Sunday, 17 April 2016

Book Review: City Stories

There is a small but positive book revew of City Stories here, a collection of fiction and poetry by members of Riverside Writers which I edited and contributed to.

Riverside Writers now have a new website here.  Since moving from West Kirby to Oxton a year ago I haven't been a member of the group, but I'm pleased to see they're doing well.

Pick up your copy of City Stories for FREE here.

Two Galleries, a Picnic and a Twiddlemuff.

Richard modelling a Twiddlemuff
Recently we had family here, and after sharing a meal which Richard had cooked we all went to the Open Exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery.  The range and quality of paintings and photography on display is very encouraging, and should surely attract serious interest from the art world as a whole.  There was a wealth of emerging talent on show.  You've got until the 8th of May to see it.  Treat yourself.

My sister Evelyn was full of her adventures in New Zealand, of course.  She had a great time there, and even got to visit the Weta Workshop, which I'm quite envious of.  There's a photo of her posing amongst shrubbery with a troll from The Hobbit.  She brought me back a weird egg - not a real egg, but one you're supposed to soak in water for 48 hours before it hatches into a kiwi, which then will continue to grow if you keep it in water.  40 hours later, the egg has developed a flaky, scabrous appearance but as yet we remain sans kiwi.

I have now completed all modules for the NVQ course.  All that is left now is for me to do the Key Skills Maths, which I am not looking forward to tackling as I loathe the subject.  Ok, I'm hopeless at maths.  That's why I hate it - because I can't do it.  Having said that, I co-ran a business for 21 years and you can't achieve that without having a modicum of accounting skill.  Maybe there are two kinds of maths - real-world maths and the stuff you learn in school but which you never, ever use again, like decimal fractions or long division.  Having left high school some Aeons ago I've totally forgotten how to do any of this stuff.  Oh well, I will just have to de-identify with hating maths and knuckle down and finish the course.  ASAP.  ASAP with bells on, even.

Friday saw Richard and I at the Walker Art Gallery for the Pre-Raphaelites "Beauty and Rebellion" exhibition, which I highly recommend.  I had loved the PRB's work even before I went to art school in Liverpool, some 25 years ago.  While there, amongst the other extra courses which I took,  I earned Grade A with GCSE Critical Studies in Art & Design.  The course work for this included a detailed study of an optional artist or art movement, and I chose the PRB, focusing on Edward Burne-Jones's work.  Here in Merseyside we are fortunate to have many PRB paintings and other works on public display and I've viewed these many times other the years.  The "Beauty and Rebellion" exhibition features some of these familiar favourites but there were a great many paintings that I had never seen before and so it was truly a feast for the eyes.  The exhibition runs until 5th June, and is well worthy of the £7 entrance fee.

Eyes still dizzy with the glories of the PRB, and with inspired fingers itching for my paints, Richard and I found a sunny spot in St John's Gardens for a picnic. It's hard to credit that this pocket-sized garden used to part of open healthland where people hung their washing.  There's no trace of that now, but it is a green spot in the midst of a typically busy city centre and the pigeons and lone herring gull which kept us company were happy to help clean up anything edible which came their way.

Two new Hubpages await, for those who might like to read them!  It's been ages since I added anything to my Hubpage site.  This is where I post my non-fiction articles, which cover a broad range of subjects ranging from my efforts at making a frog pond, a visit to Hilbre Island (a place which features in the Artisan-Sorcerer Series), to a description of my time working at Pretty Ugly Pottery.   These do a nice job of supplementing my living as a writer. 

The two new Hubpages are about activities for dementia sufferers, and How to Make a Twiddlemuff.  So now you're probably wondering what on earth a Twiddlemuff is.  It's a muff, (or a tube), of soft, warm fabric,  which is decorated with all kinds of stuff to twiddle with.  They are made for people with advanced dementia, who often find them soothingThe photo at the top of this post shows Richard modelling the Twiddlemuff which I knitted.  Now, I'm no expert knitter.  Far from it, actually.  I only know one stitch!  Yes, I know I could have looked up other stitches on YouTube 'How To' videos...  My point being that Twiddlemuffs are easy to make.  Anyway, here's one I made earlier.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Puzzles, Pirates and Paper.

Adele Cosgrove-Bray puzzle on TheJigsawPuzzles.com
Peacock King Jigsaw Puzzle
While you're waiting for Fabian, the fourth novel in the Artisan-Sorcerer series, to become available - and it is coming soon! - have a play with this on-line jigsaw puzzle of the Peacock King, who features in the forthcoming book.  (The image is in much better focus on the jigsaw site).

One year ago, we moved to this house.  It's incredible to realise that this little anniversary has arrived already.  Moving here was one of the best decisions we've ever made.  We're both still in love with the place.

Last Saturday we scraped off old wallpaper in the dining room, up to the level of the picture rail.  Recently we had some repairs carried out on one of the walls in that room, and now the new plaster has had plenty of time to dry out properly.  Sunday saw me unravelling the mysteries of how to hang 7ft strips of patterned wallpaper without getting it in a glorious knot, tangled round the stepladder or stuck to the wrong bit of wall.  By 3.30pm I'd managed to do three-quarters of the room, and decided to finish it off next weekend as I was feeling pretty finished off myself by that point.

The pattern is an embossed leaf design, all curving fronds and arching stems.  It can be painted but right now it's snow white, bringing to mind a huge Elvish wedding cake.

I'm still working away on my NVQ course, and thankfully the end is steadily drawing closer.  My tutor has said I'll have finished the entire course by September at the latest.  I'll be glad to reach that goal if only as this will free up much more time for creative projects which have had to take second place to the demands of the course.

On February 29th, I gave a talk on Wirral pirates and smugglers.  The private audience really enjoyed it and kept me talking on local history for longer than I had anticipated.  I'd illustrated the talk with photos of some of the places mentioned in the talk, such as Hilbre Island, various tunnels and caves, Mother Redcap's notorious tavern, The Halfway House, (demolished now, more's the pity), and the Wallasey-born privateer Fortunatus Wright's dagger.

The research for the talk will probably find its way into my writing.  I've already featured the Hilbre pirates and smugglers in a couple of short stories, namely Spanish Jones and Seagull Inn, (the latter being featured in a Hadley Rille Books' anthology called Ruins Terra).  The River Dee selkies, who are descendants of Spanish Jones himself, feature briefly in Rowan but more heavily so in Fabian.

 Daffodils, snowdrops and crocus have all come into flower at the same time.  My crocus seem greatly reduced in number, so maybe transplanting them from my old garden to plant pots for the new garden wasn't particularly successful.  Once the garden wall has been re-built, I can begin working on the border which runs alongside it, which I want to broaden.  There will be plenty of room in that for new spring bulbs.  It's lovely to see these vibrant splashes of colour as winter receeds.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Vanishing Birds and the Green Man

We are now the proud owners of an exercise bike.  Richard's worn out just assembling the thing.  I chickened out of that little job, opting to walk the dogs round the park instead, which was pleasant despite the bitterly cold edge to the wind whistling off the Mersey.

With a group of other people, I took part in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch.  There we all were, sat in an enthusiastic row by the windows, binoculars at the ready, armed with shortcake and tea, and eager to spot wild birds...and there was hardly a bird to be seen.  The entire hour-long count scooped all of two magpies, one sparrow, six woodpigeons, one crow and a seagull - and the RSPB's list of desirable birds to spot didn't include crows or seagulls anyway.  Normally there are all sorts of birds hopping around.  Oh, well.

My sister Evelyn gave me a pretty white and purple cyclamen a couple of years ago, and it was among the plants transplanted from our old garden and brought here when we moved house.  It has come into flower again, which is lovely.  It's now growing in a recycled rubber cauldron-shaped tub along with snowdrops which are pushing up through the soil, and with a small Lady's mantle (alchemilla mollis).

I'm currently reading a real page-turner called Thunderhead by Duncan Preston and Lincoln Child, which has a strong archaelogical theme based around the discovery of an Anasazi Indian city in Utah.  I've read a few of their Agent Pendergast novels over recent months and have thoroughly enjoyed those, too.  If you enjoy thrillers, I recomend these novels.

People sometimes ask me what books I read, and the simple truth is that I read all sorts, non-fiction and fiction alike, and I read a broad range of fiction genres.  It all depends on how I feel at the time, and on whether something about the proposed plot catches my attention.  I'm not one of those people who feel compelled to finish a book; if a story bores me, then I'll abandon it happily in favour of something else.

Above is my latest watercolour painting.  Richard says that the eyes (in the original painting) seem to follow him round the room.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Book Review: The Grumpets


There is a short but sweet review of The Grumpets here.

Book blurb for The Grumpets: Grumpets are shy creatures who live in compost heaps. They are small and wrinkly, with many long, pale limbs, and like nothing better than burrowing into fresh grass clippings.

But the heap can be a dangerous place.

Follow the adventures of young Chip Grumpet as ravenous Slimers and the dreaded Time of Turning threaten to destroy the Grumpet's world! 


To date, this is my one excursion into the realm of fiction for children.  It was fun to write, and to be perfectly honest I was unsure how people might react to this total change of direction from me.  But such things are always beyond the control of the person who creates anything.  All we can do is launch a project on its way and wait to see how things go.


Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie

David Bowie died today, aged 69, following an 18-month struggle with cancer.

I never met him, not even briefly, but his music has been an important part of my life since he first appeared on "Top of the Pops" as Ziggy Stardust.  I was still a child then, but already into Marc Bolan's music.  David Bowie's music has been on my turntable, then cassette deck, then stack systems, then CD players ever since.  (I can't be bothered with my iPod; it's more trouble than it's worth and so gathers dust in a cupboard drawer.)

Who could forget attending those "Bowie Nights" years ago, at Olivers nightclub in Leigh, when a perfectly mundane small-town disco would be transformed largely by an act of imagination into a doorway into another realm dedicated to the creative outpourings of Mr Bowie himself?  Everyday teens and twenties would tog themselves in theatrical replicas of his stage clothes, and dance the night away - or mime the night away, if a person was really devoted - to track after track by Bowie, Japan, Roxy Music, early Human League and the seemingly mandatory "I Travel" by Simple Minds.

And later, when I lived on my own for around eleven years, first in St Helens and then in Aigburth, Liverpool, Bowie's music was always there, changing as his creative vision continued to expand.  While my tastes in music have also expanded to encompass classical, jazz, prog rock, rock and folk, I've always kept playing his music.

It feels sad to recognise that there will be no more music from him; his creative genius has been halted here.  His experimental search for artistic self-expression was wonderfully individualistic.  He will be truly missed.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Goals for 2016

Since 2012, I've created a list of annual goals which I hope to achieve within the following twelve months.  This is one way to keep track of the progress of various projects and it's a bit of self-entertainment.

My goals for 2015 were:-
  1.  Move house;
  2. Finish Fabian;
  3. Write at least one short story or poem a month;
  4. Finish the NCC Skills course.;
  5. Continue with the NVQ Level 3 course;
  6. Fun stuff - swimming; doll collecting; photography; art.
We certainly moved house.  We sold our 1940s box-like semi in West Kirby and bought this lovely four-bedroom Victorian home, built in 1879, in Oxton.  Both of us consider that buying this house was one of the best decisions we've ever made.  We have a garden, an art room, we both have our own rooms - his for his films, music and Dr Who collection, and mine is where I write and keep my dolls houses and doll collection.  The dogs have settled in well.  The only thing I miss about our previous house is my pond.  I have been eyeing a corner of the lawn.

Fabian is finished.  More or less.  It's currently being edited and polished in readiness for publication in the spring (date TBC).  The front cover isn't done yet, but the props for the photoshoot are ready and waiting.  Memo to self: buy camera batteries.

I successfully completed the NCC Skills course.  However, the NVQ course is still in progress; I had hoped to have finished this, but the course turned out to be much longer than anticipated.  My tutor, a lovely bubbly lady, recently said I'd probably have it finished by July/August.  The course requires a huge amount of writing, which seems silly for what is supposed to be a vocational course.  I could have had another novel written in the time it's taken me to do this!

In August, I changed jobs; still with a similar role but with a much larger company.  There was an in-depth induction training programme, which I have now completed.  I genuinely like my new job, which also brought a nice pay rise and improved working conditions.

These changes, and the time consumed by doing courses, has meant that my intention to write at least one poem or short story per month totally went to the wall!  I wrote all of five poems and didn't complete any short stories.  There is a story on the backburner, which looks likely to evolve into a novella rather than a short story.  I'd 20,000 words of it drafted already before my old PC died - and guess who'd not made a copy on disc.  I began re-writing it, but it seems to be morphing into a quite different tale this time - but that's perfectly ok. 

I haven't been swimming for nearly a year, which is something I hope to fix soon.  I miss going and its good exercise.  It's also quite meditative, focusing on the pull of muscles through the water.  We're looking to buy an exercise bike for the house, but this won't be as much fun as swimming.  On the other hand the background music will be better.

My doll collection has only four new additions, and I've not done much photography.  However, I have been making good use of our art room, creating several watercolour paintings. I've also been doing some rapid sketching around Birkenhead Park.  Some of these have been posted here on this blog over recent months.

So, here are my goals for 2016:-
  1. Publish Fabian;
  2. Finish the NVQ Level 3 course;
  3. Write more poems and short stories;
  4. Create more art and photography.
My list of goals seems to get simpler each year.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Dumbledore and the Leaky Wall.

Watercolour study of oak leaves.
I'm typing this while waiting for a builder arrive.  An ominous horizontal damp patch has appeared along our dining room wall.  Judging from the ridges in the plaster beneath the new-ish wallpaper, this has been a recurring problem for some time.

So next-door's builder came in to offer his opinion, and he pointed out that the damp course along that section of the house is too low to the path so it can't do it's job.  One option would be to jack-hammer out a trench "soak away" beside the wall and hope the old damp course would then work ok.  He recommended that it would be easier to simply install a new damp course.  The spoiled plaster needs to be replaced, which means the radiator has to come off first.  Also, an original Victorian downspout has rusted through quite badly and needs replacing with a new plastic one.  It's a pity to lose the historical one but carbuncles of rust are bubbling through the paint along its entire length so it's obviously come to the end of its useful life.

I celebrated so-called "Black Friday" by ignoring it completely.  As I see the issue, something is only a bargain if (a) you actually needed the item, and (b) it's a quality product at (c) a genuinely reduced price.

At the same time, I've been busy giving Spooky Cute Designs a major overhaul.  My online store now has a new layout, making it even easier for people to find what they want.  New designs have been added and there's an entirely new range aimed specifically at people interested in arts and crafts.  I've also assembled a collection of goods for the home so these can be found in one place rather than scattered throughout the various ranges.  Take a peek and let me know what you think.

...Ah, my builder's just arrived.

We've been working our way through the Harry Potter films again, watching them in sequence, one each Saturday.  Last night's film saw Dumbledore die.  Richard enjoys planning these mini film seasons, running through a theme.  We've been working our way through the entire X-Files for nearly four years.  Right now, Mulder has been abducted by a UFO and Scully is working with the guy from Terminator.  And we're about half way through a film noir boxed set of oldies which have been excellent - good, solid plots and believable characters.  I really like the way the female characters were written.  Too many contemporary film roles for women seem insubstantial, as if the main topic of interest in a woman's life is the man she's with or wants to be with.