Monday, 23 February 2015

The Insomniac and the Writer’s Nightbox

Slipping into sleep is a useful process for a writer.

It gives her a rest from the familiar exigencies of a day dealing with writing the next paragraph or the next chapter; with the inevitabilities of the domestic cycle and nature of professional existence. On top of this the compulsion to dash around the physical and cyber world to prove her presence.

So it’s very good to switch off, drop off to sleep and restore her calm physical and intellectual default position ready to start work the next day.

But sometimes the sleep switch doesn’t click and into our writer’s fertile mind drifts those annoying worries and concerns, those feelings of self-doubt, the emergence of hopelessness and futility.

One of my own weapons against this deadly process is my DAB radio, mostly tuned into Radio 4 Extra, occasionally switching to the World Service – a pot-pourri of radio past and present - crossing genres  and mixing comedy and drama in a surprisingly relaxing way.


In fact there are some broadcast  gems here that make it very worthwhile for a writer to stay awake. In the last few weeks I have had some treats. 

There was the dramatization of Susan Hill’s The Beacon. I had read this book before without being thrilled. But somehow the midnight listening made me properly understand that this novel, like her Woman in Black, is a very clever dark novel of place rather than (as I had thought) some pick-up of the theme of misery memoirs.

Then there was the archive Desert Island Discs programme when Sue Lawley interviewed the anarchic Sue Townshend (RIP). There in the midnight hour I thought Sue Lawley came over as somewhat confused. She sounded vaguely patronising when she asked Sue Townshend whether she had ambitions to write ‘proper’ grown up books. ST answered her very sweetly, sending her up with guile.

Then another night there was Brian Friel’s Translations. Set in 18th Century rural Ireland, it is a brilliantly comic, highly conceptual take on the potency and nature of language. I was fascinated by Friel’s character ‘Jimmy’, who only speaks Irish, Latin and Greek. English doesn’t interest him at all.  So when I get up next day I want to buy the play and read it in daylight hours.

All this interesting stuff, of course, prevents me from getting -  or staying  - asleep. So I get up, come downstairs, make myself tea and toast and settle down to watch a saved episode of Midsummer Murders or Bones: such perfect lullabies. Then I go back to bed, fall into a dreamless sleep and wake refreshed to start another day in my writer’s life.


Of course this doesn’t happen every night or I would be a daytime zombie. But, when it is needed,  it is a perfect antidote to this writer’s night-time terrors.wx

Sunday, 15 February 2015

I was bred to be a Francophile.

My mother Barbara loved the songs of Jean Sablon. I remember her delight as she listened to his liquid jaunty voice singing C’est si Bon and J’attendrai
The immaculate Jean Sablon
Listen to him HERE
and HERE
and HERE
as it emerged from our little wireless in the corner.

Barbara loved to read novels and most of all she loved stories with scenes in France with the odd French word dropped in.

She couldn’t speak French herself so she was very relieved when I got to the grammar school at eleven and was learning French with the exceptional Mr Phorson.

Now I could tell Barbara how to pronounce the words she read in her novels and talk with her about some nuances of meaning. She loved that.

So, I learned French for eight years and passed all my written and oral examinations. I could read books, articles and academic papers in French. 

However, apart from  listening to Jean Sablon, I never hears native French spoken until I was thirty two years old and attending an education Conference in Sêvres where the lecturers’ immaculate accents were music to my ears.

Since then I have travelled and stayed in many parts of France and learned that the accents can be as different from formal French as are Glaswegian and Newcastle  from English received pronunciation..

Even so, my eight years with Mr Phorson meant I never felt a stranger there and grew to love France more and more.

I finally reached the Languedoc where the native  language has an identity of its own and many people speak two languages – conventional French and the local ‘Oc’ – as different as Welsh is from English.

But it is in this distant place that I feel most at home. In this magical place my writer’s intuition helped me see through the veils of time right back to the Greeks who founded the port of Agde in 600BC. I was so inspired that I set my novel An Englishwoman I France  here.

I am excited now that I have just finished another novel set in France.  In this novel the story only travels back from the present to to World War 2. But still Writing at the Maison Bleue  reflects something of the magic and the layers in time I experience in this Francophile's heaven.

Uniquely this novel has two different covers.

One for the Kindle Version

 - launched on March 10th  (my birthday).

The other cover is especially for the paperback. 

- to be launched on May 1st

In my novel Writing at the Maison Bleue two of my characters visit The Ginguette, a place I know well. 
It is  a place lined with pictures of the great chansonniers, including Jean Sablon. When I first found this place I thought how Barbara, alas not here now,  would have loved it.

Extract  for you from ‘Writing at the Maison Bleue.

'…Then they cross the bridge over the water swilling through the canal lock and come upon the outdoor café strung with fairy-lights, buzzing with people who are standing, sitting, lounging, dancing. As they go through the narrow doorway the hum of voices and the jaunty sounds of an accordion are mixed with the plangent chords of an acoustic bass guitar and the brush and click of drumsticks.
The style of the Guingette is eclectic crossed with exotic - sprawling plants; straw walls, floppy thatched roof. The walls are pasted with blown up pictures of chansonniers past and present, dressed in the gangster-chic of the Thirties and Forties. In this place these balladiers are clearly the heroes. Francine, thinks Ruthie, was a young heroine of those times. Perhaps she and her friends would have danced in places like this, whispering into the ears of Germans, policemen and prominent men: betrayal, seduction, courage and collaboration all danced out to the sound of the accordion…'

Writing at the Maison Bleu is available to pre-order HERE


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Aspect of my Writing Process Newsletter

I am very excited about my new Newsletter to be called 


 Dear writerly and readerly friends and followers. Here below  for you is a sample of the first Newsletter. I need permission from you to put you on my regular circulationlist
 If you would like to be included in my circulation list could you possibly  email me at so I can include you? Best Wendy

It will be all about

... aspirations, ideas, methods and processes that have kept me loving my writing ...

Every day produces something new: a new idea, a new approach to writing, to reading, to researching and reviewing. One day we are inspired by someone who turns present day despair about publishing into the personal adventure of independent publishing. Another day we meet  a new contact who urges us to try a new thing ...

 Hello  to You

Welcome to my brand new Newsletter. Thank you for signing up.

Here on My Writing Process  I hope to share with you the inspirations, aspirations, ideas, methods and processes that have kept me loving my writing process and enjoying some success with people out there who love it too for the last twenty years.  I want this to work for you too.

Every day some new writing. So easy to sit down at the keyboards or with notebook in hand. Still, I find writing  anything but routine.  I am truly astonished at articles and blog posts that say what a dreadful toil the writing process.

Every day, with writing at the core of my life, I discover things about myself I never knew before. I would argue with the rather widespread notion of writing as therapy, but I have no doubt that writing every day has a therapeutic effect.

Every day produces something new: a new idea, a new approach to writing, to reading, to researching and reviewing. One day we are inspired by someone who turns present day despair about publishing into the personal adventure of independent publishing. Another day we meet  a new contact who urges us to try a new thing- this Newsletter for instance.

Another day we read an article that takes away the mystique of something that has seemed difficult. For me last week it was learning how to free-hand design the cover for my new novel Writing at the Maison Bleue..

It is happening all the time. This  week I was excited when a writer friend discovered an image on the Internet that will change the whole direction of her novel.
No wonder after all this time I still continue to love my writing processes and I hope that this newsletter will inspire you to love yours. It is entirely about the process – not some distant dream of publication, fame or fortune. Just love your writing and your life will be truly enhanced.

Designing the cover of my new novel was
a very new experience. Refreshing. 

France - particularly the Languedoc - is a great inspiration for me. A strange place displaces a writer and  fires the imagination.
Copyright © 2015 Wendy Robertson Author, All rights reserved.
Your are receiving this email because you opted in from my blog or my Twitter. (Thank you)

Our mailing address is:
Wendy Robertson Author
Springwell Villa
Park Street
Bishop Auckland, Durham DL14 0
United Kingdom

Monday, 26 January 2015

An Idealistic Esperantist


 Just listening to a Radio 4 Programme about the idealistic international Esperanto movement and am reminded of my great friend, the late Mary Davies, a great Esperantist. Very interesting programme. Try to catch it on BBC Listen Again HERE

In tribute to Mary I am re-posting here two posts from 2009 and 2012. 

From Lifetwicetasted 2009

The Loss of the Exceptional Mary D

I have just heard from Jan Atkins of the death (aged 93) on the Isle of  Arran of my old  friend Mary Davies, a gifted painter, writer and healer.  My novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings was inspired by tales told to me by this wonderful  and somewhat  mystical writer and artist who  lived  in retirement on the Isle of Arran and who  also, in her time, drew buildings for a living. She was - remarkably -  a note taker and reporter for architectural historian Niklaus Pevsner and in her time helped to save important buildings from demolition.

Drawing from Mary's stories, experience and documentation the novel takes place in Poland in 1981 and Britain in 2006 . What’s it about? It’s about  the consuming nature of art, the shadowy place between now and the hereafter; it’s about passionate encounters arising from a confluence of cultures and the long journey of a mother and son to mutual understanding.  

Always a spiritual person, she was a member of the Quaker Community and towards the end of her life she embraced the very inclusive Ba 'Hai faith.  On this coming Monday she will attend own her funeral in the card-boards coffin,  decorated with flower paintings by her friends at a party she held some years ago. When I last visited her it was standing in the corner serving the purpose of a cupboardI met the exceptional Mary Davies at a workshop I ran in Cumbria and She kept in touch. Later in her seventies she published and sold out three novels including the very telling and sensitive Still Waters. I visited her several times on Arran, including once when she regressed me to an earlier life. She believed she herself had gone through several incarnations. 

In my little writing room I have a board plastered with influential pictures and texts. Mary's picture, with her Polish friend Halina, has been there at its centre for six years. So she has remained - and will remain - a true inspiration. I am hoping now that The Woman Who Drew Buildings will act as a tribute to this exceptional woman, this very good soul.

I find myself wondering which world Mary  will grace in her next re-incarnation.

 As a further tribute to Mary I have re-printed here the post I put up when the novel came out. In the extract the list of objects which the boy finds in his mother's flat is the exact list of objects which Mary brought me in two carrier bags and told me to make of them what I would. ... And I did...

From Lifetwicetasted 2012 

The Gift of the Exceptional Mary D
My new novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings is dedicated thus:
‘For the exceptional and inspirational Mary Davies - painter, writer and healer.’

This novel has been in the making for five or six years, when the exceptional Mary D gave me a box of materials about her travels and experience in Poland in the 1980s.

Mary knew I was interested in the idiosyncrasies of letters, notebooks, images and ephemera that I used to inspire my novels. I was, she said, to use them as I wished. We had long talks about her experiences and the the dilemma of using them as inspiration, for what I knew would be - in fact -pure fiction.

It has taken me some years to develop my imaginative take on on all this material and all these ideas in order to allow the novel to emerge of its own volition. It became more fluid – easier - when my purely imagined characters got to grips with the material of their true to life inspiration. In the novel I gave my heroine Marie Matheve.

The Woman Who Drew Buildings was the outcome of all these processes.

The extract below describes the moment when Adam, the estranged son of
Marie Matheve (who has problems of his own) comes upon just such a cache of materials as his mother lies in a coma in hospital:

… Adam’s eye moved to the wardrobe and the pile of boxes above it. Now this he could disturb. He climbed on the dressing stool and started to pull down the boxes. He worked swiftly and as he worked his spirit lifted. He started to drop the boxes so their contents spilled on the polished floor – books, notebooks, papers, brochures, travel documents, bundles of clothes, bright scarves, packets of photos, sheaves of drawings in a disorganised pile….
… he took a second bottle of wine from the fridge, took a new notebook from the pile in her bottom left desk drawer, came back and began to make a careful list of the things that had spilled out of the boxes. His face was burning with wine drunk too fast, his brain was racing, his hand was shaking, but one by one he listed the items from the brown cardboard box:

· Article in Esperantist magazine by Marie Mathéve, recounting her ‘Study In Poland.’
· A newspaper article about the visit of Marie Mathéve’s visit to Poland on a Siropotimist grant to consider buildings.
· Photo of Marie and a younger (very pretty)woman leaning towards each other, making a triangle. On the back Marie has written; Jacinta Zielenska and me in the Cherzov flat.
· Small published book of drawings of Krakov marked Ex Libris D. Adama Zielenski` Paperback with a brown paper cover to protect it.
· Photographic slides, small and hard to see, with viewer,.
· Poland’s Progress edited by Michael Murray first pub 1944 this the third ed 1945
· Krakow by Edward Hartig 1964. Coffee table book.
· Poland by Irena and Jerzy Kostrowicki
Official 1981 guide to Krakow
· Official guide to Katowice
· Notebooks, many notebooks
· Two small red Sylvine notebooks still with their 30p price tag on. Marked 'Poland Diary 1981'
· One Winfield exercise book marked Paris Diary 1985
· Daler Sketchbook full of Marie’s drawings eg: Cherrzov From My Bedroom; steelworks; estate with Tabac in foreground; old steelworks; coal mine looking towards Katowice; done in coloured markers, making her usual style brighter and bolder. But style is unmistakable.
· Spiral Bound Daler Sketchbook with more subtle drawings from Brittany, Paris Luxembourg gardens, View from my window 8th floor Rue de Rennes; Paris. Louvre 1985.
If you fancy it, The Woman Who Drew Buildings (ISBN 978-0-7553-3380-6) or online HERE 


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Writing for Life and ‘Forward Assist’

  Writing for Life and ‘Forward-Assist'.

Having written professionally for more than twenty years and in those years mentored and tutored hundreds of aspiring writers I am very certain now that settling down to write and writing regularly is a life-affirming, self-enhancing, self-learning, and ultimately a radiant process.

In all these years of writing and working with writers I have started from the premise that everyone can write. We have hundreds of thousands of words available in our heads. Writing Is putting some of them down in an order that makes some kind of sense -  at first to yourself and then later perhaps to others. As you write down you unscramble impressions, perceptions, thoughts and ideas into an order that makes sense to you and could very well strike a chord with others. These ‘others’ might be counted in tens, thousands or hundreds of thousands. The number doesn’t matter.This is how language works and how writing can add meaning and self-worth to any individual in any community.

I have always sensed and felt that this was the case but it came to me as a certainty when I spent several years as writer in residence in a woman’s prison, working with talented and insightful writers, some of whom had read little and had no idea that they could write. (You can find examples HERE )

It was Mike Kirby, ex-governor of that prison who last week introduced Avril and me  Tony Wright Director of the Charity Forward-Assist See site HERE. We just thought we were going for coffee, but things turned out differently.

Not killing fields 
An ex-serviceman turned social and community worker himself, Tony  became concerned at the number of ex-servicemen of all ages (who had served their country in all the wars going back to World War 2) who ended up out of work, or in distress, or mentally stressed or homeless in the confusion engendered by their transition from military to civilian life.

So Tony developed  his idea as the charity Forward-Assist. In Forward Assist ‘peer led’ support groups and structured diversionary activities provide a much needed service that reduces social isolation and promotes community engagement with other veterans on a daily or weekly basis’.

Tony also described his research in the USA and official and unofficial support there for ‘Vets’. It was interesting to hear his description developments in the US after what came to be seen afterwards as the shaming treatment of Vietnam  ‘Vets’.

It was impossible not to be infected by Tony’s energetic enthusiasm as he described the wide range of projects now flourishing under the banner of  Forward-Assist – Fishing, Debating, Cooking, Gardeing,  Drama, Football, Photography and Film, Their debating project ended up with a visit to the House of Commons to experience a parliamentary debate. (See the pictures HERE.) 

And quite naturally we came to the possibility that creative writing could be developed into one   ‘diversionary activity’ under  the First-Assist Banner. It has already been tried once. Tony described one great workshop he had set up with Andrew Motion, which had been a great success.

As I said earlier, I think everyone, given the right safe environment can write. And  also  that settling down to write and writing regularly is a life-affirming, self-enhancing, self-learning, ultimately radiant process.

So it seems natural to us that the outcome of meeting and listening to Tony Wright is that Avril and I have offered ten weeks of workshops for Forward-Assist ex-soldiers, starting in the summer. I know we will all enjoy the process and that the process will, in the end produce interesting pieces of writing on a whole range of subjects. And then – in  co-operation with First-Assist  - we will publish this writing book which will be a credit  to the writers and also make them visible to the much wider world in all their diverse individuality.

We can only hope, in its own way, that ouWriting for Life project is as successful as are the football, gardening and the other Forward-Assist projects. We know that writing changes lives. See HERE 

We hope that this will be the case with anyone who joins our First-Assist group in the summer.


Veterans and Mental Health: uTube clip.

The Dilemma :

Tony Wright’s Project

The Debating Group. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Magic of Words and The Boy Who Likes Chocolate

Like many of us I spent New Year’s Day reading a present. This is an old and much loved habit. This one, though, was very different from the historical tomes of the past ( belated acknowledgement to Hilary Mantel.*)

The book this year was very special as it was a gift from my grandson, who has now graduated from being the boy who loves chocolate to scientist in a white coat. By Mark Forsyth, it is called The Etymoligicon and he inscribed it To Wendy: A Book that I thought would be right up your street. Love… 
Seems that the scientist in a white coat has bought the book for
Aiming for the  right word'.
himself and had gone back and got one for me. 
He and I have always had a love of words in common. One of our things used to  be playing the dictionary game 
This book The Etymoligicon is a - sometimes droll, sometimes outright funny, always very learned - essay about the words we use, their historical meanings and the extraordinary way in which they are interconnected.
Forsyth explains the deep history of the words that we bandy about as though they sprang out of the ether ready-formed. He shows how words of many nations share deep roots of meaning which are as old as the existence of social communication. In so doing he dissolves artificial differences between people and cultures.
With witty wordy magic he connects the origin of making books to the contemporary notion of  bookmaking; he connect compassion to pantaloons and panties, he connects the Gaullish trouser bragues with braggarts moving neatly onto codpieces and the bulging parts of buildings (braggets) and then –extraordinarily - onto the bracket symbol we use in texts. [ ]
Forsyth leads us on our merry way on the trail from genus to oxygen and nitrogen to things engendered onto military generals. If you are a general …you can order your troops to commit genocide.
And so, so on. In this book this and much more is laid out with such self-deprecating wit that you don’t realise just how much you are learning, not just about language but about the unities that bind our human culture.
Me, I think I know a lot about words and how to use them. But this New Year’s Day, sitting by the fire reading The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, I learned a lot more. Wx

Leaping out of a sea of words.

What present did you read after Christmas? Write and tell me in two hundred words and I will publish the first three on my new companion blog Twice Tasted Books.

*I see Wolf Hall will be a TV drama. Stand by for another test of whether a great book works as a film/



First Class Journey to London

Click-clack, click-clack
No reading, no writing
Three hours of sitting
Embalmed in comfort
Tracks clicking

Click-clack, click-clack
Night journey, no windows,
Marked out by looming signal boxes.
And the length of the land
Flashing by unseen. Click!

Click-clack, click-clack
Bright lights, big city
Tracks clicking.

23RD December 2014

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Sisters at Christmastime.

  These days I am thinking a lot about my sister. In the subconscious fashion common the writers,  

       I have discovered in recent years that I have drawn on elements of  and aspects of most members of my family inn my fiction (See The Romancer' HERE…). 
     That is, except for my sister. I am not sure why. 
     Sisters grow up in the same background in the same physical and psychological environment. Significantly they share a uniquely derived  gender identity,. But that does not mean they are the same kind of person. It merely makes a refinement of the differences between you – making them more ambiguous, more opaque,
I think we remember our sisters more deeply  than other siblings. Maybe this  relationship is bitten more deeply with love and guilt and perhaps framed with shared involuntary joys and failures.
I trailed behind my own sister. She was always impossibly talented and superior, like our mother with her fine dark eyes and bright hair the colour of a new penny. My own mousy curls could, I knew, never compete. The difference was more deeply scored when I was told by one teacher after another that if I was half as good as my sister I’d be all right.   I learned early that she was impossible to emulate. It was much easier to fail in her shadow.
I remember these crowded afternoons in a small front room, the Dansette clicking and purring. And a crowd of girls  dancing together, strutting their stuff, chopping arms, jutting feet, learning the moves, ready for Saturday. My sister was popular, a leader among them.   And could could she move!  Syncopating steps in her green  five inch heels as she danced the others into the floor.
When we were young wives she was generous to a fault. My new husband and I, broke after our wedding, lived for some months in her spare bedroom. On our first night there our  narrow Edwardian wardrobe - stuffed over-full with our clothes – collapsed. The great clatter was followed by a deep silence while all in the house held their breath,imaginations reeling. And then, nothing spoiled,  we all went back to sleep.
  Hers was a pretty, brand new house: dainty wallpaper and cushions; tea on the table just on six: home baked pies and cakes. I would watch her as she  put on her lipstick, combed her hair and set the table: a perfect wife, waiting for her man.
For me - messy. untidy, and disorganised -  failure to emulate was the only welcome option.
 And then there were the thing about children – one, two, three perfect babies. She was so good at this process that the doctor – a handsome man with neat manicured nails – asked the midwife to be called to witness what looked like a perfect event. The handsome doctor turned up, his  pyjamas hidden under his elegant top coat. He witnessed a perfectly managed birth – a relief for any man I would think.
And now today a this Christmas time  I am thinking about my sister and at last agreeing with the very wise Margaret Mead. Now we are both grown this has become the strongest relationship, stronger than it has ever been.
I'm looking forward to seeing her soon.


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