I was at a St David’s Day lunch today with about 30 Welsh people, one Scot and an Englishman.
Nothing so unusual about that, I hear you say. It is St David’s Day, after all, Kath.
But I’m not currently at home in Wales.
I left there on Sunday, crossed the border, wound my way through a spa town, past ancient stones and into a forest of ponies before boarding a boat in the black of night, the wind whipping my hair and scarf about me like Medusa’s familiars, to cross the inky waters.
Yes, I’m on the Isle of Wight.
We used to live here once upon a time.
I left to go to university but Mum and Dad and my brother stayed on until I’d finally settled in one place long enough for them to follow me up to Wales.
Mum and Dad were given life membership of the Isle of Wight Welsh Society as a parting gift and used to make an annual pilgrimage for the lunch.
Now that Dad’s no longer with us, if I’m able to take the time off, I make the trip with her.
Which is why once a year my Scottish mother and I (and Squizzey, who loves a good road trip) leave Wales and journey to an island off the south coast of England to celebrate the patron saint of the Land of My Father.
If you follow me on social media or have ever read this blog before, you’ll know that books, chocolate and adventures with squirrels (and yes, Squizzey, especially one in particular) are three of my favourite things. Luckily, I caught a Facebook post by Evonne Wareham earlier last week advertising an event that combined all three. On Thursday lunchtime, Squizzey and I ventured over to the neighbouring valley to check out the newly refurbished Ystrad Mynach library. It’s bright and welcoming – as are the library staff – and even stocks squirrel-friendly book titles. (Although Squizz was a little wary of the purple dragon guarding them!)
As part of the re-opening celebrations, three author friends – Christine Stovell, Evonne Wareham and Christina Courtenay – were there to talk about Heroes, Heroines and Happy Endings. All three are all published by ChocLit; a publisher of a wide selection of stories, told from both the hero and heroine’s point of view, which all have romance at the heart of them.
All three authors were generous with their time – and the chocolates they handed round to everyone – and open to questions from the audience throughout the afternoon session. They covered the type of books they write, which range from contemporary romance to young adult and historical to thrillers and suspense, and why, showing how the fiction they write stems from their other interests, a desire to combine one or more of those and create a hybrid work, places they had lived or visited, and/or a need to make sense of the world we live in.
Chris, Evonne and Christina talked about the starting points for stories: a character, a place, a situation or a premise. They all seemed to be pantsters rather than planners, although Evonne did admit that she was academic in her approach thanks to her background, and they all keep some record of the timeline they’re working to, so that this doesn’t cause continuity issues. Christina also said that it was useful for her to colour-code characters’ points of view, to ensure that her stories achieved the right balance, and didn’t favour one character more than any other to the detriment of the whole story. This was especially important to her when writing time slips, where both stories have to carry the same weight.
While both Chris and Christina write straight onto a computer, Evonne still prefers to write long-hand and showed us the manuscript of her current work-in-progress, complete with her own red pen edits. Respect to Evonne for not only writing in longhand and also leaving the house with a handwritten manuscript. I would only do this, if I could clutch it to my chest for the whole time I was away from the house. Not doing regular enough back-ups makes me break out in a cold sweat, as it is! Read more
I can’t decide whether it was apposite or not but it was a bit of a lonely crowd who attended the launch of The Lonely Crowd on Thursday evening, and half of those there were reading. However, the low turnout didn’t stop it from being a very enjoyable evening at the Waterloo Tea Rooms in Wyndham Arcade.
There was a welcoming glass of prosecco (or fruit juice for those of us from the Valleys who were driving) and a selection of olives and dips on each table.
But the real feast was in the variety of readings that evening.
I loved listening to extracts from short stories and a forthcoming novel for a change, as well as some poetry.
I get a real kick out of listening to authors read from their own work: when I read it again later, I have their voice in my mind and it sometimes gives me a better feel for their work.
It was great to hear Rhys Milsom read a story I’d enjoyed on the The Lonely Crowd website to kick things off and a story from Nigel Jarrett and part of his forthcoming novel from Gary Raymond, as well as poetry by Chris Cornwell but my highlights from the evening included hearing another great story from Carole Burns’ new collection, The Missing Woman*, a brand new story from Francesca Rhydderch and poems by Steph Power.
*I have to mention that The Missing Woman is published by Parthian, otherwise Susie Wild is very likely to come on here to tell you that! 😉 *waves at Susie*
The Lonely Crowd is a new Cardiff-based short story and poetry journal and it’s edited by John Lavin. As well as those mentioned above, the first issue has stories from the excellent Tom Vowler and Alison Moore and photographs by Jo Mazelis among others. It’s been very nicely-produced and is a handy, portable size. Just right to slip in a bag and read on the go. For more details and to subscribe, go to The Lonely Crowd website.
I lived in Roath when I was a student but haven’t spent much time there since moving back to Wales in 1999. Except for the past week when I’ve been there not once, but twice. The second time was on Thursday evening, when Squizzey and I went to an event with local author Kate Hamer at the wonderful Wellfield Bookshop on Wellfield Road. It’s a lovely independent bookshop with a great selection of titles and friendly, knowledgeable staff that we’d been meaning to check out for some time, having heard such good things about it.
Kate Hamer’s debut novel The Girl In The Red Coat came out a month ago and since then Kate has been busy travelling around the UK promoting it, but as she lives in Cardiff, it was lovely to be able to go to this local event. As ever, Squizz was fastidious about dressing appropriately and insisted on wearing his red duffle coat. Kate very kindly rewarded his efforts with the gift of a red button she’d made to help promote her book and he’s now wearing it with pride. It’s not often you go to an event and there’s squirrel-sized book booty after all!
Kate read an extract from The Girl In The Red Coat and then answered questions from the audience and it was interesting to hear her not only talk about the writing process but also about the team effort that goes into bringing a book out. It was a fascinating insight into just how many people are involved and their different roles. Read more
This year, I decided that my New Year was going to start in February, and not a month earlier with the rest of the Western World. No, I’m not Chinese and no, I haven’t changed my belief system.
I just wanted to do the New Year, new start, new self, new words thing by stealth. No shouting about my resolutions at the beginning of January and not remembering what they were at the end of the month, like the innocent newbie-me of past years. This year, I’m doing things gradually, at my speed and not everyone else’s: easing myself into the year, decluttering a bit, getting myself organised, looking over old writing and gearing up with some new.
Which is why, when I saw a Writers’ Inspiration Day advertised and saw that it was being held only two hours away in Dudley on February 8th, I scrabbled the money together and booked it. It was, after all, taking place in my New Year and coming along at precisely the right time for me. And let’s face it, how often do courses do that? Plus, it was being organised by lovely author and twitter pal, Miranda Dickinson. Read more
It’s World Book Day today and there’s been a lot of bookish fun happening on Twitter and FB to celebrate. I’ve had some great booky conversations; I’ve also been to Cardiff libraries, in particular, Roath library, in order to find a copy of The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – because the copy I have is missing some 50 pages – or rather, instead of the 50 pages I was expecting, it had duplicated 50 pages from earlier in the book instead. I’m about to go and read those missing 50 pages now but before I do, I thought I’d share this WBD #shelfie.
These are my ‘Arthur Ransome’ shelves: all of his books in Cape hardback and audiocassette, books about his life, books and locations, and all the other books on the sea, sailing and pirates that his books set me off in search of once I’d finished reading and re-reading all of his Swallows and Amazons series. I started reading his books when I was nine and every so often, I still go back and re-read one now I’m old enough to be an Aged Parent and I still find it hard to resist a book set in, on or around the sea or one about pirates or sailing.
Days after seeing it, I am still thinking about Matthew Bourne’s magical interpretation of Sleeping Beauty. It wasn’t love at first sight but once the fairies made their entrance and started to bestow their gifts, I fell for it in all its gothic loveliness. From that moment on, I was transfixed and entranced, drawn into the enchanted forest and dazzled by the deft dancers in their gorgeous costumes. Here was storytelling at its very best and if I had the chance, I would happily go and see it all over again.
You can read a review by lovely author and blogging pal, Chris Stovell, on her blog and here are more details about the production together with the remaining tour dates: New Adventures
Help sometimes comes from the most unexpected of sources, doesn’t it?
This summer, I had to put my writing on hold to earn some money. Shocking, I know, but apparently money is still useful, particularly if you want to pay your bills and eat. Rather than just take any old job to get some money together, I still wanted to spend my summer doing something that I love and, happily, I managed to do just that by putting my TEFL experience to good use and taking in homestay students. This involves foreign students, who want to improve their English, coming to live with us as part of the family for 2-3 weeks at a time. They get formal lessons in the morning for a set number of hours and then we spend some time, a couple of afternoons and a day at the weekend, on excursions which enables them to practise their language skills and, hopefully, also shows them something of my local area and culture. It was hard, hard work being “always-on” with the student(s) living with us but I did also have a lot of fun, too.
As with any teaching I’ve ever done, I learnt a great deal – both about myself and my language. But I think the most important thing I took from my Summer of Students is what it was like to be 15/16. A time when I felt that I could do anything I put my mind to and go anywhere to do just that. Admittedly, I was realistic about my limitations even back then. I never thought for one minute that I would wow the world with my singing or that my tennis skills could win me Wimbledon but I did believe that if I worked hard at the things I was passionate about, actually good at and enjoyed, then there was no reason for me not to be successful at them. Not if I were doing all I could to make it happen.
Do you remember that feeling and how great it was? Perhaps you managed to hold on to it. I didn’t. It got trampled in exam failure, job hunts, job losses, divorce, the loss of a parent and all of the other ‘stuff’ that life throws at you from time to time.
But thanks to Beatriz, Céline and Andrea, I believe that I can reclaim it or, at least, some semblance of it. (A huge thank you from me, girls. You are, all of you, extraordinarily talented young women and an inspiration.) So, I’m making some changes, taking more chances and forcing myself out of my comfort zone to see if that helps me get back on track and rediscover the risk-taking teenager who I know is still in there somewhere, however deeply buried! Because rather than boring myself – and everyone else! – stupid with a long list of excuses, I’d much rather be the kind of person who sees a challenge and says “Oh, why not?” and then gives whatever it is a go.
When was the last time you did something that scared you?
When I first started blogging just under a year ago, I did it because I thought it might be fun. It was also part of my attempt at trying out different forms of social networking. (I’d recently joined Twitter and was finally getting around to using Facebook. I know, I know, a little late to the party on that last one!) I thought that I would blog about books and chocolate and writing and life with a squirrel intent on world domination. (Between you and me, and I can say this as he probably doesn’t read my blog, I was hoping that if the squirrel had his own SquizzBlog he wouldn’t take over mine too much.) And I didn’t really think about it much beyond that. I certainly didn’t think about whether anyone, besides me, would read it and I figured it would either grow and evolve or fall by the wayside.
What I hadn’t been expecting to get out of blogging was finding myself part of a supportive and friendly community, or that it could be remotely sociable.
The Cardiff Bloggers’ meet-up is a great initiative organised by Hannah Waldram (Guardian Cardiff) and Ed Walker (your Cardiff), currently held in Pica Pica on Westgate Street and sponsored by Warwick Emanuel PR. The inaugural meet-up was in March with another at the end of May and their success paved the way for a Valley Bloggers meet-up in June. You get a chance to talk to fellow bloggers about their blogs, what works (or doesn’t) for them, ask questions, bounce ideas around and just generally chat.
Last Wednesday was the third Cardiff Bloggers’ meet-up and this time it focussed on Niche Blogging. You can read a great write-up on the Guardian Cardiff blog here.
One of the main things that I took away from the evening was how all the guest speakers – Nicki Tudor (Cardiff Bites), Phil Jones (Pint of 45) and Gwyneth Moore (Cardiff Fashion) – had started writing their niche blogs about subjects they loved. Nicki is a self-confessed foodie. When her friends told her that she was making their mouths water from writing about her meals out on MySpace, she decided to start blogging as Cardiff Bites. She shares recipes and her opinion about Cardiff eateries, and enjoys getting to meet and know other foodies and food bloggers. Phil likes going out and getting hammered with a mate and they thought it would be handy and fun to have a record of where they’ve been and what it was like. If it helps someone else find a good place to drink in Cardiff, all the better. Gwyneth has been interested in fashion since she worked in the industry and felt she wanted a Cardiff-centric blog, where there previously was none.
Even now they’ve been blogging for a while, it’s clear that none of them are too bothered about follower numbers or hits to their blogs. That doesn’t mean to say that they don’t want – and like – people reading their blogs or that they aren’t happy when people visit and read them or subscribe to and/or comment on them. Of course they do, and are. Who wouldn’t be? But if blogging stopped being fun, they probably wouldn’t hesitate to stop doing it tomorrow.
Hearing this from other bloggers cheered me up no end. It is all too easy to get caught up in blogging advice handed out through social networking sites, start worrying about content and stats and forget about why you’re blogging and who you’re blogging for.
I am, at best, an erratic blogger. I blog when I want to and when I have something particular to say – I might have been to a great event or read a good book I want others to know about. I can’t force myself to blog, say, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and every second Saturday. I don’t jot down ideas for blog posts, draft them in advance or schedule them. Not just yet, at any rate. I admire those that can do all these things. I wish I could but I think at the moment that would take the fun out of blogging for me. As would worrying about building up my so-called “author platform” and keeping tabs on how many people follow this blog, however they may do so.
Last Wednesday’s event was timely and so useful for me. Not only did it get me out of the house (very important to venture out into the real world every so often!) but I had the opportunity to hear from other bloggers about why they blog. And, first and foremost, they’re doing it because it’s fun, they enjoy it and they’re writing about something they love. Why are you blogging? And is it for the same reason now as when you first started?
Many thanks to Elizabeth McGuire (@PoshAudrey on Twitter) for permission to use one of her photographs from the evening with this post.