Make do and mend …

This post was inspired by Katey Lovell’s novel “Make do and mend a broken heart” which you can find here.

My heart isn’t broken but I am, like the heroine of Katey’s novel, redecorating. Leanne has the whole house to renovate, thankfully my husband and I have only got two rooms to tackle. We’re moving the books and my desk downstairs into the front room so that the bedroom which currently serves as my (very cluttered) study can become a proper spare bedroom again.

My study before renovations begin. A mess, as usual.

I began to consider what I could do to make my renovations more sustainable (and less expensive) and I’m starting with the bay window. It’s always been a bit cold and draughty, so I thought maybe new thermal curtains would help. Then I looked again at the old ones. Other than being a bit faded in the centre, there’s nothing wrong with them – they were expensive and I love the pattern. So I took them down, cut off the most faded parts and turned them round so that the faded parts were no longer in the middle but at the edges and therefore not so visible. I also lengthened them so that they reach right to the bottom of the window (OK, my initial measurements ten years ago were a bit off …) and cover the frame completely at the top. I did this using my nearly-one-hundred year old Singer sewing machine, which I love. I’ll admit, I ordered some new thermal linings for them, but that’s still cheaper and less wasteful than buying entirely new curtains. Or a new sewing machine!

I love my sewing machine. It’s beautiful and it smells good too.

Then I cleaned them. I decided against sending them to the dry cleaners and simply hung them over the washing line for a bit and beat them with the old fashioned carpet beater to remove the dust. I don’t know whether it helped, but I enjoyed the whole beating process!

I also love my carpet beater. Like the sewing machine, it’s quite beautiful in its own right.

So that’s part one complete. Curtains are better than ever, and I even found some of the left over fabric with which I can cover the noticeboard when I move that downstairs. Result!

I just hope that the renovation of my two rooms is as successful and as thrifty as Leanne’s. (I don’t think that’s too much of a spoiler!)

Planning a new novel

I’m rather pleased with my latest planning tool. I tried the whole “post it notes on noticeboard” planning technique, but the post it notes kept falling off and then I didn’t know what should happen next because all my scenes were scattered on the floor. I tried writing in little notebooks, but you can’t move the events if you change your mind about what order they should happen in. That occurs quite a lot when I plan something.

My little book of cards.

Then my daughter came home from school with a bunch of tiny revision cards held together on a book ring, and I knew I had found my perfect planning tool. I couldn’t find one in the local WH Smith’s, and my daughter actually wanted to use hers for revising, so I made one of my own. This had the additional benefit of having pages made out of fancy paper as well as plain paper which pleased me immensely.


I can then take the book apart and write a plot point on each card (please note, this is not actually my next novel!) Then I spread them out in order all over the table, so I can see at a glance how the plot is going to work.

After that, I clip them back into the book ring, so I can work from a small notebook when I can’t spread all the cards out all over the desk. It even fits into my handbag, unlike my big planning notebooks. Oh, and I put my name on it in sparkly pink stickers (not my usual choice, admittedly …)

But the good thing is that the order isn’t set in stone, and so if I change my mind, or want to add another incident to the plot (or remove one) or simply change the order, then I unclip all the cards, re-organise the plot and put them back together again.

Re-organised cards.

I’m thinking of taking commissions, if anyone’s planning a novel?

What makes an author “great”?

I came across a couple of interesting lists when I was researching for last week’s book club with Bob Fischer on BBC Radio Tees. I was talking about Enid Blyton, so I wanted to find out who the most successful authors of the twentieth century were, knowing how phenomenal Blyton’s sales had been (and still are). So, I looked at various lists which provided different definitions of success. Needless to say, on most of them Martin Amis featured heavily and Blyton did not!

The most interesting one (on Wikipedia, so not necessarily verified – this isn’t academic research, just interest!) was a list of the bestselling British authors of all time. Shakespeare was at the top of the list, but I decided to discount him as he’s not a novelist, and other classics (such as Dickens, Eliot and Austen) are not included because they don’t have accurate figures prior to the twentieth century, which makes it a bit unfair to add Shakespeare.

So, the five bestselling British novelists with their very broad estimated sales figures, according to Wikipedia are:

  1. Agatha Christie (between 2 and 4 BILLION books)
  2. Barbara Cartland (between 500 million and 1 billion sold)
  3. Enid Blyton (approx. 600 million books)
  4. JK Rowling (approx. 500 million books – but the list may not be up to date)
  5. Jackie Collins (between 250-400 million books).

Do you notice something quite surprising here? Yes. All women. Every single one of the top five selling British novelists is a woman. And they are all writing either genre or children’s fiction, popular stories with a huge and appreciative audience. It appears, however that neither popularity nor sales count for much when it comes to legacy.

I then searched for “great” novelists of the 20th century (because all these writers above are broadly 20th century and the older classics are excluded from the list I thought this was a fairer – and more interesting – comparison).  Google provided me with the following top five (I don’t know how their list was compiled, so I’m not claiming this is a scientific comparison):

  1. Virginia Woolf
  2. George Orwell
  3. H.G. Wells
  4. E.M. Forster
  5. Anthony Burgess

Only one of them is a woman, and not one of them is a bestseller. Out of the complete lists of twenty authors, only one person makes it onto both lists, and that’s Agatha Christie. If you look at the overall figures for the top 20 in each category, 10 of the 20 bestsellers are women but only 3 of the 20 “greats” are women. Oddly enough, I suspect that if I included earlier ‘great’ novelists, the list would look entirely different, with Austen, Eliot and the Brontes swinging the balance back in favour of a more equal balance between male and female writers.

There’s a lot of snobbery about books, about those who write them and those who read them, and about how some writing is “better” than others. However, the facts here speak for themselves. Women genre fiction writers were dominating their (often male) literary counterparts in the twentieth century when it came to the number of people who were reading and presumably enjoying their books. I think I can quite confidently state that Enid Blyton has made more readers happy than Martin Amis has!

Images by Yerson Retamal from Pixabay

Sleeping Beauty

I did something new this year. With my lovely friend Cath Turnbull, I wrote a pantomime!

We picked “Sleeping Beauty” because it was a story that our local drama group hadn’t done as a panto for many years – only to find, when it was too late to turn back, that the professional theatre down the road had also picked Sleeping Beauty for this year’s show. Still, it didn’t deter us!

sleeping-beauty-1462740_1920Along the way, I learnt several things from my co-writer (a successful professional panto director) and from experience, which I will share for the benefit of future panto writers:

  1. Never, ever include a custard pie scene. In previous years we have learnt that custard pies do one of three BAD things: they ruin costumes, they get in people’s eyes and they get dropped on the stage and someone falls over on the resulting mess. Health and Safety nightmare, wardrobe team’s nightmare. Don’t do it.
  2. Everything comes in threes. If you want the audience to shout “He’s picking the rose” to the cast it must be three times and three times only. More than that it gets tedious and boring.
  3. You can have too much of a good thing. Short and sweet is the motto for songs – if you have an audience of primary aged kids, they don’t want to listen to a love duet that lasts five minutes. I know this, because in a previous year I had to sing one!
  4. You carefully plan your script to last a set time. Reduce that by at least five minutes because your cast will see the glare of the floodlights and start adding in jokes of their own, and you can’t stop them once they’re on stage!
  5. Sometimes, the cast may add in jokes that are … a little risque … and everyone is going to think that you wrote them. (No, neither Cath nor I wrote the joke about the fan, for those of you who saw the panto …)

I think we might tackle Cinderella next – but following THAT joke there will be NO fans in Cinderella …


Who to kiss in 1996

In the process of my research today, I came across an article in the “Love and Relationships” section of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette. This section has been a source of endless fascination for me, particularly as the tone often suggests that it might been written by a grumpy middle aged staff journalist with very little interest in romance … but that’s beside the point!


Today’s article (from the edition for 11th October 1996) was about kissing. More specifically it was a survey of who, where and how the great British public would most like to kiss. Unsurprisingly “My partner” came out as the top choice for both men and women (78% of women chose their partner as one of their top choices, but only 58% of men did!). It’s what comes next that is interesting. There are some obvious high scorers. Meg Ryan, Gillian Anderson and Elle McPherson all do well amongst the desirable ladies. But so, worryingly,  does “My mum” who scored 24%, well above Naomi Campbell, Princess Di and Joanna Lumley!


You want to snog WHO exactly?

Amongst the desirable males, Mel Gibson scores over 50% in the kissability stakes. He’s accompanied by other obvious choices like Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington, but after that,  Michael Barrymore and Jarvis Cocker both feature (admittedly only rating 4% and 3%, but even so – what WERE you thinking, Gazette readers of 1996?)


For the ideal setting for that kiss, “in a Venetian Gondola” rates highly, shortly followed by at the top of the Eiffel Tower. No surprises there. But at 14%, there’s another surprising venue for that perfect romantic moment. Yes, “Wembley, at the cup final, as my team scores the winning goal.” Now THERE’s a romantic moment that I could use for my Boro book!


Or then again, maybe not.