Revisiting novel #1 while writing the sequel

At the moment I’m working on a novel proposal for an Italian publisher who is looking for First World War themed books for its new series.  I was put onto it by a friend of a friend who also happens to be an Italian translator.  I rather like the idea of being translated though was rather dubious whether my “And I Shall Be Healed”, with its intrinsically English perspective would really interest anyone beyond its shores.  Certainly, thousands of digital copies were downloaded in America when it was offered for free, but only one reader felt inclined to write a review and that wasn’t a good one, requiring me to linger among the book’s reviews on for comfort.  Still, nothing ventured nothing gained so off we go.
I’ve been a bit slack, I must admit.  A lack of confidence, the prospect of a new job (which would save me from the living death of freelancing) and a throat infection has kept me at bay for rather a long time and I’m only just getting back into the writing (see previous post for my over-enthusiastic list of writing projects).  Anyway, I got through the list of points to include, kindly supplied by my translator, and sent the draft proposal off to her this morning.  It has just come back with notes.  This is what I want, I can work with notes.  Without notes I feel like I’m trying to stab a pea in the dark with a cocktail stick.  So, we’re fine.
However, there’s something  else I found interesting. As you may be aware, I’m working on the sequel to “Healed” now.  As a rule, I tend to work in layers of concentration: emotion & story; historical background; imagery.  While I’m writing the emotion, I find that I think of the protagonist as “poor Leo”.  I don’t think I’m alone,healed_high_new it’s not for nothing that female readers like him better than males readers do; we want to take him home, give him a hug and feed him.  Today, however, I was flicking through “Healed” to find good sample chapters and noticed that, while he is lonely and, ultimately, very ill, he is also rather a strong, self-motivating character.  A timely reminder for me to bring some of that strength into the new book.
He’s going to need it, poor chap.
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Creativity: needle & pen

So, yesterday was my mum’s birthday.  Finally I was able to give her the present I’d meant to give her for her 60th birthday.  It took me a little longer than planned so she had it for her 65th instead.  It went down well:


Feeling inspired; though not in a writing way (on reflection, having a 1930s literary novel, a more light-hearted Baroque-period series and a Mills & Boon-esque book on the go all at the same time is a little de trop).  In my defence, I did read an entire book on Handel in a little over a week and am currently working myself through “The Coming of the Third Reich” by Richard J. Evans but the writing itself is on holiday.  Therefore, I decided to launch into my next embroidery project.

This is to make a pair of cushion-covered, embroidered in the Jacobean style.  I have not yet got a sofa for these cushions but the fillers have lain in their packaging in the corner of my room since the summer so, no time like the present…

I had found some embroidery patterns online and, finally having enough ink and printing paper in the house at the same time.   I printed them out.


Finally!  A chance to use my light box!  Unfortunately the bulb (replaced when the one it arrived with didn’t work) functioned for about 4 minutes.  So I had to use my head-torch in the box to achieve the second picture.

This time there’s no pattern to follow so I had to decide on the colours myself.  Not sure I stayed true to the Jacobean period but I tried to be reasonably close:

Obviously, the colours available in colouring pencils (or at least the ones I’d bought from Rewe an hour or two before) are slightly different to the colours available in embroidery wool  / silk  (I’m going to call it wool as I’m using Crewel wool for this) so I’ve made notes about the colours I intend.  Particularly useful where I’ve started in one colour and then changed my mind!

The next thing is to decide on the stitches (I forgot about those when I took these photos) but that’s something to look forward to!

I think that’s enough for now.  I’ve got a 12 hour teaching day tomorrow.  :-/







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Up on the roof & shouting: ba-siiil!

I suppose that’s the mark of a high-brow; someone who can see a charming Italian herb without thinking of Fawlty Towers.  Well, while my German is at a similar level to Manuel’s English (it takes more than one book, let me tell you!) the roof-garden is growing as only something with limited space good.  Contrary!  We’ll have to call it Mary.  I suppose one of the advantages of buying all your earth from a garden centre (amazing what you can fit in bicycle saddle bags) is that it tends to be more fertile – no need to worry about whether it’s chalk or clay, it just works.  I must admit though, the basil surprised me.  Talking to a friend a few weeks ago, she told me that the general advice for growing basil was “don’t bother”.  It’s very difficult to keep it alive.  However in the spirit of contrariness (that my dad would think is well deserved on my part), my garden is determined to go against all odds.  Here are two I grew earlier:


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About a month ago, I went to an Open Garden event with some friends and was given a cutting of a beautifully scented plant.  I went home, planted it in a pot of earth just to see what would happen.

It was this:

Basil Lots and lots of basil plants.  No idea what happened to the seed head I’d actually planted!

Never mind, I re-potted them all this morning so there’s still a chance they’ll all die.  I hope not though because I’ve just promised a couple of tomato plants to someone who has offered me a western-style, acoustic guitar and I’d like to be able to fulfil my part of the bargain – with added basil – tomorrow.

So let’s go and have a look at the roof-garden:

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Cor, isn’t that lovely? At the back is the rosemary, with lavender on the left.  I’m not sure you can make out the peas on the far right but you can’t miss the tomatoes.  I’m amazed they survived all the rain we’ve had recently.  Only last week they were taken indoors to stop them getting bashed down by the rain:


2016-06-01 09.41.26  But now look at them!

Fruit!  We’ll have to wait and see whether or not they’ll ripen but it’s looking promising.  As long as the rain doesn’t come back.

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So, until next time!  Hopefully it’ll be a tale of pasta and passata and not a case of “Reader, I lost them.”

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Why We Won’t Shut Up

Brilliantly and beautifully put.

Paul Burgess

I feel as though I should write something personal to explain why I’m so hurt and bewildered by what has just happened. Especially since plenty of people seem to think folks like me should shut up. In the lead-up to the vote I focused on facts; on the direct disadvantages of leaving and the possible political consequences. I didn’t make it personal; I’m involved with politics because I care about our country and the wider world. I would never normally make the kind of argument I’m about to make now. I’m even going to try, for once, to resist discussing the bigger implications. But these are exceptional times.

Firstly, however, let’s remind ourselves that this wasn’t an election for politicians who can do only limited damage over only a limited period; it was a decision with massive, long-term ramifications. These are not only political. Many of the consequences put severe limits on our personal…

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It’s getting hot!

Not in the flat, of course, it’s freezing in here but out on the roof it’s sizzling hot.  In fact, a few little seedlings I separated and put outside yesterday got totally fried.  Poor things.  2016-04-21 16.51.21

However, the “main players” are still doing well.  I’ve added picnic knives as mini stakes as putting in bamboo canes would just be a nuisance while I’m still bringing them in every night.  The soil is drying out quickly though so this afternoon I spent a few minutes leaning out of the window with a bucket of water and a measuring jug.  I suspect it’s due in part to the “peat-free” compost.  Better for the environment (especially in the west of Ireland) but it makes planting on a little more difficult – no nice neat “plugs”.  Oh well, this is a minor consideration.

So, at the moment I am compiling a list of people who want some tomato plants.  I’ve given some away plus a few pea plants (in case you were wondering, pea plants don’t enjoy a 20km bike ride).  So far I’ve got three people interested, all members of the choir (so an alto, a soprano and a bass) and I’ve arranged with another choir-going friend to take two sets along to the people I may not see until I return to choir in August.  So, I am now working my way through rather a lot of yoghurt to ensure that the young plants go out into the world suitably attired (ie, in pots I don’t need back).  This is not the act of generosity people believe.  I’m secretly quite pleased to get rid of a few plants as I need the space for those left.  I like to keep about 6 on the basis that I might get fruit from 3 of them.

In other news, I had my first acting lesson in German on Tuesday.  I was surprised by how boring I found it, though the teacher was rather good.  I loved the Theatre Arts / Actors’ Programme at Rose Bruford but this time it was – well, I suppose it was nothing new.  It was also hard work and a bit scary as my German is limited – OK to understand but not brilliant for speaking.  That said, I had a nice conversation with one of the girls from my class on the way home – in German!  It mainly involved me recommending Edinburgh or Nottingham over London for a place for her to do her Masters in Broadcast Journalism (go not to London, it’s so expensive you won’t be able to afford to enjoy it).  If Brexit occurs and I am unceremoniously dumped back into England I will be heading to Derbyshire or Warwickshire or possibly even Edinburgh not London, though I still love visiting.

In conclusion, I think it’s safe to say I’m more of a music person than a theatre person.  Though that is in no way a claim to having talent in either area.  I am also beginning to question the wisdom of working two evenings a week and studying acting & German two evenings a week.  I should be leaving for my German course now but I’m skiving. Well, skint  be the better word.  My bike has been in the repair shop since Saturday and, using public transport Sunday to Wednesday has cost 63 Euros so there’s nothing left for the return fare to Cologne.  and I’ll still have to pay for the bike repairs.  I think my hope to buy a “decent” bike has just taken a step further away.  Nevermind, I don’t mind having a night off.  I’ve had the whole day off today which was lovely; I’ve done some music theory practice for Grade 4, some food shopping and proper cooking which must be the first time in quite a few weeks – I was slowly becoming aware of always being hungry and eating rubbish.  Always a sign that it’s time to stand still and cook.

I also have a few assignments for my journalism course to work through.  One is about photographs for publication and so I am hoping that the Kirschblütenfest on Saturday will provide me with a suitably “newsworthy” event.  I’ve also got to take a head & shoulders shot of someone so fingers crossed someone will allow me to use them as a model.  I have a features unit and a review / comment unit so I am looking for subjects 😉

I got quite distracted there for a moment.  An e-mail arrived inviting me for a telephone interview for the position of Chief Editor.  I replied to say I would be happy to phone but that the job I’d applied for was that of author not editor and certainly not Chief Editor (but it would be quite cool!)  Oh, can if I phone, can we do the interview in English.  There’s possibly something a bit daft about making that request in German but I suspect my German may have led the sender to that conclusion anyway.

I just had to go and sit on the landing window sill to warm up.  It’s freezing in here!  The fierce heat has softened and the day is sliding into a rather lovely evening.


Suddenly, for the first time since February, I miss the choir.  Or at least the choir I joined in November 2014.  Everything was such fun then.  It’s all such hard work at the moment.  Oh well, it’s getting warmer and I have given myself the evening off.  A little wine, a little music and a little writing I think…












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London and back

So I made it to London and back and… I’m very glad I went.  At first I had had reservations: being single at a wedding is not much fun and that’s before I factor in the potential risks of airports, railway stations and being shot through the air in a metal tube.  However, it was lovely.  It was really nice to see my family again and I was very pleased to watch my brother marry the woman he loves and meet some of her family.  So lovely in fact that I have changed my mind about going to the “proper wedding” in Cyprus in July.  Now it is only a matter of finding a flight and transport from the airport.

I wasn’t in London for very long but managed to stock up on Mr. Kipling cakes (Bakewell Tarts and Fondant Fancies – or French Fancies as they are now called) with a view to holding a tea party for some friends in Bonn, two magazines; “Country Living” and “BBC Music” – the latter of which has a feature on Shakespeare in Song which is basically what the Bonn English Singers are currently rehearsing for their concert on 29th May and 2nd June (I’ll post a flyer once I have one, for those interested).  I was also able to catch up with my friend Steph who was my director on two out of the three plays I produced while in London.  It turned into a bit of a confessional session but that’s OK.  If you pick your confessor wisely, you don’t have to kill them afterwards.

So, I made it home.  As on the way out I landed very late but, unlike the UK, there isn’t the same worry that the trains would have stopped running (they hadn’t, I wasn’t that late) or that the hotel reception had closed (it hadn’t).  I got home around midnight and was relieved to see that my plants were still alive.  I took some time to water them before I went to bed.


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Peas, April 2016


On Monday morning I put the peas out on the roof as it was nice and sunny.  According to the copy of Country Living magazine I was reading this morning, this is called “hardening off” – I’m just instinctively good, aren’t I.  😉  I have three “spare” pea plants which I’ve now promised to a friend.  There should be some tomato plants to give away too, but they need to be a little bigger before I can start offering them about.  I was afraid that one of the pea plants had been snapped by the wind but it’s only bending a little.  It needs a bit more earth as they’re all still too small to be tied to the support (once I’ve made it) so, off to OBI again today!

So, everything was going quite well until I got home from the VHS last night and came face to face with my downstairs neighbour.  As we had seemed to come to some sort of agreement over the bins and household cleaning (i.e. I think she now recognises that I, at least, do my part), she started complaining about the street door banging, pointing out where she sleeps (on the other side of the wall from the door) and that the other downstairs neighbour sleeps by the back door (which I use to get my bike).  So one has a certain sense of being ganged up against not unmixed by the bewilderment as to why it has taken then eight months to be bothered especially as, since January, there is only one day when I have to leave the house before 8am, the other four days start around lunchtime.  Still, I could stop letting the doors swing shut behind me as I drag the bike up one flight of stairs, through the hall and down the others.  It did upset me though and made me wonder if I shouldn’t keep looking for a new place to live.  I have another two years before I can apply for a mortgage (cheaper, I think, than renting) but in this house I  always seem to be in the wrong.

Anyway, I’ve got better things to think about.  I started my German course last week which was really good.  The teacher was very nice and very funny and did not translate anything into English – something I find very unhelpful.  So that was a relief.  On Thursday I decided to take the plunge and enter myself for the ABRSM Grade 4 theory exam.  I have always wanted to get Grade 5 and entered for it last year but a friend said “You do know that’s basically the GCSE, don’t you?”  Um, no, I hadn’t.  At the time my music theory was at Grade 1 level, despite Grade 4 piano and Grade 5 singing, and I’d given myself three months to get to Grade 5.  I withdrew that application.  However, in January I did enter for Grade 3.  I was very careful about who I told at the choir.  “Proper” musicians would have laughed (it doesn’t take much to remember what put me off music at school – snobbery); most people don’t do the exams at the lower grades but just go in at Grade 5.  Indeed when I went to Frankfurt for the exam in March I was, at 37, 20 years older than the seven other people in the room all of whom were doing Grade 5.  On the plus side, I got to leave earlier, not that I ever need the full time anyway – either I know it or I don’t.  It’s an expensive exam even before train and hotels have been added to the mix so, as I had been getting as much as 86% (merit) in the practice test papers, I decided that if I had a bad day and failed it, I wouldn’t retake.  The ABRSM website says that it takes up to three months for theory results to come through but I got mine on Friday, the day after I had entered for Grade 4, and: I didn’t get a merit…




… I got a distinction.



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They’re alive!

It has been, what, eight days since I planted these seeds?  Look at them now!  The peas came first.  There was no sign of the tomatoes so I turned them around in the bag so they were at the closed (presumably warmer) end and voila!  I am very pleased but a little anxious over whether I should pot them on before putting them outside.  I have to go to London on Friday so I will wait until I’m back.  Hopefully they will survive without any water for two days.

On Saturday I had planned to write some monologues.  A friend had sent me a line he’d heard so that was going to be a funny one.  However Saturday ended up being one of my more “down” days so I was lucky to get anything done at all.  As it was I wrote a rather sad monologue.  A relationship one.  I don’t write happy relationship monologues, it’s all about writing what you know.  Sob.  Anyway it’s another one for the pile and I have a few more ideas for funny stuff so hopefully the new book will be out this year.  I have unpublished “Untold Lives” which was the original collection – for men and women.  I went through the book on Saturday and identified the monologues I wasn’t happy with, those I wanted to work on a bit more and those I thought were really good.  The plan is to published two books – one for men and one for women – with only the best quality monologues in them.  Last time I was so keen to get the book out that I filled up pages with monologues that just weren’t up to snuff.  This time I shall be much, much stricter with myself.  The new book(s) will be published via ePubli.  I think.  So far it’s taking quite a while for my novel to reappear on and (Amazon’s fault rather than ePubli) so let’s just see.

By the way, if you’re looking for a copy of my novel, “And I Shall Be Healed”, you can buy it here:  This link takes you to the digital version but hardcopy is also available on the site.

I am still working on “Lost and Won”  (or “Lost & Won”, I can’t decide); it’s a very, very sad book.  Best not to drink gin at the same time.  The theme of loneliness continues but hopefully there’ll be some humour in there too.  I just haven’t found that yet.   So a few funny monologues as a side line are essential.  Like biscuits with tea.  😉

Last week I asked my students whether there was any grammar they wanted to work on ahead of the presentations they have to give.  The only entry on the list was “idioms”.  You know, those things you tell yourself you shouldn’t use in an English class and then can’t think of when the students ask you for them.  I do think that a monologue written entirely in idioms would be funny.  Perhaps funnier than one written in business jargon, which is a bit too much like real life.  Does anyone really know what “best practice” means?  When I worked in regulation I had to fill in a self-appraisal form that included the line “How have you contributed to being a best practice regulator?”  (something like that, anyway).  Just how does one answer that question politely?  And they say there are no such things as stupid questions…

Anyway, Saturday was miserable but Sunday was fun.  Walking and cycling.  Nice and warm too though more humid than any of us were really dressed for.  It was just nice to be out in the fresh and moving air.

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We were out beyond Oberkassel and it wasn’t an overly long walk but all in all we covered 20km by bike and probably 10km on foot.

This is probably my favourite image of the day:

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Anyway, I have a lesson at the Hochschule this afternoon and given how many biscuits I’ve eaten this morning, I need to take the bike into Bonn.  From Hochschule to Volkshochschule so I’ll need it later anyway.

So, I fly to London on Friday night – please God I survive the trip – will be back on Sunday and then normal life resume.

Until then, anon!


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