My photo
Morecambe, Lancashire, United Kingdom
In the mornings I’m a Nursery Cook, the rest of the time a Writer. Been writing for decades: short stories, plays, poems, a sitcom and more recently flash fiction, Creative Writing MA at Lancaster Uni and now several novels. Been placed in competitions (Woman’s Own, Greenacre Writers and flashtagmanchester) and shortlisted in others (Fish, Calderdale, Short Fiction Journal). I won the Calderdale Prize 2011, was runner-up in the Ink Tears Flash Fiction Comp & won the Greenacre Writer Short Story Comp 2013. I have stories in Jawbreakers, Eating My Words, Flash Dogs Anthologies 1-3, 100 RPM and the Stories for Homes anthology. My work’s often described as ‘sweet’ but there’s usually something darker and more sinister beneath the sweetness. I love magical realism and a comedy-tragedy combination. My first novel, Queen of the World, is about a woman who believes she can influence the weather. I’m currently working on a 3rd: Priscilla Parker Reluctant Celebrity Chef. Originally from West Midlands, I love living by the sea in Morecambe, swimming, cycling, theatre, books, food, weather, sitcoms and LBBNML … SQUEEZE!

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Where Writing took me in 2011

 The research for my novel, Queen of the World took me up onto Caton Moor getting close to wind turbines, to Blackpool Zoo to stare at the macaws and to the crazy golf and brass bands in my local park. It took me for long walks on Morecambe promenade while the characters had conversations in my head.

My short stories took me to Chorlton in Manchester and to Halifax where I was placed in competitions and did my first readings beyond university. Next year? Well, New York or Venice would be nice but I’d settle for anywhere new in this country. Never been to Swindon, Huddersfield, Kidderminster, Aberdeen …

In my flash fiction I wrote, amongst other things, about a dragon in a takeaway kitchen, a monkey who climbs out of a tumble dryer, a girl who tries to switch the wind off, a Hugh Grant fan who uses her bingo wings to fly and a dried wasp in a pot noodle.

Online Stories

Bingo, Dec 10th & To do list, Jan 5th on Paragraph Planet

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Those Tigers

As there will only be extracts from the winning stories on the Calderdale website, here is the whole of 'Those Tigers'

It was on the Friday when Jean first saw the fishing net on the ceiling. She’d just woken from a nap: glasses sliding down her nose, book squashed on her lap, neck all stiff. Her eyes gradually focused and the net undulated, as if it was floating in water. She blinked several times, trying to concentrate on the wobbling squares of white artex. She couldn’t make any sense of what she was looking at. She closed her eyes and sank back into sleep with vague thoughts about dreams. She remembered the net later but flicked the memory from her mind, dismissing it as something she didn’t have time to dwell on.
On Saturday, coming back from the shops, she was shocked to see a man in her kitchen. He was little more than three feet tall, dressed in a dark frock coat, breeches and a waistcoat. He was leaning back, his head on the cutlery drawer. He was in the way of the kettle. Her heart thumped. She stood completely still, unsure of what to do or say or whether to do or say anything. She decided on her usual approach to new situations, that of doing nothing and seeing what happened.
The man watched her as she pottered around the kitchen. She put away the shopping and made a snack. Since she couldn’t get to the kettle, she poured herself a glass of water. She took her tray through into the living room and nearly tripped into a swimming pool. Steadying the tray, she looked down into the pool. Its ruffling wavelets were clear and aqua but with, she noticed, her paisley rug at the bottom instead of tiles.
She began to wonder what her niece would think if she knew what she was seeing in her bungalow. Over the past thirty years, Susie had become a mother, not only to her son and daughter but also, mysteriously, to Jean.  She had begun to tell her what to do as if Jean, now over eighty, was a child again, needing guidance and not understanding those simple things she had known for well over half a century.
Jean decided not to mention the net, the pool and especially the ghost man in the kitchen, if that’s what he was. She began to imagine what Susie would say. She feared what she would do when she found out. She felt she had to tell someone but what would they say?
By Monday the net was back again, this time above her bed.  Some creatures were trapped in it. Their squished, fishy faces stared out at her. They scared her. They made no noise but looked as if they wanted to. The net wobbled, as before, and the little faces swivelled and bobbed about. They were more populous around the lampshade, peeping out from between pink pleats. She couldn’t just lie there and stare at them. Whatever they were they were giving her the creeps.
She clicked the bedside lamp off and waited. She didn’t know what she was waiting for. Sleep was impossible. She found a toffee under her pillow, unwrapped it and put it in her mouth. She felt the creatures were still staring at her. She pulled the soft duvet over her head, breathing in Jasmine and Passionflower fabric conditioner. She began to feel a little safer. She reached out from under the bedclothes and switched the CD player on. With her eyes closed, she sucked the toffee and, with Frank Sinatra crooning, everything felt normal again.
The next morning she woke to watch black spheres float around the room and bounce off the dressing table like slow motion snooker balls. She got up and went into the kitchen. The man was still in his place in front of the kettle. She sighed. A whisper of irritation crept into her fear and blossomed slightly.
‘Tea!’ she said, in what she hoped was a forceful way. She leaned round the man and put the kettle on. Why didn’t he move? This was her kitchen after all. Should she offer him a cup? Then she noticed he had brought some friends with him and she knew she didn’t have enough cups. Most of them were women who wore long dresses with just a trace of her kitchen cupboards in the skirts.
The hall had turned into a fast flowing stream that Jean waded through as she took her tea back to the bedroom. She crossed to the window. She had a strong urge to see other people. She just didn’t know what to do. She went to the window to look outside, hoping to see someone walking past or cars in the road. Just anything of the real and outside world. She pulled back the curtain and got a shock that knocked everything else she had seen over the past few days right out of her mind.
In her front garden, obliterating her fuchsias and the pots with herbs in was a pair of enormous tigers. The shock of seeing them was nearly as strong as the surprise at her doing what she did next. She saw her hand go up to the window, form itself into a fist and bang on the glass. There was no response from the tigers.
Despite her fear, a part of her wanted to giggle, an old lady shouting ‘Shoo’ at these two beautiful and terrible tigers. Perfectly still and relaxed, their big soft paws flopped over the path and their rope tails disappeared into next-door’s hedge. The brilliant, orange, black and white stripes made the rest of the garden and the street look dull and sepia toned around them. Jean gasped as one of them yawned, displaying a set of frighteningly sharp, off-white teeth.
What Jean had always thought about tigers, when she’d seen them in pictures or on television, was that if she ever met one, which until a minute ago she had thought unlikely, she’d look into it’s wise, yellow eyes, and feel an urge to touch it. She would want to reach out and stroke the plush fur and soft muzzle, at the same time knowing that the tiger could tear her head off with one lazy, playful swipe.
It was too much. It was the last straw. She couldn’t live with tigers in her garden. She just couldn’t. She made a decision, grabbed her coat and handbag and left by the back door.


‘It’s your brain making up for gaps in your sight. As it tries to make sense of what your eyes can see it throws up all these images. I know it’s a bit disconcerting but I can assure you it’s nothing to worry about.’
Jean wondered, if the doctor had herself seen those tigers, she would have chosen the words ‘a bit disconcerting’ over ‘absolutely terrifying’, but she didn’t like to mention it.
‘It’s a normal reaction to deteriorating sight.’ the doctor continued. Jean bypassed ‘deteriorating sight’ for now and clasped at the word ‘normal’. Never before had she been so happy to hear the word, although she didn’t feel normal sitting in the doctor’s surgery with those black blobs bouncing round the room. There were some shadowy figures in one corner but she didn’t turn to look.
‘It’s called Charles Bonnett Syndrome.’
‘Syndrome?’ Jean echoed, trying to concentrate on the doctor’s words.
‘It’s just called that after the man who discovered it.’ The doctor smiled the same smile Jean often saw on Susie’s face. ‘If only you’d come earlier. We always try to warn people if we can. Had you noticed any change in your sight recently?’
‘Well, yes … but I kept putting it off.’ Jean felt foolish now. She didn’t like to mention her fear of the opticians, of getting those bewildering tests wrong; seeing the wrong light or overreacting to that cold blast of air they forced into your eyes for an unexplained reason.
There was a pause, which Jean felt she should fill but she didn’t know what with. She looked up and noticed the fishing net had followed her on the bus and was hanging from the surgery ceiling.  She checked that thought.  It was her eyes. Then she remembered the worst fear of all.
‘Those tigers?’
‘There are no tigers. They’re not real. People see patterns, figures dressed in different costumes, animals, buildings, landscapes, often bigger or smaller than in reality.‘
This all sounded familiar to Jean. The doctor was still talking, saying something about an appointment with a specialist but Jean couldn’t take in anymore. Just knowing that this happened to other people gave her such a rush of relief.


Around a month later, Jean carefully folded clothes and layered them in her suitcase. The net above her swayed and the tiny faces nodded. They seemed friendlier these days but she usually managed to ignore them. She zipped up the case and dragged it off the bed. She left it in the hall and went to fetch her sandwiches from the fridge.
‘Morning, Charles.’
Jean had been surprised that Susie had listened to her without interruption while she’d explained what had been happening on the phone. She’d even laughed when Jean had told her about Charles. He never answered her when she spoke to him, of course, but someone at the hospital had suggested she talked to the images she saw. A way of dealing with it, they said.
She quite liked the way Charles appeared to be listening to everything she said. Sometimes he even looked as if he was interested but that was probably her imagination. If he ever did answer her, she supposed she would have to go back to the doctors and enquire about hearing tests. She did wonder why Charles couldn’t be taller and the tigers smaller. It would make more sense that way round but she only had her own brain to blame.
The shrill voice of the doorbell cut through her thoughts.
‘That’ll be my taxi. See you in a couple of weeks, Charles.’
She assumed he would be there when she returned from her holiday. Or perhaps he would be in Susie’s kitchen. As she walked to the front door she noticed the stream in the hall had run dry and there was just beige carpet instead. It made it much easier to walk to the front door but it was a bit boring.
She opened the door and said hello to the taxi driver. He took her case and she followed him down the path. She felt nervous as she walked past the tigers. She didn’t look to either side but saw their bright stripes and amazing bulk out of the corners of her eyes, the parts that worked best. She had not yet attempted to speak to them. She looked down at the path and concentrated on the crazy paving at her feet. Crazy paving! She chuckled. And that was real. That had been there forever.
She didn’t know if any of her images would show up while she was away or whether there would be new ones. Nothing really surprised her anymore.  It was amazing what you could get used to, she thought, as she got into the taxi. She would never get used to those tigers though.


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Those Tigers, Halifax and Perseverance

I’m very pleased to say I’ve just removed the words ‘still hoping for a first one day’ from this blog’s intro. I got my first. I won the Calderdale Short Story Competition 2011 with my story ‘Those Tigers’. When I received the email telling me I had to read it five times before believing it. On Friday (14th October) I went to the event at Halifax Central Library to read my story.
Having only read properly once before, and not that well either, I was very nervous but also determined to improve on my previous performance. Last time I read a 350 flash but ‘Those Tigers’ is over 1800 words. I would certainly have to remember to breath.
After a lovely journey across country from Morecambe to Halifax (a place I’d never been to before) I walked through the town centre, found my hotel and waited until it was time to head to the library, just round the corner from the hotel. I sat on the end of the bed, looked in the mirror and tried to make my hair as big as possible, feeling sure this would help.
I got there early and found myself talking to a pair of shortlistees who seemed delighted to be chatting with the winner. I suddenly felt rather important and heard myself talking like an expert and offering advice about writing and entering competitions.
The judges, writer Kate Pullinger and owner of Alma Books, Elisabetta Minervini began proceedings by talking about the winning stories and about what made a good story. There was some discussion and questions from the audience of, I guess about seventy. Then they handed out the prizes to myself and the one runner up who was there and not in Portugal like the other one.
Why would anyone want to be in Portugal when they could be in Halifax? No really! My previous experience of Halifax was my Nana’s saying ‘What the Halifax?’ so it definitely exceeded by expectations.
The Portugal man then read his story through the organiser of the competition and Sarah Dunnekey read ‘Katy Bush and the Chainmail Bikini’. She read well (I was starting to get worried) and it was a funny story with great characters and really Kate Bush and not a weird cousin of George Bush, thank goodness. Then it was my turn and I went to the front and started reading.
How strange that when I’m sitting at home reading I am able to perform the story quite happily, remembering to breath. It felt as if I was walking up a steep hill at the same time. I tried to slow myself down and concentrate on reading it how I’d rehearsed. A tiny part of my brain tortured the rest with the thought of having to stop and what people would say if I did. But I carried on and relaxed into it. I was determined to make the most of the description of the tigers (not real but they seem like it) and then I got a few laughs in the right places and managed to look up at paragraph ends. I didn’t even throw away the final couple of lines.
Afterwards I chatted some more to a new writer friend and to one of the writers who’s published by Alma Books and to the judges. Then my new writer friend and I went for a drink in the very quite Wallace Simpson Bar by the station. Halifax was very quiet that evening. A policeman told us that they were ‘all up the other end’ but perhaps it is true that ‘staying in is the new going out’. I’ve always been ahead of the trends.

 The prize was £300, which has bought me a new electric toothbrush (mine died around the time I heard I’d won), paid for the train fare to Halifax and the night in the hotel, a piece of silver jewellery and allowed me to make a donation to You Can't Stop The Beat fundraising for Birmingham Children’s Hospital Heart Appeal (where my niece, Jasmine had her heart transplant at the beginning of this year). I think it’s for them to buy what I, as a cook and writer, will have to just call a ‘bleep, bleep machine’ but it probably has a more technical name.

My main bit of advice about competitions is not to assume your story is no good if it doesn’t get anywhere. ‘Those Tigers’ had been in two other comps and ‘The Bread’, that came second in Greenacres, had been in three before it got placed. I suppose it depends on the competition, the judges and who else is entered. It’s all very subjective. So, perseverance is important, or as the published writer my new friend Denise and I spoke to on Friday put it ‘You have to be bloodyminded.’ I'll remember that ...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Letter to Nana

This week I went to my Grandmother's funeral ...

Photo taken by Peter Page, 1966

A Letter to NANA

This is a picture of me sitting on your knee at three months old. It probably isn’t the first time we met but that’s how I think of it. Previously I was probably not so aware and wouldn’t have been grinning like this. We just look so pleased to see each other. As always.
When I went to senior school everyone started having their ears pierced and my friend told me that her ‘Gran’ said that if we were meant to have pierced ears we would have been born with them. This seemed such a contrast to you who would never say such a thing but you did buy me earrings. I remember that a lot of the other kids had their grandmothers living with them or at least round the corner. We went to visit for holidays and every second Christmas so it was more of a treat. We had chunks of time together.
For decades you kept asking me what I would want from your place and I always said ‘the little wooden chest of drawers’. I’ve filled it with ‘keepsakes’, the sort of things you keep for no reason other that the memories associated with them. In one of the drawers I have a thirty-something year old lavender bag in the shape of a mop-capped teashop lady from the gift shop at Tatton Park. It now smells of dust, rather than lavender. I wonder why? I also have a post card of a cartoon mermaid you and Bampa sent me in 1974 when I had got my swimming length as well as many other examples of your distinctive curly handwriting in various letters and cards.
When staying at your house as a child, you gave me little jobs to do in the kitchen. Unwrapping the butter was an important job. No good leaving it wrapped, is there? I have a vivid memory of feeling very important, having been promoted to washing the lettuce while my cousin unwrapped the butter.
Once, when two things were accidently broken in a day, you sent my brother and I outside to smash an old saucer. I remember thinking it was funny and also feeling slightly unsure about being asked to purposely break something. We went outside and smashed it on the flagstones.
I also remember going to see you and Bampa when you were staying in a hotel on holiday. The weather was cool, dull and breezy and seemed to fit in with a feeling of dislocation in not being at home or at your house. We went up onto a cliff top that over looked the Wash and you taught us how to sit back-to-back and lean on each other. 
You were always very interested in everything I was doing, however dull. You would want to know what I had seen at the theatre, had I bought any new clothes, what I was reading at the moment and all the details about my work, friends and holidays.
I really believe that this is one of the best things you can ever do for someone you care about; take an interest. I often have to remind myself to do this, preferring to glean information rather than question people but I think it came naturally to you.
It was a standing joke in our house that we always wanted to send you the skin off the custard through the post because we knew you liked it and none of us did. We never actually did post it though. Or even attempt to cram it into an envelope.
During my visits, we talked and talked about everything, sometimes lingering over the breakfast things, in our dressing gowns, for far too long. You taught me to play scrabble and then I started winning every time. I’ll never have that cross-word-finishing-perseverance of yours though. We often talked about food and I heard tales of how you coped with rationing in the war. We share some favourites: beetroot, marmite and bread sauce. Not together obviously. When you moved into the care home I dared not ask whether you ever got any of these things. But some of the food was all right you said. And at least you got tea. I would love to know how many cups of tea you drank in your 97 years.
I always enjoyed a few days rest from work, just chatting and eating and going on ‘The Great Carlisle Shopping Challenge’ when I was sent into town with a list of things I had to find. Before you lived in Carlisle you were in Wilmslow so we did a lot of shopping there too. Back then you were driving. I know you never passed your test because there was no such thing when you learned to drive. I remember you stopping at the butchers and getting back in the car with a chicken in a plastic bag and just throwing it over your shoulder onto the back seat of the car. Only very recently I reminded you of the day I was going to go to Southport and you went out before me and locked me in your flat. You remembered this and we laughed at the fact that I never did get to Southport.

There is one event that particularly sticks in my mind. I think it was on the day of Great Nana’s funeral. I went upstairs to look for you and found you in your mother’s bedroom, sitting at the dressing table. You were brushing your hair and looking in the mirror. For a fraction of a split second I thought it was Great Nana. A ghost perhaps or a just figment of my imagination.
My Mum says there’s a saying that you don’t become a woman until your mother has gone. You looked like your mother, as though now you had subtly changed, the colour of your hair, perhaps the way you were sitting, as though you’d stepped across an invisible line.
Maybe you saw my face and my reaction, in the mirror, because you turned round and smiled at me. Your smile was reassuring but also as though I had broken you from a reverie. Was I intruding on something? I felt instinctively aware that you had been thinking about your mother. I felt I was reading your thoughts like you would a character in a film or on television. 
Whenever I went home after staying at yours, you would stand at a window to wave me off. I would turn and wave as many times as I could as I left and you’d always still be there.

You said you just wanted to fly away and you told me that every night you prayed the fairies would take you.  Then you said you just wanted to die.
I’m so pleased you got what you wanted.
You will live on in my memory.  You were one of my best friends.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Useful String

I received a leaflet this morning about a poetry prize. After a few minutes of imagining entering and casually turning my fiver into two and half grand, I pulled myself together and decided to just put a poem on here instead.

Very rarely I have an idea that wants to be poetry but, even after writing it, this one still wants to be a poem. Its about two memorable days from my childhood, about string and also about time …

Useful String

We walk the dazzling fields.
A searing white sphere, squinting eyes.
Shorts and halter-neck
expose legs and back.
Wheat stubble scratches ankles.
Dad and brother march,
macho pride in first and fast.
Grandma regales Mum with village tales.
You and I lag behind
and we discover the trees,

the bees, the beetles,
flowers and crickets.
The spared ears of wheat,
at the field’s edges.
A loveliness of ladybirds.

You slowly bend with rickety legs,
pulling and gathering your useful string
from crust-dry furrows, releasing
fine powder into the air.
You wind it around your hand.
Pocket neat bundles, to store
in the drawer in the shed.

Your collections turned to rust,
dust and yellow-age. After -
we cleared out, threw away,
before the last day,
when we sat by the pond and
drank lemon squash from jam jars.

Friday, 5 August 2011

If Someone Had Told Me

It's now nearly a year since I moved from the Uni to my lovely little flat in Morecambe, hoping I would keep up the writing & make some sort of progress.

If someone had told me then I would, less than a year later, have been placed second and third in two comps, done a reading, had a little something published by Mslexia, be talking to people I know, people I hardly know and people I don't know on twitter, have my own blog, have six stories online, have made £75 from writing AND have written over 73,000 words of a NOVEL ... (deep breath - sentence far too long) I'd have said ... HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW THAT?

But it is more than I could have hoped for ...

The sixth online story is Kirsty and Shane and is on 330words This started off as a poem when I was doing my MA but I think it always wanted to be a flash. Mainly due to my poetry being a bit dodgy but it's good to try these things. Though possibly not when you have a well published poet as your tutor.

I didn't take the photo myself but I have this single (Fairytale of New York) and could have if I'd gone back to my parents in Coventry and hunted it out from the boxes and cupboardful of vinyl I don't know what to do with.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Novel Progress and Writing Tips

I found myself writing a novel in October last year. I was trying to write a thousand words each morning before work. I start at ten and work’s only a twenty minute walk away so that’s not quite as impressive as it sounds.
I’d been working on various short stories - usually have several on the go. One morning I wasn’t sure what to work on so, just for the sake of writing the thousand words, I wrote about a character from an under-five-hundred-word flash I‘d written and submitted to my MA workshop earlier in the year.
Just from reading back this one piece of writing I realised I was working on ‘a project of length’, as a writer friend referred to it. My main character seemed to have a life, location and backstory. I was starting to think about where the story might go. Was it an extra long short story or could I really say I was writing a novel?
The majority of my MA group had spent most of the year writing novels but it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do. I wrote short stories, a play and a few poems but there was never an inkling of a novel. Novels were for other people, not for me. Not that I didn’t read them.
Within a few weeks I’d written some more pieces and started to plan where I was going with the story. One of the short stories I had started around that time happily became part of the novel too. I had my two main characters. I worked out a vague chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Those original twenty chapters have now expanded to thirty-six and I’m still working on all the chapters simultaneously.
Maybe most novelists will start at the beginning and write through to the end, some knowing where they are going, others not having a clue. However, this is really just how I work on a short story but on a bigger scale. I’ll write the bits that come to me and just keep editing, adding and expanding until it’s complete.
          One advantage of working like this means I never get stuck because I can just move from one chapter to another. Some days I’ll be closely editing a chapter and others blasting out another thousand words or more. It also means that I have an overview of the whole thing. I am keeping an obsessive word count of each chapter. My total stands at 67, 688. Getting on for novel length but still lots of things to sort out. I’m sure I will procrastinate a lot as it comes to the finish as I will have to face up to showing it to people if I want to take it any further.
A lot of what I’ve written for this novel I feel I’ve only managed to write because, for the time being at least, I wasn’t showing it to anyone. As much as I loved submitting work to the MA group every week there are chapters I’ve written for this novel that I could only write by convincing myself that no one would ever read them. For now, I was experimenting.
          Perhaps there are as many ways of writing as there are writers. One tip that’s helped me is to decide early on who you want to play who in the film/television drama adaptation of your story. What started off as an idle fantasy has really helped me picture my characters and to know their expressions and the way they speak and move.
This month I’m thrilled to be in the latest (& 50th) issue of Mslexia with my little monologue. This has brought my ‘grand’ total money-made-from-writing to £208 since 1986. (What do you mean that’s pathetic?) I also have a story on The Pygmy Giant called Takeaway - my answer to how some Chinese restaurants manage to make their food so hot.
There were times when I wasn’t writing, when I wanted to give up. There were times when I wrote loads and no one ever saw it. A friend said I would write even if I were the last person on earth. I’m not sure about that but as much as I like being alone and doing my own thing I don’t really want to test that out.
One thing I do know is that if this novel is never read by more that a handful of people then I'll still be glad I wrote it. This is mainly because I’m really enjoying the process.
Yes, that would be my other tip – if you enjoy the process of writing then just carry on doing it.

Monday, 6 June 2011

A Review of The Pitmen Painters, Wolverhampton Grand

A joint production from Live Theatre Newcastle and The National Theatre, this play is based on the true story of a group of Northumberland miners in the 30s & 40s who start painting, despite working ten-hour days down the mines. They have their art displayed in galleries and art collectors buy their paintings.
The performances from the ensemble of eight actors were all excellent.
There was a simple one location set, the shed the miners met in each week, complete  with easels and fold out wooden chairs. It could be believed to be a gallery or the posh house they visit too, just from the reactions from the characters to the new surroundings.
Often the characters gazed out into the audience when looking at a painting they were commenting on. The paintings themselves took centre stage on three screens above the actor’s heads. These also announced where a scene was set or how much time had passed between scenes.
At the end of each scene was an extremely loud noise, somewhere between a bell and a klaxon. I assume this is was what the miners would hear at the start and finish of a shift, demonstrating how they were tied to their long days down the mine the whole time. It reminded me of school so was effective at giving you that sinking feeling of having to be somewhere unpleasant and difficult and obeying the call of the bell.
Although they had a difficult life, these miners were proud to be working class and miners. Their art showed the place they lived in, where they worked and what it was like. This play was very conscious of class, demonstrated by the University man who came to teach them about art, particularly when he left them at the station when the were visiting the national gallery. ‘I’m in first class’ he said.
As well as class and politics, The Pitmen Painters explores how we look at art and emphasises the importance of being creative and expressive. Much of this play is entertaining and funny but it was sad as it ended with the realisation that the wonderful new world they were expecting after the war did not come to fruition.


A month ago I had no stories online, now I have four. I’m calling it progress! The fourth one is 'Wind' on 330words where you write a story in under 330 words from being inspired by a photo … 

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Just a little flash I wrote last year ...

He talked me into this. Retirement party for someone who works at the bakery over the road. I had to agree that a man who’d been getting up at five each morning for forty years deserved a big do.
Grant probably asked all the others before me. I only had the interview last week and two shifts later here I am. I need the money. At least I’ll have something left for food and fares once my fees and rent are paid this term.

Aachoo! Note to self. Don’t sneeze when all squashed up inside a pink and white painted wooden cake. It hurts. Glad this isn’t a real cake. Be covered in jam and butter cream by now. There isn’t even room to laugh in here.
Can’t see anything but light through the layer of paper above me that I have to break and leap out through. Somehow.
He should have got Ellen to do this. More room in the cake and in this stupid riding-up costume. Feels like it’s slicing me in half. And why do sequins have to be so scratchy? Why can’t they make them soft?
Grant said two minutes before I’ll be wheeled in. Been more than that, surely? Told me to go back behind the bar afterwards to help the others. Keep smiling, keep the champagne flowing.
Starting to get pins and needles. Will I even be able to move when the time comes? He can’t have forgotten about me. What about the man from the bakery? Aachoo! Aachoo! Well, that dampened down the dust.  Didn’t think to bring tissues.

Googled it this morning. This whole jumping-out-of-a-cake thing. Not the sort of subject you think about until someone actually asks you to do it. It started in New York over a hundred years ago. Apparently, the jealous millionaire husband – if I had one of those I’d be crouched in a much bigger, fancier cake right now - of the woman who jumped out of that very first cake shot the guy whose party it was a few days later.

The cake’s lurching forward. It’s time.
Yes, shot in the face. At a musical. Wonder what went on there?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Dryer Monkey, The Flash Mob Event and Not Being Found Out Yet

The Prize Artwork by Billy Mathers

I had the idea for The Dryer Monkey while sitting in the Washeteria one Sunday morning a few months back. I saw the whole story in images in my mind and wrote it that afternoon. This is unheard-of-quick for me. I entered it in the Flash Mob Comp because someone I follow tweeted a link to it and I’m always sending stuff out here and there. Then I find I'm shortlisted and planning atrip to read at the event in Chorlton on 26th May.
            I only get a few minutes of wow-that’s-great-ing before the I’m-only-in-to-make-up-the-numbers-ing and then the everyone-is-better-than-me-and-everyone-will-hate-me and, above all, I’m-going-to-be-found-out. I thought this all the way through getting a place at Uni and the whole time I was there. I’m sure no one else was thinking like that. I do hope they weren’t …
The only time I’d read before was a couple of times at Uni and many times in a friend’s living room. Not the same at all. After all my worrying about the journey (and girl scout contingency plans) it was absolutely fine. I did text my friend when I arrived in Manchester, 'Big City ... Little Sal'. The centre of Manchester was full of people who knew where they were going … unlike me.
I thought I was fine about it the actual reading because the words would be right there in front of me. No making it up as I went along, like conversations. Then suddenly I realised I was up there, in the spot light and going against my usual try-to-be-invisible way. I had to climb onto the stage, which was almost too high a step for me, and climbing down was even harder as I was literally shaking. I always say falling over is fine as long as no one sees. Not an option in front of an audience. I read the first couple of sentences and someone moved the microphone nearer my face, as I was obviously not close enough. All those years singing Squeeze songs into a hairbrush had not helped at all. 
I think I read just-ok for a first time. My best friend & my parents were listening to Chorlton FM, online in Coventry (a. Surreal, b. Ain’t technology wonderful?) My friend, bless her, said she felt like she was there with me. 
In two hours the twelve shortlistees and the five judges read, as well as special guest Nik Perring. He read ‘The Mechanical Woman’ and ‘The Two Old Women Birdwatching in my Garden’ from the surely ironically titled. Not So Perfect. There was an interval with time for everyone to play their part in what I thought was consequences but they called it 'exquisite corpses'. Showing my age there, probably. Everyone was really friendly and there was a nice atmosphere. I talked to some people I'd already met on twitter; shortlistees and judges. I got asked to join Chorlton writer's group twice but it's too far to travel. Shame …
            Then it was time for the finalé. When one of the judges referred to the third prize winner and the line about the Chinese wedged between the block of flats and the bungalow I knew straight away that was mine and actually felt relief that I'd got a place so didn't have to sit through the announcements of second and first with hope still springing, as it always seems to do, despite thinking your story is rubbish.
 After hearing the standard of writing I had thought I had no chance with my silly little story. There was lots of good original stuff. They were all so different – just like people. Don’t know why that always surprises me. I particularly liked Lynsey May’s ‘Milk and Honey’ and Matthew Hull’s ‘Citric’.
            The Dryer Monkey was praised for being 'funny, sweet and sinister', 'simple but effective story telling' and for 'slight unusualness.' Taking the prize picture and holding it up and everyone clapping was really weird. I doubt I need to get used to such things. Yes, very soon I will be found out.
 I’ve since heard a recording of the reading and was shocked at how it sounds like someone else completely and at how strong my Midlands accent is. (For years I thought that people from Coventry were the only ones in the country without an accent until my Grandmother told me I had as much of an accent as my Oldham cousins) The prize artwork is now on my living room wall. By Billy Mathers, it’s a bit creepy but then so is the story so I can’t complain … its definitely growing on me.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Bread

My story 'The Bread' won 2nd Prize in Greenacre Writers Short Story Comp this month. You can read it here http://greenacrewriters.blogspot.com/2011/05/second-prize-winner.html
In the months before I left the Midlands and came north to do my MA at Lancaster University, I was at work one day and saw the word 'No' on a naan bread. For a few seconds I thought it was trying to tell me not to go, that it was all a big mistake, but I ignored it and spent the next few minutes scribbling the idea for 'The Bread' on the back of a sugar packet. I often write from a child's point of view, and even more often about food and relationships to food.

This became my ever first submission to a creative writing workshop. After years of thinking there was no way I could go to something like this, or to a writers group, I became someone who loved submitting, reading and discussing my own work and that of the group.

So I'm especially fond of this story and very pleased it is now online, has made me some money and maybe someone will actually read it too.