine lollipops growing in fields; a talking animal and a toy-town train, the colours of the leaves were quite a distraction..
Across the High Plains and round the Deer House, the trees were breath-taking and glorious – but then they  have been in all the years I've walked there!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Redcar, Cleveland.

Work in Progress on the Vertical Pier
Have you visited Redcar lately?
If you have, you’ll have seen this strange new building on the promenade.  Is it a Helter-Skelter?  Is it a small Lighthouse? No – it’s a Vertical Pier and in the future the only way to see that wonderful sea-weedy beach and shimmering sea, will be from the top of it.
In recent years the town had become less popular as a holiday resort, but the good thing was still the view of the beach and the sea and the easy access to it.  Now all that has gone; hidden by a sea-wall that must have been needed to prevent flooding, but did it have to be such an ugly one? Presumably it’s meant to be the colour of the sand; the promenade is raised in places to allow a view over the top and a few fishing cobles still stand where they've  always done, so there must be access to the beach for them, but Redcar has changed out of all recognition.
Fishing Cobles on the sea-front.
The bucket-and-spade holidays; the pony-trekking by the water’s edge and the long dog walks on that firm, flat beach are all memories now.  But I’ll treasure them as I look out from this Vertical Pier along the miles of sand and I'll hope to see the sun making a golden pathway across the water as I’ve done so many times before.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


It's sad when well-established businesses close down, but I was particularly sorry to see that a furniture warehouse on the edge of town will be doing that soon.  Not because I've been a regular customer,  but because of a notice outside which makes me chuckle.
Antiques Old and New it says
I've always smiled as I passed that.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Steam Trains and Memories

The San Pareil
Steam Trains by George Savage.
We used to sit besides the track,
Watching trains go clickety clack.
We'd count each carriage passing by
And smell the smoke that filled the sky.

My visit to the Locomotion Museum at Shildon on Saturday was like stepping into the past. 
In the autumn sunshine a street organ played nostalgic music while engines belched out steam, with that particular smell that is so reminiscent of railway stations and the excitement of waiting for the first glimpse of the Flying Scotsman pulling its massive train into Darlington station, on its journey from Edinburgh to London.

Crowds streamed into the huge engine sheds at Shildon, scanning the stalls full of memorabilia and appreciating the magnificence of the old engines and carriages that stand there.

In a glass case there is a perfect model of the Locomotion, above a book declaring the opening of the museum in 1978, signed by the Queen Mother.

However, for me, the most impressive thing is the San Pareil, immaculate with green body and yellow wheels.  It brought back memories of an elderly cousin who told us how her father’s father drove that very engine soon after it was built at Shildon.

On my way out, I was asked to buy tombola tickets – without success of course – but as a consolation prize I was handed a tiny lapel badge of the San Pareil engine!!!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

"The Smile of Deceit" on Kindle

Kindle Version
Both my novels are now on Kindle with brand new covers that present them in a totally different light. 
I achieved this with help from Wendy Robertson, author and founder of the Room-to-Write group. See Wendy’s own blog.  wendyrobertsonslifetwicetasted

When I chose the original covers for the paper-back editions, I was quite happy with the results, but I’m intrigued to discover that these Kindle ones give the novels a completely fresh feeling.

Paperback Version
What do you think? 

Click on the link below.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Spare Leg in the Wardrobe

The Wardrobe 
The spare leg belonged to my Aunty, whose life was ruined by the fact that her foot had to be amputated after a children's game went wrong  when she was six years old. She wore an artificial leg for the rest of her life.  And what a brutal leg it was. Made of leather and metal it had a punishing hinge at the knee and a solid wooden foot to fit inside her shoe. She was a tall, good-looking woman with auburn hair and she was very capable.  She was loved by every child that met her and she'd have made a wonderful Nanny, but she hid from the world so that nobody would notice the leg.

Over the last two weeks I’ve thought a lot about her and wondered how she would have reacted to the Paralympics and the sight of athletes wearing sports clothes that revealed their deformities to the world.
And as for those running Blades – they’d have been beyond her comprehension, but as I watched a TV programme showing a young woman athlete being specially fitted with one, I remembered Aunty’s stump wrapped in a thick woollen sock, being forced into that hateful limb.
The young woman in the programme laughed as she told the world that she had five legs including one Blade and one that was suitable to wear with 5” heels.
I wonder if she keeps those in the wardrobe!

Does anybody else have memories like these?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Hamsterley Hoppings and Kindle

Another Bank Holiday has come and gone with its usual mix of sunshine and showers.
Between visits to Hamsterley Hoppings and Bowes Museum, I spent a wonderful day uploading my second novel to Kindle. "Bridge to the Moon" now has a bright new cover with yellow lettering, an appropriate colour for the young characters, so full of hope for the future.

Hamsterley village was fortunate to have sunshine for their annual Hoppings - a lovely olde worlde fair with strong men competing in a Tug-of-War competition; a gaggle of ducks parading round the Ring and music from the band playing for most of the afternoon.  To cap it all, tea was served in the village hall with a china tea pot for each table and charming old-fashioned cups and saucers . . and of course the cakes melted in the mouth.
Bowes Museum is as inspirational as ever, attracting plenty of visitors on a wet afternoon. Its updated shop and cafe provide a calm and elegant place to end the visit.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Animals in Fiction

An old copy of Aesop's Fables
For many years the public's knowledge of animals came from the stories they read in books.
My own treasured copy.
From Aesop’s “Lion and the Mouse” and Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli Brothers,” set in India telling the tale of a boy adopted by wolves, to Beatrice Potter’s gentle portrayal of farmyard animals.  In 2002 Yan Martel won the Booker Prize with “Life of Pi,” the strange tale of animals being transported by boat to new surroundings after a fire at their zoo, with all the terror of beasts in close proximity and the fear felt by the boy in charge of them.  Far fetched, perhaps, but convincing enough to win this prestigious award.

In this present day and age people travel the world much more easily and see animals in their natural environment. Television has familiarised us with animals of every size and shape - the last surviving Giant Tortoise in the Galapagos Islands, aptly named Lonesome George, had the sympathy of the world.
And yet the public still visit zoos in this country.                        

Two's Company

Family Outing
Reflected Glory
Paignton Zoo is one such place, helping to save threatened species from extinction and return them to the wild.  In a hilly setting, shaded by trees they are cared for and bred. On my recent visit there, a zebra foal, only one day old was hidden from sight by its mother, while a four-month old giraffe walked with the others in the Devon sunshine

In the Reptile House brightly coloured birds flew freely between tanks of exotic snakes and crocodiles, while at the opposite side of the site, two magnificent Rhinos were obviously thriving.
Long may this last.
A Good Life

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Olympics and Spelling

I wonder how many people noticed the spelling mistake on the OLYMPICS timetable this afternoon.
Heptathlon was spelt HEPTHATLON!

In a  holiday hotel recently, the guests certainly noticed a glaring mistake and there was great speculation about the PORK STAKES offered on the menu.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


It was sad to hear that the well-known author Maeve Binchy died this morning. She was 72 years old and had delighted readers across the world with her homely stories.
According to her friend, Jilly Cooper, she'd never wanted to use long  words and clever phrases – she simply wrote as if she was talking to somebody. She was a natural story-teller because she was interested in people.
Originally she was a teacher then a journalist and wrote fiction in her spare time.
Her first novel “Light a Penny Candle” was published in 1982 and sold a million copies.

1st of August brings news of another death.  That great American author, Gore Vidal died at the age of 86.  Since 1948 his novels have been published, starting with “Williwaw.”
Amongst his many other titles were “The City and the Pillar,” “Lincoln” and “Ben Hur.”

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ten Minute Gardener.

A Scented Rosebud

Giant Clover

Like most people,I enjoy looking at gardens.  But ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you I am not a garden person.  I bought my house because its garden was small, although well-stocked and blessedly hidden from the neighbours’ perfect ones. I know the more ordinary plants

Iceberg Rose
 but I can’t reel off their Latin names. I rarely sit in a garden and I certainly don’t work in one for longer

An Old Standard Rose
 than it takes to mow the lawn or pull out any obvious weeds.  So this morning, when I ventured forth with food for the birds, who must have chicks, judging by the speed at which they’re eating, I was surprised to discover that there were 13 beautiful flowers and bushes – all blossoming amongst the dripping greenery.
Healthy neglect obviously works!

Wedding Day Rose
Orange Blossom
Pink Feathery Flower on Tall Bush.
Peony Rose
The Orange Blossom bush has not flowered       for years so its amazing to see it now.
First Wild Strawberry
  The Peony is beautiful but short-lived.           But of all the flowers in the garden, the white lupins were
the most 

spectacular until a sudden, massive storm  flattened them all. So sad!           


Saturday, 30 June 2012


The Emergency Phone Number, 999 is 75 years old today!

9 was thought to be an easy number to remember.
0 was considered first, but as soon as the 0 was requested, the caller
was put through to the operator.     So that idea was abandoned.

I wonder how many lives have been saved because of that simple number 9.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

"Shop in a Front Room"

Years ago, when times were hard and unemployment rife, many people attempted to make a living by converting the front room of their home into a shop. No Health and Safety rules in those days!

One such shop was in Pollards Terrace, part of Etherley Lane, Bishop Auckland and was owned by a certain Mrs Chisholm.
The shop was dark and musty but it sold everything the neighbours could possibly require. As it was close to a Junior school it was well frequented by the children at the end of each day.

This is an alphabet I wrote about the contents of Mrs Chisholm's shop.

Mrs Chisholm’s Shop-in-a-Front-Room.

A is for acid drops, tangy and sweet.
B is for butter, rancid in heat.
C is for clothes pegs and a cat you can’t trust.
D is for darning wool, dolls’ eyes and dust.
E is for everything packed in so tight.
F is for fly-papers, to hang from the light.
G is for gollies on marmalade and jam.
H is for handkerchiefs, hat-pins and ham.
I is for ink to use on schooldays.
J is for jelly that wobbles on trays.
K is the kettle you boil on the fire.
L is for lump-sugar for tea with the squire.
M is for milk with cream on the top.
N is for nails to fix the old shop
O is for oil, for chests when its damp.
P is for paraffin to use in the lamp.
Q is the Q in the middle of squash.
R is for Reckitt’s to go in the wash.
S is for salt that comes in a block.
T is for tea to brew in the pot.
U is for umbrella - open or shut.
V is for vinegar - bring your own jug.
W is for wood in bundles of sticks.
X is for Xmas cards and envelopes to lick.
Y is for yarn, to knit up so fine.
Z is for Zebro to make the grate shine.

Babar the Elephant

Babar the Elephant will celebrate his 80th birthday in July.  

He has been entertaining children for all those years and is still doing so.
Seven Stories Bookshop in Newcastle will release his latest book on July 21st and 22nd;
"Babar and the Celesteville Games."  A free event.

Happy Birthday, Babar.

Monday, 25 June 2012


What's in a name?

Everything!  Preferably a life-time of satisfaction, but at least not misery from a name that always needs spelling or causes the world to mock.

The recent Jubilee fever produced a flurry of Elizabeths - rather sedate but quite acceptable.
And one Union Jack!!!! (as published in the Press.)  I think not.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Slippers are Slippers....

A few days ago I heard that Boots, the Chemist will soon be celebrating 100 years of trading in Bishop Auckland. A wonderful achievement!
This reminded me of a tale my mother used to tell. When she was about 11 or 12 years old, a new shop was about to open in Newgate Street.  There was great speculation as to what kind of shop it would be and when a conundrum appeared in the window asking:-
                     "If slippers are slippers and shoes are shoes, what are boots?"
the excitement became even more heightened.
                        Of course the answer was "Dispensing Chemists."

Monday, 18 June 2012

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A June Day

Wallington Hall in Northumberland is one of the most beautiful estates to visit, approached by tree-covered lanes and green meadows. Twisting footpaths lead to the well-signposted Walled Garden.  According to the picture postcard on sale in the National Trust shop this is what we should have seen.

Wallington borders
However with relentless rain beating down, foliage contributing extra dampness and a path that resembled a stream, we accepted defeat and turned our attention to the Hall itself. Impressive yet compact, it was owned by generations of the Blackett and Trevelyan families and is centred round the remarkable Central Hall where huge pre-Raphaelite paintings cover the walls and depict the history of Northumberland.

The main rooms are south-facing and elegant with decorated ceilings and deep window seats, and in one there is a special collection known as Lady Wilson’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Yet it is a friendly, family home and has a room filled with dolls’ houses and a huge number of tin soldiers ready for battle. There’s a Nursery where the walls are decorated with tapestries and appliqu├ęd illustrations of nursery rhymes.
Throughout the house many of the wallpapers are pale and flowery and date back at least a hundred years.
Black and white photographs line the walls of the corridor outside the kitchen. They show smiling servants, obviously happy and appreciated by their forward thinking employers at Wallington Hall.



Saturday, 2 June 2012

Kindle Again.

It’s becoming very interesting to look at the books that are available on Kindle now and discover ones written by people we know.

I see a list of them by local author, Wendy Robertson. She has two teenage books; “Lizza” and “Cruelty Games” as well as adult novels, including “Paulie’s Web,” and “Gabriel Painting,”
 ‘If you liked the Pitmen Painters, you’ll enjoy this novel.’

Also "The Romancer - On Being a Writer," and several more.

I hope to put my own novels on to Kindle very soon, but at the moment I have a collection of short stories there – “Red Shoes and Other Stories,” priced at only 80p.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Gardens in May

A Mammoth Task

Raby Castle near Staindrop is a perfect place to be on a fine May day.  Walk in the acres of parkland where the deer roam freely; or sit in the 18th century garden with its ornamental pond and wide view of the castle; or find a quiet seat to read or create a story.
But the most dramatic feature of the gardens must be the Cloud Hedges; twice as high as a man and almost the same thickness. They are Yew, the darkest green and they’ve been there for 230 years.  According to the Head Gardener, it takes six weeks to clip them all, starting at the end of August and lasting until the middle of October. What an incredible achievement.

In contrast

Russell Square
garden in London is contained between busy roads and tall dense buildings and is obviously appreciated by all those people who live without gardens of their own. It is beautifully planted with herbaceous borders and gentle hedges and lime trees trained to provide a covered walk – all in the shade of trees that have been there since the park was created.

Near Waterloo Station in the heart of the city, traffic constantly roars past the sky-high buildings and even the trains are above eye-level, but turn a corner and discover a haven of peace – a beautifully kept garden surrounding the church of St John the Evangelist.  Satisfied pigeons sit contentedly on the smooth lawn.
The special feature of this garden is the mosaic work; small toadstools peeping out from under the trees and large benches big enough for 3 or 4 people, as well as a semi circle of seats near the entrance.  And around them all, beautiful flower-beds, tall roses and a small herb garden offer an escape from the busyness of the city.

                 "Our England is a garden, and gardens are not made by singing:-
                   'Oh How beautiful!' and sitting in the shade .
                                                            Rudyard Kipling, "The Glory of the Garden."                    

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Magic of Kindle

Next week I will be having a short holiday with the luxury of reading on the journeys both to and from London.  In the past I’d have carried one book and hoped I enjoyed it.  Now I own a Kindle – that amazing machine that can retain dozens of novels; so easily chosen from Amazon and downloaded with a single click.
For this holiday I have specially chosen a book written by a friend of mine, Avril Joy.
It is entitled “Blood Tide” and she lists it as a PI Danny Beck Novel; a detective story set in Newcastle-on-Tyne and Weardale, both areas she knows well.  It is a very different genre from her earlier books, “Sweet Track” and “The Orchid House.”
The cover of this one points to suspense and tragedy – wet streets and the long legs of two police officers.
I have followed the progress of this novel since it began and can say with certainty that like all of Avril Joy’s books, it will be a fantastic read.  I can’t wait to begin.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Red Shoes and Other Stories


A few days ago I uploaded a collection of short stories to Kindle and experienced such a feeling of excitement and satisfaction when I saw it highlighted in the Kindle Store and then with a single click downloaded to my own machine.
It really is amazing that such a thing is possible.                                         

Its title is “Red Shoes and Other Stories.” As you can see above, its cover has distinctive lettering over brooding water.  Two of the stories involve the sea, but they are all varied, each with its own genre, but linked by a single theme of “Searching.”
 Searching for happiness; for an identity; for a grand-daughter’s flat and for a long-gone childhood.
On the Kindle site a large arrow above the book invites readers to look inside and, like magic, the book opens.

One friend has already downloaded and read it.  She says “I loved the stories.  I like the way you write from a point of view that is not obvious.”

So, I do hope other people will discover this book. At 80p it’s great for a train journey or a motorway coach ride............ or simply a bedtime story.Red Shoes and Other Stories

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Holy Island

Holy Island. Lindisfarne.
Waves Crashing on The Stony Beach.

On Saturday I paid my first-ever visit to Holy Island.
All week the weather forecasters had predicted rain and temperatures colder than Christmas, but they were proved wrong. The sky was blue; the sea was shimmering as we crossed the Causeway to join 40 friends from the Escomb group of churches and reflect on one of the most important centres of British Christianity.
The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful as we walked through the village to Fiddlers Green and St Cuthbert’s Centre where there would be laughter and fun and a shared lunch that proved to be enough for tea and supper as well. Afterwards with the tide surrounding the island completely, we walked for about two miles enjoying the experience of being separated from the world.
We went down to a flat beach and looked across calm water to a tiny island that St Cuthbert had used as a retreat and is still used to this day – completely isolated for nine hours at a time according to the tides.  Then we scrambled up a stony hill and discovered an incredible view across to the Farne Islands and Berwick and beyond. Below was the busy harbour with its fishing boats and lobster pots and above was the castle, gaunt against the skyline. In the water, seals' heads popped up to welcome us.
Changing direction, we walked on until we reached a very different beach, stony and pounded by a rough sea. White waves threw up beautiful brown seaweed and that particular smell always associated with the sea.
The lane back to the village was The Crooked Lonnen, running between fields full of lambs, all fat and healthy in the sea air. Bluebells, surely bluer than usual, flowered in the verges with small clumps of white daisies beside them.
Back amongst the stone cottages and country inns we came across a tiny craft shop selling pottery and beautiful jewellery and with a shadowy bookshelf in the centre. I was surprised and delighted to find Erica Yeoman’s novel “Devil’s Drove” on sale.  Erica is one of our Whitworth Room-to-Write group.
Wood carving on the Font cover.

At 4 o’clock there was a short service in the Parish Church of St Mary with its rich stained glass windows and beautiful wood carvings – a life-sized one in the south aisle is of six monks carrying St Cuthbert’s coffin on the first stage of its journey to Durham. It is named The Journey. A smaller carving on the font cover represents the Holy Spirit descending to a child.                                                                                         

At 6 o'clock we crossed the Causeway again; quite safe now but still very wet; a reminder of the tide that rules the lives of all who live or visit there just as it did thousands of years ago.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Novels, Kindles and Authors.

April 23rd was World Book Night; a fact that would have escaped me had I not come across Kathleen Jones' blog and read her post.
The Book Night coincided with Shakespeare's birthday and in London thousands of books were to be given away free.  Many libraries held special events and on television, ITV produced a programme called "The Genius of Dahl" with David Walliams exploring his story-telling and talking to illustrator, Quentin Blake. On Woman's Hour Doris Lessing was to be interviewed, but unfortunately I didn't manage to catch either of these.
However, Kathleen's blog mentioned the fact that Kindle were offering free books to download on that night and I got one!  Apologies to Kathleen, I didn't choose her "Life of Christina Rossetti" but a thriller that seemed like an easy-read, before I tackle Tove Jansson's "Summer Book" and "Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky - both for the  reading group Room to Write and Read that meets at Whitworth Hall on May 21st.


Sunday, 22 April 2012

11 Year Olds and Writing

At our Writers Group last week we were presented with the unusual task of imagining ourselves as eleven year old children, sitting the SATS examination in English and to write a story in one hour.
We were given a sheet for planning the story; a long list of instructions about grammar and punctuation that should be used and another with details of the story to be written.
At first glance it seemed an onerous task for children, but somebody pointed out that eleven-year-olds had always been expected to reach this stage and she remembered learning all these things at her village school, which surprised some of the writers there.  However, I agreed with her.
Amongst the treasures at the back of my cupboard, I have an exercise book that I used when I was working towards the 11+ examination and hoping to win a place at the local Girls' Grammar school, so I rummaged in the back of that cupboard and unearthed the exercise book and sure enough, the English exercises were very similar to those required in today's SATS paper.
My writing was clear; the adjectives imaginative; the sentences rather formal but correct for that era and I'd learnt about punctuation. So really, little has changed.  And of course the 11+ was a very stressful examination taken in two parts with many children eliminated after the first one. Of those who progressed to the second, few reached the required standard.
The results were published in the Northern Echo on a specific date in August, often before the postman had delivered the official letter to the house, so imagine the nerve-racking search amongst the lists of names and the disappointment if yours was missing, but the triumph if it was there.
Mine was - the single success from my school that year.
I could look forward to bottle green uniforms; hockey sticks; violin lessons; latin and lots and lots of books. I would mix with girls travelling by bus from surrounding areas and those coming by train from Barnard Castle and even Middleton-in-Teesdale. During one extreme winter those girls still arrived and we were all given cups of hot cocoa, spoilt by the skin on the top of it. We ate our lunch at tables on the balcony overlooking the hall; that big space with a stage where the Headmistress stood in her black gown to address us all in Assemblies. At other times the hall was transformed into a gymnasium with punishing ropes that we were meant to climb and parrallell bars as well as wall bars - not my favourite lesson! The school was a new world and seemed so big to me at eleven, but at a re-union last year I saw that it was really quite small and compact compared to the huge Comprehensive scools that have developed now.
I realise how hard I must have worked and how fortunate I was to pass that 11+ examination that opened the doors to a whole new life.
Good luck to all the 11 year olds who will sit that SATS examination in a few weeks time.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Same Author;Different Genres

My novels were written in quick succession but are very different genres.
"The Smile of Deceit" is a murder-mystery set in a quiet hotel on the edge of the Lake District, while "The Bridge to the Moon" is a Family Saga, emotional and heart-warming.  And yet they are linked by the fact that they are both character driven and readers say that the people in them live on in their minds long after they've finished the books.     

A Lake District Garden
In "Smile of Deceit," Paul Hutchinson, a guest at the Ascot Hotel appeals to everybody because of his artificial leg and his unusual hobby of knitting, using wool in all the colours of the Lake District scenery. Then there is Donna who cleans the hotel and sees good in everybody; even her two-timing husband, Mark who is involved with Helen, wife of the hotel manager. Her innocent view of the situation is at odds with what is really happening amongst the staff and guests at this busy hotel.

"Bridge to the Moon" is a lively story that concentrates on Billy-Boy and Felicity, two young people from the same town, but totally opposing environments. Brought together by loneliness, an unlikely friendship develops and they struggle to support each other as the story moves from a Care Home in the north to  a hostel in London; from a prison cell to a flat in a castle. They battle to build a life together and when baby Marguerita is born they feel they have created a family that will last forever.
However, in a neighbouring town, another very respectable family is waiting to adopt!
In spite of all their trials, this story produces a determination and a will to succeed against all the odds.