The Sharpness of Spring

  April is the cruellest month, or so TS Eliot says. This year, in the cruellest of times, there is some truth in that observation. From blossom, to snow showers in the same week, my magnolia has been subjected to the cruellest of weathers. Whether it will survive or not is yet to be seen, but the joy of seeing the first white pristine flowers open up to the sun has been replaced by the sadness of seeing those same flowers becoming brown and wasted. It’s a fairly good metaphor for our lockdown regimes of the past year. From the joy of being able to see family and friends again in the summer we went to lockdown one, when in our tier it was forbidden to travel out of the area, to the much more stringent lockdown from January onwards when we were more or less prisoners in our own homes and the only communication was via FaceTime or Zoom. Interspersed with that were the moments of happiness and anticipation that caught so many of us out, like the pronouncement that we would have a five d

My Daily Practice | Karen Kao

Image source: International Writers' Collective   Every term, my students at the International Writers' Collective ask: how do you develop a writing practice? If you’re taking one of our core writing workshops, you already have a rhythm. It might be the last minute sprint to finish your exercise in time for the deadline. Any schedule is better than none. Try to hold onto it, even after the term is over. Need a hard deadline? Set yourself a realistic goal. Need a spanking when you miss your deadline? Find a writing buddy. Do what works for you. I have it easy. Writing is my work. This is what my daily practice looks like. 08.00 Wake up. 08.05 Make coffee. Unless you’re the novelist Jennifer Egan , in which case you reach for your journal and start to write. She doesn’t mind that her handwriting is illegible, even to her. She wants to surprise herself. There are monsters and plot points and character arcs to be found in the grey space betw

2021, Daffodils Denied by Julia Jones

April 2016 Happy Daffs  Five years ago on this date I was giving  thanks for the joy of daffodils . I was bearing witness to the blessed moments of relief given by their inherent gaiety to my mother’s poor tired mind as her dementia worsened and paranoia set in. It wasn’t long before we were forced to admit that the illness was overwhelming her and she needed to move into the dementia nursing unit where, finally, she would die. Meanwhile, in April 2016, there was a neglected strip of flower bed opposite the window of her extra care flat. After ripping out the couch grass and cutting back the dead twigs, we planted two small clumps of daffodils. Mum's flat was increasingly filled with ghosts and murderers that set her screaming in the dark and me hurtling down the 60 miles of main road attempting to hold them at bay. In the end I lost that battle, but this time five years ago, my main allies were those daffodils. I wrote Even in the time of sundowners when Mum’s brain is exhausted a

The Golden Age of Crime Fiction and Home Schooling by Neil McGowan

 I've reached that sticky point around the middle of the book I'm writing that I always seem to hit, the one where I doubt anything I've written is any good and wonder how on earth everything will come together. I'm pretty sure it will - it has with every book so far - but right now writing is like wading through treacle. Every sentence seems to take an age to write, and at the moment 500 words seems like a good night.   So, I turned to other things in the hope of breaking the deadlock. The joys of home schooling means I'm having to revisit various topics with my children (some of which are a struggle -- I was never a fan of RE at school and only paid enough attention to get by in the lessons). My youngest was assigned a murder mystery theme to create, and immediately pounced on me as 'you'll be good at that.'   Turns out, what she needed to do was write a series of short documents to support the crime and the resolution -- character profiles, witnes

Alchemy or serendipity -- Bill Kirton

When it’s going well, there’s a certain alchemy to writing. I’ll explain with reference to the last (so far) of my novels, The Likeness . It’s embarrassing to admit that, when it was a WIP (Work In Progress), the IP bit went on for ages. In the good old days, it used to take me about 6 months to write the first draft of a novel, but The Likeness crawled on (and off) for at least 2 years. It eventually made it over the 70,000 word mark but I had no idea why it had been so much like hard work. It’s a sequel to The Figurehead , which is a historical crime novel that, in the course of writing, also became a romance, and part of the reason why I’d been dragging my heels was that I wasn’t sure how I intended to resolve the problems of the relationship between a figurehead carver, John Grant, and Helen Anderson, the daughter of a rich merchant. The novel’s set in 1841, when attitudes to marriage and extra-marital goings-on didn’t leave much scope for … well, anything really. But then so

Dear Diary, says Debbie Bennett

One of my Facebook friends is sharing her childhood diary with us, with comments from an adult perspective on the life of a ten year old. It’s fascinating stuff.  I started keeping a diary from the start of 1977, when I was almost 13 (my birthday is in January). I wrote pretty much daily until the end of 1985, by which time I’d left university and home and gone to work in my first job in London. Clearly real life was more exciting then as the entries tail off. My last entry was 1988 as I was about to get engaged to Andy – by husband now of over 30 years!  So 6th April 2021. What was I doing on this day over the years of my childhood …  1977   Went to the cinema today and saw 101 Dalmatians , also saw Ride a Wild Pony . It was ace. The pony was called Taff and was a palomino. I was 13 and in the typical teenage girl pony phase. I can't remember what age I started riding lessons but most of these years were spent obsessing about ponies, reading pony stories and desperately trying to

Calculating the Risks (Cecilia Peartree)

  Yesterday my son travelled on a bus. I can't remember when he last did this. It must have been over a year ago, before he started working from home. His trip, across town to collect things from his old place of work before he started a new job, was the subject of a disproportionate amount of discussion between us beforehand. His first thought was that he would walk all the way there and back, but as the route would involve going up quite a steep hill and down the other side (and return) I tried to talk him into getting a taxi at least one way. He was reluctant to do that but at last decided to risk getting the bus. On his way back, another family member happened to see him waiting for the bus and gave him a lift home. As soon as he told me this, I began to work out whether there had been any risk attached to that option. Happily, the risk seemed minimal as the other family member had been fully vaccinated and they both wore masks. We have both avoided risk almost entirely by stay