I’m Fantasising About Oil Tankers

Some people blame all the world’s problems on oil and oil companies.  Right now, I’m some people.

Snow, a few weeks ago.
Snow, a few weeks ago.

Maybe it’s an East Anglian thing.  There are many things that the rest of you take for granted that we can’t.  We live near Waitrose.  We can get deliveries from most supermarkets, Amazon and most other delivery companies.  I can walk to the station in the next village and catch a train which will get me to London Liverpool Street in just over an hour.  However, we have no mains drainage;  every time it rains more than a little, our septic tank fills up and we can’t use our toilets.  We had no gas supply when we moved into our house thirty years ago..  We now do have a gas main in our street but, as we have a oil-fired boiler, we don’t use it.  Such is country life.

On Thursday, 1 March (over a fortnight ago), my husband noted that our oil tank was running a bit low, so he rang the oil company, who told him that they would make a delivery within twelve working days.  As they normally produce the goods in two or three days, we went on as normal, but, last weekend, my husband realised our oil was very low indeed, so we had to stop using the central heating.  “It’s not cold anymore,” said my husband.  Right. 

On Monday we rang the oil company again, only to be told that they didn’t know when we would get heating oil.  In fact, as their deliveries are outsourced, they had no idea which of their customers was getting oil when.  “The delivery companies keep their schedules close to their chest,” the oil company call centre told my husband who pays them by standing order every month.   Meanwhile, we were hearing of other people, including the elderly,  in our part of north Essex, having no oil for their heating for two weeks or more.  We’ve heard of other people going to oil depots with plastic containers.

We rang the oil company again this afternoon.  Still no idea.

Open window
My son suggested opening a window.

My son suggested opening windows, as “It’s warmer outside.”  Again, right.  My son lives in London.

So, here we are, shivering, dependent upon a log-burner and two convection heaters, and anticipating the return of the Beast from the East, with snow, tomorrow.  It takes me back to my childhood in Leicester.  My grandmother used to swear that a coal fire “Heats the whole house, me duck”.   I didn’t believe her even then.  I remember feeling that blast of icy air as you opened the living room door, the chill as you got out of bed.  It’s all coming back to me, in graphic detail, right now.


Celebrating Reaching Writing Goals

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so it’s Insecure Writers Support Group day, where we writers write about those things which undermine our confidence as writers.

This month we’re asked to write about how we celebrate when we achieve a writing goal or finish a story.  This is a difficult one for we novelists.  It’s not unusual for a novel to take ten years to write (will be much longer in my case).   I have completed novels before, a long time ago, but I was writing them in my own time and in my own way and, although I went through the motions of submitting them to publishers, I didn’t  realistically expect anyone else to read them.  I’m very self-conscious about my writing.  The idea of publicising a book I’ve written is just mind-bogglingly appalling.

Last January, at the Association of Christian Writers retreat, we were each of us asked to talk about our wip.  I was determined to keep it cool, along the lines of ‘Nothing much’, but,  maybe,  I said too little because, when somebody asked me a question, something burst inside me.  Annie Try, our wonderful chair, had to stop me speaking, because otherwise everybody would’ve missed their coffee break.  I followed them to the coffee servery, shaking.  I felt like I’d been stripped naked amongst them.  But, afterwards, several people came up to me and said they would be happy to do a preliminary read.  I haven’t given it to any of them yet, because the novel’s still not finished, but I’m very grateful for all the offers.  It’s taken me some time to realise that being able to take myself out of my writing closet and talk about my novel has been my greatest success so far.

Getting the News… and Other Uses of Newspapers

Let’s skip the news boy (I’ll go and make some tea)
They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)
And the thing I hate–Oh Lord!
Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation’s fate.

So sang Genesis in Blood on the Rooftops, in the album Wind and Wuthering in 1976.  The dots hide the racist bit.  (Well, it isn’t that racist, but it isn’t especially politically correct either.)

Man reading newspaper.  Cartoon.
Attrib http://www.publicdomainfiles.com

I believe it’s important to know what’s going on in The News.  I can get quite pompous about it and snooty with people who say things like ‘Politics is boring’ and ‘They’re all crooks, aren’t they?’  For years, since about 1980, actually, I’ve read The Daily Telegraph.  Ooh… I’ve just outed myself as a Torygraph reader.  I must anticipate being unfollowed and unfriended.

Now, having got that out of everybody’s system… even the most devout Leftie has to admit that there has to be a newspaper representing the views of moderate Conservatives.  The Telegraph is a well-researched and well-written paper, and, over the thirty-eight years I have flapped through its  broadsheet pages, I know that sometimes it follows the Conservative Party line and at other times is very critical of it.  For the last few years, the Telegraph has been very pro-Brexit, which has infuriated my husband, and taken to sensationalist headlines, which annoyed him even further.  We found we were reading it less and less.  Some days, the poor newspaper lay unfurled and unloved in the living room.

So, Dear Reader, we cancelled it.  We received our last edition on Christmas Eve.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (Joni Mitchell).  Instantly, I missed it.  It’s the sitting-down moment.  ‘I’ll just read the paper,’ you say, instantly justifying the sitting-down.  Of course, there are other news sources, which don’t involve flapping broadsheet pages about.  Broadsheet is a very inconvenient medium, impossible to peruse in a train or plane because of the acreage, or even in an armchair, and definitely not outside, in the garden or on the beach, or anywhere where there’s the breath of wind.  (Telegraph readers are the first to become aware of the slightest breeze.)

For a couple of months, I wasn’t following news at all, just popping into the BBC News in the evening, sometimes, but not always.  It doesn’t suit me.  I prefer to read.  I downloaded the BBC News app on my iPad ages ago, and, recently, I have started to use it, clicking on links which interest me.  I have found the range limited, just a handful of new news stories, whereas in a broadsheet there are hundreds.  Moreover, the articles are not all fresh, especially the features, which linger for days, even weeks.  Some features are very long indeed, providing far more detail than I need, for instance, on non-registered schools.  I’ve also obtained several other apps, which provide me with news bulletins, including Politico which sends me shock-horror stories about President Trump several times a day.  But I’m persevering.   I need a change.

Then the snow came.  On what am I supposed to put a pair of wet, snowy welly boots?  Or clean my shoes?  I can’t polish my shoes on Politico, now can I?

Boys’ Jobs and Girls’ Jobs

Fuse box
wikimedia commons

About a year ago, Theresa May, when discussing domestic arrangements at Number 10 Downing Street, mentioned that Philip (her husband) did the boys’ jobs, like taking out the rubbish.  In these emancipated times, there should be no boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs, but, as we all know, the reality is different.

My husband is currently away from home, visiting his mother, so, at midnight last night, I found out about one particular boys’ job I’ve always evaded.    I was on my way to bed.  I’m switching off the hall light downstairs and flicking the switch for the landing light, but, Dear Reader,  upstairs remains in darkness, however many times I press the switch up and down.  I grope my way up to the bedroom, where I observe the mains-powered alarm clock functioning normally.

Oh, I think.  Oh.

I can diagnose the problem, but my normal solution is to get my husband to deal with it.  The job involves a trip out into the Arctic (otherwise known as the garage), a stepladder and peering into a fuse box, with a torch.  A little girl like me can’t be expected to tackle such things.

But there’s no one but me.

I consider leaving the job until morning…

But, Dear Reader, if something’s got to be done, it might as well be done now.  I take a deep breath.  I pick up the big torch in the hall and press the button.  Nothing.  (Thank you, Grandson.  I suspect that’s you.  Switching on Grandpa’s torch and aiming the light face downwards on the desk seems to amuse you.  You forget about it and leave it like that.)  What sort of batteries do I need?  Where are the spare batteries?   I sort of know, but I can’t be bothered to start searching at twelve o five.  Hang on, he’s got another torch, on top of his hifi.  (Where else?)  It’s not as big, but it will do.

I unlock the garage door.  The blast of icy air can’t be good for me;  I’m nursing a chest infection.   I switch on the light.  Silly me!  Why all that bother over torches?  I can see perfectly well with the normal electric light.  I do have to find the stepladder and climb up it though.  I look into the fuse box.

One switch down…

Well, that’s one switch up now.  Suddenly the upstairs landing is bathed in yellow light.  Alleluia.  Anything you can do, dear, I can do too.

I can…

  • Put out the rubbish as well as any PM’s husband (black bin and recycling).
  • Prepare a log fire and even light it.
  • Hoover, even the bits which involve moving furniture.
  • I can do most of what I need to do on computers, iPads, iPhones or whatever, but I can’t manage television or DVD player.  This is not a problem for me, as I don’t watch television, although it can be when grandchildren are demanding Milkshake and we’ve got CeeBeebies on.

But, I must confess, I can’t change a wheel, or do any maintenance on my car.  For that, I have to go to the local garage and ask the GIRL who works there.

Nothing Much This Week

animated-frog-image-0015Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve just three book reviews for my Dear Reader blog.  I know some of my followers aren’t too bothered by book reviews, but I’d really appreciate it if you would take a look.  Just this once.   The books I reviewed are:

‘Katharina Luther Nun Rebel Wife’ by Anne Boileau.  As you’ve probably worked out from the name and the title, this is a biography of Martin Luther’s wife, but she was quite a girl.

‘American Notes for General Circulation’ by Charles Dickens (his research for Martin Chuzzlewit, btw, and… revealing the identity of the real Eden swamp.)

‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ by James Runcie.  The first of a series in cosy crime, and, apparently, appearing in a series on ITV.  (How do I miss this sort of thing?  Too busy writing (no, working) to watch telly, that’s what.)  Five more to read.  Bliss.  Plenty of dark winter evenings left.

What I’m saying is that, having written three book reviews, I think I’ve done my duty, and so I’m not posting on this – writing – blog this week.

Enjoy half-term week.



IWSG: What Do I Love About Historical Fiction Genre?

We IWSG-ers are asked, this month, about what we love about the genre we write in most often.  I write modern-historical, what some publishers would call contemporary, stories set in 1970s and 1980s.  According to the Historical Novel Society, a proper historical novel ‘must have been written at least fifty years after the events described’.
You’re expecting me to say the research is the thing I love most, aren’t you, Dear Reader?  But you’d be wrong.  As a history student (a long time ago), I spend three years with my bum on a seat in various libraries around Manchester, researching.  I would often find myself sitting next to one or more of my history honours colleagues, most frequently, next to Anne, who is now a professor of medieval history.  In those days, libraries were supposed to be silent, but we used to chat and giggle… about boys mostly.  So, nowadays, I do my initial research impatiently, wanting to get on with writing the story, and then further research, as required, as I go along.
What I really love about historical fiction is immersing myself in another era.  I love the challenge of writing about people who don’t have all the mod cons we have, how they communicated without computers, for instance.  My lot had telephones… some of the time, when their telecommunications weren’t cut off for political reasons.   I like using contemporary language, referring to contemporary issues and, especially, pop music.  I suppose there is an element of nostalgia in it… which brings me on to another point.  What I have found is that, in writing modern historical, I need a lot of background information about how ordinary people lived their lives.  This is more necessary for me in my modern historical sub-genre than for writers in the proper historical genre, because there are people still alive who lived that life and who would know if I get it wrong.  What I really would like is a library of personal reminisces, written by those people.  Couldn’t we writers write one?
The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, when we post on our own blogs, about our doubts and the fears, which we may (or may not) have conquered, our struggles and triumphs.  We also give support and encouragement to each other.

Competition Tips

sad_100Apologies for the many re-blogs over the last few weeks.  Due to work and other commitments, I haven’t had time to compose my own posts.   Since the beginning of January,  I’ve probably written more words than anyone, Dear Reader, but the not right sort of writing.  Together with a lot of other things, I’ve actually produced four worksheets on how to use WordPress to build a website.  I completed the last worksheet last night.   They are for the web development class I’m teaching, but I’m happy to share.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Association of Christian Writers Committee Retreat in Northampton.  The ACW Historical Fiction comp closed to entries on New Year’s Eve and winners have been notified.  We are now working towards the next ACW comp, which will be for journalism.  The launch date is Saturday 10 March, so look out the ACW Competitions page at around that time.  ACW comps are free to ACW members and, for non-members, the fees are only £3 for the first entry and £2 for the second.  Almost free!  We do good prizes too, £25 book token for first prize and £10 for second prize.

If you’re wondering what on earth Psalm 137 is about, look closely at this map!

After the journalism comp, the ACW comps that follow will be:  a piece in any format based upon the first verses of Psalm 137 and then a comp for writing for children.  I understand that some writers are put off entering ACW comps because they don’t feel confident about writing Christian bits.  What I would say is you don’t have to lay it on with a trowel.  Contemporary Christian fiction isn’t like that.

I  thoroughly enjoy being involved in ACW competitions, although my role is organising and administering them, not judging.  I have to find suitable judges, sometimes, although, mostly, my ACW colleagues are good at making suggestions.  The other day, I read a very interesting post on Patsy Collins blog, Words about writing and writing about words, in which another writer, Sheila Crosby, was talking about being a judge of writing comps.  I endorse every bit of advice Sheila gives, with two additions:

  • Check the format required. If the comp asks for play-script or poem, don’t enter a short story on default, as, I’m afraid, a lot of entrants do.
  • Check the file type required. Most comps ask for .doc or .docx (ie Word formats). Me, I’m a nice helpful competition manager, and I will try and rescue works in other formats, but not every comp manager is like me. It is possible to convert from Mac formats and OpenOffice formats to Word format, but this is not always straightforward. If you can’t work it out, query the person running the comp.

Hope to be writing proper posts on schedule from now on.  I’m off now to attempt to finish an article I’ve been trying to write for about three weeks, then to review a couple of books on my Dear Reader blog.

Writing a Novel: Cutting Out The B.S

If you’re writing a novel, this is all very good stuff.

Sorry nothing from me this week. Am awaiting learning observation in… 40 minutes. Very scary! Ask any teacher.

Blog About Writing

The more I try to write a novel, the more I feel like I’m learning to write all over again.

I’ve got until the end of January to get the second draft done and sent off for a critique, so now I’m going through the first draft (which is as rough as a bear’s bum) and:

1. making a list of all the scenes (so many mad ideas! Some to be jettisoned, some to be expanded).
2. sorting out the ‘backstory’ and putting those pages into a pile of their own, clearly (and rather appropriately), labelled ‘BS’.

When I went on a novel-writing weekend last October, I was told in no uncertain terms, that my first 5000 words were (pah!) ‘backstory’ (ie: stuff that comes before the ‘narrative frame’ of the novel) and, it seems, that’s a typical rookie mistake.

Another delegate on the course confided that she’d had to…

View original post 565 more words

The Last Day of Christmas

Can’t stop long.  Am reading Anne Boileau’s Katharina Luther, Nun Rebel and Wife, which is amazing and I’ve got to finish it for book club on Tuesday afternoon, when the author herself is coming to deliver a talk on Katharina Luther and her book.  Actually we’ve all known Anne for a long time, as a member of the congregation of our neighbouring church and by another name – her real name.  It’s great to read a very local author.

January 2018, Together magazineIn the meantime – and on a much smaller scale – my article on church bookshops (Do We Need Bookstalls Inside Churches?) has been published in the January edition of Together magazine (Together being the journal of CRT (Christian Resources Together), which supports all Christian publishing.)  Of course, one and only husband found a SPAG, a word omitted – my besetting sin, since I started writing stories at junior school.)

Christmas decorations in bags, having been packed up.It is now the end of Christmas.  Today is 6 January, Epiphany, the last of the twelve days of Christmas.  First thing this morning, OOH and I took down the decorations and put the tree outside.  They’re all in bags now, waiting to go into the attic.  I do love watching the Christmas lights on our Christmas tree, but there’s something very refreshing about seeing the house uncluttered by cards and dangling Christmas lights with trailing electric leads.  The days have started getting longer and lighter, really, honestly… well, a bit anyway.  Not so nice is having to prepare my lessons Bags full of teaching materials, ready for work tomorrow.tomorrow.

So, it’s down to work and down to writing… I hope.  Dear Reader, you saw my writing schedule in my previous post.  First thing is I have to write a blog post for the Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog for Saturday, 13 January.  However, already every day life is intervening.  I’ve just had to pay £300 on my car.  I took it into my usual garage to get its indicators sorted out, only to be told, by the mechanic, that all my tyres were almost illegal.  Seeing as I will be taking my poor little car to the same garage for its MOT in a couple of months, I had to get it sorted out.  Ouch, says my poor old bank account.  Ouch.  When are you going back to work, it asks, and when are going to be able to feed me again?

Schedule for Writing and Publishing?

Insecure Writers Support Group badge
ISWG badge

The day has come… for the Insecure Writers Support Group.  This month, we are asked what sort of schedule we have in place for writing and publishing.  I sort of alluded to this in my previous post (about New Year Resolutions).  My biggest issue at the moment is that I’m teaching and doing other (paid) jobs, also I’m Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers and involved in leading services and preaching at church.  Contrary to what everybody believes about teachers (‘You get your long holidays, don’t you?’ Snigger, snigger, snigger.  Btw, we don’t.  Not in the adult sector), we work very hard, preparing lessons and doing all the paperwork required by management.  Moreover, although I enjoy my role in the ACW enormously, it does take up a lot of my time, as does what I do in church.  So…. a very crowded life, even though I retired, once, from full-time teaching, and this year I’ve got to think about what has to go.  (Put it another way, what I can afford to go.)

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Last month, I did myself an Author Photo – using the selfie tool on my iPhone (see right).

My schedule so far (not necessarily in this order) is pretty ropey:

  1. Edit The Novel whenever I get a spare moment.
  2. On completion of 1, consider structure of The Novel and re-edit.
  3. Write article on rejection for Christian Writer (already pitched).
  4. Read books in later historical genres.
  5. Read and review books published by Instant Apostle (because I’m in their Facebook group and who knows… they might be interested.)
  6. On completion of 1 and 2, seek an editor (probably seeking advice of someone in ACW).
  7. By 1 November 2018, be in a position to start Nano with a new book!

… And I think that’s enough to be going on with. However ropey my schedule seems to you, Dear Reader, I certainly won’t get around to doing anything more.