Stories for Children in Lockdown

At the beginning of April Yahoo set up a short story competition for stories
to entertain children during the lockdown. Yahoo's inaugural short story writing contest

Yesterday, 27 April, they announced the 20 shortlisted stories Just 1,500 words – no more, no less.

and mine, FLYING COLOURS, is one of them.

The stories are now open to public vote (until 8 May) and if you’d like to vote for mine, find story No 16 and drag the purple and white icon between the 1♥ & 10♥ to register your vote. If you do decide to vote, thank you. The 14 most-voted-for stories will be recorded (with the help, as Yahoo Stor14s say, of some famous friends) and made into free podcasts for children to give them story-friends during isolation.

As I wrote mine, I thought about the NHS frontline staff as they do their best to beat the virus, and I thought of all the paintings of rainbows children have put in their windows. rainbowBadge | - Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust I wrote a Just-So allegory that turned the NHS staff into African starlings fighting a deadly locust swarm who, for their courage, are awarded their FLYING COLOURS.

And it is true, as the story tells, that African starlings evolved from plain black
to brilliantly coloured. There’s more about their evolution under the starling. Starling - Wikipedia

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Poems for these Coronavirus Times

Read by Christopher Eccleston, written by Matthew Kelly for his partner,
Jill Scully, who is a district nurse.

And here’s one from our poet laureate, Simon Armitage, which, as explained in this Guardian article, moves from the outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam in the 17th century, when a bale of cloth from London brought fleas carrying the plague to the Derbyshire village, to the epic poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa.

Lockdown by Simon Armitage

And I couldn’t escape the waking dream
of infected fleas

in the warp and weft of soggy cloth
by the tailor’s hearth

in ye olde Eyam.
Then couldn’t un-see

the Boundary Stone,
that cock-eyed dice with its six dark holes,

thimbles brimming with vinegar wine
purging the plagued coins.

Which brought to mind the sorry story
of Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre,

star-crossed lovers on either side
of the quarantine line

whose wordless courtship spanned the river
till she came no longer.

But slept again,
and dreamt this time

of the exiled yaksha sending word
to his lost wife on a passing cloud,

a cloud that followed an earthly map
of camel trails and cattle tracks,

streams like necklaces,
fan-tailed peacocks, painted elephants,

embroidered bedspreads
of meadows and hedges,

bamboo forests and snow-hatted peaks,
waterfalls, creeks,

the hieroglyphs of wide-winged cranes
and the glistening lotus flower after rain,

the air
hypnotically see-through, rare,

the journey a ponderous one at times, long and slow
but necessarily so.

There are more links to more poems from Sunday’s Guardian article. And, as the article says:

A new anthology of verse written by NHS staff including doctors, cleaners and interpreters was also released in March. These Are the Hands takes its name from a poem by author and poet Michael Rosen, who is ill with coronavirus at the moment, and all proceeds are going to NHS Charities Together’s Covid-19 appeal.

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Wise and kind words for the Coronavirus pandemic by Adrie Kusserow

This poem for these strange times is written by Adrie Kusserow after Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese : it speaks for itself.

Mary Oliver for Corona Times, thoughts after the poem Wild Geese,

by Adrie Kusserow, ethnographic poet

You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
By using this time to work even more, write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).
Tell me about your fictions, the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world as we know it is crumbling.
Meanwhile the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms and trailer parks.
Meanwhile the News barks at you, harsh and addicting,
Until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.
Meanwhile a new paradigm is composing itself in our minds,
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
From the same tired hegemonies.

Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
Stunned by what you see,
Uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
Because it gives you something to do.

Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
Do not let capitalism coopt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.
Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
Your stress boa-constricting your chest.
Know that your ancy kids, your terror, your shifting moods,
Your need for a drink have every right to be here,
And are no less sacred than a yoga class.

Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you, calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.
It is your birthright to be held
deeply, warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.  💚

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Can we ever know our parents as individuals? And One Green Thing: cling film storage alternatives

This year my sisters and I had the family ciné films transferred to DVD and I’ve just watched them all. And as I watched the parts where we children didn’t feature, I wondered if it’s ever possible for children to know their parents as individual independent humans? And I came to the conclusion that it’s only possible if we have the wit and the objectivity to ask questions about the times when they weren’t with us. Questions about the times before we were born, times when they were at work or on holiday or at play; when they were thinking and feeling and being and doing without us, not about us. Or, that they tell us.

This is, naturally, a rich vein for a storyteller. But in the real world, now that both my parents are dead, I wish I’d asked more questions about their attitudes, their feelings, their hopes, their fears, their experiences, the parts of their lives that made them individuals, the parts of their lives that had nothing to do with me. Because they didn’t tell much.

Clear Light Bulb Placed on Chalkboard

Image from Pixabay

And my One Green Thing this month is alternatives to plastic cling film for food storage. We’ve been using these for a while:but this article lists eight others, including this, which is, apparently, a Stasher Silicone Storage Pouch: More here. And here’s a plastic-free shop.

The Plastic Free Shop

Posted in Drink, Food, One Green Thing, Parents, Plastic, Storage, Storytelling, Writing | 2 Comments

A Warming Valentine to the World (and vegan vogue)

A friend of mine told me about the speech Prince Charles made at this year’s Davos World Economic Forum who say, in their Mission Statement:

We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.

The theme for January 2020 was Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World; highlight speakers on the How to Save the Planet theme were Greta Thunberg (obviously), Jennifer Morgan (Greenpeace), Mark Carney (Governor, Bank of England, until March), Al Gore (remember him?), Jane Goodall, Nicholas Stern, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and Frans Timmermans, VP, European Green New Deal.

And Prince Charles, ‘urging us back from the brink’. I was surprised to discover he’d been speaking about climate change but I shouldn’t have been, he’s been doing it since 2005, see here. And, on the Economic Forum’s 2020 highlights page, I found this:

Who said this, Charles or Greta?

‘Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced … We simply cannot waste anymore time … the time to act is now.’

‘The transition isn’t going to be easy. It will be hard. And unless we start facing this now together, with all cards on the table, we won’t be able to solve this in time … . No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency and create a cohesive and sustainable world.’

Answers here, and here.


  They both sent Warming Valentines to the World.

Part of Prince Charles’s speech at Davos:

Throughout the year … I will be convening a broad range of industry and issue roundtables including, but not limited to: aviation; water; carbon capture and storage; shipping; forestry; plastics; financing; digital technology; the bioeconomy; nature-based solutions; renewable energy; batteries, storage and electric vehicles; fisheries; integrated healthcare; cement; steel; traceability and labelling; and agriculture – at the end of which I shall probably be dead.

The last phrase made me laugh. The full speech is here: it echoes Greta Thunberg’s urgency (in its last phrase below, word for word). His last words were:

Everything I have tried to do, and urge, over the past fifty years has been done with our children and grandchildren in mind, because I did not want to be accused by them of doing nothing except prevaricate and deny the problem. Now of course, they are accusing us of exactly that. Put yourselves in their position, Ladies and Gentlemen. We simply cannot waste any more time – the only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.


And as if that’s not enough greening, my One Green Thing this month: did you know you can buy vegan make-up and skin care things? I didn’t, but I do now. The thing to look out for on products is the Vegan Trademark Sign:

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Good news to begin 2020; Splosh! (to reduce plastic) and beautiful new year lights

So often good news doesn’t make the news, so here are a few good pieces of news to start 2020 with, from Future Crunch (where you’ll find 99 other good pieces of news, divided into categories). One of the founders of Future Crunch, Dr Angus Hervey, says:

If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.

I’ve chosen five good news stories, one from each category in the 99.

CONSERVATION (17 entries): 5. Dolphins are breeding in the Potomac River in Washington for the first time since the 1880s, whale populations are exploding off the shores of New York, and 100 seal pups have been born on the shores of the Thames, 60 years after the river was declared ‘biologically dead.’ Telegraph

GLOBAL HEALTH (21 entries): 19. The Global Burden of Disease Report said that between 1990 and 2017, the number of kids and teenagers dying around the world decreased by more than half, from 13.77 million to 6.64 million. CNN

LIVING STANDARDS (13 entries): 41. Save the Children’s 2019 Global Childhood Report showed that in the last 20 years, children’s lives have improved in 173 out of 176 countries. Compared to 2000, today there are:
– 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year
– 49 million fewer stunted children
– 130 million more children in school
– 94 million fewer child labourers
– 11 million fewer girls forced into marriage or married early
– 3 million fewer teen births per year
– 12,000 fewer child homicides per year

PEACE, SAFETY & HUMAN RIGHTS (24 entries): 52. Democracy is proving far more resilient than the headlines suggest. Since 2000, the number of democracies has risen from 90 to 97, including 11 countries that became democratic for the first time ever, and in 2019, 2 billion people in 50 countries voted, the largest number in history. Al Jazeera

ENERGY & SUSTAINABILITY (24 entries): 76. The world’s largest multilateral financial institution, The European Investment Bank, agreed to stop all financing for fossil fuels, and committed to investing half of its entire annual outlay — not just its energy budget — on climate action and sustainability by 2025. Guardian

I found the 99 good things site on a friend’s FB site, here. And if you read to, or simply go to the very end of the article  you’ll find one last good thing, No 100, which is delightful.

My One Green Thing this month is all about bottles. When we buy water in bottles, we’ve decided to buy it in glass ones instead of plastic ones because although, according to this article:

We still only recycle about 50% of our used glass in the UK … it takes less energy to recycle glass than it does to make new glass from raw materials.
Despite a ‘War on Plastic’  … [and recycling 45% of it in the UK] … 55% of our plastic waste ends up in landfills, or the ocean.

Drinking water from the tap would clearly be the greenest way (and unrecycled glass is as bad as unrecycled plastic because the former doesn’t decompose and plastic takes aeons to decompose). But when we buy cleaning products in bottles, we buy them from Splosh! I wrote about them in June under the thing I’d like to have invented. I’m recycling what I wrote for this month’s One Green Thing because it’s such a simple way to cut down on plastic-bottle waste: Splosh! supply cleaning products in the most non-plastic-proliferating, single-use plastic way. Here’s what they say:

Plastic waste is messing up our oceans and littering our land. Every plastic bottle you buy in a supermarket makes the problem worse. We have a fix.

Their fix is that you only ever use one plastic bottle per product: Splosh sells refills that fit through your letterbox so you don’t have to be in when they arrive, and they recycle the refill pouches. Read more here.



And here are some beautiful new year lights from a friend of mine to wish you a healthy, joyful and peaceful new year.

Posted in Art, Climate Change, Creativity, Democracy, Equality, Good News, Health, Human Rights, Living Standards, One Green Thing, Plastic, Recycling | Comments Off on Good news to begin 2020; Splosh! (to reduce plastic) and beautiful new year lights

A Vote for the Planet; a Christmas rose; and plant a tree for Christmas

By the time you read this we’ll know the result of the UK General Election and I hope with all my heart we’ll have voted for the planet above our membership (or not) of the EU, and everything else that matters so much. Because if we haven’t, where and how will our grandchildren live, no matter how good their healthcare and education, let alone the state of the nation’s economy and its relationships with other countries? In the constituency where I live vote for the planet is a Labour vote.

In this article, George Monbiot writes that a vote for the planet is a vote for Labour or the Greens. But a vote for the Greens where I live might let the Tories in … so I hope I’ll have woken up this morning to find that Fleur Anderson has won here. Because Labour’s coherent and urgent policy for a Green New Deal is a policy that accepts we’re living in a climate emergency and includes a target for the UK to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 (as does the Greens’) – even though the unions have pushed for progress towards 2030 rather than completion by 2030 for fear of job losses. The Conservatives say 2050 (but in 2015 they scrapped nine green policies); the LibDems 2045. Neither are good enough.

**UPDATE** Fleur Anderson did get in, and she has pledged to take urgent climate action: may she persuade others to do so. Fleur Anderson is also a remainer, but as we now know, Labour didn’t return anything like enough MPs to Parliament so, may the Tories have the sense and the compassion to spend money to improve all the necessary domestic things (NHS, social care, education and housing), AND the green things, as they take us out of the EU.

And here is a Christmas Rose: a symbol of love and hope despite the poison it contains.

And, instead of a Christmas tree, whose chopping down stops the absorption of poisonous greenhouse gasses and the release of oxygen into the air (young trees absorb CO2 at a rate of 13 pounds per tree each year … and by 10 years old they release enough oxygen … to support two human beings) why not pledge to plant a tree instead? This is my One Green Thing for the month (which, from now on, will replace my thing I’d love to have invented). My other half’s daughter and my nieces and nephews have enthusiastically said yes to my pledge to plant trees for them for Christmas. You too can plant a tree, or trees. to offset your carbon footprint – and give presents – here.

Image by extremis from Pixabay

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100 Novels That Shaped Our World; free travel with a book and One Green Thing

Four women and two men have just chosen 100 Novels That Shaped Our World. The choosers are: Stig Abell, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, Syima Aslam, founder of the Bradford Literature Festival, authors Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal and Alexander McCall Smith and journalist Mariella Frostrup. The 100 novels are divided into 10 categories: Identity; Love, Sex & Romance; Adventure; Life, Death & Otherworlds; Politics, Power & Protest; Class & Society; Coming of Age; Family & Friendship; Crime & Conflict and Rule Breakers.

And the thing I love about the way the choosers chose is that they chose novels that’d made a personal impact on them and, as Juno Dawson said in a Guardian article here, they chose books that allowed the

Emotions behind a novel to factor into our choices, not how many copies it’s sold, or if it’s considered a work of great literature.

The full 100 list is here, and in the link in the first line, above. I was so delighted to see Ali Smith’s How to Be Both in Rule Breakers and Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes in Family & Friendship; Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne in Class & Society and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in Politics, Power & Protest. If you’d asked me, I wouldn’t have said I was a reader of novels in that category, but clearly I am. The Chronicles of Narnia and Frankenstein both feature in Life, Death & Otherworlds; Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion and – how could it not be there? – Pride & Prejudice are in Love, Sex & Romance and Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the ten in Identity.

I would have loved to have seen John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman on the list: it made a colossal impact on me, for its innovative form but mainly for its story of a woman trapped by her society, and I’m sure there are novels you’ll feel should have been included. You can tweet about what you’d love to have seen on the list using the hashtag #mybooklife … and what the choosers hope is that their choices will spark debate. Whatever you feel about the list, it’s a wonderful endeavour that sets us thinking the thoughts and above all feeling the feelings that our most beloved novels stirred. And there’ll be three BBC TWO programmes about the 100 Novels on 9, 16 & 23 November.

The thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is also book-linked: in The Netherlands, on their National Book Day, you could travel on trains without buying a ticket if you had a book about your person. Glorious idea and thanks to James Sebastian on Facebook for posting.

And, from now on, each month, I’m going to post One Green Thing I’ve done or seen or noticed or one day will do: this month I pledged not to fly (at all!) in 2020 here, because of this:If it’s too small to read, click on the pic to go to the original. But, fundamentally, it shows that one long-haul flight, just one, is the same as a year’s driving in terms of exhausting one person’s annual carbon footprint. And, as discussed here, the single most useful thing we individuals can do to help curb the climate change crisis is to cut out / cut down our fossil fuel consumption.

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Greta Thunberg and climate change; There is No Planet B; Extinction Rebellion and solastalgia

On Friday 20 and Friday 27 September Global Climate Strikes took place across the world, inspired by Greta Thunberg who began her Friday school strikes in August 2018. She sat outside the Swedish Parliament to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. The #FridaysforFuture movement has snowballed, as you must have noticed, into a global protest movement to persuade our politicians to act according to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change enacted in 2016 which states that all signatories will:

Strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Here are some of the thing Thunberg said at a Climate Protest in Hamburg in March and, at the World Economic Forum in Davos at the beginning of the year. But at the UN Climate Summit on 23 September in New York (to which she sailed) she made her strongest speech yet. Listen to her, especially this: ‘You all come to us young people for hope. But we are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?’

How dare we indeed. To stop poisoning our planet and its atmosphere; to stop heading for extinction, we must spend money. A lot of money. We need to invest in green energy and green jobs, put an end to airport expansion and fracking and leave fossil fuels in the earth. We need to spend money to find non-polluting alternatives. In the US, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez estimates the cost at at least $10 trillion. But the alternative is a planet where our children and grandchildren will be unable to live.

Ann Pettifor, one of the founders of the UK’s Green New Deal proposal (11 long years ago – why weren’t we listening?) says, full interview here:

You can’t have a capitalist, carbon-belching economy, or delusions of exponential growth, and believe you can achieve ecological targets within that [my bold]. … Finance, economy, and the environment are integrated … you need a joined-up policy that deals with all three.

and, from the Green New Deal Bill text: Not to invest in a Green New Deal would be, in fact, to inflict great economic, environmental and social self-harm on the nation.

At the Labour Party Conference this September delegates voted for a version of the Green New Deal that would commit a Labour government to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. But Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement in 2017 because he said it would impose unacceptable costs on the US economy and provide unfair advantages to other countries like China and India. What on Earth was he thinking? In a May 2019 article in the UK edition of The Conversation, this statistic was quoted:

The cost to the global economy if the Paris Agreement is not met and the world hits 4˚C warmer … is an estimated US$23 trillion a year over the long-term [my bold]. This has been likened to the world experiencing four to six global financial crises on the scale of 2008 every year. [Click the links in this quote for the economic details.]

The UK was the first country to declare an Environment & Climate Emergency in response to Thunberg’s speech to Parliament in April 2019, and in September a Green New Deal Bill was tabled (not for the first time). But, so far, it hasn’t become law.

In There is no Planet B, Mike Berners-Lee suggests the things individuals (as well as governments) can do to help stop climate change.

Image result for there is no planet b

So please do something. Because we all need to act. Now. Here’s what Extinction Rebellion will be doing between 7 & 20 October where I live. And here, in the rest of the world.

In Robert Macfarlane’s majestic Underland, in chapters called The Edge and The Blue of Time, he writes about how what we excrete comes back to consume us; about a nuclear base that’s re-emerging from the ice when those who buried it thought it would remain buried forever; about unweder or unweather, weather so extreme that it seems to have come from another climate or time altogether, and about solastalgia a word coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003 which means distress caused by environmental change. I’m solastalgic and I’ll remain solastalgic until we collectively start behaving as if, as Greta Thunberg put it, ‘The house is on fire.’ Before it really is.Underland

And the thing I wish I could make, in an alternative universe where time is unlimited and all things are possible, is a world where we all pull together to make sure that our planet continues to exist sustainably for our children and our grandchildren and all their children’s children. Just the way we were so sure it would, when we were young.

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City Tales, and Hive

Since 2004, Oxford University Press has been publishing volumes of City Tales, collections of short stories set in European cities translated into English. The guiding idea is to give the English-speaking reading traveller (I paraphrase):

Stories expertly translated by writers with an intimate knowledge of the city in question. The collections have black-and-white photographs to illustrate each story and a map to show their location.

This, to me, is the best kind of guidebook: fiction set in a city I’m visiting which means the streets and squares I go to are filled not only with themselves, but with images from the stories I’ve just read. The collections include bibliographies of the writers, lists of further reading and viewing for each city, informative general introductions and more specific introductions to the writers. The one I’ve begun reading, Rome Tales, includes stories from fourteenth-century authors (Boccaccio and an Anonymous Roman) to the twenty-first century Melania Mazzucco by way of Casanova and Pasolini to name just six of the fourteen.

Clearly it’s time I went back to Rome.

And the thing I’d like to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is HIVE. It’s a way of buying music, DVDs and, especially, books online, but at the same time making a donation to your local independent book shop so they won’t go under. What they say, here, is:

We don’t want any more independent bookshops to close. That’s why we give them a cut from every single order on Hive.

It’s still better by far to go to your local indy, but if you can’t, or if there’s no longer one near you, this seems to be the next best thing. My local bookshop didn’t appear on HIVE’s list but any bookshop can apply to join (and I’ve just sent mine the info). The only rule appears to be that they have an account with Gardners (who distribute books, DVDs and music wholesale).

Posted in Bookshops, Fiction, Places, reading, Reviews, Storytelling, Things I'd Love to Have Made, Uncategorized, Writing | Comments Off on City Tales, and Hive

Janet Clare on getting published later on, and Vice’s Broadly.

I’ve been meaning to read this article by an older writer about starting to write later in life and how, after a very long writing journey and the discovery that every writer makes at some point, that all writing is rewriting, her novel was published. It’s only taken me eight months to get round to reading her article, but it took Janet Clare (at a guess, from her article) twenty+ years to find a publisher, via an agent who did nothing, a life-threatening illness, a course at UCLA, a beloved mentor who died (but whose advice lived on in Clare) and, naturally, a lot of what my mother used to call sticktoitiveness. Clare’s journey to publication is a wonderfully uplifting and properly positive story for any writer, especially an older female one.

Time Is the Longest Distance

I’ve just ordered a copy of her novel from my local indie bookshop, but you can also find it here and I’m seriously looking forward to reading it. By the way, I’ve just discovered (courtesy of the internet) that the title comes from The Glass Menagerie, a play about a son and brother’s memory of his mother and sister. It was Tennessee Williams first big success:

I didn’t go to the moon. I went much further, for time is the longest distance between two places.

The complete speech is here. But the title feels very fitting for a novel set in the harsh, dry, hot Australian outback about a middle-aged woman’s discovery of herself and the ‘power and destruction of [family] secrets’.


Vice’s Broadly, ‘A digital platform for women’ (isn’t there just so much of the digital world that people like me – older and a reader of print books and a listener to the radio for news – don’t even know exists)? But the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe (this really is one) where time is infinite and everything is possible is Vice’s Broadly. Just one example:

This is Fine

Our Sunday newsletter tracks the specific ways we go about improving our days. Every week, a new contributor shares an essay about a strategy they employ to feel better, alongside annotations from members of Sad Girls Club, a community that focuses on mental health.This is Fine
Click on the image to find out more or Get it in your inbox here

I found Broadly while reading the book I wrote about last month, Comfort Zones, and when you surf the net (do we still say that?) to discover more after a new discovery, you find all kinds of things you never knew existed. The future belongs to the curious. Anon.

Posted in Creativity, Cyberspace, Fiction, Internet, Psychology, reading, Rewriting, Things I'd Love to Have Made, Women, Writers, Writing, Writing Courses | Comments Off on Janet Clare on getting published later on, and Vice’s Broadly.

Comfort Zones, and Client Earth

The other day, in Chichester, I found and bought a book. This is a (very) common thing in my life (although it usually happens in London) but I bought this book in Jigsaw which isn’t a bookshop. Copies were sitting on the counter when I went to pay (yes, I did buy a dress) and a friend of mine and I bought one each. The book’s called Comfort Zones and you can buy it here. This is how it’s described on its website:

A collection of essays and stories written by 28 women writers, Comfort Zones has been published by Jigsaw and edited by Sonder & Tell in aid of Women for Women International. We asked writers to think about their usual subject matter, and then work against it. You’ll find journalists tackling their first works of fiction, reflective essays that take an unflinching look at past failures as well as big ideas for creating a kinder world. All proceeds go to the incredible work of the charity, Women for Women International.

Women for Women International helps women survivors of war to rebuild their lives. And the essays I’ve read so far are inspiring. I recommend it. And here’s a little aside: because Jigsaw sells clothes and not books, usually, when you click on the link to buy Comfort Zones you’ll see a description of the book’s dimensions and appearance under Fit and Features … .

And the thing I’d like to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is Client Earth. A friend of mine told me that David Gilmour recently put his guitars into an auction at Christie’s, New York, where they sold for an astonishing £17 million. But far more importantly, Gilmour donated all that money to Client Earth. Here he is talking about it. And the thing is, Client Earth is a collection of lawyers who:

Use the power of the law to protect the planet and the people who live on it.

Roll on the day when there are laws that make it illegal for us to destroy our home in any way. And when that day comes, it will be a very very good day.

Posted in Bookshops, Climate Change, Design, Fiction, Things that don't fit anywhere else, Women, Writers, Writing | 1 Comment

The Benefits of Reading the Old-Fashioned Way; and Splosh!

I found this article about the benefits of reading to children at a young age on Mental Floss a little while ago: April, I think. Anyway I’ve just refound it and it delights me to know that a 2018 study has discovered that:

The simple act of reading to your kids can influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn’t receive the same intervention.

Parents reading to their two young children.Reading to kids isn’t just a way to get them excited about books at a young age — it’s also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development.

Also, new research suggests that:

Not every type of book has the same impact. Reading out loud from physical print books, as opposed to reading words off a screen, leads to richer interactions between parents and children The New York Times reports.

And this 2018 report suggests that ebook sales are no longer greater than the sales of print books. A statistic that makes my heart sing (and it’s a rare statistic that does that).

And the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite so all things are possible is Splosh! They supply cleaning products, but they do it in the most eco-friendly, non-plastic-proliferating, single-use plastic way. Here’s what they say:

Plastic waste is messing up our oceans and littering our land. Every plastic bottle you buy in a supermarket makes the problem worse. We have a fix.

Their fix is that you only ever use one plastic bottle per product: Splosh sells refills that fit through your letterbox so you don’t have to be in when they come, and they recycle the refill pouches. Read more here.



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Anne Lamott’s Twelve True Things; and Human Libraries

Anne Lamott, whose Bird by Bird helped me immeasurably when I was writing my first novel, Speaking of Love (I was stuck, didn’t know what to write or how, but Lamott’s Bird by Bird dispelled my despair, took my hand and led me step by step through the possibilities and the process, restored my confidence and gave me back my sense of humour, thank you, Anne ) … Anne Lamott decided to write down ‘Every single true thing I know’ a few years ago. Here are Four (of Twelve).

Number One:

The first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked [tricked, on this side of the pond]. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. I don’t think it’s an ideal system.

Number Two:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.

Number Five:

Chocolate with 75% cacao is not actually a food.

Number Ten:

Grace. Grace is spiritual WD-40, or water-wings … . The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world. To summon grace, say, HELP, and then buckle up.

That last sentence is fixed to my keyboard tray so I see it and attempt to do it, every day. And when I asked Lamott for permission to quote from these truths she replied:

Yes, help yourself—everyone, to anything I’ve written.

Generosity personified.

Her Sixth Truth is about writing and about Bird by Bird: it’s full of wonderful words for writers (and for life). All Twelve of Lamott’s True Things are here: they’re human and thoughtful and funny and reassuring and wise. And the last one, about death, is very very moving. I highly recommend reading them, often. And this, for writing and for life:Image result for lamott bird by bird images

And the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel world where time is infinite and all things are possible is a Human Library. Imagine this: instead of books on shelves, human beings sit at tables ready to tell their life stories to anyone who comes to listen. As they say on their website:

The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to readers. A place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.Image result for human librariesThe Human Library was developed in Denmark and is, as they say, A Worldwide Movement for Social Change: Real People have Real Conversations. To find a Human Library event near you go to their Facebook page, here.

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A hug a day keeps the doctor away, and Brooklyn’s new Center for Fiction

I read here, the other day, in an article by a South Korean Zen Buddhist monk called Haemin Sunim, that hugs have health benefits. Here he is and here’s part of what he wrote:

Haemin Sunim

Anthony Grant, a professor of psychology at the University of Sydney, presented research results showing that, in addition to reducing anxiety and loneliness, hugs lower our levels of the hormone cortisol, which gets secreted as a response to stress; this, in turn, strengthens immunity to pathogens and lowers blood pressure.

A brief, warm morning hug with someone we love provides us with a protective layer, insulating us from the stress of the day.

And according to Karen Grewen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, if a couple holds hands and hugs for 20 seconds before leaving the house in the morning, their stress index will be only half that of couples who do not do this. In other words, a brief, warm morning hug with someone we love provides us with a protective layer, insulating us from the stress of the day.

So, what’s stopping you?

And the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is Brooklyn’s new Center for Fiction:Here readers, writers and curious folk can read, write, discuss and debate all things fiction. Wish I lived in New York.

Posted in Bookshops, Creativity, Mental Health, Psychology, Things I'd Love to Have Made | 1 Comment

Diana Athill, and The Astrology Book Club

Diana Athill (1917-2019 – she died on 23 January) was an editor extraordinary, a novelist and a memoirist. She was also one very wise woman. In her book, Somewhere Towards the End, she wrote:

What dies is not a life’s value, but the worn-out (or damaged) container of the self, together with the self-awareness of itself: away that goes into nothingness, with everyone else’s … . The difference between being and non-being is both so abrupt and so vast that it remains shocking even though it happens to every living thing that is, was, or ever will be.


No doubt one likes the idea of ‘last words’ because they soften the shock. Given the physical nature of the act of dying, one has to suppose that most of the pithy ones are apocryphal, but still one likes to imagine oneself signing off in a memorable way, and a reason why I have sometimes been sorry that I don’t believe in God is that I shan’t, in fairness, be able to quote ‘Dieu me pardonnerai, c’est son metier’ [God will forgive me, it’s his job], words which have always made me laugh, and which, besides, are wonderfully sensible. As it is, what I would like to say is: ‘It’s all right. Don’t mind not knowing.’ And foolish though it may be, I have to confess that I still hope the occasion on which I have to say it does not come very soon.

I found the extracts from Somewhere Towards the End (which was published in 2008) here.

I hope, when my time comes, I possess Athill’s sanguinity, her humour and her not minding not knowing. Although Arthur Miller’s: ‘The thing that’s so difficult [or words to that effect] is the loss of consciousness’ still haunts me so much … but who knows how either Miller or Athill actually were at the end?

And the thing I’d like to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is The Astrology Book Club: it’s – as it suggests on the tin – a club that recommends books each month by astrological sign. Mine this month is Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower because, apparently, it’s multi-layered, razor-sharp epic fantasy, which is extremely well-written and working with the highest stakes imaginable. Which should appeal to me (and one-twelfth of the world .. .) See if you think yours fits your astrological self … . I somehow doubt Diana Athill would have approved, but you never know.

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Valentine’s presents; and Pen Heaven

If you haven’t yet bought a present for your Valentine who might, of course, be yourself,  you could indulge in this for your toast. You’ll find it here.

Heart Shaped Toast Rack, Unique Valentines Gift

Or this, for your wine:

Mens Society 4 in 1 Bar Tool

from here.

But if neither of these appeal, then perhaps something from the thing I would love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible will appeal. Pen Heaven, apart from selling the most heavenly pens, also have the most useful pen refill finder guide. Not so long ago, after an aunt of mine died, I inherited two of her pens but I thought I’d never be able to use them because I couldn’t find any refills for them … until I stumbled across Pen Heaven where I found myself in, well, pen heaven. There are handy measurement scales on the refills page so even if the refill on the page doesn’t look quite like the old one you’ve got, you can work out if it will fit your pen from the length and width measurements (even the nib lengths are shown). The two refills I bought, even though they don’t look exactly the same as the ones they’ve replaced, work perfectly.

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Make Good Art, a resolution for the new year

In January 2016, I quoted Neil Gaiman’s wonderful advice which is, essentially, whatever you’re doing, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

This new year I recommend you buy, borrow or steal Gaiman’s Art Matters. If you write, find a copy of Art Matters immediately. If you paint, find a copy of Art Matters immediately. If you compose, find a copy of Art Matters immediately. If you sing, find a copy of Art Matters immediately. If you make anything of any kind anywhere at all, find a copy of Art Matters immediately. It’s medicine. It’s inspirational. It’s comforting. It’s essential. Here’s one of my favourite quotes:

The moment you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

Art Matters

Happy new creative year!

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Jericho Writers’ Self-Editing Your Novel Course, and the wonders of Atlas Obscura: destinations, food and drink

I’m in the final week of Jericho Writers’ Self-Editing your novel course run by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin and all I can say is if you’ve written a first (or even a twenty-first) draft of a novel and you know something’s wrong but you can’t put your finger on it, or you’ve had agent(s) ask for a full manuscript but they’ve decided against taking your work on at the final fence, then this is the course for you. (Jericho Writers run lots of other writing courses, but this one is the biz.)

I’ve done an MA in Writing and many shorter courses in writing fiction but never ever have I done a course with such practical application. It’s (relatively) easy to write a novel by instinct when it’s all going swimmingly, but when it goes wrong you need to know the questions to ask yourself. Now I know the structural, vocal, point of view, psychic distance (do the course and you’ll discover), character-in-action and many other questions to ask and in the new year, by the end of March I hope, I’ll have a final redraft I’m finally proud of.

And the thing I’d love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible this month is Atlas Obscura. It’s a travel-guide website, but it’s much much more than that. As they say:

Our mission is to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share.

Click on Random Place to be taken to destinations you’d never thought of travelling to. Or try Gastro Obscura to discover wondrous food to explore and enjoy from anywhere in the world. Why not give it a go this Christmas?

Coffee in White Coffee Cup

Posted in Drink, Fiction, Food, Places, Rewriting, Storytelling, Third Novel, Travel, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Courses | Comments Off on Jericho Writers’ Self-Editing Your Novel Course, and the wonders of Atlas Obscura: destinations, food and drink

How Doctors use Poetry, and a blue-green stone

Recently I spent a night in hospital and the thing that struck me about the nursing staff, as I watched them admit new patients to the ward, was their infinite kindness; their ability to explain exactly the same things to each new, slightly-groggy patient as she was wheeled in, as if she was the only person they’d ever admitted, as if she was the only one who mattered. Nursing staff aren’t paid to be kind but, in my short experience on the Isabella Ward at Kingston Hospital, the kindness of the nursing staff was as important as their expertise. It helped me take in what they were telling me, made me feel they knew what I was going through and so I had complete faith that they’d do the right thing for me.

The Hippocratic Oath has been modified since it was written somewhere between the fifth and the third centuries BCE. The version most commonly used today, when physicians graduate, is the one Louis Lasagna rewrote in 1964. It includes this sentence:

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug,

I stumbled across this article the other day. It was written in September for the American magazine Nautilus by a newly-qualified doctor who, when he recited the Oath, felt more attached to the scientific nature of medicine than to its art. [Alteration since posting: a newly-qualified doctor should read a second-year medical student. I qualified him too soon!] But, about a year later, he changed his mind. He’d begun to realise the difficulties patients experience when trying to make sense of medical language. He discovered research studies that showed:

That both types of art therapy [music and poetry] produced similar improvements in pain intensity and depression scores. Only poetry, however, increased hope scores.

Patients, including children, were encouraged to listen to poetry and to write their own. To express they way they felt about their illness and treatment and to listen to poems that addressed these things. Contrary to what you might expect, the researchers found that:

Poetry … is a way to both embrace the hospital encounter, and escape from it.

As a result this young doctor, Danny W. Linggonegoro by name, has decided to:

Learn how to meet my patients beyond the chart documents; [to] encourage them to write their own empowering stories; [to] heal as well as treat. In other words, that I’ll honor each and every word in the oath I took last year.

The kindness of the nursing staff on the Isabella Ward also heals as well as treats.

And the thing I’d love to have made in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is this jewel …

… for its depth, for its colour, for the way it catches the light and for its mystery. It hangs on the simplest silver necklace and I wear it often. But sometimes I just gaze at it.

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