Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year In Books: 2014

It's here again, that last day of the year, the 31st December. Now, I'm not going to tell you my thoughts on the past year, my achievements, my worst bits. etc. etc. But I am going to give you a run down of my year in books.

This is the first year I've done this; kept a monthly tally of the books I've read, and I will definitely be making this an annual thing. I just kept a list in the back of my diary with the titles and authors of the books and a tally at the end of each month of how many books read. (My favourites from each month are highlighted in bold.)

So here goes:

January 2014

  1. Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) : Laini Taylor
  2. Revealed (House of Night #11) : P C & Kristen Cast
  3. Last Blood (House of Camarre #5) : Kristen Painter
  4. The Invisible Man: H G Wells.
  5. Fire: Kate Cann
  6. The War of the Worlds: H G Wells
  7. The Vampire of Highgate: Asa Bailey
  8. Love Minus Eighty: Will Mcintosh
Four of these were Christmas presents, one was borrowed from a friend and three were from the library. I think my favourite book of January would have to be Last Blood: Kristen Painter, as it was the final in the House of Comarre series and a long awaited end to a great fantasy saga. 

February 2014
  1. Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch
  2. Dr Zhivago: Boris Pasternak
  3. Fortunately, the Milk: Neil Gaiman
  4. The Bride's Farewell: Meg Rosoff
  5. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece: Annabel Pitcher
  6. She is not Invisible: Marcus Sedgewick
  7. Noble Conflict: Malorie Blackman
  8. The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman
  9. Odd Thomas: Dean Koontz
Of February's books, two of them were Christmas presents that I hadn't got around to in January, five were borrowed from the library, one I bought, and one was recommended by a family I was babysitting for, so I read it whilst the kids were asleep. My favourite book of February had to be the incredible, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. A beautifully emotive story of loss and prejudice and friendship. 

March 2014
  1. 77 Shadow Street: Dean Koontz
  2. The Crane Wife: Patrick Ness
  3. Day of the Triffids: John Wyndham
  4. Hollow Pike: James Dawson
  5. Essential Meteorology: Donald Ahrens
  6. Forever Odd (Odd Thomas #2) : Dean Koontz
  7. Clockwork Angel (TID #1) : Cassandra Clare
  8. Clockwork Prince (TID #2) : Cassandra Clare
  9. Clockwork Princess (TID #3) : Cassandra Clare
Ah, I do love a Cassie Clare re-read, and so sometimes the whole trilogy gets another outing. Four of these books were borrowed from the library, three of them re-read, one of them was research for one of my novels - I think you'll guess which one - and the other two I bought. My favourite book of March was definitely the quirky new adult book from Patrick Ness: The Crane Wife. Extraordinarily fantastical, yet still so human, I highly recommend this!

April 2014
  1. The Humans: Matt Haig
  2. Panic: Lauren Oliver
  3. Delirium (Delirium Trilogy #1) : Lauren Oliver
  4. The Red House: Mark Haddon
  5. The Three Musketeers: Alexandre Dumas
  6. Divergent: Veronica Roth
  7. Infinite Sky: C J Flood
The first five were borrowed from the library, definitely a good haul, and they allowed me the discovery of a new author whom I now love: Lauren Oliver. Thank you Kentish Town Library. The final two were lovely YA treats, both Easter gifts. Who the hell needs chocolate? It's a tricky month to pick a favourite, but I think it just leans towards Panic: Lauren Oliver, with The Humans: Matt Haig, very close behind. 

May 2014
  1. The Shock of the Fall: Nathan Filer
  2. Holes: Louis Sacher
  3. Handmaid's Tale: Margaret Atwood
  4. The Traitor Game: B R Collins
  5. Poems of John Keats: Complied by Claire Tomalin
  6. Full Dark, No Stars: Stephen King
  7. Marina: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Neil Gaiman
  9. American Psycho: Bret Easton Ellis
  10. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging: Louise Rennison
  11. Submarine: Joe Dunthorne
Wow, May was a good month for reading, and reading a variety as I think you'll agree. There were some absolute belters this month, and eight of them borrowed from the library. Two were Easter presents and one I bought from the lovely Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town. (Keep your local independent book stores alive!) 

Picking a favourite from this month is impossible. The best I could do was my favourite three: The Shock of the Fall: Nathan Filer. This is phenomenal! The Handmaid's Tale: Margaret Atwood. This is terrifying and one of the most incredible books I've ever read. Think dystopian but written in the '80s. Full Dark, No stars: Stephen King. This anthology of short stories is at times harrowing, funny, scary and down right freaky, but the way it is written keeps you glued to the pages. 

Number 10 on the list was needed after number 9 on the list, just for a little light relief. Jeez American Psycho will freak you out as well as making you laugh out loud and squirm in discomfort. Read it! 

June 2014
  1. City of Lost Souls (TMI #5) : Cassandra Clare
  2. City of Heavenly Fire (TMI #6) : Cassandra Clare
  3. The Cloud Hunters: Alex Shearer
  4. Jamaica Inn: Daphne De Maurier
  5. As I Walked Out One Evening: W H Auden
  6. Brother Odd (Odd Thomas #3) : Dean Koontz
  7. Haunt Dead Scared: Curtis Jobling
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee
  9. The Wasp Factory: Ian Banks
  10. Picture Me Gone: Meg Rosoff
Another good haul this month with five hailing from the library. The Mortal Instruments series was completed with the fabulous: City of Heavenly Fire, which warranted a re-read of the preceding book in the series, just for a recap. (Any excuse. I love Cassie Clare.) And June also saw first reads of two classics that I probably should have already read but hadn't. But now I have. I think it's only fair that my favourite book of June goes to Harper Lee and the incredible: To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes it took me a long time to get round to reading it, and no I was not lucky enough to study it in high school, but it was well worth the wait, and I know it will be a book that remains on the shelf, always, waiting to be read again. 

July 2014
  1. Selected Poetry: Rudyard Kipling
  2. Seven Second Delay: Tom Easton
  3. Chicago: Lonely Planet Travel Guide
  4. It's OK, I'm wearing Big Knickers: Louise Rennison
  5. Jessica Cole, Model Spy: Sarah Sky
  6. Wisconsin: Moon Travel Guide
  7. More Than This: Patrick Ness
  8. Sky Run: Alex Shearer
  9. Attachments: Rainbow Rowell
  10. Humbling: Patrick Roth
July saw the inclusion of a couple of travel guides, as I started to plan for the September US/Canada trip, very exciting. And the other eight were library triumphs. A good selection this month and after the YALC - Young Adult Literature Conference - and all the talk of Rainbow Rowell, I found Attachments in the adult section of the library. Oh my word, you have to read this book. She has such a handle of dialogue. It is so real. And I just love the way she writes. There is nothing forced, it is just so natural and you feel totally in safe hands. I wasn't going to jump on the RR band wagon, but after barely a page or two, I was on it and speeding away. I think it's safe to say she won my favourite book of July, but Patrick Ness' latest YA was very close behind. I also thoroughly enjoyed - weirdly - the depressively, dark, Humbling by Patrick Roth. 

August 2014
  1. The Machine: James Smythe
  2. The Penelopiad: Margaret Atwood
  3. Cat's Cradle: Kurt Vonnegut
  4. Turn of the Screw: Henry James
  5. Everything's Eventual: Stephen King
A less productive reading month, but a very productive writing month. I wrote several thousands of words of a new novel this month and that took most of my brain capacity, but on a brief holiday I managed a few extras. Three of these were borrowed from my partner and two were from the library. I think my favourite of the month would go to James Smythe: The Machine. This is dystopia at its bleakest and when I think about it, August's reading was pretty bleak at best. The sun may be shining outside........

September 2014
  1. The Weirdstone of Brisengamen: Alan Garner
  2. Odd Hours (Odd Thomas #4) : Dean Koontz
  3. Eleanor and Park: Rainbow Rowell
  4. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Book 1) : Leigh Bardugo
  5. Flowers in the Attic: Virginia Andrews
  6. Echo Boy: Matt Haig
  7. Zom - B: Darren Shan
  8. Heat Wave: Richard Castle (TV tie in: Castle)
September's haul was made up of a combination of Birthday gifts, Birthday money purchases and one library steal. This was another month where it was impossible to pick just one favourite, so I narrowed it down to three. Eleanor and Park. I'm sorry but Rainbow Rowell can do no wrong at the moment. Two books down and two books devoured and loved. Shadow and Bone (Grisha Book 1) was the enlightening opening of a trilogy, of which I am desperate to get my hands on books 2 and 3. Fantasy, magic, a war of epic proportions, and all set in Russia. Awesome! Flowers in the Attic - which I hate to reveal I'd already seen the film of - is more terrifying than any horror book I've ever read. This isn't about monsters and supernatural beings, this is about how evil real people can be, and how the innocent are punished for someone else's crimes. Absolute terror and injustice and it's almost impossible to put the book down. 

October 2014
  1. Doctor Sleep: Stephen King
  2. Revealed (House of Night #12) : P C & Kristen Cast
  3. Wild Boy: Rob Lloyd Thomas
  4. City of Ashes (TMI #2) : Cassandra Clare
Rather slim pickings this month, but there was a rather epic holiday in there and the completion and first edit of the novel. Plus I was travelling less due to half term and the kids I look after being away. 
Anyhoo, these were books I owned/had bought/had found and of course number 4 was a re-read because I'd been watching The City of Bones (TMI #1) on Amazon Prime, and even though it's shite compared to the book, I couldn't stop watching it. Anyhoo, my favourite book this month was the long awaited sequel to The Shining: Doctor Sleep. Thank you Mr King, it was well worth it. 
But October also saw me finish - finally, I was running out of shelf space - the House of Night series. 12 books. 12 books. It's a good job they were all pretty tall and thin. They have their own shelf. 

November 2014
  1. A Natural History of Dragons: Marie Brennan
  2. Say Her Name: James Dawson
  3. Me Talk Pretty One Day: David Sedaris
  4. Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn
  5. The Great Gatsby: F Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Iron Trial: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
  7. Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen
A nice mixture of oldies and newbies this month, due to raiding the shelves at home, raiding the library and treating myself. November also saw me take part and complete NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words and a new novel done, as well as the novel I finished in October. Not bad in terms of productivity this year. My favourite of this month may be controversial for some - only because of the classics on there -  but it was actually Say Her Name: James Dawson. The horror/thriller YA was a lot of fun and had me laughing out loud in places. it even managed to ruffle the neck hairs a little. It was also useful in terms of my own YA horror, to see how far you can go, and just exactly what is creepy on the page. Thanks James. 

December 2014
  1. Maze Runner (Maze Runner #1) : James Dashner
  2. Scorch Trials (Maze Runner #2) : James Dashner
  3. Girl Interrupted: Susannah Kaysen
  4. Afterworlds: Scott Westerfeld
  5. Death Cure (Maze Runner #3) : James Dashner
This has been the ultimate YA month to finish off the year. Having seen the Maze Runner film over in Chicago, I was desperate to read the trilogy. It's good to see YA films with male protagonists and written by men, doing just as well as say The Hunger Games and Divergent. Scott Westerfeld's double book, Afterworlds is a real treat. I enjoyed all 600 pages of it. But I think my favourite this month, by the tiniest of margins was Girl Interrupted. Again, a film I have watched, almost oblivious at the time that it was based on a book. But wow. This was concise, yet it felt like you spent every moment of her two and half years trapped with her. Big love for this book. 

And so, my final tally is a whopping: 93 books. 

Of course I cannot choose a favourite. All these books have kept me gripped and turning the pages in their own very unique ways. They have all offered me something, whether terror, hope, despair, or sheer laughter. I have definitely expanded my 'classics' repertoire as I was - and still am  - sadly lacking in that department. I will always be playing catch up. I will always be somewhat late to the party. But I will get there eventually by my own very unique route.  

Whatever you're up to tonight, be safe and have fun! Just being with friends and family, with some good food is enough. We all know this is a slightly overrated occasion. But hopefully you've got the right people around you for a decent farewell to 2014 and a jolly welcoming of 2015. Sod the usual routine of promising to diet and exercise and all that nonsense. If you can and do, great, but no use in pressuring yourself from the off. Why not instead, just promise to read more books. Surely that is a New Year's promise that everyone can get on board with. 

All the best. 


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Going East To Go South: The Journey Home

Well, if you haven’t heard – and if you haven’t, you must have been hiding under the Christmas Tree in a semi-comatose state – there were some pretty hefty delays and major fuck ups with train travel yesterday, up and down the UK.

It really does read like The Diary of a Wimpy Country. I mean come on, some places had about an inch, maybe two inches of snow. Did it really warrant this much disaster news broadcasting and road closures and delays? Come on Britain. It’s not the first time and it sure as hell won’t be the last time the white stuff falls, but every time it does you’d think we were stuck in the movie, The Day After Tomorrow.

It’s winter. Winter is cold. Sometimes it’s cold enough for snow. Winter comes once every year, therefore there is a possibility of snow each year. Granted it doesn’t always happen – except for maybe the highlands of Scotland – but there’s always a chance. And yet Britain have nothing in place. They are always ill prepared and act as though we’re really put out by it.

Just compare our snow plight to that of the US last month and there really is no contest.

Anyhoo, back to the trains. So we all knew about King’s Cross being shut due to over running engineering works, thanks to the BBC and ITV’s news bulletins, but was anyone actually surprised? Has there ever been a year when the works didn’t overrun? At least Virgin were up front and said services would be out until the 29th , giving them a more realistic 5 days to do works, rather than 2 days. Come on, realistic targets people.

We were actually quite lucky – or so I thought – as our train was going in to St Pancras and therefore wasn’t affected by the closure or the overrunning works, but unfortunately it meant we had to go from Manchester to Sheffield in order to go down to London, and guess where the snow hit worst? Oh, you’ve got it, between Manchester and Sheffield. Cue delays, signal failures, cancellations and screen information fuck ups. Merry Christmas.

We’d been checking all day to see how the trains were going and almost all the trains between Manchester and Sheffield were delayed, so we expected to be late and almost expected to miss our connection but there was still that ounce of hope, especially when it turned out our train actually was on time, and we managed to get our seats and our luggage stowed. Wow! Or so we thought………

We made it to Stockport and the next stop on time and then came the 30 minutes of going nowhere, with no announcements and no apologies and basically no information. We knew we’d majorly missed our connection at Sheffield and would have to wait around half an hour once we eventually arrived. So what was a ranter to do in this situation, when faced with half an hour of going nowhere......? She planned her next blog of course, and adapted the words of a couple of Christmas songs too:

(To the tune of Deck the Halls)
Delayed trains because of snow. Fa la la la la la la choo choo.
‘Tis the season to be pissed off. Fa la la la la la la choo choo.
That’s my seat, wait, no reservations. La la la la la la la choo choo.
Where the fuck can I fit my case? Fa la la la la la la choo choo.

I’m quite fond of that one, but I also came up with this gem to the tune of Walking in a Winter Wonderland:

Gone away are the schedules
Here to stay are the delays
You’ll miss your next train
Ee, it’s a bloody pain
Riding on a Christmas delayed train.

Clearly this was a very productive use of my delay time.

I think the biggest slap in the face of the day, which actually wasn’t a slap in my face, thankfully, was the announcement at Manchester Piccadilly that the 16.16 to Edinburgh had left on time, but due to the wrong information on the screens, most people missed it. Say what? And this announcement only came about 20 minutes after the train had left leaving a lot of pissed off people awaiting a train that had already gone. Come on. There were already cancellations and delays left right and centre and then you go and fuck up the platform number on the screens, meaning that a train that actually was on time was missing half of its passengers. Well done. Well done.

So back to Sheffield......As we were exiting our first train, a lady who was travelling alone and was severely pissed off, began a rant of her own. She just needed to offload and I was the next available person. I agreed and nodded at the appropriate points and made comments like, ‘it’s ridiculous,’ and ‘they didn’t even apologise,’ as well as plenty of ‘I know. I know.’ Bless her. She then wished me a happy new year and a safe journey. I wouldn’t like to be the person on the end of the phone or email when she applies for her refund. Eeshk. Just give her anything she wants.

Anyhoo, when we eventually made it to Sheffield, the next train was coming in about 20 minutes and the platform was busying up. Then it was delayed by 17 minutes, then 20 minutes, then back down to 18 minutes. Then the train supposed to be after this train took over and was going to arrive first, then it changed to only 12 minutes late and the other train had to change platform. Fun and games at Sheffield station.

Once on the train we picked up a couple of minutes extra delay but it was fairly quiet and plain sailing into London. And we were only an hour later than our scheduled train, but it felt like longer. It had taken around five hours to get home, more than double the usual time, but you do come to expect these things around Christmas time. Still, I know a lot of people had it much worse than us and I have to say the lady train manager on our final train to London was very apologetic and kept us updated of arrival times and any further delays, and like she said it was more the knock on effect than anything else, as the trains had been delayed all day and it pushed almost every service off track.

I hope everyone managed to get where they intended to, eventually. 

One final end rant. How hard is it to write a blog on an aeroplane? Yes, this blog has been written in the air from London to Bologna, as we had only a mere 9 hours in Flat 19 before setting out for Stansted and out flight to Italy to see A’s family. I’ve been juggling note pads, the lap top, porridge and money and the inability to see the screen well enough. Not the best writing conditions, but it’s done now, blog number 198. Getting closer to the big 200.

If you are travelling today, I hope you have a more pleasant experience, though I highly doubt it. And I hope the train companies pull their fingers out and finish the damn works.

Until next time, enjoy the build up to 2015. I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna be a mega year!


Monday, December 1, 2014

Rants Vs NaNoWriMo and Small Towns

Well it's freakin' December. How the feck did that happen? One minute it's Halloween and I'm dressed as a geisha witch, and the next its perfume adverts and people getting gooey over the John Lewis advert and far too many renditions of jingle bells for one lifetime. So what happened in between?

Ah, it was that pesky NaNoWriMo, and for those of you thinking this is the wordiest acronym ever - you'd be right - it stands for National Novel Writing Month, the object being to challenge yourself to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Crazy right? Yeah. I did it!

You do tend to feel like you bypassed a month of everyone else's year, like November somehow didn't exist for you because you were in another world, your fictional world and therefore it shouldn't count. 

Keeping up with social media and friends was tricky but doable. But going out to work or study became more inconvenient than ever. What happens when you're in the throes of an amazing scene and then you have to leave the house, or your train journey ends, or someone wants to talk to you? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

It does give you a strange discipline and a weird feeling of control. Knowing that you have a deadline is a thing most unpublished writers - like myself - don't tend to adhere to, so this is a great grounding for working up to a deadline and the art of doing a bit each day, no matter whether it is 100 words or 4000 words. The point is that you're making progress day by day and that it is all adding to the bigger picture.

It also makes you realise what you can achieve in a short amount of time, whilst also working/studying/living. You don't have to give up everything, you just have to get up a little earlier, or write in your lunch break, or write late at night, or for that hour in between teaching jobs. Stolen moments here and there can produce a few hundred words and set you up nicely for the next scene.

For instance, during NaNoWriMo:

I attended Stream, the first South London Book Festival. I took my laptop with me and wrote over a 1000 words in between two panels.

I wrote 2 blogs on my rantsofabitternortherner blog.

I read 7 books.

I went to a dinner party and a Sunday lunch all in the same weekend.

I spent two nights babysitting.

I travelled up to Nottingham to stay with some friends, writing on both my train journey there and back.

And I spent two days away in Basel, Switzerland for my tenth anniversary with my partner A.

And in the whole month there was only one day where I did no words at all.

So really, you can still live and work and play and travel and blog and eat and maybe even get a bit of sleep, you can earn money and write a complete novel in a month. I know it because I've done it along with thousands of other people around the world. Congratulations to everyone who took part. I know it's made me a better writer for it. And it is the completion of my fourth YA novel, which is a hefty achievement.

It's definitely something I would do again, though I do have a couple of quibbles. Why November? It is a month with only 30 days. A month with 31 would be even better. And also it gives you that kind of blackout feeling, like you lost a month somewhere, which on the lead up to Christmas and the end of the year is quite shocking, because you go to sleep on Halloween night and wake up on the 1st December with your advent calendar gleaming. But you do have a 50000 word novel too. My main issue was fitting in runs/workouts, but I think that's probably a bit of laziness on my part. Still, it's nice to have a reason/something to blame. Oh yeah, I put on a bit of weight, but I wrote a novel in a month so deal with the love handles, alright!

Okay, backtracking slightly, I have an issue when we go away for a weekend break to a small town/city in Europe, though it can happen on our longer holidays in the States as well. I don't know if anyone else experiences the same thing, especially if you're from London, but it goes something like this:

*clears throat* You arrive at your destination, probably having flown Ryanair and having picked the destination because of the proximity of the airport to the city centre/town centre. You make your way to the accommodation, and if you're anything like us you will have booked a cute flat on air bnb with cooking facilities because let's face it it's a month before Christmas and Switzerland is expensive. So you arrive there and the very nice artsy lady who owns the flat shows you in and tells you it's very small and we say that's fine we have a small flat in London. And then here it comes:

You have come from London? Why?

Er. Why do you go anywhere? To travel. To see new things. Because it's cheap to get to. Because there's a Christmas Market. Because we haven't been there before. Etc. Etc. I don't think I need to go on.

And then you get the classic: It's very small compared to London.

No. Really? And I thought every city was just as big. Oh My God. I hate that so much. We live in London and we know how big it is, sometimes it's nice to escape somewhere smaller, or just to experience something different. I know I'm an ignorant Brit at times, but I am aware that London is a freakin' massive City. I do not expect nor want every place I visit to be on the same scale. I visit smaller places for a different feel but also to do as much as you can in a short break. If everywhere was as big as London, you would have to go for a month to get anything out of it. It's crazy. And it bugs the freakin' life out of me. As you may have gathered.

We get it sometimes in the States as well, but that tends to be pure disbelief when we visit smaller cities/towns, because they see London as so far away and so different that they can't imagine why people would want to visit. But in everything, variety is key. And going somewhere different and doing something different is the whole point of holidays and travelling. To get out there and do something new and meet new people and try new food and explore cultures and traditions that are different to your own, and to eat massive sausages at Christmas markets. Mmmmm. Bratwurst. 

I digress. 

Anyhoo. NaNoWriMo done. Small towns covered. I think it's time to go. 


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Beakin' My Balls And Breakin' My Bells......

The original title of this blog was going to be: Death of baby animals - the reason for which will become clear later - but I thought that might put people off. And besides, I wanted to begin with a rant about this hellish Wednesday.

You know how it goes, it starts off small with the District line - for the third week in a row experiencing signal failures resulting in severely delayed services in and out of Earl's Court, meaning I have to set off earlier in order to make my first class. And then it's the first Toddler class - which has been broken about as long as the District line. Have you ever tried to teach a class of six under 2 and half, one of which has decided she now wants to cry and scream and snot all the way through her lessons? No? Well I highly recommend it especially if you have no patience and a penchant for throwing things. I of course have neither of these things and still I had a strong urge to walk out and never return. Breakin' my balls!

It doesn't help that the teachers are in and out, setting up activities around the room, as I'm trying to focus them and start an activity of my own. Scream-a-lot won't stop, she just wants to go to her teacher, but I need her to snap out of that otherwise this will be my Wednesday, every Wednesday. So I sit her on my knee whilst the other kids essentially run around with the instruments, not listening or doing anything remotely constructive, and start messing around with whatever else they can get their tiny little hands on. I've never been more certain of upping the age of my classes, as I was after that farce of a lesson.

But then just to break my spirit further, at my next school in the preschool class of all classes, one of the children destroys one of the instruments right in front of me, pulling the ringer out of the bell where it now hangs limply never to serve its purpose again - or maybe it will if I can find a way to re-spring a spring, if you get what I mean? Needless to say, my nice act dropped for a few minutes and my grumpy back up act took over. Hilariously though, the other children were telling off the child that had broken the bell, wanting to pretend to be the teacher. I felt like saying, here, you take over, please. I would quite happily have played the kid today and have someone else teach the little monsters.

Oh yeah, and one of the new kids, pinched me really hard. He literally pinched an inch of my slightly plump gut. Thanks for reminding me I need to work out, little savage.

So with broken balls, a broken spirit and a broken instrument, I make my way home, only to encounter crazy abusive guy on the train. He strolled in from the next carriage, slamming the door several times. It was the same sound the windows make on a bus when you open and close them, but of course there are no windows on the tube that open. So then he walked past loads of vacant seats to my part of the carriage and sat fairly quiet, just occasionally talking to himself. Then when he gets off, he starts effin' and jeffin' at another guy waiting to alight, getting right up in his face for no reason and storms off. Luckily the guy also getting off was clearly a) confused and b) placid enough to take a step back and just realise there was a problem there. Other people may have given a shove or a punch, but luckily I didn't have to witness a brawl, I might have started using instruments as weapons.

Okay, so Wednesday hasn't been particularly kind to me, but I did swing past the library and pick up some swag, all before arriving home to the wrong Veronica Mars Season 2 disc. Damn it. Disc 3 should have come yesterday but didn't, and guess what arrived today? Disc 4. Bugger. I need to find out what happens. Hellish, hellish, Wednesday. It just means we'll have to watch another Life Story episode.........

Which brings me nicely to my next rant. Anyone been watching the Grim Reaper's new series: Death of baby animals? Sorry, you might know it as: David Attenborough's: Life Story. Spoiler alert: loads of baby/adolescent animals die.

The first episode was harrowing, especially the kamikaze geese, and it was followed up with a dead Tiger in episode two, amongst other deaths. It is tempting to create a rather macabre drinking game out of it. Every time an animal dies, drink!

We love you David Attenborough, but you just keep killing off our favourite characters. You get us all attached and then, bam, they're gone. Oh, all the eaten baby birds still in their eggs. I feel I must clarify, it's not actually Mr Attenborough killing them off, it's their families, or their predators, but it's freakin' edge of your seat stuff, and more harrowing than half the horror films I've seen, I'm talking cushion cuddling, feet hiding the screen sort of viewing. High peril rating.

Still, it won't stop us watching more tonight - damn Veronica Mars disc 3 - and it won't stop A flapping over all the cute animals, until they're torn to pieces in front of him.

I hope your Wednesday's have been kinder to you than mine was. But, it did give me all this ammunition for a blog, which makes me slightly happier because I came home and wrote and now I'm going to continue to write some of my NaNoWriMo entry, and by the time A comes home, I might be in a fit state to socialise.

Here's hoping Thursday isn't quite as much of a bitch.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

STREAM 2014 - The First South London Book Festival

The date: Saturday 8th November. The venue: Streatham and Clapham High School. The event: Stream. The first South London Book Festival.

With slight trepidation I entered the gates of the grand, all-girls school, trying not to have too many traumatic high school flashbacks, only to be greeted and accompanied by children of all ages and their parents, and not only that but some extremely giddy children desperate to clap eyes on their favourite writer, or illustrator.

I wish events like these had been around when I was a child. Though there has always been something rather mystical for me about the author. I've always seen the author as a picture in the back of a book, a face to associate with the stories you love, or hate, of course. A mystery. But nowadays, it's all about being out there and engaging with your audience, beyond the mere pages of your book. They want to know what you look like, probably want to touch you to make sure you're real. They want to ask you questions and want you to sign their books. They want a picture of you to show their friends and preserve the memory. They no longer allow the author to live in a cave shut away from the world, creating. The audience demands a more hands on, face on approach and it certainly isn't hurting.

Children's and YA books are booming. And with events like these it is not difficult to see why. How inspiring is it to hear your favourite author talk about their craft? How spectacular is it to see your favourite illustrator drawing right in front of you? These events are not only giving children an opportunity to engage with their favourite authors, but they are opening up more children to the magic of creation and storytelling. I feel there will be more and more children and young adults aspiring to be writers and illustrators, and with schools starting to offer Creative writing at GCSE level, it is another encouraging step towards an inclusive curriculum of creation and academics and life skills.

Boasting a huge variety of children's authors from all over the country, with events and activities for children aged 3 all the way up to teen and YA, Stream literally had something for everyone.

Now being one of very few independent writers/YA fans/ bloggers there, and having no children in sight and also not being a child or YA - sadly - myself, I did stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, but I was not about to let that deter me from a day of exciting talks, panels and some wise words from some lovely authors.

My day was geared around YA, though I know that there were some fantastic authors for younger children, including Nicholas Allan, Lauren Child, Mo O'Hara and Chris Riddell, to name a few.

So I of course kicked off with the wondrous legend of literature, defender of libraries and all around incredible author: Malorie Blackman. I have seen her speak before and can honestly say I could not pass up the opportunity to hear her again. Such enthusiasm for her craft and the people she writes for. Such encouraging words and belief in those wanting to follow in her footsteps. And definitely someone who makes you down right belly laugh.

Malorie Blackman in conversation with Guardian Children's Editor Emily Drabble.

I have pages of notes from this talk but I won't bore you will every sinew. It was however, interesting to hear about her upbringing and how a lack of fiction at home sent her looking for fiction elsewhere. She found it in her local library, where she would escape at the weekends and read as broadly as she could. She was and presumably still is a self-confessed day dreamer, an attribute that is not compulsory for writers, but I can say, certainly helps.

Crap quality, but I promise you that is Malorie and Emily. 

She talked about the 82 rejection letters she received before getting her first book published, paling my 7 rejections into insignificance. She was so determined this was the right path for her that she promised not to give up until her 1000th rejection. I'm not sure I want to set my sights so high, as I think a further 993 rejections might just kill me, but I see where she was going with this. She didn't want to give up on her dream, and by setting a ludicrous failure mark, so far off in the distance, she was almost removing her chances of failure. Her philosophy was: 'If they don't like this one, they'll like the next one.'

Malorie was happy to discuss many of her books, and especially subjects of race within her Noughts and Crosses series. It was a subject she put off through the first 49 books, as she felt, 'people would presume as a black person, I could only write about race.' But by the 50th book she was ready. In the end what happened was that people took that idea of two factions in conflict and took it to fit their own lives. They would liken it to Catholics and Protestants, or other religious and cultural sectors that were in conflict. It wasn't just about colour it was about so much more and that resonated with its readers all over the world.

Malorie also admitted that being the Children's Laureate was hard work and yes it did take time away from writing and reading, but it also gave her more time to encourage teens to read and to work with that age group. It gave her the time and opportunity to campaign for local libraries and reiterate their importance to communities up and down the country.

Before the Q&A session, we had a brief insight into Malorie and her love of comics and graphic novels. She spoke about there still being certain stigma around graphic based books and how they are often seen as less than a novel. But if that is what gets people excited about reading, why should it be questioned? The idea is for every child to be reading something and there is no right or wrong selection. Read what you like, there is something out there for everyone and once you find your way in to the world of books, there is a never ending labyrinth of possibilities that will keep you entertained.

The kids in the audience had some great questions, including: If you had a time machine, where would you go? In which Malorie replied, 500 years in the future. She answered questions about writer's block, editing, new projects and how she never has any problem finishing a book as she always plans ahead.

What a remarkable lady with such infectious enthusiasm. The crowd were hanging on her every word and the children were so giddy they had stunned themselves into silence.

The Teen Thriller: How Far Can You Go?

My next event was an interesting panel with the lovely authors: Rachel Ward, Sophia Bennett, Sam Hepburn and James Dawson. This was of particular interest to me as I am currently working on two thriller novels, one of which has strong horror overtones.

From L to R: Sophia Bennett, James Dawson, Rachel Ward and Sam Hepburn. And the chair of the event, who I apologise I didn't catch the name of and it wasn't printed in the programme. Sorry. 

Before the panel it became clear I was the only adult not with one of the authors and not with any children. I strangely felt like a naughty school girl caught out of class, or somehow trapped in the wrong class. But luckily the librarian of the school came to chat, as she too was probably wondering what on earth I was doing there by myself. Once I admitted I was an author and YA fan here for research, she was very sweet and even asked my name to look out for me in the future. (Only 75 rejections to go. Ha ha.)

Each author introduced their latest books and gave a brief outline of the story, minimal spoilers, before the questions and discussions began. They all had very different approaches to their novels, as you would expect, and it was interesting to really explore those differences through the panel questions, but see how there is no right or wrong way of working as a writer, it just has to be the way that suits you.

Influences: Conscious or subconscious?

Sophia told us how her books usually involve an issue she is very angry about, alongside something she finds fascinating, and that her stories always manifest around the two ideas.

James revealed that for his latest Horror YA - Say Her Name - he was heavily influenced by Korean, Japanese and Thai horror films, and that he was determined to scare himself and in the process his readers, after a friend had claimed that 'nothing modern can be scary.'

Rachel admitted that she tended not to read around her subject matter as she wanted to write in as air tight a vacuum as she could. She 'didn't want to know what everyone else was writing, she simply wanted to write her own book.' But she also said that whilst your influences might not always be obvious, you are inspired by the world around you and that 'things can stick in there and pop out unexpectedly.'

Sam said she was interested in 'extraordinary things happening close to home', and 'how people change in different circumstances.'

Dysfunctional Characters. Bleak Backgrounds. 

In this discussion the authors all agreed that to get rid of the parents was to set the characters free on their journey or adventure. James added that 'there are two things that aren't scary: mobile phones and parents. Get rid of them. And never trust a teacher.' They also revealed they had quite loving and ordinary childhoods, but that their characters were often faced with very difficult situations and homes that aren't safe. The idea being that readers could explore these difficult situations within the safe environment of the book.

Strong bonds between two characters.

No matter how bleak the outlook, there has to be some seed of hope for our character and that usually arrives or is rooted in their bond with another character, whether real or imagined, animal or human.
James discussed the idea of female friendships in his books and how he prefers a friendship to be established before any romantic notions are thrown in the way, as quite often female characters are fighting against each other, mainly for the attention of a boy, and not working to strengthen their friendships or establish new ones.
Sophia told of the friendships in her books actually driving the story forward, and that they were rarely of a romantic nature. She also admitted a love for writing dialogue ensuring that she would always have at least two characters so she could write cool dialogue.

Chunky Novels/Tablets/Attention Span

Sophia and James revealed short attention spans and being impatient readers. They want fast paced, short chapters and to be gripped from the word go, which in turn influences how they themselves write. They also discussed the term: page turner, and how it is often used negatively, but what else would you want your book to be? If no one is turning the page, then no one is reading your story.
Rachel said 'it's about finding the right book for the right person,' and that it doesn't matter whether they are reading it on a tablet or a kindle or in paperback, if they have found something that suits them, then that is all that matters. Sam reiterated that reading a book rather than messing on your phone, or playing games or texting, offers them 'a different treat' and she didn't think children or young adults would be deterred by a chunky novel.

What is too far?

The final question for the panel was about how far you could go in YA and whether there were any subjects they would bow out of and why.

Sam started off that she thought it was 'the way a subject was dealt with, rather than the subject matter itself' that was the issue. Sophia added that she sometimes had to 'tone things down' as suggested by her agent or editor. James said he had to be 'wary of not sacrificing the story', but also that there's nothing he wouldn't do. He said there will always be an element of humour and slapstick within his books and that he will do 'whatever is right for the book' he is writing. Rachel admitted that swearing was an issue for her, and that she was always being told to tone it down, even when she felt it was integral to the story. She wanted it to be 'believable but not offensive' and so there is often a hybrid somewhere between the two. She says 'the issues are there in context' and that things shouldn't be sanitized, they should be as real as you can make them.

James added that there is badness happening in the world, and horrible situations, isn't it better that teens be able to explore and feel about them in a safe environment where they are in control of it? And Sam finished off by saying that every fairy tale is based on something darker than the watered down versions we give to children now. The original ending of sleeping beauty was her waking up as she was giving birth to twins. Now that's something to think about.

The Q&A brought up further discussions on scaring yourself as a writer and whether that helps convince you that you will scare the reader. The authors also talked about modifying their plot when working with an editor, and admitted that they all needed their editors as they help to make the book the best it can possibly be.

A fantastic panel with very relevant advice for any writers in the YA genre and definitely some interesting things to take away from the session.

Teen Issues

My final panel of the day was the somewhat unusual: Teen Issues Game Show: Tissues for Issues.
James Dawson was back as chair and game show host, joined by a dazzling array of literary ladies:
Isobel Harrop, Non Pratt, Lil Chase and Keren David.

From L to R: Non Pratt, Keren David, James Dawson, Lil Chase and Isobel Harrop.

The idea was that teens from the audience and from the school had submitted some of their current 'Teen Issues' and the panellists were there to offer advice and hopefully solve that issue, which would result in the winning of a packet of tissues.

The panel covered a wide range of very current issues and some sadly recurring ones that have been plaguing teens for generations. It was great to have lots of teens in the audience, who were able to share their own experiences and discuss the issues with the panel.

The issues were as follows:

Issue 1: Jennifer Lawrence/Online Protection

Issue 2: Trolling (Online bullying)

Issue 3: Is 20 Years too long? (For the boy who stabbed his teacher.)

Issue 4: Street Harassment

Issue 5: Should I come out at school?

I won't go into depth on the responses for each issue as the blog is fast becoming novella length, but I will say what an interesting and very different panel it was, and I hope to see more events like this where current and very new issues raised by the constant innovation in technology and the see and hear everything world that we live in, are explored and discussed.

The environment allowed the freedom to discuss without judgement or criticism, just a forum to explore ideas and issues that teens may not feel comfortable talking to other adults about, and it was a complete success. Keren David was the winner of most tissues, with a whopping three packets. Well done Keren and the rest of the panel.

Stream conclusions:

From the general vibe floating around the halls, there were some very impressed parents, children, and authors. It was a great success and will hopefully be something that is continued for years to come, allowing authors to engage with their audiences, allowing children to see and touch and speak to the genius behind their favourite books, and for parents to share it with them.

It would have been beneficial for more teens to attend the Teen Issues panel, but then there were other panels, signings and workshops happening at the same time, so it was understandable that not everyone could be everywhere.

As usual I was the ghost like entity, walking the halls alone, recording my notes quietly on a seat near the back, conversing with only one author, one librarian and the guys who made my delicious lamb wrap - did I mention the food in the court yard? A fabulous selection of vegan, vegetarian, meat loving, sweet, savoury and coffee - in the whole day. But sometimes observing these things from behind a veil is the best way to really see them. And what I saw was a successful day of literary loveliness and the start of something new.

Many thanks to all the organisers and Streatham and Clapham Girls School for hosting the event. Thank you to all the authors who made a lot of children very happy, and thanks you to every one's favourite Children's Laureate: Malorie Blackman for making sure I don't give up any time soon!


Friday, October 24, 2014

It Should Have Been Nice......

I thought it would be nice to go for a run this evening, especially after two days of tidying and recycling and culling and discarding. (I filled three massive bags with things from my past, general clutter and so many files full of crap it's slightly unbelievable.) But I forgot to factor in the people. Come on Helen, remember the people. 

I weirdly enjoyed the run part of the outing. My legs felt good, my breathing was going well enough to not give me stitch status, and the temperature was just right. It was when I had to stop on the way back to go food shopping where it all went wrong. 

Firstly there's the guy who decided he could jump in front of me in the queue with his two bottles of wine. Then there's the freakin' self service machine - okay, technically not a person - which asked me to weigh the product but then asked for store log in. Why didn't it just ask for someone to weigh it, it obviously didn't trust me. But it was funny when the guy assisting the self service checkouts was trying to play the cocktail bartender and dropped one of the bottles of wine. Lucky it didn't smash as I was closest to him, and boy would that have made it all better.

Then the walk back with the heavy bag just had me wondering if anyone watches where they're going? I had to have thousands of eyes to watch what everyone else was doing. They just plough through and I'm dodging and dipping and chicane-ing and apologising. Yes, apologising, when I was the one looking where I was going.

I had children running into me and then again me apologising. Watch where you're going, there's only so much avoiding I can do. 

Then there was the guy who almost walked me off the kerb. I was already keeping my distance, giving people a wide berth and he comes and walks so close beside me, I almost fall in the road. What the actual fuck? Then I turn the corner and there are two people, head in phones, that I have to traverse around by jumping into the road. Then more in, out, in, out, in, out dodging. What is this, sheep dog trials? (One man and his dog. You know what I mean.) Crufts? 

Then don't get me started on the bloody bikes on the pavements. AHHHHHHHH! Get out of my way. People on pavements please. Vehicles on the road. 

Man I should have run further. The people weren't ticking me off then, but walking with I should have arrived back all in pain and tired and sweaty - which I did - but I was also annoyed and tense and riled up. If I had feathers they would be significantly ruffled. 

Good job I don't need to leave the house again until tomorrow, for a wedding. Eek. Maybe somehow I'll regain the ability to accept people, by tomorrow..........If not, there's always alcohol, a great connector of people. 

Okay, I'm beginning to calm down now. Writing can do that to you. It's like the annoyance goes all through your body until it is ready to leave, via your fingertips and into the computer. Or, if you are writing with a pen, then it it travels through your fingertips to the ink and onto the paper. The emotion/idea/scene comes out of you and onto the page, freeing you up for more angst, anger, annoyance or preferably something a little nicer. I guess that's why writing can be so damn powerful. 

Okay this little ranter needs to shower. Now that I've calmed down somewhat, it's time to wash away any residual AHHHHHHHH. Shower gel is pretty good for that too. 

Only one week until Halloween! Yay!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Back to.......

Back to reality. Back to work. Back to life. Back to normality - whatever the hell that is. Back to the UK and a shit load of rain. Back to being dark at 6.30. Back to layers. Back from holiday.

After just over two weeks of fires in airport control towers, crazy tall buildings, Amtrak trains, fire alarms going off in hotels at 5am, nice people genuinely interested in where you're from and what you do, copious amounts of football (American), baseball and basketball, and more Country music than you could stack up and fit inside the State Capital of Wisconsin - believe me, it's massive - this ranter is back!

And it's only once you're back in your own world, that you fully realise the extent of the differences between your world and the one you just returned from.

So 16 days away and 12 of them with a car, a luxury and novelty for us, but also a safe haven from bears, wolves and other wildlife, a place to eat, a shelter from the rain and a storage tank for moving around large suitcases. This also meant 12 days of US radio and I have to admit mainly Country music blasting out and a lot of singing along.

Now, back in London, it's odd to have to censor myself and not sing aloud to my iPod as I wander to the bus stop. And speaking of buses, if they're not packed to the rafters, they're on di-bloody-version.

In the states they have it as state law that vehicles yield to pedestrians at crossings, and they have signs at each one that says it. Well come on Britain, wake up! We need this too. There are way too many tossers on the road who don't stop at crossings, even if you have children with you.

And don't get me started on the jet lag. It's more like jet push, shove, spin, suck and spit out again. Though granted that isn't quite as catchy. The time fairy really did a number on me this time, taking hours, giving them back. I wonder if she ever gets confused? It would be hilarious if she fecked up and had excess hours or not enough, or completely screwed up the time zones, or completely eradicated the time zones. Yes. I'm weird.

Things I miss from the holiday:

  • More eagles than I thought actually existed. 
  • Seeing wolves, foxes, chipmunks and deer out out in the wild. 
  • Loads of big ass birds of prey.
  • The fall colours. And yes, I know I said fall, but after two weeks of hearing little else, it kinda sticks in there. (Autumn)
  • The US obsession with fall. I share it, and have come home with so many fall and Halloween decorations and cards and stuff. (Autumn)
  • Maple Syrup and pancakes. Mmmmmm.
  • People telling me to have a nice day. Nobody here gives a crap about my day, and even if they don't, at least they lie convincingly. 
  • People thanking me just for entering a shop, looking around and not buying anything. They actually thank you just for stopping by, instead of giving you the eye like they expect you to ship lift, and making you feel uncomfortable. Thanks. 
  • Exploring and relaxing in somebody else's world. 

Things I won't miss:

  • Road kill. Never seen so many squished animals, blood and guts everywhere. 
  • Burnt out/abandoned motels and houses. So many. So creepy!
  • Political adverts and the voice overs used for them. So condescending.
  • Diet adverts and the voice overs used for them. So laughably unrealistic. 
  • Draughty, hole in the floor toilets. But sometimes you're out in the woods and you gotta pee. Draughty bum time. 
  • Godzilla size portions at meal times. Man it's a good job we found some 'lighter' options after we left Chicago, otherwise I'd be at least two stone heavier. 

Okay, this ranter is hungry and can smell the cooking from the kitchen - not difficult, the kitchen is in the living room and about two metres away. A huge thanks to everyone that read the Kate Bush blogs, they have had over 1300 views between them and I am over the moon about it.

It's good to be back to reality, back to my book, back to my flat, back to friends and family, and back to Virgin Trains offering me a free upgrade for my journey up North on Friday. Winner.

See, sometimes it's good to be back, you never know what you'll return to but isn't that part of the adventure.............?


Friday, September 26, 2014

KT 4: A Restricted View

The final time. When you know it's the final time you'll see and hear something - at least until the live DVD comes out, hopefully in time for Christmas. When you know this is it. No more.......

Shame that's the night all the tall people came, and they all had seats in front of me. Hard to connect fully with something when you have to keep constantly ducking and weaving around the melon shape of the massive head in front of you, blocking out all but two thin slivers of the stage. And it wasn't like we were standing, this was circle seating and not far from where I had sat at KT 2 or KT 3. I guess my luck had to run out sometime.

Katie lived up to her enigma status as she disappeared and reappeared whenever I could duck around bighead long enough to catch a glimpse. She became this tiny creature caught between two people's necks, or seen through two people's heads. I'd lose her and then find her again, with always her voice as a guide.

I did have a slight urge to decapitate the person in front of me, but I think that might have had something to do with the zombie book I'd been reading.

Unfortunately, it did become - at times - like watching a huge screen with part of the screen censored, and it was difficult to feel completely connected with the first half as I was too busy having to sit up, or slouch back, or peek around someone, to actually let it flow through me. Sometimes I closed my eyes and imagined what was happening on stage, fitting the image together from my memories of the first three times.

But Kate still managed to pull some tears from me, after all, this time was different. This was saying goodbye, admitting that I wouldn't be coming next week to see Kate again. This was farewell to the goddess of song, and hopefully not for another 35 years.

The theme of nature running through the whole show had me thinking of Kate in terms of a Mother Nature figure. Can't think of anyone better really. Our bare footed bush. Bush the bird. Bush the blackbird, more specifically. And if you haven't seen the ending and you're waiting for the DVD, think the art work from Never for Ever.

In a way I feel I have said most of what I want to say about this amazing woman, her fellowship and her fantastic show. Every night has held its own wonder and enchantment, and even with a restricted view this time, I shed a tear, I sang along, and Kate shared her vision with each and every one of us.

With only four dates left, it's coming to the end for Before the Dawn. Maybe Kate will disappear into obscurity again, or maybe just maybe, this positive experience for her and her family, will lead to more shows, or at least some public appearances. Don't disappear Kate. Now we've seen you, we want you around more. No one sees the world quite like you, and no one tells a story quite like you.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

KT 3: The Collective Experience

No two performances are identical. It's an impossibility. It doesn't matter if you have the same set list, night after night, or perform the same show day after day, there are always things that work one night that don't another. There are always moments that rock one time, and the next barely register. There are so many factors that affect this: mood of the cast, tiredness, being in the zone, distractions, illness etc. But one major factor is the audience. That is one thing that will certainly change every single night. You will never have identical reactions to something because everyone has their own experience and they will vary, even if that person came every night, because it's not just about you, one person in the crowd, it's about the collective experience.

On Friday I returned to the Apollo at Hammersmith - the journey becoming ingrained now - for my third KT Fellowship production of Before the Dawn. Now you're probably wondering what I'm going to be able to say that's different to the other two blogs, but there is always something to say.......

In the spirit of the opening song: Lily, from The Red Shoes album 1993, I changed the chorus lyrics for who was around me, because Block 4 in the Apollo was buzzing that night and it was the people around me that enriched the whole experience.

Tall guy before me
Knowledge guy behind me
Moustache to my right
Young kid on my left side
In the circle, Apollo

You know what it's like when you're at a seated gig and everyone is still? No one is moving and it feels like you're watching a box, not being immersed in some one's music and really fully experiencing it? I've had that countless times, and no matter how much you jig in your chair, if no one else is quite feeling it, then it affects your experience too. But not this night. Not Friday 19th September in Block 4 of the Circle at the Apollo. The atmosphere was insane and everyone was up for it.

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder, and it had actually been 17 days since the last time I saw Katie - I know, so long - and I could not stop smiling. And yes it was because the whole show is a triumph and her voice is strong and pure and melodically mesmerising, but it was more than that. I couldn't stop smiling because I had a fourteen year old kid sat next to me, who was loving every second and was barely still for a moment. I had a guy who went to the original tour in '79 in Manchester, sat on the other side of me, singing along to the songs, like I was. And behind us we had the walking, talking biography of everything Kate Bush - you get one at every gig - filling his friends in on every little detail and belting out the songs.

It was definitely a collective feeling, a feeling of community and shared experience, and it was also sprinkled with people on their second, or like me, their third visit. So there was more understanding, more connection with the piece as a whole, but there was also the joy of the stunned silences, watching as those first timers had no idea what was coming next. Part of the joy of Friday was listening to the people laugh, in exactly the places I'd laughed the first time, to see them charmed and shocked and embracing all of these emotions, as well as feeling every moment, as Kate did.

And this atmosphere that rocked the house also expanded on to the stage. It really is a shared experience. If your audience is happy, odds on you're going to give it some more, and push yourself and expose yourself and just give a little more. And Kate absolutely owned it! She was having so much fun and you could see her almost shock at how well it was still going down after 15 dates - this originally would have been closing night. Don't be shocked Kate. If you bring it, we bring it, and we all brought it.

Another aspect of this collective space is the interval and the discussions that erupt all around you like mini geysers. I had people asking me why I was jotting things down and if I was writing an article or something. Then of course we started discussing how we became fans, what we thought of the show, etc. There was knowledge guy behind me, still sprouting all the Kate Bush trivia he could at anyone that would listen. Kinda sweet really. Then you had the people that were so stunned and blown away that they could barely speak. They just watched the red feather curtain and just about managed to breathe.

One thing I think every person in the room agreed on was the lack of air conditioning becoming a problem. My god. if you weren't heavily perspiring then you must be the devil incarnate, because it was pretty darn toasty in there. And getting out afterwards was a nightmare - thank you to the guy who rudely stamped all over my feet and then didn't apologise, manners don't cost a thing, rude boy.

I think even Kate was astonished by the standing ovation for the entirety of her final song, and the fact that the applause never died down, She kept thanking us and we in turn continued to thank her. We would have happily stayed another twenty minutes or so, but she eventually got rid of us by wishing us a safe journey, thanking us once more and then running off stage.

Best Said By Bush

There are just some words or phrases in this world that are so much better said by Kate Bush, or sung by her of course. Here are some of my favourites from Friday:

  • 'Shit hot band,' and 'shit hot singers.'

Somehow these words beautifully enunciated by Kate really do take on a whole other meaning. But she really does have a shit hot band and she in turn is shit hot. She speaks the truth.

  • 'Blackbird.' 

The way this is sung in Waking the Witch and the other recurring times it is used as a linking tool, just raise the goose bumps. It's a call, it's a scream, it's a wail. It's pain and suffering and hope all in one word, and it's chilling!

  • 'Cloudburst,' and 'Tempest.' During Hello Earth - The Ninth Wave.

No one quite pulls off the imagery and feeling of these two words like Kate does. Again it's that enunciation and those cutting t's that make it almost her own word, like she reinvented it and made it something else.

Moments You Wished Lasted Longer

There are always moments you wish you could hold on repeat, outros you could listen to over and over, or lyrics that are gone too soon. Here are some of mine:

  • 'Get out of the waves, get out of the water.' From Hello Earth. 

The deep melody, the simple speech rhythm, and the movement it evokes make this one of my favourite repeated phrases that I would happily slip on the repeat button and listen to for hours. (I'm singing it right now.)

  • 'The wind it blows, the wind it blows, the door closed.' From King of the Mountain. 

Kate only actually sings this once, though the backing vocalists take over during what feels like an endless outro, but it is my favourite line - melodically and vocally - in the whole song, and stings the eyes every time. Strange how tiny bits of songs can really do something to you.

  • 'This moment in time. (She said) It doesn't belong to you. (She said) It belongs to me.....' From Jig of Life. 

I just love this section of the song. Again this is something that gets stuck in my head and I am now singing this over and over as I type.

To use Katie's phrase of the night, it really was, 'shit hot'. But not just the musicians and singers and actors and puppeteers and lighting and sound guys, and of course Kate herself. No. It was also about the crowd, that coming together of hundreds of people in a shared experience, a collective, and as Kate herself said just before the interval: 'It's all about you.' The crowd. It's not about her, It's about the fans and the experience, and I challenge you not to be singing the outro from Cloudbusting as you leave.

Three down, one to go. I can't believe three quarters of my Kate Bush time is over. Over but never forgotten. Wednesday is the final show I will be attending and I hope I find more to tell you and report back on, But for now, 'I put this moment......over here.' (Jig of Life: The Ninth Wave 1985)

Many thanks for reading


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Feeling Meh (Excuse the sheer amount of commas)

Do you know that feeling when you're heading towards the end of something, something you've been working towards for a really long time, and it would mean a goal achieved, and it's all you want, yet the closer you get, the further away it squirms like a dirty fat slug?

Please say you know what I mean. 

GRRRRRRRR. It's the novel. It's almost done and I know what I want to say and I pretty much know how I want it to end, but every time I sit down to write it, I end up throwing in another chapter, pushing the ending further away, or getting drowned in - albeit clever -  banter like dialogue that isn't particularly necessary. But the damn ending is. 

I hate that sometimes beginning something and working your ass off at something can give you so much pleasure, and it can completely absorb you, but then comes the doubt and the negativity which draws away from your goal. What happens when I finish it? Years of edits? Reams of rejections? What if I just keep on writing it forever and never finish it? Then I'll never have to deal with the after crap. 

Of course this is ridiculous, because if I write a stupidly long novel like my first one, that was part and parcel of the reason that I needed the years of edits. But this novel is fairly concise and I'm happy with the length and the story and blah, blah, blah. So why can't I just finish off this bastard and squish the damn slug?

It's that pesky head of mine getting in the way again. I know what I want it to do, but it seems to have it's own agenda, and one that I'm not privy to. Sometimes I just wanna shake myself, physically shake all the crap, doubt, distractions and negativity out of me, but then I wonder if the ending would still be there. What if I shake that out too?

I don't think it helps that I now have a self imposed deadline of Thursday next week, as we go on holiday on Friday and I want it finished, so that it can all just rest and sit and stew, whilst I turn off my head - unlikely but I can try - and enjoy a break from this world. But of course that adds a level of pressure I never had with the rest of the book, and sometimes deadlines work for me, other times a deadline makes me procrastinate for Britain until the last possible moment, then I cram everything on the final night. 

I'm so ready to finish, but I'm not so sure I'm ready to let go of the feeling of writing a novel, which greatly surpasses the feeling of having to end a novel, to say goodbye to those characters you've been honing and developing and giving up all of your time to. They're like children that only exist in your head. Which is a weird thing to say, but as you can tell I'm in a weird mood today. I live and breathe every moment they do and sometimes that affects my moods and the way I think, because I become so wrapped up in their lives that it can sometimes overpower my own. 

Wow, I feel like I just spewed up words on the page. Not a lot of this probably makes sense, but bear with me. I'm hungry and irritable and meh and all out of sorts, and the big bad is coming for my characters and I can't even hurry up and end it for them. Some shit is going down in these last few chapters, and the anticipation could possibly kill a couple of them off. 

My word I'm hungry and this weather is borderline dystopian. That weird greyness hanging every morning, giving way to an almost nuclear sun in the afternoons, it's creeping me out big style. Something is just not sitting right at the moment. Something has shifted and feels wrong. But at least Scotland didn't kick us to the curb, because I was feeling pretty weird about that too. 

Now this was started about fifteen minutes ago and just goes to show how much you can hurl out when you need to. This wasn't so much a rant as a personal therapy session. I read something the other day about how people writing about their feelings or worries can actually help you to deal with them and put that thought or problem out of your head, onto something else or into something else. Well, this is pretty much what I do ninety percent of the time anyway, because that's how I work, but today I physically needed this. I needed my words to splurge out in a random torrent and my fingers to dare to keep up with them. I needed some of this just out of my body - to make room for all the monstrous amounts of pasta I'm now going to eat - and most of all I just needed to share it with someone. I may not be great at speaking the words, but the words are in me and they need to find a way out. This is it. 

Thanks for the free therapy. I needed it. 


Friday, September 12, 2014


Hello. I gotta get this blog out quick before my mind catches up with me and the new novel takes over again. It is reluctant to share head space, thus the lack of ranting recently. It has taken over, gained control of me and the only reason I can write this blog is because I've distracted the novel by reading lots. That part of my brain is now thinking about The Grisha (Shadow and Bone - The Grisha Book 1 - Leigh Bardugo.) and I carved out a tiny chunk of space for the rants to breed. But I have to be quick because there's no telling how long The Grisha can hold my new novel at bay. After all, it is a horror. AHHHHHHHHH!

Okay, so anyone else terrified of spiders? Yes, it's so obvious and I wish I could lay claim to be unaffected by the multi-legged monsters, but that would be a damn straight lie. Genuine terror is what I feel and all the reports about spiders under your toilet seats and house spiders taking over the world are not helping. Every time I check facebook there's a post about them, or a photograph of one someone found in their house, or a video of some guy poking a spiders web and out popping a monstrous beast.

This is not helpful to those who are genuinely scared. I cannot get through a day without some sort of pictoral evidence of their plan to attack. It seems that we may soon be overrun by overgrown house spiders. And people try to shirk off my irrational fear. I think more and more would agree that it's completely rational. And when they start to take over the world eating humans in the process, don't say I didn't warn you. They may catch and eat flies, but soon they'll be catching even bigger creatures for dinner. Watch out!

Ticket Spewing Machines 
Armed with a 40% voucher, we headed to the cinema last night. I always find it amusing that the self serve ticket machines have little to no manners. It really doesn't take much and with technology as it is today, surely the machines should be better at manners than the humans?

So you touch the button that says: pick up previously bought tickets. Then immediately it says: waiting for card to be inserted. Er, sorry, when did you ask for my card to be inserted? So you reluctantly insert your card and it obtains the details, blah, blah, blah, and then it says: awaiting removal of your card. Just ask. Just say: please remove your card. It's not difficult to be polite about this. And then as a final lack of manners, it spews out the tickets so fast that they always fall to the floor, because the little thing that's meant to catch them has even less courtesy than the machine itself. Come on Odeon. Sort it out. More courteous machines please.

I know I complain about the buses a lot, but when a supposed 21 minute journey takes 40 minutes and you are still no where near the destination, and you have to jump off and take the tube, which costs a heck of a lot more, when you could have just taken the tube in the first place, but were trying to take the cheaper option, it sort of pisses you off a little. I wouldn't mind if I was just going somewhere by myself, but I was picking up a little boy from school. And it was the first time I had picked him up since the start back, I could hardly be late. That would look great.

So, when I went to pick him up yesterday, I set off about fifteen minutes earlier than that which gave me a whole hour and fifteen minutes to get there. Of course I arrived half and hour early. Cannot win. Law of the sod.

I mentioned the novel taking over. It really has. I am desperate to get it all out there before our holiday in a couple of weeks. It's touch and go, but I might make it. Yesterday I passed through the milestone of 50k words and I should hopefully be done by 70k, fingers crossed. It definitely isn't a long, long one, like my other novels.

I'm so absorbed though, that the characters emotions are actually affecting mine. It's bizarre. The other day I was sort of annoyed and upset and felt complete injustice, but it wasn't me that had had a massive argument with my mum, essentially being told that I couldn't be trusted to look after my brothers and sisters. It wasn't me that wasn't trusted in my own house. It wasn't me that was deemed slightly crazy. But I was still feeling all that. Well, I guess I really am living, breathing and feeling my characters. It makes them so real. They live through me and I through them. Okay, so maybe I am slightly crazy.........

Paper scraps
The notes for this blog were written on the back of the Odeon receipt from last night, as I stupidly walked out without my miscellaneous-anything-goes-notebook. Instead I'd left the house with only my novel-specific-notebook, a mistake I won't be making again, though it did transport me back to Uni when I used to write song lyrics on envelopes and train tickets and anything I could get my hands on. The joy of being a writer. Receipts and paper scraps are so much more than paper to be recycled, they can be the formation of worlds, the creation of characters, or a list of things to blog about.

Whoop! I managed to knock out a quick blog. It won't be long before The Grisha admit defeat and the novel punches through the ranks. Thank you for reading. More when I can. But keep this between me and you, I wouldn't like them to figure out our plan.........



Thursday, September 4, 2014

KT 2: From A Loftier Perch

It is almost impossible to recreate a feeling once felt, to emulate an event already encountered. You can never un-see it or un-feel it, and you are unlikely to experience that again. You can never quite capture that initial shock or excitement or sheer exasperation, but that doesn't stop us going back and say re-watching a film, or putting a song on repeat. Just because we can't land that first encounter emotion again, doesn't mean we can't go back and pull more from it. Often with multiple watches or listens, a piece can present more questions, it can answer some, it can enlighten us, it can change our minds, it can offer more, and it can create links. And it is often after a numbered listen that we catch a stray lyric that has always haunted us, or identify with a background noise, or discover a kick ass bass line. A first encounter is also surrounded by a sort of shield of awe and unexpectedness that can leave you overwhelmed and unable to fully process what you are seeing or hearing. Therefore, any additional viewing can only aid your understanding of the artist and their work.

So Tuesday night saw me return to Hammersmith for another dose of Before The Dawn. One thing I am quite happy to report is that things certainly haven't quietened down. The buzz that surrounds the Apollo is a living being, feeding off the expectant and slightly hysterical Kate fans, and it stretches across the roads into the shopping centre and tube station. As soon as you get anywhere near Hammersmith you start to pick out the Katie fans, those holding themselves back attempting not to break into a rendition of Wow. The energy is already mounting before you even reach the queue in front of the venue, and the merchandise sprawl is still non-negotiable. The amount of Katie tweets appearing in your feed might have ebbed, but this tour is still going strong and the feeling is electric.

I was in the circle tonight and quite far back, thus my loftier perch, but in a way that not only gave me a new perspective - a birds eye view if you like - but it almost allowed me to detach myself from that eye level connection with the stage and float above it all, to experience it a different way.

Before the show started we were given the 10 minute call and the five minute call, and I realised again how Katie manages to bring that level of mystery and understatement to her tour. We are told that in ten minutes the performance of Before the Dawn will commence, but there's no mention of her by name. It's a show by her and starring her, but not about her. It's about the story and the songs, and how she weaves them together to form the greater narrative.

I have to say it is slightly strange when you can anticipate which song is coming next, but when you know you're getting some corkers, you get over it pretty quick. This time round her vocal licks and embellishments were freer. She was experimenting and losing herself in the moment, which had some wonderful effects on the atmosphere and also showed her having fun. As expected the set list was strict and tight and this was because what you were actually seeing was the world's most bizarre yet beautifully constructed musical, written by and starring the goddess herself, with a large ensemble cast and chorus.

It seemed the performers were also playing around a bit with the scripted parts and just bouncing off the audience reactions. The house scene was like something out of a Weasley family exchange at the Burrow. It had that kind of feel to it. And I love the Toad in the Hole mention - my favourite meal as a kid and still in my top three now.

I mentioned the likeness to a musical - obviously one of the highest quality - and I feel that was further shown at the end of the first half, when all the cast came back on stage for the final song and there are even choreographed dance moves. It nicely rounds off that act, and sets up the second half.

Looking down from on high made me feel like the clouds of the storm, or the birds in her Sky of Honey, or the clouds she will later be busting. Being in the circle feels like you're more of an observer than a participant. But being in the stalls, on a level with the stage created a feeling of somehow being involved and contained within the action. I'm glad to have experienced both, as it definitely gives you a varied perspective.

What became clear on this second viewing was how everything is beautifully linked. At first look there are three clear sections to the show, but when you delve deeper, it is one narrative with branches off here and there to expand and continue the story. And it is about the the way her voice, the band, the performers, screens, additional effects and lighting all contribute to make the piece a whole. There are repeated themes and motifs which aid the cohesion of the work and it is never static. It pulses, undulates, zooms and whooshes. It presses you down, soars up high and hovers in between. It heightens the senses, pulls, gnaws and tears at the emotions and is tied together with a lovely Cloudbusting bow.

I got so much more out of the second half this time round and even more from the show as a whole because I was starting to see it as it should be seen: as a whole show. Everything that was done was carefully and meticulously planned in order to propel the story forward; from the lights to the repeated themes and vocal licks; the clouds and the storm, to the wind whistling through the house. This is a feat of engineering, technology and above all imagination. And boy did she pull it off.

I eventually managed to bag myself a bit of merchandise by Running up that Hill, well actually legging it down the steps, at the interval and charging to the merchandise stand. I overheard some interesting conversations, including a debate on whether the Ninth Wave appeared on Hounds of Love or The Sensual World. Duh!  I had to jump in on that one, couldn't help myself. And once more I have been in a room with Kate Bush. Honoured doesn't quite cover it.

There's a bit of a wait until KT number 3, so normal rants may resume.
Thanks for reading.


Oh and here is my Kate Bush themed birthday cake from last week. Taken from a page in the programme, modified and recreated by my extremely talented mother. And it's pretty darn tasty too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

KT Opening Night

So it all happened last night. The big wait over. The Goddess of British music, female song writing and vocal genius, ended her live silence, and boy did she do it in style.

Understated as ever, her name doesn't even appear on the front of the former Hammersmith Apollo, now Eventim Apollo. Instead the subtle KT Fellowship (the K and T combined to form a symbol reminiscent of her old KT Bush Band logo) was used, and Before the Dawn, the title of her showcase work was centre and huge, putting parcel once again to the fact that for Kate it is all about the story, not about her. She is simply the vessel the stories flow through and come from. Though telling that to the thousands of fans would be like telling superhero fans that Lycra was obsolete.

The buzz was immense. You really felt a part of something. Camera crews, journalists, giddy fans and people who were clearly just getting in on the experience, crowded every inch of the Apollo. The merchandise stand was about fifteen people deep and twelve people across, and I heard from the guys sitting next to us - who had incidentally travelled all the way from San Francisco - that they queued forty minutes for their merchandise and then the woman serving didn't know anything by name, she asked them to point at stuff. Come on people. It's not hard to learn the names of ten things.

Anyhoo, they luckily scanned the tickets and didn't rip off stubs, as those of us fortunate enough to buy from eventim, received the beautiful art work tickets and I don't know about anyone else but I didn't want them to be damaged in any way shape or form. So that was nice. Two intact tickets and they had my name on too.

For anyone reading this who has yet to see the mighty Bush, there may be a few spoilers but I will try not to give too much away, especially as I think I'll blog after each show, and I have three more to go. What I will say is this: on the tickets it says show starts at 7.45pm. It does! Be there on time, or you will miss it. There is no support, not that anyone could possibly herald the stage before her. No one is worthy enough for that, but it's not like one of those gigs where you know they're only coming on at 9pm, so you just rock up at 8.30pm. Not this lady. She's giving you a full show, plus interval, and you don't want to miss a thing!

The atmosphere was almost a combination of wonder, doubt and hysteria. I don't mean doubt at her abilities, just a sort of doubt that this was even happening, like somehow we were all encased in a beautifully surreal dream, with Katie as the protagonist. Always the 'enigma', it was no wonder the hype surrounding this opening gig. No one knew quite what to expect - in true Kate Bush fashion - except those who read their programmes before it started. I would vote against this. Just let yourself be blown away.

And so, at a little after 7.45pm, with the band already on and playing, here marcheth on stage a mature, confident, Kate, to a standing ovation, which continued after the first few songs and various other points in the show. She wore all the hallmarks of mother and wife - incidentally her son and husband were on stage with her throughout - but also that spark of years gone by, never lost. All that energy and creativity that set her apart from so many others. The innovation she pushed through her work but that also allowed her work to progress, came to a culmination here, as finally it seemed technology had caught up with the mind of Kate Bush, allowing her to bring her thoughts, ideas and imaginings of the past thirty years to life.

You could see her, almost desperate to break into a full Kate Bush dance routine, but she suppressed it, yet still couldn't keep still. Movement for Kate will always be part and parcel of her music. There isn't one without the other, they simply exist together, along with visual representation, lyric and melody. They are several worlds colliding and overlapping, all encased within a beautiful presentation box: Ms Bush herself.

Costumes complimented not only her characters, but also the mood, and her need for movement and visual representation. Whether it was a swinging tassel, or a fixed on wing, she was something else, someone else, she was one with the music and it with her. Whether it was bird calls, or melodious laughter, screams, whispers or gut wrenching cries, her voice was phenomenal! Thirty years away from live performing has done absolutely nothing to harm her confidence, vocal beauty and strength, or her sheer bravery to do anything and everything to get across her story.

No one could ever conceive something like Before the Dawn. No one. Because if they could, she wouldn't be The Kate Bush. The pioneer - and somewhat understated pioneer - of British music, female song writing, combiner of dance, mime and theatre, vocal acrobat and visual genius. Yes I am biased, as a huge fan, but this was not a greatest hits night. Far from it. Bush performed not a single work from her first four albums, concentrating on Hounds of Love onwards, her more mature works and probably ones now that she most identifies with. Besides she had already toured the first two albums in mucho Lycra in the late seventies. Those were done. 2014 was about show casing her works that never made it to the stage, works that she had clearly been imagining for up to thirty years.

I wrote my BA (hons) dissertation on Kate Bush and the way narrative infused her seminal album Hounds of Love. I unfortunately did not have the word count to also explore her concept side of the album: The Ninth Wave, something which has weighed on my mind ever since. But not as much as her need to see the concept visualised and on stage, must have weighed on hers. See it how Kate sees it, if you're lucky enough to have tickets. And if not, then buy the live DVD, it's gonna be mega!

Well, I think that's all I'll say for now. It was a very personal experience for me, just to be in the same room as her was enough, but to see and hear and experience Before the Dawn was actually something I'm still processing. Let's see how showing number two will fare in six days. "I'm coming, coming, coming honey."
Always nice to end with a lyric quote. (Kate Bush, The Wedding List from the album Never for Ever 1980)

Not even remotely a rant, but a very honoured bitter northerner, to have been in the presence of such a legend. Roll on number two, three and four. Katie you rock!

Thank you for reading.