Thursday, 22 December 2011

See you on the other side...

...of the festive period, that is, not life!  As Christmas is only a few days away and the New Year just a week after that, we are all busy, hectic (though hopefully not too stressed), and in need of a rest – well, I know I am!  So, let me take this opportunity to say:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Have a fab time and I’ll see you in 2012, when I hope to get my writing act together...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A (Reformed) Scrooge's Xmas Reading Recommendation

At Christmastime, I’m often known as Scrooge, not Deb.  Yes, really - Scrooge with a capital S.  Santa, tinsel and carols do nothing for me, I’m afraid (okay, so turkey, roaring fire and a chocolate or ten go down well – but I can have them in any calendar month, so what’s so special about December, I ask you!).  Ahh...admitting and putting it out there does feel better! Therapy needed, anyone?!

A large part of this Scrooge-ness results from having worked in retail for so many years: Christmas is a 3-day luxury for everyone else, but a 4-month nightmare for us retailers.  Try feeling festive when you’re listening to (badly sung!) Christmas tunes in sunny, sultry September; being yelled at about sales targets and improving profits with no genuine focus from those-on-high for helping people find that special, bespoke present; or working till 8pm on Christmas Eve setting the sale up, then being back in at 8am on Boxing Day to welcome the customers, who’re all those other people who’ve had a decent holiday but don’t want to do anything other than shop (meaning we have to work, to be there to serve them, you see)...  You get my Scrooge-sense loud and clear, I’m sure.

But this year, I am reformed.  Yes, really*.  And the beginning of this reform is down to a fab book I read while on my holiday in Paris.  It’s called Miracle on Regent Street, and is a fabulous fun book by former Glamour magazine features editor Ali Harris. 

A few days before flying away, I’d been browsing in Tesco (not that I want to add to their world domination by further advertising them, but I can’t help where I shop out of convenience... Bad, bad, lazy me, I know!) for a book to take to Paris; you know, a travel book.  Bet you do it too – choose a light, easily but well written story that will put a smile on your face, and which also, somehow, just ‘fits’ your destination.  And at £2.99** I couldn’t resist – and now I’ve enjoyed the book, I’d gladly pay the jacket price of £6.99 if I was to buy it again (for a Christmas present, maybe – but who could the lucky person be?!)  The blurb on the back captures the story quicker and better than I could, so here it is:

For the past two years, Evie Taylor has lived an invisible existence in London, a city she hoped would bring sparkle to her life.  But all that is about to change.  For winter had brought a flurry of snow and unexpected possibilities.

Hidden away in the basement of Hardy’s – once London’s most elegant department store – Evie manages the stockroom of a shop whose glory days have long since passed.  When Evie overhears that Hardy’s is at risk of being sold, she secretly hatches a plan.  If she can reverse the store’s fortunes by December 26th – three weeks away – and transform it into a magical destination once again, she might just be able to save it.  But she’s going to need every ounce of talent and determination she has.  In fact, she’s going to need a miracle.

So, a Christmassy-warm story set stubbornly at Christmas and IN a shop (of all places!)...and I LOVED it!  Scrooge no longer, I scored it a 9 and ½ out of 10 in my Reading Journal (and only a select few make a 10, don’cha know!).

Miracle on Regent Street really is ‘an utterly magical novel full of heart, soul and bags of seasonal spirit’, as the blurb says, making me feel all warm and cosy, just like you should feel at Christmas (although I often don’t).  I found it to be a heart-warming, hopeful and happy story... with stylish sass and a bite of surprise too!  It is well-written with excellent characterisation, fabulous descriptions of the vintage clothes and products that feature in Evie’s masterplan, as well as exploring what really makes a good friendship.

Be your own Father Christmas (and where did the name ‘Santa’ come from anyway?  Grr...  Oh dear, I feel a bit funny all of a sudden...  Dr Deb and Mr Scrooge, anyone?!) and buy yourself A Miracle on Regent Street as a gift RIGHT NOW!  And when you finish reading it, perhaps you’ll be impatiently waiting for Ali Harris’ next book just like me, or maybe you’ll even be joining me down at Hardy’s in the New Year to see if we can get a job there too...

*Okay, so only a little bit.  But it’s enough!  Our store not being open on Boxing Day (whoop, whoop!) helps, as does having three days off together (almost unheard of in retail schedules!) starting today, as well as my general relaxed attitude this year (“Christmas?  What’s that?  Never mind, I’ll just sleep instead,”) explains all you need to know!  Perhaps my true nature is some kind of hibernating bear...

**Hold your horses now and don’t cause a stampede down to Tesco – even if it’s still on their book shelves, you can bet it won’t be such a price-steal anymore!  Sorry for rubbing it in...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Paris Post: C'est Fini

Well, my trip to Paris is fini, at least (6 weeks ago, if we're counting - how time does fly!), and my blogging directly about it ends here - but Paris herself remains as inviting and inspiring as she always has been, awaiting her next visitors.

So, now that I've had the Paris experience and I am naturally creative, how exactly do Paris and Creativity meet?  Not as obviously as I’d hoped, actually; not yet, anyway.  While away, I had hoped to be writing scenes and sketches for Novel Number Two; listening to conversations and sneakily jotting down the interesting bits; and picking places for my characters to live and work in.  This was a bit ambitious, to be honest; rather over-reaching for where I am in the prep work of Novel Number Two.

Now back home (for quite a while!), I have yet to get to know my characters properly, to pin down the schematics of plotlines, and to work out the answers to fundamental questions – and so Paris couldn’t find its place of direct influence amongst all this unknown-ness swirling around.  Still, it was a wonderful place and a great trip, and I have many photos and memories which will conjure up Paris herself when I am ready to knuckle down to these things (particularly as at the moment, a rather pesky time called 'Christmas' is getting in the way...).

Paris has met with Creativity in terms of this blog though; for I wouldn’t have recorded my observations and experiences in the same way if I wasn’t writing it.  Whenever I visit a new place (and this can be at home in England as well as away abroad), I always take a notebook and write down whatever springs to mind, whether it’s straight description, things to look up at a later stage, or creative lil’ bits (as I like to call the myriad jottings!).  I did this in Paris, of course, and it has framed the basis of these posts, but it wasn’t written in the same way.  Writing is communication, and in my notebooks my audience is myself; I can get away with unfinished sentences and random words, strange doodles and personal shorthand, because I know what it all means.  Yet this blog’s readership is not myself, it is you.  And that has forced me to write, to illustrate, flavour and explain, and not simply Deb-note the things that struck me.  So thank you – because the last couple of months have been rather hard on me, and I’ve found being creatively inspired difficult, not to mention writing fresh stuff impossible!

To sum up, then, Paris = a chic, bustling and stunning city, with a certain je ne sais quoi that you’ll only know if you experience it yourself.  So go and book those tickets!  Will I go back?  Yes, I’d love to.  We only had just over four days and that isn’t enough to see everything – there’s still Sacre-Coeur; the interior of the Notre Dame and the Opera House; the Pantheon; Montmartre; Versailles...oh, there’s room in your suitcase for me, did I hear you say?  How kind, dahling – when are we going?!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Penultimate Paris Post: Pic n Mix

This post is like a literary pic n mix – a little bit of everything, in notes, thoughts and pictures.  So, open your paper bag and get ready to pick a snippet to mix with a snap!

Views from the Batobus river boat cruising along the River Seine:

Parisian Styles and Trends Noticed (admittedly exclusively female – oops!):

·         Pashminas or poncho-style tops; lots of draping of luxurious fabrics over one shoulder, dahling.

·         Ankle boots with thick, opaque or flesh-coloured tights and above knee-length skirts.

·         Mostly boots with small, short heels: ankle, calf-and knee- length; with very few stilettos spotted!

·         Waist-length jackets or longer, cinched in at the waist to create exquisite shape; a shape defined, honoured.  Worshipped.

·         Long woolly scarves wound and knotted at the neck, often in striking accent colours complementing the whole ensemble (particularly remembered: a mustard yellow scarf over a black crew-necked sweater and black jeans).

·         Outfits in tones and hues of colours; not particularly bright, but rich, jewel colours, warm against the skin.  Complementary-colour dressing is spot on!

Notre Dame and my attempts at artsy photography (which aren’t so bad, if I do say so myself!):

Doorways, of which I have an odd interest in (please don’t ask for the logic or reason in this; it’s just that beautiful architecture talks to me, and doors are often the thing that catches my eye and my imagination first...  Who could live behind them?  What happens when they’re shut, or open, and why?  How would I feel if this was my front door?) :

Le Tower:

Shakespeare and Company...

...a bookshop that I longed to go in after it was featured in a book I read this summer, 'The Shoe Queen' by Anna Davis.  Much smaller than I anticipated, the bookshop is in fact like a collection of bookshelves all jammed together and leant against one another.  It has a ye olde worlde look and atmosphere to it, as the name suggests, and is “rammed to the rafters with books,” as Zoe said.  Stocking English language tomes of all genres, there are several reading areas upstairs, each one with a different theme.  Though we weren’t allowed to take photos in case we disturbed anyone reading, I couldn’t resist recording the little writer’s cubby hole and wishing it was mine...

It reminded me of reading about Roald Dahl’s writing hut at the bottom of his garden (in the fab biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock), and I wondered at what other visiting authors may have scribbled on scraps of paper or even typed in indelible ink.  And so the cubby hole begged me to be creative and come inside – except I’m a bit too wide and rounded than the usual Parisian writer, if the snug fit was anything to go by...  Still, it was quirky, fun and enticing and worth a disobeying pic!

And finally...a (red) reflection on my time in Paris:

"The spirit of adventure is what makes happy lives."
~ Dame Freya Stark