Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Spending Review

Just a thought. Nothing new under the political and econonic sun:

"Can there be a more lamentable picture than that of a Chancellor of the Exchequer seated on an empty chest, by the pool of bottomless deficiency, fishing for a budget?".

This isn't today's headline as George Osborne stands up to address parliament outlining the Coalition Government's spending review 2010.

The quote is actually from British Conservative politician Robert Peel on 18th May 1841.

"Fairness" wasn't always truthfully top of the agenda then, either.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

Link to the National Novel Writing Month "NaNoWriMo" Site
So that's November pretty much planned then!

American writer Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote:

"Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind."
(c) Catherine Drinker Bowen, Atlantic, Dec 1957.
National Novel Writing Month, that now runs each November as a challenge and inspiration to produce that elusive book you have in you but never have time to complete, gives an opportunity to dust the mirror off and plunge into your story.

I want to redream dreams so others can taste them. I want to show the world as an amazing, precious place and help people see through shallow waters to the rich radiance of possibilities beneath the surface.

I always have several ideas for books simmering on the back burner in the file labelled "Procrastination Station"! Most people do, even those who don't write! At the moment I have a few stories inspired by episodes and characters in my own family history explorations over the years just waiting for the space to find a voice.

NaNoWriMo strips away excuses. People worldwide are doing what you are, many for the first time.

NaNoWriMo shreds self-editing and self-censorship (until December, at least!). You write every day of November until your 175 page novel with its 50,000 words is complete.

Exhilarating! Terrifying!

Now I just have to get well enough to sit up at the laptop for long enough most days next month to complete word count goals.

I just need enough freedom from the brainfog of my mangled immune system to put down all those strands of dialogue, action, plot and emotional tension without burning myself up and out.

Short stories and poems can be tackled in bite sized pieces. These past years of illness have been made more bearable because this is the case on my better days.

A novel is just bite sized pearls woven onto a thread of gold and dusted with an overarching rainbow of paced purpose and closure.

At the very least, the challenge of NaNoWriMo is kissing a big smacker of permission my way. I intend to try and pucker up. 

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Out of the mouths

Had a conversation today that sounded like the set up of a joke; maybe one of those self-conscious jokes often told by teachers and clergy that you just know are too convenient to be true!

But I know the teller and she was there. My friend's grandson has just started at school. He takes after his father, quite serious, focused, academic and anxious. The first two days he trotted happily into the classroom without a backwards glance at Mummy and Daddy. Then on the third day the little lad wept bitterly and gripped Daddy's hand.

His surprised gran asked him why. Why today? She reminded him that if he kept going to school, he'd soon learn to read all his favourite books for himself. Wouldn't that be fun? He already loves books and can read most three letter words he can spell out so far.

Through his tears he answered, "I went on Monday. Then I went again on Tuesday. But I STILL CAN'T READ!"

A child driving himself to achieve a little more each day, so eager to unlock all the secrets those books are still hiding from him! I wanted just to say a "thank you" to all parents like my friends in this little scenario, who sow the seeds of love of books in the hearts of our children.

Books are as natural as breathing to children who are surrounded by stories, illustrations, the sight and sound and feel of books, the rhythm and rolling kaleidoscope of words from the womb. Not always; some children need so much more to help them make friends with the world of the written and spoken word, so reading can come along and tickle them into joy with all its textures and exciting new tastes.

We all love to listen to the funny true things children say.
As writers we can learn to listen carefully to their voices, to make the children who giggle and play in our fiction really live, or help those for whom we weave tales be drawn in to a dancing web of delightful sounds they will never forget.

The next day, my friend's grandson ran into school again with no long teary goodbyes. There were just too many exciting books to handle and decode, no time to lose!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Priming the pump; standing on the shoulders of giants

I've been treated to curling up during these first early autumn evenings with a new anthology of striking modern short stories. Edited by Al Sarrantonio and Neil Gaiman and entitled "Stories", plain and simple, I only spotted it thanks to my local library's great selection and showcasing of their eye-catching, recommended and recent books.

The stories themselves are neither plain nor simple. Nearly all have a twist in their lashing tails and more than one will leave you wondering and perhaps shuddering. It's hard for any anthology to be flawless and to avoid being patchy in places, but this collection was haunting and readable throughout.

I particularly relished Joanne Harris's "Wildfire in Manhatten" where ancient myths come exploding into modern America in a multi-layered and complex tale that demands a double take at its smoke and mirrors.

The anthology hits the ground running right from the first story, disturbing all we humble vegetarian sympathiser-types, with Roddy Doyle's "Blood". The pace doesn't flicker as we move on to Joyce Carol Oates story of identical twins, "Fossil-figures" taking sibling rivalry to a chilling new level.

This had me contemplating the amazing possibilities in stories built around the closest family realtionships, like siblings born in a multiple birth. I also loved the astonishingly (enviably? - I think so!) accomplished first novel I recently read by Diane Setterfield, "The Thirteenth Tale". It grips you mercilessly with its lovingly constructed gothic plot and Gormenghast-like cast of characters, centering on two pairs of twins.

Maybe it's because my great grandmother was an identical twin, as were her sons, my great granduncles and I, as an only child, always fantasised about having a twin, that I find these stories and novels particularly engaging. The talent with which these particular tales are told has much more to do with it, though!

I'm constantly drawn back to writing and reading stories that deal with family relationships especially where these strive to explore and challenge shallow assumptions and cliched stereotypes and to reveal and celebrate who we really are, or think we are!

I've also just been rereading the wonderful novel by Susan Hill "I'm the King of the Castle" about  two schoolboys, Edmund Hooper and Charles Kingshaw who find themselves thrown together by the relationship between Edmund's widowed father and Charles' widowed mother. Isolated in Hooper's "kingdom", trapped as in a glass case under the microscope in the rambling house once owned by Edmund's moth collector grandfather, Kingshaw finds himself bullied and dispossessed in this bleak and mesmerising book.
The book's English country setting is a character in itself, vividly brought to life by Hill's lucid descriptive power: there is the house and its grounds, claustrophobic and troubling; "Hang Wood" beckoning the tormented Charles to run away, only to be pursued by his tormentor; the surrounding fields haunted by vengeful crows and maggot-infested rabbits and the local castle where another round of the jockeying for position between the hunter and the hunted is played out, with a climactic scene in which a window of hope seems to be flung open for Kingshaw, only to be slammed shut again with devastating consequences.

Susan Hill is masterful in her building of the sense of tension, panic and utter hopelessness as one by one, within Kingshaw's quest for escape from persecution, his minor triumphs and moments of hope are extinguished. The ending is bleak but perfectly prepared for. I appreciate this book more each time I revisit it. For me, it has a similar appeal to L. P. Hartley's tale of an Edwardian childhood, "The Go-Between", also plotted with knife-edge tensions between hope and helplessness, the struggle between good and evil with all its ambiguities. The wonderful "I'm the King of the Castle" succeeds in touching the deepest fears and obsessions of childhood and adolescence, while being a cracking good read into the bargain.

It leaves me inspired to go on crafting my own stories out of childhood's partial but compellingly vivid understanding of the world, the power struggles between extraverts and introverted outsiders with whom I can usually identify!

I'm always grateful and thankful, standing on the shoulders of giants, for all I can learn from the techniques in plotting and pacing and characterisation of other writers. We all have stories to tell, pebbles in the stream, worn away to reveal hidden grains and fault lines inside us; unique, and humbling and shocking and so beautiful.

So now my library books are back on the coffee table and it's onto Microsoft Word's nemesis OpenOffice here on the laptop to edit my latest short story. I've tucked its ungainly flamingo body back under my arm with its legs hanging down. Yes, it might be looking at me a bit puzzled (see yesterday's blog if you're not following), but after a bit of a struggle, I've convinced it to keep its neck straight while I knock that ball towards the peg!

Books mentioned in this post with links to

"Stories; All New Tales" eds Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio at

"I'm the King of The Castle" by Susan Hill at

"The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield at

"The Go-Between" by L.P.Hartley on

Monday, 27 September 2010

Plots live flamingo mallets

John Tenniel illustration, coloured by Fritz Kredel

The plot of my current short story keeps squirming around like the live flamingo mallets in that croquet game in "Alice in Wonderland". Very provoking, as Alice herself might have said.

This story began as a humorous short dealing with a young man coming to terms with the increasingly confused behaviour of an elderly relative. As I wrote on, the plot started subtly remoulding and contorting itself, like the flamingo's neck twisting to look Alice in the face with an expression of puzzlement.

The plot looked back quizzically into my own face and demanded  a detour into the undergrowth! The reassuring humour gradually leeched out in twists of more savage irony. Then the characters started to jockey for new positions within this adjusted panorama. I kept coming up to high hedges in the maze of my original idea and then turning to see a stunning new horizon for which I hadn't thought to pack a map, let alone sandwiches.

As I tried, like Alice, to adjust my grip so as to take control again, tucking the body of the plot firmly under my armpit with its legs hanging down, it would spring back into another attitude and skip off down an alleyway I hadn't foreseen.

Sitting back with a coffee at "half-time",  I replotted for some pace and drive within the new focus of the plot. I set off again, determined to finish before fluttering around editing my words, stalling and second guessing the finished story.

So far I've found the plot path has changed from springy turf and warm meanders round sunlit bends to a stark gothic stairwell falling away into a bleak gulley between terror and tenderness.

Flipping heck! I've just got to hunker down and finish it now; then lay it aside for a while until it's uncurled its tatty toenails for trimming and see how I can polish it till it bowls through the home hoop and into the reader's life.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Autumn's turning

Autumn's turning the world umber, sepia and biscuit. 
Chilly sun's pouring a path through ash leaves and beckoning me away. 
Paths whicker with added crunch through moss-furred rockeries,
Jackdaws coughing overhead. 

I can't resist, today. 

Somewhere a gardener's whining his cutter, shaving the box and beech to winter trim. 
That's not where it begins or where, 
After the explosion of the spores through the loam, 
It will feign an ending. 

The mahogany nux of a fallen chestnut gathers 
The risky phlogiston of the sky's arc above it, beyond the canopy.  

I must play my part. I will see it through. 

Friday, 24 September 2010

The plot thickens

Had one day well and strong enough to venture out this week. I'd overdone it last weekend attending a wonderful service at Talbot Lane which was soul-expanding and heart warming but crunched my M.E.-ridden crock of a body to a standstill with three long hours in the freezing cold (church couldn't afford to put heating on and lady near me was actually trembling and shivering with cold throughout!).

 I was one of sixteen ministers and communion stewards distributing the bread and wine at this Covenant Service for the whole Rotherham & Dearne Valley Circuit. It was a real joy to meet up with some friends I hadn't seen since I collapsed with M.E./CFS plus erratic diabetic hypos almost five years ago. How can it be that long? This time last year I wasn't even well enough to be at the service, let alone take part, so I have so much to be thankful about! The odd "good" day here and there is like a candle in a naughty world (to quote the Bard waaay out of context)!

So I went on a "good" day later in the week to Wentworth Woodhouse Garden Centre and Walled Garden with my Mum and a dear friend who I met through family history research (she's a very distant cousin). The weather was autumn sunshine, gentle and soft, dry and mellow. We explored the gardens, the cascade, the rock terraces, bear pit (not an icehouse, no matter what folk once believed) and the village. Met some Fallow Deer, lots of wild birds, fish, chickens and local tradespeople selling produce that has not even seen an aeroplane or, in some cases, a car. Had lunch in the Walled Garden Reastaurant. Local business at its best. Cappuccino and comestibles at their best, too!

Overwhelmed and humbled this week to have my third "Highly Recommended"/ shortlisting in four months from the team at "Writer's Forum". This time it was for my recent short fiction "The Butterfly Wall". The critique they offer on your work is invaluable and so helpful, I wish I'd discovered it before. I find one of my particular challenges is plotting. Anyone who knows me will laugh, knowing I'm not the most linear of thinkers! This is all challenging and inspiring me to tighten up on my plotlines and chronology.

I've a couple of a stories on the go at the mo. One's a humorous one provisionally entitled "The Surreptitious Biscuit" (say no more!) and another where the protagonist takes a phonecall from his grandmother in the middle of the night (based on a fragment of conversation I heard years ago from a friend whose gran rang him up and asked him seriously: "Is that your mother?"). 

Yesterday's crash on Facebook had me dipping my toe in Twitter and apart from a wet toenail and potential Athlete's Foot I don't know where that may lead. I do know that my "real" writing is often fed by my erratic blogging, facebooking and maybe even in future by tweeting. I'm also aware I need to use the little energy I have between the M.E. brain-foggery to produce more and more completed and focused writing. 

"You're my favourite waste of time," as someone in the charts (whose name temporarily escapes me) once yortled; but nothing's really wasted if you put it in your pocket, hug it and chew it till it turns to gold or dust!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Quirky signage

Don't you just love to let life's quirkiness and anomalies wash over you and tickle your funny muscles?

Was well enough (just!) to venture out last week and after a fun but exhausting visit to the Rotherham Show in Clifton Park, I later found myself slumped at a table outside the Cafe Rendezvous (sic) in the Travel Interchange AKA Rotherham Bus Station on Frederick Street. Being generally too zonked with beginnings of M.E. meltdown to pursue more intellectual or vigorous avenues, I fell to contemplating their signage.
Spotted that the main signs above the cafe were spelled incorrectly as CAFE RENDEVOUZ (see photo above).

Looked around and noticed that the rest of their signs, on the outside awnings (see photo below) and plate glass windows etc were all spelled in the correct French way as CAFE RENDEZVOUS. A ploy to get attention? A mistake too expensive to put right? 

Reminded me of that ball on a bridge over the Cam in Cambridge where a slice is missing and there's a tale that the stone mason did this as punishment for an unpaid bill. Also made me think of a grave in Finningley Churchyard near Doncaster where all the "N"s in the inscription are backwards (see bottom photo). Unpaid bill or ignorance? Willful or witless? Answers on a postcard. The Rende(z)vous/z makes a mean cappuccino, though.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Look closer - you might be missing pure beauty

Achillea millefolium in my garden

I love all the living things in my garden, but my eye can be shamefully selective. For years I thought less than fondly of my two clumps of Achillea Millefolium. They seemed so ungainly at times. They carry their yellow cauliflower heads with the geeky flattened tops high above feathery, silver-green foliage, top heavy as a silicon-enhanced bust on a wasp waisted model. Somehow, they never quite pushed my buttons (more fool me)! I was often vexed by the way they lunged out over the lawn  like a little crowd of rubber-neckers  at the scene of a disaster, twitching the borders like nosy neighbours at net curtains. Then as summer faded, they'd be at it again, laying their oversized top-knots down on the ground, ostriches ready to stick their awkward heads in the sand.
This week I got out my mobile to take photos of some of the flowers that already make me smile. Snapped the settings to "macro" focus and away I went. I even took a photo of one of my "ugly duckling" Achilleas and wow! I confess I'd never really SEEN their intricate geometry and symmetry before. God's awe-inspiring eye for detail sang out from the images of his sunshine-faced creation. Thank goodness the Lord of life doesn't walk on by me because of my less than glamorous outer casing and uncoordinated stumblings!
"This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes!" (Psalm 118:23)

Friday, 3 September 2010

Never too late

I decided this year to try a different approach with one of my favourite flowers, the humble Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus, Latin fans!). 

One year I had the whole conservatory at the Manse filled with blooms. Cut and come again from July to late September. Most visitors, friends, bereaved, wedding and baptism couples went away that year with armfuls of the glorious blooms. That started out as an unplanned indoor display. I'd had them potted up, three seeds per pot, on the east facing conservatory windowsills, intending to transfer them to the garden once established. The transfer never happened and the sweet peas joyfully took over every available inch of window space, like rainbow stained glass letting in the morning's lemony light.

When I moved into my retirement house a few minutes' walk away, I still have an easterly facing conservatory, but planted up my sweet peas at the far end of the garden, trellised against the fence under the fruit tree. The ground was very stony and the earth quite thin under there; the snails had a field day, so I put down piles of bran which the little darlings gorged on instead and left the pea shoots alone (mostly!). The sweet peas thrived but could only be seen in the distance from the house.

So this year, I planted some in one of the hanging baskets closest to the house. Nothing seemed to be happening much for ages. July came and went. August too; one visitor said her Sweet Peas had flowered and finished ages ago. Then today, at last, among the tendrils and leaves, one bloom, promising more to come. Not just any bloom, but a rich purple, one of my favourite colours.

Spring is beautiful; but Autumn speaks of God's love, too, and it's never too late for the hidden seed to blossom.

Wordling with genealogy puzzles

Wordle: Untitled
Family history is complex. Wordle wordmaps it all into art! A dazzling chunk of ancestral fragments crystallize into a stained glass panel of possibilities. Freeing the fat and flour into muffins with the tips of your fingers. Crumbling the soil so the blooms can breathe colour into the scented air. The past is shimmering into future opportunities. Lapped in love, how can we fail to be seized by the Spirit?

Sunday, 8 August 2010


Feeling very privileged to have been watching two young great spotted woodpeckers, a family of long tailed tits and a nuthatch who usually lives in the local woods, all coming to my garden feeders today. The unexpected nuthatch visit inspired me tonight as I sit waiting for twilight to fall, when the family of hedgehogs who are now dropping by my garden each evening arrive with their noisy but captivating shenanigans...

You scramble, head down,
Holding the world mirrored
Invert under scuttling feet

Clambering, chestnut breast to bark
Smoke blue wings a caped swoop,
Aerobat, probing and melting
On a tittering tightrope

Patient bill, plastering a pinhole persistent
To fend marauder starlings away from your babies.

D-I-Y dodger, framing the woodpecker brother's old pad
For your rental, yet wholly inhabiting
Your acorn carpeted aerodrome.

Scurrying sideways, dissolving
Through the beech canopy
Skimming your liquid voice's pebble
To skip over the rippling pool of dusk

High over hedgehogs chuckling
Through beech mast and littered leaves
On their way to a festival of surreptitious snorting
Under the bone-blanched moon
And the shrill verdict of owls

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Hedgehog Hot Love

Last night in the twilight at about 9.20pm, two hedgehogs, a boar and a sow, were under the arch of berberis and Jacob's figleaf in my back garden, snuffling and snorting for England! The sow, slightly the larger and darker of the two and certainly the noisier last night, was rebuffing the male's sexual approaches.

They were nose to nose, snuffling and thrusting; the sow occasionally backed away a few steps and the boar pretended to lose interest by studying the undergrowth. Not fooling anybody! He'd be lunging and wiffling again a few seconds later. The soundtrack to all this was like a gruff sneeze on an infinite loop.

Eventually, after twenty minutes of this noisy courtship, the female withdrew to the opposite border under the lilac tree and waited coquettishly by the strawberry patch. The boar had got the message by now, though, and soon trotted off at top speed down the length of the garden, through the lavatera arch and away beyond the garden shed along the far hedge where the ash tree whispered in the deepening darkness.

Left alone, reluctant Mrs Tiggywinkle shuffled off under the hedge into the neighbour's garden and into the night. Romeo and Juliet they aren't, but practice makes perfect.

Topped off a wonderful week of wildlife which has seen new broods of Long Tailed Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, young Great Spotted Woodpeckers (male yesterday, female visited today), Wrens, Blackbirds and Dunnocks all swarming round the feeders like humming birds on a mission!

Photos: Top is from the London Wildlife site (c) Richard Burkmar and bottom photo is from the site with thanks!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A few hours at Old Moor

Spent a relaxing day at Old Moor RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Nature Reserve at Broomhill near Barnsley. Wetland habitat with meres and pools and reservoirs where many species of birds enjoy themselves all year round. I had long promised a friend that I'd introduce her to the delights of this stretch of Yorkshire paradise, and today was the appointed day.

With weather soft and sunny with the occasional sprinkle of summer rain, we walked among the bullrushes, waterside plants and trees surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. In a couple of hours (with a break for a wonderful locally sourced and prepared on site lunch at the "Gannets Cafe") I saw over 25 species of birds, including most of the ones on offer today:

Black Tailed Godwit (ooh - one of my favourites!), Grey Heron, Canada Geese, Lapwing, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe (carrying babies on its back in the water), Mute Swans with their cygnets, Reed Warbler, Pheasant, Swifts, Carrion Crow, Black Headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern, Bullfinch (male singing and both sexes feeding), Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Collared Doves, Woodpigeons, Tree Sparrows, Starlings (a large flock), Linnet, Common Tern, Common Sandpiper and Magpie.

An exhausting but soul refreshing outing. 

Black Tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) feeding in the mud.

Friday, 23 July 2010

A quick walk round my back garden

Well, I couldn't manage a quick walk round today, but wanted to share these moments with you as some of the most colourful blooms are having a field day...

Hanging basket on gate between my back garden and my lovely neighbour's, planted with fuschia, petunia "Surfinia" etc

Osteospermum (Cape Daisy) smiles from a border and better than any weather forecast with its opening and closing mirroring the degree of cloud cover

I have an old wheelbarrow planted with lavender (smells delicious on a summer's evening), petunias and sometimes verbena etc for a bit of colour in the middle.

This year I'm combining my clematis with a hanging basket next to it, planted with my favourite sweet peas. One year, the manse conservatory was overrun with dozens of pots of sweet peas I meant to plant out in the garden once frosts were no longer a threat. Energy failed me, along with best intentions, and folks marvelled at the astonishing indoor display from which I had endless armfuls of sweet peas to give away to friends and visitors! When I came to my current pied a terre, I tried sweet peas trained up a fence with trellis on some very rocky soil. They flowered but I didn't get full benefit of a view from the house windows. So this year I hope the sweet peas will soon be joining this clem close to the this space!

Lavatera - beautiful and in best "cut and come again" tradition, like my hebes (not pictured here today), nothing can keep it down!

Persicaria. This reminds me of the wild persicaria I used to see on childhood walks. This one is a cultivated variety, always bursting with fluffy pink and red spikes. Useful as a loo brush if you have fairies to tea....

Some Phlox next to my huge fern (possibly Phlox "Alpha" unless you know different?) always adds a rich shade of pink to the borders near the pergola (and just far enough away not to be splattered with guano from the bird feeders there!) Too much information!

Blackbirds, Starlings (and squirrels!) enjoy digging up the compost in this white pot in the centre of the lawn. If they didn't, this would be a more impressive display of wallflowers (how I LOVE their scent!), impatiens (Bizzy Lizzies) and that lovely purple fluffy flower I've temporarily forgotten the name of. Note dead eucalyptus leaves from my huge, beautiful tree that makes summertime like one long South American autumn.

And now we're back at the gate, fancy coming in for a cuppa and a slice of something naughty with thick chocolate icing on, or a bowl of cookie dough ice cream?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


I knew there was a good excuse waiting  for having some corners of my garden left random and untidy...and here he is. Spot the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) wiffling through the fallen eucalyptus leaves near a section of privet hedge.

He took no notice at all of human proximity and carried on his quiet snuffling exploration of his twilight kingdom.

I've seen him before, enjoying a little tipple from the birds' water basin under the lilac tree. They say that each hedgehog prefers to have the space of twelve gardens to roam through before it makes you its privileged host. So I feel very blessed.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

You're nearer to God in a garden...

Down to wonderful Winthrop Park today for a spot of nature therapy in the sense-tingling garden. Heavenly! See yesterday's blog entry for why this garden is like no other.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Publish and be blessed?

Photo: Volunteers at Winthrop Park Nature Therapy Garden after the presentation of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service by the Princess Royal in September 2009. That's me in the back row somewhere behind somebody's hat! My poem to thank Princess Anne was presented to her in a scroll by one of the Park's directors' grandchildren. Her Royal Highness said it was the first time she'd ever received a poem as a gift. Probably the last, but my head is still on my shoulders and I haven't ended up in the Tower (yet!).

I'm currently working on a book of short stories, poems and humorous monologues to raise funds for Winthrop Park, Wickersley, the charity of which I'm officially Poet in Residence. Last year I did readings and comic stuff for several visiting groups there over the summer, but this year haven't really been fully fit to walk down there, let alone perform when I get there!

Instead, I've been working on a way to raise funds for them through my writing in a different way. I already have stuff completed specifically aimed at Winthrop as well as some shorts that will fit the bill, though  the actual compiling and editing has a way to go. Little puzzlers like: Word or pdf ? and other technical stuff I end up learning by trial and error most of the time!

Today I came across the LULU "print on demand" publishing site ( through reading about a Doncaster lass who had successfully used them to compile a book to sell for Cancer Research UK. The book becomes available for download at a price you fix and you even get an ISBN number so it's theoretically possible that it can be sold in local bookshops, Amazon etc. The publicity is up to you, but Winthrop have their own website and wide network of links, too.

You can set up a  page at where people can donate straight to the charity without having to go through you. Same sort of idea as the excellent Everyclick search site that I know Winthrop already uses. This Just Giving page can link to your own Lulu "Storefront" webpage which is like your own personal online bookstore from which people can buy the book and get it delivered in print or downloaded as an eBook.

When I was younger - or 'yesteryear' as we usually refer to it! - self publishing (or "vanity publishing") was the ugly cousin of the publishing world, and it was a case of  "Don't go there, girlfriend!" - if we'd actually talked like Gok Wan a couple of decades ago!

Now it's an increasingly popular option with very sophisticated software and what's best of all, in this case, 100% free, tried and tested worldwide. 

Hope I can eventually do the idea justice for Winthrop. They deserve all the support they can get. From a vision and an abandoned sewage works in a field off the beaten track in Wickersley, Rotherham, UK, to an award winning nature therapy park bringing hope and purpose to those with any sort of health challenge. Why not visit if you're in the area? Or visit online at Please remember Carol, David and their growing army of wonderful volunteers in your prayers. There are greater things to come from that little plot of Paradise!

If the LULU thing works out, the sky might well be my limit. Charity book sales for M.E. Research and Diabetes UK? Bring it on!

Friday, 25 June 2010


Here's the third instalment of my unplanned series "Writing wot I wrote about being Diabetic" posted this week. Writing this one started as a distraction activity from writing shorts and pitching to Womags and Competitions, but a few fragments here did lead to a story with a plot, so it was worth it.

This one's a piece of flash fiction under 500 words. Except that this isn't actually fiction. I live this at least once a month or so.
For all you diabetic Type 1s out there - enjoy the familiar feelings here.
For all you readers with a fully functioning pancreas - welcome to my crazy world!

Yes - the lack of paragraphs and punctuation below IS a reflection of the hypo state of mind.

This is what a hypo/low blood sugar REALLY feels like.

The blood glucose monitor reads 2.2.
No symptoms but I’m flying. Suddenly everything is cinnamon and dimity and I’m giggling till my two green eyes merge into one and start looking at the rocks and the rhythms between the surface of the salt waves and the myrtle green mist skimmed by rattling chocolate buttons and frogmarching steeples with clock faces I can’t make out. My mother is here. I can nearly see her and if I really concentrate I’m certain I can walk straight over the concertina chopsticks lining the path but they keep on moving to the centre and fanning out like a cartwheel of lemon juice and tripping me up. Did you know the days of the week are like a clothes line? It’s so obvious now. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are all on a level, with Tuesday and Thursday drooping between them, fixed in place by invisible pegs that ring low like a Rioja glass pinged by a fingernail with chipped purple varnish. The weekends join the other days together like an ornate but functional belt buckle. I’m sweating and trembling. I feel like I ought to strip off all my clothes but I wouldn’t trust myself to know where to stop and my flesh, all yellow and honeycomb inside would slip from my bones like a buzzing net negligee and what would the neighbours say? That makes me laugh more and I’m wheezing and hooting and stuffing the dry cushions into my mouth but you can still hear me because you’re saying so with a very serious expression and I laugh even harder and my forehead seems to have something arch going on with the carpet. I can’t move my eyes or my lips. Someone must have moved them just beyond my bodyspace and I’m thrashing about making sand angels on the floor and everything is gritty like the white noise when the radio is off the station and my synapses keep fizzing with static till the budgie makes the cage bounce as it nods its head faster and faster. There’s gurning and gargoyles or is that just me? I’m not getting any feedback and woolly seething serendipity is blocking the pores in my eardrums, stopping me coming up for air. It’s making no linear logic but I can see straight to the heart of truth like an arrow tip through a sappy apple. Somebody’s ravishing my lips apart. The sugar tastes like apricot petrol and burning rubber but at last I’m surfacing.
The monitor reads 4.1.
        I ache to go back where it all made sense.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


While penning yesterday's blog poem on the way back from hospital, I decided to dig out this poem I wrote in August 2009 to up awareness of the strides that have been made in diabetes care through the work of DAFNE (DOSE ADJUSTMENT FOR NORMAL EATING) health care teams. DAFNE courses all over the country are now teaching us cynical old sugar dodgers how to count carbohydrate intake even more accurately than was possible in the past to achieve tighter control and maybe save lives in the process.

This poem was sent to the Rotherham Advertiser, a local newspaper in South Yorkshire, as my attempt to help raise awareness of how effective these courses can be, and how under-subscribed many are through poor perceptions of the outcomes, funding issues etc. Somebody said the Advertiser had published it, but as I only buy it if I hear something interesting's in, I must have missed it!!! I also performed it when I addressed the local Diabetes UK group who meet at the hospital (thought that was a good health day, even though I had to lie down in a darkened room for a week afterwards - lol!). Local health care staff in the surgery and at the Diabetes Centre also said they enjoyed reading their copies and dutifully pinned it up in the Diabetes Education Centre (for later use as a dartboard, perhaps?). If it can convince just one more Type 1 diabetic to give such courses a try, my work here is done!


Now, don’t we just love to whinge and moan at things we think are lax?
Like traffic chaos in Bramley, or councils that waste our tax?
Folks love to have a rant and rave, so rightly, at things that bother ‘em,
But I couldn’t wait to celebrate some unsung heroes in Rotherham!

You might not have seen them or noticed; they say they’re just doing their bit,
But down at our local hospital, there’s a team who with heroes should sit.
As you pass near the hospital entrance, there’s one block that contains a sensation
For right there inside you’ll find Rotherham’s pride, staff in Diabetes Education.

They give life-changing one-to-one sessions, they don’t patronise or ignore.
They’re professional and downright amazing! Just doing their job? They do more!
They run courses to help with “carb counting” and adjusting your insulin so
You can keep blood glucose more level. Not convinced? Well, I’m one who should know!

For 25 years as a Type 1, on insulin four times a day,
I’d become quite an NHS cynic, thought I was the expert, not they!
Thought I’d learnt all the stuff by experience that a middle aged know-all can learn,
Lived all over the world with my needles, diabetic with know-how to burn!

But stricken by other conditions that had forced me to grind to a halt,
I slapped on four stone when disabled by factors not wholly my fault.
The insulin that had long served me, when working and walking like mad,
Now locked me in fat, like a beached whale and that was the worst time my body had had!

But these lasses were patient and personal, and helped with devising a plan,
To adjust my regime- how daft did that seem? But I gritted my teeth and began.
Their follow up showed not just caring, but skill, understanding and grace,
And here I am just four months later, with everything now back in place.

I’m back to the weight I began with, before M.E. turned me to jelly,
Six stone melted off through their wisdom, and the inches dropped back off my belly!
Still better, my blood sugar levels, which had swung like a swing-boat on speed,
Are now more like a real “normal” person’s, which all of us strive for and need.

So thanks to the team for their brilliance, to Nicky and Sree and the rest,
And if you too have diabetes, please go put their care to the test.
Give the centre a ring if you’re worried diabetes is costing you much,
Let them help to support and advise you; take their courses, like D.A.F.N.E.* or such.

I’ve had hospital docs and appointments, a lifetime of so-called care,
But nothing I’ve ever encountered had prepared me for what I found there –
The team changed my life with their wisdom, and where there’s a will, there’s a way;
So what’s there to lose, diabetics? Can they change your life too? Yes! They may!

-Rev Joyce Barrass, Wickersley

* D.A.F.N.E. stands for “Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating”, one of the courses run by the Diabetes Education Team on Rotherham 307910

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


I'm come back from the hospital,
They've seen the back of me.
They've poked where my injections go
And analyzed my wee.

They've read through my results book
Where I write down glucose highs,
They've pinged my knees with hammers,
Shone their torches in both eyes.

They say I'm doing wonderfully,
And pat me on the head;
Now my control is tight as tight,
There's something else instead.

Now, when my sugar plummets,
I've never had much sign
To know I'm going "hypo"
Till my reading's 1.9.*

By then I'm giggling like a drunk
And talking utter tosh;
They want my warning signals back,
But that will never wash!

My insulin's reducing,
To get my bloods to rise
That's working on the theory
That it acts as a disguise

To the craziest of symptoms
When you're hypo half the time.
But for me it's just ridiculous
Right down from the sublime.

"Hypo unawareness"
Is this thing they're trying to cure,
So I'll know I'm going hypo
When the symptoms show for sure.

I told them when I started
Back in 1984,
They had me running round the wards
And in and out the door

To show me what a hypo was,
And how it makes you feel;
In the end they had to bring me back-
My pancreas is unreal!

So watch this space, as ever;
I'll be doing as I'm told.
I'll be a model patient,
Keep my records, good as gold.

But how can you get warnings back,
Warnings you've never had?
You'd love me, when my sugar's low,
I'm twice as flipping mad!

* this reading is in in mmol/L - for American readers that converts to the shockingly low BG reading of 34.2mg/dL, at which point most "normal" diabetics are already comatose! LOL!