Saturday 24 September 2011

This is Queenie…

From Paulie’s Web 

This is Queenie, whom Paulie  first meets in the white van on the way to prison

…That time Queenie was sectioned and in the hospital they gave her the pills that took away her visions of the giant trees and stars and the Water Man.   She was meek, very good, in the hospital.   She helped with the tea rounds, taught a young girl to read, and stayed tucked up in her bed all night.

When they had a case conference the professionals decided that Queenie Pickering was a prime candidate for Care in the Community, now not only fashionable but compulsory.   Her house with its cocktail cabinet was sold.  In a rare soft moment she had signed the lot over to Janine, her niece.   Janine had sold it and gone off to build a new life for herself and her boyfriend Roger, in the depths of Canada.

But there was sheltered housing with a very kind warden.  Queenie - for everyone called her Queenie now - Queenie could live there and the nurse could call every week to see that she was taking her medication.   Everything would be Hunky Dory.   Wasn’t that how Care In The Community worked?

After a week Queenie walked out of the sheltered house.    She put on her hat - not so smart now - put all her most precious things in three carrier bags, and caught the long distance bus to the town where they would not find her.   Best to lie low, she thought.  Best to lie low.  The gleaming Water Man would be there.  He was everywhere, so he would be in the city.  And the sky in that place would be studded with the pearly moon, the golden sun and the silver stars.  And there again the trees would stride the earth.Paulie JPeg

‘…when bats fly at noon

and owls take refuge in darkness

frightened of solitude

proud to be independent

with silver shields

to hide their isolation…’


Wednesday 21 September 2011

Picture this: Writing People

Picture this Our writer goes on Monday morning to spend time with writers in Cramlington. Early start to drive there. She found the place after a few false starts. They  passed the library and the Pheonix pub, where she has given talks in previous years,  This time it was a church hall which she  found after circling quite a number of roundabout. (One lady, when she arrived ,was sympathetic. Cramlington is roundabout city, she said.)  …

We arrived just in time and a crowded room with a large circle eager faces met me . I had a little flutter with bags and books before I launched into my take on a wroiter’s life.

It was interesting to note that half of the members of this group were men.  This is unusual as many groups entirely or almost entirely consist of women. There was definitely an energetic buzz  in this room.

I referred to my writer’s memoir the cover 2 The Romancer within the talk because this is my own  literary take on my writer’s life. I focused first on what I call ‘picture this’ – a piece of writing rendering in the third person.incidents which happened to me.

I read two extracts which begin…

Picture this. A little girl of three in a Fair Isle cardigan, playing outside a house in Lancaster. With her head of Shirley Temple curls she’s winsome, prettier than she’ll ever be in the many years to come. She’s chalking on the sill of the big bay window. She stands back. That looks right. Just like she has seen her mother do, when she writes her letters. But then the little girl frowns her characteristic…

and from much later in the book

Picture this: Our writer, now our young mother, is sitting with her back to the sea wall at Alnmouth on the Northumberland coast, surrounded by the detritus of a seaside picnic. The wind from the east is cutting and she wears two ponchos knitted for her in carpet wool - bought as a bargain - by her mother Barbara.   … Our girl has never liked the cold, suffering blue hands and feet as a child….

I read these extracts to show  that writing about your experience in the third person carries  a curious fictive liberation and allows you as the writer to get closer to the truth without the internal gag of reductive autobiography.

Then it was their turn. I challenged them to write their own ‘Picture this. Some people were unsure. One man said outright that he couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. But he was persuaded. In fact these writers  met the challenge wholeheartedly and the read-around revealed some genuine  talent and sensitivity among these writers.

The Picture This notion had sold itself and the writers showed both their talented response and their satisfaction in the process.

It was a very staisfying, busy and hectic morning and Avril and I found our way out of Cramlington more easily than we found out way in…

Footnote The discussion was very lively and interested and moved to the distraction of misleading covers and democratisation of publishing for writers through Kindle. More on both those subjects next time.

Take a look at my ebook Paulie’s Web ….

Friday 16 September 2011

Paulie on her way…

Paulie JPeg  I have been thinking, as you know,(see last post) about books on Kindle.  Having done all the work putting  Paulie’s Web onto Kindle myself  I feel I know the whole seventy thousand words by heart! And I’m learning lots of new things about the Kindle process. By the time I get through all my novels I’ll be quite an expert.

Already lots of people are downloading Paulie. She seems to appeal to many readers for different reasons. If you are interested in the experiences of people on the margins of our comfortable lives, you will like Paulie! She is great - clever, resourceful and capable of surviving the hardest challenges that life throws up at her.

In the story Paulie is at the centre of a web five very different women whom she encounters in prison. Their charm, their pain and their humour affect  Paulie’s  life and she touches theirs, as we see when they meet again years later.  Paulie  also has an impact on her psychiatrist who has to change some of his preconceptions when he meets her.

Prisons can be hard places for anyone associated with them. My own experience as writer in residence  - for a total of five years - was challenging and life-changing. Interestingly when I was first interviewed for this role I asked the Governor what would surprise me about this experience on the margins of the prison world. He told me  I would be surprised how much laughter there was inside.

His words proved to be true.  I hope Paulie’s Web – as well as telling the truth about the desperate lives some women are forced to lead – reflects the laughter and the comradeship in that prison – as far away from ‘Bad Girls’ and Mars is from Venus,

Interestingly enough  it was after this prison experience – ten years ago -  I felt able to reflect on and write about the lives of women in internment in World War Two Singapore, in my novel Long Journey Home (click) which is still around on Amazon and in libraries. That will be on Kindle too whan I get faster at this game.

If you fancy meeting Paulie, Click  Paulie’s Web here  to download your Kindle  edition for the price of a glass of wine, quite a nice aftershave or a bargain lipstick! £3.44

(Stop press - My great discovery today  is that if you don’t yet have a Kindle reader there a lots of FREE applications you can download to read Amazon books  on your computer – including Paulie’s Web, and my collaborator Avril Joy’s Orchid House . You can get them on your computer, your phone or other convenient screens)

They are easy to read! I had a go. Just click here on stories on your screen and follow the trail.


Monday 12 September 2011

Hooray! Paulie’s Web now on Kindle

With my friend and collaborator Avril Joy I have been experimenting with the process of publishing a novel on Amazon Kindle. Like many informed people I have moved from the notion that these E readers  might be a passing fancy towards  the new and important sense that novels in this new democratic form of publishing can give a public platform to many talented writers whose good novels  may never survive the thorny obstacle race that is present day market-driven publishing.

Avril and I are interested in this process for our own work, but also interested in making the process accessible  to new writers, particularly those who attend our Room To Write conferences – where many writers are working at publishable level.

So – what to put up on this new, magical system. My second short story collection? One of my early children’s novels? ‘The Romancer’, my memoir about writing?Paulie JPeg Cover

I plumped for Paulie’s Web  which sprang out of my life-changing experience as a writer in residence in a woman’s prison.

This novel has been a long time a-coming. It has taken me ten years to digest the extremities of my experience in prison and write my novel as true fiction in a way that pays tribute to the many  women I met while working there. If, by the by, it goes some way to cracking the absurd stereotypes of women in prison it will be an extra delight.  While there are dark passages here I make no apologies for the ultimately optimistic tone of this story which is a true reflection of the humour, stoicism and kindness that I was witness to in my prison experience.

So, what is it about?

Paulie Smith, rebel, ex-teacher and emerging writer comes out of prison after six years, her conviction overturned. As she moves around in the next few days, struggling to readjust to the scary realities of life ‘on the out’, she reflects on her life in prison. She focuses particularly on her first few weeks inside, alongside the four very different women whom she first met in the white van on their way to their first remand prison.

Paulie’s thoughts move from Queenie, the old bag- lady who sees giants and angels, to Maritza who has disguised her pain with an ultra-conventional life, to Lilah, the spoiled apple of her mother’s eye,  to the tragedy of Christine - the one with the real scars.

And then there is Paulie herself, who ended up in prison through no fault of her own. Their unique stories, past and present, mingle as Paulie - free at last - goes looking for these unique women who have now been ‘on the out’ for some years and are, Paulie hopes,  remaking their lives.

Now  PAULIE’S WEB is on its way to being out there on Kindle! It is in the works. It should be up there tomorrow for readers to download. Fingers crossed.

 Avril’s clever, sensual novel THE ORCHID HOUSE is already out  there and she has posted some helpful tips on her blog for writers out there who want to have a go. Her book is downloadable, as she says, for the price of a decent cup of coffee. A new day dawns for all writers.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Pragmatic Angels

These days novels with overt or implicit supernatural themes are creating and increasingly popular field of fiction.  My own novel An Englishwoman in France WiF Coverhas at its centre a modern woman who sees the dead and can slip through time. It was fun to write as somewhere in my subconscious I feel I can do just this.

Last night I went to Thornaby Library to take part in the Read Regional Campaign with two other authors Beda Higgins and Carolyn Jess-Cook    

Carolyn talked about her novel The Guardian Angel’s Journal which is the story of Margo, who dies at forty two and returns to earth as Ruth to be her own Guardian Angel  and  encounters the possibility of making crucial changes change. 

Carolyn’s reflections on her approach to writing this novel were satisfyingly pragmatic, not in the least airy-fairy or quasi religious; her affection for her her characters - Margo and her angelic alter ego Ruth - shines out in her discourse. making the supernatural  propositions in the novel seem believable, even rational. No wonder this novel is being praised across continents, although perhaps the Americans’ promotion of it as a ‘Christian Novel’ is a bit reductive. A must to read, I think.

Beda Higgins  the prizewinning North Eats writer read from her new collection CChameleonhameleon. The short story she read to us  reflect her insight into  a child’s point of view where reality and fantasy dissolve into each other and everyday playground experiences of a vulnerable little girl are processed in a dark surreal fashion that end up in near tragedy and what seems like a supernatural transformation of the little girl herself. Another ‘must’ to read.

There was a buzz in the room, and some interesting conversations. The people  asked questions about our writing processes. I seems that we all work in different fashions but agreed that it was most important to write consistently – many days in sequence , to write opportunistically when the time to write emerges, and to have the story in your head even when you are not writing. I advocated separating the writing and the editing processes entirely. Carolyn Told a fascinating story of writing this novel at astonishing speed when an agent had seen the first fifty pages and liked it.

The writers in the room asked for our recommendations for inspiring books. These emerged:

Dorothea Brande:  On Becoming a Writer

Walter Mosely: So This Is The Year You Write Your Novel

Stephen King: On Writing

A very good evening…


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