Posts Tagged ‘education’

listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!


If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.


I’ve been a very bad blogger recently, and not in a fun way.

A combination of life events and general malaise has resulted in an extremely unproductive writing period. I can only write (or blog) when I have something to say and I envy those who are disciplined enough to sit down every day,  inspired or not, and simply write. I am starting to realise that my usual tried-and-tested working method has now become counter-productive but doubt I can change it, since it is the same one I have employed for nearly forty years in my design career. This is how it works:

I have an idea and let it roll around in my head until my deadline approaches. In design terms it’s called visualisation and was something we HAD to do in the dark days before the advent of computers. Back in the 1970s, when I started out, we worked with pencils and pens on paper, so it saved a lot of waste and rubbing/scratching out if we had a clear idea in advance of what the finished design should look like. Then all we had to do was draw it down accurately for the printer to follow. Simples. But now that we can see instant results on a screen, visualisation techniques have been virtually lost. We don’t even have to imagine what our living rooms would look like in certain colours and fabrics any more because retailers can show us with their specialist applications! It’s great for those who have no eye for design but has induced laziness in the rest of us.

TBND 2013 Poster smallFor some years I found the visualisation technique worked very well for my stories. I had an idea, often stemming from personal experience, from something overheard, a passing image (as in The Beast Next Door) or, if I was very lucky, from a fully-formed opening line that popped unbidden into my head. I then let it swill around without directing it until it formed itself into a story. This could take weeks or even months and it never worked out if I tried to force it. I didn’t write anything down – no jottings of any kind – until it was virtually complete. I had to know what happened before I wasted my time actually writing it, much the same as in my early days designing with pencil and paper. As I wrote, extra nuances and clues/red herrings occurred but the basic storyline was settled – and even edited – by the time it hit the page.

Unfortunately, subliminal editing sometimes gains a momentum of its own and a story gets shortened to a point where it is no longer worth writing down. I recently had a fairly complex idea for a novel that gradually dwindled into a short, then a flash fiction, then a sentence. There is no way back at this juncture as everything added back in feels like padding. It’s a dangerous process when allowed free rein!

But generally, my ‘method’ also worked well when I had several ideas at once. I let them jostle for position until one or two fought their way to the top, relegating the others to the outskirts of memory until most of them vanished. This was a signal to me that they would never make decent stories and I was happy to let them go. However, these days my memory is not infallible and I am finding some ideas that really interest me are wandering off into the sunset without permission. Well then, you may say, why don’t I carry a notebook and write the bloody things down? My answer is, I don’t know. I have developed an aversion to it – almost a phobia – as if I believe I might end up putting out a story that hasn’t been through the rigorous selection processes my brain previously imposed. That’s nonsense, I know, but it is definitely having an effect on my output and it is something I need to address before too much more time slips by. Any suggestions gratefully received.

On the UP side, while I have been hatching and forgetting plots, some little successes have occurred without my having to make any effort! Firstly, the short feature film of The Beast Next Door has been completed and submitted to several film festivals. I now have an IMDb profile too, which is something I wasn’t expecting. And there’s a poster with my name on it…

Next, out of the blue, I had a request from Cambridge University Press for permission to use my flash fiction, The Prisoner, for teaching purposes. I’ve just seen the questions and they are really interesting – and difficult!

final cover smallThen Rosemary Kind, who runs Alfie Dog Fiction, asked if she could include The Seventh Christmas in a Christmas-themed anthology, both as an ebook and paperback. I am very pleased about this as the story is close to my heart.

I also heard that my flash, A Matter of Taste, has won a place in Raging Aardvaak’s anthology, Twisted Tales. And I had two stories shortlisted in the last Flash500 and one longlisted in the Fish flash competition earlier in the year. Also, Readwave have sent three  stories to World Reader, a charitable organisation that aims to help improve literacy in developing countries. So at least things are still happening in spite of my sloth.

Actually, writing this post is giving me a lift. Perhaps I’ll go and get one of those beautiful hardback notebooks in our lovely local bookshop. Or start a local writing group. Or get my husband to give me a kick up the backside. Hmmm…

Back soon – I hope.


(N,n) N stands for nipples, norks and nightie. And nylon stockings. It also stands for No, and is therefore used by the Catholic Church as a symbol of guilt and abstinence. There is no N in “priest”, which should come as no surprise, really, although there are two in “nine-year-old choirboy”.

Nelderick (n): A specially scooped golf club used for the violent removal of the brains of golfing fashion designers. It looks a little like a proil or an ice-cream scoop on a long and really whippy metal stick. The golfing fashion designer is tied to a ceremonial stake, and is struck in the face as hard as is humanly possible with the nelderick. The resulting mess is often spectacular, and forms a pattern which is then used as a design base for the clothing of women whose husbands spend most of their waking lives on golf courses aspiring to look like Payne Stewart did.

Nirtle (n, zool.): The shell opening through which a turtle sticks its head, or through which it withdraws its head when threatened. In desperate times, Pacific islanders have been known to use the nirtles of extremely scared turtles for sexual congress, although it should be remembered that the turtle has quite a sharp and often poisonous bite, and a screaming Pacific island man running around with a turtle’s shell hanging from his penis should receive immediate medical attention. Polynesian island females found favour with the French artist Paul Gauguin by their ability to suck turtle poison from the wounds of extremely aroused tourists, although it is possible that Gauguin was only pretending a turtle had bitten him.

Noosh (exclam): A word that entered the English language after a series of TV advertisements for Clarks Shoes. The catch-line, ‘New shoes?’ became the response of the male partner each time he found his own meagre section of closet space invaded by another pair of ridiculously expensive and impractical barbie-boots. At a certain stage in this relentless encroachment, the male is unable to utter the full phrase. ‘Noosh?’ accompanied by clenched fists, a boiled complexion and projectile spittle is a warning to the female partner to regulate her acquisitions or find a new benefactor.

Norgleflass (n): The feeling of barely concealed glee you feel when there’s a major fucking hippie bastard festival on just down the road and it starts absolutely wankering down with rain on Friday and the weatherman says it’s not going to stop until Monday, with associated gale force winds, hail, thunder, flooding and an unseasonable chill, and you know they’ll be dragging dreadlocked corpses and skinny dogs on strings out of the nearest estuary from now until next spring. The word dates back to the Norgleflass Festival in Denmark in 1975, at which three members of the Grateful Dead’s road crew drowned and nobody noticed until fourteen hippies all claimed their identities on payday.

Much naughtier Ns can be found in Hand-Knitted Electricity for a modest sum.


Posted: March 13, 2013 in Humour
Tags: , , , , , , ,


(M,m) M stands for Marshall Mathers (Eminem), and for Milo Minderbinder (M & M Enterprises off of Catch-22). As such, M is a controversial letter, frequently bugged by the FBI and demonstrated against by women and the poor. The government recently introduced a range of sweets called M&Ms in an effort to dilute the anarchy associated with the letter, backdating their “history” to the 1930s in a dangerously Orwellian piece of popular culture reinvention which had conspiracy theorists all in a tizzy. Blue M&Ms were banned as they contained a mixture of nutra-ceramides and LSD, and Steve Tyler off of Aerosmith refuses to eat brown ones.

Marzely (adj): Descriptive of the feeling resulting from eating one too many deep fried Mars Bars

Hugh McBride had much call to regret his choice of snack, for he instantly felt marzely and within moments had vomited onto the chaise longe.

– Sir Walter Scott, Heart of Midlothian.

Meffulence n. the ability to subvert any topic of conversation to talking about oneself. For example, in a discussion about whether the Beatles or the Rolling Stones were more influential in rock music the meffulent will say something like, “Well, I never liked the Stones much. And with good reason. Had a stone in my shoe last week and it tore a huge hole in my tights.”


1 (n): A mime artist with stage fright

2 (n, prop): The real name of the high priest of the Illuminati known in Australia as dwiw

Misanthemum (n): A homicidal pot plant

Morbel (n): An unusually pretty female whose beauty is only skin deep. She has a destructive – even malign – personality, and long periods spent in her company can result in serious mental health issues and/or death. Most men have a morbel or two lurking somewhere in their past, and most men carry permanent emotional scarring because of them. The world’s most famous morbel is probably Monica Lewinsky.

Many More Ms can be found in Hand-Knitted Electricity (A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities).


Posted: February 21, 2013 in Humour
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


(L,l) A letter extremely popular with the Welsh and in Catalan regions of north-east Spain. It is believed that the letter was invented by Salvador Dali in 1931 to set him apart from Welsh people called Dai, but the invention resulted in a fistfight between Dali and Picasso, which eventually led to the Spanish Civil War

Linidinian (n, mus.) The technical name for the little drum roll and cymbal bash used to emphasise the punch lines of really bad comedians who are desperately attempting to hold the attention of a stag party crowd as they wait for the stripper.


1 (adj): Descriptive of a tornado-belt trailer-caravan which has been rendered stormproof by virtue of having been pre-destroyed before building. The trailer is constructed in the form of a half-mile trail of debris, and it’s inhabitants, Bud, LaDestiny and the twins, Bubba and Bubba, are then humanely destroyed and reported missing. The saving in food stamps, welfare payments and rehousing costs can then be pumped back into society and given back to the banks for re-investment. For more details, see the Wicked Witch Trading Company Inc website at We’

2 (n): An ecologically sound chastity belt, lightweight and biodegradable, yet capable of withstanding assault by an entire battalion of stormtroopers.

Lychinhampton (n, prop): A botanical garden just a short walk away from Kew which is less well-known because it produces only rude and disgusting fruit and vegetables and as such entry is restricted to the over-18s.

The Lychinhampton courgette-and-double-artichoke combination can be found next to the enormous pear and the gigantic set of melons. Lychinhampton Bananas are trained to grow straight and maintain an angle that juts a little above the horizontal. They are situated next to the burst figs. Cucumbers dangle among the soft peaches, and there are private cubicles available to couples who become overwhelmed with the whole Carry On Nature thing.

Lychinhampton also holds unofficial dogging evenings in the car park (First and third Tuesdays – in the summerhouse if wet).

Hand-Knitted Electricity_Cover_MEDIUMNB. From now on, extracts will be posted weekly. If you can’t wait that long, you can get ahead of the crowds by buying Hand-Knitted Electricity. Don’t forget to buy a spare copy for the birthday you always forget until it’s too late. Or for Mother’s Day, 10th March. Don’t get caught with your pants down again this year!

Special K

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Humour
Tags: , , , , , , ,


(K,k) K is an insidious letter, often used to give some innocent sounding word overtones of Eastern European totalitarianism – see atomik, Amerika, Kalifornia and Ku Klux Klan. Children in the UK are not allowed to use the letter K until secondary school.  A campaign was instigated by Senator Eugene McCarthy in the late 1950s to banish the letter from the alphabet for being un-American, but the plan was quietly shelved after McCarthy was discovered stamping on kittens in the Ambassador suite of the Riot Hyatt in Los Angeles during the gubernatorial primaries just after Labour Day 1962.


Ker-Splunk (n, prop): A game popular in modern dogging circles. The idea is that a group of gentlemen drop their car keys into a bowl of fresh semen and their wives fish them out one at a time with their teeth. Whoever owns the car keys then has to lick the woman’s face clean before driving home alone and in tears. The game was first popularised in Eighteenth century Austria, where, under the auspices of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, rich members of the gentry were encouraged to drop their horse-bridles into barrels of tepid semolina and their wives were ordered to fish them out using only their mouths. The unfortunate owner of the horse was then forced to watch while someone else rode his wife home instead.

Kleap (n, prop): A combined toilet and bidet, invented in 1877 by Klaus Kleap of Hamburg. The system pumped water upwards after receiving a deposit, therefore cleaning the user’s behind, but went disastrously wrong when the prototype was demonstrated at the Klingerhöfen Science Festival. Unfortunately it pumped the raw sewage back up the anus of Count Otto Von Strumm, who had volunteered for the demonstration. After several months of recuperation the Count recovered but was forever after referred to as being “full of shit”. Kleap retired from inventing in disgrace and died in poverty some years later.

Want more? Get it here.



(J,j) An underused letter, except by JK Rowling, who often uses it when signing autographs or dedicating books to little girls who will love her forever because of it. This letter scores eight points in Scrabble, and is therefore popular with linguists who can slap in onto the front of “Ocular” when there’s a spare triple word score space available at the board’s top left-hand corner, especially if they can spell out “Jonquil” going the other way.

Jaff (n): A musician who everyone thinks is cool and hip when he’s really so out of it he can’t even think. Named after Herman Jaff (1928-78) the German jazz bassist who set the world record for the longest pause during a a solo, of 4 hours 23 minutes, until someone noticed he had actually slipped into a coma.

Jarve (n): An indeterminate hybrid dance favoured by those who can’t hear a beat or move in a rhythmic fashion. It consists largely of bouncing up and down and wildly swinging a partner’s arms so that everyone within six feet gets elbowed, kicked or knocked over. Jarvers aren’t popular on the dance circuit, being oblivious to any nuisance or injury they are inflicting. Even Morris enthusiasts can’t stand them, and that’s saying something.


1 (vb): To deliberately misspell your offspring’s name in a vain attempt to look cool. See children’s author Stephenie Meyer or Big Brother contestant Sezer (pron. Caesar). The word jassern derives from the original name of Jason Donovan, who was originally christened Jassern Donervan by his father, a semi-literate Australian mobile fast-food vendor. This level of intelligence was soon passed on to British reality TV stars. Jade Goody’s mother, Jackiey, when asked whether to spell her name with an IE or a Y, replied: “boaf. Nyaaaaaaaa-haaa-haaaha-haaar!”, thereby lowering the UK’s overall cultural quotient significantly in only a few seconds.

2 (n): A musical style much favoured by middle-aged air guitarists.

Jephlery (n): The practice of naming a child, or spelling its name differently, to sound posh. Thus ‘Jeffrey’ or ‘Geoffrey’ would be spelt ‘Jephrey’ and ‘Karen’ might be spelt ‘Caren’ and pronounced ‘Car-run’. The opposite of Jassern.

The first person to guess which letter comes next will win the chance to buy a copy of Hand-Knitted Electricity.