Paperchains and Nelson’s Eye: Christmas Days at Nan’s remembered

2-vintage-christmas-wrapping-paperMy earliest Christmas Days were spent at Nan and Grandad’s.  Until I was six, my parents and I lived upstairs in my grandparents’ three-storey house (a railway house – Grandad was a train driver).  After we moved out, we made the trip across Brighton, but that was no problem because the buses ran on Christmas Day.

There was always a crowd of us for Christmas Day, including my aunt, uncle and cousins from London, whom I couldn’t wait to see. The same decorations came out year after year; paperchains strung across the ceilings (licked by me in the preceding weeks – I must have been high on glue by the time Christmas came!), shiny paper stars, crumpled with age, and a small fake tree from Woolworths with red berries on the ends of the branches.  The tree took pride of place in the front room window upstairs while we were downstairs in the basement, making full use of the small living room – called the kitchen – the dining room at the front, and the scullery at the back.  This arrangement was old-fashioned even then.  Looking back, it seems incredible that Nan cooked Christmas dinner for us all on the ancient gas stove in the scullery, with none of gadgets we seem to need now to make the simplest meal.

It wasn’t just the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, either.  The Christmas cake andwalnuts-558488_960_720
pudding were made weeks before, mince pies and sausage rolls baked on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day tea was almost as big a meal as dinner.  With tangerines, nuts and sweets in plentiful supply, I remember the day as being one big feast.  I disgraced myself one Christmas tea-time.  Nan asked me if I liked her Christmas cake.  ‘It’s a bit puddeny,’ I announced.   I’d heard my mother say that of course.

A point to note here:  my mother did not like Christmas, a fact she made all too plain.  She didn’t like her father much either.  Also, at some point in the proceedings, at least one of the London contingent would have misbehaved.  One year, the oil painting in the attic of Moses in the Bulrushes was used as a dartboard after a go at the cherry brandy. Our Christmases may have looked idyllic on the surface, but underneath, tension ran like wires through cheese.

As a treat, I was allowed a small glass of port and lemon.  I don’t suppose there was much port in it but I thought it was marvellous.  This early introduction to alcohol had me in disgrace again when, being taken to visit another aunt around Christmas time, I was asked what I would like to drink.  I didn’t hesitate. ‘Port and lemon.’  My mother was mortified and tried to cover up my faux pas.  I think I only got the lemon that time.

chineseAt Nan’s, when we weren’t stuffing ourselves silly, we played games. Dominos, draughts, snakes and ladders, all emerged from years-old boxes.  There was a game called Chinese Checkers.  I never did understand how to play it – I don’t think any of us did, and there were pieces missing anyway.  There were other sorts of games, too, and these, miserable child that I was, I found no fun at all, but it was Christmas and I had to endure them or be labelled a spoilsport.  One of these involved being blindfolded and sat on a chair.  Then you were lifted up, everyone calling out how high you were going, until bang, your head hit the ceiling and you screamed.  At least, I did.  It wasn’t the ceiling, it was a plank held above your head when you were only a foot off the ground.  Then there was Nelson’s eye.  Blindfolded again, your finger was guided into the soft squidgy eye, to much hilarity all round.  I never found it the least bit funny to be shown half an orange when the blindfold came off.

No Christmas would have been complete without Grandad enticing me and my cousins to crawl into the cupboard under the stairs to find what ‘treasures’ we could in this glory hole.  Once we were in, he would hold the door shut, trapping us in the airless pitch dark, until we became hysterical.  This trick wasn’t confined to Christmas, but we fell for it, every time.  Well, we didn’t want to spoil Grandad’s fun, did we?  What with the blindfolds and the entrapment, is it any wonder I’m a fully paid-up member of Claustrophobics Anonymous?

Grandad did have one party trick I loved, and would ask him to do, over and over.  It was simply this: he would cut a brazil nut in half and set light to the cut side, turning it into a magical, miniature candle.

Our day ended with the adults playing cards and my cousins and I lolling around, half asleep, clutching our favourite present from Father Christmas.   Mine one year was a black doll.  To my mother’s puzzlement, I’d longed for a ‘black dolly’ and was overjoyed when I got one – I must have been a very PC child, that’s all I can say.  This plastic beauty was dressed in orange knitted clothes, which, funnily enough, were the same as those I’d seen my other grandmother (Dad’s mum) knitting for the babies in Africa. Pure coincidence, of course  😉

Merry Christmas, all!

Deirdre

Deirdre’s latest novel, Never Coming Back, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 8th December.  Order from Amazon UK here:   http://amzn.to/2fG0FrJ   or from Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2fbMJBe

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula Blooms Again

 

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Ursula Bloom was one of the most popular romance and historical fiction authors of the twentieth century. She wrote over 560 books, a feat which earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for many years, as the world’s most prolific female writer. She also wrote under a series of pen names, including Sheila Burns and Lozania Prole. As well as novels and non-fiction, Ursula wrote short stories, radio and stage plays, and worked as a Fleet Street journalist. Her work is now being reissued, in ebook and paperback, by Corazon Books.  The first of these, “Wonder Cruise: one woman’s romantic adventure of a lifetime”, is published today.

www.amazon.co.uk/Wonder-Cruise-romantic-adventure-lifetime-ebook/dp/B01CWCD5UA

Wonder Cruise Ursula Bloom

The Write Romantics thank Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books for letting us share this lovely piece of Ursula’s writing with our followers.  We hope you enjoy it.

 How to enjoy someone else’s party by Ursula Bloom

Today too many people go to a party with the feeling that they are going to be bored; the result is that they are bored, and can you be surprised?

The success of the party you are asked to, as far as you are concerned, depends very largely on the mood in which you approach it. If you don’t want it, then don’t go to it. Don’t feel that it is the hostess’s job to amuse you and arrive with that amuse-me-or-get-out expression. A few more like you will spoil any party. Don’t leave dressing for it so late that you have to rush it, get into a flap, which stays with you, and find yourself like that for the rest of the evening.

I am polite enough to foster the idea ‒ by no means general ‒ that it is very kind of people to ask me to their parties and that I am grateful for their efforts on my behalf. I try to make myself as pleasant a guest as I can. Unlike the famous publisher at my house, who having upset the whole of a very large drink over my best table cloth and polished table stared at me in misery. I said ‒ I hope pleasantly ‒ ‘Don’t worry in the least, the table can easily be re-polished, it doesn’t matter,’ whereupon he replied, ‘Your table doesn’t worry me in the least, it is my trousers!’ He has never been asked again!

There is a very great deal in arriving at a party in the right mood. If you go to it on the principle I-hate-the-Smiths-anyway-and-know-it’ll-be-awful-but-there-you-are, and if on the journey to the party your husband keeps up a running commentary of ‘Why-did-we-ever-start? You-know-what-I-think-of-the-Smiths. How-soon-can-we-leave-with-decency?’ none of you are going to enjoy it very much, you know. Say to yourself, ‘This is going to be a lovely party. I shall enjoy myself most enormously. This is my idea of fun,’ and after that you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll get out of it. If it is one of those dull parties where you just sit or stand around with nothing to do, then find yourself a task. It is always a great deal more fun if you are helping to hand things round; see what’s wanted, take upon yourself to be friendly, and have pity on the lonelies in the room.

Never wait for introductions because like that you may find that you’ve got yourself stuck for the whole afternoon or evening. Speak to the lonely person who happens to be sitting dully there with no one to talk to, not knowing what to do. You’d be surprised how pleased people are to have someone to talk to, and many a highly satisfactory friendship is started this way. The point of the average party is to get people together, get them to know one another and waive introductions, and if you are a good guest, you will connive with your hostess on this and do your best for her.

‘I wouldn’t know what to say’, people tell me. Now this is silly because it can so easily be got over. If the worst comes to the worst, arm yourself with a few stock remarks and let them break the ice for you. ‘Do you live near here?’ ‘Do you go to many parties? I don’t, and always feel a fish out of water.’ ‘What is that you’re drinking?’ ‘Have you known our hostess long?’ Or, as one (very pleasant) fellow I met at a party approached me with (I think) the most masterly latchkey to conversation, ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I do so like your hat, where did you get it?’

That of course is finesse!

And if you are one of those unfortunate people who nurses a hunch that you hate parties and loathe the very thought of being included in them, then don’t waste your time repining, and cursing that you are ever asked to them. Give up the idea. Find your right niche. Stay at home in the realisation that the party spirit isn’t yours and therefore it is no good trying to catapult yourself out on the principle of I’ve-come-here-to-enjoy-myself-and-enjoy-myself-I-will! At the same time if this is the attitude that you are going to adopt, don’t do it with the idea of making a martyr of yourself, deploring the fact that you never get asked out and about any more, and inferring that you are a lonely little soul, somewhat neglected by your friends.

As long as you will think only of yourself, you are going to limit your fun very sadly. Give it up. Cast an eye on the people around you, and get a little real fun out of them.

You can find out more about Ursula here:

www.ursulabloom.com

 

Listening to a story

My fifth book, New Year at the Boss’s Bidding, is out now and for the first time one of my books is availableNew Year at the Boss's Bidding as an audio book. I was really excited when I was told this, but it got me thinking about the whole concept of audio books.

Have you ever listened to a book? My first answer to that question was yes. A long time ago I bought a CD (before the days of download!) but then the question transported me back to my childhood, to sitting on the floor of the classroom, in the reading corner, listening to a story being read by the teacher. From there, my trip down memory lane went to a television series  I loved watching. Jackanory was BBC’s story telling series which ran for over thirty years. So I guess listening to a story is something I do enjoy. I’d just forgotten all about it.

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I’m now quite full of enthusiasm to just sit and listen to a book. Imagine curling up on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and a story being read to you. What about listening while doing jobs around the home? When I’m in the kitchen I often have the television on for company, so wouldn’t an audio book be better? And then there’s travelling. I can just imagine being on a train, watching the landscape pass by whilst listening to a story.

I’m going to give them a try, but what do you think? Is listening really reading?

Happy reading – or listening!

Rachael

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Grab yourself a diy website with wordpress

Ever wondered what WordPress can do other than blogging? Remember when websites were only for those who could afford them and having a website of your own wasn’t really feasible for ordinary folk?

And then came WordPress. What happened was a clever techie chap decided he’d create some software, which could build a website for people without specialist skills or loads of money. So he made a site and some pages that people could use, so they could change the photos and text of his original to make it their own, and thus create their own free website. The design he created was called a template, and the whole programme he named WordPress. The scheme really took off. Now there are well over 2,700 free templates, and many more available at a variety of costs if you want to splash out.Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 20.04.50

What’s more, he made it open source, so there is no copyright, no-one owns it and its free to use and always will be. Open source also means anyone can add bits of code to personalise their own version, though capable people update the whole thing. Many people do make it their own, because talented developers add bits of programme that we can choose to use or not, like mailing lists and special effects. It looks good on their developer’s CV, so its a win win situation. WordPress is a big hit; anyone can now have a website that they can make exactly their way, for a minimal price. Now its reckoned that around 25% of websites are powered by WordPress – its not just people on a budget, even the Rolling Stones use WordPress.Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 20.08.12

So what are the options if you’re thinking of setting up a site? There are now two different sorts of WordPress – wordpress.com and wordpress.org – and there is a difference in how they are managed, and the costs involved.

Firstly, you need somewhere to keep your website so people can see it. Your own computer isn’t set up to do it, so you need a space on someone else’s specialist computer. This is known as hosting. WordPress.com does this and is free for a few pages, but there are drawbacks. Only a few pages are free, you might have to have adverts on your site, you have to choose one of their themes, and if they don’t like your site they just take it down. There are restrictions on all sorts of things and if you want to change things you have to pay. I suppose they’ve got to make their money somehow. Its around £80 a year as at 2015, more for your own name.

There is, to my mind a much better deal. WordPress.org runs in a very different way. The software is totally free but again you must have somewhere to put it that isn’t your own computer, hosting. A Google search will give you any number of companies. In my experience those that come at the top of the list are expensive. I wanted a cheap price, lots of space, UK helpline, short waiting times to be answered, and knowledgeable service. I didn’t want much, eh? I got all that, plus room for loads of pages bulging with photos, videos, a shop and all sorts. I got that from TSO host. I knew nothing when I went to them and they talked me through the whole lot and downloaded WordPress to my own site. I bought my domain name through them (easier than trying to match up a site name with the pages elsewhere. That was around £10, the hosting is £2.99 a month (in 2015), and that was all I needed to get started.

At first I had to watch a lot of videos to see how it worked, and they’re all free too. But now I’m pretty good at zipping around it, and if I fancy changing the colour or something, I can do that with the press of a few buttons. There are extra bits of software you can use to tag on features; they’re called widgets and plugins. You look for what you want via the management pages of your website. Say you want an emailing list, find a plugin that does what you want, read the reviews just to check if it’s okay or not, click a few boxes and, hey presto, its added a bit of code for you and job done. I love the freedom its given me.

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Of course there is a drawback. As WordPress is developed by so many people, there isn’t one central person you can go to for support, though lots of people will know a lot. Each plugin or widget will have a developer you can approach for help, but mostly you go to one of the dedicated message boards and ask on there. Its not as scary as it sounds, and pretty soon you’ll be answering questions yourself.

And you know what else I like? The language. There are all sorts of zany terms for humdrum items. For example there is one button which you click and then a whole load of other menus come up and you’ll never guess what its called. Because it contains so many useful functions its called the kitchen sink! Isn’t that sweet? Its the only kitchen sink I can happily use without getting an attack of the heebie jeebies!

I’ve dotted a few screenshots of websites built with WordPress, hope you like them. There even a new plug-in called moo berry dreams, especially for authors, which lists your books and uses the information to prepare press releases and other things leaving more time for writing. See mooberrydreams.com

Lynne Pardoe.

Stop, look & listen with Kathy Paterson

KP pictureOur guest on the blog today is Kathy Paterson, a writer from West Sussex whose poem was recently selected from among hundreds of entries into a competition held by the British animal rescue charity, Waders, to feature in an anthology raising funds for its vital work in wildlife rescue. Kathy is also busy penning short stories for women’s magazines and is in the process of writing her debut novel. Welcome to the blog, Kathy, and over to you.

Well, this is a nice diversion, writing a guest post for the Write Romantics rather than my own – how lovely to be asked and rather scary to live up to the expectations of another blog!

I was thinking about why I started to write – if I’m perfectly honest, it wasn’t down to a burning passion to get the stories whirling in my head committed to paper. Instead it was a solution to a problem that I had – ever practical, that’s me. I’d been ill and as a consequence my life was changing dramatically. Physically I was limited, and mentally too to some degree, so I knew that, just as it was vital to exercise my body to retain what capability I had, I needed to do the same for my brain.

Cue a new Creative Writing Group at my local Community Centre. It fitted the bill and so I signed up. From the get go, the Group has been astonishing. I am in awe of the creativity and quality of the writing. Their breadth of knowledge and passion is inspirational. Above all, there’s no judgement. Honest appraisals will be given – make no mistake about that! But there’s encouragement to try new styles and genres. Being part of a trusted circle has allowed me to experiment and write outside my comfort zone.

I feel rather ashamed to have admitted that’s how I started writing. I’d always written – factual (for the most part) reports for work and I am passionate about reading – if I wasn’t a ruthless de-clutterer, the house would be subsumed by stacks of books. However, there are so many astounding authors; it can let fear and laziness persuade me that I have nothing to contribute.

So, due to said fear and laziness, I know that I have to set myself writing goals. First up was to start writing my own blog, The Middle-aged Pensioner which I did in 2014. I aim to write at least one post a month; sometimes more if I discover a rich subject seam. This writing is non-fiction, more observations on my own situation which may perhaps offer help to others.

My second goal is to finish my novel. I began it properly earlier this year; but the pesky characters keep surprising me, so I’m not quite clear where it’s going or what genre it will be. This for me is the joy of writing – it’s consistently surprising and I’m baffled how a concept in my imagination can take on a life of its own.

I usually write at my dining table, once all chores have been completed. Malin with toyThe radio is switched off as is the internet connection. Total silence apart from a ticking clock and the tip-tapping of my fingers on the keyboard are the only sounds. The afternoon is usually best as the street where I live is quiet and my young dog is walked and, hopefully, asleep! The discipline of writing for an hour each day works best for me – when and what is written is not as important so much as actually getting into the habit. Invariably, I write for much longer than the sixty minutes.

That sounds terribly formal doesn’t it? I can honestly say that inspiration does suddenly strike too and that’s when I tend to write poetry. If I can translate a sight or emotion in a form that triggers the same in another person, it’s magical. Inspiration itself can literally come from anywhere. I’m a great believer of taking time to “Stop, look and listen”. Almost any situation, conversation, written article or notice can trigger an idea or concept which can be explored further. Then it’s a case of hoping I’ve remembered a notebook and pen to record the idea; or if those are not to hand, usually I have my mobile ‘phone to capture a cryptic note or a snatch of dialogue.

So what would be my advice to share? Hmmm, well based on my experience, if you can identify what’s stopping you from writing, you’ll be able to find a way to overcome it. Equally important, find a cheerleader or three (family, friends, complete strangers who’ve come across your musings via the internet); their motivation will act as a spur or sharp stick when yours is flagging. Finally, remember your Green Cross Code!

Kathy Paterson

Thank you so much for joining us on the blog today, Kathy, good luck with the anthology and please let us know how your novel is progressing.

Follow Kathy at her blog:

https://middleagedpensioner.wordpress.com/

You can purchase a copy of the anthology featuring Kathy’s poem – Words for Waders – here.

 

 

 

 

This book belongs to…

Buying a brand new book is a treat, one of life’s little pleasures.  But the book itself, well, it’s just a book, isn’t it?  A sterile bundle of paper.  If it’s fiction, you’ve bought yourself a story, and that’s a very special thing.  You may collect all the books that author has written, or know them personally, and that’s special, too.

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But root around among the offerings in charity shops and jumble sales, as I like to do, and you’ll find books with stories of their own, aside from those printed on the pages.

I’m not a prolific reader of poetry by any means but I do think a poem belongs inside a proper book, the older the better, and I’m always on the look-out for those.  One of my favourite finds, bought for pence at a jumble sale, is a small red-bound copy of The Albatross Book of Living Verse, published in 1933.  Inside the cover is written in green ink: ‘Bought at Steyning, Sussex, 1949’, and a name I can’t decipher, so even by that time I imagine it had passed through other hands.

Flicking through the tissue-thin pages when I arrived home with my prize, I found there was more to this little book than the inscription.  Several passages had been emphatically underlined with the same green ink.  No casual enjoyment of verses here, then; this was somebody who took their poetry seriously. There’s a note written in the margin of a Rupert Brooke war poem.  It says: ‘Pilot Officer Frank Stanyon  ??, 1940, RAF,’ in the same handwriting as the note in the front.  A nice sense of mystery there – was the book owned by Frank himself, or somebody connected to him?

Inscriptions inside books intrigue me, even if it’s just the owner’s

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name. It feels as if I’m being allowed a glimpse into somebody’s life.  Children’s books are a good source.  Who remembers proudly writing inside the cover of a new book: ‘This book belongs to…’?  Do children still do that?  I don’t know; there aren’t any children in our family, but I suspect they do.

When my boys were young I bought them a jolly-looking Enid Blyton story book at the school Christmas fair.  Actually, I think I bought it for me because of the lovely old-fashioned illustrations – I don’t remember the boys taking much interest.  Inside was written in wobbly writing the name of a girl who had been in my class at school some 30 years earlier.  I felt that book had made a round trip, carrying its own story with it.

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Sometimes it’s not what’s written inside a book but what is hidden among the pages which tells another story.  Somebody passed on to me an ancient copy of The Good Housekeeping Compendium which belonged to an elderly lady. I won’t be attempting to stuff a hare or hang a pheasant but I’ve kept the book because tucked inside is a yellowing page torn from The Farmer and Stockbreeder, October 20, 1930.  On one side it urges the reader to ‘Practise Making Sweets for Christmas’, with recipes for delights such as Elves’ Fudge and My Cocoanut Candy. Common sense tells me that the recipes were why she kept it, but I prefer the other side of the page which has an article entitled ‘Fashion Inclines to Comfort’.  It’s all about hats, hemlines, corsets and knickers for countrywomen.  Did countrywomen need special knickers?  Maybe they did, to keep out the cold!

As well as being interesting in their own right, it occurred to me that these hidden stories could provide a writer with an idea for a brand new story.  The author Ali Smith certainly thinks so.  She made many discoveries among the books she was sorting for Amnesty International.  In an article on the subject, she talks about intriguing inscriptions, postcards, and photos she found among the pages, and how  some of them inspired and informed her own writing.  One of her finds – a vintage photo of a girl in a bathing suit – set her thinking about the structure of her best-selling novel How to be Both.

‘Who says books don’t beget books?’ she says.  And that’s a good way of putting it, I think.

Deirdre

Location, Location!

Melbourne at night - free image Pixabay

After living in Australia for fourteen years, we made the decision to return to the UK to be nearer to my family. We left Australia on October 20th 2014 and so it seemed fitting that almost a year on (we arrived in the UK October 26th), I write about the setting for my novels so far.

I spent nine years in Melbourne and five in Sydney and Australia will always hold a special place in my heart. I set my first novel in a fictitious town on the Central Coast with my characters visiting and working in Sydney itself, then Handle Me with Care was set in the fictitious suburb of Huntley. Handle Me with Care really let me embrace my love for Melbourne and talk about all the fantastic places that have seen it named the World’s Most Liveable City several years in a row. I love everything about Melbourne – the friendly and approachable people, the tram network that’s just so easy, the surrounding green space.

My third novel is due to be released in only two weeks’ time, on November 3rd, and yes, you guessed it, it’s set in Australia too. This time I’ve set the story in a fictitious town called Magnolia Creek and What Rosie Found Next is the first in my Magnolia Creek series. The series will be made up of standalone stories but will all be set in the same beautiful area nestled in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne.

The Dandenong Ranges always hold a good memory for me, not only for their beauty. When I first arrived in Australia a friend and I decided we would go to the Dandenongs and explore – we’d heard there were quaint little shops that sold freshly baked scones with cream so we were sold. Now, remember these were the days before iPhones and Sat Navs so armed with our copy of the Melways – an enormous book of maps – off we went.

Disappointed, we returned to work the next day moaning to colleagues, and a little embarrassed, that we hadn’t seen Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges with their breathtaking scenery, low mountain ranges, rolling hills and Mountain Ash trees, and when we told them we’d been to Dandenong and seen a suburb much like any other, the people we worked with found it hysterical. Dandenong is a whole different place…’The’ Dandenongs were in a different direction entirely.

Anyway, we lived it down, eventually, until the day we went to visit the Grampians, but that’s a different story altogether!

koala - free pixabay imageSetting my books in Australia came naturally when I wrote The Friendship Tree. I’d been living in the country for such a long time that I never considered a different place. I had fun with fictitious suburbs and when I formed Magnolia Creek I wanted to return to Victoria but set my story in a small town with gorgeous Australian scenery, a vibrant community, characters who had stories to tell and problems to solve.

So will I always set my stories in Australia? Well, that I’m not sure of. What I do know is that I’ve had a lot of fun with the setting so far and I’m already back in Magnolia Creek as I work on the first draft of book four bringing new characters to town. But who knows where it’ll be after Magnolia Creek…maybe over to another country entirely. Now that could be fun!

Helen J Rolfe.

What Rosie Found Next - bookcover - KDP version

 

What Rosie Found Next is the first novel in the Magnolia Creek series and it’s available for pre-order now. The book will be released November 3rd 2015…

Secrets are unearthed, promises are broken, friendships are put to the test and the real risk of bushfires under the hot Australian sun threatens to undo Rosie once and for all…Will Rosie and Owen be able to find what they want or what they really need?

What Rosie Found Next – Available for pre-order now