Reflecting On The Past

Some more writing news, this time a pro bono historical commission. I wrote this back in the Autumn, back when the world seemed just that little bit kinder. Here is the article I have written for the local parish mag, not only about a historically important stained glass church window, but also a female pioneer of her day, back when the law and her own husband were not on her side….

Reflecting On The Past


Living in the village of an old estate, it is easy to spot the influences of the Sheridan family everywhere in Frampton. From the surviving servants’ and stable wing of the old manor house in the park, to the Reading Rooms and Almshouses.

Some of them aren’t always so easy to find.  How many times have I walked past the church where I was married, and had our child baptised, and not thought twice about the windows which cast such beautiful kaleidoscopes of colour onto the walls and floor within?

One particular window, to the right of the main church door, was installed at the request of Caroline Norton, granddaughter of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in memory of her eldest son Fletcher, after he died from TB.

While the window itself is said to be of importance, I will explain first a little about why Caroline was a pioneer, back in the days before women could vote, and when women and children were believed to be the husband’s property, by law.

Caroline Sheridan was born in 1808, and became a campaigner of women’s and children’s rights, following her unhappy and abusive first marriage to MP George Norton. She married at age nineteen, after the death of her father Thomas Sheridan had left the family in financial trouble.

They had three children together, Fletcher, Brinsley and William, but she was later denied access to her children when the marriage broke up amid rumours of a relationship between Caroline and Home Secretary Lord Melbourne. The laws of the time saw the children as the husband’s property, and if the wife left the family home, he had the power to deny access, whatever the behaviour of the husband.

A novelist, poet, and friend of Mary Shelley and Benjamin Disraeli, she became editor of La Belle Assemble and Court Magazine. She wrote several essays on this discrimination and campaigned to get the law changed.  Sir Thomas Talfourd, MP for Reading introduced the bill which allowed mothers, where adultery had not been proved, to have custody of children under seven, with a right to access of older children. This became the Custody of Children Act 1839, the first piece of feminist legislation passed into law.

George Norton maintained his power over her, refusing her a divorce and sent the children to school in Scotland, out of the jurisdiction of the English courts. It was only when her son William died from injuries after a fall from a horse, that George Norton let the two remaining children live with their mother.

Despite that, he attempted to take the proceeds from her writing, and legacies given to her following the deaths of Lord Melbourne, and her mother, as it legally belonged to him. Her subsequent campaigning to ensure women were supported after a divorce, were influential in the passing of the Marriage and Divorce Act of 1857.

Using her writing skills, she also campaigned for factory reforms and exploitation of the poor. She was unable to marry life-long friend Sir William Stirling-Maxwell until Norton’s death in 1877. She remarried at the age of sixty nine, but died three months later. Her last remaining son, Brinsley, died only a few weeks later at the age of 45.

I am ashamed to admit I knew nothing of this remarkable woman’s achievements, neither of the village connection she had nor the window, made in memory of one of her children who she fought so hard for, which bears even more poignancy since I learned about Caroline’s tale.

A survey of the window was undertaken in 2012 by John Callun, a locally respected stained glass window expert. He reported that the window was possibly of continental origin, totally different from windows of the same period of domestic origin, and as such might be described as being of national importance. Yet, the lasting memory Caroline created in the church of St Mary the Virgin, is in dire need of repair. The lead work of the window has started to rip apart, this being the result of movement in the masonry, with holes appearing in the glass.  None of the window work could be started until repairs to the interior walls and the roof were completed in March 2014. Refurbishment is likely to cost between £2-3,000 and while a grant of £1,000 is available, this will only be given once the PCC has raised the same balance. The church is looking for fundraising ideas and help to move forward with the window’s restoration.   Maybe you are embarking on a fun run or even next year’s London Marathon and were wondering which good cause to support? It’s fair to say there will always be issues with old buildings. The church has suffered with stolen roof lead, and requires regular maintenance. It’s easy to forget the past in a busy age of phones, the internet, cars and TV.  But when we consider the plight of women such as Caroline, maybe it’s time we remembered who shaped the past and helped change the future for all our sakes.

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Back In Print

TABFF first story.jpg

It’s been a long wait, but I’m pleased to say that my first fiction short story has been published in a national magazine.

Questions From A New Girl tells the tale of Vicky, a rookie reporter who manages to crack the cold case of a missing girl. The story is in the November issue of Take A Break’s Fiction Feast, out now.

I had the acceptance back in May, during the heady days when my toddler still had her midday nap and it was a choice between housework and writing. Sometimes the writing won and I could bash out a stash of words on my ancient laptop.

Now Summer has turned to Autumn and my baby’s naps are a rarity and unexpected. Quite how often I will be able to keep up my workload I don’t know. My mum and husband have helped out a lot with looking after her, and if the pile of plates in the kitchen isn’t too high, I’ll get into my writing space (top of the landing, next to the baby’s room and the upright fan).

When I see that a woman has won a writing award, I’m truly amazed given I know she probably has children and commitments a mile long. The tale goes that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter while writing in a café with her child sleeping. Unless you have childcare or school-aged offspring, or the miracle of naps, I can’t see how it would work.

It’s nice to see the fruits of my labour from some months back. They’ve changed the name of one of the characters and there’s a few typos (not mine I might add, I used to do copyediting back in my days at the newspaper. I can only presume it was the typesetting done at the mag), but I’m happy it’s all pretty much there. Not only that, but I’m writing about things I want to write about, not council meetings, village fetes and dog poo.

How will I fit in time to write as a stay at home mum? It’s a question all aspiring writers hold to their hearts. Quite honestly, I do believe I know what I’ll be doing when my child is old enough for preschool next year. After skipping off to the nearest coffee shop, I’ll be firing up my laptop.

PS I do apologise if this is rambling, but it’s been a long week with a teething toddler and she’s finally asleeeep, so I’m slightly deliriously happy!

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You Say Goodbye…

pregnant-working-momUp until today, my little baby bump had been mercifully sleepy while I was writing. This bodes well, I thought. I might even have rubbed my hands, thinking of all the free time I’ll get while on maternity leave to write while it slumbers in its moses’ basket.
Not today. It’s practicing for the Olympic gymnastics in there, I swear. Therefore, it seemed fitting to post a little ditty about my pregnancy I wrote a week or so ago. You could even call it a poem I suppose (yes, a poem).

You say goodbye…

Goodbye, second trimester. Hello third trimester.

Goodbye feet. Hello indigestion.

Goodbye white bread. Hello 5am leg cramps.

Goodbye to picking things up off the floor. Hello to getting stuck in the stationery cupboard.

Goodbye to button up jeans. Hello elasticated waistbands.

Goodbye to fitting behind the steering wheel with a coat on. Hello to looking and feeling like a pin cushion.

Goodbye to the boss’ rocket fuel coffee. Hello rennie tablets.

Goodbye cute belly button, hello thing that resembles a punched eye.

Goodbye heels. Hello to walking like a robot with no knee joints.

Goodbye to doing anything fast. I had better get used to it. Hello wriggly baby, looking forward to meeting you. Goodbye serenity, hello to family.


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Just a random extract….

I’m aware that I haven’t posted anything for a very long time. Life has been a little busy since I last blogged. I have bought a house and become pregnant. All very nice, but writing has taken a bit of a back seat.

I have nearly finished my WIP, currently at the 100K mark (it will need a lot of editing), but in the meanwhile, here is an extract at random (part of chapter 8):

Mei stopped and looked up. Snow rushed on the breeze. Red flags on the Government buildings billowed proud. She jumped as a flake landed in her eye. Rubbing it did no good. It burned like no pain she had known before.
‘What’s wrong?’ Alex asked.
‘This way.’ She pushed past her, trying to ignore the agony searing across her face, and strode round the corner to the taxi rank. ‘This one’ll do.’ She rapped hard on the window, startling a catatonic driver from his sleep. ‘Open the boot,’ she yelled. As it popped open, she checked around them for danger. It was too quiet. Where were all the cars?
‘What the hell is up with you?’ Alex asked, having caught her up. Mei noticed she was scratching her arm. ‘What happened to your eye? It’s gone all red.’
The pain in her left eye made it almost impossible to think. But in the distance, she could hear a collective roar, like the chant of football hooligans. And then she saw them, running in a swarm, un-coordinated and swaying as though drunk, but determined. They were headed straight for them.

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November writing blog – Trip to London


I have been a bad best friend in the literary sense. The cardinal sin is that I have abandoned my blog. The last time I wrote, the piglets had trashed the broad bean crop and was anticipating take my book to the Frome Literary Festival.

Since then, the piglets have gone to the woods (not a euphemism) and I’ve put my book back under the bed (this one is a euphemism). But Autumn brought more than a simple change of seasons. I bagged tickets for the Foyles Discovery Day in London, hosted by London agents Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh. You have thirty seconds to pitch your book to an agent, at the first table available. So it’s a stomach-squeezing mash-up of speed dating and X-Factor, but isn’t on TV. And I already had my idea, tried, tested and rejected by most of the literary agents in the capital. I was a pro, and some of them might even recognise my face from the dazzling cover letter in my submissions. What could go wrong? Oh yes, having read the rules (aren’t there always?) I found out that it was for fiction only. Shit. 80,000 words of non-fiction will be as good as an electric fence with no battery attached.

Ah, the perfect chance to try out a fiction idea I came up with about ten years ago. Why ignore an idea for so long? Truth is, it’s steeped in science theory and given that I got E grade in science for GCSE, I didn’t think I was best placed to. Actually, it was a double EE grade – quite ironic as it took me ten years to find my bollocks, figuratively that is, to use another adverb.

As my trip to London loomed and I panicked about logistics, I reminded myself that I spent five years living in the city. Why should I panic now? Because I had the added delight of wittling down my rather complicated theory into less than an ad break. Cue the kitchen timer.

It took me a Saturday afternoon, but if I spoke fast with no stuttering, I could manage it. I typed it out of course. I’m a nightmare and go to pieces when put on the spot. I got the first page of my novel as good as I could get it, printed it all out, packed my weekend bag and off I went.

Most of the train journey up there, I spent feeling sick. Not good when the only chance of outlet was a cubicle with a disobedient lock and probably covered in several specimens of urine. Oh and thanks St Denys for the signal failure. That added an extra thirty minutes to my journey of panic. I only ate half my sandwich that day.

After a night at my sister’s house, the day came. I got my Oyster card (I had to be briefed on what it was) and off I went. My resolution this time in London was not to take the Underground everywhere, like I did when I lived there. As a result I never had a visual map in my head. I opted to change this now. Good job I opted for trainers and not my vintage heels. I made it to Foyles bookshop with ten minutes to spare. I went to the top floor where a lengthy queue had already begun. It felt rather like waiting outside a nightclub. Someone with a clipboard walked the line and ticked off our names. We all made small talk with each other. The lady I was stood next to had come back from Spain for this and someone else had come from Sweden, I think.

The queue began to move. At the front, there were markers. Another queue fed in from the side to a doorway. Those were the children’s authors. Then I was at the front. I held onto my folder tight and tried to use my years of amateur dramatics to calm down. Though this was parallel to singing solo, except I wasn’t caked in make-up and not a soul knew me.

I leant forwards. I could see someone sat down at a table, still and quiet. The agent was reading their page. My turn soon.

‘Step back, please. Behind the marker.’ A man was ushering me away from the doorway. ‘We don’t want people overhearing anything.’

‘I couldn’t hear anything,’ I protested, but the bouncer had gone to check off more names.

‘Next please.’ A lady with a clipboard was ushering me forward. ‘The table at the end.’

I ‘good lucked’ the queue and set off past the tables, not daring to look at anything apart from the end table. I got a lady. I sat down and put my folder on the table. ‘Are you going to time me?’ Silence. Well done, idiot. You’ve screwed it up in under a second.

She smiled. ‘Well, no not really. But we want to give everyone a chance.’

I noted the watch on her desk. ‘OK.’ I start my pitch, trying not to make it sound too scripted. My face was getting hotter all the time. But she was nice, saying ‘yes’ and nodding at times.

When I was finished, she looked interested and suggested I read Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear. I already had read some of it, so we had a good chat about that. She asked me if it had a happy ending, what was to blame for the events in the novel and whether I’d finished it yet.

Was a happy ending important? In this kind of book, she thought so. Because one where everyone dies is a real downer and note a good feeling to go away with. Keep the pace up and make the science easy to understand.

She seemed to be wrapping things up. I picked up my first page. ‘Do you want to read this?’ I asked.

‘Oh yes,’ she replied, taking it from me and folding it over.

I thought of the email we’d been asked to include on the page. ‘So you’ll email me?’


So that was that. I was moved to a holding pen with other people, jittery from their pitches. ‘Did it go well?’ I was asked.

‘I think so, she seemed to like my idea and said it was current. She didn’t read my first page.’

The bookshop girl nodded. ‘Some agents do things differently.’

So that’ll be me checking my emails constantly for the next month then.

We were then herded into a café and sat in groups at tables in a rather noisy café on the top floor. We had one expert to grill. Questions ranged from what to include in a cover, to ‘how important is an online profile?’ He said ‘not very’, but did say later that he would Google someone as part of the process.

With two hours to kill, I trundled off to do some research. Part of my novel is set in London, so off I went to Trafalgar Square and the Churchill War Rooms. I also passed the Cenotaph and Downing Street. I just about had enough time to take some ‘selfies’. Then back to the bookshop for the panel event.

This is when I had self-confirmation of the geek that I am. Waiting in the lift, an agent hopped in next to me. I couldn’t help but stare. Luckily she was heavily into her i-phone and didn’t spot me goldfishing. She’s six inches away, I thought. I could hear the gasp in my head.

The queue for the panel event was more of a crush on the top floor, us all waiting to get in. My back was aching by this point, but passed the time talking to a girl from London about science fiction. She stopped halfway through a sentence and gasped, as a man bustled past.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘I think he’s like the director of the agency.’

I gasp too, both of us rubbernecking as he goes through the crowd. I spot the agent from the lift and another I recognise from their website. I take a good look at their clothes. Well turned out, look just like their photos. Is this what being starstruck is like?

On to the panel event. They seemed so down-to-earth, even SJ Watson, debut author of Before I Go To Sleep, chuffed yet humble. I learnt that a survey found 75% of people see writing as hobby. Be 100% sure in your idea, trends change, take the reader somewhere new.

We were told that the pitch was a ‘fake’ pitch – to use the advice from the day and submit to agents. If you have no luck, think whether the book is the book you needed to write to write your best one. If the pitch doesn’t work, maybe something is wrong with the book.

On reflection then, it was a very useful and valuable weekend. I did some research at locations and got some handy tips along the way. And 100 photos later, I am now a pro at ‘selfies’.

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Blog Number Ten – Writing Confessions

ImageI have been bad, very bad by writing standards. I have not written anything new for ages. I blame the good weather, smallholding tasks that need doing, and escapee piglets. To the point we’ve had to electrify the vegetable plot, because the little ones are small enough to squeeze under the barb wire fence and even through the gaps in the gate.

Last year, we replanted the broad beans three times to failure from wet weather and slugs. This year, we have a healthy crop and aren’t about to be complacent by letting either the rabbits or gambolling piglets get the better of our haul. Then there’s shopping to be done, day jobs, walking the dog, checking the sheep and leaves on the line (sorry, wrong season).

But you get the idea. My mind hasn’t been on the job. When I’m not writing full book proposals to agents who will most likely just send me a rejection, I’m making sure the piglets have got water and trying to tame them. This involves sitting in the middle of the pig plot and trying to let them near enough to me without freaking out. This seems to tap in to their agoraphobia, so they don’t venture far from mum in this scenario.

Being the side of the fence is completely different. So far, I’ve had more success at feeding time. If I lean over the barbed wire fence while trying to avoid the big mamma’s muddy snout in my face, I can get a stroke of their soft fur. Oh, and now eating my shoes is their new game. As I’m trying to stroke them, they get their own back by mungeing on my Moshulus. Have-at-you for trying to domesticate me…

Again, I digress. It could well be that having finished my book (in my opinion) means I have little drive to write the next in the season, until I well and truly exhaust all my agent options. I have written the plot structure, but something hidden is holding me back.

Next month, I am attending a literary festival and have booked a slot with an agent for a bit of guidance at where I must be going wrong. So I am holding off approaching publishers myself or throwing the dog out with the soggy towel, to do the self-publishing option.

Feedback so far includes the following, in no particular order: ‘It doesn’t read as a story’, ‘not right for my list’, ‘witty and interesting but difficult to sell in the current climate as an unknown.’ Is celebrity king? Do people only want to read the autobiographies of the rich and famous? But then nothing. All I can do is wait. 😦

Right now, some news, any news would be welcomed, even if it is more rejections. So my little face creased into a smile when I read an email saying that a sample of my work will be included in August’s edition of Writing Magazine. Not because I am some ‘bright, young thing’, but my work is going Under The Microscope. This is the regular feature in the magazine, where you submit 300 words of your work and it is critiqued by an expert. So I have publishing news of some sort. I am doing my best to resist breaking into a sweat, the sort I do when I’ve drunk the boss’ coffee or realise I have to sing a solo at the village pantomime. While I am letting all see my work, this is better than an empty inbox. Let the world be my judge.

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Blog Number Nine – Remember Happiness

ImageIt has been a pretty strange week by all accounts. Recent incidents made me go cold and grateful that I live in the countryside.

The world is getting too dangerous. Why should I want to bring a child into a world where it is in our nature to destroy ourselves? Yes, I know, I’m quoting Terminator 2 here, but I always quote films in times of trouble.

Then I remembered that throughout the whole of history, there have always been dangerous and violent people. Several hundred years ago, Vikings came over to Iona in Scotland (not a city by any stretch) and slaughtered the monks in their abbey. They would’ve been defenceless. Let’s not forget the Tudors, the Romans, the Nazis and the IRA. All, I’m sure, believed what they were doing was right.

But the effect is on the victims, and the victims’ families. Ultimately, they lose a loved one and I don’t know what I’d do without my husband, my family. And I’m scared I could lose everything because of someone else’s violent act, or if illness descends.

What power does the average person have? None, and I’m glad I’m not a politician right now. So what can I do?

Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. OK, so I’m quoting Dumbledore now. But it makes a succinct point. If there was a media blackout on these events, it would make the country a dictatorship with a censored media. We are not China or North Korea.

I read somewhere once that when something bad happens, always look for the people who are helping those who have been hurt. It’s worth remembering compassion and it must be celebrated.

So draw on the polar opposite of sadness. What is the point of life? There is love and happiness. Even if we aren’t in love, we have a right to be happy. And what is there to be happy about?

I can think of plenty of things. My family, the way my spaniel snorts when he’s happy, lambs pronging, piglets asleep in a pyramid and twitching as they dream. I love writing, gardening, watching the interwoven pink clematis and yellow laburnum sway in the breeze.

I don’t think I really have a bucket list. I’ve written a book, I’d love for it to be published, but that is kind of out of my hands right now. I’d like to do some more travelling, but that is only a plane ride or car journey away.

Looking after myself and keeping healthy for the sake of my loved ones is my priority. My day job means I can easily sit down at a desk for anything up to three hours at a time. So here is my pledge, I am going to exercise at least once every other day, be it gardening or walking the dog. At least while the summer months are here. I can’t guarantee I’ll go back to snuggling under a blanket on the sofa when it’s snowing outside. Limber up. Sorry, that’s from Zombieland. Another point well made though, if survivors of a zombie outbreak can remember the importance of staying healthy to stay alive in all that chaos, then so can I.

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