Sunday, 20 April 2014

Bluebell Season - Arlington

This morning we got around to taking the Arlington Bluebell walk. We've lived in Eastbourne a few years now, and planned it every year, but when you live on the beautiful East Sussex coast it can be too easy to forget to look inland.

Lots to see in a woodland pond though. This last winter has been so dark and wet all spring growth seems brighter and more vibrant. We were lucky as we arrived just after an April shower and completed the walk before the next one.  Not that it would have mattered. The colours seem stronger to me in lower light sometimes and the scent on a still, damp day is intoxicating.

Plenty of facilities for families, good access for all and even lambs and piglets. Meat from the farm shop, books from the used bookshop, and home for Sunday lunch. Can't be bad.

     LINK: Bluebell Walk

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Books In Prisons

Even graffiti comes in a book. Wall and Piece by Banksy.

Since the recent ruling that books, and some other materials, can no longer be sent to prisoners in Britain there have been a number of protests. Most that I have seen by writers. I have something to add to the conversation, unfortunately, because a relative of mine is currently in prison.

Before the new ban came into place I found myself searching for ways to support and practical things to help and books were the obvious solution. Books don't just fill time they can move people and educate them. When you know the prisoner in question it is easy to think of books they might enjoy. Knowing a persons outside interests is useful and even their level of reading skill. These are all fairly obvious advantages to a relative or friend having the ability to send a book to a prisoner.

The freedom to have books sent in, however,  wasn't entirely wonderful for all the prison community. While I was in the position to purchase a new book, and then pay the postage and packing to send it in it, it occurred to me that many prisoners’ families are not in this position. Even then I did consider the type of book and cost. A couple of new titles I was interested in were only available as e-books or hardback. Either not allowed or expensive.

A family that has one member in prison can be poorer through that person’s absence by having lost their income, or even their practical contributions to family life. Yes, some families might be relieved financially but I think most wouldn't. Families bear the cost of visits and sending letters and photos, buying clothes and phone cards. Relatives of prisoners, for example, who have young children would I'm sure rather pay for books for their child, or school trips, or food, than books for the absent parent in prison.

A prisoner who was most likely to benefit from books sent in from family and friends would have been one of the better educated inmates and from richer families. They have more motivation to read and family more able and likely to send books in. These people must be in the minority in prison. To me it's a bit like how parental choice of school created the catchment areas that have such an effect on education life chances.

That brings me neatly to the literacy skills of the prison population.  

   'The prison population of England and Wales stands at 85,000.

 More than three quarters cannot read or write to the standard expected of an eleven year old.'

LINK: Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals

While I still do think it is important that prisoners should be allowed to be sent books from outside for me the issue raised extra questions.

How can the debate about rights of prisoners to receive books help those that can't read?
How can the debate get more quality books into prisons?
Do prison libraries accept donations from outside?
Are the rules about frequency of visits to libraries being followed?

A recent TV documentary called 'Banged Up and Left to Fail' was about the lack of rehabilitation opportunities available in most prisons. The saddest part for me was the many prisoners who don't have a home, or job to go to, or even someone to meet them at the gate on their release. Who exactly would have sent these people books even when it was allowed? If the prisoners most likely to re-offend have the weakest literacy skills,  and the least chance of getting a job on release, then getting books and education to these people quickly is vital.

 LINK: Banged up and left to fail 

Link: Natalie Atkinson on Twitter

All prisoners should have frequent access to well stocked libraries. Reading improves life chances and prisoner rehabilitation benefits us all. Apparently the new planned system is that prisoners will be able to buy books as an earned privilege. Prison wages are around £9 a week. Sick pay is roughly a third of that. Most prisoners would prioritise phone credit and stamps over a book. Who does it help if they have to choose? 

Incentives for good behaviour must be positive but books as a reward?

Does the government tell parents to send their children to school if they are good?  No, education is a legal right for children and parents are obligated to send them to school. Books should be prisoners legal right and prisons should be obligated to supply them.

Reading improves lives, and readers improve society.

Books must remain free and accessible to all in prisons.

The prison population of England and Wales stands at 85,000 and more than three quarters cannot read, write or count to the standard expected of an eleven year old.
- See more at:

Friday, 21 March 2014

Swans In The Mist

I've posted quite regularly (although not lately) about how much there is to see and enjoy when you live on the coast and about how vibrant the scenery can be in seasons other than summer.

I remember when we used to visit Eastbourne for holidays that were all about the beach. Many times we would pass Princes Park which is just the other side of the road from the prom. It was on the long list of places I wanted to visit when there was more time. When the kids were small it was just too near attractions that had pirate ships and rides.

After such a long, wet winter and then a couple of bright sunny days we were suddenly cloaked in mist. I couldn't imagine anything more dreary and it hung around for days. I remember using it as another excuse not to get out there with the camera and then I saw the above photograph, taken in the thick of the mist in Princes Park. Funny really that this is a walk from my house but I saw it on Twitter.

However murky the world out there seems there is always something beautiful to see if you are open to seeing it. Thanks to Kerry Potter for sharing the photograph.

Kerry Potter Photography

Princes Park

Monday, 20 January 2014

Local Reads #Sussex And Other Surprises

The above book was a gift and one that I enjoyed some random dips into first and then a full read.

I mentioned another book in the blog* most enjoyed that was a gift and think it worth mentioning how nice it is to not choose a read in these days of unbelievable choice. There are so many books available now, millions, you only have to hear a title or author and you can either download it or receive hard copy in a couple of days.  People do still buy book vouchers or tokens, so the recipient can go and choose their own book but I've gone off this idea. In the scheme of risks to human health or global catastrophe, how dangerous is it really to go and choose a book you think your friend or relative might like? Books I've been gifted recently have been particularly enjoyable because they surprised me. This is why I like listening to the radio again. Yes I could download a zillion tracks to some device or other but then I have to decide which ones to listen to. Oh the pressure! Well not really but the point is that I would know that I like all the tracks on the thingummy device because I put them on it. I put the radio on (currently enjoying Smooth on digital) and the little man inside makes all the decisions. I hear music I have never heard before, or forgot that I liked, or just forgot existed.

Going back to The Little Book of Sussex...

Lots of local history and stories that make me glad we moved here. The book inspires me to go out and explore a lot more of the area. Must check husband's tide book to discover when we can safely go and stand in the fossilised dinosaur's footprint at Pevensey Bay. I love that so much smuggling went on in Sussex, always thought it was Cornwall but then I grew up on Poldark stories. I loved reading about the vicar who called some of his parisioners 'strumpets' in notes he believed would remain private. There's literature and language too. In old Sussex dialect the word 'bawl' meant to read aloud. I doubt many of the kids we hear bawling in the supermarket have their nose in a book now unfortunately.

I enjoyed this one anyway and will refer to it again for local knowledge or inspiration.

* blog post referred to about a surprise read was two years ago.   E-books And Matters Of Life And Death

I have since bought a kindle and even read books on it. Oh well.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Visitors from Germany to Eastbourne

I saw a Tweet the other day that made me a bit cross. The tweeter was asking for people to share the worst Christmas present they have ever received. I might have found this funny once but now I'm a bit fed up with this mocking humour, so commonplace now.  My regular reader will know that I do TRY to keep optimistic on this blog, and might even accuse me of being a bit repetitive  lately on the theme of 'home'.

Oh, whatever...

The above card is the most beautiful I received this Christmas. It may be the nicest card I have ever received. It was sent from a friend of our family who was our guest this summer. A lot of young people come from Germany to Eastbourne for language and activity holidays and it's lovely to hear from then again, and especially at Christmas. This wasn't just a nice card but with a greeting very carefully penned in English and it contained also a beautifully handwritten quotation.

I hope the sender of this card doesn't mind me sharing it online and will be writing a personal letter. It was just so moving that a young man took such care and trouble over these words on the theme of home.

At the launch of Stories For Homes I met one contributor to the anthology who flew from Germany to attend the event. I loved the story Dreamtime's Legacy, by Sonja Price, in the book which was set in another part of the world and am happy in this strange time between Christmas and New Year thinking about travellers and firesides and the quiet of home.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Paperback Launch - Stories For Homes

You know when you open your mouth to answer a reasonable question and nothing comes out? It happened to me the other day at the launch for Stories For Homes paperback.

I was so excited to go to Crystal Palace last week, especially as I rarely travel from Eastbourne to London, and meet a selection of authors and creators of Stories For Homes at The Bookseller Crow. I don't remember going to a book launch before, least of all for a book that includes my own writing, and for such a worthy cause as Shelter.

One or two people asked me about my story in the book, what it is about, and one person asked me how I got involved in the project and how is 'home' important to me. Describing my story was easy although keeping it very brief was important because the book covers such wide themes in different styles. I said while they might not remember the title ( I was struggling with titles and author-names) the setting might stick better and the time: London, 1941. This, the only futuristic story I have ever written, is  about human relationships, on the quirky side of fun, and takes place after the world went broke.

I heard the call for submissions on Twitter. This network is so fast, and random, and I like how it depends a little on luck and timing what resources and opportunities you see. I remember having a quick mull over whether I had anything to offer on the theme of 'home' and found myself thinking about different types of housing and where we've lived and about how much of our lives are taken up by the search for the right place. Between submitting my story for possible inclusion and now sitting at home enjoying all the different stories, and marvelling at the different interpretations of one theme, we have actually moved house. This has been our hardest move ever and although I'm really happy where we are now I'm aware that like many aspects of life, finding the right place to settle, can be as dependant on luck and timing as what you see on a Twitter feed. Right now I feel incredibly lucky to be in a warm dry place that feels safe although it scares me how many people I have learned about that don't have this security.

It is easy to write things down, like now, and much harder when you are asked, on the spot, why is 'home' important? To be honest I set off to the book launch expecting to listen to other people and wasn't ready for a question.Our endeavours have always been about type of home, and location, but I have only recently appreciated how lucky we have been to have always had one.

Stories For Homes has raised £1500 so far for Shelter  in a very short time. Many people think about homeless people at Christmas and forget about them the rest of the year. I'll put my hands up to that too. Shelter are there with support and resources all year round.

Homeless people are not always visible and a lot, including children, are in emergency and temporary housing. You can drop a tin of soup into a foodbank box in the supermarket but some families who get it will not have a safe place to store it or facility to warm it. They will struggle to get jobs, and school places, without a permanent address and pay high prices for everything without a land-line and internet. Homeless families don't have the ability to shop around for their energy supplier, most have to pay-as-they-go, some even buying electricity from their landlord. They didn't get to choose the energy rating for their heaters and aren't allowed to hang a picture on their wall let alone a curtain behind a draughty door. Tragically, in the world of emergency or temporary housing, these are some of the lucky ones because they qualified as vulnerable enough. Many people don't qualify for help. 

When I went to London for the launch, because I was lucky to have a home computer, and internet, and a bank account registered to my address, I was able to buy a train ticket for £7.50. This was a really good deal but anyone walking into the train station, of no fixed abode and carrying only cash, would have paid £25 for the same journey.

A lot of these things I've only learned, or realised, lately. They are my interpretation of the importance of home and like all my other blog witterings not representative of the writing in Stories For Homes. This is a moving and entertaining anthology of fiction that incidentally would also make a perfect gift for Christmas. There are no political rants and no 'poor-me' hard luck true accounts. There is still time to send it direct to a friend or relative. They might not even normally seek out short stories but they are perfect reading whether you are on the move (ho ho ho) or not.

Stories For Homes


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Story For Homes

Short Fiction anthology available as e-book or paperback

I'm so proud and it is very exciting to be involved in this powerful but very entertaining anthology of short stories. There is a real buzz about the book, it's achieving great reviews, and profits go directly to Shelter. It was only by luck really, that I saw the call for submissions on Twitter and sent a story in but since then I've realised what a common theme 'Home' has been in all my writing. I don't usually post fiction on the blog but here is one of my short stories I wrote years ago. There is a different one in the above anthology. Link below. 

An Old Farmhouse
It opens up to people. They come crashing in. Boxes bump walls and scratch paint-work. Work-boots scuff skirting boards. The house has been still for too long. Dust is disturbed and clouds who these people are. One of them even whistles.
The father of the family thumps on a wall and stamps on floorboards. He yanks at anything fixed; he seems determined to find the structure lacking in substance. He fails. This is a very old house but solid.
The mother runs her fingertips along sills and opens a window in every room. She turns on kitchen taps and watches rusty sediment drain away. She lets the waters clear and fills a vase for yellow roses she snipped from the rambling cover to the porch. Cupboards are opened and start to breathe.
As the mother moves through the house she stands out from the rest. When she stops, and looks through the rear window to the garden, the house hears the difference. Inside her there is another heart beating. It is a very small heart.
She wanders from room to room and stands silently in the master bedroom. She moves around until she stands for a moment in the spot where the old lady used to lie. She looks around then, feeling the walls. She finds the old mirror discarded in the back of the wardrobe. The second she looks into it the old farmhouse sees her.  
Any chance in the house, of continuity, had died with the lonely old lady. No children ever played here and visits from her brothers were so long ago. But now, seeing this lovely young face, and hearing her heartbeat’s echo, hopes are refreshed.
The light-footed boy hops about downstairs and hoots like a baby owl - his calls bounce off dining room walls. The heavier boy stands on the landing and bumps a leather ball, bump, bump, bump down the bare boards of the stairs. ‘Throw it back up!’ he shouts to his brother. ‘Get out of the way’ a deep voice bellows from under the weight of the bed. The bed wobbles before rising upstairs on the arms of the men.
‘Go outside,’ the mother tells the boys as she goes down the stairs. ‘Get that ball outside.’
The father stands in the dining room. ‘We can knock that through,’ he tells her.
‘The dining room and the lounge. We can knock them through, make one room. A bigger one.’
‘What?’ she says. ‘Where is the bedding? The boxes were marked up. Have you seen them?’
A ball thuds against an outside wall. Thud, thud, thud. Then there is a smash - the old greenhouse gets it.
‘God! Those kids’ he says.
‘I want that greenhouse,’ she says.
‘Wanted it,’ he tells her.
‘Oh, what a day.’
‘A fresh start,’ he replies. And then he holds her so close all the heartbeats merge – they can’t be told apart. They are almost moved in. In the morning, by the time they have slept inside, they will belong here.
The beds are made and the sheets smell of honeysuckle. ‘But they should have been aired,’ she says. The boys, fresh from their bath are tucked in them tightly and they soon sleep. ‘It's been a long day for them,’ he says.
Eventually they go to bed themselves. Or rather they agree to go up but then he says ‘No. I just need to check a few things, around the house.’ So she goes up and he goes outside and walks the length of the garden. He checks the gate; the lock is sound. He goes inside and has a quick Scotch and sits for a while and smokes and by the time he goes up she is sleeping. But not soundly. She feels him get in. And then they both lay awake, waiting for their fresh start to begin.
Bacon sizzles under the grill. Coffee perks. She's finding her equipment - doing it right. Everyone's in a hurry, rushing around, grabbing this and that. Cat licks do for boys but the father needs a shower. But he hardly has one. Most of the water is wasted as he constantly tests the temperature with his hand and adjusts the taps. And then when he’s in and soapy he jumps, scalded, straight back out again.
The mother has all the time – perhaps she’ll bathe when he’s gone to work. When the boys go out to play she can soak. She’ll have the day to herself. The boys have a new garden to explore. The house has her to itself and the little one inside her too.
She busies herself. Lemon sprays sharpen up windows to a shine; bleach shocks hard tiled floors. Cobwebs are flicked out of corners and spiders carefully dropped out of windows. She opens some fresh paint. She stirs the pastel shade but is frowning. She replaces the lid. Looks around at the colour and patterns on the walls. She searches around, finds the sample pots and splashes bright patterns on one wall. She’s having fun, drawing pictures, making shapes.

The evening meal is under way. The meat cooks slowly and the aroma fills the house. The table is laid in the dining room; the wine is open and breathing. The boys are in bed. She waits. He comes in. He sits down but pushes the food away.
‘You're right,’ she says, ‘about the room.’
‘What?’ he says. ‘What room?’
‘This one. It's too small. Let's lose that wall - have a larger, family room.’
‘It won't do,’ he says. ‘It's not enough.’
‘We need more colour,’ she says. ‘I'm taking the emulsion back. It's all pastel. We need more colour this time. Or patterns, maybe. What do you think?’
‘It's no good.’
‘Don't worry,’ she tells him. ‘I'll figure it out. You can't make all the decisions at once. I'll take it room by room. Just for the baby's room, pastels, maybe. Then a pattern for ours.’
‘It's not going to work,’ he tells her. ‘I can't do it. It was stupid to try.’
‘Stop,’ she says. ‘Just one day. We've only been here one day and then you've been out to work. You have to give it time.’
‘I haven’t been to work,’ he says. ‘I couldn't be away from her. Not for one day. I cannot be away from her at all. That's it. That's all there is to say.’

She stands. The house feels her heart. Pump, pump, pump. Faster. As fast as the tiny child inside.
There is disturbance upstairs. One of the boys is upset; he is dreaming. Which one is it? It’s hard to tell they are in one room – too close together. A murmur comes, from the younger one. He twists and turns.
‘Mum!’ he calls from his bed. He's still half-asleep, but he calls ‘Mum!’ louder. He should be calling his father now. He doesn't know how much he needs to call him. As he runs along the dark pathway through the forest the house gets into the dream.
The mother walks around the downstairs room. Her son is calling and her husband is leaving. What will she do? Will she go to the child? Will she go to the boy and give the man the opportunity to slip out?
There is a solid structure in the middle of his dark forest now. The boy stumbles towards the house. Lights are switched on. Now he can see it. The door bursts open and invites him in. He enters. The strong front door closes behind him. The boy is quiet.
His mother paces the dining room. Then pauses. She sips at her wine. Thinks.
‘We never should have moved,’ she says. As if a different set of walls would have been enough to save them. Even a tiny heartbeat inside her is not.
‘This house was everything you ever wanted,’ he says.
            ‘Everything for us!’
‘Really? Are you so sure about that?’
‘Yes. I was happy enough where we were.’
‘And is happy enough, good enough?’
She puts a hand on her belly and looks at the wine.
‘And you think you’re so different. What the hell has she got?
‘She is happy enough. Just with me.’
The mother hurls the glass at a wall. Shards explode and red wine cascades. She has wounded the house but the bleeding wall, that he wanted to knock down, will heal.
He stands up. ‘You'll have everything you need,’ he tells her. ‘But I can't stay. It was stupid to try.’
‘I hate this house,’ she says.
He walks towards the door but glances back.
‘Is it easier to leave me here?’ She’s looking him right in the eye and he flinches but turns from her. He walks out of the front door and shuts it behind him. The house barely feels it.
She moves to that wall and leans herself against it. Her heart thumps hard. The little one echoes inside.
The dust has cleared. The house can finally see them. All of them. The elder boy sleeps so soundly he is far away. The younger one still tosses and turns, he’s extra sensitive, receptive to his mother’s mood. She can go to him now. The house can support her and will do so.
He is gone, but now she has the house. And the house has her. It wraps her up.

Whether you like the above short story or not please support #StoriesForHomes. You can buy the e-book or the paperback, profits are all for Shelter, and please post a review. Thanks.

Stories For Homes