Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Night of Hope

We're all aglow at Maison Squidge - with a pumpkin carved in support of 
World Vision's Night of Hope campaign.

Thinking of the children for whom fright night is every night...

Enjoy your Halloween celebrations, folks, if you're having them. Stay safe.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Heart for Halloween

I don't really hold with Halloween. Sorry.

Not sure why, but I've never liked it. I do love to see decorated pumpkins and awesome fancy dress, because the creative side of me enjoys seeing other creative people 'doin' their thang' - but I've no desire to join in myself.

(When we first moved into our house, I admit we did have a Halloween Housewarming; we'd moved into the house on the 4th July, but it took us months to get enough furniture to invite our friends round... no other reason. If I remember right, I was a red devil...and one of our friends was the 'Not-so-grim Reaper'. Which is what you get when the black dye doesn't take on your nylon sheets...!)

Anyway, this Halloween I AM going to have a pumpkin light on my doorstep. Not carved with a scary face to encourage the ghosts and ghoulies, but with a heart in support of World Vision's Night of Hope campaign. You can find out more about the campaign and details of how to make a donation (should you wish to do so) here.

I sponsor three children through World Vision so I often get email or facebook updates and videos sent to me. I've been moved to tears by some of the stories they've shared, particularly this recent one:

Ahmed is the same age as my own son - 14. The contrast between T's life and Ahmed's is just unbelievable. It near broke my heart listening to him tell how he survives in the refugee camp - yet still manages to smile.  

Sadly, Ahmed's story is not unique. There are many more children throughout the world where life is constantly frightening for a variety of reasons. My £5 donation is just a drop in the ocean, but it will reach trained volunteers on the ground who can help these kids find hope again. 

Here's my pumpkin, carved with its symbol of hope for all the children for whom 'fright night' is every night... especially for the kids still living in war-torn countries and those trying to survive in atrocious conditions in Europe.

My hearty pumpkin.

I'll add another pic on Saturday, when the pumpkin's lit up...

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

An awfully big adventure begins...

First - apologies for not blogging for almost two weeks! Disgraceful of me, but it's been half term and I've been playing around with Kingstone issues and trying to write flash for the Randoms...but I'm here now. And ready to blog.

In January, I'm going to go to India for ten days.

Some of you reading this may say 'So what? Loads of people go to India. Nothing unusual, given how small the world is with air travel now.'

But for me, it's an awfully BIG deal. I've always wanted to go to India - have been envious of others who've been - but somehow I've never had the time or the money... Actually, scrub that. If I'm totally honest, *whispers* I never had the courage to go. Y'see, the only places I've ever travelled to have been 'Westernised'. (Apart from a 24 hour stopover in Bali on both legs of a journey to New Zealand many years ago - and what we experienced there was a sanitised Balinese culture due to time restraints). I have never experienced a culture that is vastly different to my own. And I've never travelled anywhere without Mr Squidge or my kids, so to volunteer to go to Tamil Nadu in South India as a representative of my church with two priests instead of my family is a mahoosive deal.

It all started when I was asked to go on a diocesan conference last September, where I met clergy from our link dioceses in India, Tanzania and the US. Our curate at the time - who was also on the conference - suggested we link with a church in India, to encourage one another in our spiritual life and to offer practical support if and where we could.

I sort of felt drawn to this idea, and after several meetings with a few like-minded people who proposed a scouting trip to see how such a link might work for mutual benefit, I really felt that God was telling me I ought to be going on it. (And when God wants you to do something, it's my experience that he keeps nudgig you until you say yes, regardless of the excuses you come up with to try and get out of it. *see above for mine!*) Anyway, we recently got the go-ahead from our Parish Council to send three folk from church to Tamil Nadu where the possible link church is based - and I said I'd be one of them.

Fortunately, the two gents I'm going with have both been to India before and at least one has travelled rather widely, so I am thankful that I am in good company. (Although they might get fed up with all my questions...)

The preparations are in hand; so far, I've had my Hep A/B Combo, tetanus and typhoid/diptheria/polio jabs. The flights are booked. I FINALLY got a photo that ticked all the boxes for my visa, and submitted the application yesterday.

My visa pic. This was the best of them, honest...

I've bought some rather fetching walking sandals, several bottles of hand cleanser and three pairs of harem trousers.

I have read up the Rough Guide to South India, and have been practising Tamil so I can at least say hello and please and thank you. I've also been reading up about how the Dalits are treated in India, particularly the women. (Here's a blog I wrote during last year's conference, about just one of the issues)

Next on the list is insurance, a new memory card for the camera, notebooks and pens for the writing I'm bound to do, and research into bus times to Heathrow...

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Autumn, according to NIBS

Last night was our monthly get-together for NIBS, the creative writing group I help to run. I chose an autumn theme, and went armed with some autumny pictures (everything from pumpkin soup to rutting deer and fantasy figures in dresses made of leaves), a basket full of coloured leaves, conkers and berried branches, and some quotes about autumn from Goodreads. (If you see anything here to get your writerly juices flowing, why not have a go and post in the comments below? Or link back to your blog space, if you have one?)

A basketful of autumn...

Autumn words and pictures

We started off with a quick reason-write; Exactly why are squirrels gathering all those nuts and berries?

The first one read out had us in stitches and stole the show; did you know that squirrels are working towards world domination and the berries are just a front for their weapon-making collaboration with the moles? We even got an evil laugh at the end of the reading... There were some great ideas coming through and it gave us a bit of time for everyone to arrive as unfortunately, there'd been an accident on the road up to church which meant a couple of folk had to turn back and come the long way round to get to us...

And then, for the first time at NIBS, we just did what we wanted. Normally, we try a few writing exercises, but this time, because everyone's fairly confident now at producing something off-the-cuff, we just went for it! Faced with the props I'd taken, there was free choice as to whether to write poetry, a story, a memoir - so long as it had an autumn theme, it really didn't matter.

We wrote for half an hour, and boy, did we end up with some beauties...

 - A short story, told from a conker's point of view, right up to the point of him becoming a 'sixer'. We were all nodding at the mention of being stuck in a pocket or polished on a trouser leg - how many times have we done that  as both children and adults?

 - A beautiful piece of poetry based on the quote 'autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons'. The author usually writes emotively and this was no exception - I was really moved and quite overwhelmed by the finished piece, which compared autumn's treasures to those of the other seasons. Quite beautiful.

 - A really interesting piece about autumn as the bringer of death - would you have ever described the leaves of this season as 'red as blood, yellow as pus in a wound and brown as crisp as burnt flesh?' Thought not! The author admitted afterwards to not liking autumn: it showed! And made a lasting impression...

 - Another took as their prompt the picture of a woman in a leafy dress, walking with her owl through the woods. The narrator was hidden in a tree, watching - we never found out why, but there was so much longing coming through in the writing, a real yearning for...something.

 - One author was fascinated by a particular leaf I'd brought - she wrote a short but gorgeous poem which made us feel the beauty of the colours and the contrast between the 'last crescendo' of the life of the leaf and its ultimate death.

Me? Well, I had a go at a poem and then did a bit of a 'five senses of autumn' thing, where I listed lots of things that mean autumn to me. Can't say I was entirely happy with either - I would have loved to have evoked some of the imagery that the rest of the group managed, but I tend to be a bit more matter-of-fact in my writing - plain speaking, almost - which doesn't have quite the feel I'd loved to have achieved. But I'll share the poem with you and leave you to judge. It was based on the quote 'October, baptize me with leaves!' and I've tweaked it a bit overnight. Here goes...

Autumn's baptism.

October, baptize me with leaves!
Pour your fiery shades into this chill, fresh morning.
Bright sun with no heat illuminates copper and gold and orange and brown
as the cold night forces the branches to finally loose their hold
and the leaves are let go.
They float down on a whispering breeze
which turns these thousands - millions - of individual deaths
into a short, illusory dance of life,
until they lay still on dew-damp grass.
I scuff through the crisp, rustling shell that blankets the earth
as summer heat is washed from the world
and I am baptised afresh in autumn's leafy waters;
a final blaze of glory before bare branches and glittering frosts bring winter.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Loogabarooga Festival

'Incredible Illustrations - Brilliant Books'

The Loogabarooga Festival is a new literary festival for families, to be held in Loughborough 22-26 October this year - ie the tail end of next week, our half term here in Leicestershire. It's thought to be the only literary festival that focuses on illustrated stories, and has come about because Loughborough is the birthplace of Ladybird Books, who celebrate their centenary this year. In fact, there's an exhibition in the Charnwood Museum which charts the history of Ladybird and shows some of the original artwork, as well as supporting talks by some of the people who worked at Ladybird when the factory was still based in town.

There are LOADS of activities planned during the festival days - some free, some needing payment - and all the details are on the website or facebook page. You can design your own book cover, go to a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, watch Nick Butterworth and the illustrator of Dennis the Menace at work, plus a hundred other things beside! Book benches have been commissioned and placed around town, reflecting some of the town's favourite Ladybird books (Remember Books About Town last year in London? Like those)...a treasure trail is planned in the can get festival food offers at certain restaurants...and the town has been decked out with yellow and purple flags. It promises to be an exciting week.

There's one thing I'm a bit sad about though. As a local author, I got in touch with the team to see if I could be involved; after all, I love books and Granny Rainbow's two books are illustrated. Although I was told my details were passed on, I've heard nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I even met one of the team in my local Waterstones branch when I asked them about getting involved; the lady avoided eye contact, took my details (again) and said 'the programme's sorted for this year. Maybe next?'

I wonder whether I should have pushed it more? Gone off and done my own thing? But everything seems to be going through the Loogabarooga team...

I'll try again next year, anyway... and in the meantime, I shall go and have a sit on the Cinderella bench in the market place, try and spot the book titles in shop windows, and take advantage of money off my meals - while spreading the word far and near that if you like Ladybird books and illustrated books, this might just be the festival you've been looking for!

Oh - and if you're wondering about how the name 'Loogabarooga' came about, it's because a lot of foreign folk have trouble pronouncing 'Loughborough'. It actually sounds like 'Lufbra' when you say it, but looks nothing like that on the page... You'll also see on the poster our famous Carillon war memorial (its green top can be seen for miles around) and the Sock Man, a distinctive town sculpture who pays tribute to the hosiery workers of years gone by...

Saturday, 10 October 2015

A second blog

You're probably aware that I do a bit of flower arranging...and I often blog about it here. I've blogged about things like the Miss Piggy Rose, and Lonely Bouquet and our church's Flower Festival for example.

For some time, I've been toying with the idea of setting up a separate blog just for flowery things. And as most of the time the displays are created for church, I've set one up as 'Flowers at St Mary in Charnwood Church, Nanpantan.'

I'll probably still post here about flowery things - they won't suddenly disappear from the Scribbles! But the second blog is more of a reference site I suppose; a record of ideas and themes and inspiration for other interested flower arrangers and church flower teams, rather than an ongoing conversation like the Scribbles. I'll aim to blog at least once a month and build up the Flower Festival pages over time.

So if you want to pop over and see the many ways we decorate our 'little church in the woods', just click HERE...

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

In Support of Bookshops

I love books. Real, paper-and-card books.

I know I read ebooks occasionally, but you just can't - in my opinion - ever replace the physical book. The weight of it, the smell, the fact that you can go back to it again and again until it's dog-eared and yellowed and the spine's faded...

Because I love books, I love browsing in bookshops. You might remember my trip to Barter Books in Alnwick last year, or the Age UK charity bookshop I found in town?

Last week, I discovered another, though it's a little too far away to be visiting regularly! Topping and Company have a shop in Ely, where I picked up a signed copy of Half a World by Joe Abercrombie... (I was in Ely for the licensing of our ex-curate in her new role as team vicar - a beautiful, blessed event.)

Ignore the optician's window -
the rest of this building is ALL books...

Ely cathedral - view from the top floor.

Anyway, this shop has the best children's section I have EVER seen. Just look at it!

This is the point where the section starts...

Tables piled high with books...

Shelves crammed with books...

More shelves stuffed with books...(and overspill on the floor)

And a whole section devoted to teen reads...


Topping and Co claim to have more than 50,000 titles over three floors in Ely (they also have shops in Bath and St. Andrews), and the variety is astounding. They also organise the Ely Autumn Book Festival throughout October, with events featuring some huge names (Brian Blessed, The Hairy Bikers, David Mitchell to name but three) and some local authors like Susan Grossey - well worth checking out if you live close enough.

Why am I writing about bookshops, then? Bearing in mind that a lot of you reading this are probably authors or avid readers and I'm actually preaching to the converted...

Well, starting on 8th October - Super Thursday - is a national celebration of UK bookshops, culminating in the Big Bookshop Party on the 10th October. You may have heard of it - Books Are My Bag. You can find out more about the campaign on the BAMB website, but essentially, 'this collaboration between publishers, bookshops and authors is the biggest ever promotion of bookshops. For many people bookshops conjure fond images of book readings, in-store cafes and delight at the discovery of a new author. And in fact, 56% of all book-buying decisions are made by consumers in a bookshop - but we must continue to celebrate - and shop in! - our fabulous high street bookshops (both chains and independents) to ensure they are not under threat.'

We've all seen independent bookshops close... here's one a fellow Cloudie - Alan (Mr P as he's affectionately known) - found in Wadebridge, on the North Cornwall coast.

Photo: Alan Peabody

Photo: Alan Peabody

When he sent me the photos through, Alan said "Wadebridge is not quite a tourist hotspot, but is apparently a thriving town with significant tourism based on the Camel Trail. Despite the hope expressed in the notice on the door, it appears that no phoenix has yet risen from the ashes and evidently (I asked around) it's been some time..."

Sad, eh? And I'm sure it's not an isolated case.

If books really ARE your bag, please - PLEASE - support your local bookshops, whether they are teeny indies or branches of country-wide businesses.

It's an experience you just can't recreate online...

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The end is in sight...

I've mentioned King Stone a couple of times on the Scribbles so far - it's my current WIP.

It took 74 writing days (as in, I wrote on each of 74 days a varying amount of words, but not necessarily purely on KS) to write a s****y first draft - going from an A4 notebook filled with notes and sketches and questions and ideas to a typed up version on a memory stick.

It's taken me a further 63 writing days so far (again - not all on KS) to have solidified 22 of the 23 (possibly 24, I'm not sure yet) chapters into something that actually reads like a proper, put-together story. I'm hoping that with a push, maybe in another week, I'll have finished and can lay claim to a completed second draft.

Funny thing is, this 'second' draft is actually more like a first. The first type up was simply me, telling myself the story - the second is the 'real' version. I have a theme, I have strong characters, I have conflict...and, I hope, I actually have good writing.

As I've been going along, I've been sharing the chapters with a few folk, testing the story to ensure everything's hanging together well and my characters are coming across as I want them too. The feedback so far is that it does, although of course there's still a good amount of work needed in places to bring King Stone up to scratch.

I am excited by this story. I was excited by StarMark - still am, as it'll be published next year - and I was excited by Rurik when I started to tell his story. But King Stone...there's a whole different level of something here that I can't put my finger on. Something to do with the fact that my confidence has grown, that I have found a distinct voice as an author, that I have told the story that I wanted to - without any of the 'industry' telling me what I should or shouldn't be writing. It's been an amazingly liberating process, and I hope bodes well for stories I might want to tell in the future.

Who knows? If this 'second' draft gets finished and I leave it to rest for a while, I might even be able to plan something new for NaNoWriMo at this rate...

The King Stone...?