My Favourite Things

Unlike Bob Geldof, I do like Mondays, because  I look forward to reading the blogs I follow on WordPress. Other people’s blogs can be funds of information.  This week, from Meredith Allard’s blog, I learn about Anne Bradstreet, an early American poet.  From Blog About Writing, and Words about Writing and Writing about Words, I find out about about new writing competitions.  From several other blogs, I discover books I want to read.  One of my favourite blogs,  however, Campari and Sofa,  is just fun.  Written by two mature women (one in LA and one in South Africa), it often just contains a quote, but this week was about ‘#143 Things We Love’. #143?  Sooo… I think I’d better get going and list #1 Things I Love… not in any particular order.

  • Relaxing with a cup of tea or coffee, made exactly the right way, right temperature, right strength, right amount of milk and no food served with it to spoil it.  Btw, I don’t do herbal teas and I don’t do instant coffee.
  • A cup of tea in bed – made by someone else.
  • Hanging-out washing on a warm, spring day, listening to the lambs bleating in the field half a mile away.  (You didn’t expect that one, did you?)
  • Shutting the dishwasher-door and switching it on, thinking about how it’s doing all my work for me.
  • Stationery, especially blank, lined notebooks, smelling of freshly minted paper.  The hardback ones, especially with a pretty pattern on them, are the best.  I also have a thing about pencils with rubbers on the ends, staplers and hole punches.
  • Roses, and dahlias, because of their strong colours, and range of colours.
  • A really good book.
  • Having a piece of my writing accepted by a webzine or other publisher.
  • Chancing upon something funny, such as a road sign or notice, like the ones below:
Prayors Hill. Road sign in Sible Hedingham, Essex
Sible Hedingham, Essex. This road leads to the church.
Advert in train. Excellent summing up of the story arc for Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Mikado'.
Advert in train. Excellent summing up of the story arc for Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’.
  • Computers.
  • Cats.
  • The roar of a football crowd.
  • The moment you touch down on the tarmac in the UK on returning from holiday.
  • Warm, sunny days at home in England, you know, the ones that are so warm and pleasant that you consider cancelling your holiday.
  • Walking outside early in the morning in summer, into a world fresh, untouched and full of amazing potential.
  • Sitting by a roaring fire (in the grate) in winter.
  • Ooh… and writing.

I know I’m supposed to mention things like ‘spending time with my grandchildren’.  I love them dearly.  They are the reason I haven’t been doing much writing recently, but  I’m listing THINGS not people.


Difficult Times for Womag Writers

Woman’s Weekly is one of the few British women’s magazines to publish fiction but it has had a rollercoaster of a week.   For those, like me, who aspire to write for women’s magazines, the news is disappointing.

First of all – with apologies to those who have been following this story elsewhere – let me summarise what happened.

First of all, we learned, on Facebook, through Patsy Collins (regular contributor to women’s magazines and host of womagwriter blog) that the whole fiction desk at WW had ‘left’.  Then, on Thursday, Patsy was asked, by Clare at WW, to publish a message on womagwriter saying that WW would not be accepting ‘unsolicited stories for the time being’, but they hoped to ‘reinstate them at some point in the future’.  On Friday, Patsy received another, slightly more hopeful, email from the new fiction editor at WW, welcoming submissions from herself as a regular contributor, and explaining WW’s new policy regarding new writers, that they would be open to submissions from ALL writers SOME of the time.  The WW submission windows will be advertised in their guidelines and on the womagwriter blog.

Many thanks to Patsy for sharing this information with all of us.  Obviously, more details are available on womagwriter blog.

I admit that I haven’t been very assiduous in submitting to womag over the last few years, as my stories kept getting rejected.  I sensed that I was not properly on the womag wavelength, that I needed to devote some time to working out how to tune into it, something I didn’t have the time to do.  However, I’ve always thought that I would go back to it at some point.  Just shows that, like the Post Office, you use it or lose it.  Other womag-type markets are limited.  Another friend has had several successes at People’s Friend, but they also send me rejections – and they’re based in Scotland.  Come on, fiction editor at PF, surely, please show my stories some traditional Scottish hospitality after they have travelled so far! 

Writers’ whinges apart, surely accepting stories only from writers who have written for a mag previously is inward-looking and short-sighted.  I suppose magazine companies calculate that they are saving money by limiting the number of submissions and therefore the number of editors required to read them.  But women’s magazines in general have a declining, and increasingly elderly, readership.   All print media is in decline.  Companies that don’t grow fade away.  If women’s magazines are to survive, they need fresh ideas, fresh approaches  – and new writers.  At the moment, they seem obsessed with celebrities and ‘true life’ stories.   British women’s magazines, as we know them, and as our mothers and grandmothers knew them, are going to wither away and die, through a series of miscalculations and misjudgments.

I remember reading Woman’s Weekly as a pre-teen, along with Woman (long since gone) and Woman’s Own (no longer taking fiction), in my grandmother’s deserted ‘lounge’ (only used on Christmas Day).  I think I learned most of the ‘facts of life’ from womag problem pages.  I end with a cover of Woman’s Weekly of yesteryear – the Queen Mother and free Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion.  Pure comfort-reading.

What Are Books For?

  • ‘I love the feel of a book.’
  • ‘I love the smell of a book.’
  • ‘I need to be able physically to turn the pages.’
  • ‘I love rummaging around in second-hand bookshops.’
  • ‘I love those pretentious and expensive hard backed editions of books I’ve probably already read in paperback
  • I love expensive, hardback books which I will never read… you know, random histories of India, volumes 1 and 2.’

I could never throw a book away.

  • Do you possess copies of bed and breakfast directories for 1994?
  • Do you have cookery books for virtually every type of food and every sort of cuisine, and only use five or six of them?
  • Do you retain sets of romance/detective paperbacks, which you will never ever touch again?  (Your tastes have changed.)
  • Do you love cramming books, especially those costly hardbacks, on top of other books in your shelves, squashing them in, and wondering where on earth you’re going to find space for the others?
  • Do you have stacks of books under beds in spare rooms?
  • Do you have stacks of recently-read (and not so recently-read) books on tables?
  • Do you love dusting the bleep bleep things?  The dust doesn’t half accumulate on the upper edges of the pages, in between the bindings.
  • Do you love the smell of mildew emanating from a book that hasn’t been touched for a long time… five years… well, ten years… How long was it since you decorated the spare bedroom?  Fifteen years!

So, what do you do?  You say to yourself you will have a clear out.  Having negotiated with your other half, who will – naturally – remove almost everything of his/hers from your chuck-out pile, you box them up and take them to the charity shop.  Oxfam do second-hand books, don’t they?  But the fact is many charity shops aren’t very interested in your average cast-offs, only particular sorts of books which they think they can shift quickly.  The remainder of your treasures will be pulped.  The same goes for the left-overs from bookstalls at local fetes.

I understand that ‘real books’ are back – see this article in The Irish Times, with all the usual arguments about feel and physicality being trotted out again.  There are occasions when only a print book will do, for instance, for a child who is being read to, and for whom the pictures are as important as the text; often books for the very young contain pop-up images and swatches they can touch.  Additionally, when I am teaching myself how to do something on the computer, I can understand the subject much more easily from a paper-based page, because I can flip back through other pages with ease and type code, build a website, or whatever, on my machine.

However,  it’s not necessary to read fiction in printed form.

This post has been quite flippant so far, but there are some serious ecological issues: about knocking down trees to produce paper for people who could read electronically; about needing storage; and disposal.  I have a Kindle library running to several electronic pages.  It takes up no space in my house at all and doesn’t need dusting.

Books are for reading.  Full stop.

Pet Peeves In Reading, Writing and Editing

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Today is the first Wednesday of the month, and it’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group day!  We are asked to write about our pet peeves in reading, writing and editing, so please allow me to have a really good moan.

Peeve 1 – Reading

I review – more or less – everything I read on my Dear Reader blog and it peeves me that no one reads my reviews.  It’s not as if no-one reads book reviews online because many other book reviewers blogs do attract interest, so, in an open and non-peevish way, I’m asking you, my fellow bloggers, what could be improved?  (This Dear Reader blog text here is a link, if you wouldn’t mind checking it out.)

Peeve 2 – Writing

No time.  (The really helpful and supportive Facebook friends who read the Facebook post generated by my last post on this blog will have heard all this before.).  The last time I did any proper writing, that is, of my novel, was on a train to Newcastle and back, on 8 July.  In the meantime, I’ve been working, seeing friends and looking after family.  Moreover, on Sunday, one-and-only-husband and I go on holiday to Ireland for ten days.  I love to see my friends and family, because, as I’ve said before, I’m not all writer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  It’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Another blogger (not known to me personally) has given up her day-job, but she, unlike me, is an established womag writer.   Dare I take the plunge?  No.  Could I partly take the plunge?  I’m plucking up courage.

Peeve 3 – Writing and Editing

Author's Cat Sitting by BookcaseMy cat is old, very timid and very loving.  She likes to sit on my knee, between me and the computer.   Actually, she prefers to stand on my knee between me and my computer, so I find myself stretching my arms around her head (one end) and tail (other end) to reach the keyboard and looking over her back to see the screen.  This is distracting when writing.  It also makes editing more difficult, because she sits on the touchpad; my computer is surprising responsive to her paws and bottom, highlighting and deleting whole passages at whim (her whim).

Generally, I am feeling very insecure about my writing at the moment.  A few weeks ago, I saw a flyer for the Mslexia novel comp; the deadline is in mid-September and, if shortlisted, I would have to have the whole thing completed by mid-November.  When I was on a roll, writing on trains to and from Newcastle, this sounded just about do-able, but, now, I know, it’s not.  Ditto, any possibility that I might do Nano again.  At this moment, I feel that The Novel and I are becoming shipwrecked.