Monday, 21 April 2014

We all must have been having a LOT fun. Yes, that must be it.

Hello.  Doesn't a year go by quickly?  I say this for no other reason* than just under a year ago I rather foolishly promised to write a cryptic crossword for my friend Steven to solve.  It turns out they take AGES.  Especially if you start writing one, and then forget all about it, and then start again after a few not-so-subtle reminders, and then forget again, and then receive another reminder, and so on.

 Anyway. I finally finished it today, nearly a year after I first started, and sent it to Steven (who I'm not sure ever really expected to see it) and I thought I'd put it here too.

1. Mantra starts and ends softly to create a show of splendour (4)
5. Stephen's favourite way to cook eggs (3)
8. Get back, old boy; South Africa return is punishment for poor behaviour in public (4)
12. Novello on the piano? Why not! (4)
13. Band lost in the stars? It's a sign (3)
14. Glaswegian perhaps? Beds are unmade (4)
15. Bad worker kisses nothing to form a famous alliance (4)
16. Initially show surprise when cat becomes confused (3)
17. Moving around rings, tree loses romance (4)
18. Don't catch this if you're in a rush to hear what Dylan sings (4,5)
21. Bob's friend? She's a queen! (3)
22. Set down an old fashioned way of returning a phone call (4)
23. Honest love for a writer (4)
25. Norton and Milliband could be magazine bosses (3)
28. More than one of these spells trouble for Caesar at a cetain time of year (3)
29. This fruit will make him leave (5)
31. A lizard which cheers the girl on (6)
33. Bond's boss, fashionable with a broken leg, to chat to everyone at the party
34. After a turn in Eastenders, you'll be waiting for him all night (5)
35. Forbid the airline to go north (3)
36. I can see the comic sailor's lost his dad (3)
37. Travel on 18, for example
38. The measure of this space is that it's a music venue with no point (4)
40. Abba's music always spells trouble
41. If Dan goes by backwards, for example, the Princess Bride's rats could cause peril (9)
46. Chooses to put spinning toys into more of a spin (4)
48. Fish missing a note can still make a type of music (3)
49. Eastern Sea is choppy but will soothe pain (4)
50. Sounds like wig-maker will get the lot (4)
51. No point in being crooked, I'll wager (3)
52. Cleaner loses article, holds up plant (4)
53. Single performance starts on cello (4)
54. Substance in the ground provides options, we hear (3)
55. It will wear out after too much driving (4)


1.To cut back could mean there's just enough money for these (4)
2. Egg needs to learn to be egg shaped 3)
3. These services will break a thousand, too (4)
4. When played backwards, record contains an argument for roaming stealthily (5)
5. About a letter, two old ladies are in a state (7)
6. About that bad cheese? We covered it (6)
7. At first you only get it for a famous bear (4)
8.Raise a question as potassium is added (3)
9. At the top, she can seek retribution and take what she needs from what's left
10. Ron Bigly turns monotonously (8)
11.In two ticks I'll be near the ear (4)
19.Theodore, by including an example of poor grammar, is spoiled (7)
20. Mine and one other on the shortlist for an award (7)
24 To criticise a cooking implement (3)
25 This example's good for Easter (3)
26 management style prefered by burgulars (4,4)
        27 every other stay drips it, witch enjoys pain (8)
30 Overall, equipment efficiency put first (3)
32 Oxford professor is up, but off for some sleep (3)
33 Spoil the entrance to a sea-side resort (7)
35 River some say responsible for financial ruin (6)
39 Lazy policeman could do with one of these (1, 4)
40 In London, sounds like a farmer will fashion his old fashioned tool from cloth (4)
42 A punishment you've seen before, in which he was as bold as brass (4)
43 could describe a breakfast cereral which starts on top, we hear (4)
44 When confused I'm sure I'm often the cause computer errors (4)
45 Appear to be a Massai dagger, by the sound of it (4)
47 Initially spent in the Seychelles 

*Well, maybe that's not quite the only reason. Writing this crossword isn't the only thing I've spent the last year doing, obviously. I also ran a marathon, went to Australia (twice), and left my part-time job, among other things, but somehow didn't manage to blog about any of it. I plan to fix this.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

John Lloyd on The News Quiz

Three things about this:

1.  I had NO idea John Lloyd was responsible for The News Quiz.  Turns out he's responsible for most of my favourite things.

2. Jeremy Hardy looks nothing like I expected him to.

3. Francis Wheen, less so.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

An A+ for creativity, but not so hot on ethics

I love this story which comes via the Futility Closet website .  You can read it for yourself, but the synopsis is:

1. Australian journalist needs to fill a hole on the front page of his paper, so makes up a story about a

2. Police contact the journalist to say they've caught the (imaginary) sex-pest.

3. Journalist realises police have used his story as an excuse to charge a minor sex-offender they've had
    their eye on for a while, and feels so guilty he vows never to make up a story again.

Of course, like all good stories the devil is in the details and here the details are the nature of the invented crime, which was nothing if not creative and involved using a long wire hook to surreptitiously raise the hems of women's skirts in order to peek at their stockings.

As an aside, if you Google 'Hook Hoax' you'll discover there are all sorts of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Sandy Hook school shootings last December were a hoax perpetuated by the anti-gun lobbyists in America.  These theories were quite a big thing, apparently - the youtube videos have had over eleven million views - but I didn't know about them until this morning.  Part of me wishes I still didn't know about them.

As another aside, the Hook Hoax story also features in this book,

which I am now desperate to own.  Some entries from the index:

British Military Fainting Epidemics
Husband-Poisoning Mania
Jumping Frenchmen of Maine
Zimbabwe Zombie School
Spouse Dropping Revival
Sardine Packing Hysteria
Genital Shrinking Scares
Genital Vanishing Scares
Phantom Hat-pin Stabber

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Bits and Bobs

Sorry for the radio silence - I've been on holidays.  I meant to say I was going before I left but I ran out of time so Happy Christmas and Merry New Year and all that.  On the bright side, the burglars didn't know I was away either, so my flat is still intact.

The Bits:

1. A transcript of 'Some Days in the Life' - a twitter storytelling project I took part in last year - is now online if you want to have a look.

2.  I'll be reading from my Stations story at the Ideas Store in Whitechapel on Thursday January 17th  - details here 

3. Speaking of Stations, I was interviewed by the editor a while ago, and there is a video snippet here  where I talk about my inspiration for the story, and do an un-inentional impression of a nodding dog.  (Seriously.  If you are prone to any kind of motion sickness, you might not want to watch.)

The Bobs:

Answers  here.  How many did you get?

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


What did I get up to last weekend?  Glad you asked.  In 48 hours I went to a wine tasting, mentored at a writing workshop, attended a book launch, cooked an AMAZING game casserole (if I do say so myself) spent Friday night watching  my friends get very drunk in a pub, blew up several hundred balloons, lost my phone, argued with my husband, worried incessantly about my friend’s 18 year old son, saw two personal training clients and ran a pilates class. 

I didn’t physically do all of those things.  You might have already worked this out, especially if you know me in real life and have been wondering where I’ve kept my husband hidden all this time.  But the other thing I did last week was take part in ‘Twiction 12’, a project set up by blogger and writer Virginia Moffatt, who wanted to find out whether Twitter could be used as a medium for story telling.  The second half of that list consists of things that my fictional alter-ego, Fitness Dee, got up to.  Reading them back, I think it’s safe to say I had a better weekend than she did.  

I first heard about Twiction12 a few weeks ago, when Virginia sent out (via Twitter - where else?) a call for participants.  The main story would take place, she explained, in real time, over the first weekend in December.  She’d be playing the part of The Derby Diva - a larger-than-life single mum, whose son Jack was about to turn 18 - and was looking for people to join in, either by interacting with the characters as themselves or by creating a new one. I replied, saying I thought it would be fun to give The Diva a friend - a fitness instructor called Dee -  and so my dual life began.

Although the story proper wouldn’t happen until December Virginia was keen to establish a back story so in mid-November, the Diva started tweeting about her son Jack, and his horrible girlfriend - only known as ‘The Slag’.  Soon, Dee began to tweet too.  Establishing her character was a lot of fun.  “Porridge and blueberries for breakfast and now I’m off to the gym! Busy day ahead!” I’d merrily tweet, still tucked up in bed with a cup of tea and a croissant.  Dee nagged the Diva to come along to her pilates class, and talked about her personal training clients, and her poor neglected husband Dave. 

After a week or so Jack began to tweet, played by Virginia’s twin sister, Julia, and before long, we were joined by what might be the best comedy pairing since Rodney and Del Boy: real life participants Rosie and BigBgnome.  This larger than life pair quickly befriended everyone - signing up for Dee’s keep-fit classes, availing themselves of The Diva's staff discount in the M+S lingerie department, and scaring poor old Jack with talk of cougars.  All the while they bantered with each other, providing a lively stream of chat about Rosie’s past drinking problems, and dalliances with Dee’s husband Dave, who they knowingly referred to as ‘Big Dave’.   I have to admit I felt a genuine sense of outrage when I first read about this. That was my husband they were leering over!  A completely fictional one, perhaps, but I was livid none the less - a good sign that the story was working.

This all went on for a few days and then last Friday at 8am - Jack’s 18th birthday - the story proper began.  What followed was a roller-coaster of emotions, conflict and drama as the Diva and Jack argued and made up, then argued again, to a backdrop of Friday night drinks, a nasty encounter with The Slag’s ex, hospital visits, interfering relatives and a whole lot more.    I had a lot of fun taking part, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the experience ever since.  Telling a story collaboratively via Twitter  was very different to anything I’ve done before; but in lots of ways, it was just like ‘real’ writing, and there are some basic principles of storytelling I was reminded about over the weekend:

1. Stories require a balance of character and plot

Virginia struck this balance with the Diva beautifully - each tweet simultaneously moving the action forward and reinforcing what we had learned about the Diva.  When it came to Dee, I realised after a while that although I had established her character fairly firmly I hadn’t really created a story for her - there was nothing driving her forward. I began to plant a few seeds -a new personal training client, and a few suggestions that Dave was starting to feel a bit neglected. I also made it known that The Slag sometimes came to the gym as well, vaguely thinking she might live up to her name and start flirting with Dave.  (Little did I know that Dave was about to find himself in a whole lot more trouble than I’d bargined for.....) but in the end I didn’t really do anything with them.  This didn’t really matter as there was plenty going on with The Diva, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least that plot was the part I found the hardest - it's what I struggle with the most in my normal writing too. 

2. Characters don’t always behave the way you want them to. 

I’d originally imagined Dee as the devil on the Diva’s shoulder; she didn’t have kids of her own, and wouldn’t understand the Diva’s attachment to her son.  Being married, I thought she’d also be trying to live a little vocariously through the Diva and encouraging her to make the most of being single.  But as time went on, Dee - as fictional characters are want to do - developed a mind of her own and turned into someone quite different.  She had plenty to say about Jack’s behaviour, not to mention his taste in girlfriends - but when he was in real trouble, she showed much more of a caring side than I’d ever imagined her to have.  

3. Writing is often about finding solutions

Using Twitter as a medium posed all sorts of problems I hadn’t begun to consider.  How can you let the audience know something which one of the characters isn’t meant to know, when everything is public?  Why would the characters be tweeting each other if they were all sitting around the same table in the pub? (My solution: Dee was tweeting from the toilets, so her husband wouldn’t hear her telling The Diva how good looking ‘Hot Guy‘ was....)  Then of course there was the ‘real-time’ aspect, which meant that at times the events in my own life got in the way.  On Friday night, while Dee was at the pub I was at a wine-tasting where a particularly nice Pinot Noir proved more than a little distracting.  “And whatever did happen to Dee, who was last seen tweeting from the toilets?”  Virginia pondered in her write up the next day.  Thankfully, just as sometimes happens in ‘real’ writing, it was possible for some of the Twiction12 action to take place off-stage.  “Sorry we disappeared so suddenly last night - will explain when I see you”  Dee tweeted early the next morning. 

I had a similar problem when the key events of Sunday afternoon coincided with my own book launch. It soon became clear that my original plan to keep up with tweets while at the launch was a little over-ambitious, which meant more retrospective explanations.  Harder this time because it was Jack’s birthday party - an event which the Diva had been planning for ages, and hardly something her good friend would duck out of without explanation.

Over the course of the weekend, I constantly found myself  asking “how can I .....” and “what if she......” - exactly the same questions I ask when I’m writing stories.  The art of problem solving - getting characters out of the situations you’ve written them into - is central to the process.  

4.  Sometimes all it takes is a bit of faith

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written a tiny detail into the beginning of a story, only to find it there waiting for me when I need it pages later.  There were some wonderful moments of serendipity during Twiction12 too.  My explanation for Dee’s silence after she left Jack’s birthday party was a lost phone.  “Never mind, found it in the car” I (she) tweeted, just as the same time as the Diva was saying she’d found it behind the wine bottles in the kitchen. 


‘This must be someone else’s phone...wonder who it belongs to?’ improvised Virginia, as the Diva.  Curiosity got the better of The Diva and she read the text messages on it, which neatly set the the story on the path to its natural conclusion.  What would have happened if Dee hadn’t lost her phone?  Or if I’d sent my tweet to say I’d found it a few minutes earlier?  We’ll never know, I suppose.  Perhaps the ending would have been the same - we  just would have got there a different way.  Call it serendipity, or call it your subconscious knowing what was going to happen all along, and paving the way - coincidences like this happen all the time when I write.  I'm very glad that they do. 

5.  Show, don't tell....

It’s an old maxim, but  one which kept springing to mind over the course of the weekend.  Especially on Saturday afternoon, when Virginia sent me an email. “Tonight Jack’s going to need his mum,but she’s ignoring his phone calls. Finally, in desperation, he’ll tweet her, but she won’t believe it’s him.  After the third time he tries, can you tell her?”

Although I’d been reading Jack’s tweets, Dee hadn’t noticed them, so this posed something of a challenge.  Why would she suddenly discover them now?  And how could I let the readers know she’d seen them, without telling the Diva too?  

Of course, Rosie and BigB had been chatting to Jack for ages so I gave Dee a reason to go and look at their timelines, then alluded to the fact that she’d discovered something she wish she hadn’t, and then had her frettting about it:  “It’s not a lie, if you just don’t tell someone something, is it?” she tweeted.  Show, don’t tell, I kept reminding myself.  Show, don’t tell.  Sometimes the old advice is the best.

6.  Good stories are all about emotions

On Saturday night I, just like Dee would have been, tensely sat and watched Jack’s timeline, wondering how much to tell the Diva.  Slowly his tweets began trickling in.  “Mum’s not answering her phone.”  “Come on Mum, PICK UP!”.  I felt my heart break a little, as this tough sweary 18 year old found himself having to beg his Mum to listen, and I wanted to shake her when she refused to believe him.  Waiting for my cue - the third tweet - I physically felt my heart starting to race.  
These emotions continued for the rest of the weekend.  I felt genuinely wounded when the Diva was cross with me the next morning ("but I'd only just found out!  And I thought about telling you..."said Dee)  and quite relieved when I heard Jack was OK. By the time the story reached its beautifully sweet epilogue on Sunday night - a three-way conversation between the Diva, Jack, and Granny May, who was a late addition to the cast (also written by Julia) I was a complete wreck. 

 This happens when I’m writing ‘real’ stories too.  I’ll get a flash of genuine emotion - sorrow, anger, happiness - and that’s when I know the story is right. If I haven’t cried at least a few tears while writing something, there’s a good chance it will be a bit rubbish. 

So, does Twitter work as a medium for telling stories?  Virginia is busy collating the tweets so you’ll be able to read them and decide for yourself.  My answer is a resounding ‘yes’.   Collaborative storytelling, in real time, certainly posed some challenges, but it was a fantastic experience and one I hope to be able to repeat one day (Twiction13, anyone?)  In the meantime, I had a ball.  I stretched myself, and I learned a lot about writing, and made some new friends.  And who knows?  One day I may even forgive them for stealing my husband.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Houston, we have lift-off.......

Actually, not Houston. You can't by Stations in Houston yet.  Or  in the rest of America.  (You can, however, buy it in Switzerland of all places.   Who knew the Swiss would be interested in our little East London railway line?)

Yes, today it's publication day:

I have to admit, I am not *entirely* sure what that means, except that some point I should probably eat some cake. 

But what I think it means is that you should be able to find copies in bookshops (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me if you see one), and if your local bookshop doesn't have a copy you can ask them to find you one.  Or you can order directly from Arachne Press.

I have never played professional basketball (this might surprise you), but today I have a pretty good idea of how this guy feels:

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


According to Elanor Roosevelt, 'Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.'

I'm feeling distinctly average tonight, so here a few reminders:

Stations Launch(es): 

The official publication date is November 29th (that's this Thursday, people!) and there is an unofficial launch at Deptford Library that evening; it's free to attend but you have to book a ticket. From what I've been told, it's much easier to do this over the phone than online -the number to call is 0208 692 4446.

The official launch is on Sunday December 2nd, at the Brunel museum in Rotherhithe, from 12.30 - 2.30.  You can buy the book and get a pound off a train tour through the tunnels, OR you can pay for a train tour and get a pound off the book.  I'm not sure how much the train tour costs, so I can't tell you which option is financially more viable.  For you, I mean - I know which one is (marginally) more financially viable for me, but I wouldn't want that to influence your decision.

Brick Lane Reading:

I (along with quite a few of the other authors) will be reading a short extract of my story at the launch, but if you want to hear the whole thing, I'll be reading it at Brick Lane Books on Thursday 6th December, from 7pm.  Again, there will be a few other authors reading, again it is free and again again you will have to book.  You can tweet them your booking if you like (how modern!), on @BrickLaneBooks - make sure you include 'Stations' in your tweet.  Or you can find them online at, where, under the 'Events' tab, there are full details including an email address for bookings.

(Don't try like I did.  Unless you're looking for dating tips, in which case: knock yourself out.)

Sorry this is brief, but my NaNoWriMo clock is ticking........ If you can make it to the Brunel museum or Brick Lane, do come and say hello!