Soggy Socks and Surprising Birds

Purple training shoesI can take pleasure in almost any sort of weather – ice, snow, wind, rain, sun, fog – providing I am prepared for it.  They say there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.  I concur – especially when it comes to footwear.  I detest having wet feet and soggy socks. Unfortunately, I’ve been having a spot of bother in that direction of late.

It started with the snow.   I love taking the dogs out for a tramp through those soft, white drifts.  They absolutely adore jumping and chasing like bat-dog crazy things and they make me laugh out loud at their antics. During the first flurry of snow I pulled out my trusty green not-Hunter wellies and headed for the park.  After a while I realised that my socks were starting to feel a bit chilly and somewhat damp.  When I got home I found a couple of cracks and, with the help of some glue and gaffer tape, sealed the gaps.  By the time our second spell of wintry weather had arrived my poor boots had more gap than seam and were consigned to the bin.  I have been looking for new wellies for some time but have failed to find any that (a) comfortably fit my feet, (b) have room in the leg for my sturdy calves and the legs of my jeans and (c) are at a price I can afford.

Never mind.  There are always my trusty white trainers – my dog-walking footwear of choice for many moons.  Ah – not so trusty any more.  Cracks had started to appear in the places where they bend when I walk and, suddenly, they were having an uncomfortable affect on my poor socks.  Sloshing up the drive I decided that these, too, had come to the end of their working life.

So, last weekend found me on my knees in the bottom of my wardrobe, looking for neglected footwear that could get me through the spell of wet weather being forecasted for the Easter weekend.  I always have a pair of black training shoes to wear for work and was delighted to find a worn and tatty pair hiding under some summer sandals.  Brilliant!  For two dry days they did everything I wanted them to.  The dogs and I were thrilled.  And then it started to rain.  This time, I didn’t even wait to get indoors before ditching the damp footwear.  I ripped them off my feet and chucked them into the wheelie bin, then squelched (my socks) and squealed (me – gravel drives are not the most comfortable things to walk on) to the front door.

Another day, another rummage round the bottom of the wardrobe and – joy of joys – I found the pretty purple trainers you can see at the top of this post.  I hadn’t worn them for years and couldn’t remember why.  It didn’t take me long to find out.  They HURT!  Fortunately, I had plenty of wildlife to distract me from the pain on our walk this morning.  As well as the usual collection of pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds and robins I met a couple of surprising birds – not unusual in wide open spaces, but most unexpected in urban Basingstoke.

The first surprise was a cock pheasant.  When I lived in the countryside they were a common site, but I can’t say I’ve seen one in the middle of town before.  I certainly haven’t witnessed one scratching up the gravel of someone’s drive in its hunt for bugs.

Heron on ridgetiles of house roofThe second bird is one I see frequently – a heron.  We have streams and ponds running through the local parks and an egret and two herons are regular visitors.  I’ve seen them sitting in trees in the streets adjacent to the park – and I have to say that watching a gawky heron trying to land in the spindly upper branches of a eucalyptus tree is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – but to find one perched on the ridge tile of a roof in the middle of a housing estate is not so common.

By the time I got home, the heel of my left foot was totally shredded.  So now I have a dilemma.  Do I give my pretty purple pumps to a charity shop in the hope that someone else’s foot will fit into them more comfortably?  Do I save anyone else from the pain and consign them straight to the bin?  Or do I persevere in the hope that, in time, I’ll be able to break them in.  After all, my socks stayed perfectly dry.

March 2018 Competition Results – Becky Bagnell Adjudication

I was absolutely thrilled to be placed third in the most recent Hampshire Writers’ Society competition – and even more thrilled that my good friend, Nancy, received a highly commended.

If you would like to see more examples of my short / flash fiction, click on the ‘Writing’ tab above and choose a title.

Hampshire Writers' Society

Literary Agent specialising in children’s books and founder of Lindsay Literary Agency, Becky Bagnell kindly spared some time in her busy diary to adjudicate the March 2018 competition.

Becky Bagnell adjudicating March 2018 Becky Bagnell announces her adjudication

Write 300 words, for readers aged 9-12, about an incredible secret that if discovered could change the planet or the people on it.

Becky’s adjudication was as follows:

First Place: Scott Goldie with Beware Mr. Tibbles

Second Place: Linda Welch with M.A.P

Third Place: Kim A Howard with How it Began

Highly Commended: Nancy Saunders with The Friendly Ear Detective Agency

Highly Commended: Anthony Ridgeway with The Host

Competition Winners March 2018 L to R: Linda Welch, Nancy Saunders, Anthony Ridgeway, Scott Goldie and Kim Howard

First Place:Beware Mr. Tibbles by Scott Goldie

“Beware Mr Tibbles has been selected for first prize because from the very first sentence the author creates an intriguing set of circumstances that would excite the…

View original post 1,747 more words

Giving Thanks for the Good Days

Digital image of snowdropsIt’s easy to let the doubts, the dark days and anxieties live in the front of your head.  Some days they seem so much stronger than the positive things in our lives.  The last three days have been really good and I’ve decided to celebrate them; to actively appreciate them in the hope that, by doing so, I will remember this feeling when the grim comes knocking again.

On Friday I worked two different jobs.  In the morning I led a workshop at a large local library.  The session was entitled Kickstart Your Creative Writing and I had a lovely group of seven learners.  It’s not intended to be a ‘how to’ course, more an opportunity to try different types of writing prompts and talk about creative writing as a process.  To share ideas, get a little inspiration and have fun with writing – something that so many people have had beaten out of them through their work or school lives.  The feedback at the end of the session as very positive and I felt that the learners enjoyed themselves as much as I did.  For me, though, there was an added bonus.  I realised that I actually know a lot about writing.

Now, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise.  In the four or five years since I started to take my writing seriously I have undertaken a masters course in writing for children, attended dozens of talks by authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and agents, been part of several writing and critique groups and been involved with several writers festivals.  However, I still think of myself as someone who is a beginner on their writing journey – an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional.  That changed on Friday morning.  Here were people who were at an earlier stage in their writing – most of them didn’t even know what sort of writing the were hoping to do – and they were asking me questions.  They trusted that not only would I give them answers and suggestions, but that they would be good and accurate.  And, for the most part, I found I could do that.  When I didn’t know for sure I was still able to signpost them to organisations, books, magazines and web sites where they could get the help the wanted.

Friday afternoon was the same – but very different.  This time I was working as a library assistant at a smaller library that plays an active role in the life of the local community.  They have run a Chatterbooks club for some time and, when children grew too old for that group, set up something similar for teenage readers.  I spent a very happy hour with some lively children; we talked about books for children and teenagers; I listened to them talk about the idiocy of some of the grownups in their lives; I lead them on some writing adventures using story dice.  In this group I was acknowledged (and tested) as the grownup in charge, but also welcomed as an equal when it came to creating stories and sharing book recommendations.  The time flew by and I can’t wait to work with them again next month.

Saturday was glorious for totally different reasons.  For a start, I woke early.  At the weekend this would normally mean a groggy trip to the loo before either going back to sleep or snuggling down under the duvet with my storybook of the moment.  Yesterday, however, I was wide awake and full of fizz.  The dogs were startled to find themselves in the park before 7:00 am, watching a scarlet sun rise above the trees and smelling the multitude of scents rising into the air as the frosty ground steamed in the early morning light.  We walked for over an hour then came home for our breakfasts.  The dogs and cats ate in the kitchen, but I brought my coffee and marmalade sandwich straight upstairs to the computer and got on with editing my current WIP.  By the time my OH was up I had polished and printed nine chapters and was ready for elevenses.  Having accomplished so much so early I felt justified in idling away the rest of the day, snuggling on the sofa with my family.  A sense of achievement and of contentment should never be underestimated.

The Song from Somewhere Else, Paperback BookSo now you are nearly up to date with my positive few days.  This morning has been just as good.  It started with three out of the four furry family cosying on the bed while I read a few pages of The Song From Somewhere Else by A F Harrold and stunningly illustrated by Levi Pinfold (I’ve not finished it yet, but so far can heartily recommend it).  Then another long, frosty walk with the dogs and straight to the computer on our return.  I have been falling behind my self-imposed writing/task schedule recently.  Today I have done enough to bring me almost up to date.  Just one task to do before I can get back to my WIP.

I have had a happy grin on my face for the past few days and can recommend a cheerful and positive outlook for promoting productivity and a sense of inner peace.  Grasp the good days and hug them close.  The light CAN drive the darkness away.

 

Never Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow

Clock FaceThis week I have been wondering why I avoid doing some things and leave others to the very last-minute.  It’s not a new phenomenon.  My homework was usually handed in on time, but had often been completed early in the morning of the day it was due.  When we go on holiday I can still be found wandering the house in my underwear, putting bits and pieces into the cases, five minutes before we are due to leave home.

At the moment, some of the things on my To Do / Should Have Been Done By Now list include:

  1. Housework: I’m not a fan.  I don’t usually clean until I reach the point where I would be embarrassed if a friend unexpectedly knocked on the door for a coffee.  I’m now at the ‘do I really want to walk around here barefoot?’ stage.  I know – disgusting!  There are two obvious answers as to why things have reached this state of affairs.  (a) Why would I dust a book when I could be reading it and (b) I’m bone idle.
  2. Putting the Christmas decorations into the loft.  Don’t get me wrong – Christmas was taken down in our house at the appropriate time, but it is all still sat in the front bedroom awaiting attention.  Do I not wish to go into the loft?  Am I trying to make the festive period last a bit longer?  I’ve no idea, but all those boxes and bags have got to go.  Also – see answers to point 1 above.
  3. This blog post.  According to my self-imposed schedule, it should have been on-line by Sunday at the latest.  I had several ideas in my head, but none of them had inspired me to leap to my keyboard.  Also – see answers to point 1 above.
  4. My current WIP.  I am so close to the end.  With a bit of concerted effort I could probably have it finished before the weekend.  I know where it’s going, I know what I want to happen, I even know the last line.  But, instead of writing, I’m editing what has gone before – polishing, cutting, tweaking, juggling.  I know that writing is rewriting but, seriously, shouldn’t I get to the end first?  And the answers to point 1 above may have something to do with it.

I was recently talking with a friend about my reluctance to get to the end of my story.  I said maybe I was afraid to send it out into the world because, all the while it stays with me, no one has rejected it.  A bit like the Lotto ticket you keep in your handbag for weeks because, until you check the numbers there is still the possibility that it’s a winner.  She is a psychologist and had a slightly different take on it.  She believes that often the thing we are most scared of is success: of getting the thing that we want more than anything else.  Because, what do we have to dream about if we get our heart’s desire?  Will we still be the same person if we reach our goal?  What will people expect of us once we are successful?

None of us like rejection, but I do think she may have a point.  There is a huge difference between being an unpublished, unagented writer and being a published author with a book to promote.  Is fear of taking that next step stopping me from writing?  That sounds really big-headed.  After all, statistically I’m far more likely to be rejected than accepted by an agent or publisher.

Perhaps the truth is a combination of fear of failure and fear of success.  And, then too,  there are just too many books for this bone-idle wannabe author to read before she puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writes ‘The End’.

 

 

Trying Something New

Fountain PenSo, this week I did what it says in the title – I tried something new.  I have never been part of a general creative writing group.  I enjoy writing for children and when, in the course of my MA, I had that work critiqued by writers of stories for grown-ups, I was uncomfortable.  I felt they didn’t have a grasp of the differences required in writing for a younger audience.  However, there is a long-established writing group that meets at my local library, so I thought I would pay their next meeting a visit.  I’m so glad I did.

They are a small group with a fluid membership – at this meeting there were four established members, two visitors from another library who were thinking about setting up a similar group in their area, and a group leader.  The regular members and group leader all shared their writing on ‘The Secret of Happiness’.  Who would have thought such a simple idea would produce such a diverse group of work – or that one piece would bring me to the edge of tears?

The rest of the session was spent writing and sharing short pieces from prompts provided by the group leader.  I have added my efforts (unedited) to my ‘Writing’ pages.  I was surprised to find I didn’t head to my default children’s writing, but ended up with something for an older audience – and I enjoyed it.

The theme for next month is ‘The Sound of Silence’.  I’m having to work hard to steer myself away from Simon & Garfunkel, but who knows where the prompt will take me.  I look forward to sharing whatever comes out of my pen with the rest of the group in February.

Welcome to 2018 – Zero Draft

Holly leaves and berriesThis is where I should be wishing you all a very happy new year and listing all of my good intentions for 2018. Sorry – not happening.  Not today.  You see, despite reading lots of lovely inspirational posts on my social media and really believing this was going to be the start of a great year, it hasn’t started out like that.

I was determined that this year I would make more of an effort: be kinder; be positive; be supportive; be less judgmental; get fitter; write more often… you know the kind of thing.  And I really meant it when I thought it.  I still do. But, after a long night of trying to settle dogs made hysterical by fireworks, then being woken at irregular intervals by drunken revellers slur-singing their way home, I was a bit grouchy when I got up this morning.  My mood wasn’t improved by almost falling on my face when I stood up and found my knee was swollen and very painful.  Even then, I was determined to try harder and do my best.

Two small dogsIf the dogs and I had taken a different route on our walk, I may still have clung on to all my good intentions but, when we reached our destination, the footpath was blocked – by Park Runners.  Now, I know that keeping fit and socialising are great things.  Making active and regular use of public spaces helps stop them being built on.  But it’s a MONDAY.  That’s not Park Run day.  And that’s when all my good intentions went out of the window.  I watched the sea of lycra and exposed flesh jostling their way down the footpath and my chest was a seething knot of resentment.

Perhaps I should explain that, over the years, the dogs and I have had some rather unpleasant experiences with Park Runners.  The majority of them, I’m sure, are lovely people but there are some who are so intent on shaving a millionth of a second off their best time that they think nothing of barging, kicking, spitting and swearing at other park users.  For this reason, we usually avoid that particular park on a Saturday, as do many other dog walkers.

As we waited for a chance to get on the path and continue our walk, sweaty people I don’t know smiled at me and wished me a happy new year.  Did I smile back and return the greeting?  Did I heck as like.  I snarled and grunted and glared.  When I spotted a gap we leapt onto the path, walking against the tide of runners and I almost wanted someone to knock into us or shove us out the way so I could vent my spleen.  Not good.

I couldn’t shake the pent-up Grinch feelings, even when we were free of the runners and striding over the soggy grass into the public orchard – definitely not helped by spotting the remains of a firework display someone had set up on the Old Common and not bothered to remove when they had finished.  Even when we were nearly back to the safety of home, I was still seething.  You may know that I have a pathological dislike of litter.  Whenever we go for our walks I pick up as much as I can and drop it into the bins in the parks.  Today, just a few doors up from our house I spotted an empty Budweiser bottle, abandoned by the aforementioned revellers.  Did I pick it up and bring it home?  No.  I growled at it and said “Why should I?”

Some of my writing friends say the first version of a story they write isn’t the first draft – it’s the Zero Draft.  All the ideas they’ve been mulling over in their minds spewed out onto the page, just to get it out of their head.  That’s how I feel about today.  It’s the start of 2018 – Draft Zero.  So, please ignore me today.  Tomorrow I fully intend to smile as I wish total strangers a Happy New Year.  It can’t be that hard, can it?

 

Fairy Tales

Turnip Princess

Some time ago I received this book as a gift.  As with so many of the books in my To Be Read heap, it has taken a while to get to it.  I am finding it to be an intriguing read.  Many of the tales are familiar, but some have a bit of a twist and some I’ve not read before.

I am also finding it fairly frustrating.  This is a collection of fairy tales collected in the 1850s by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth in northern Bavaria.  As with the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, they were spoken tales, recorded verbatim.  Unlike Grimm and Perrault, they have been left unvarnished and unpolished and this is the root of my frustration.  I want to know more!

I don’t know if it is the reader or the writer in me that is making me shout at the book.  Things like, “What was he called?”, “Why didn’t she…?” and “Why tell me all about the knife in the tree that will let the sister know if he is well or ill and then never mention it again?”

Sometimes the lack of logic or any source of motivation irritates me as reader.  Quite often I want to know more detail about the who, what, why, where, when and how of things.  I know that traditionally fairy tales are very bare-boned, but some of these tales are only a page and a half long and have plenty of room for more information.

On the other hand, I’m finding them quite inspirational.  All the questions I’m asking myself led onto more questions and, sometimes, answers.  And one or two of those answers may be the beginning of a new story or two.  I had already started working on a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin before I picked up The Turnip Princess.  Maybe there will be more fairy tale inspired stories in my writing future.  Watch this space?