Thursday, 20 June 2013


My WEA fiction writing classes have ended for this term and I was really touched to be given the wonderful card above from my students, along with a gift voucher which made me feel really appreciated.

They are a such talented bunch of writers. I think I learned as much from them as they learned from me and I have enjoyed reading every one of their poems, short stories and novel chapters submitted for crit each week. I think I might now get withdrawal symptoms until the course starts again in September.

However, I do have plans to become engrossed in my own writing during the gap. I do still have that first draft of my crime novel to finish and I need to brush up and perfect my shorthand skills because I will be teaching that next year for the first time at university as part of the journalism teaching I do.

I also have other creative writing courses starting from September. It looks like I'm going to be very busy once summer ends so I'd better make the most of the time I have got.

If my lovely students read this blog, then thank you for the wonderful card, your kind comments, and for all the work you have done this year. Keep writing and never ever stop.


Sad news broke today that Sopranos actor James Gandolfini has died aged 51 in Italy.

Sudden death has to be hardest thing for a person's family, friends and colleagues and this great actor's demise reminded me that this time last year we lost a friend in similar circumstances at the festival we visit each year.

Jane Beetrootz, as she was known, was found dead in her van at the end of the event. She was a big woman, with a big heart and there is still a huge gap that can never be filled for us and many of the festie friends at this time of year.

A talented percussionist, she banged her bongos all weekend long, held workshops to teach kids how to play drums and created the beat and rhythm backdrop to the festival which helped to create its unique atmosphere. When she wasn't playing she would drop into our tents and vans for a cuppa and a chat. Everyone loved to see her because she was one of the most popular festival goers there.

Jane also hosted the festival's disco raffle held in aid of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and she was at the first ever Eco Fest as it was called when it began in 1996. It marked the end of an era when the last one was held last year and it was at the end of the end of the festival that Jane was found. She had been reading as she lay in bed, and found book laid across her chest as if she was sleeping. If only she had been.

The couple who organise the festival each year gave Jane a lovely send off for her friends at the event they also hold each year in September, Small World. The photo above shows the other percussionists playing and singing as Jane's ashes were buried in her favourite spot and a memorial space was created for her.

The festival is not on this year and sadly a new Afro-Brazillian drum and dance workshop event was cancelled but we crew who meet up year after year are still going camping at the spot in the rolling hills of the Louth Wolds. No doubt a drink or two or three or five will be had in memory of Jane.

She may not have been as famous as James Gandolfini but she will be just as missed by those who knew her, loved her and were honoured to be counted as one of her friends.

Her memorial event last year also marked a sun-drenched festival. This year, the weather will not be as kind but we are a hardy bunch. I guess the most important thing to remember is the wellies - and hopefully someone will bring a drum and the spirit of Jane with them in every beat.

Or maybe her spirit will be found over a rainbow like this one.

Saturday, 15 June 2013


It was an exhausting but inspiring day at the Woman's Weekly fiction workshop where a collection of writers and wannabe writers gathered to learn tips and theories and practice the creation and development of characters and plots that would be of use and value to the magazine which is clearly a hungry animal.

With a regular fiction special out 12 times a year that features 20 - 25 stories and three or four every week, it needs lots of feeding so the aim of the workshop was to show those who write for it, or who want to write for it, the sort of standard required from submissions.

Those who have written for the publication before are in a better position than those of us who have not. They can approach the editor with ideas by email that go to the top of the pile for consideration while those of us who have not must take our chances with about 1,000 other people submitting stories each week by snail mail post. With such a huge volume of talent to chose from it's no wonder that it takes four months to get an answer about whether your story is one for them. No response after four months clearly means your story is not one that the magazine can use.

I had hoped to feel closer to my goals of swapping real life features for fiction features but strangely felt even further away by the end of the day. However, it has given me a new focus to aim for and a new style to adapt to. No one ever said earning a living as a writer would be easy and anyone who thinks it is is a misguided fool.

One author who does have features used regularly is Suzanne Ahern. She gave lots of useful tips and advice for those wanting to try their hand at the art of serial writing. These can include stories as long as 8,000 words. Each one clearly needs to end on a cliff hanger to ensure the reader will return. In some ways serials are said to be easier to write than the one page stories of 1,000 words which leave little room for character development and plot twist.

Another speaker was agent Laura Longrigg I had my chance to pitch my crime novel to her in an exercise where we had two sentences to describe a piece a work we are working on or from another author we admire but I flunked. I just didn't quite get it out before it got to my turn so at this stage, rather than embarrass myself, I passed and threw my pen down in defeat.

However, she did mention the Harry Bowling Prize and that work with a strong urban theme was desired. I mentioned my crime novel because the setting is the strongest thing about it and she was very encouraging. If I came away at the end of the day motivated to do anything it was to ensure that I finish at least that first draft by the end of this summer.

As far as submitting to Woman's Weekly, then I think it's time to revisit the works in progress on my fiction page to see how they can be tailored to the story requirements of the magazine. At present, I guess they fall into the nice story but where is it going category.

The event was held at the Blue Finn building in Southwark where we had access to the staff restaurant/café. I had the nicest cup of tea I've ever had there served by a friendly chap who clearly loved his job - judging by the wide smile spread across his face as he worked.

The viewtop terrace outside afforded panoramic views of the City and I grabbed a few shots with my mobile phone. The one below is probably one of the best and shows that London is currently like a large building site with cranes hovering over towers in the middle of or nearing the end construction.

The magazine's next Fiction Workshop in London is on July 19th and another event is due to be held in Manchester from September 12 - 14th called Woman's Weekly Live where fiction writing is also on the schedule.

You would need to book in advance by emailing

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


The video above was filmed last year at an event to hammer home the message that freedom of choice, tolerance and consideration are important cultural aspects of modern British life and principles we should all support whatever our views on smoking or smokers.

I am honoured to be invited for a second year, not least because I love Boisdales where it is held but also because I believe passionately in free choice for both sides of the debate and I support adult tobacco consumer's rights' group Forest - The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco.

Last year's guest speakers included Libertarians James Delingpole and Claire Fox plus Gen Sir Mike Jackson and this year's line up on July 2 is just as impressive. Lord Bell, former political advisor to Thatcher and Reagan, will make the keynote speech and I'm sure he will have something of value to say.

Tickets cost £90 a head but the food, the company, the live music, the glittering setting at Canary Wharf, and the subject matter are worth it. Tickets can be booked HERE for anyone who wants to come along and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

I rather fancy the Forest free boat party next week on June 18th too but I can't make it due to having work commitments on that day. Others still have a last chance to register their interest via this link.

The other reason I'll miss the boat party is because I am in London four days earlier for a fiction event which I'm really looking forward to. Full feedback and report will be posted here sometime after I return on Friday evening.

Fun, music, and a serious and important message at both Forest functions are guaranteed unlike the great British weather but fingers crossed. We can but hope.

Sunday, 9 June 2013


Saturday nights just won't be the same now that crime noir drama Arne Dahl has ended. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as the other excellent Scandinavian dramas The Killing or Borgen but it managed to keep me hooked as the series just got better and better each episode as it hurtled towards the end of it's 10 parts.

Named after it's author, the series has been edgy, fast-paced, intriguing and engaging. I've really got into the characters' lives but so much has been left unresolved there surely has to be another series in future - perhaps next year?

I want to know if Cilla really is going to divorce Paul? Will Chavez be able to persuade new wife, and former online child porn detective, Sara to have children that he so desperately wants? Will Kerstin cope now that she has been given custody of her son and will Viggo, the Viking Battle Man, have good news regarding his baby daughter's health? How will Aarto's wife react to her husband returning his £3 million Kroner inheritance from a Nazi uncle who made it killing and torturing Jews? And who will boss Jenny get rid of after being told by her superiors that she must cut three from the team?

And what role, exactly, does that weird cleaner have in the series? His occasional magic trick and omniscient knowledge of all that is going on in the characters' minds and lives made me wonder if I really saw what I had seen. In the first episode he wipes the detectives board clean, and then with the swipe of a cloth reinstates it, he spat in a bin and from that a helium balloon rose and put a smile on Viggo's face at a time he had been rejected by his girlfriend who wouldn't let him see his baby, he easily removed the troublesome ring stuck on Kerstin's finger, even though sheer bloody determination and grease wouldn't shift it, and he knew all about the trouble Aarto had in trying to decide if he should buy a outrageously priced property to keep his wife happy.

I thought for a while back there that it was going to be a sort Life On Mars/Ashes to Ashes scenario where maybe they were all dead in reality and the cleaner was the clue that all is not as it seems. After all, they have all been close to death - Viggo crucified, Aarto shot, Chavez shot, Gunnar shot, Kerstin beaten, Paul trying to disarm an asylum seeker in the very first episode, and then later blown up within an inch of his life. However, if such a twist was planned there is no sign of it yet.

It also reminded me slightly of New Tricks due to the way the team was brought together for it's special skills and individual instinct among the Swedish detectives. A couple of them could be the old-school type brought out of retirement, as portrayed by Dennis Waterman and his co-stars in the English cop show, but the others are too young, too sharp, too energetic, and still serving officers at the time of their transfer.

For sure Arne Dahl is a very European drama shown in the various languages used and portraying English as the common speak between various nation states. As the elderly Italian Mafia man tells Aarto, who is sent to Tuscany to investigate links to the murder of a former Jewish concentration camp inmate, five Eastern European prostitutes and one pimp : "Let's speak English, Your Italian isn't that good."

The show is the latest in a series of foreign language dramas on BBC Four on Saturday evenings at 9pm which I first started watching when I stumbled upon Inspector Montalbano. There's no news on whether that is set to return, or to be repeated, but I wait to see what is on next week in place of Arne Dahl.

Meanwhile, I am avidly watching The Fall on BBC 2 on Mondays at 9pm which I've written reviews on so far for Robin Jarossi's Crime Time Preview blog.

UPDATE - 11/06/13

My review of the final episode of The Fall can be read HERE. Suffice to say great series - great shame about the ending.

Friday, 7 June 2013


A couple of years ago, after 20 years of living together and bringing up four children, my other half and I got married which was something we didn't really want to do but were forced into thanks to the Govt removing our long standing common law rights.

We are not religious and neither do we believe that the state should have right to approve a loving relationship between two people whether gay or straight, but to ensure next of kin rights that were taken from us when civil partnerships were created, and from which we were excluded, we had to get married just to get back what had been legally ours before the law changed.

We didn't tell anyone because as two oldies we were a bit embarrassed and we wondered what our children would think of us so we just picked the next available date after our initial enquiry to the local register office. This was close to Christmas 2011. We asked a couple of acquaintances if they would be our witnesses. They were sworn to secrecy and they didn't let us down. They said nothing to anyone until today - the day we finally told all our relatives and our friends and let the cat out of the bag and into the public domain.

We've never been big believers in the traditional sort of marriage. I'd been married before but it didn't work out and so I wasn't keen to do it again. The natural law of love, dedication and commitment was worth far more to both of us than a union granted by God or the Prime Minister. A civil partnership isn't really an alternative either for people like us but at least it would have allowed us to choose another way to secure joint rights to the lives we have both built up over two decades without betraying our principles.

After our secret wedding, we had a quick drink with our witnesses to say thanks and then it was home to get changed and then get back to work.

After we had done the deed, we both resolved to keep it secret and the longer the weeks, months, years went on it became harder and harder to tell our children what we'd done. My other half told his mum at the time his dad had died and that meant the race was then on to ensure everyone in the family knew.

We planned to tell them at my father-in-law's funeral but then it wasn't really appropriate to put ourselves at the centre of such a sombre occasion held to honour the life of a very good man who passed away. The next opportunity came when daughter No 2 told me she was getting married - but then I didn't want to steal her thunder or impact upon her good news. Another chance came when daughter No 1 had her second baby a week or two ago. We almost told her then - but again it would have detracted from her celebrations, her news, her family's special occasion and we didn't want to impose.

We finally told them yesterday, girded our loins in anticipation of perhaps angry kids who felt excluded from something they might have liked to celebrate with us or possibly upset that we had this secret for so long, but they were all as pleased as punch for us.

So now it's done, both the wedding and the informing of relatives was no where near as traumatic as I'd expected and I hope me and my other half get to live many more years happily together with our children and our five grandchildren.

Who says romance is dead.