Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Our days are numbered!

...and today's number is 30.

I remember being 30. That was the year I ran my first marathon. 1985. When I say 'ran' that's a bit of an exaggeration. I ran 16 miles, walked 4 because my legs would no longer co-operate with my ever-willing mind, then I ran the last 6 miles and 385 yards.

It took a long time - 5 hours and 11 minutes, to be precise -  but I did it, and raised a lot of money for The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. I had three young children at the time so it was a subject close to my heart.

 I've just registered for my 2nd marathon. The Brighton Marathon, April 2012. I'm no longer 30...

This time, I'm running for The Bhopal Medical Appeal

On Saturday, 3rd December it's the 27th anniversary of the 1984 Union Carbide Gas Disaster which has to date, killed 25,000 in Bhopal, India. Today the site remains uncleaned and highly toxic.

I wasn't even 30 when it happened. I remember being mildly outraged at the time in a rather detached way. Then I forgot about it. Until now.

My friend Tara, my fitness trainer, who keeps her horse at the same yard as Alfie and Poppy, reminded me, with her talk of the marathon.

Her father, Indra Sinha, was Booker-nominated for his novel based on the Bhopal disaster and he still campaigns passionately to raise awareness of the injustice that has not yet been righted .

So...I'll train for this marathon. I'll bitch and moan when I'm feeling tired and not much like putting in the effort because it's raining...or cold...or a little bit windy.

It's really an awful indulgence, this running marathon thing, for our privileged society. The very least I can do is make it worthwhile for a community which has been denied a healthy life by the very people who run marathons in their smart Nike trainers and feel oh so good about themselves.

I promise not to feel even the slightest bit good.

Our days are numbered?

Yes, but those numbers are so much bigger than the numbers in Bhopal.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

“I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.” and Oscar Wilde both.

He DIDN'T say that on his deathbed, he said 'Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.' (allegedly)

I wasn't preoccupied with death until I saw that image, despite an enormous blister on my left heel. Now I am. I hope I say something memorable on my deathbed but I expect that, as usual, I'll think of it ten minutes too late.

Here are some other Great Things To Say With Your Dying Breath:

"I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis."

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist. . . "

General John Sedgwick, Union Commander, d. 1864  
Killed in battle during US Civil War.

(I apologise for being crass but this made me hoot with laughter. )

  "Get my swan costume ready."

The immortal (but not for long) words of Anna Pavlova, of dying swan and gooey meringue desserts fame.

But I think THIS is the sort of thing I am likely to say,
just because I'm British and therefore suffering from a
terminal facility for understatement, rather like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writer, d. 1762

"It's all been very interesting."

 Hasn't it just!

Monday, 28 November 2011

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.

...said Confucius.

A year ago today was the first time I wrote this blog.

 I don't know what I expected would happen as a result of starting it. I had a vague idea in my mind that it would give me more exposure as a writer. Has it? Who knows? What I DO know is that I enjoy writing it and more people each day are reading it. That makes me feel good.

It helps me, anyway, by acting as my morning pages:

BAM - I'm in a writing mode as soon as I've finished them. Though whether or not Julia Cameron would count them as proper pages, I don't know. She'd probably sneer.

APPARENTLY to become a successful blogger is 'simple but not easy,' according to Aman Basanti, that extraordinarily well-known consumer psychology writer that you've never heard of. (Successful blogger? What IS that?)

"Most bloggers fail because (like dieters) they can’t stick to their resolutions. They can’t stick out the tough times when no one reads their blog..."

"Most bloggers won’t succeed because they’re unable to do simple things over extended periods of time. Maybe years."

I AM able to do simple things over extended periods of time. In fact, in an obsessive-compulsive way, I find such ritual reassuring.

I've done the seed bit. Now I'm going for the tree.

Happy anniversary, little blog!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

“If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.”

...said Kurt Vonnegut. As a writer, his work blends 'satire, gallows humour and science fiction.'

Satire, fine. Gallows favourite sort. Or one of them.

 Science fiction? Not my favourite genre when science fiction means Star Trek but Blade Runner...yes please, give me more.

The fact of the matter is, that a blend of satire, gallows humour and sci-fi WORKS.

Here is my latest commission:

A story for an animation series and accompanying book, in the style of Family Guy, that is for 6-8 year old children with the aim of encouraging social responsibility and good citizenship.

I had actually seen some excerpts of Family Guy - but I checked, just in case. I also sought the advice of other people.

Here is a sample of their opinions:

"think intellectually crude humor."

"Teenage guys watch it. It makes a lot of non sequitur and reference jokes, as well as using shock humour, occasionally attempting and failing to be satirical. South Park aims slightly higher."

"There are moments in Family Guy that are so politically and socially incorrect, I wonder how it gets on TV."

And this last one rather sums up the enormity of the task:

"That's like trying to write an animated Disney film in the style of a porno movie."

...or not, as the case might be.

I don't DO half-assed jobs. I always said I liked a challenge.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dedication involves making the space to let young ideas take hold

The unusually-named Zephyr Bloch-Jorgensen said this. Unusual job title, too. 'Australian guru.' What does that mean? He knows a lot about Australia?

Oh well...

Yesterday, I was dedicated. For ages I've be yearning to get on with some of my own writing, namely the novel, already started in my pre-own-voice days (shudder)

So...I finished up a lot of projects, tied up a bundle of loose ends and suddenly...there it Not The space as in Space, the Final Frontier but A Space where I was free to be creative without any work-related deadlines.

Space...wonderful, uplifting, full of possibility? No. Space...scary.

What did I do? I fiddled about a lot with urgent procrastination. I'll just answer that e-mail...I'll just check over that document...I'll just dust my desk...I'll just make a cup of tea...

But finally, FINALLY, I dared to look at the start of the novel - which is called Falling Awake - and it was...definitely me writing to please a putative audience, in fact... was it really me who wrote it at all or was it somebody wearing a cardigan with buttons done up tightly to the neck? Not a me I'd recognise, in any case.

Start from nothing. All there is, then, is nothing and infinite possibility.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Focusing isn't just an optical activity, it is also a mental one.

Bridget Riley said this. And well she might. I'm not a great fan of her art (at least, the pieces I've seen)  It involves a lot of effort simply to look at it. Bear in mind that I'm a person who feels slightly queasy on a moving walkway if I look down at the striations.

Yep, just looking at that makes my head spin. She's very talented, is Bridget Riley. It MUST be a talent to be able to produce something that has such a profound physical effect on someone. Here's another:

I find myself blinking and squinting just to make some sort of sense of it.

Bizarrely enough, but you must be used to this by now with me, this train of thought was triggered by boxing. Me. And boxing.

Boxercising, I think it's called.

Me, I'm a bit lethal. The exercise was:

1, 2 - jab
3, 4 - hook
5, 6 - uppercut

Tara, with the protective (but not very if you missed) hand pads, would call out the numbers and I was meant to produce the correct punches. Hand-eye, hand-eye-BRAIN coordination severely lacking. Oh how we laughed! I'm not sure how much we would have laughed if I'd thwacked her on the jaw and knocked her out. Well, I might have, but she would've been unconscious.

The thing was, exactly as when I look at a Bridget Riley print, I felt instantly disorientated and exhausted. Ten seconds before that,  I'd been quite happily doing crunches and squats and sprints without feeling weary, but THIS...

For sure, for me, tired brain equals tired body. least, the SEMBLANCE of a tired body. Tired body equals tired brain? No.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thanksgiving, man. Not a good day to be my pants.

I have some very dear American friends. It's one of my my dearest wishes to go there one day. Today - Thanksgiving in the USA - this is my tribute to all things American.

 ...Starting with the quote, by Kevin James, American actor. It was one of the very few quotes about Thanksgiving I found that didn't make me want to throw up. I adore my family, I'm thankful when we all sit down together at the meal table, I count my blessings BUT...sicky, saccharine, sweet, slimy sentiment? No thank you.

'Not a good day to be my pants' made me laugh twice over. First because it was inherently funny...

 Second, because I'm British and it always makes me laugh when Americans refer to pants. THESE are pants:

 Got it?

I was asked yesterday, by an American, whether or not we celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK. Well, no. Why would we? It's to remember an event particular to America. We celebrate Christmas.

 However, every year, on this day, I make an American meal, which I've now discovered NO AMERICAN HAS EVER HEARD OF, STILL LESS EATEN. But I make it anyway.

It's called Chicken Maryland and is chicken, (duh!)  sweetcorn, bacon and fried bananas. I would make pumpkin pie too but I'd be the only one in a radius of two miles who'd eat it.

Now that's something sicky, saccharine, sweet and slimy I DO like.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

By letting it go it all gets done.

 "The world is won by those who let it go...
but when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning."

 Do you know what? I wish I could keep those words firmly in my mind. I remember them sometimes but most times I don't and I struggle and I strive and get nowhere. Then I use up all my remaining energy telling myself I'm hopeless.

Struggle by Jaeson Ma
"Lao Tzu taught that all struggling, all striving is not only in vain but counterproductive. One should endeavour to do nothing (wu-wei). But what does this mean? It doesn't mean do nothing, but to discern and follow the natural forces -- to follow and shape the flow of events and not to pit oneself against the natural order of things." Adapted from Lao Tzu - Father of Taoism

Yesterday, with all the time in the world for creative writing (for once in my life), I battled and struggled to finish the last few paragraphs of a short story.

I did finish but it felt like pulling teeth, it took all day and I ended up exhausted and dissatified. It remains to be seen whether I think the writing is any good today...

This morning, I had a lesson on Alfie - part dressage, part jumping. Lao Tzu was with us, though he seems to favour riding oxen.

I didn't struggle. I didn't kick or whip Alfie just to get him to move from the spot. (That makes me sound Very Cruel - I'm not. I just have a very resistant horse!)

In our writing workshop, Meg Rosoff talked about throughness (discussed, too, in her very excellent blog) - the English translation of a German dressage term, Durchlässigkeit.

In our riding today, Alfie and I had great long moments of throughness - harmony and flow.

This was us in the summer, side-by-side, in perfect harmony. Today, that was how it was when I was riding him, my beautiful boy.

NOW - all I have to do is achieve the same feeling when I'm writing. Without struggling to achieve it...

Alfie wonders if I EVER listen to the lessons he tries to teach me.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.

H.G.Wells. At last, someone who needs no research or explanation. I'll have to find another way to exercise my mind.

Yesterday, exercising the mind today, the inner thighs.

Or whichever part of the anatomy riding a bicycle reaches that other forms of exercise don't.

Here's me and Peter out for a little jaunt this weekend. He's the one with the moustache.

Today, Olive Oyl, my dear car - she of the recent heart and lung transplant - has to go back into hospital. Peter very eloquently describes it like this: 'Your vehicle sounds like a tumble dryer full of nuts and bolts.' I can't say I'd noticed but then I am a mere woman.

I was offered a lift back from the garage by the kindly garage man but, in a small tribute to H.G.Wells and carbon footprints, I've decided to take my bicycle and ride the nine miles home.

As Gloria Steinem says 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.'

 'A man needs a sushi when a woman is an icicle.' says Michael Leunig. Whoever he is.

Ah, I sense some exercise for my mind after I've paid attention to the thighs...

Is this the start of a fish-ous cycle?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.

The quotation is attributed to John Adams in his last illness.

This is how I exercise my mind.

John Adams. I have a vague idea that he was an American president.Vague ideas are no good to me. I have to find out the FACTS.

John Adams (October 30th, 1735 – July 4th, 1826) was the second President of the United States (1797–1801).

 ...and he had an interesting hairstyle, which reminds me of Moses parting the Red Sea. But I mustn't get distracted by that because I'm already distracted by the idea that another John Adams was a Georgian architect, famous for his fireplaces.

Excuse me a moment.

Nope. That was Robert Adam (3rd July, 1728 – 3rd March, 1792) He hasn't got an interesting hairstyle so I won't bother you with a picture of him but instead...a fireplace:

See, now my mind is exercised, as well as my horses.

Is my mind in good working order? Not by most people's standards maybe - but perfectly acceptable for muddle-headed me

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Glass half full?

Yesterday, Seth Godin's always thought-provoking blog was on the subject Optimistic enthusiasm as a form of realism

It reminded me of me. It made me feel BETTER about being an optimist in the face of lots of people thinking I'm at best, a dizzy dreamer, at worst, delusional.

Seth Godin's blog applies to organisations but it could just as well apply to individuals.


If you are "both pessimistic and operationally focused, then every new idea is a threat. It represents more work, something that could go wrong, a chance for disaster."

On the other hand (amended quote) if you are someone who shakes things up and generates life-changing material, you just might discover that the outcomes you are dreaming of are in fact what happen.

or perhaps, the more cautious...

So I'll carry on being a dizzy dreamer, delusional,  ME, then!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies

Okay, so it's not the best quote in the world but quite honestly, I'm sick of looking. My thoughts of the day are about A Moment That Changed My Life and you can't imagine the sort of nauseous gloop that came up when I was searching. Or perhaps you can.

Anyway - here's a pretty ickle butterfly.

An Orange Tip. My favourite sort. It looks like the inside of a Cadbury's Creme Egg.

So - A Moment That Changed My Life. As a writer, this is. There are a few of them, but this is the first I can remember. Another chance encounter on the radio. (Isn't it strange how life-changing moments are so often serendipitous?) And here's the weirdest thing. I was thinking about this radio play yesterday and absolutely by some fluke, since it was first broadcast in 1997, it was repeated on Radio 4 Extra at 3 a.m. this morning. No, I didn't stay awake for it.

So here it is:

Lee Hall is the guy who also wrote the Billy Elliot screenplay. Spoonface Steinberg completely blew me away. If I list the ingredients, you'd imagine it must be as gloopy and nauseous and mawkish and toe-curlingly awful as all the quotes about life-changing moments.

Here: A 7-year-old Jewish girl who is autistic and comes from a broken home, with a vodka-swilling mum and a useless, self-pitying dad discovers she's dying of cancer. Oh, and her doctor tells her about Jews in concentration camps and she finds inspiration from hearing about those who die with their spirit unbowed and the transforming power of music - in this case, Maria Callas singing Casta Diva, from the opera Norma, by Bellini.

From this description, Spoonface Steinberg may sound like a tick-box exercise in cramming every possible challenging situation into as small a space as possible.

No, and ten thousand times NO (ten thousand - my favourite number!)

It was the most moving, uplifting, funny, lyrical and joyful piece of writing I've ever encountered - and probably still is. It was made into a stage play and a TV Film but really it worked best in its original form - as a dramatic monologue for the radio.

Casta Diva is my music of inspiration. Listen, if you'd like. Prepare to be blown away

And here is the Listen Again link for the play itself - sadly, possibly only available in the UK, and then, only temporarily? Spoonface Steinberg

I urge you to beg, borrow or steal a copy from somewhere.

As a result of listening to this, I was inspired. I saw possibilities that I had never thought existed to break the shackles of convention with my words.

As a result of listening to this, I wrote my first piece - Ain't So Neat - a dramatic monologue for the radio.

As a result of listening to this, I've never looked back.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it with reluctance

Terence said this. Terence sounds like the name of somebody who wears corduroy and keeps dubious magazines in his potting shed. It DOESN'T sound like a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. Not to me, anyway.

(Looking at his eyes, maybe he DID spend too much time in his potting shed with dubious magazines after all)

SO...I have a project to do and I don't much want to do it. It's to write a story in the style of Horrid Henry using someone else's characters - a commission.

Horrid Henry gets rich quick? No, they mean Francesca Simon gets rich quick. 

My children being that much older - in fact SO very much older that I am in fact younger than they are - I had never read a Horrid Henry. I bought two. Love the illustrations and I can see why Early Readers like them, but if ever writing was formulaic then this is it.  (I suppose...why NOT be formulaic? Good luck to Francesca Simon and all who sail in her) 

But I don't know if I could do it.

The two books I bought had the same number of pages, the same number of chapters and, quite probably, the same number of words on each page. I think I would probably go insane. Even more than I am already. Worse, my soul would shrivel up and die, sustained only by the millions of pounds I was earning.

Having just Found My Voice, I'm blowed if I'm going to suppress'm going to write the story in the style of Caroline Coxon...

You can rest easy in your bed now, Francesca.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

“Handwriting is civilization's casual encephalogram.”

Now THAT made me sit up and take notice, Lance Morrow (American Journalist and Essayist, b.1939)

 I was having a bit of a ponder about creative writing in long hand versus using the computer. To date, for all the years I've been a professional writer, I've  used the computer BUT... the weekend, I didn't. I used a pencil and notebook. For those of you who have never seen this outmoded process in action, here is a photo from the archives of history.

I was pleased with the story I wrote with my pencil. Good old pencil.

Yesterday, my plan was to transfer said story on to the computer and finish it. Somehow, the creative juices flowed less easily. This could be because:
  1. There was not silence but the annoying hum and a whirring of the machine
  2. I wasn't on a course where I could shut off from the world
  3. I kept using the online Thesaurus to find different words instead of trusting my instinct
  4. I'm compelled to check e-mails (and blog stats!) every so often (a generous euphemism for about once every 5 minutes)
 Now this is the more unnerving one...

There seems to be a greater gap between my mind and what I create when it's via a keyboard than when I use pencil and paper.

At least, I THINK that's what it is...writing by hand produces my encephalogram, my VOICE. Writing by keyboard produces...a sanitised, edited, considered version of my voice.

SHOCK HORROR! Caroline discovers something that everyone else has known for years.

I'm guessing that the process of using the keyboard drains a lot more of my brain, takes a lot more of my attention than simply splurging out the contents of my febrile imagination using pencil and paper.  I'm not a touch-typer for a start. I do have to concentrate quite hard to find the right keys.

So maybe tomorrow you'll find my blog written by hand on a tree in a forest glade.

I'll send you a Google map reference by e-mail and you can use your Smart Phone to locate it.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

I'm still literally on cloud nine

Really, Greg Olsen? Pardon me for sniggering. You are LITERALLY on cloud nine? You mean cloud nine ACTUALLY EXISTS and you are ON IT?

Who is Greg Olsen, anyway? Let me check. "An American football tight end for the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League." Of course he is.

Well, I'm not on cloud nine, either literally or metaphorically.

I WAS, on Sunday night, after such a tremendous weekend when I felt somehow vindicated as a writer, a real live writer instead of someone who dabbles in it to pass the time when not crocheting toilet roll covers in pink, let's all pat the little woman on the head for trying so hard.

Here is an example of my work:

 It's a kind of self-portrait.

SO...yesterday, I thought I'd be busily knocking off that fierce and scary novel (not written with a view to publication and in My Own Recently Discovered Voice)

But frankly, I was exhausted.

Instead, I spent the day thinking that maybe I'd imagined that I could be a writer.

Today, though, I feel FIERCE.

Fearless as a magpie.