Monday, June 29, 2009

Feeling hot hot hot

Summer has finally arrived here in Brum. We've actually had (gasp) sunshine, and temperatures over 20c for several days at a stretch! Wonders will never cease... Of course, we're still getting thunderstorms most days as well, but I don't mind that as long as I'm warm. I was speaking to a friend who knows someone in the meteorological business and apparently the period from late May to early July counts as the equivalent (if somewhat less dramatic) of the UK's monsoon season, when we get a fair proportion of our yearly rainfall. Makes a lot of sense, actually.

The good weather's come just in time for the Moseley Festival, a whole week of events, entertainments and general fun in this rather unique little corner of Birmingham. Unlike many places we don't settle for a dodgy float procession, a raffle and a steel band. Oh no. Moseley has to be one step ahead of everyone else, at everything. ;) We get a farmers' market, a craft fair, morris dancers, drummers, a flash mob, open days at local schools, galleries and artists' studios, a guided tour/walk, and an open day at the local park (which is usually kept locked - and only local residents get a key).

On Saturday Dave and I strolled down to the village centre and joined in the fun, and spent far more than we'd ever intended. The farmers' market has won awards (best urban one in the whole country, apparently) and was bulging with all kinds of yummy produce from Parson's Nose cheese to scrumpy to a hog roast. The craft market was also bulging, but with beautiful hand-made crafts, artwork, turned wood, pottery and goodness knows what else. It was quite a challenge to come away without buying anything, and one we didn't meet.

Yesterday there was a bird of prey display in the park and we were hoping to go along and see owls and falcons and things, but Dave's work intervened rather sharply and we never did get there.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writers' desks: Sharon Maria Bidwell

And now for something completely different. ;)

A few weeks back I thought it might be nice to run a little feature on my blog, once a week or thereabouts, showcasing writers' desks. The Guardian runs a similar series, based on Writers' Rooms, which I've always found a fascinating insight into authors and the sort of environment they like to work in. I'm hoping, on a smaller scale, I can do the same.

First up in the new series is British author Sharon Maria Bidwell. If you'd like to take part, please email me for details of what I need.


"I don’t always write at my desk. I face a wall because I’d spend too much time staring out at the world. I can still turn my head left or right to see through a window.

I fell in love with the glass desk not realising it would be cold to rest on in winter. The hearts are from a shop in Boscastle, Cornwall, just one of many places I love. So is one of the two dragons here. I love dragons and many are dotted about the
house. The piece of pink quartz is supposed to block negative ions or something...I forget exactly. I’m not convinced, but it’s pretty.

Betty Boop and Marvin the Martian are recent additions and appeal to my sense of humour, particularly Marvin with gun raised as if to say “stay away”. Fine, so I need treatment. The most important item on the desk and which you can’t see very well is a tiny photo of my beloved pet, now deceased. There isn’t one of the other half because although we carry photos of each other, they are kept private.

The wrist-rest has been heaven sent. I get RSI in my right wrist. This is a 'neat' moment. The neatness varies but I am much better organised than I used to be, meaning I have trays in which to put things away in order to forget all about them. My filing pile used to be a waste bin so I think a tray is an improvement.

My desk is no longer hidden away in some small room. I missed my husband. LOL. I’ve learned to write despite distractions, although there are times I need peace and quiet. I also like to write on a laptop in the garden."


Sharon’s writing is diverse, often crossing genres, blending horror, fantasy, action, adventure, fairy tales, gothic, erotica, and romance in any combination. She’s called her website “Aonia” for in Greek myth that is where the muses lived and with numerous publishing credits, the muses have definitely found a home at Aonia.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Concrete Jungle available

I've just heard from the editor at Ink Sweat & Tears, that my flash surrealist piece Concrete Jungle is available to read on the site RIGHT NOW!

I can't really call this a 'story' since it doesn't have a plot. Instead, it's a series of vivid images that conjure up the atmosphere of a moment in time. This was a method used by surrealist writers in the early 20th century, and since the piece was inspired by a surrealist-style garden, I wanted to use an appropriate writing style for it.

The garden, which is constructed mostly of coloured concrete in a jungle setting, is at Las Posas in Mexico. If you're interested in seeing it you can get a glimpse in the new Empire of the Sun video for their single 'We Are The People' on YouTube. The garden appears when the falsetto chorus begins, and you can see just how weirdly beautiful it is.

And if you'd like to read Concrete Jungle, please go to Ink Sweat & Tears now, before it disappears off the bottom of the page!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shopping dilemma

I watched a fascinating programme on tv last night about the hardships facing shops on our high streets. It hit home to me because our local high street has suffered terribly in the 'economic downturn', with big name stores pulling out due to rent increases and independent shops closing by the week. I was staggered to find that we're by no means the worst; in some cases (such as Dunstable in Bedfordshire) the experts think that the closures have now reached critical mass. In other words, there are so few shops left that nobody is visiting the town centre and the remaining shops have no customers, so they too will have to close.

It's all very sad. Those of us who don't drive depend on local shops that are accessible on foot or by public transport and we're seeing our choice cut day by day. In one case last night a town's last remaining baker had just closed its doors. Where are people going to buy bread? And I feel particularly sorry for elderly folk, who may not have the means to travel to out-of-town malls and nearby hypermarkets.

But it did just strike me - who is to blame for all this? Yes, okay, I know about the recession, and the fact that people in general are spending less. But it seems to me that the problem goes deeper than that. One statistic quoted last night, in the case of Tewkesbury, a lovely old town in Gloucestershire, was that only 11% of its inhabitants shopped in the town. Presumably the other 89% go out of town to nearby cities, malls and supermarkets. That doesn't leave much of a customer base to keep the small town centre shops going, does it?

I hear a lot of people grumbling about the lack of shops in their village, on their local high street, even in their city centre. But, um, maybe we should all moan a bit less and use our local facilities more. After all, it's we who have the power to save or condemn our local shops, and even a handful more sales per week could be enough to tide them by...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another acceptance

Rather to my astonishment they're coming thick and fast at the moment. This morning The Pygmy Giant emailed to say they would take Lovers' Lane, a dark little piece about the downside of an affair. The story has an almost sleazy feel to it, and is set in a grotty city centre car park, of all the peculiar places - you'll have to read it to find out why! It should be out on 1st July, but I'll post a reminder once it's available.

Will the good luck last? Almost certainly not. In publishing things seem to go in runs - I find I get three or four acceptances in a matter of weeks, and then everything goes quiet and nobody wants what I write. ;) Over the years I've learned to be grateful for the good times and grit my teeth the rest of the time. I guess it's just the nature of the game.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anyone for tennis?

It's that time of year again: strawberries, rain, athletic young folk leaping about in whites, and the gentle thwack of balls. Tennis balls, that is. Yup, Wimbledon is here again. Two weeks of joy for tennis fans, two weeks of fuming and searching the tv listings for *anything* that isn't tennis for those of a less sporting persuasion. But hey, it is only once a year.

For me, it's two weeks of bliss that bring back happy memories of perching on Mum's knee and watching the likes of Ilie Nastase and a young Jimmy Connors on a grainy black and white tv. These days it's slightly less of an event, simply because thanks to cable television there's more chance to catch up with our tennis heroes and heroines week in, week out. Back then, if you missed the action at Wimbledon, you'd have to wait a whole year before you saw tennis again, with the minor exception of the US Open final. Not the whole tournament, you understand - just the final.

So, for the next two weeks I may not be at my desk much. Instead you can find me camped in the living room with a tray of sandwiches, and perhaps a laptop, hooked up to the telly and imbibing tennis intravenously. As long as it doesn't rain, of course. Because Wimbledon is played on grass, the matches have to be stopped if it rains, in case someone slips over and hurts themselves. This year, the All England Club have gone to vast expense to fit a roof over Centre Court, so that at least one match can continue if the heavens open. Normally the spectators hate rain because it plays havoc with their viewing schedule. This year, according to a BBC website survey, 80% actually want it to rain so they can see the new roof in action.

Including me, I'm ashamed to say.

War of the Worlds

In spite of my blue fingers I thoroughly enjoyed the concert on Friday night. We're very lucky here in Birmingham - we have four theatres, a concert hall, a symphony hall and an arena in the city centre, and another arena a few miles away near the airport, so the list of bands, acts etc that come here is very extensive. So far this year we've already seen Cirque du Soleil, the Austrialian Pink Floyd show, the Blue Man Group, and Jean Michel Jarre.

On Friday it was the turn of the live version of Jeff Wayne's 'War of the Worlds', and it was pretty amazing. Wayne himself conducted the orchestra and rock band that provided the music, while two of the original performers, Justin Hayward and Chris Thompson, reprised their roles. Apart from a few minor glitches the overall standard was extremely high, and it can't be many concerts that have a Martian tripod descending onto the stage and sending heat rays out across the audience! Great fun, and the place was packed to the rafters. So much so it took us half an hour to get out of the car park afterwards...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pen 1, Fiona 0

I had an argument with my fountain pen earlier.

The pen won.

Now I have bright blue fingers and it won't scrub off, and we're going out for the evening.

Sigh. It's the story of my life, really... ;)

Fastest response ever?

Yesterday I discovered the webzine Ink Sweat & Tears, which specialises in crossover poetry and poetic prose. Like many literary magazines, some of the contents are highbrow enough to make your hair hurt but others were clever, fun, and really got me thinking. I had a great time poking about in the archives and eventually decided to try them with a piece of my own.

I submitted it about five o'clock last night. Ten minutes later, I'd had a reply from the editor saying 'fantastic, love it', which as you can imagine left me glowing. I don't think I have ever had such a rapid response as that, especially for an acceptance! (I've had a few rejections that were so fast they made me blink, but that's another story.)

The piece they've taken is very different from most of my work. It's called 'Concrete Jungle' and it's based on surrealist forms of literature, with little or no plot but a welter of incredibly vivid images. It was inspired by the amazing surrealist gardens at Las Posas in Mexico, which I've never been to but saw on a recent tv programme and fell in love with.

Apparently they'll feature the story within the next 3-4 weeks and I'll obviously let everyone know when it's available to read. And in the meantime you might like to pop over and explore the zine anyway because there's a lot of good stuff hidden amongst its virtual pages.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The sound of silence

Hands up everyone who needs total silence to write, or concentrate on work of any kind?

I don't, always. Mostly it depends on my mood, and how well (or otherwise!) the writing is going. If I'm really focussed on a story, really in the groove, then I'm lost in that other world and an entire herd of elephants could blunder through my study and I probably wouldn't notice. If I'm having difficulty concentrating, a mouse tripping over a pebble will interrupt my thought-processes and I'll probably never get them back.

Yesterday, though, I discovered that there is a noise level beyond which I just can't work, and it involves two sets of neighbours having two different lots of work done at once. Workmen on one side were cutting stone. Workmen two doors down on the other side were lopping trees, with two chainsaws and a shredder going full-tilt. The result? Sheer bloody cacophony from 9 am till 5 pm and a Fiona who was tearing out her hair and climbing up the walls.

Needless to say, I did not get much work done...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Smile of the day

Nicked from the excellent (and subversive) xkcd cartoon website:

Back from holiday

We had a wonderful break, cruising round some of the less well-known towns and cities of north-western Europe. Stops included Falmouth (in Cornwall), Dublin, Bilbao, Bordeaux (via a small port on the Garonne estuary), and Brest. All were interesting, but the star of the show was definitely Bilbao, which is a vibrant buzzing city with a staggering mix of old and new. We spent most of the day in the amazing Guggenheim Museum, a work of art in its own right, exploring the weird and wonderful modern art inside. We also spent a morning in the National Gallery of Ireland, an art gallery of a totally different kind but every bit as interesting.

The French cities were the least interesting. Bordeaux is a UNESCO world heritage site and filled to bursting with beautiful 18th century architecture. It's very elegant, but also rather sedate and insular, and if truth be told, ever so slightly dull (although I expect those good people from UNESCO would have a blue fit if they heard me say that). And Brest was a typical sea port - slightly grubby round the edges and still showing the signs of having suffered a pounding during World War II.

The weather was terrific throughout - we set off in hot sunshine and towed it round with us until we got back on board for the final sailaway in Brest, when it started to rain. But goodness, we've gone straight home to winter. It was 30c in Bilbao on Wednesday; four days later in Brum it was only 8c. No wonder we've broken out the winter woollies and stuck the heating back on.