Bournemouth 19/05/17

It was dark, but this is Bournemouth, in the middle of a subway, under a roundabout:

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Is it just me being pretentious, or is there a metaphor here? Even if it is mid-May rather than November.





Productive ways to avoid your novel and Victorians at their best.

I have two articles out today. The first, ‘Productive Procrastination’, is in the June issue of Writing Magazine. I lay out twelve good excuses to avoid your novel. This didn’t require much research. I shouldn’t blow my own trumpet too much, but I’m an expert in this area. As usual, my mate Gary Dalkin provides market news.

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(I’m the ‘Don’t fret about downtime’.)

I own to a natural bias towards WM as the editor gave me my break into journalism. This makes the subscription that meant I had some idea of what he was looking for, quite literally, one of my best investments yet. But it would probably have been that anyway. It provides ideas and fresh perspectives, and if nothing else, injects a dose of encouragement every thirty days.

The second article, published in the June/July issue of Discover Britain, is about ‘model’ villages. These include Saltaire, Bournville, Trouse and Port Sunlight- self-contained communities created by industrialists to improve their workers’ lives. It was a lovely job throughout, straightforward and involving research on one of my favourite subjects- Victorian game changers.

Professionalising Creativity

Professionalising Creativity

I’ve found this week difficult.

Last week, I created a Scrivener file of ideas for the next month. This was the year when I was going to professionalise my creativity. I was going to find a process. And every day, pitch at least one idea to a magazine.

This week, I suffered pitcher’s cul-de-sac, a variant of writer’s block. Those ideas looked a lot less brilliant in the bleak light of mid-January. I tried to fit them to good magazines, but the most promising angles were going to take far more time to develop. Others had already been covered by the most obvious outlet. One of my stories disintegrated with research. By yesterday, I’d only sent two of the five pitches I’d hoped.

My conclusion? Creativity might respond to regular hours and discipline, but it certainly doesn’t like production targets, even modest ones. It also becomes easily fed up of the same surroundings and inputs. In the end, I took yesterday off, to see people and think about a new sewing project. I started feeling human, and less like a broken machine.

While I was procrastinating on-line, I read a post from the Getting Things Done people about turning your problems into projects and looking for the ‘next action’. This morning, when there was no pressure- it was Saturday and I might have been at parkrun- I knew what I could do. I opened my computer and browsed through potential magazines on the WH Smith website. An hour later, I had plenty of leads to try next week.


The man who made Caesarean section safe

The man who made Caesarean section safe


For a small country, Scotland has produced more than its fair share of medical pioneers. My article on Murdoch Cameron was published earlier this month in the November/December issue of History Scotland.

Although the first Caesarean section had been carried out in Roman times, the procedure was hardly used anywhere when Cameron first arrived at Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital (the “Rottenrow”). The few women that survived the operating room usually died of infection or ‘ward fever’.

But Rottenrow served the East End of Glasgow, where Ricket’s disease was rife. Womens’ pelvises were often too deformed to deliver a baby safely. Doctors inserted instruments through the cervix to crush the baby and allow vaginal removal. Murdoch Cameron revolutionised childbirth by proving Caesarean section could be used safely in these cases,

The magazine have been kind enough to provide me with a PDF of the article for my portfolio, which is online here.






Hypocrisy, addiction and excuses.

Hypocrisy, addiction and excuses.

I hope it’s the thought that counts, because I’ve had so many ideas for blog posts since I last actually wrote one.

I had my first experience with a fact checker this week. My article was drawn from several conflicting sources, so I wasn’t surprised by the historical queries, but I thought I was good at grammar.At least, I am offended by other people’s errors. Shouldn’t that mean something? I comfort myself with the fact I knew it was ‘guerilla’ and not ‘gorilla’ warfare.

Before that, I went to my first writer’s retreat. It wasn’t what I expected; I didn’t write, and it was stimulating rather than restful, but I loved it. Could become addicted. It would be cheaper and less unhealthy than either plastic surgery or drugs.

Looking ahead to this weekend, I think I’m heading for a personal worst in the Bournemouth half marathon. Allow me to put my excuses in now: when I’ve got to sleep on time, I’ve been woken early by my husband getting the train; my days have been filled with one sort of writing or another; I’ve not had the childcare to get out as often as I’d like and the picture below is all the washing I’ve done since Monday.





This week’s parenting crisis

This week’s parenting crisis

This Tuesday, I took my children to our local country park. Unless it’s the sort of thing that requires Tesco vouchers (Longleat, Legoland…that sort of thing) it’s a rare day when they all want to do the same thing, but as a man they decided to see if the shelter we’d built last week was still there. The ranger had shown us how to do it. It had been a relaxed and fun affair that took hours.

Yesterday was more stressful because I was it for adult supervision. Yes, the den was there. Last week it had been a thing of beauty, but the foliage we’d used for waterproofing was now brown and a few areas of the roof were completely bare.

This time, the children decided to build an extension. I watched, torn between pride at the beauty of the thing and worry about the stability of such a grand structure. (The ranger will know it was me who let it happen, because she heard their grand plans.) Pretty sure the powers that be at Moors Valley won’t let it last the week.

Den-building is one of the fifty things the National Trust think you should do before you’re eleven and three quarters. When I first saw that list, it made me feel bad. Of course, I thought it was my failing it took the grandparents to find a hollow trunk for hiding or that they’d not yet built a campfire. Relative sanity now tells me I was a mother with four children under seven, and a husband that worked until midnight during the week. Now we’ve got rid of the buggy, and even the youngest has homing skills and some common sense, it’s amazing how many of those things they’ve done. And my eldest, isn’t quite twelve.

But as my children enjoy grand country estates and days Enid Blyton might have written about, albeit with the rest of the proletariat, I’ve worried about the line between innocence and entitlement. When do I make sure they know about Aleppo? Is it right or wrong to make them miserable when the only thing they can do is pray. How do I prepare them for an insecure world?

I don’t have the same unfettered access, but Diana, Princess of Wales apparently took her children to homeless shelters to help them understand their privilege. I like what I see of those boys now. That seems inspired to me.

Maybe, it’s about protecting them not from the truth, but overwhelming helplessness. Blue Peter told me in abbreviated terms about Pol Pot and Cambodia, but they also encouraged bring and buy sales to raise money for medical bicycles. Maybe it’s about teaching them how to react to other people’s pain.