Thursday 18 September 2014


Well, it’s over, and I have begun sleeping well again. 

No, not today’s great happenings in Scotland – though I have felt sick with worry over that - but the Scattered Authors North Day last Saturday, which had been a long time in the planning.

Way back in February, I met a bright and inspiring writer and illustrator, Teresa Flavin. She’d recently moved from Glasgow to Leeds, and I’d heard nice things about her from writer friends in Scotland. As we were chatting over lunch, somehow the gentle grumble “Why do all the writer’s lunches seem to happen in the South?” changed to “Wouldn’t it be good to set up one for children’s writers in Yorkshire?” And so, bit by bit, last Saturday’s event at Leed's West Yorkshire Playhouse was born.  

We did begin by thinking “Lunch”. However, restaurant tables aren’t always easy to hear across and all that lively ordering and eating does interrupt the chat somehow, which is a problem if you’ve travelled for a couple of hours to get there. So our “Let’s have a lunch” grew from “Maybe a session before?” to a “Maybe a session after as well?” and then someone suggested more speakers - and before we knew it, a whole day had been planned.

How thankful we were for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, a modern venue not far from the central railway station, especially when cheap pop-up arts venues also had a habit of popping down just as quickly too. 

And, once things were arranged, how thankful we were for all those Scattered Authors who said they’d come and then did come! Money matters can be very scary . . .

And a Grand Day it was, the thirteenth of September! We started with two wonderful speakers from Leeds Libraries Services - Debbie Moody and Pauline Thresh. Then came CWIG Past Chair Helena Pielichaty,  passionate about our fast disappearing Schools Library Services and about the “Patron of Reading” scheme.

Then Teresa Flavin herself talked about the social networks that she finds useful – a well-planned wise and informed “do it if it works for you” approach – before we all went in for the task of trying to identify what his within the plates of sandwiches on their dark and gloomy table outside the Congreve Room. (Teresa and I have since suggested that WYP Catering put clear labels on their serving plates!) The sandwiches themselves, by the way, were very nice. So, the actual lunch, and more chatting.

The afternoon brought Jason Beresford with an entertaining account of his life so far, his “The Fabulous Four Fish Fingers” books and a burst of ukulele playing as a conclusion.

The last speaker of the day, Hilary Robinson, talked about working in BBC radio and setting up her Strauss House Productions company. Hilary decided to maintain control over her own work and ideas by independently publishing her new picture books in collaboration with Mandy Stanley (illustrator of The Copper Tree series) and Martin Impey, whose detailed illustrations add so much to the highly praised picture book, “Where the Poppies Now Grow”.

Finally, braced by tea and cookies, the roomful of writers chatted until one by one they had to leave: for Wales, for Derbyshire, for Scarborough, for Birmingham, for Cumbria and Northumbria, or simply for a closer home somewhere around Leeds. Oh, the hours were over so soon, and I got to speak to far fewer people than I wanted to. Even so, I was so pleased that all those months of administration led to a happy and satisfying day for so many.  Teresa and I had a private cheer afterwards and plan to celebrate sometime soon.

Nevertheless, although Sunday 14th September was definitely a day filled with numb and lazy rest, I kept recalling voices talking about a Christmas lunch in Leeds sometime, maybe December. This idea will – I am promising myself - stay as a simple Scattered Authors Lunch!

After all, I do have some writing work to do . . .  
Have a happy weekend.


Sunday 14 September 2014


So Wednesday evening went well. Phew! Whenever I’ve been away from “Showtime!” a while, I get anxious. 

My own showtime is not Brucie’s bright lights and dancing with big teeth and lots of  twirls and "Ta-da!". Mine is much more modest - just dressing in presentable clothes, adding a bit of slap and going out smiling to give a talk. 

Even so, having collected my notes and various “exhibits”, there ‘s always the fizzy fear that things might not work this time. 

Last Wednesday was a different audience: it wasn't a school or library or "family" session but a talk booked by a local Ladies Group.  On the programme, my name was down as “Author and Storyteller” but beyond that my talk was a mystery. (Would I have turned out for so little information, especially on a “Bake Off” night?) Anyway, I was very glad to see the earliest ladies arriving.  Empty, that hall seemed quite large.

I always worry that the “children’s books” topic can seem a touch demeaning – of course it isn’t, at all -  but sometimes adults can feel bristly. I began by talking about “how I got into children’s  writing” – both my teaching career and other more personal issues as well as showing a couple of very old children’s books I’d owned when I was little.
After that I talked about where some of my ideas came from, some made more meaningful as the audience knew the local settings I’d used and a cute cat story. Then there was a quick run through some more amusing aspects of the book process, illustrated with a few “interesting” pencil roughs and short readings. 

Finally, there was a “popular children’s book characters” picture quiz to fill the gap while tea was brewing.

Afterwards – as ever – I wondered why I’d been anxious. As an audience, the Ladies Group were warm and friendly and interested. Best of all, it seemed, the evening gave them a chance to reflect on children’s books and remember books they’d read as children in the past, the pleasure of reading books with their own children and even the pleasure of sharing the same books with their own grand-children or other small friends. It felt a very happy talk.  
Thank you, Ladies!

Meanwhile, last Thursday was a quick trip to the West Yorkshire Playhouse to check the room and the details for a gathering of children’s writers on Saturday. 

Of which more - as some say - anon. When I recover.

Monday 8 September 2014


Today I’m casting harsh glances at my muddle of an office, full of books, papers, ironing baskets and a very persistent cat – but I will refuse to take in these daily surroundings.

Instead I am imagining myself in a calm white creative space that is definitely not my own. At the weekend I went to a small private gallery, surrounded by farmland, where a landscape painter and a ceramic artist were holding an Open Studio event.

The paintings and prints – from the small to the very large - captured the wild movements of the weather, trees and grasses against the wide Yorkshire moors, while many of the finely detailed ceramic pieces echoed the shelled creatures and fossils found on the Yorkshire shoreline. It was an enjoyable visit, particularly – in that selfish writer way- as I came away with two aspirations.

The first was that peaceful gallery space. It was calm and "empty" - although more people were arriving as we left – but it also felt alive, particularly because one end was the painter’s studio. The gallery was a place where work happened: a good, creative space. 

Around the huge desk were paints and brushes. Ah, breathe in!  The faint scent reminded me of long-ago art-rooms in schools and college and that life-saving escape of art lessons within an academic curriculum. Being in the gallery was such a pleasure.
Heavens, why don’t writer’s studies have such beauty about them, I wonder? Right now, I want to empty my room, sort the contents, throw out the accumulated rubbish, tidy and clean until I have a simple space again.  But if I do, that’s my writing time gone and broken for far too long, and right now I can’t afford that.

The second joy was an invitation to sit and spend time with the ceramic artist’s journal. The book was full of her sketches, prints and experiments, the pages covered in samples and collages with briefest of comments alongside. 
Occasionally there were more words: short, beautifully hand-written passages. These recorded the working process: the ideas, the developments, the halts and the persistence needed so that the work moved forward, exploring again.

I valued the way the journal offered fragments of conversations with fellow artists and mentors. We all need support or sounding boards during moments of uncertainty or crisis. Thank  you, my own "writing friends".

But alas, another contrast! My personal pages are not things of beauty at all, just scatter-brained notebooks carrying cryptic clues like “p 53.Does P go on too much about this?  “ Ch. 23. Canal boats? Engine or horse? Check dates!”  “What does Zk want? Is he needed? Delete?” And so on. 

For ten seconds , I daydream. Could I, perhaps, begin to make such a wonderful journal? The answer comes promptly. No, right now I haven’t the time. My scribbled yellow “Morning Pages” will have to serve. Sometime you can, but not now.
I'd read one phrase that seemed to catch - for me - the eternal conflict between the making of any art and the too-swift passing of time. Here it is, half-remembered:

“The idea is in the head before it is in the hands.”  

Oh, the hands can take such a long time to get the work done.