Start writing fiction?

I need to sit down and have a good read of my OU Start Writing Fiction course material, which arrived in the post a few days ago.  There is a great sheaf of sheets, an audio CD and CD-ROM.  It all looks rather scary.

I wish I could get myself out of this rut I have gotten into.  I have such a pathetic lack of confidence about my writing, want to hide and seem so fearful of everything.

I have so far opened the cellophane and had a little skim read of the course material last night.  I shall sit down and start to digest in detail tonight, though suspect it will take a few nights.  There is such a lot to it, it scares me.  I hope I have done the right thing in enrolling on this course and am not going to make a total tit of myself.

I filed my stuff away in the folder I have bought myself, and wrote sticky labels with appropriate headings on the dividers.  Even that little act made me feel better, as though I was going some way to getting organised, which just shows how pathetic I am at the moment.

I want to give my all to this course, so need to really knuckle down and make an effort with the work.  I don’t intend to treat it like A-levels (my mum made me stop on in the sixth form), which I absolutely loathed and was therefore extremely half-hearted about studying.  I used to look for any excuse to put off writing essays or doing revision.


More writing woes

I am in a quiz team for a work fundraising event next Wednesday.  All we need now is to come up with a name (and something a hell of a lot more original than Norfolk ‘n’ Chance).  I hope we can do well in this quiz.  It might give my flagging confidence a bit of a boost.

I still wish I could write.  I miss it, yet lack the courage to start again. 

That vicious critique from the RNA earlier this year hurt me so much and really knocked my confidence.  I have barely dared write a word since.  I feel as though I have been trying to fill my time with new hobbies and activities to take my mind off the fact that I can no longer write.

I have been getting rejection after rejection.  I know every author – supposedly – gets them, but I’m just fed up of it now, and almost annoyed.

Maybe my forthcoming OU Start Writing Fiction course will boost my confidence?  My course material came in the post yesterday – scary stuff.  I am hoping this course will give me the kick up the arse that I need.

I wonder whether I should also forget trying to get published for a while and just concentrate on writing for my own and my family and friends’ pleasure?  Would that take some pressure off me, I wonder?

I get so disheartened when I receive negative criticism – maybe I should shift the emphasis from writing to try and win favour with other people to simply writing because I genuinely enjoy it?


Today’s excursion, in radiant weather, was to the gorgeous historic Shropshire town of Ironbridge.

My last time in the town was 2003, when two of our very closest friends got married at the lovely Valley Hotel.  Prior to that, numerous school trips took us out of the classroom for the day when Abraham Darby’s contribution to the Industrial Revolution formed part of the A-level History syllabus.  My memories of the place are all pleasant.

Today I had a good stroll along the riverside, visited the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and at lunchtime I partook of a very hearty quiche with salad and chips at the charming Truffles Café.

It’s such a fascinating place, and its role in world history is of immeasurable importance.

Fortunately I listened to the Radio WM traffic report early this morning, which warned of a serious snarl-up on the M6, and so took a contingency detour via Wolverhampton.  It was a longer but certainly prettier route.  After escaping the built-up suburbs, skimming up that open road through Tettenhall and Albrighton on a lovely day with the windows down was joyously freeing.

I have to say my long-awaited fortnight off work has been lovely: first week in Italy, second week out and about in lush Midlands countryside.  I must do this again before too long.

I think my car has been enjoying its week of unprecedented exercise too.  These 60mph blasts along Derbyshire and Shropshire A-roads have no doubt done little Clio some good, and made a change from its usual pootles to work in second gear.

Now my little holiday is almost at an end I really need to get stuck back into some writing.  I have neglected it far too long.  I cannot let one bad review put me off; I need to leap back into the proverbial saddle before my writing nerve deserts me altogether.

My week off

I have been enjoying my relaxing week off, been very lucky with the weather and taking advantage of the free time to scoot out and about exploring some of the Midlands’ historical and more contemporary gems.

On Tuesday morning I was up in the wonderful Peak District (I rarely need much of an excuse to go there – in fact I wouldn’t mind my eventual ashes being scattered from one of its summits), this time visiting beautiful Buxton.

I took a guided tour of Poole’s Cavern, a two-million-year-old limestone cave.  It was fascinating.

Described as ‘The First Wonder of the Peak,’ it was occupied during Bronze Age times, and has been open to the public as a ‘show cave’ since 1853.

I took a number of photos which, thanks to the wonders of digital camera and computer technology, I have been able to lighten considerably in an attempt to do justice to the ancient underground geology.

The Flitch of Bacon, the largest stalactite in Derbyshire, which takes its name from its resemblance to a joint of meat hanging in a butcher’s window.

The end of the Flitch of Bacon, which was broken off by 19th century vandals and discovered quite by fluke only in 2000, buried yards from the entrance to the cavern.

The Poached Eggs, exceptionally fast growing stalagmites (they grow 2cm every two years as opposed to every 20 as is the norm) which are unique to this particular cave.

I won’t say what I think these resemble (I clearly have a dirty mind)!!

After a glorious freshly made bacon and egg bap and a coffee in the visitor centre café, I was on my way.  I made a brief stop-off at Brierlow Bar, which describes itself as Britain’s biggest and highest (at 1,075 feet above sea level) bargain bookstore.  I’m a big fan of bookshops, as you can imagine, and this one was a real treasure trove.

Yesterday I stayed closer to home and went to the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire. This was a very poignant, hunbling experience, with such a wealth of sculptures and trees commemorating Services personnel and civilians whose lives have been lost.

To tell the truth, I had no idea there was so much there; I’m sure there must have been sections I overlooked.

Set in 150 rural acres alongside the River Tame north of Lichfield, the Arboretum is such a peaceful spot, affording time for quiet reflection as you wander along its avenues of dedicated trees.

The place has a modern, purposeful feel too, though, with its young trees and the inspired designs of its monuments.  Hundreds of specific groups are honoured, including Far Eastern Prisoners of War, Dunkirk Veterans, the French Resistance, Bevin Boys, the victims of 9/11, First World War soldiers executed by firing squad, the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain and Police and Ambulance personnel.

We Midlanders are incredibly lucky to have this national site of remembrance on our doorstep.  I hate to leap on to my soapbox now, but this is a landmark of an importance that should not be underestimated is and a good deal more than a mere ‘war memorial.’

If you desire an enlightening day out, hop in the car and take a trip to Alrewas – and don’t forget to make a contribution to the collection box, as admission is free and the Arboretum’s upkeep is entirely dependent on donations.

Wear stout shoes, though.  The grass was rather swampy when I went, and my trainers were not impervious.  If you prepare yourself for a long walk, I assure you it’s well worth it.

Read more about it here:

View across from the Armed Forces Memorial.

The Shot at Dawn memorial, which commemorates British soldiers executed for military offences during the First World War.

The Polar Bear Memorial, commemorating the 49th Infantry stationed in Iceland during the Second World War.

Back from sunny Italy

Well we’re back from our week in the beautiful Calabria region of southern Italy.

We boarded our coach from Digbeth at 1:00 last Monday (8 Sept) and slept (or rather attempted to – I shut my eyes and listened to relaxation music on my MP3) all the way down to Stansted.

Our 06:10 flight to Lamezia was on time – in fact Ryanair prides itself upon its record number of on-time landings and fast turnaround times.  Pity about the cattle-class conditions, crusty customer services and bun-fight, sit-where-you-can policy of not issuing numbered tickets, but I guess you get what you pay for.

The heat that walloped us when we stepped on to the Italian runway was intense.  No need for the cagoules and thick socks we’d had to don back home.

All week we melted in temperatures of 37°C.  The weather was glorious all week, save for our last day, Sunday (14 Sept), when it rained torrentially all day.  And on Saturday and Sunday nights we were battered by the mothers of all thunderstorms.

I am not ashamed to admit those storms scared me, especially when we were woken up by the deafening volley of crashing.  I thought we were being shelled.  I had never known lightning like it.  In Britain we’re used to spurts of forked lightning at recurrent intervals, whereas this blazed with the persistence of a light switch being flicked constantly on and off.

Now I never thought I would say this but that sweltering heat actually made me appreciate our temperate British climate more.  Yes seriously!!  For all my whingeing about our drizzle and chill, I certainly couldn’t live beneath the sticky Italian sun on a permanent basis.  Basking on a beach in that heat may be marvellous, but living and working in it would get me down.

Mind you, in this particular case matters were not helped by the fact that the air con at my parents-in-law Frank and Chris’s apartment decided with wonderful timing to conk out on the first day of our stay! 

Attempts to arrange an engineer to fix the problem proved frustratingly fruitless, with the Italian “Domani, domani!” – the equivalent of the Spanish “Mañana” – being the standard answer to Frank’s increasingly aggravated queries.

So a good night’s sleep proved elusive, even on the thunder-free nights.  I don’t sleep well in sticky heat.  We had to have every window in the place swinging open at night – the only disadvantage to this being that the apartment was situated just yards from an extremely busy railway line.  The all-night trains rattled the place at the volume of your average jumbo jet.

The newly built apartment, though – situated between the small, pretty towns of Belvedere and Diamante – is beautiful and spacious.  And five minutes from the beach.

We had some fun scouring markets and homeware stores for bins, scales, bread knives, garlic crushers and other essential items to kit the place out.  Next time we go, we can concentrate on buying more cosmetic accoutrements like pictures and cushions.

The area is lovely and unspoilt, with breathtaking countryside, medieval buildings, clean beaches and quaint mountainside villages which resemble film sets from Allo Allo.

As you may imagine, the local food and wine sent the taste buds into overdrive.  Even M&S’s “no ordinary” fare doesn’t cut it against the fruit, vegetables, bread and cheeses from the small, family-run village shops in Belvedere.

Oh, and they love their chillies.  Great strings of them hang in every grocer’s window.  The red chilli is something of an emblem of Calabria, with giant model ones adorning numerous streets.  We were fortunate to wander quite by accident into the lively annual Peperoncini Festival, when stalls and performers take to the streets of Diamante to commemorate the contribution made by chillies to the region’s cuisine.

Calabria is not touristy and few of the locals speak English, which made communication interesting at times.  We got by – just – thanks to Frank and Chris having attended Italian evening classes, by carrying a phrasebook at all times and employing illustrative hand gestures.

I have to say I did not miss everyday luxuries like TV and Facebook, I wore make-up and jewellery just twice in a week, when we ventured out to restaurants, and haven’t a clue what was happening back in Britain during our time away from it.

Now we are home I am enjoying my second week off work.  Like a schoolkid enjoying the summer holidays, I am getting out and about and visiting local places of interest.  Further blogs describing my days out will follow…

Final Pre-Italy Blog

I have now broken up from work for a fortnight – yaaayyy!!!  In three days time, I will be basking in the Italian sunshine.

I am currently lolled in front of The Simpsons, with the fire on (I’ve been freezing all day – what’s that all about??), a glass of Jacques fruity cider by my side (yes I know I’m starting early, but do I care – do I bogroll!!) and a melon, hazelnut and vanilla scented candle wafting away.

I’ve been well and truly in winding-down-for-holiday mode for the last couple of weeks or so, if I’m honest.  I have never felt so indolent in my life.  Can’t be arsed with my writing, can’t be arsed with exercise, can’t be arsed to make sure I eat my ‘five a day,’ can’t even be arsed to read a book.

I promise I will add some new writing here after the holiday.  I really need to get my arse into gear and start seriously churning out some fiction.  It is my number one hobby and skill, after all – or was, until my confidence became somewhat dented.  I really must not give it up.

This will be our first major holiday since the honeymoon (our Paris mini break for our wedding anniversary, while wonderful, was a sightseeing trip as opposed to a chill-out hol) and it’s no exaggeration to say we are both desperate for the break.

I shall indulge in a lie in tomorrow, so I can stay up late tomorrow night and thus lie in on Sunday, enabling me to stay (reasonably) awake for Monday’s unearthly-hour journey down to Stansted Airport.


I thoroughly enjoyed Cabaret at Birmingham Rep last night.  It’s dark and sexy and moving and brutal, and I would heartily recommend it.  Stay away, though, if you’re prudish about nudity (male and female).

Samantha Barks was amazing as Sally Bowles.  She was perfect for the part – thus, IMO, she would not have been ideally cast as Nancy in Oliver, a role which has a lot more warmth and vulnerability to it.  Good to see her at the start of her career.

Wayne Sleep was creepily camp as the smarmy Emcee, and Henry Luxemburg perfect as Cliff Bradshaw, the innocent abroad who falls for Sally (and a male Kit Kat Club dancer called Bobby, lady branded with a pink triangle by Nazis).

Jenny Logan, the Shake ‘n’ Vac lady, was something of a revelation.  I don’t know why she remains famous mainly for those crummy ads, when she has such a powerful voice.  Her scenes with her elderly fiancé, the persecuted Jewish grocer Herr Schultz (Matt Zimmerman) were very touching.

The Rep is a nice little theatre and it was encouraging to see it jam packed last night.  Always good to support the local arts scene.

Next summer the brilliant Queen musical We Will Rock You comes to Birmingham Hippodrome.  I will get tickets in due course, though my diary for next July-September is not exactly mapped out yet so I may as well simply stick a pin in it and book for whatever date it lands in.

And, by the way, I am now 4 sleeps away from Italy…