Category Archives: Tidbits – the written word

Snippets and musings on the written word

Sail Boats and other such things…

I just overheard an interesting snippet from a morning TV programme,
“A research team has found that a 20 minute walk every day can add years to your life,”
Leaving aside the fact that most people know this anyway or at least, suspect it, it was good to hear. Confirmation that something one enjoys is good for one, is always welcome.
I have to ask though, was this research programme set up just to establish this fact or was it part of a larger programme and this gem just one of many conclusions reached? I should not mock. Where would we be without research?
In caves, I daresay.

After all, where would we be if Abi Eshu had not continued with his research after inventing the wheel, discovering the clay tablet and even an alternative coinage to the Turnip? Abi Eshu was too clever to sit back and do nothing. With some poetic licence, I invite you to imagine this scene…

It is somewhere in Ancient Mesopotamia in **3500BC or thereabouts.
Abi Eshu is polishing the wheels of his cart. These new wheels are made of iron and gleam beneath the orange sun. It is evening and he is putting the cart to bed.
He removes the day’s takings and records them on the clay tablets by the door, 4 turnips, 5 bags of potatoes, 1 pig. It has been a good day’s trading.

“Abi Eshu, are you coming in to bed?” his mother calls, “It grows late and the sun goes down,”
“Soon mother,” replies Abi, “First I must go to the barn,”
Abi Eshu crawls into the hayloft and pulls out his latest project. A pile of reeds and a small piece of cloth, lie before him.

He begins to weave the reeds together. They are many and his fingers grow numb but he works long into the night.
The next morning his worried mother comes into the barn and climbs the ladder to find him sleeping in the loft. She shakes him awake.
“Abi Eshu, look at you sleeping in your clothes on the floor of the hayloft. You will come to no good.”
Abi blinks and grabs at the object next to him.
“What is that?” Abi’s mother is wide eyed at the object her son is holding up with pride.
“This, mother, is a boat.”
“Yes Abi, I can see that but but it is so small and no use to anyone. You have stayed here all night to make – that?”
By this time, Abi Eshu’s father has come into the barn and he too casts doubt upon the tiny boat that Abi Eshu seems so pleased with.
“I do not intend to sail in it,” Abi assures them, “But when I was walking by the river the other day, I saw three fishermen each in a boat. The first boat was sitting in the middle of the river, the second boat was by the edge and the third, wedged on the bank. I asked the men where they were going in their boats and they told me they were going to row them to a place many day’s ride from here but every time they put the boats in the water, the wind lashed around their heads and the boats spun round in the water.
As I stood there, I felt the strong wind blowing my cloak. My hair was in my eyes and I could scarce keep upright. I thought, I must think of a way to help these men get their boats to sail up the river and not spin round and round.”

Abi Eshu’s parents look at one another. They are used to their son’s wild imaginings but this sounds very interesting.
They wait as Abi Eshu climbs down the ladder and strides across the parched ground to the river.

Following him, they sit on a nearby rock and watch.
Abi Eshu finds a long stick. He takes his piece of cloth and secures it to the stick which he wedges into the woven reeds.
“Why has that boat been given a curtain?” laughs his mother but Abi does not reply.
He arranges the cloth so that it forms a triangle from the tip of the stick and clings to the side of the tiny boat.
Three fisherman who have also been watching, move closer.
Abi Eshu holds a finger up to test the wind. He kneels by the river’s edge and drops the little craft into the water, adjusting the little piece of cloth until it feels right to leave it. The tiny boat bobs around in the water for a moment until a breeze catches it. Abi waits. Abi’s parents wait. The three fishermen wait, open mouthed. The little boat begins to move. It moves so fast with the wind driving behind the piece of cloth, that Abi has to run after it.

“It works!” he cries, exultant, holding up the little craft as his audience puff up to meet him.
“A wonderous thing,” they all say.
‘Will you make me such a craft that I can sail in?” asks the first fisherman. Abi Eshu nods with enthusiasm. He knows he can.
“You will need a bigger cloth,” his mother points out.
“It will need to be strong, look how the wind has tugged at that small boat,” points out one of the fishermen.
“It will be both large and strong,” Abi Eshu assures them.
“I have the very cloth!” exclaims his mother, clapping her hands together, “It is not silk, nor flimsy cotton – it is the tough sacking I weave to carry the flour in.”
Abi Eshu grins,
“That would be perfect mother and I will make sails for all the boats so that on windy days we can use the wind to take us where we want to go.”
‘And on still days?” his father asks with a grin,
Abi Eshu shrugs,
“On still days we paddle but there are very few still days on the river.”
From that day on the fishermen’s boats speed along with their sails flapping in the wind and the tradesmen carry their goods far and wide.
Even so, on still days it is good just to paddle up and down the stream and admire the countryside.

**Poetic license has been taken with this tale as sail boats were invented in around 5000BC, most probably by Abi Eshu’s Ancestor.

“The ancient Mesopotamians were a highly inventive people responsible for many innovations. These included the seeder plow, writing, irrigation and sanitation techniques, Other notable innovations included: “Pythagorean theorem,” the concept of zero, glass, and the arch, column, and dome. Around 3500 BC, they invented the wheel and they were among the first to harness the wind as an energy source by using the sail.”
http://travellingancienttimes.weebly.com

On an entirely different note – being duty bound to provide a giggle or two this month, I should say that some research into a better way of pulling on your wellies when sitting in the driver’s seat would be a good idea.

This morning, arriving at the woods, I parked the car and swiveled in my seat to discard my shoes and pull on my Wellingtons.
How was I to know my left leg had pressed against the automatic switch, which causes the seat to rise and move forward? Next I knew, I was being shunted towards the steering wheel while the back of the seat, slowly but inexorably, bent forward. Imagining myself folded up and pinioned against the wheel in a most undignified manner, I came to my senses in the nick of time and moved my leg. The seat stopped its threatened progress and though I was now bent double, I was able to reverse the motion.
Extricating myself from the embarrassing fiasco, I let the dogs out and hoped no one had seen…
You didn’t did you?

The woods

Charlie and Flossie in the woods

Happy New year!

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Cabbages and Fresh Cream (or Abi-Eshu and his Dream)

If Abi-Eshu were here today, he would no doubt be astounded by our dependence on the internet. He would balk at the amount of time we spend on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and the rest. Email and Snapchat would be something he could not even begin to understand. The ease with which we communicate with one another these days was not even dreamed about back in *Abi-Eshu’s day.
Or is that so?

Circa 3500BC

Abi-Eshu has been to market in the cart his father, Abi-Karu, has built. The cart rolls along on Abi’s latest invention, the wheel. On his outward journey, the cart held 4 reams of fine cloth, woven by his mother, Aya. Now it carries some grain, a pig and “something to change your life, my friend.”

All the way home, Abi-Eshu has frowned and wondered how to tell his father what happened when he met a boy called Tizkar, at the market. As he steers the cart, pulled by its two, long horned oxen, down the bumpy track and into the communal yard in which their little house sits, he sees his father, standing by the door.

“Abi-Eshu,” calls his father, waving his hands in a frenzy, “Come here, come here, quickly.”
Obediently, Abi-Eshu stops the cart, leaps off, barefoot, and races to the spot where his father stands. As he draws near, he sees his father is wringing his hands in agitation.
“What ails you father?” asks Abi-Eshu in concern.

“Oh Abi-Eshu, ten days ago I sent messages to my brothers, Ekur, Amar-Sin, Naram-Sin and Shulgi, inviting them to a party to celebrate my birthday, on the night of the Full Moon.”
Abi-Eshu nods, he knows all about the party his father is planning. Hasn’t he just gone to market to collect the pig for the roast they have planned?
“And who did you give the message to Father?” he asks.
“I gave it to the lad who keeps the goats. He said he would run all the way to the next village and deliver it to the Baker who has a donkey and would take it to the next village where a man they call Uan, would take it on its final journey to each of my brothers.”
“And there is a problem?” Abi-Eshu prompts.
“Yes, it seems that when Uan got the message, he gave the message to four of his best runners who then took it to each of my brothers. It is a disaster.”
Abi-Eshu begins to understand. His father will not admit that times are changing and now that the family has spread far and wide, he needs to make use of the new clay tablets to send messages, not rely on word of mouth.

“So, what message did you send, Father?” Abi-Eshu asks.
“My message was straight forward enough,” replies his father, “I said,
“Abi-Karu, his wife and son would like to invite you to a party. Roasted pig and Beer. You are invited on the night of the full Moon; Come and dance!”

His father runs gnarled fingers through his long, grey hair and shakes his head,
“It was simple,” he begins, “then, this morning, before the cocks crowed, I answered the door to a messenger sent back from Amar-Sin. The messenger stood there on the step and said he’d come directly from my youngest brother. I asked him what Amar-Sin had said and he replied,
“Good to hear your wife is the star attraction. But boasting is not good. I love Rum so I will be there but I hope the moon is not blighted.”
“There, what do you make of that?” Abi’s father asks, spreading his palms wide.
“Very odd,” says Abi-Eshu with a frown.
“That is not the last of it either,” says Abi-Karu, “a second messenger was hard on the heels of the first. He brought word back from Naram-Sin. His answer was,
“Give your wife my best wishes, I hope she recovers quickly. So sorry to hear your plight. I hope the blindness is temporary. Don’t worry, I wont chance it.”
“Even stranger,” comments Abi-Eshu.
“Yes and would you believe, a third messenger arrives before lunch from Shulgi,”
“And this one says?”
“I have not heard of a carrot faction causing problems before but these uprisings are growing more common. Yes will keep well clear. Thank you for the warning and I hope your blindness is temporary.”
“Most odd!” Abi-Eshu agrees, checking his father’s eyes for any signs of blindness.
His father sits down on the step, his head in his hands.
“There is more,” he whispers, “The messenger from Ekur, my eldest and most revered brother, told me,
“It is unwise to allow a camel in the house or grounds brother. I will stay well away until the repairs have been made. Better get some help in if you cannot see. I did not know the moon could blind. I agree. What are the chances?”

“It would seem your messages did not get through unscathed, Father,” suggests Abi-Eshu, tentatively.
“I fear you are right son. Not everyone remembers as easily as I. Who knows if the replies are correct either? I shall just have to borrow a horse tomorrow and travel to each of them in turn. It will take me a week but I can get round all of them before the Full Moon I am sure.”
Abi-Eshu thinks the idea ridiculous.
“I can go Father,” he offers.
“You? No, no, the message might be garbled again, I cannot risk it,” Abi-Karu objects.
Abi-Eshu puts the cart away and walks back to the house. He leaves the “something to change your life, my friend,” sitting in the cart.
The sun goes down and still, the package sits there.

‘So, tell me,” says Aya, as they sit round the table that night, eating their dinner of turnips and rice, how did you do in town today, Abi-Eshu?”
Abi-Eshu sucks in his breath and coughs.
“Well, mother, I took the three bales of fine green cloth that you gave me and I showed them to the men in the market. They said it was very fine cloth indeed and my mother should be proud. They gave me a pig and three bags of grain in exchange,” he pauses,
“And?” asks his father, recognising that his son is holding something back, Abi-Eshu shrugs, the bones of his shoulders clearly defined beneath his shirt.
“You don’t eat enough,” says his mother, pushing the dish of mashed turnips towards him.
“Let the boy speak,” orders his father,
Abi-Eshu spoons another mound of turnip from the dish, eats it and looks at his father,
“Father, the boy called Tizkah, gave me something in exchange for the exquisite gold cloth mother gave me, that he says will change the way we live,” he says.
Abi-Karu laughs, harshly,
“What could change the way we live?” he asks.
“It is in my cart,” Abi-Eshu tells him.
“Then fetch it.” Abi-Karu is growing impatient. Bad enough that his message has been so changed en route that the replies make no sense and no one is coming to his party and now his son tells him he swapped a precious bale of cloth for…what?
Abi-Eshu opens the barn door and runs to the cart, leaping onto its wheel so he can reach inside. The “something to change your life, my friend,” sits there, wrapped in a brown sack cloth. Curious now, Abi-Eshu unwraps the mystery package and stares at it. It is a pile of soft clay wrapped in damp gauze together with a small sharp instrument.

Abi-Eshu stares at the clay and his spirits sink. His father will not be pleased. How can he explain how he came by these things and lost the bale of exquisite gold cloth? Dejected, he picks up the bundle and begins to walk towards the house.
“Abi!” calls someone close by, “Abi-Eshu it is I, Tizkar!”
Turning, he sees a familiar face. It is the face of the boy in the market who gave him the tablets of clay. Perhaps Tizkar will take them back and he will be saved from disgrace. He moves towards the fence where the other boy is waiting.
“Tizkar, you have given me some clay but what can I do with this?” he holds up the gauze wrapped bundle and waits for Tizkar to answer.
“Abi-Eshu, you have much to learn,” Tizkah says with a grin, “I am here to help you, I come from your Uncle, Ekur.”
With that, Tizkah pulls out a tablet from beneath his shirt and points to the symbols it contains.
The symbols mean nothing to Abi-Eshu until Tizkar translates them. Then he begins to see. This means the sun; this means the moon; this means running and this means hunting. He begins to translate for himself, using his intuition.
“You are a natural,” breaths Tizkar in admiration.
Abi-Eshu puffs up with pride.
“It is a message for my father,” he marvels, “When the sun is high in the sky I will go hunting but I will be with you at the Full Moon, that is my Uncle’s seal, I recognise it.”
“Yes, your Uncle Ekur enjoyed the joke when he got the garbled message but he understood it well enough. He will be coming to your father’s party.”
“He is coming to the party? My father will be so pleased,” breathes Abi-Eshu.
“Yes, and now you must send new invites to the rest of your family. Your Uncle Ekur says it is the way of the future, to send messages on clay. See those tablets I gave you in exchange for the beautiful cloth?”
“The exquisite cloth,” corrects Abi-Eshu.
“Yes, exactly. Well, with that sharp pointed reed, while the clay is soft, you can inscribe your message. It will be interpreted more easily than the whispered words of a dozen messengers. You must keep the clay moist until the message is finished though, just as I have. Wet the gauze and wrap it around, like this. Keep it in a cool place and you have enough to send a hundred messages.”
“Thank you Tizkah, and thank my Uncle Ekur, for me too,” says Abi-Eshu, much cheered.
“You can thank him yourself at the party,” laughs Tizkah,

Abi-Karu stares, suspiciously, at the pile of clay but he listens to what Abi-Eshu tells him and eventually, his face loses its worried frown and his eyes light up.
Together, they take a lump of clay and press it flat, being careful to keep it damp as they work. The sharp reed digs into the soft clay and Abi-Eshu makes his first mark. He draws a picture of their house with a wheel on it. That will enable everyone to know whose house it is. He draws a pig on a spit and a group of people dancing. He fashions the image of his father, choosing Abi-Karu’s remarkably long hair as a means of identification. Finally, he draws a full moon.
“It is amazing,” says his father finally, “Look, there is my house and here come the family. Will they understand it?”
“They will father, I am sure,” says Abi-Eshu, and begins work on the next.
He is right. When the messengers hand over the tablets, Uncle Ekur grins broadly,
“A party, on the night of the full moon at my brother’s house. There will be a roasted pig and dancing,” he chortles, ” I am slightly disappointed that there was not a camel on the rampage but I am delighted to accept the invitation to the party. So, my brother has learnt to write messages. Well, what are the chances?”
Amar-Sin stares at the message for a few minutes but he too understands it.
“I am happy that the moon is not blighted after all and I would love to come to the party,” he says.
Naram-Sin is much relieved,
“Ah, so Abi-Karu’s wife is well, that is a big joy to me. I did not think she was the violent sort and certainly not given to boasting. I am happy my brother is not blind and I will be at the party on the night of the full moon.”
Shulgi laughs uproarously,
“Oh my goodness, so there was no carot faction then? I shall be at the party too,” he says, “I love to dance.”
.

On the night of the full moon, Abi-Karu’s brothers arrive with their families.
“Tell me,” Abi-Karu asks of them, “What message did you all get from Uan’s messengers?”
Amor-Sin speaks first,
“Abi-Karu’s wife in action, would like to invite you to a party. Boasted big and beer. You will be delighted at the blight of the full moon. Rum and chance.”
There is a gasp from Abi-Karu but he turns to another brother,
“And you, Naram-Sin?”
“I heard: Abi-Karu’s wife in traction, fights at a party. Boasted big, oh dear. Karu blinded by the light of the full moon. Don’t chance it.”
“Shulgi?”
A carrot faction fights at the party. Best steer clear. Karu blinded by the light of the new moon. Won’t chance it.”
“And finally, you, Ekur?”
Ekur grins,
” A camel in action wrecks the party. Best steer clear. Karu blinded by the light of the new moon. What are the chances?”

When they had all finished laughing, Abi-Karu patted them all on the back,
“I will embrace the new ways now,” he told them and held up a tablet of clay to prove it.

Abi-Eshu sits with his clay tablet and marks the day’s events upon it. His reed pen digs into the soft surface and the picture appears. Today he has been to market and danced and talked with his aunts and uncles and his many, many cousins. Today he has begun a diary. He dreams of a time when his messages might be sent into the air, across the countryside, appearing as though by magic at their recipient’s door. He dreams of seeing faces on his clay tablet, real faces, of speaking into the tablet so that his very thoughts can be heard.
Abi-Karu sleeps soundly under the full moon because his brothers have come to his party.
Abi-Eshu places his brand new diary beneath his bed and dreams.

So, the next time you wonder if social networks and mobile phones are a bad thing and waste our time, remember how amazing they can be and think of Abi-Eshu and how he dreamed…
*Abi-Eshu probably lived in Ancient Mesopotamia, circa 3,500BC

P.S. I don’t suppose Abi-Eshu ever considered the dangers of predictive text…

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Dear Me

A letter to my 2013 self

Dear Me,

I am writing this from the future. It is 2020 and I am sitting in my study, looking at a shelf that is practically bending beneath the weight of published novels—my name on each. Wow! The first one I spy, I remember starting way back in 2012 through NaNoWriMo. I made a pretty good job of that but by June 2013, so much had happened to thwart its progress, it languished, forgotten, on my computer for a while.
I recall that I was a wee bit tired and felt powerless. Remember how I had to weigh socks and could not lift more than a bag of sugar? Remember the kettle and the orange? You do, only too well? Well, that time passed thankfully and by September 2013, I was almost back to my normal self and had actually caught up with that November novel and given it a new beginning. Looking back, there was still a lot of work to do on it but I was already in the middle of writing the second novel that I now see, sitting on the shelf. That one was fun to write you will recall though you had a few days of anguish with the characters and struggled to choose which tense you wanted it written in. You never were quite sure whether it was a children’s book or written for adults but it found its niche, never fear. I gave it a deadline of January 1st, never dreaming I’d manage to finish it by then. Well, be assured, I did!

The other novels I managed to complete, stare back at me proudly, their spines straight, their titles winking at me in the sunshine that filters through the window. Each book represents months of toil and a certain amount of frustration as plots fell apart or the beginning I loved, failed to rouse me a second time. Still, I got over those hurdles and, as you see, some of those books have become best sellers. I spent yesterday signing the covers of my latest novel at Waterstones. It was a novel I began years ago, the one that I have re-written and re-written and almost gave up on in 2013. That and its three cousins, have all made it into print one way or another.
I am now writing a trilogy, the third part of which, my readers eagerly await. Film rights are in the post.
Hold on, I will just put the kettle on and let my dear old Golden Retriever waddle out into the garden before continuing.
So, dear me, 2020 is looking good. However, as I am writing from the future, I would like to ask you, the self still back in 2013, would you please stop procrastinating and daydreaming (as a child, you had an uncle who always said you were a daydreamer) and pick up that pen or that keyboard and write? Just look at how good it is going to be here in the future!

P.S. Weren’t the first four grandchildren cute in 2013?

grandsons

2013 was a very good year

Kind regards,

Debbie X

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The Value of Turnips

A friend of mine came back from a London seminar this week, with some startling facts and figures.

Apparently, the UK was happy to borrow and borrow in the years leading up to the recession, racking up debts to the tune of 1.5 trillion pounds in 2009.

Dennis Turner, Chief Economist for HSBC, told his audience that the real issue was the spending and borrowing before the recession. Well, yes, this would make sense. If we’d not borrowed, we wouldn’t owe would we?

It would seem we are good to lend to as we pay back our debts and are deemed to be a ‘safe’ country. We don’t riot – much, we queue, we are patient, we take our medicine like the stoic race we are.

Meanwhile, according to Mr Turner, The Government spends 720 billion a year, of which, 250 billion goes on benefits and 95 billion on pensions.

My friend’s notes did not say anything about banker’s bonuses or the outrageous amounts paid to footballers, but it does make one think.

Finally, Mr. Turner was keen to let us know that the economy is healing, growth is forecast and by the end of 2014, we should be back on track. It continues to be challenging but we are over the worst, according to him.

Well, that’s good to know isn’t it? There is, at last, a light at the end of the tunnel. When I read my friend’s notes, it set me wondering though—what does 1.5 or indeed 1 Trillion pounds, mean to Joe Bloggs in the street? Where did this ridiculous preoccupation with money come from?

Well, we all know that money was only meant to replace donkeys and turnips wasn’t it? A donkey doesn’t fit into the wallet easily and neither does a turnip come to that. Gold was much easier to transport and when that became too heavy, with inflation, then a paper currency equivalent was introduced.

Picture then, young *Abi-Eshu of the “wheel’ fame as he bartered with his four turnips for a flagon of local ale. Could he have ever envisaged a trillion turnips? He certainly would have needed a big cart to carry them. More to the point, would we have ever been so stupid as to borrow a trillion turnips? I think not. Our cupboards simply would not hold them.

The whole issue of money has become too easy. We can carry a wallet full of notes or rely on a card with which we can pay thousands of pounds at a time if we wish. We don’t see money as the simple bartering tool it was meant to be, these days.

Abi-Eshu, however, had no such issues to worry him. The first coins may have been pressed but Abi, in his backwater, relied purely on barter. So, the day his father sent him out to procure a new milk cow, he threw a sack of turnips into the cart and trundled off into town. The market was busy and the cows were hot and smelly. Abi-Eshu parked his cart, complete with its new wheels, and wandered over to the cow pen.

“I would like to buy one milk cow, please,” he told the farmer. The farmer looked him up and down disparagingly,

“What are you paying with boy?” he asked.

“I have a sackful of turnips,” replied Abi, standing tall.

The farmer laughed.

“Just one sackful? – do you hear that everyone? The boy has a sackful of turnips and wants to purchase a milk cow,”

“Abi waited politely as the men laughed at him,”

At length, the farmer stopped laughing and looked him in the eye,

“So, the cheapest milk cow I have, is worth at least three sackfuls of turnips,” he said.

Abi frowned. He had only one sackful – where could he get two more?

“Come back when you have enough,” the farmer advised.

Abi knew he must not go home without the milk cow. What could he do?

Bowing politely to the farmer, he went back to his cart and drew out two empty sacks. He tipped out the sack of turnips and divided their number into three. He then placed a third of the turnips in each sack and tied the tops.

“Excuse me, Sir,” Abi said respectfully,

The farmer turned in surprise at his quick return,

“Yes boy? What now?” he asked.

Abi indicated his cart.

“I now have three bags of turnips, Sir,” he said.

The farmer looked across at the cart and frowned. Indeed, the boy did have three bags of turnips in his cart.

“Did you borrow the rest?” he asked suspiciously, for he did not believe in borrowing, it only led to bad feeling amongst neighbours.

“No, sir, I found I had three sacks in my cart after all,” Abi said, truthfully.

The farmer led out a beautiful brown and white milk cow and tied it to the cart. Abi hauled down the three sacks of turnips and handed them over.

“Father,” called Abi, as he drew within sight of his father’s house, “See the fine cow I have bought with my three sacks of turnips!”

Abi-Eshu’s father emerged from the house and cried out in delight when he saw the beautiful cow his son had purchased.

“But Abi, you had only one sack of turnips this morning he said with a frown, “Did you borrow more?”

Abi-Eshu smiled and explained,

“No father, I re-distributed my wealth just as you have taught me and one sack was divided into three. I didn’t need to borrow even one turnip!”

Abi-Eshu’s father was very proud of his son and many years later when Abi-eshu was an old man, he recounted the tale to his grandchildren.

“Never borrow, just look at what you have and re-distribute it,” he told them.

Alas, Abi’s advice was lost in the mists of time and turnips were replaced by gold coins. Governments borrowed vast sums of money and would continue to sink vast sums into bottomless pits before they ever thought of redistributing what they already had.

Abi-Eshu knew the value of turnips. Do we?

*Abi-Eshu probably lived in Ancient Mesopotamia, circa 3500BC

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Very Inspiring Blogger…

Stop Press: I have been nominated for, the Very Inspiring Blogger Award, by J.P. Lane. http://jplanewrites.blogspot.co.uk/

I am delighted to accept of course – so, thank you Joan, so glad you enjoy this blog and find it inspiring. Joan’s blog explores the history and foibles of fashion and I urge you to visit.

All I need to do now, according to the rules, is to tell you 7 things about myself. Since my blog tends to tell you everything you need to know about me, this could be tricky and I know I have told you seven things before. However, never fear, there are always more!

In the spirit of the award here are 7 more things you may or may not have known about me until now:

Blogger Award

The smile

Elliot loves big brother William!

  1. Our third grandson was born on 4th February this year. Elliott George Dennis is gorgeous of course. Here he is with big brother William.
  2. Our fourth grandchild is due in August – Wow! We are so lucky ;-))
  3. I have spent the past year sorting out the care and welfare of my 30-year-old nephew who has Asperger’s, following the deaths of both my sister and brother-in-law. This has provided both of us with high doses of sadness and hilarity by turn. My husband and I are now well versed in the ways of Social Services and the Care System and also manage a Trust set up by my sister for the beneficiaries. Thank goodness we have both run companies before—administration is everything.
  4. I recently had “The boy in the cowboy hat”, published in Memoir Journal. It is a personal memoir about my younger brother who died of AIDS in 1993. I disagreed with the Editor’s substitution of a particular word but they published anyway. C’est la vie!
  5. I like eating ginger biscuits with a cup of tea as a treat.
  6. I love Eddie Izzard – his humour is right down my street and I enjoyed the recent, ”Meet the Izzards” as he followed the progress of his and our ancestors, across the globe, courtesy of DNA.
  7. I hate the question….“So, what are you doing these days?” (you knew that though from my last post but I just had to add it)

Other than that, all there is for me to do, is to nominate my own, favourite, inspiring bloggers. Had I more time the list would be longer but, as it is, here are my two nominations which carry no caveats other than that nominees accept and pass on if they can.

My nominees are:

Catbird Scout for outstanding writing and beautiful descriptions second to none. Deb has a way with words.

Andrea Carlisle Andrea will capture your imagination with her tales from her family’s Prairie past and you’ll be moved to laughter and tears with her wonderful account of life at ‘The Place”—the residence of her elderly mother.

I shall now dust down the plaque that comes with the award and hang it on the wall to the right.

Thank you again Joan! 🙂

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Tea with Charles Dickens

This week marks the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens 1812-1870

Just about everyone knows the name, even if they may have never read his work. We were introduced to his books in school, and some of us retain a life long attachment to them. Who, when reading those books, has not shed a tear at the story of Little Dorrit or Oliver Twist or been at once saddened and enchanted by A Christmas Carol? Disney may have made A Christmas Carol, his own but the original story lives on. These gems, Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations – all are favourites of mine.

There was of course, more to the man than just his literary successes but we can only know him now through the pages of his letters, memoirs and biographies.

Dickens’ 200th birthday has been marked universally but with even greater fervor and celebration in Portsmouth where he was born. Living not many miles from Portsmouth, I watched the spectacle with interest as it was aired on the local television news.  Dickens’ Great, Great Grandson, Ian Dickens, was speaking on behalf of the now ever-expanding Dickens family. Charles Dickens had 10 children of his own to start the DNA rolling of course.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16914295

As I watched the celebrations, I had the strangest feeling that I would have liked to have been there too. After all, one of the greatest stories passed down to me, comes from my own Great, Great Grandfather, John Faulder.

According to my most reliable of sources, my Grandfather, Charles Dickens frequently took tea with my Great, Great Grandfather, John Faulder. John Faulder was not, so far as I am aware, a writer. Indeed, research shows him to have been a jeweller though perhaps he wrote in his spare time.

As a child, the story was told to me thus:

“Your Great, Great Grandfather used to often have tea with Charles Dickens at his house in London.” There was undoubtedly, more in the way of padding for this tale but I confess to only having remembered that vital part.

I do not know if this ‘taking of tea” was carried out in Dickens’ home as it was told to me, but I fancy, that it could have taken place in one or more of the many London tea and coffee houses that were popular in the 1800s. Who knows what they discussed or where their thoughts led when they sat, as I picture them, each in a high-backed leather chair, either side of an ornate fireplace, smoking a pipe and drinking tea?

Whenever I heard this story, I imagined my Great, Great Grandfather, wearing top hat and tails perhaps, climbing the steps to Dickens’ house and raising the brass knocker to signal his arrival. I imagined them cosied up by a roaring fire in the winter, discussing the finer points of London affairs and swapping anecdotes, truly, gentlemen at leisure.

How did they meet? With four years between them in age they could have gone to the same school at some point. They could have visited the same coffee houses, frequented the same drinking establishments. Perhaps Charles Dickens purchased jewellery for his wife from my Great, Great Grandfather. Perhaps John Faulder read some of the work in progress and gave comments. Or did Dickens keep that under wraps? Was their friendship based on a mutual interest far away from literature? Such questions are unlikely to be answered except by guesswork.

I have a romanticised view of their friendship of course but then, perhaps it really was like that. Who is to say?

Naturally, I would like to know if my own Great, Great Grandfather played any part in the stories that became so well known. Did he feature in any of them as a caricature or achieve a cameo role? It is well documented that Dickens did base his characters on the people he encountered. Given that the men’s friendship would have been cemented by their own similar family lives – John Faulder having eight children of his own, they may have had much in common. In Dickens’ wealthier times, he may have indeed visited my grandfather in his jewellery shop or did they meet when both were down on their luck?

I feel slightly frustrated that I can no longer go to my Grandfather and ask more but even without any further information, I cannot help but wonder if John Faulder is mentioned somewhere, in the annals of literature, if not by name then by nature making him a vital cog in the workings of that great, literary mind!

Now, wouldn’t that be something?

NB: This tale gave me inspiration for my novel in progress “Tea with Dickens”

I have no photos of John Faulder to date but I do of my Grandfather – here is Victor Gordon Faulder, in the 1900s looking very suave!

Victor Gordon Faulder - my Grandfather

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“I heard that – Pardon?” *

As I will be on an island somewhere in the blue Aegean Sea for the next couple of weeks, I am scheduling a couple of re-runs to fill the gap. The following post was first published on 9th September 2010.

 

This post is inspired by what I now see as selfish behaviour on my part. Yesterday, the telephone didn’t stop ringing. As well as calls from family, there were many from British Gas, BT and a variety of sales people not to mention those irritating automated calls that begin by telling you it is an important public announcement (it never is).

Having spent most of the day answering the phone and part of the evening, I began to think Alexander Graham Bell was perhaps my least favourite person. I even stated on ‘linked-in’ this morning that I was ‘out’ to callers.

How wrong could I be?

Where would I be without this means of communication? In fact, I am now thinking that I should use it more often instead of complaining about its incessant ringing.

I have only one excuse and that is that I find it very hard to hear people on the phone. Not all people you understand but the majority. Just the first few words usually sound like gibberish to me. Friends and family tend to realise this and try not to say anything important when I first pick up the phone. I can hear perfectly after a few moments. Sounds odd? Well, I am odd. When I leave the phone I often experience the same phenomenon when someone speaks in the same room as me. I gape at them as their mouths open and shut but I don’t hear what they say. Yes, I had my ears checked and no, they didn’t find anything wrong.

Yes, some day I will get a second opinion.

This problem of missing the first few words of a conversation is not good when dealing with cold callers of course. My family tease me as I plead,

“I’m sorry, who did you say you are? Where are you calling from? I’m so sorry, I can’t understand a word you are saying,” Normally, the person on the other end does not break to breathe let alone explain anything. They are reading their set script and hurtle on before I get time to grasp any of it. To these callers, trying to earn a crust, I apologise but I must hang up.

The other kind of caller is the ‘old friend/relative of my husband’. I recognise the tone of the voice. I recognise the inflection but the words? Swahili?? I guess. Sometimes I am correct. Sometimes I am wildly wrong. No one seems to mind.

At some point, the conversation starts to make sense. Sometimes I think I have been speaking to one person and it is only midway through the conversation that their identity becomes clear. This happens when my daughters phone me. To be fair, they all sound much the same. My youngest phoned me to tell me she was expecting without first saying her name and I had to check which daughter she was. Yes, seriously. Well, so would you I am sure!

Having said that, when my eldest son was young, before his volice broke, he had a very ‘girlie’ voice. So ‘girlie’, that when he dialled the fire brigade aged six, (long story, he was going to see a fire station the following day with his Beaver group and must have decided to dial 999 and see what happened) the operator assumed he was a girl. She was of course, extremely unimpressed. She blocked the phone line so that when I returned to the house (bad mother had been across to the shops and left eldest daughter in charge)I picked up the receiver and was astounded to be berated by the lady on the other end because she said my daughter had rung for the fire brigade and she had informed the police. My 13 year old ‘babysitter’ knew nothing about it.

The police arrived in due course and wanted to speak to ‘my daughter’. My younger two daughters were in the house by then but both denied the offence emphatically and of course, I believed them.

“I think it must have been my son,” I told them. The police woman shook her head.

“Definitely a girl’s voice,” she said firmly,

“Can we just have a word with your daughter please? It’s usually all that’s needed to make sure she doesn’t do it again.” I was horrified. My reliable, slightly ‘Goth’ looking daughter who had an after school job and enjoyed doing a bit of charity work? No!

“My son has a very girlie voice, he’s only six.” I told them. They were not convinced.

I tried to find my son but he had vanished as children do when they have done something wrong. (Bad mother let her children play out in the cul-de-sac where we lived). My daughter spoke to the police of course but could tell them nothing and their gentle lecture did not go down well.

I found my son a little later. He denied everything.

It took him six months to confess. We were out walking one day and walked right past the fire station.

“Is it very bad to phone the fire brigade if there isn’t a fire?” he asked.

“Yes, it is,” I replied. I did explain why, but you don’t need to hear that, you know why!

“Did you phone them that time then?” I asked.

“Yes, but I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be naughty. I just wanted to see what would happen,” he confessed.

His voice broke eventually, thankfully. Now he can take responsibility for his own actions!

So, back to the phone and what has changed my mind about it.

This morning, having said I was ‘out’ to callers, I bumped into an old friend who lives about two miles down the road. I haven’t seen her for about ten years. We had a lot of catching up to do, happy news, sad news…the lot. Our youngest sons were friends when small so I suppose that’s the time when we saw each other the most. When the boys grew and went their separate ways, we did too. Work replaced those coffee mornings and the friendly chats we’d swapped in the school playground.

It made me think though. The odd phone call would have been a good idea. In fact I had one from another friend who I haven’t seen for a year or more, only recently.

It made my day!

So, I have ditched the selfish attitude and if you can bear with me as I struggle to hear the very first thing you say, I am definitely ‘in to callers’ today and every day from now on. I may even make a few of my own.

* “I heard that – pardon?” : An oft repeated quote in our house, taken from the BBC comedy series “I didn’t Know you Cared” aired in the 70’s by Peter Tinniswood and loosely based on his books.

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Once upon a time

Whilst carrying out research for my latest book, I have been reading about some of the world’s greatest inventions. Many are attributed to named individuals. It all makes fascinating reading. I even found a website which summarises all this information and gives me the names of the inventor, the date and place. All very helpful when writing a historical piece!

http://corporate.britannica.com/press/inventions.html

It struck me though, as I perused this list, that there is one invention, from which our modern day society has undoubtedly developed, that does not include the name of its inventor:

The Wheel.

The information given for ‘The Wheel’ is simply:

“About 3500 Russia/Kazakhstan or Mesopotamia”

It is a shame that history does not record exactly who was responsible for such a notable innovation. In fact, just as I was thinking what a shame this is, a story popped into my head and because I like telling stories I wrote it down and for want of a better place to put it, I decided to post it here.

This is the story of Abi-Eshu. (Ancient Mesopotamia circa 3500BC)

Abi-Eshu sits beneath the shade of the date tree, avoiding the hot sultry sun that scorches the ground. One ankle is wrapped tightly in cloth. The injury will keep him from helping in the fields today. He has sat here all morning, tracing shapes with a stick in the dusty ground.

Abi-eshu sits beneath the date tree

Abi-eshu sits beneath the date tree

“What is that you draw Abi-Eshu?” asks his father at lunchtime.

“They are shapes father – see, this has four straight sides, this has three and look, if I drag the stick around where I sit, like this – this is the shape of the sun,”

Abi-Eshu likes the shape of the sun. He cannot stare up at it directly of course but he can stare all he wants when he has drawn it on the soft earth. His father nods and smiles and hands Abi-eshu a rasp,

“Here, time to leave the shapes son. Take this rasp and smooth the wooden ladle your mother uses to ladle the soup. See how rough it has grown?” so saying, he leaves both rasp and spoon with Abi-Eshu and goes back to his fields.

Abi-Eshu takes the rasp and in a few swift movements has smoothed the surface of the ladle. He lays it aside and picks up a small flat pebble which he places next to his drawing of the sun. It is not as round as the sun but when he stands it on end, it rolls a little way along the ground before it topples over. Abi-Eshu picks up the stone and takes out the rasp his father has given him. If he could make the pebble rounder, would it roll for longer?

The rasp will not work as well on stone as it does on wood. Abi-Eshu throws the stone down in disgust.  He thinks for a moment before leaving the shade of the date tree and hopping across the yard, his bare foot burning on contact with the red-hot earth.  He reaches the pile of ‘things to mend’ that his father has stacked up against the little clay house. He selects a flat, circular seat that was his mother’s milking stool and decides it is perfect for his experiment.

Over the next few hours, Abi-Eshu uses the rasp to smooth the edges of the wood so that the surface is smooth. At last he sets it down on the ground and gently pushes it. The small disc turns full circle and continues to roll.

“Abi! Is that one of my best pot lids you have there?” calls his mother, seeing it roll by. Abi-Eshu shakes his head,

“No mother, it is my new invention…I call it, “the sun that rolls along the ground,”

His mother laughs and shakes a rug from which animal hairs and sand cascade onto the parched ground.

“A sun that rolls?”

“Yes, it rolls just as it does in the sky mother – see…”

His mother looks upward and sees the sun sinking slowly behind the mountain. She smiles at her only son. Tomorrow he will be well enough to help his father in the fields.

That night Abi-Eshu dreams. What does Abi-Eshu dream of?

He dreams of becoming a rich man with a fine house and enough food on the table to feed everyone. The house of Abi-Eshu’s father is modest and sits just outside the great city walls. His family is poor. Every day his father toils in the fields to bring food to the table and his mother walks miles to collect their water and wash their clothes. Abi-Eshu dreams of his invention,

“The sun that rolls along the ground.”

He dreams he is rolling it along, faster and faster until he cannot catch it. His new invention rolls down the dusty track and over the mountains and disappears.

Abi-Eshu wakes in a cold sweat but is strangely excited. He leaps up, heedless of his bad ankle and pulls out the piece of wood from beneath his bed. His eyes are shining. The pile-of-things-to-mend is lit by a silvery moon and he sees another piece of wood like the first.

As the sun rises in the East, Abi-Eshu slumbers, knees tucked under his chin, beneath the date tree. Beside him lie two perfect circles of wood, joined together by a wooden pole.

“Abi-Eshu! Wake up!”

His mother’s angry voice rouses him from a dreamless sleep and he jumps to his feet. The pain in his ankle has all but gone.

“Your father is looking for you. Today you must help him in the fields, come, breakfast first!”

Abi-Eshu sheepishly follows his mother into the kitchen and downs the chunk of coarse bread and the cup of goat’s milk that await him. He is dutiful and polite and his mother soon forgets her anger.

All day in the fields as he drags the plough along the stony ground, he thinks of his rolling-sun. He imagines all the uses it could be put to. In his head he carries images of carts and wheel-barrows. Though he has no names for them, he can see them and knows they will come.

By day Abi-Eshu works in the fields. By night he works on his invention.

By the time Abi-Eshu is a grown man, his rolling sun has indeed been put to good use and is attached to all manner of things. His father has a plough that sits on 2 rolling-suns making it easier to drag it to the fields. His mother has a rolling-sun with a platform on which she carries pots to the river. By the time Abi-Eshu has children of his own, he is sitting in a box on 4 rolling-suns and is being pulled along by horses.

Abi-Eshu has become very wealthy. He no longer sits beneath the date tree, day-dreaming. He has a new house in the city and he and his family live there in comfort.

Many years later we know the Rolling Sun as ‘The Wheel’.

Well, it could have happened that way couldn’t it?

Ok, back to my research!

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The Dress

There are times when one thoughtful act can change the way the world sees you – or the way you think it sees you – even if you are only seven years old and your world is a little smaller than it will one day be.

I was still seven years old when the year turned to 1964. I observed the world as the youngest of three sisters, the third of four children. My viewpoint was inevitably coloured by their experiences. My oldest sister, the elder by seven and a quarter years, was practically a grown-up in my eyes. She knew about the Beatles and dancing and had a record player in her bedroom.

She knew everything there was to know about the world I aspired to be a part of. She was fourteen going on twenty.

She was a ‘Teenager’ for goodness sake! Even the word ‘Teenager’ held a certain mystique. My best friend, when asked at school what she wanted to be when she grew up replied confidently,

“A Teenager, Miss.”

Teenagers inhabited the world of pop songs and parties. Later, the girls would tease and back-comb their hair into imitation beehives, wear mini-skirts and flutter false eye lashes. They were an elite group and we all looked forward to being admitted to their circle.

I still had a way to go at seven.

My early experience of the sixties was one of realising that some people just ‘had it’ while others, like me, aspired to have it.

There was a girl in my class who always wore the latest fashions and knew exactly what was what in the music world. Her name was Sharon. She was seven, like me but she could do the ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ and more. She was there, shaking and twisting, at every birthday party we attended, her skirts billowing out around her. I longed to be like Sharon. Her blonde hair swirled as she danced and she wore her clothes with panache.

Sharon was popular and the other girls flocked around her. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.

In the Spring term of 1964, Sharon sported an above the knee, tailored, double-breasted  coat with shiny brass buttons. I still wore the one passed down from my sister. Owing more to the long gone fifties than to Carnaby Street, it had always drawn my admiration for its tweed fullness. I loved it, caring nothing for the fact that it fell well below my knees, until Sharon and her friends laughed at it when I wore it to school. Sensing the need to save face, I shrugged.

“Isn’t it horrible? It used to be my sister’s – I have to wear it.”

They stopped laughing and sympathised instead.  Even Sharon had to do what her mother told her. Sharon was not really without feelings.

The Spring term hurried on. I hovered on the stairs when my sister and her friend disappeared into her bedroom to listen to records. Mostly still content to play with my dolls and hang out with my baby brother, I was also intrigued by their giggles and whispered conversations. I received short shrift should I dare to peer through the doorway but I knew they practised the latest dances.

I once asked my sister  if she would teach me how to dance. She laughed at me and told me I just needed to move about a bit. She demonstrated a couple of moves. I tried them. I don’t think they went quite as well as I’d hoped.

I practised the head shaking – alone. My hair was not as long as Sharon’s and nor was I blonde so I did not get quite the desired effect when I looked at myself in the mirror. I did get a pain in my neck and felt extremely queasy for a while. Perhaps dancing was not my forte after all.

The Spring term ended and Easter approached. Winter clothes were put away and summer clothes brought out to air. My wardrobe was never extensive. Children just didn’t have the amount of clothes they have today, back then.

I possessed some hand-me-down dresses from my sisters and my mother knitted us all a couple of cardigans. Invariably, these would include a pink and a white one for my middle sister and a blue and a white one for me.

My mother was very busy over the Easter holiday. A Follower of Fashion in her own right, she made all our clothes and many of her own. They were all beautifully sewn. We were allowed to help choose the material and the dress patterns. This Easter, I had chosen a pale blue cotton and a pretty yellow and white floral print. The pattern book was not needed. My mother already had the dress pattern she had used for my middle sister when she was seven.

Flared skirts

The fashion travesty

The dresses were lovely. Their skirts billowed out – a sash tied round the middle. I couldn’t wait to wear one to school.

On the first day of the summer term, I chose the yellow and white print. I trotted off to school with my middle sister. I don’t recall what she wore. At ten years old, she barely spoke to me unless she had to.

I walked into the classroom and the bright smile, that I had had pinned to my face all morning, vanished. My dress failed to draw the admiring stares I had hoped for. I could see why.

The fashion powers that held sway, had decreed that young girls’ dresses grow slimmer and straight. Tailored styles had burst upon the scene. Sharon wore a simple shift dress with epaulets and pockets. I looked down at my billowing skirts and if the floor could have swallowed the seven year old me up, I’d have been happy.

To be fair, no one said anything, they didn’t need to. Perhaps one or two girls still wore old style dresses but that did not help. I spent the day suffering from ‘wardrobe shame’.

I don’t recall telling my mother what had happened. I hated the thought of telling her that the dress I had loved this morning was a fashion travesty by home time. Perhaps my sister, ever observant, said something.  She had already moved up a notch in the pattern books. I merely asked my mother if next time, she could use a different pattern. She said that of course she would and that was that.

I put the dress aside and wore another, less flouncy one the next day.

Mothers are canny creatures. Mine was cannier than most. She must have guessed at my wardrobe-humiliation and a couple of days later, she took the brand new, crisp cotton dress with its carefully sewn skirts and wide sash and worked on it, unbeknown to me, into the small hours.

The next morning, when I awoke, it was there.

Gone were the fussy, flouncy skirts. This dress was straight ‘A’ line, sleeveless with no hint of a swirl. Best of all, it had a long zip running down the front with a silver ring pull on it, just like the ones in the magazines.

I couldn’t wait to show it off, I couldn’t wait to thank my mother.

I ran all the way to school wearing the re-vamped dress and I soaked up the admiring glances, both real and imagined, that were thrown my way as I walked into the classroom. Sharon came over and nodded approvingly. I basked in this new found celebrity.

I wore the print dress to the birthday party we had been invited to the following week. I no longer worried that people would laugh at me. I no longer felt inferior to Sharon and her circle of friends.

Over time my mother transformed all my dresses (there was so much material in each, it was easy she said).

The Transformation

The transformation

Along with my new wardrobe came a whole new confidence. I no longer worried that the dance moves I was performing fell short of those executed so deftly by Sharon. Clad in my new up to the minute clothes, I could do anything.

Suddenly, back in  1964, I had it!

Pattern Images copyright: www.rustyzipper.com

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An Audience with Grace

The first time I had a short story published I was ecstatic.

It didn’t pay a fortune but the real pleasure came from seeing my story appear in print with a glorious illustration to boot.

I wrote several short stories in the mid to late nineties for ‘My Weekly,’ – a long-established, women’s magazine that is still going strong today. Each time I had a story published, I felt that frisson of excitement that any writer gets from seeing one’s words in print.

I was delighted to find myself in the company of such celebrated writers as Catherine Cookson and always pleased to note that I was placed next to her in the contents list. If nothing else, my claim to fame could always be that I was published alongside Catherine Cookson. Having a surname beginning with ‘B’ meant that, alphabetically, our paths were bound to cross.

Most stories were bought as presented and very few changes made. There were the usual in-house edits to make them fit the page at times and the kind editor would add or remove an erroneous comma or typo. However, there were a couple of times when manuscripts were returned to me with requests for more major changes.

On one occasion, I was advised by my editor, Gladys, that a certain story might offend some readers. It was about a dog who had managed to eat a visitor’s dress ring. The description of how the ring had to be retrieved, in secret, need not appear here but you don’t need to be Einstein to guess how I might have told that scene. So, I had to have the dog bury the ring, still in its box, in a flowerbed instead. A much cleaner and far more tasteful scenario that would be more to the taste of my readers it seems.

In another tale, the main character was an elderly widow who was moving house. The story centred on the memories that surfaced as she said goodbye to her home for the last time and in doing so, revealed the answer to a puzzle that had had people guessing for years. 

The character’s status might make my readers sad, I was told, so I must change it. The change meant that we now believed the husband to be either dead or missing throughout the entire story but were then delighted to find him waiting in the car. Did resurrecting him make a difference to the story? It changed it a little but it was a compromise I was happy to make. The story was published.

Perhaps Catherine Cookson had to compromise at times too?

I continued to write short stories in between working on my novels and producing a couple of monthly columns which inspired the blog I write today. ‘My Weekly’ published several more of my stories and I often wondered if my readers liked them or indeed, had any opinions about them at all.

Who were my readers? The magazine seemed to have a large circulation and a broad readership of women of all ages according to its guidelines. I knew my mother read it and of course she loved the fact that I was frequently featured. She still has those magazines in which my stories appeared, I believe. On the whole, I was writing for a group of unknowns – for women over the age of 50 perhaps but for no one in particular. Essentially, they were anonymous.  

One good thing about writing for magazines is that you can buy as many as you want and read as many you want and put it all down to ‘research’. In fact, it is a necessity.

Bent on carrying out some of this ‘research’ I was browsing the newsagent’s shelves one morning when I was joined by an elderly lady. White hair freshly permed, ruby framed glasses perched on the tip of her nose, the woman smiled in a triumphant fashion and plucked a magazine from the shelf to my right. The magazine she had picked was, ‘My Weekly’. I smiled to myself. I knew I had a story in that copy. The elderly lady walked over to the counter to pay and beamed at the assistant.

“I do look forward to my magazine each week,” she confided. The assistant smiled.

“Good is it, Grace?”

Grace nodded as she handed over her change,

“I love reading all the stories, I read them over and over again,” she admitted, “they brighten my day.”

I smiled and picked up my own magazine – I don’t recall what it was. I was just so pleased to have ‘met’ one of my readers and to have heard her say how much she liked the stories in the magazine. Chances are she liked mine as much as any. So, this was who was reading them. This was who I was writing for.

From that moment I had my target audience in mind. I wrote for Grace.

My editor never asked me to change the contents of a story again.

Knowing one’s target market is essential of course and although I will not always be able to meet my readers, I remember and am eternally grateful for my unexpected,

‘Audience with Grace’.

P.S. My Weekly underwent a revamp in 2006, targeting a younger audience. I like to think that Grace has continued to enjoy her magazine just as much.

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