Sunday, 23 December 2012

On Christmas letters

Bella writes: Just what's so terrible about Christmas round robin letters? It's increasingly fashionable to scoff at them. But with a glass and a half of mulled wine in my belly, I say: Christmas letters, I bloody love 'em.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How to write a novel despite everything

Jenny writes: Just how did my neighbour score a five figure advance on her first novel, and find herself at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution? Those were the questions on my mind as I walked down the road to interview Elaine Powell – pen name EM Powell – at her home in Prestwich, north Manchester this week. Setting aside all questions of personal envy (jealous, moi?) I had to find out how a regular mum and local government worker had got herself a literary agent in New York. And when was her medieval murder mystery – The Fifth Knight - coming out, anyway?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The guy in the opposite seat

Bella writes: On the 20.40 train out of Leeds, I am faced with one of those dilemmas that polite commuters prefer to avoid. A teenager stretches over the only available table in the carriage, hood up, oversize black and red headphones hung round his neck. Do I risk abuse by claiming a share of the table?
“Anyone sitting here?” I ask, indicating the three other clearly empty seats.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Blogs, lying bastards and PR

PR maestro Alastair Campbell
Jenny writes: The Flack column in PRWeek features pictures of amusing PR stunts, bake sales and general office gossip from the world of public relations. Usually you'd flick through it with a lot less attention than you'd pay to say, Heat magazine. But last week, Flack reported on a shocker:

Monday, 17 September 2012

Fruit and veg, horses and hospitals

Jenny writes: Outside the hospital a young man with both legs amputated at the knee sits in a wheelchair, smoking. He’s attached to an IV stand and drip bag which teeter behind him like a distracted girlfriend. Next to him

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

50 shades of women

Women reading 50 Shades of Grey

The scene: a well appointed front room in Ramsbottom.
Cast: ladies of the "Lower Rossendale Valley Mums' book group". Names have been changed.

Bella writes: I'm apprehensive about book group this month. We're 'doing' 50 Shades of Grey, and I don't know how to talk to six other middle class mums about what is essentially a one-handed read. All we have in common is that we live locally and have children. Our hostess Faye's lounge is already packed when I arrive. Eleven women are squished onto every seating space in the room: the biggest turn out ever. My worst fears are confirmed when Faye reads out some questions for reading groups that she has downloaded from the Internet.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Notice of takeover

We're sick of the lame efforts of the so-called author of this website, so we've decided to take over. From now, it'll either be me posting (that's Jenny) or my friend and colleague Bella. Expect changes round here.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Circus Nights

"Something's happened to the park," my four year old called urgently as we approached the playground gates early one morning. He was right.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Books on legs

Over the next two months, if you live in the north of England, the chances are that some great writers and poets will be appearing at a venue near you. Yes, autumn is the season of literary festivals in these parts so here's my top five guide to northern literary festivals, large and small:

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Austerity and other words

image of 1940s austerity fashion

It's more than half way through 2012, so here are my top ten words of the year so far:

Sunday, 22 July 2012

One year - still here

It’s a year since I started this blog. I began it to create a space to write again. At the time, I wrote that I wanted to "to explore how putting two disparate items together can lead to a pattern, a picture, perhaps even ... a story."

Little did I imagine that writing this blog would pave the way for real, distinct and positive changes in my life. What am I on about? Well, as a direct result of my blog, I have:

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dickens/The Portico

Last week I went to the Portico Library in central Manchester for the first time. If I was going to dream up an ideal library, it would be the Portico.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Why does the sun always shine in Yorkshire? I don't know but it was blazing away last Saturday, making the grass look greener than it had in Manchester that morning. And yes that really is a Miro sculpture I see before me. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park looks fabulous on a bad day, and in the sun, viewing the current Juan Miro exhibition, if you half closed your eyes you could almost imagine being somewhere several degrees of longitude further south, the scent of wild thyme on the breeze, azure waves breaking on white sand ...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Yet more talent

One of the most surprising things about organising the Prestwich Book Festival is the number of local historical novelists who have got in touch. They’re sadly too late for this year, but next year's festival will be full of talent if this lot are anything to go by.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Why I set up a literary festival

When I became a mum, my world shrank to my baby, my partner and my house. I rarely ventured further than a 30 minute walk in any direction while the baby took a nap. These days my babies are older, but even so, the walk to school, to the shops, the park and the library still form a larger part of my daily experience than they ever did pre-kids.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Tea at the Grand Tazi

Alexandra Singer is a new Manchester-based writer with a remarkable story of her own - in 2008 when she was just twenty five, she suffered a near fatal neurological illness that left her in a coma for three months, and she was then told she would never walk again. While she was in hospital her brother found the manuscript of a novel she'd written - but had little memory of. Her story has a happy ending: tomorrow (March 1st) Tea at the Grand Tazi is published by Legend Press - and Alexandra is on the road to recovery.

Best of all, her novel is great...

Sunday, 19 February 2012

How not to get fat

I bounced into the health clinic expecting a glowing report, because I'm not in bad shape really, when you consider I've got two kids and a serious chocolate habit.

After lovely nurse Ruth stabbed me with a drawing pin I began to regret my decision to have a check-up  - after all I could have spent lunchtime reading Heat magazine - but now it was too late. Ruth pumped my thumb to get out sufficient blood ("like milking a cow") and popped the samples in a machine the size of my phone. Then came the really bad news ...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Happy Birthday Chuck

The man this blog owes its name to is 200 today. Or would be. Charles Dickens' memory was feted today around the globe, and events will be continuing all year. In London, this exhibition traces the links between the writer and the capital city he chronicled. Dickens had links with Manchester too of course. He was close to Elizabeth Gaskell, this city's greatest nineteenth century writer; he encouraged, edited and published many of her works, and was involved, like Gaskell, in social campaigns to improve life for the poorest in and around this metropolis.

It seems fashionable to berate news organisations for marking this anniversary. Tonight writer Jenny Diski told BBC Radio 4's PM that ...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A few reasons to love a library

I visit my local library about once a week, usually with my children in tow. I value my local library because: a) the librarians don't mind if my youngest one runs around b) they have handy laminated bookmarks with reading suggestions c) it is a more culturally enriching experience for my children than anything else my local town centre has to offer and d) I love to browse, and will always come home with an unexpected title.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Mini post about micro fiction

Full of ideas but no time? Here's the perfect outlet - you've got until Tuesday to come up with a short story of only 100 words. Entry details are here. This micro fiction competition is organised by the good people at National Flash Fiction Day, to be held on May 16th this year.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

First time novels

Picture this: you're struggling to write your first novel and the last thing you want to hear is some bloke on the radio opine that "debut novels need a big idea to stand out from the pack". He's got one of those authoritative BBC voices so that even though you try to dismiss them, the words lodge themselves in a cranny of your subconscious where they echo each time you dare to think about the already remote chances of ever getting published in the traditional way. Worst of all his words chime with something you heard a couple of years ago, from the mouth of a publisher, about would-be published writers needing to be "the complete package". 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A childhood rabbit

Happy New Year to you all! The first post of 2012 is by Yelena Furman - a writer, academic and new mother who lives in Los Angeles but originally hails from Ukraine. It was prompted by an earlier post about an encounter with a rabbit:

A couple of months ago, as I was walking to my car, I saw a rabbit.  This was not a usual occurrence, as this was in a rather industrial part of Los Angeles.  The rabbit, which was black and white, appeared in front of me seemingly out of nowhere and hopped to the grassy part of the curb, where it sat for a few moments and looked around.  I only saw it briefly before I got into the car and went home.

When I was growing up, we had a pet rabbit.  Rather unimaginatively, and without actually having seen Bambi, I named him Thumper.  Thumper was small and brown and lived in a cage in our backyard.