Thursday, 24 May 2012


...for being rather blog-shy of late!  When I started the Pen Pot last August, I aimed to post 2-3 times a week, and while I don't harangue myself if I don't quite meet this target, it is a goal that I want to keep.  A goal, though, that sometimes doesn't get scored when Life gets in the way - both from an everyday and a creative point of view!

Since finishing my poetry Sequence, I've been resting from creativity (i.e. drinking lots of tea, sleeping lots, and watching just a bit too much TV!).  My next project is beginning the thinking and note-taking process of the long-muttered-about Novel Number Two...and I'm doing something on Sunday that will kick-start this with a bang!

So, Sunday.  Gatwick airport.  Me there, travelling alone (eek!).  Destination: Vienna.  Reason for holiday: visiting my good, dear friend Charlotte.  Creative inspiration: the very fact that I, Miss Countryside Lass, will be flying abroad on her very own-some (though met at the airport by Charlotte!) - just as one of my characters will be doing, very soon, as she chases something she can't quite catch.  You've got to write what you know, see?!

After a long coach journey, I shall be refreshing myself at Gatwick with observations of airport life and airport people...and the obligatory cup of tea, of course!  I shall note down my thoughts about travelling alone (and not being a business-person, bustling about on business, business!), and how this might affect my characterisation of Anna.  Yep, there you go: the first Novel Number Two tidbit - the main character's name is Anna.  A well-used name, yes, but just right for this character, I believe (though I reserve the right to change it as time and writing goes along!).  What will she make of her flight away; what will worry, please and motivate her about her trip?  Ah, you'll have to wait and see!

Writing thoughts aside, this trip to Vienna is a much looked-forward to and much needed! holiday, and so I am apologising, too, that I shall be blog-absent for a little while longer...

...but I'll be rambling-back very soon, hopefully with some let's-get-the-ball-rolling NNT scribbles!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Wear Sunscreen

If you were a teenager of a certain era like me, you’ll remember this song blasting out through that long, hot summer.  I was 19 when it was released and I liked it, chuckled at the advice yet saw sense in some of it even then.  Now, I have lived some years of life (haven’t we all!) with some great highs, lots of – unfortunate – lows, but mostly rising from these, newly life-affirmed and more tolerant, forgiving...and I realise now that true wisdom is in every word.             

Yes, we really should wear sunscreen...and the rest, too:

Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of '99 ...

Wear Sunscreen

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience … I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh never mind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked …. You're not as fat as you imagine.

Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing everyday that scares you


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don't waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind … the race is long, and in the end, it's only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life … the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40 year olds know still don't.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees, you'll miss them when they're gone.
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Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't, maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't, maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary … what ever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's.

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can … don't be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it's the greatest instrument you'll ever own ..

Dance … even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.

Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents; you never know when they'll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography in lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you'll fantasise that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse, but you never know when either one might run out.

Don't mess too much with your hair, or by the time it's 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen ...

~Baz Luhrmann

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Sequence: Complete

In well-chuffed celebration, I have just burst my metaphorical-bottle-of-bubbly (not real because wine/champagne give me an instant migraine and so are utterly avoided – sad, but true!) and the fizz hit the ceiling, just as it celebratory should.

Why such chuff-ness, I hear you cry?

Well, it’s all to do with the writing of my eight-poem sequence, Identity: My Early Writing Influences. This past weekend, I completed the Final Draft of the final poem; on Tuesday my fab friend and craft-y extraordinaire Zoe helped me create digital scrapbook-type images to illustrate the display folder (not only has this poem-process been a writing one for me, it has also been a creative-across-the-mediums one, teaching me that I can express my creative thoughts in ways other than just with words – plus, there are only eight poems, you see, so after the title, contents and end pages, the remaining empty poly-pockets needed filling!); and today I have craft-covered the folder to create a proper jacket for it...and so my Sequence is truly completed.


For those of you craft-centred (!), the green/gold paper is handmade and sold at my local craft shop, and the absolutely stunning magical/fairy tale images that I’ve used on the inside covers comes from ‘The Once Upon a Time’ papers from DCWV Premium Stacks (an indulgent but oh-so-wonderful purchase!). I created the frame on the front from a topper I had, backed it onto a journal-page-ish paper, and glued a key embellishment inside. I took my time with this crafting as I didn’t want to bodge this (!), and I’m really pleased with the result. I’m now thinking I could use this technique to revitalise the other boring, regulation plastic display folders I’ve got...!

I’m thrilled to say I have completed this project within its year anniversary (idea conceived 28th May 2011), and so can give myself a huge tick on my New Year’s Resolutions list – all is explained here! :

Mainly, though, this project has been an enlightening reflection on the forces, events and people who influenced me as a Writer before I went to university (where I learned a helluva lot but hadn’t quite yet ‘found’ myself) and wrote my first novel (which I have mixed feelings about): if I was inspired, had ideas and wrote pieces before all that, I will do so again.

Which is a timely and rousing theme tune, as the process of beginning Novel Number Two has been a bit daunting and overwhelming for a while now. Interestingly, since poem-completion on Sunday, I’ve had characterisation and motivation thoughts pop into my head about one of my main people in NNT, who before was steadfastly blank and boring (even though she isn’t supposed to be)!

If you’re interested in reading any of the poems in my sequence, or indeed all of it (!), please leave a comment below with your email address (which the Pen Pot won’t publish, as I respect yours and my privacy), and I’ll email them to you for your perusal. This is because, unfortunately, featuring the poems on the blog would be considered ‘publishing’ them, making them ineligible for entrance into competitions and anthologies etc etc (although there’s always the exceptions, of course) – and I don’t want to rule myself out of any later opportunities I might wish to take.

So, in champagne-cork-popping closing, I’ll leave you with the final running order (and super-quick explanations), and hope you’ll join me in raising my glass to:

Identity: My Early Writing Influences
Book Ends
[how reading book-ends my life experiences]
A Piece of History
[from a homework task, a character comes alive & my teacher invests in her]
Alchemy of the Wordsmith
[the magic of using a thesaurus to find the right word]
Dear Jessica Fletcher
[a letter to my personal role model, who influenced me as a woman and a writer]
Murder, We Wrote
[a reflection on how the writerly instinct pushes through the TV programme]
The Almost-Pirate
[the confession of how I almost – but didn’t – use another writer’s words]
The Writer’s Toil
[to write is to toil, through all the stages it involves – and then it rewards]
The Lesson
[at my first dedicated place to writing, the desk, I learn to live inside & outside writing]

PS And for all my earlier twittering about A Piece of History & The Almost-Pirate being written in tandem and expecting them to appear in the sequence one after the other, still in tandem, I’ve only gone and split them up! Just goes to show you never quite know...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A Simon Cowell Kind of 10/10

It takes a helluva book to score a 10/10 in my Reading Journal (so clearly, yes, I am a hard taskmaster, just like Mr Cowell!) – most reads get a 7 ½, 8, 8 and various fractions, 9, and the almost-made-it 9 ½. I started keeping a Reading Journal back in November 2007, at the behest of my then English Literature PGCE mentor, who suggested doing so with each class we taught (secondary school teaching soon sapped my creative streak and I realised that I did not suit it and it did not suit me – so we parted amicable ways! However, I take my hat off to those who teach – it is an admirable and honourable vocation, though way too red-tape-filled here in the UK.  But anyhoo...!)  

So what exactly does it take for a story to score 10/10 from me?

A story has to be excellently, consummately written, with controlled and beautiful language – I do so love imagery and metaphor but it has to fit the narrative (and not be ‘purple’ – too many adjectives and general over-cooking of the word-type pie – or ‘flowery’ – fancy words or phrases which are meant to be ‘pretty’, but are just clunky and clumsy, causing one to grimace in one’s reading. Ugh).

Plot must be well-handled and cleverly wrought with effective pacing (this doesn’t always mean the story has to romp along, but that each scene must be of its own right length and speed – and this deft handling is harder to construct than would first appear). The narrative must flow and not jar and disrupt the reading (unless this is done for a specific Purpose – and if so, this style will most likely only occur a couple of times in the book).

Above all of this for me, though, is characterisation. Characters need to be people, with quirks and flaws and best bits, just like you and me; they must be rounded (3D not flat), and they must develop – or we, the Reader, must see a development even if they do not. If they do not breathe and interact with each other and me, then the Author’s world is not real and I. Do. Not. Care. And that is the point at which I’ll stop reading.

Overall then, a 10/10 book might not have all of the above in equal quantities, but it must have a strong Voice of its own; it must create a moment that I have to pause for, in admiring and thinking about it. It must strike me with its emotion, poetry and power. It must challenge me, revive me and, most importantly, transport me into a world I’d fight for over this one, time and again.

Phew – that’s quite a tall order, isn’t it, and I’m not any kind of proper literature critic! But I know the elements that make a book authentic for me, whichever way I turn it over or shake it up. Sometimes I can forgive flaws or mistakes or lesser bits if the overall effect is strong and evocative...but the score will be a fraction of a point beneath a 10. I guess that, just like Simon Cowell, I reward the real deal, not the false hope – but I do like to note promise; to look out for future books by a particular writer and see their potential grow in their later stories.

Since I started my Reading Journal 4 years ago, only 15 out of the 192 books I’ve read have scored a 10/10 – and to satisfy your curiosity, I’ve listed these below!

Making number 16 on this list is ‘The Unseen’ by Katherine Webb. I LOVED this book, and it deservedly scores its 10...but my enthusiasm in discussing it might spoil a few plot surprises for you (!), so, instead, here’s Waterstone’s synopsis and link:

England, 1911. The Reverend Albert Canning, a vicar with a passion for spiritualism, leads a happy existence with his naive wife Hester in a sleepy Berkshire village. As summer dawns, their quiet lives are changed for ever by two new arrivals. First comes Cat, the new maid: a free-spirited and disaffected young woman sent down from London after entanglements with the law. Cat quickly finds a place for herself in the secret underbelly of local society as she plots her escape. Then comes Robin Durrant, a leading expert in the occult, enticed by tales of elemental beings in the water meadows nearby. A young man of magnetic charm and beauty, Robin soon becomes an object of fascination and desire. During a long spell of oppressive summer heat, the rectory at Cold Ash Holt becomes charged with ambition, love and jealousy; a mixture of emotions so powerful that it leads, ultimately, to murder.

There is so much more to it than this, so many more layers and events and emotions – but I can’t ruin it for you! All I'll say is that I identified so very, very much with Cat’s need to live her life on her own terms, and her character will stay with me for a long time.

Now, you may read this novel and not like Cat or Hester or Leah, the main characters; you may not appreciate the nimble, fresh and beautiful (yet never precious) language; and you may not enjoy the (very well handled) two time-frames plot...but you will think. You will look at your life and re-evaluate the freedoms you have (especially as a woman). Thinking – that’s what the best literature makes you do, if you ask me.

And if that’s not your experience...well, let me know and we’ll debate it! Let me see if I can’t convince you, after all...

                                    The 10/10-ers:

1.      ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ – John Boyne

2.      ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ – Margaret Attwood

3.      ‘Noughts and Crosses’ – Malorie Blackman

4.      ‘The Sculptress’ – Minette Walters

5.      ‘Count Karlstein’ – Philip Pullman

6.      ‘Ways to Live Forever’ – Sally Nicholls

7.      ‘Dark Fire’ – C J Sansom

8.      ‘Kaspar Prince of Cats’ – Michael Morpurgo

9.      ‘Just One More Thing: Stories From My Life’ – Peter Falk

10.  ‘Sovereign’ – C J Sansom

11.  ‘Holes’ – Louis Sachar

12.  ‘The Forgotten Garden’ – Kate Morton

13.  ‘Audrey: Her Real Story’ – Alexander Walker

14.  ‘Heartstone’ – C J Sansom

15.  ‘A Gathering Light’ – Jennifer Donnelly

16.  ‘The Unseen’ – Katherine Webb

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Speedy WOYWW 152 Indeed!

"I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date..."

Wowser, I've got loads of things to do, and not enough time on a day off to do them!  Argh, but don't we all get days like this?!  Anyhoo, happy What’s On Your Workdesk Wednesday to you all, a weekly global desk-hop courtesy of Julia over at Stamping Ground – – thanks as always, Julia!

On my writing desk today is the Second Draft of my latest poem and the final one in the sequence I’ve been working on this past year...and I hope to work some more on it today, but who knows if I’ll get to it?!  There’s also my Imaginarium scrapbook-cum-art-journal-cum-crafty-place, and I’ve opened it to share with you my weekend’s worth of creations:

Firstly, my ‘Pulled out of the Hat’ page, with words to inspire me to have a go at some craft-y endeavours!  As I was doing this, I realised I could do a white rabbit with some more words on the final fly-page of the scrapbook...

Secondly, here is a LO I’ve made taking direct influence from a line that I loved in Katie Ward’s book, Girl Reading – ‘She is too far away to shout, yet she does, her halloo scattered by the winds.’  I’ve blogged about my responses to the novel here , and the more I continue to think about it, the more the novel’s worth percolates through my brain!  Anyhoo, for the LO I searched for a clipart pic of a girl’s hair blowing in the wind, printed and then traced it in brown pencil, adding layers and textures.  Now, I’m no artist (which is why I had to resort to clipart!) and just couldn’t get the girl’s facial expression to look right (!), so I decided to leave it blank – but now I quite like the mystery and question of identity that this gives!

I then used a fancy font for the quotation, printed it out in orange, backed it all onto a textured green paper I had, and arranged on the page...  To balance it out, I stuck a photo I’d taken from a magazine ages ago on the left, and then, when looking for the little something extra it needed, found some orange butterflies on a different paper, so I cut them out and scattered them across the page!

This scrapbooking-lark is addictive and ideas for other pages are sparking, and I’ve even been cutting out images from magazines, papers, junk mail, letters etc whenever I’m grabbed by them, for future use!  But alas, my huge To-Do list is wailing in the corner and I must away to attend to it, so I shall take a raincheck and promise to visit your desks on the weekend! 

Hope you enjoy popping by my Pen Pot, and many thanks for any comments you leave.