Thursday, 5 May 2022

SIBLINGS STRUTTING THEIR STUFF

  


At last, after one or two to production hiccups, my new collection Siblings is now live for interested people on Amazon. Producing my own volumes is the most exciting late-life experience for me. Since Theft, my first published novel in 1972 (one keen reader remembers this novel here )  my novels have been produced by major publishers accompanied be a small army of accomplished proof-readers and marketeers.

I was always happy with their work, although sometimes the covers – beautifully painted - were more saga-esque than I would have preferred. I remember one editor telling me that if there was a woman on the cover – there was always a woman on the cover – this could produce thousands more sales. And if the woman was accompanied by a child, that could mean thousands more. The same applied if there was gold foil on the cover.   

In those days I just wrote my novels alongside the many other things – children, husband, demanding profession - in my life. These novels would be long - often running to 80 or 90,000 words.

However, in recent years the world around me has changed radically:  it has shrunk and slowed down, dominated as it is now by my role of full time carer. However, writing is my vocation, and I am still writing – now rather slimmer volumes -  and publishing them myself through  Amazon Createspace. 

 As my Auntie Alice (aka Eirwyn in my newest book Siblings…) wrote in my autograph book circa 1951. ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’

This is never more so than my new collection of short stories, Siblings.  

These later volumes are slimmer and perhaps do not appear so genre-specific as many of the early novels on my list. When I first started on this private publishing gig (see Damselfly )  I continued to produce in the  long fiction form. – Becoming Alice – The Pathfinder – An Englishwoman France – without deliberately meeting the protocols of genre fiction. (One of these books - the novel The Bad Child features an extra perceptive middle child who resembles Ayla, the central storyteller in Siblings.) Other recent books feature short prose (Kaleidoscope) and  poetry (With Such Caution) turning more and more to the seductive melding  of memoir and fiction about which I have written here on Life Twice Tasted before. Of course there have been those larger novels one was Becoming Alice the other one The Bad Child. And I have another one in plan.  

I am happy with them all. Writing and producing books in this way is not dissimilar to having children, in terms of the protective pride one feels as they venture out there in the world

I am feeling that now in the case of Siblings, out there, strutting her stuff.

So here I am - rather weirdly with my editor’s cap on - talking about myself in the third person on the back cover of Siblings:

In this collection Wendy Robertson dances the borders between memoir and fiction, exploring the lives of seven siblings presided over by their mother who was widowed in the First World War. Their separate stories begin in the year 1922 in a mining village in South Durham. Each of the five sisters and two brothers has an individual story unique to themselves. The storyteller here is observant Ayla, the middle child in this talented family.

 

She tells us: “This collection of short stories is dedicated to my mother Barbara and her siblings. Her family of storytellers embroidered their often-told stories not only into the history of their own family but also significantly into the history of the 20th Century.”

 

She has published many novels and several books of short stories. Many of these reflect the history, landscape, and personalities emerging from County Durham, where she has lived most of her life. In that time she has also travelled researched, written other novels set in London. Coventry and North Wales and far afield as Singapore, America, and France. Discover more about these novels on her blog at http://lifetwicetasted.blogspot.com/

 

 

See her essay about dancing the borders between fact and fiction, 


ORDER SIBLINGS HERE 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Plato. 'The Midnight Mannequins.'


 

 ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Plato

I am aware that in the modern world an increasing range of people have heartfelt aspirations to write. However it might be the case that some people who have aspirations to write never quite manage  to examine their own life or the lives around them in the Platonic sense. Some people think that writing means ‘writing down’ as opposed to the reality of writing, which is observing, thinking and transforming their own experiences to make them universal and truly felt by the reader.

(Sadly at the present time some writing aspirations have been built around ideas of fame and fortune which is a false doorway into that precious room of writing.)

My admittedly long life in writing and publishing has been divided almost equally between writing and teaching in and out of schools and institutions. Then, after a number of published novels and short story collections,  this has inevitably culminated in more recent years in workshops and courses in the community, addressing the writing process.

And now I am reflecting on all the courses and workshops I have facilitated over this long time. I have the feeling now that many people who are not actually labelled ‘writer’ can indeed write and that some have a well-founded, deep desire to see their stories on the page. These are people of talent and persistence like Mike Daley who have developed their innate ability in the Platonic sense, to examine their own life and the lives of people around them.  

So I understand that many people who are not actually labelled ‘writer’ can indeed write and have a deep desire to see their words and creative perceptions on the page. In some cases these people have moved on towards publication. One of the pleasures of doing all this has been meeting people like Michael Daly, writer of The Midnight Mannequins.

Some years ago Mike came to one of my workshops and - if you like – ‘caught the bug’.  And so inevitably I have been thinking about these years of teaching as I read and enjoyed his new published volume of short stories The Midnight Mannequins. .

It seems to me that, in going through this process, Mike Daley has developed the complex literary ability to walk the line between memoir and story- a delicate process I have written about this elsewhere on this blog.http://lifetwicetasted.blogspot.com/search?q=+Memoir+and+Fiction


Mike certainly has had a life which is worth examining. His witty and confiding tone has the familiar literary ring of the Irish voice. Born in Roscommon, Ireland he came to Britain to join the RAF at the age of seventeen. After a successful career culminating in the role of Squadron Leader he left to become a university bursar in Durham city. In 1985 he was awarded an MBE for military service in and was awarded the freedom of the city of London.

Interestingly his fiction is not confined to any journalistic accounting of these experiences. The titles of his short stories will give you a clue. Besides The Midnight Mannequins, we have How Was Your Mother?, Jolly Good Show, The Price Tag, Love Letter, Lunch Without Laughter, The Book Club, Bed Seven, The Tea Dancers, The Defaced Fiver, and The Dance Band. All these stories lead the reader from one to another to explore the life experienced with weight, irony, and knowing allusions ensuring that good writing is the product from  unique ‘examined life’.

Read and enjoy! And – I would say this, wouldn’t I? 


To obtain it : https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Midnight-Mannequins-and-Other-Stories-by-Michael-Daly/9781398410404


    

Saturday, 29 January 2022

THEFT: The Fifty-Year Novel.

 

THEFT: The Fifty-Year Novel.

 

I am so pleased to have found you after fifty years. You don't know me, but I would very much like to thank you for creating something a long time ago that has had a prescient influence on my life.’ .Richard Temple

 

It had been on my mind for many years that I should somehow try to get in touch and let you know how deeply Theft had reached into my imagination.’  Richard Temple. 

 I am embarking on a long post, I admit. But bear with me - there are two stories almost magically entwined here. I hope, though, as a reader or a writer this I will be worth your sustained attention.  

 

THEFT The Fifty Year Novel

Wendy’s Story

In 1972 Carousel, a branch of Transworld Publishing, published my very first novel THEFT.

At that time I was a young teacher with two children, managing a family and a house and a working husband. At that time I was writing, obeying the compulsion that had consumed me since I was eight years old. At that time - as well as changing my library book 5 times a week - I used to write my invented stories on A4 paper, then fold each story in half and stitch the spine with my mother’s big tacking needle. In some of these ‘books’ page I even pasted in a library marked up with dates of imaginary borrowers. (Then and always libraries were my heaven-sent place in a rather difficult young life.)

THEFT, written when I in my twenties, was longer than these home-made beauties and took some time to write. Then one night I was sitting in a group of women who were discussing an organisation called Books for Your Children – a group led by Anne Wood, another teacher emerging from South Durham. She happened to mention that some people were - even now! - writing for children. So I happened to say that I’d written one, for a start. She asked to read it and I willingly handed it over.

The next day she rang and said, ‘We’ll have it.’

Puzzled, I said, “Who? Who will have it?”

That was when she told me that she was newly appointed editor for Carousel, the new imprint launched by Transworld.

My daughter Debora, now very grown-up indeed, recently told me that she remembers the day when a box full of copies of THEFT arrived on our doorstep and how excited we all were to see these books with their wonderful cover spilling out of the box.

After that, as well as teaching and family et cetera, I produced several children’s and adult novels before I took the bull by the horns and designated myself a full time writer and proceeded to write more novels.  

 

THEFT is a story told using the context of my own South Durham working class life and family. Here on the blog you can see that that since the publication of Theft in 1972, alongside teaching in schools and later working in higher education I have written a good number of novels which celebrate my  own cultural context - I hope without stereotyping, romanticising  or denigrating that life and its values. This, I trust, ensured that at the core of all the novels are grains of fundamental truth which are the sign of good fiction and will be recognised by readers from widely different backgrounds – as turned out the case with Richard Temple. See his story below.

Quite an important point here is that, as well as my own South Durham setting, the novels are sometimes located in such far-flung places as Spain, Russia, Singapore, USA and of course - as with many migrant Durham families - locations such as Ireland Scotland and Wales. I grew up very keen on both travelling and researching. And in my fiction, characters are featured sometimes leaving and sometimes arriving in the north-east of England my heart’s home. Like THEFT these novels spring out of my identity as a South Durham person

And so now I have come to full circle. I have just completed the collection SIBLINGS – short stories of seven brothers and sisters living in just such as the location as the setting for THEFT. To my delight these stories were broadcast over Christmas Anne will be published as a book lateOr this year.

AND NOW…

And now for the special reason for telling you this long story. I received a letter from a perfect stranger Richard Temple, who lives in London and is now retired from his job as a graphic designer at the BBC. He has his own story to tell about theft and its role in his quite long life.

 


Richard Temple’s Fifty Year Story of THEFT

Letter One:  Richard and Christine

 

Hello Wendy,

I am so pleased to have found you after fifty years. You don't know me, but I would very much like to thank you for creating something a long time ago that has had a prescient influence on my life.

I'm talking about your novel, THEFT.

I was about eleven when I read it. My mum was a good chooser of books and had bought it to keep me happy while I was recovering from mumps and very miserable about going away to a boarding school at the end of the summer holidays.

THEFT was so enthralling.  I loved every sentence.  I also loved the fact that the story-teller and main character was female.  Being a boy, I realised for the first time that girls liked a bit of excitement too and weren't really that different from me.  That, and the fact that a lot of the action was at night.

But I was transfixed by the setting, the rows of terraced houses in the North East, the curtain that was a kitchen door and the community spirit and the warmth of the mother telling the story.  It really had meaning for me and I understood it, even though I had a very different life myself.  I was a middle class child growing up in Cheltenham and went to boarding schools.

I read the book four or five times and took it away to school with me, so I could escape the rabble and travel away to the cobbled streets and night adventures somewhere warmer, in the emotional sense.  The illustrated cover was very good too.  The moonlit image stuck in my head and visualising it brought back the feelings and people inside the book for my entire life.

When I was twenty-two I went to London to work for the BBC.  My bedroom at home had been emptied by then and turned into a guest room.  All physical signs of my childhood existence had disappeared, along with my books, and that was that.

In London I met a girl.  She was a nurse from Gateshead.  It felt like we'd always known each other and after a few months I went up North to meet her family.  Until then I had not made the connection with Theft but I soon did.  My accent, the sense of being different and 'posh'.  But soon I realised that these people were warm, not hostile, they were tolerant and included everyone no matter how odd they might be, which was a far cry from my own world until then.

My girlfriend had grown up in a terraced house in a street just like the one in your book.  It was the 'sixties but even then there was no bath, no hot water, no heating apart from coal fires.  There was even a curtain across the doorway.  Her mam had worked in a shop.  Her dad was a train driver who had become ill with the coal dust and died far too young.  They had a cobbled street, strange gas-style street lights and even a pub on the corner like the one on the cover of Theft.

She was living there when I read the book and I can see her almost as if you had been writing about her.  I really felt as if I had entered into the book that had made such a strong and meaningful impression on me.  My girlfriend also had an older brother who had looked after her much of the time when they were growing up and they had near scrapes and similar tales to tell.

My Geordie girlfriend is now my wife and we have been together for thirty-five years.  I told her about your book early in our friendship.  One day my mother was emptying her loft and gave me a box that she had put all my books in years before.  To my joy, there was the moonlit street, the kids running for their lives and 'Theft' in rounded letters.

Christine - that's my wife - grabbed it and read it, and like me loved every bit of it.  The almost supernatural attraction it had for me when I was eleven is not lost on her and she finds it as strange as I do.

We settled in London but often go back to the North East.  Although in London, the house we live in is in a Victorian terraced street.  Sadly the cobbles went years ago, although there are some left along the gutters and in the lanes. Now Theft is kept above the fireplace in the bedroom and I would not be without it.

Thanks Wendy.

Richard.

 


Richard Temple: Letter Two:

THEFT and Family Life.

Dear Wendy

I am bowled over and overwhelmed by your reply to my humble thank you, I really am.  I will follow your links and listen to the stories of Siblings.  I can't wait to hear it.

It had been on my mind for many years that I should somehow try to get in touch and let you know how deeply Theft had reached into my imagination.  It remained a 'should do' item on several lists until I was mildly unwell with covid last year and, lying in bed feeling miserable, raking over life in general, my eye fell on the spine of Theft.  I thought of you and realised this was my chance to do what I had always intended to do, but never had.  I reached for my tablet and started Googling and soon found your blog.  Obviously I found it fascinating and was even more delighted to see an email address.

How you have managed to accomplish so much is beyond me.  What an achievement.  All those books and everything else; truly amazing.

You were kind enough to say my story was beautifully told in a way that hinted that I might be a writer.  From you, that is indeed an accolade, probably the greatest compliment I've ever had.  I will have to let that sink in.  I've always been told I'm a writer, but I have never published a book, nor even reached the end of writing one.  I can write a chapter, but then I feel the need to get up and walk around and that's the end of it.  Ten minutes later I'm bored with that story and have a new idea for a different one. 

I am actually a graphic designer and worked for many years at Television Centre in Shepherd's Bush, London.  I'm more or less retired now, so maybe now is my moment to get writing.

I tried to keep my first letter to you a brief one although there are more strange parallels between Theft and my own world.  I mentioned my wife Christine, whose childhood felt so familiar.  Like you, she always enjoyed books and was the first ever in her family to get A-levels and then reach university.  She studied English Literature and our love of reading, especially modern poetry, brought us together.  Perhaps like you, judging from what you have said, education in all its forms has been her metier and she jumped across several unexpected stepping stones to eventually becoming a senior university lecturer.  She has always been totally confident about her childhood and proud of her home and her wise and clever parents who did not have the same opportunities.  I am proud of that too, although I can't claim any credit for it.

Thank goodness for education.  It really does transform and there is nothing better.  Although thinking about how easily I found your blog, the World Wide Web springs to mind as close second.  My son is in his second year at university and one of his lecturers made the point a few weeks ago that his generation of students is the first to enter university with no experience of the world without the internet.  That was quite a thought.  He has always used it to teach himself.

 

That brings me to the next thing I want to tell you.  Your daughter says that the books we encounter in childhood are transformative.  She is right.  I think they can be for adults too, but perhaps less subtly.  We read Theft to our son William several times when he was growing up.  He too loved it.  In terms of being transformative, it prompted wonderful discussions about his north-eastern heritage and he was fascinated to hear all about his mother's life in the terraced house in Gateshead that was so similar to the book's.  The concept of a house where children were bathed in the kitchen sink is a real one for him.  Those stories have made him, I am pleased to say, very realistic about education and how different life is for him as a result of it.  He's ambitious and interested in politics and that has a lot to do with your book.  So who knows how long and how far Theft might continue to work, its magic.

You have achieved so much, have so much to be proud of and that alone is an inspiration.  I too read The Secret Garden as a child and got a lot out of it, even though it terrified me.  I did also love the translated books of a French author, Paul Bernard.  They were often adventure stories about a group of kids set in France.  They gave me a life-long interest in France. The long roads, the empty countryside and the rambling, dilapidated villages where it's a good thing to sit with a Pernod, smoke Gauloises and contemplate nothing much, apart from life itself.

Richard.


 

 


 Thank you Richard for giving me permission to print your story and for making this week so much brighter, Wendy.

 

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

A Voice Actor’s Perspective - ANNE DOVER

 

Anne Dover: Meeting Wendy Robertson, and collaborating with her as her narrator for the recent Siblings project, (broadcast on Bishop FM Dec 2021 - listen at  https://damselflybooks.com/bishop-fm/ -  has been an honour and a total delight. 

Wendy R: And a delight for me, Scroll down to see the whole of this story...

Anne Dover: I am what is termed a voice actor, and for the last 30 odd years I have been lucky to have narrated over 1,000 audiobooks, including several written by Wendy. I am particularly drawn to her characters, as they always have depth and heart, and as my job is to give a voice to them she helps make the narration a joy. Also I grew up not far away from Bishop Auckland, where she is based, so we share many points of interest.

I am often asked, how I became a ‘voice actor’ and what was my training for such a job?
I suppose I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged my sister and me to read aloud, and - as was fairly common among the rural Durham mining community, where I lived - our entertainment was self-made. No T.V. in those days, although we had a radio, and a piano around which we would sing, and would harmonise anything that my Mother could play _ hymns mostly, and some light opera ballads. My Dad’s Welsh blood had given him a lovely tenor voice, and he had learned somewhere about voice projection, and gave us vocal tips to make the best of our homespun performances.

Our Sundays were spent at the Wesleyan chapel in Willington in County Durham, where concerts were held and my sister and I had to recite poetry and sing at the Sunday School Anniversaries. Sometimes we had to compete against each other at Eisteddfods, which I suppose were begun I suppose when the Welsh miners merged with the Durham community.

My Dad, who worked at the local colliery, was encouraged to become a ‘local’ preacher and had a certain presence and we formed ‘Mr. Roberts and his singing family’!  As a result, my sister and I were used to and enjoyed getting up on any stage to perform. She became a successful Cabaret singer, while I left Durham for Newcastle just as Tyne Tees TV studios began broadcasting. I was a fashion model at the time  - in the 60’s - and was asked one day to make an appearance on a T.V show, which in turn led to an opportunity to voice a T.V commercial, and that was the beginning of my vocal career.

In my family, we were never told to be quiet. Every book we read was an opportunity to act it out. So, using the voice for performing purposes was second nature, and my sister and I used to copy accents and voices for fun, just to make each other laugh. After I left school, I got a job as Receptionist and Telephonist at a local garment factory, where I enjoyed practicing my ‘posh’ voice on the telephone, and as a bonus was given the task of ‘modelling’ the coats for the factory owner when he came up from London. (The reality was that as I was 17 and skinny, all the coats were too big, and I was derided because the coats didn’t fit). But when the boss’s wife arrived - French, petite extremely glamorous, with poodle tucked under her arm - I amused myself by trying to copy her accent and longed for her style.

The main character I remember, in my first audiobook, was a Liverpool girl from the slums, so I listened endlessly to Cilla Black speaking, and simply copied her voice which I could hear in my head while I was recording.

So in fact I never did have any form of training, it was just something I found, when given the chance, I could do voices and for this I think having a decent ear for music was an enormous bonus. I feel I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.


Nowadays, after Covid, I record from my tiny home studio (actually a walk-in cupboard). Lockdowns meant for some time we travelling bands of audio voice workers were prevented from dashing around the U.K to recording studios and people like me began to record at home, and now, it has itself become a way of life for me. My travelling days are over now, but the voice lingers on and I suppose that as long as publishers and authors desire to hire it, I will be delighted as always to clear my throat, and become the many characters that the audio book requires.


The first audiobooks were designed to help and be used by people with sight loss, but I’m happy to say that the industry is booming, and becoming a way of enjoying a book for sighted people, who simply love being read to as much as I delight in narrating for them. Of course without the authors, we narrators wouldn’t be able to narrate.


Long may they all continue putting pen to paper, and captivating our imaginations, and sometimes ……our souls.

Love to all Listeners….everywhere

Anne Dover.

Anne voices Ayla, who is the storyteller in Siblings.


Wednesday, 5 January 2022

The Writer as Outsider

 

 For several years now, perhaps triggered by the isolation engendered by the Covid situation, I have spent much of my time - as I say in a recent blog post (scroll down) - dancing on the border between memoir and fiction.

One outcome of this has been my new collection This has resulted in at least one distinct collection called Siblings: seven distinct stories of a family of seven siblings. The stories are all told by the middle child – called Ayla. She is the storyteller.

This book will be published in the spring but you can listen again to these stories on Bishop FM. 

I have written elsewhere about middle children – for example in my novels The Bad Child and Becoming Alice. Inevitably some observers will say that is this is a deep reflection on my own role as the middle child in a diverse family who relishes the role of the outsider.   

But I would assert that this outsider feeling transforms itself to a creative resource when one is a writer who can reflect on the events going on around her.

There is a poem about this feeling in my book WithSuch Caution – a Life Glimpsed in Short pieces. 

I thought you might like to read it. Here it is, Wx

Outsiderness
 
Being the third child of four
I was bred to be an outsider.
Being the new child from a far town
I was labelled outsider.
 
Talking with the wrong tone
I was seen as a verbal outsider.
Being the cleverest child in class
made me an outsider.
 
Working alongside men
I was the female outsider.
Writing stories made me
a mendacious outsider.
 
Living with a man doesn’t see
I have become an invisible outsider. –
Learning to make myself comfortable
In this ultimate containment.
 
Now, living through to older age
I am an intimate outsider, even
the ultimate outsider, relishing
this … Outsiderness.
 



Thursday, 16 December 2021

SIBLINGS: My stories on Christmas Radio

In my last post here on Life Twice Tasted  (scroll down) I outlined my adventures during Lockdown on the borderline between memoir and fiction as I worked, story by story,   on this new  short story collection  SIBLINGS. In it I argued that  – like many writers of fiction – I am exploring the gap between fiction and  the uniquely true nature of a family’s history, grounded as it is in intricate and deeply observed family experience and liberated by the freedom of creative storytelling.

At last in SIBLINGS  I have now completed the seven stories that are the essential truth emerging from a family spanning the first half of the 20th century. In this process Ayla, the middle sibling, is the storyteller for all the family. One by one she tells the complex stories of her four sisters and two brothers. These children are not alike.  Ayla tells each story with her acute, sometimes idiosyncratic, observations of her much-loved family.

In the long term SIBLINGS has an over- arching narrative linking 1922 to 2022 –starting in 1922 when Ayla is telling us the individual stories of her sisters and brothers, living in a small house in a Durham street under the magisterial care of their ‘Mam’, widowed by the First World War. But the final curve of the arch reached me,  writing these stories during the Covid confinement of 21/22. I am sitting here telling the unique stories of the seven siblings in Ayla’s voice,  truly walking the line between memoir and fiction.

As an experience of writing, this process has the quality of a dream as each distinctive sibling comes to life before me, flowing through the ink of my pen onto the page of my notebook.

My original idea was to record the stories and one by one and provide links to them here on my blog, so you could hear them as well as read the text. For this purpose I turned to Anne Dover the brilliant professional actress who has narrated a number of my novel into audio. Anne has the perfect voice for my Durham prose, incorporating the musicality with  quiet authority and capturing the nuances, the soft tones of our way of speaking. Although she has travelled far and wide with her profession, Anne originally comes from Wolsingham in County Durham, so she starts with an advantage here.

For the final audio edit on the first story BRAM,  I turned to Gillian Campbell of Bishop FM. Having done a great job on this. Gillian suggested to me that the radio station would be interested in broadcasting the SIBLING stories.  

So now it turns out – with the collaboration of Gary Burgham, the Bishop FM programme director - that the seven stories which constitute siblings will be broadcast beginning at 2pm on Christmas Eve.

I will also post them here on my blog week by week. If you would like to see the first of the sibling stories – the story of BRAM the oldest brother – you will note that  the whole text of that story is posted in full on my previous blog post. (Scroll back…).

After they are broadcasts you will be able to listen to to Anne Dover's wonderful narrations.  again here and on Bishop FM .

So this is my Christmas present to you - all the great people who have shown an interest in my work both recently and through the years when my novels emerged into the light.

Wendy R x


From Gary Burgham Programme Director of Bishop FM at

Bishop Auckland author Wendy Robertson has been working on a collection of short stories entitled SIBLINGS, told by the eleven year old middle Sibling, Ayla, set primarily in the year 1922. Although the seven siblings from whom the stories spring are genetically connected to each other and in the subsequent  generations genetically connected to the author, these stories will essentially  be pure fiction, shot through  with fragments of the author's true memory. Siblings will be read by actor Anne Peacock who originates from Wolsingham   and can be heard on Bishop FM on Christmas eve at 2pm and at 2pm each day thereafter. 


Visit Anne Dover, the gifted narrator of SIBLINGS
at
https://www.annedover.co.uk/anne-dover/



 

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