Sunday, 31 October 2010

A Writerly Hallowe'en

I've been reading a lot of Hallowe'en related blog posts about everything scary recently - carved pumpkins (that's ours on the left), costumes, recipes and films - but I was surprised how few mentioned books.

So I've put together a short list of reading suitable for this night of ghosts and ghouls.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

This is the fourth Pratchett novel about Tiffany Aching, reluctant witch and the noisy but loyal Wee Free Men. Tiffany is just settling into her new home and witchly community duties. She's doing her best but things get complicated when an evil ghost fixes its eerie sights on Tiffany.

The Witches by Roald Dahl

My children love books by Dahl but I've kept this one back for now as I find it quite frightening myself. The High Witch plans to rid the country of children by turning them into mice (and if that isn't bad enough, she's placed a large order for mousetraps). Thankfully one young boy overhears her plans and with his grandmother sets out to defeat the witches.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This classic tale of horror is an all time favourite of mine. Told as a story within a story within a story, Frankenstein's god-like vanity leads to the creation of the monster whom he quickly rejects. Abandoned in a lonely, cruel world, it is inevitable that the monster will turn on its creator.

However you spend this Hallowe'en night, have a great time.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pan's Labyrinth

Teaser PosterImage via Wikipedia
Hallowe'en films don't all have to be about gore and zombies. Sometimes they can be more subtle in their terror.

Like the best gothic fairytale, there is something both frightening and enchanting about the award winning film, Pan's Labyrinth. Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro, it tells the story of the stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer who escapes from her miserable life to a terrifying but magical fantasy world. The film is set in the fascist Spain of Franco and balances the cruel family life of Ofelia and her mother with the often disturbing but ultimately preferable world of the labyrinth. The mythical cast includes a caustic faun and a monster who sees through his hands.

I'm still undecided whether the ending is sad or not. Watch it and make up your own mind.
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Friday, 29 October 2010

Lucky lucky me

I consider myself to be a lucky person. I have a wonderful husband, two lively, loving children, my health, good friends, so many things to be thankful for. However, I don't generally win competitions, of any kind. It's not that I think 'oh, I'll never win'. It just doesn't generally happen. In fact, I can count the number of times I've won anything on one hand, until this month.

October has been my extra lucky month. Firstly, I won this beautiful jewellery from Aspire Style. They've just opened a new store in Solihull, but you can also find their shops in Warwick, Oxford and Stratford on Avon. Or you can shop online through their delightful website.

My second win was of a Hallowe'en competition run by Retro Chick for a spider web shawl, umbrella, wallet and compact mirror also from Aspire. In addition to selling retro and vintage clothing and accessories, Retro Chick runs competitions on a regular basis with some lovely prizes.

Both of these websites are well worth a visit. Click on the links above.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I Value The Arts

If you care about the Arts, please click on the badge above to find out more about this campaign.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

On your marks...

get set... We're almost there. In just under three weeks, National Novel Writing Month starts. For NaNoWriMo virgins, here is their press release.

Novel fever takes the world by storm.

Symptoms include flashes of brilliance, questionable plotlines, and blatant use of mixed metaphors.
Berkeley, California (Oct 1, 2010) - At midnight on November 1, armed only with their wits, the vague outline of a story, and a ridiculous deadline, more than 200,000 people around the world will set out to become novelists.

Why? Because November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the world’s largest writing challenge and nonprofit literary crusade. Participants pledge to write 50,000 words in a month, starting from scratch and reaching “The End” by November 30. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them.

So what’s the point? “The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” says NaNoWriMo Founder and Executive Director (and eleven-time NaNoWriMo winner) Chris Baty. “When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it’s a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month.”

More than 500 regional volunteers in more than 90 countries will hold write-ins, hosting writers in coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. Write-ins offer a supportive environment and surprisingly effective peer pressure, turning the usually solitary act of writing into a community experience. That sense of community even extends beyond the page—so much so that more than a dozen marriages and at least four babies have resulted from NaNoWriMo over the years.

Although the event emphasizes creativity and adventure over creating a literary masterpiece, nearly 60 novels begun during NaNoWriMo have since been published, including Water for Elephants, a New York Times #1 Bestseller by Sara Gruen.

“Writing a novel in a month inspires incredible confidence in seasoned and first-time novelists alike,” says NaNoWriMo Program Director, Lindsey Grant. “Completing a draft of the novel they’ve been contemplating for ages gives participants a tremendous sense of accomplishment and leaves them wondering what else they’re capable of.”

For more information on National Novel Writing Month, or to speak to NaNoWriMo participants in your area, visit or contact

The Office of Letters and Light is a California-based international non-profit organization. Its programs are the largest literary events in the world. Learn more at

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Remembering Charlie

Monday was the birthday of my late father, Charlie. He would have been 88 years old. That's him in the photo, standing in a street in York with my mum.

He was an ever supportive influence in my life, softly spoken, strong, thoughtful and eternally optimistic. He was probably better thought of and more kindly remembered that he realised.

He was a hard worker, my dad. He was also a dreamer, full of ideas and thoughts. He did his best to improve himself so that he could support his family which often meant we only saw him at weekends, a treasured forty eight hours when family time was spent out walking, maybe driving in the countryside, or in the garden. A country lad at heart, my father usually found a way to drag us out into nature.

When he retired, my father decided to research his family history. I can remember the trips he took to London and Edinburgh (sometimes with my mum and on other occasions alone) and holidays spent traipsing through overgrown graveyards in Scotland. One of his great regrets, and frustrations, in researching his family tree was that he hadn't listened to the stories told by his father and the gossip and news that was tossed around at family gatherings.

My father always saw himself as a 'workhorse', head down, get on with it, don't complain. He failed to value the other more lyrical side of his personality. He was a storyteller, describing his childhood in Scotland, his adventures in London, and the colourful people he had met on the way.

More recently I've picked up the reins from my father to continue his research. I've even started writing a blog about it. My parents have left me an immense amount of paperwork, books and photographs, in addition to my father's genealogy notes but I now share my father's frustration. I wish I had listened to my parents more. I wish I had asked them questions about the mountain of photographs, many of people unknown to me. I wish I had written down the stories they told me. All I have now are patchy, threadbare memories of those stories.

Will my children bear the same frustration when I am gone? They are happy to listen to my stories now but a lifetime is such an immense thing to track and more importantly remember, how can anyone retain it all, every second, every breath, every thought or heartbreak? Even the most romantic biographer must decide what should be included and what should not. But maybe that is the magic of memory, to filter out the unnecessary debris, retaining the gems of our past.

So I have a new project, to keep a record my life, including the stories that I tell my children, as a keepsake for my family. At the least, it will be an interesting writing exercise. At the best, it may provide us all with some clarity.