Saturday, 27 December 2014


Draft 1 of The Book with No Name is complete. In fact, I completed it a few weeks ago. Then I printed it out - all 248 A4 pages after which it sat on the corner of my desk, a reassuringly sizeable pile, for a few days. I looked at it fondly. I patted it on the head like a faithful dog. I might even have stroked it. Then I packed it up in a box and got on with my much neglected Christmas preparations.

Now Christmas is over and I must open the box.

I must open the box.

I really must.

The trouble is, I know what comes next. I should do. This the fifth time that I've been through it. The next stage is the structural edit. This is where I'm supposed to go through my manuscript looking for the things that scream epic fail at me. I should ditch characters and scenes that take the reader nowhere, cut those sections that I wrote because I had to write something, find plot strands that started vigorously enough but then ran out of steam before they reached their destination. All this falls to the second rewrite.

And the reason why I'm putting off starting this important task?

Well, it's simple really.  I can't do it. I don't know how. At the risk of sounding smug, my first drafts are pretty coherent. The story, at least, is generally sound with no loose ends or unlikely coincidences to move things along. I can never see the structural issues. Let's face it. If I knew what was wrong with it, I wouldn't have written it like that in the first place. I just can't see beyond where I am.

So, instead, my second draft turns in to an exercise of titivation. I correct my appalling spelling, swap sentences round, add the odd metaphor. And at the end of this exercise I end up with exactly the same thing, only tidier.

This stage is then, I have discovered, where my writer's block hits. I clearly lack the vision to turn a reasonable story into a good book and despite spending two years on creative writing courses, I know no more about how to do it than I did in 2010 when I reached this point with the first one. But if I'm ever going to get any further, I have to master this next, impossible stage.

So, this morning I have coffee, I have new pens, I have peace and quiet ( at least in the short term.) I am going to open the box and begin to do more than just correct my spelling. Or at least, I'm going to try.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Book with No Name

Titles are really hard. It's bad enough coming up with the thousands of words that constitutes the story without then having to encapsulate the whole thing in one short phrase. I quite like those books with titles that bear no obvious relevance to the story until you stumble across them in the body of the text. They make you stop short and think about exactly what the author was trying to get at when they selected that particular group of words as the moniker for the entire work. Often I can't see the relevance at all and I wonder if they just picked some words at random. Or worse, the publisher did.

Anyway, it's been a couple of months since I last updated you on my latest novel's progress. In that time, it has almost doubled in size and now stands at a healthy 63,367 words. We have plot twists that I didn't expect, characters who have turned out to be not quite as I imagined them and a whole new person who wasn't in the plan at all. But basically, I am still following my protagonist along the journey that I pre-ordained for her last Spring.

But I have no title. I have tried. I really have but every time I allow my mind to wander off in search of possibilities, we end up back at the plot. I've been searching for those pithy one-worders but their hiding places are way too clever for me. I've thought about hinting at the novel's contents but I don't want to give anything away. I've even tried plays on words and puns but really....?

So my two thirds of the way through first draft still has no name. It makes me feel inadequate, as if I don't love my 'baby' enough to call it something other than 'Blob'! And logistically it's a nightmare as what do I call all those folders in my ever-growing word processing package.

Maybe I should break out and just pick something that has nothing to do with the plot or the characters - like Frogspawn or Catherine Wheel? It doesn't really matter what it is. I just need something.

Apart from anything else, people keep asking.

'And what is it called, this book of yours?' they say.
'Oh, it hasn't got a name yet,' I simper, feebly. 'It's only in the very early stages, really.'
And then I change the subject, thus pointing the spotlight away in a different direction.

Anyway, there you have it. The Book with no Name progresses steadily and I will post further updates in due course.


PS. All name suggestions gratefully received.

PPS. I quite like Frogspawn.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Novel number 5 - all at sea?

So I'm 36,829 words into what I'm hoping will turn out to be my fifth novel. Almost halfway through maybe? So how's it going? Well......

1. I have a bunch of characters who I like working with (and one that I don't but that is kind of the point of him.) They are not quite there yet. Most of the time, they react to the situations that I place them in as I would expect. Every so often, they react like I would. That's no good and sometimes quite hard to spot. I need to work on washing away the last vestiges of me from their thought processes. I get in the way.

2. I have a story that I like. Obviously, I still have a long way to go but so far, it is still holding my interest. Can't get bored with your own plot! That would never do.

3. I have time. During the holidays, I can always find an hour or so to hammer out that day's quota of words. Writing every day not only keeps up the momentum but helps me to remember where I've hidden those sneaky little foreshadowing points that get lost if I have too big a gap between writing sessions.

So that's it then. Simples. All I have to do is keep going and I have a bestseller on my hands.

I wish!

The trouble with being half way in is that it's an awfully long way to the shore. Imagine me, cast off in my little lifeboat. I have enough resources to last me for a while but they won't stretch indefinitely. I need to keep rowing or things will start to get difficult. I can see the sharks approaching.

I'm not alone in my little boat. I'm there too. Not the me who came up with the idea and spent months thinking it through, researching, talking to people. Not the me who started with such high hopes and has managed to maintain that for nearly 40,000 words.

No. It's the other me.

Have you read this rubbish?
Why are you writing it in that tense? It's not really working, you know.
Those sections when you're in her head - they are self indulgent and repetitive.
Where's the emotion in this story? Are they all made of cardboard?
You really think that subplot is worthy of the  name?

I'm not that keen on her, to be honest. She nags away at me. She undermines me at every turn. She can reduce a great idea to pulp in a matter of minutes if I let her.

I read through what I have so far yesterday. Until that point, the words were flowing from my fingertips faster than I could type them. Now? Well, I didn't write anything yesterday and today I'm doing this and tomorrow there may be another excuse...

I know what I have to do but doing it with all the noise that she's making in my head? That's hard.

But I have a secret weapon. There is something that I know though and that she always forgets. I am stronger than her. I never give up. I always win. It takes time but I always get there eventually.

So whilst she's there, nibbling at my self confidence, I shall sneak up behind her and push her overboard!

Did you hear that splash!


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Changing Schools

Child number 3 is between schools. Primary over and secondary not yet begun. Exciting times ahead.

I remember the summer when I was 11 so distinctly. Our gang marauded around on bikes and thought we were untouchable. We had it all planned out. If anyone tried to report us for being bad and asked where we went to school, we would just tell them that we didn't. How cool was that! Needless to say, we didn't do anything naughty enough to lead to the question being asked.

It was all so exciting, starting secondary school.  I had a uniform for the first time. (Bottle green and lemon yellow - quite foul!) I would have a new class and a timetable and lots of lovely new subjects to learn about. But best of all, I could reinvent myself. I liked this idea a lot. I'd practise new ways of moving, a new smile. I spent hours deliberating on which particular shortening of my name I would encourage amongst my new friends.

Over the years, I got quite good at these chameleonesque (spell checker is hyperventilating) transformations but then I had a lot of practise. I went to five different schools in eight years. Each time, I would leave a little part of myself behind, a bit I didn't much care for and try and add something new. It was kind of fun at the time.

Now though, I wonder how I would have turned out if we hadn't moved so often. I might have been better at Chemistry, for example. I could have had stronger friendships if I hadn't had to keep abandoning them.

However, there are some disadvantages to staying put. That girl who didn't like you in the Infants because you nicked her crayon may well still have it in for you in the sixth form. And woe betide if you step out of line because someone is bound to tell your mum!

My children won't have the advantages of reinvention. They are likely to see out their childhood in the same house and with just two schools under their belts. However, what they will have is a sense of belonging, an understanding of how things work in their environment and the confidence that comes with being secure in a place that you know.

But they'll only get that new school buzz once so they had better make the most of it!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Virtues of Virtual Travel

Travel broadens the mind, they say.

What about virtual travel? Does that count?

I only ask because I've been having great fun hopping round the internet as Cara, the protagonist in my new story, whizzes up and down the country. Last night, for example, she went to stay with her brother in Wimbledon. I have only been to Wimbledon once about a million years ago but no matter. A quick couple of clicks and I'm looking at a sample of the houses that are there. This is the one that I picked for Michael.

Looks nice doesn't it? I wonder whose house it really is? For my purposes, it is the well appointed family home of Michael, his mousy but capable wife and their two daughters.

And now that I have the house in my mind's eye, it makes it much easier to describe it, to write how Cara feels when she approaches the front door, what Michael's wife might have growing in the garden.

Later, the siblings had to leave the house to go for a drink as Cara had news that she didn't want overheard. The Good Pub Guide took me to The Fox and Grapes which, with the aid of a picture, I was able to refashion until it suited my purposes. I might go one day but in the meantime...

I heard a story about JK Rowling recently. Her character, Cormoran Strike, often enjoys a full English from a cafe in Smithfield Market. Being not far away, JK decided to go and sample the atmosphere for herself. She wore a dark coat and a hood and was sitting there scribbling away incognito when a man burst in and said that he'd heard that that famous writer was in there. JK's heart stopped.
'But I wouldn't know her if I fell over her,' the man said and left.

Unfortunately, I am not a real writer and so can't go off at the drop of a hat to pick up a vibe. So that's where the internet comes in. After writing Beyond Belief for example, I got to know Bath really quite well. I spent hours on the virtual tour of the Roman Baths as I tried to piece the geography of the building together so that I could write a climax that actually worked. Did anyone notice that I hadn't actually been there recently? I hope not.

Later in this story, Cara goes to LA to find her aunt. And rather handily, that's exactly where I'm going at the end of the month. I shall be taking a notebook!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

My Little Temper Tantrum

The school summer holidays are five days old ( two of which were the weekend) and I have already had my first meltdown. Is this early or am I following the usual pattern? I don't know. I can't remember although maybe if I delve into the archive on here.......

I'm back. A quick scamper down memory lane reveals that I posted along similar lines in July 2009, July AND August 2011 and August 2012! I'm sure I would ave done last year too but I was too busy being stressed about the new 'Blogging the book' project that I was about to start.

The problem lies in the differing approaches to house tidiness by me and the rest of my family. I am tidy. Not to a point of madness, I hasten to add. I have cupboards that I'd rather other people didn't see - although not many. But on the surface, my house is pretty straight and that's how I like it. A place for everything and everything in its place. It makes me feel calm. If things are are straight then my mind feels relaxed.

Let me describe this for you. Imagine skeins of brightly coloured thread all laid out in neat lines, all running parallel and heading off into the distance in close proximity to one another but never actually touching.

Strangely enough, I can't actually find an illustration of that online so I've made my own. Cool huh?
So there you have it. My mind when all is tidy. Looks lovely doesn't it? And in this calm state, I am able to deal with just about anything. My children make a lot of noise. They all talk over another. There is always at least one of them singing and invariable someone is in another part of the house and shouting (or singing) for attention.

But all is well. My house is tidy and so I can deal with the random cries for attention, demands to know where things might be, whether I can provide someone a lift and questions concerning food. All is well.

By contrast (and you can see where this is going can't you?) when my immediate environment is polluted by things out of place, then my head starts to buzz. I have an illustration for this as well. Hold on!

There you go! Don't laugh. So, when things are messy and my mind is running in a consequent tangle, I am less receptive to all the rest of it. Suddenly, what is manageable when things are straight becomes a cacophony of tangled threads in my head and I fail to cope until I have managed to get my surroundings back to something near what I need them to be ( and thus restored the lines.)

Today, the threads were in a proper pickle. And to make matters worse, the battery in the smoke alarm decided to tell me that it was on its last legs by beeping every 30 seconds. Something had to give. It was me!

We all have our little failings and foibles. This is mine  (or at least one of them.) I have been the same for as long as any of my children have known me so why can't they get the hang of it? It's not tricky. Tidy up and Mum is a pussycat. Make a mess and suffer the consequences!

You will be glad to know that after a fair amount of rather satisfying if not a little inappropriate swearing, the violent hurling of a book and a really blood curdling scream (together with some rapid tidying up), things are now back to normal.

I think I shall make them all read this so that they can see my rather cool illustrations. (I'm quite pleased with those. Can you tell?) Perhaps then they will understand what causes the tantrums. Then again, who am I kidding???


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Passion, eureka moments and Lynda La Plante

Do you have a passion? Is there something in your life that makes your heart race, that shoots electricity to your extremities when you think about it, that gives you a buzz that nothing else quite tops? (No. Not sex. Concentrate!)

I'm not known for extremes. When I drink coffee I don't get a caffeine hit. I spent over a decade exercising like a lunatic chasing an endorphin thrill that I was promised would come but never did. I am immune to these sensations (and I'm not alone - there is science, apparently, behind why some people just don't feel it). It doesn't worry me. It's just who I am.

Now bear with me. I feel a little exposed committing this next bit to paper.

I went to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival today and sat in the second row listening to those talented people who have achieved what I can only dream of. There's nothing new in that. Whenever there's a practising author in the vicinity, you can usually find me sitting nearby, notebook in hand. All aspiring writers and also, as I learned today, real writers love listening to others talk about their craft.

So what made today worthy of note?

Well, there I was listening to the extremely talented Lynda La Plante tell us anecdotes about her writing life. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak then snatch it up. You won't be disappointed. Not only does she have lots of fascinating stories to tell but she recounts them in a way that had us weeping with laughter.

Anyway, back to my legal high. I am listening, enraptured by this woman who is living the life that I would love to have and I realise that there's this strange sensation building in my chest. I have to take extra large gulps of air just so that I can keep up with the demands that my heart is making. Even my scalp is fizzing and I'm smiling so broadly that my eyes are barely open. This feels great. I am happy.

Then her words take a more sombre turn. She tells us that an aspiring writer must keep going no matter how hard it gets and must remember that 'rejection doesn't mean no.'

That's when it happened. I just burst into tears - just like that. I'm listening to Lynda La Plante speak and there are tears cascading down my cheeks. That's not a normal response, is it? And then I know, without a shadow of doubt, that this writing lark is truly, truly important to me.

The rest of the audience is enjoying her speak, totally unaware of the Damascus moment that I have just experienced but for me it's as if a whole heaven of lightbulbs has lit up over my head.

I know what I am taking on. I know how much hard work is needed and how slim the chances are of me receiving any recognition for what I do but that really doesn't matter. It's about finding the thing that makes your heart sing and then holding on to it for all that you're worth.

All I have to do is to keep putting one word in front of another and never give up.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Notes to my Younger Self

A couple of weeks ago, when writing the piece about choosing universities, I started thinking about the things I might have told my younger self if only I'd had the presence of mind.

It's a peculiar exercise. It makes you dig deep in your consciousness to mine any wisdom that might have been buried there over the years. I quite liked that bit. But also, there is obviously an element of thoughtful regret which sat less well with me. On the whole, I wouldn't change any of the last 47 and 3/4 years but I suppose, if I were pressed....

1. Stop worrying about your weight!

From my early teenage years until after I was married, I exercised like a daemon and counted calories obsessively. I knew the associated energy value of virtually everything that passed my lips and how many I'd burned off. I even had a little book with it all written down. I was like a woman possessed and to what end? The minute I stopped worrying about it, it balanced itself. The up-side is that I'm now quite good at guessing quantities when I bake.

2. Cut those around you a bit of slack.

This one is still a work in progress!

3. Some people will never be able to give you what you're looking for from them.

It's taken me a surprisingly long time to realise that we are all motivated by different things and what is gob-smackingly obvious to me doesn't even feature on someone else's radar. 'But they're not you!' is something that I still hear more often than I'd care to admit to.

4. Who cares what your peers think?

I'm sure this one rings true with most of us but if I look back at the things that I didn't do because of the fear of ridicule or standing out from the crowd, I shiver at the missed opportunities. My kids use this dreadful word 'judged' and it makes me want to shake them. Who has the right to judge you? Do what you want or what you believe to be right or preferably both and let the onlookers stare.

5. It's ok to fail.

This kind of links into number 4. You don't have to wait until your sentence construction is perfect to have a workable conversation. It's ok to stumble in public. Don't be afraid.

6. Real friends are a rare breed and when you find one you need to hang on to them.

Friends come and go, floating in and out of your life like flotsam and jetsam and that is fine. Many of them are of the moment. The real ones who will gently tell you the truth rather than what you want to hear, who will go out of their way to help no matter how great the inconvenience to themselves, who can see through the version of yourself that you present to the outside world to the real you... those are the keepers.

7. Being independent will only take you so far.

You can't always operate as a team of one. Sometimes things work better if you rely on another person to do their bit. Not often but it's always worth considering!

8. Your hair will never look like you want it to. Live with it!

9. Stay on track.

Being single minded might annoy those around you but it's the best way to get things done.

      And finally...

10. Don't stop reading and writing.

Life is going to get pretty hectic so guard the things that you love so that they don't get left in a dark corner somewhere only to be rediscovered, dusty and flea-bitten, in thirty years' time.

So there you go. Would I have listened to myself?  Maybe ( although see point number 7) but it doesn't really matter. It's all part of life's labyrinth to discover these things for ourselves and as we know, youth is wasted on the young.

What would you tell the younger you?


Sunday, 22 June 2014

University choices.

One minute your bouncing them on your knee and checking your back for tell-tale trails of baby sick and the next....

Yesterday I began the tour of Universities with my eldest so she can chose where she would like to apply. Fittingly we started in Manchester, the place where I placed my hat for three years when I was about her age.

I wasn't sure how it would be. A lot can change in almost thirty years. Piccadilly station felt vast and unfamiliar and the route that they set us down to Oxford Road wasn't one that I had ever walked before. Then the Gothic main building appeared before us and I was suddenly more confident.

It's big business these days, Open Days. I went to a few back in my time. Manchester with my parents, I think and the remainder on my own. That was how it was done back then. There was very little sign of prospective students on their own this time round. Everyone had a parent in tow. It felt a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory except that the prize was a glittering academic career rather than a gobstopper.

We found our way to the first venue and sat in a lecture theatre waiting to be told why we should choose to spend our £27,000 with them rather than any other institution. Research funding and student satisfaction surveys were mentioned as was the impressive selection of libraries that Manchester boasts.

Then we got to the meat - the course. I don't know about my eldest but I was transfixed as I listened to the options, the transferable skills, the expertise of the lecturers. They made it all sound so enticing. If I could have, I would have signed myself up on the spot.

But I'm 47 not 17. Did I feel that way when I was in the game myself? To be truthful, I can't remember but I suspect not. To me, my university study was a means to an end, three years that I had to get through in order to move on, that would take me ever closer to my dream. Study for study's sake was not something that even crossed my mind. Why would it? I had known nothing but study in my short life up to that point.

I seem to be discouraging my off-spring from vocational courses. I want them to follow their hearts. There is something truly magical about chasing an idea down a rabbit hole with scant idea of where it might lead you. I'm not saying that vocational courses don't offer you that it's just that it's harder to see the hole.

Next week it's Birmingham and no doubt I'll feel same, not that my feelings count for much this time round. I have no regrets about the way I played my own cards. The decisions I made were the right ones for me at the time but if I were leaving a note for my younger self........

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Le Bon Mot

"A teenager who led police on a 19-minute high-speed chase while his pregnant girlfriend screamed at him to stop has been locked up."

Not my words but a sentence pilfered from my local rag. It's not a great sentence, I'm sure you'll agree and would have benefitted from a more judicial use of punctuation but it was the last four words that caught my attention. When did we start using such casual language in print? "Locked up"? Not "gaoled" or even "jailed" or "sent to prison" but "locked up".

Using formal language is something that comes easily to me. I went to university where they teach you to write in an academic style without you really realising. Then I trained as a solicitor and passed many a year comically referring to myself in the third person. You know the kind of thing...We are concerned to note that your client appears to have flouted the terms of the confidentiality clause entered into with our client on the 14th of last month.

I know. It's all a bit pompous and pleased with itself isn't it and I don't often have cause to construct sentences like that these days. My point is, however, that I could if I wanted to. Somehow, I seemed to have picked up what kind of language is appropriate for a particular situation.

This is something that we seem to be losing. Just listen to an average BBC news report and you'll hear how casual expressions are becoming the norm. Spend time with children and notice how often 'like' is used in place of other, more appropriate words. I sometimes struggle to understand the meaning of what they are saying. Words that I thought I knew are employed to mean something else, sometimes the complete opposite of what I expect.

But is this a problem? Language evolves over time. It always has done. New words are born every day and that helps to keep English vibrant and exciting. However, I can't help think that this shouldn't be at the expense of established words and that if we slip into a 'one size fits all' kind of language that  we will be losing something very special about our mother tongue.

The journalist who penned the offending sentence probably did it without giving it a second thought but I am left regretting the loss of my news being served to me using neutral, unsensationalised (is that actually a word?!) terminology.

But maybe it's just me.....?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Maxine Peake and Beryl Burton.

You've got to love Maxine Peake.

From the irrepressible Twinkle in Dinner Ladies to the straight-talking Martha in Silk, she is fast becoming a national treasure of stage and screen.

So when I heard that she had turned her hand to writing, I was curious. I'm aways a bit sceptical about actors who write. They seem to turn to the keyboard when other work falls fallow, as if writing is second best or else produce something with the full marketing might of a big publishing house behind it so their book gets rocketed to the heavens whether it merits it or not.

Anyway, she was in Ilkley last night as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival to promote her play, Beryl which is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse to coincide with Yorkshire's hosting of Le Grand Depart next month. Of course I was in the audience.

I liked her immediately. Unfazed by a theatre full of people gawping at her, she told stories from her acting career with such humour and self-depreciation that you couldn't help but love her.

Then the discussion turned to her writing. When she said that actors often think they can write, she had me on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear what would happen next. Then she mentioned a radio play that she had written about a pit protest, Queens of the Coal Age, which follows the true tale of Ann Scargill and other miner's wives who occupied Parkside Colliery.

As it happens, I heard the play when it was broadcast, not realising who had written it. It was funny, thought provoking and emotionally challenging and I remember stopping what I was doing so that I could listen properly.

She talked about how she was drawn to tales of strong women and how, encouraged by those around her, she strove to capture their stories faithfully and bring them to a wider audience. I couldn't help but think that someone should write the story of Maxine's life for the stage. It would make fascinating viewing.

So after last night, I love her even more. She is the kind of woman that I strive to be. Proud but without prompting envy, strong but keeping others in her thoughts, determined but realistic. However, I'm sure I will never make a theatre full of people laugh like she did, no matter how hard I try!


Wednesday, 4 June 2014


My course is finished for another year so it's time to focus on other stuff. The garden would be useful or maybe the state of my kitchen cupboards. But no...  My focus is my writing.

I have a new novel project. It's more or less plotted out and ready to go. I have three months until Year 5 of my course starts. It's a lot of time but only if I use it properly. So I have set myself a challenge.

You know me. I love a challenge. How about this to give you a flavour of how my mind works. I'm currently doing the 30 Day Squat Challenge. It's horrible. My thighs feel like they've been flattened by a steam roller and I'm walking a bit like John Wayne but each day I get to tick off to say that I've done it on my little app and am then enveloped in a cloud of smug self-satisfaction for the rest of the day.

You see! It works. Or it works for me. Let a day go by without ticking that little box and my life is somehow less successful.

So I decided that I needed to do something  similar with my writing. Write every day and record it courtesy of Write Track, a site being developed by a writer that I met online.

Here it is. Lots of little yellow dots to show me and anyone else that sees them that I am keeping my side of the bargain.

And there you have it! How to control Imogen Clark. Give her something that involves ticking something every day and then sit back and watch her tie herself in knots trying to achieve it. Simples!


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Chimamanda Nqozi Adichie

Last night as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival, I went to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her writing and her life.

I have to admit to not having read any of her stuff before I booked the ticket but an extract of Half of a Yellow Sun was in my course book as an example of rhetorical devices and so I figured that she must be quite good.

And then, as these things do, a whole series of coincidences tumbled on top of me. Her latest book, Americanah, was shortlisted for the Bailey's Prize and I discovered that they had made a film of Half of a Yellow Sun which had recently been released. I quickly devoured both books.

My 16 year old found Americanah on the kindle list that we share and read it too (faster than me in fact.) This lead to interesting discussion about whether race or feminism was the stronger theme. All those years you spend wiping bottoms and saying no are suddenly worthwhile when you start to have this type of conversation with your off spring.

Then, I was telling my 17 year old where I was going on Friday night.

'Wait, wait!' she said, putting a hand up to silence me whilst she searched for something on her phone.
'Chimamanda! She's amazing!' she said and pressed play. A rich Nigerian voice filled the air between us.
'This is her!' she said. 'She's on Beyonce's song.'
And she was. I later learned that it was a sample of a Ted lecture that Chimamanda gave.

And so suddenly, this previously unknown to me Nigerian writer was touching everything that I held dear.

She didn't disappoint. She was intelligent and thoughtful with a dry sense of humour and a quick wit and she left me not with that deflated feeling that some writers do of never being able to achieve what they have done. Rather, as I walked through the twilight towards home, I felt inspired to keep going. I may never win a prize or speak in public about my work. I might not even get published but I am doing the thing that I love and Chimamanda reminded me of how important it is to hang on to those things with both hands and never let go.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Challenge

The nice people at Write -Track set a challenge of writing a piece using the names of the coding languages that they are using to improve the site as prompts. Never one to ignore a challenge, here is my effort. Can you spot the codes?!

Holiday Romance.

“What do you mean you’ve never seen ‘Django’? It’s a classic.’
Eloise sipped her cocktail. As cocktails went it was pretty mediocre. The rum had been watered down and the paper umbrella was squashed on one side. Still, what did one expect at a cheap all-inclusive holiday resort? She shrugged.
‘Never seen it. Never even heard of it.’
She turned her shoulders away from Pete, the software salesman. He’d seemed sexy the night before. There had been something sultry about his shiny, dark hair which fell to his shoulders in corkscrew curls. After the second cocktail, she had found it fascinating, following each curl with her eyes until her head spun. After the fourth drink, she had found herself sitting on his knee, twirling her fingers in his curls until they became impossibly knotted. He hadn’t minded. Nor had he been put out when she used his hair to pull him towards her and…
She shuddered. What had she been thinking? Now, before cocktail one had begun to work its magic, she saw Pete for what he was - a portly, middle aged man with greasy hair and a truly ridiculous drooping moustache.
‘You’ve gotta love spaghetti westerns’ he continued. ‘I think that’s my fourth favourite film genre. Shall I tell you the plot?’
‘No!’ said Eloise rather too abruptly. Pete looked shocked and then sank back in his chair as if someone had let a bit of air out of him. Even his moustache seemed to droop.
‘You’ll spoil it for when I watch it,’ she added.
This did the trick and he sat a little taller again.
‘What kind of film do you like….., er…..’
Dear God, thought Eloise. He’s forgotten my name. I made such an impression on this shabby, joke of a man that he can’t even remember what I’m called.
‘I have to go,’ she said quickly, slurping the remainder of her cocktail and banging the plastic glass on the bar. She slid off the bar stool, stumbling slightly as her feet hit the floor. Heels would never be practical on sandy surfaces. Pete looked crestfallen again.
‘I’ll maybe catch you later,’ she added, hoping with every fibre of her being that her path would never again cross with that of Pete, the software salesman.
She headed off in the direction of the beach. A gaggle of children was gathered around a beach entertainer with a battered marionette. The puppet danced on its strings and the children pointed and laughed. Clusters of parents stood around smiling indulgently, each quite sure that their children were getting more out of the show than those around them. Several of them were filming the show on their phones. For what purpose, Eloise thought. So they could relive the moment when they got back to their executive homes in Croydon or Wolverhampton? Why not live the moment now, as it happened?
Once she reached the beach, it became impossible to walk so she slipped off her heels and slung them over her shoulder provocatively. She swung her hips a little more to compensate for her shortened legs. The sand was warm between her toes. Eloise tried not to notice the couples who were scattered like corpses between her and the sea. In front of her, a girl with thick blonde hair and a deep tan was massaging suntan oil onto her partner. She worked her manicured fingers up his backbone, rubbing the oil tenderly into each vertebra, her long hair brushing his shoulders as she worked. Eloise looked away.
When she got to the end of the hotel’s beach she stopped. The rep had warned them against going beyond the borders. There were bandits apparently all ready to leap out on unsuspecting guests. And unfriendly wildlife too, if the rep was to be believed, who all clearly knew to stay outside the hotel environs. Eloise smiled at the thought of a passing python slithering accidentally onto hotel property and immediately coming to harm. However, on her own as she was, she didn’t quite feel confident enough to disobey instructions and so, hoping that no one was watching, she turned nonchalantly and headed back.
When she got back to the bar, her stool was still vacant. A quick look round showed no sign of Pete, the software salesman so she hopped up, arranging herself as artfully as she could and ordered a Sex on the Beach without so much as a hint of irony. It had been a good idea, coming on holiday on her own she thought as she scanned the bar from behind her sunglasses. Just what she needed.
A woman’s laugh came from a table overlooking the ocean. It was loud and unrestrained, like the owner hadn’t a care in the world. Eloise looked over. The woman had her back to her but at her table with his hand on her knee was Pete, the software salesman with his corkscrew curls. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


On Monday the people of the UK were invited to record their movements, no matter how small or seemingly trivial, by way of a diary entry and upload it to the Mass Observation Archive. The idea is to obtain a snapshot of life in the UK.

This is nothing new, of course. They've been doing it for ages and was perhaps most famously utilised by Victoria Wood in Housewife 49, a book and then a film based on the wartime diary kept by an anonymous woman in World War II.

I've looked at a few of the archives trying to find ideas for stories and it is a sightly surreal experience. You are poking your nose into someone's private life. It feels like you're trespassing and shouldn't really be there at all. It is even stranger because the early diaries were written before computers and so are handwritten on scraps of paper and then scanned in. Somehow, being able to see a stranger's handwriting allows you to form an even clearer picture of them in your mind's eye.

So I wrote mine. Monday was not a particularly remarkable day. It rained. I went about my normal business, cleaning, cooking, studying, writing. My children started their exams so that will probably mean that the day will affix itself to my memory but other than that it was pretty standard.

But that's kind of the point. If you look at Facebook or Instagram you'd think that the whole country was living the dream - well who can blame people for wanting to filter out the good bits of their lives to project and leave the chaff behind? What I liked about writing my diary for the project was that I had permission to talk about the mundanities of life, the daily grind that makes my world slowly turn. And somehow writing that down for an anonymous audience allowed me to be more candid than perhaps I might be if I'm aware who is reading.

I don't suppose anyone will ever read my record of Monday 12th May 2014 but it's there nevertheless, allowing me to make my own little bit of history.

Sunday, 5 January 2014


So what have I been doing whilst I've not been here? Scaring myself witless, that's what.

Anyone new to this blog won't know that I harbour a burning ambition to be a novelist. (I might have mentioned it once or twice since the idea first planted itself in my head in 2009!)

Since then, I have written three and three quarter novels and worked my way through almost two thirds of a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing and entered oodles of short story competitions (with limited success.). This is all very commendable but in truth, I'm no closer to my ambition than I was when I started.

Last summer, I went to a talk where three published authors talked about their journey. It was fascinating and I soaked it all up. But as I wandered homewards, I began to ask myself what they could do that I couldn't. I can string a sentence together. I had manuscripts. Yes, they needed work but they weren't too bad, I thought.

And then I hit a wall. What would be the point of spending forever editing a manuscript if it was never going to be any good? After all you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And how would I know if what I had so far was something that anyone would want to read without asking someone?

And so I began drip feeding one of my manuscripts out a chapter at a time. My idea was that I could ask people to read along and tell me what they thought, what they liked, what they hated and so by the end, I would have a feel for whether what I had was worth further effort or whether I should put it in a virtual drawer with the others and start again, again.

I blogged about what I intended to do quickly to make it harder to change my mind and then in August I began posting chapters.

Scary doesn't even scrape the surface. Not only was I putting my money where my mouth was but I was doing it with a product that was only in it's first draft. And I was asking people to give up time to help me with ostensibly nothing in it for them. And I had to market it and keep it in people's minds which meant shouting about it which doesn't come naturally to me. And I had to fight hard to bury the fear that the whole of Ilkley was laughing at me and my little dream. And I had to cope with the criticism whilst walking a thin line between not being defensive about my baby but remaining robust enough not to give up. Sleepless nights, sweaty armpits, tears and tantrums. I've had them all!

And now nearly five months later I am almost there. There are only a handful of chapters left and I am currently thinking about how I might collect feedback.The blog has had over 4,000 hits - not many in a commercial sense - but my stats suggest that I have a core group of around 50 people who have read all of it (mostly in secret as I have no idea who they are unless they tell me.)

Expect to hear more from me on this subject over the coming weeks when I get some feedback and have to decide what I'm going to do next. And in the meantime, I will sit here and sweat over the book's ending and hope that I don't disappoint anyone who has loyally stuck with me all the way through.

If you've missed the whole thing and are interested, then go over to Beyond Belief and check it out for yourself and please feel free to tell me what you think.


Thursday, 2 January 2014


Well. it's been a while - nearly sixth months since my last post. Plenty of time to think, consider, reassess. But overall, when I take everything into account, I have missed writing my little blog.

So it's back. A six month's break away from the world but now ready to reemerge, phoenix-like from the flames that I had smothered it with. Imagine that it's been in retreat - time away, shut off from the world, to contemplate its navel and make decisions about how it want the rest of its life to pan out.

But in what form should it reappear?

This is a tricky one. For the last five years, Imogen Clark at Home has been a little foray into the ups and downs of my family's life. This life continues apace but the wisdom of sharing it with the world wanes as my children grow and their actions become more readily identifiable.

Where does that leave me? With a blog that people like to read but which I can no longer write, that's where. Hmm. Not ideal.

How about if I turn the attention off the family and on to me? Not just in passing, en route to a funny anecdote but the full, glaring, warts and all spotlight of attention.

Well, that's a possibility I suppose although who would possibly care about what's going on in my head apart from, perhaps, my mother and even that's debatable. But they say you should write to please yourself and not others. After all, if you don't want to read stuff about my hopes and dreams then that is very easily fixed.

And so you have it. Imogen Clark at Home Mark II. Hold on tight and enjoy the ride…...