Sunday, December 31, 2006

Chick lit (2)

I'm sorry if I sounded rather judgemental about chick lit as a genre yesterday. To be honest I could have written something equally dismissive about literary fiction, in fact most of the books I have ever failed to finish have been so-called literary offerings.I am not a literary snob, I just like well-written books with a good storyline and characters I can relate to. Of course such books can be found in any genre, as can trash.

Not that I am old, of course, but my own 'chick' days were during my mid 20's in the Margaret Thatcher era....I worked in the City at the time of endless champagne lunches and later in the West End,so I was also no stranger to designer stores and media types. But I tired of the shallowness of that life and, after some ill health, changed to a job which didn't involve commuting.

Most of my 30's passed in a blur. Within a few months I lost my well-paid local job as the economy took a downturn and then, at 31, had to watch our much wanted first baby fighting for life on a ventilator. There is nothing like that sort of experience to make you grow up quickly. Then although son 1 progressed well, son 2 turned out to have major problems of a different kind and life was taken over by appointments with therapists and battles with education professionals until he started school. I was unable to resume my professional career, though have continued to snatch hours to work from home and do voluntary work to give something back to people who helped me. I 'lost' almost a decade of my life when I rarely read a book or listened to music, when I was a mental and physical mess, though I am much more together now.

So no, I don't really identify with the protagonists of some of the books written for younger women. I guess nowadays I am looking for books about midlife crises and family difficulties, lost loves, loyalties and regrets.I have experienced all of these along the way as I found that I couldn't 'have it all' in the way some of the more feminist novels I read in my younger days had suggested.

But if our experiences shape our own writing then at least I have some substantial material to work with!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chick lit

I don't read chick lit. In fact when I go into a bookshop I actively avoid paperbacks with pastel-coloured covers featuring a picture of a cartoon style young woman. It is not because I have anything specifically against chick lit, I believe it to be a harmless lightweight read for women in their 20's and 30's who aspire to a certain lifestyle. Being the wrong side of 45 ( but only just, honest...) I don't see it as being for me. I prefer to get my aspirational influences from glossy magazines.

As I said, I don't read chick lit. At least, I really thought I didn't. In the name of research I decided to look further into the phenomenon, as chick lit seems to have been predominantly what publishers have wanted for the last few years. Where better to start than Trashionista? Oh look, they have just posted their top 10 chick lit books of all time. I have read, and enjoyed, numbers 10 and 1 on the list. I have even flicked through number 7, which I got free with a mag. A further delve into their site reveals reviews of books by Anita Shreve and Melissa Bank, both of whom I list amongst my favourite authors and would categorize as having much more emotional depth and literary quality than the average chick lit.

On my bookshelf I also have this book. Normally the cover would have put me straight off but it is a compilation of stories originally published in Woman & Home magazine (which is surely published for the over 40 market?) and includes some great work by writers such as Andrea Levy, Tessa Hadley, Lesley Glaister and another of my special favourites, Maggie O'Farrell. It was issued to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care, a cause close to my heart ( see here for one of the reasons why). Is this chick lit, or hen lit? Does it matter? Who cares?

I think I am confused now. I need to do more research ....this topic may run and run.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas TV

Was it just me, or was the TV even more rubbish than usual this year? We watched very little apart from programmes like CSI Miami which we would have watched anyway.

I was a little surprised to see the drama 'After Thomas' screened on Boxing Day. I have no idea whether it was good or not, as we chose not to watch it. I am all for awareness raising, and from what I have read about this drama, which was based on a true life case, it sounds as though it probably did take a realistic approach to living with autism. But for me this wasn't an entertaining festive subject and anyway it clashed with CSI Miami!

There is a current fashion in the publishing world for 'misery memoirs' about dysfunctional childhood and family life. Having a child with any sort of special needs obviously affects the whole family and recent figures from the National Autistic Society suggest that about 1 child in 110 is now diagnosed as being somewhere on the autistic spectrum. However, every child is very much an individual in the way they experience and respond to their particular challenges.

Like so many other families we live with the effects of autism every day, so we really don't need to watch it dramatised on TV at Christmas time....but if they repeat the programme I may well take a sneaky look....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's all over...

... for another year. Thank goodness. No, actually it wasn't bad this year. A nice relaxing Christmas at home, just the four of us. No tears or tantrums, no disasters, just how Christmas should be. I had intended to go to the Sales today, but I can't be bothered, I don't want to spoil my good mood fighting over things in Next.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Season's Greetings

You may have noticed some changes to my blog recently. As I write quite a few of these changes seem to have suddenly disappeared but hopefully that is just a technical glitch and the archives, links etc will return soon.

Here is a seasonal vintage song for you all and I hope you have a good holiday season, wherever you are.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Crime fiction

I've always enjoyed crime fiction. I was introduced to Agatha Christie's books at an early age and it is still a favourite genre. For entertainment value I have for many years enjoyed books by authors such as Ed McBain, Patricia Cornwell and P D James. At home we enjoy watching police, forensics and legal dramas such as CSI or Law and Order and good old Inspector Morse was a firm favourite. It is possibly the only genre that everyone roughly agrees on in our house, as I don't like sci-fi or fantasy, which hubby favours, and he hates the medical dramas that son 1 and I both enjoy. Son 2 is still into CBeebies....

In recent weeks real life has seemed almost like a crime novel or thriller. Alexander Litvinenko, former Russian spy, is fatally poisoned, here in London, by use of a radioactive substance. Out in the country, a serial killer murders 5 prostitutes in a few weeks. Gun crime, especially in cities, is dramatically on the increase and children carry knives to school for protection.

Who needs fiction?

Thursday, December 21, 2006


If you have visited here before you may recall that I recently started an Open University course on mental health K272, Challenging ideas in mental health, and son 1 is struggling with his own major issues at the moment. So I have sat down eagerly for the last two nights to watch the Channel 4 documentary 'House of Agoraphobics' and found it fascinating. It was so reassuring to see that what my son is experiencing is 'normal' for the condition and that the intervention he is receiving is a wholly appropriate one, even though that doesn't make any of it any easier to deal with for him or us. Caring for someone with mental health problems is so hard, you seem to spend your life walking on eggshells.

Back to the dodgy 1970's videos on YouTube and keeping to the theme of the day, this song by Supertramp is written for someone with mental health problems and is the only one by that band that I still listen to. It is a song which for many years I have loved to play when I am feeling low (though I do prefer the recorded version to this live one) but it is only since I became more aware of the isolating impact of mental health problems in family members and friends that I have fully appreciated the meaning of the lyrics. I wish I could get son 1 to listen to it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I spent some time yesterday evening exploring YouTube. I had been there before but was amazed to find how many old videos of favourite songs seemed to have been posted since my last visit.

This one, for example. Yes, I know it is not a cool song, but it has a lot of history for me. I first purchased Billy Joel's album 'The Stranger' when I was at school, probably about the same time that this clip was filmed! This song was allegedly written for the birthday of his then wife and for me it has so many memories attached. It reminds me of university, my first big love and my 21st birthday, through to seeing Billy Joel in concert at Wembley with hubby in the carefree days 'before kids'. I still like the song, even though it has been done to death by other singers, and I don't think the simplicity of this original version has ever been beaten. It is something I always return to when I want to wallow in nostalgia.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas is coming

I have spent the last two days writing and sending my Christmas cards. Yes, I know I have left it very late and of course I have had to send them first class as a result, but to be honest it is a job I don't enjoy.

I think that for many parents of children with special needs Christmas is a difficult time. It is not just trying to find suitable presents for your child, but also the arrival of the round robin letters in cards from friends, which can bring home how different your child really is. Other peoples children are playing in school teams, learning musical instruments, winning awards for martial arts, drama or some other expensive leisure activity. Son 1 is currently confined to the house by agoraphobia, whilst son 2 has autism and will never take any exams and quite possibly never speak. We don't write round robin letters because it is almost impossible to explain how this impacts on our lives without sounding self-pitying. Life isn't all bad, but it is very different and it takes a special friend to understand that.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Music I have loved

A few months ago I read an article which stated that one of the signs of middle age was revisiting the music of your youth. I smiled wryly as I realised that I have been doing exactly that this year.

It all started when I got an Mp3 player in January. That made me go back to our CD collection so that I could rip favourite tracks onto my computer ready to put onto my shiny new gadget. (No, its not an iPod, I'm not that trendy, but a tiny little Creative player which fits easily into a pocket or handbag and is great for tube or bus journeys.) But I discovered that some fantastic oldies had never even been purchased on CD and so I hunted down some old albums via eBay and Amazon, purchased compilations and greatest hits collections, downloaded tracks and now have many of the songs I have loved over the years ready on my computer to listen to while working.

I think from time to time, when I have nothing better to say, I will dip into my music library and explain why a track means so much to me. Watch this space.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Reality TV

Although I am usually not a great fan of reality TV there are a few series I look forward to each year. These tend to be the ones which require the contestants to display and develop some sort of skill, rather than the ones that just act as a showcase for publicity hungry nobodies, such as Big Brother. I find it fascinating to watch talent emerging and I think I am probably the eternal student type of person, always wanting to try/learn new things and improve myself.

Leona Lewis has won the X-factor. The right choice I think, though Ray Quinn will also have a bright future, probably on the stage or TV presenting, and I hope that Ben will get a recording contract. One thing that has really struck me this year is how most of the last 12 contestants have been very dignified and generous in defeat. I hope that the talents discovered will not be wasted by bad management decisions in order to make a quick buck from them, but the record for reality talent show winners so far has not been good (Will Young excepted).

Friday, December 15, 2006

On further reflection...

I am not quite so happy with my course result. It is not so much the overall result, which was what I realistically expected, but the fact that my final 'project' scored second lowest of all my assignments. In fact it was by far the lowest mark I have had for prose. I revisited my work today and really could not understand why.

I know what my own tutor's reaction to my work usually was and I followed her suggestions for improvement. I kept to the word counts and my layout and punctuation is normally good. I can only assume that perhaps the second marker did not like either my style or subject matter. I write in a rather spare style of prose which is the opposite of the overwritten poetic style found in some literary novels. I am not a poet so imagery is not one of my strengths. I like to write about subjects with which I am familiar which means that disability often plays a role in my stories. My life writing piece was about a journey behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War (showing my age here), perhaps younger readers would not be familiar with the historical context.

Oh well, I shall never know what I could have done better.....

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Results are in....

Officially the results were due 'by' tomorrow, but there had been a rumour flying around that they would come out at midday today. I spent the morning compulsively checking my student homepage on the Open University website and at 11.40, just when I was about to turn off the laptop and run up to the shops, there it was! I'm glad I spotted it early as the website has been struggling under the strain of students logging in for results ever since!

I'm happy. It was the result I had expected. I have been having to cope with difficult life circumstances and high stress levels throughout the course so simply to finish it was an achievement and a good mark a bonus, even if I secretly aspired to the highest grade! What I have gained from the course in terms of knowledge, confidence in my own writing, courage to submit work and just getting to know some amazing people can't be measured in an academic grade. It was a course which seemed almost too enjoyable at times and I can't wait for a follow -on level three syllabus!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I had two possible titles in mind for my future novel, so I decided to have a look on Amazon to see if they were already in use. I believe there is no copyright on titles but all the same it would be nice to choose something unique and hopefully memorable. My second choice has been used for a recently published novel in a different genre, so I think that is out. My preferred choice has been used but is currently only on a small press book of poetry, so that is still a possibility. Encouraging.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Course result jitters

The result of my A215 Creative Writing course is due by the end of this week and I am starting to get a little anxious. I don't know why, because I did well on all the assignments, but I suppose I am something of a perfectionist and want to get the highest possible marks! It's not as if this even matters that much. I am not really doing Open University courses with the aim of getting a degree, I already have a degree. I am doing courses in a random fashion for my own interest and personal development. If I happen to pick up certificates, diplomas or even another degree along the way then that is great, but it is not the primary objective.

However, I do have one thought in the back of my mind and that is the desire to do an MA in Creative Writing one day. My rather old first degree is respectable but not exceptional and on its own might not be enough to get me onto an MA course. I think a portfolio of competent writing is probably just as important, but I don't have that yet either. So a really good mark on this course could be helpful and would also show that I can still study at university level in the area of the Arts.

Hence the jitters. I'll let you know at the end of the week....

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Yesterday I started my novel! Its very early days yet, I have the title, story outline and the narrative form in mind but haven't decided exactly how to structure the timeline. Still, I decided I could not procrastinate forever, so have committed the first 500 words to paper and will think about it further and add to it as and when I can.