Archive | October 2012

Monday, 29th October

Monday, 29th October

Keywords for the Day: Hope

Everything is finished now for publication of The White Cuckoo, apart from the paperback launch on 23rd November. My publicity campaign for both the e-book and p-book will start tomorrow – 31st October – which was the original launch date set six months ago. It has taken many hours of hard work over the last month to get to this place, but I can honestly say it hasn’t been difficult to do, just tedious and time-consuming.

If any writer is looking for a high quality Print on Demand company I can recommend Print on Demand Worldwide in Peterborough. Their prices are reasonable, although not the cheapest in the market, the quality of their finished product is high, and their customer services are just right – helpful and supportive without the hard sell. Pauline and Amy have been brilliant and give that personal touch to the customer service experience which makes an author feel valued and special.

I could have just gone for a set number of copies without any of their additional services, which are quite comprehensive. There seems to be a package to suit everyone, including e-publishing and editorial services.  However, their Publishing Essentials package for £75 took care of the ISBN generation and barcode, the deposit of six copies of the book with the British Library and an entry in the PoD system, which means that anyone, anywhere can go into a bookshop and order a paperback copy of The White Cuckoo. It also included being offered for sale in their own bookshop. I spent a pleasant hour browsing their extensive bookshop tonight and several titles took my eye.  I was surprised to see there are some big name authors use them, too. They are an excellent alternative to Lulu, which I wasn’t impressed with.

I need to sell 89 paperback copies to break even financially and this is quite a low number considering the RRP recommended by PoD is £9.99 and I am going to sell them at my launch for the discounted price of £7.99. They calculate their RRP from a formula based on the number of pages, but, of course, the author can price them at whatever they like if they are selling direct at a launch, for example, or a book signing event.

Had the publisher not rescinded my contract, I would have needed to sell almost 200 copies to break-even, which would have been a much more daunting prospect.

It feels like all the horrible experiences of the last few weeks have flown out of the Pandora’s box and just left ‘Hope’ behind. I hope I can break-even, and I hope I can give my readers a few hours of escape from the trials and struggles of real life within the warmth and comfort of the pages of The White Cuckoo.

However, I have broken off a piece of ‘Hope’ to tuck into my writers’ toolbox and savour. I hope with all my heart The White Cuckoo  will be the catalyst for traditional publication of my trilogy.

This is the website for direct order of The White Cuckoo.http://www.fast-print.net/bookshop/1195/the-white-cuckoo. Unfortunately it is at the full price of £9.99, which I know is expensive but I really hope that if anyone orders direct, it will be well worth the money spent.  Incidentally, after Christmas I am going to ask Kettering library to stock a couple of copies so that local people can read a paperback for free. I don’t want anyone not to be able to enjoy my novel because of financial hardship.

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Sunday, 28th October

Sunday, 28th October

Keyword for the Day: My Great Grandma

Today was my great-grandma’s birthday. I remembered because when you are a child you count your half-birthdays and my half-birthday was on the same day as my great-grandma.

Grandma Jeffcoat was a lovely, gentle lady and she taught me to knit. In fact, she taught me to knit so well when I was five or six, after a couple of years’ practice, I was capable of knitting myself a jumper at the age of nine. It was bright orange and it took me ages.

Grandma Jeffcoat had a friend who lived a few doors away.They sat, side by side every day, knitting, addressing each other as ‘Mrs Jeffcoat’ and ‘Mrs Summerley’ while my great grandad, the fearsome and legendary Tom Jeffcoat, bellowed at them to shut up as he listened to the cricket on his Bush radio (which I eventually inherited).

Gramp used to wee in his ‘bottle’ instead of going to the outside toilet in the yard. He was disabled and used crutches.  They all thought I didn’t know he weed in a bottle when he asked me to ‘go in the kitchen and see your Grandma – there’s a good girl’, but I had sussed out what he was doing because I knew he kept his ‘bottle’ in a metal waste bin at his side, covered by a folded newspaper on the top. I remember being very disgusted. My dad would never have done such a horrible thing in our living room!

It was a bit of a revelation to me when Grandma Jeffcoat died and someone told me Mrs. Summerley didn’t live there, but in her own house down the road.

My great-grandparents lived with my grandparents. Years later, when Auntie Rita and I decided to write a book about her life, I began to appreciate the absolute hell my Grandma Jeffcoat and Grandma Foster had suffered as mother and daughter living with such a controlling man.

My Auntie Rita told me that despite Gramp treating Grandma Jeffcoat badly and talking down to her all the time, when she died of an asthma attack he was inconsolable. This is an excerpt from Sunlight on Broken Glass, which covers the period 1922 to 1932 in the Jeffson Family Trilogy. Auntie Rita once told me I had captured her mother perfectly in this description. (We decided to call the family in the novel ‘Jeffson; and Auntie Rita wanted to be called ‘Daisy.’)

Daisy gulped in fright as, from her hiding place, she watched Tom step forward and pull at Liz’s old, threadbare navy blue cardigan, which was liberally dusted with flour in the places not covered by her patterned, faded apron.

‘For God’s sake, gal, what on earth have you got on! Smarten yourself up. Have you forgotten to comb your hair today, ‘cause it bloody well looks like it! A right matted tazz… that’s what it is …and what the hell have you been doing to yourself? You’ve got flour everywhere.’

Daisy watched through the crack in the pantry door as Tom swatted Liz’s floury hair with the back of his hand. She flinched, expecting the contact of his knuckles on her mam’s cheek.  Daisy knew her dad’s comments about her mam’s appearance were frequent and cut deep, especially when said in front of her red-lipped, porcelain-cheeked, yellow-haired Auntie Doris, who had plenty of time on her hands to make herself look nice. Her father just didn’t seem to understand that her mam’s time was taken up making sure the house was kept clean and tidy, and she didn’t have the time to have her hair cut and smoothed into a straight, fashionable bob and dress-up in jangly beads to go out gallivanting in the afternoons.  It didn’t matter how much her mam tried, either her hair wouldn’t go right, she’d sprout a big spot on the end of her nose or, even worse, blemishes would appear on her face out of nowhere and she’d look a dreadful sight.  ‘You’d better not go out lookin’ like that,’ her dad would often say before she left the house to go shopping. ‘You’ll frighten the milkman’s ‘orse!’

Daisy felt the prickle of tears behind her eyelids. Everything they did, day-in, day-out, had to be perfect. Her dad completely controlled them all.  It was as if everyone in the family was kept in a prison made of unyielding iron bars.

It took me five years to write the trilogy from our twice weekly chats about the past.  Auntie Rita died before she could read the entire first draft when it was a single novel of around 180k words, but I read the last part to her, when she was in hospital after suffering a stroke. She had absolutely no qualms about reavealing all the secrets of her past, and I hope, one day, a mainstream publisher will publish it. Who knows, perhaps the cuckoo will pave the way and Great Grandma Jeffcoat’s voice will at long lost ring out, loud and clear, from beyond the grave, and everyone will know just how much she suffered.

Saturday, 27th October

Saturday, 27th October

Keyword for the Day: Rip-off

My youngest son went to a wedding a couple of months back and wore his very expensive River Island suit, which he had only worn a couple of times before. Now, I don’t think he meant to divert attention away from the bride, but Nicky can never resist acting like a child himself whenever he is around children. While sliding across the dance floor on his knees at the reception, he somehow managed to split the arse of his trousers right open. Yes – you could see his pants.  Did he care? No, of course not. The majority of blokes would insist on leaving, but not Nicky, he just carried on enjoying himself with his bum hanging out. Even the waistband had split.  He was left with only his belt to save his dignity (that’s if he has any.)

‘Can you do anything with these? he said hopefully the next day as he handed his suit trousers to me.

Honestly – it was no wonder they split. The cotton used to make the suit was really poor quality and as I plucked away at the seam to inspect the damage, I could see other areas that were about to split open. He was going to chuck the suit away, but I was angry. He had paid around £400 for it and only worn it three times!  I still say he ought to complain.  I said I could re-stitch his trousers and that was that – until Friday.

‘Have you done my trousers? he said. I gave him a look that must have told him I hadn’t. ‘Great,’ he said sarcastically. ‘I need them for Thursday – and my suit needs to be cleaned.

‘I’ll do them tomorrow,’ I promised. ‘And then I’ll take it to the dry cleaners for you.’

This morning, he rang his dad. ‘Have you got a yard brush I can borrow?’ he said. ‘Only I’m trimming the hedges and bushes in my garden and we haven’t got a brush.’

Rob muttered and grumbled a bit, but sorted him out an old yard brush that used to be my mum and dad’s.

Well – it took me all morning to stitch his trousers, because all the seams were breaking open. I had to completely re-make them. I also had two year-old grandson, Charlie, to look after and I needed to keep him occupied while I worked on my sewing machine, so I let him trash the living room. This afternoon, with Charlie back in his zoo, we took Nicky’s suit to the cleaners for him and delivered the brush to Walsingham Avenue.

So, one complete Saturday lost, eleven quid lighter and one trashed living room to clean up (because I am still Nicky’s mum even though he has left home now) I am still muttering and mumbling about the very poor quality of a River Island suit.  When will these youngsters ever learn?  He could have got himself a much better quality suit from Burtons at a quarter of the price he paid!

Oh, and we told him to keep the brush. I think he is quite chuffed to have his grandad’s ancient yard brush. Now let me see … what other old junk can we offload …?

Friday, 26th October

Friday, 26th October

Keyword for the Day: Sad

A work colleague died of cancer today. Anita was a lovely lady who, up until she became ill, I would occasionally share a conversation if our paths crossed in the corridors of local democracy. Her mother was a good friend of my Auntie Rita’s and, when my aunt was still alive, Anita would always ask after her.

It’s also coming up to the time of year my mum died six years ago. I wrote a poem on 1st December 2007, on the first anniversary of her death. I’m not that good at poetry – but I thought I would share it with you today, in memory of Anita and thinking of the loved ones she has left behind. Just click on the link  – Six Years of December.

Thursday, 25th October

Thurday, 25th October

Keyword for the Day: Old School Part 2

Today was a rather uneventful day – Chair’s briefing for an upcoming Executive meeting on 7th November this morning, typing up Planning Policy Committee minutes this afternoon, and then a visit to Christie and Nick this evening.

I drove past the old school site twice today. There is just a tiny bit of it left – I’m sure that tomorrow it will be completely demolished.

I spoke yesterday of my old English teacher, Mary Kelly. She really was an ogre at school – very strict, sometimes prone to explosive outbursts of rage and during the first few months she taught me English I was in trouble as often as the rest of the class.  Then, one day, everything changed. We were reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The lesson began with us having to read a set number of pages to discuss.  I loved this type of work,  I finished first and, of course being a thirteen year old, got bored.

‘Anne Beasley!’ she bellowed. ‘Get on with your work’. I remember my heart pounded with fear. I grinned at my mates who all looked up from their reading. ‘Stand up,’ she screeched. I stood up, still grinning.

She made me go to the front of the class. I picked up my copy of Brave New World to take with me, but she told me to leave it on my desk. She left me standing at the front, grinning stupidly, for the rest of the allocated reading time.  When the time was up, she turned to me.

‘Now, Anne is going to tell us all about the pages we have just read,’ she said, turning to me with a self-satisfied smirk.

I had been looking forward to English that week so that I could read more of Brave New World. Of course, I recounted the part of the story I had just read almost perfectly, adding a few interjections of my own opinions and a little bit about genetics – I recall we were learning the basics of cells, chromosomes etc in Science, a subject in which I was also very interested.  Eventually, she had to shut me up. The rest of the class roared with laughter as she told me to sit down and read the next few pages while everyone else had to answer questions about the part of the book they had just read.

After writing a question on the blackboard for the rest of the class to answer in their exercise books, she sidled over to me, pulled up a chair and sat down. ‘Have you read it?’ she asked sternly. I nodded. ‘What do you think?’ she said.

I gave her my thoughts on the next part of the story. ‘Have you read this before?’ she barked. ‘No,’ I said, ‘but I might get it out of the library so that I can carry on reading it later.’

In those days, schools had a library where you could visit at lunchtime and borrow books, just like at the main library in town.

She then stood up, frowned at me and told me to get on with the question on the board.  After she had given out the homework and returned everyone’s homework books except mine, the lesson ended. She made me stay behind – it was breaktime and she said I had to stay in as punishment. I really thought I was in deep trouble, and despite my brave facade when I had grinned at the rest of the class, I began to cry as I stared at the pile of collected-in Brave New Worlds on her desk.

When everyone had gone she pulled up a chair for me next to hers at her desk. I remember she extracted a packet of chocolate digestives from her desk drawer and offered me one, which I declined.

She then reached over and picked up my homework book, which was on her desk, and turned to my last piece of homework. ‘Did you do this yourself?’ she said, smiling as the scary-teacher look was replaced by a kindness I had never before seen. She then apologised – yes, apologised, for making me cry.

‘I love writing, too,’ she said quietly as she handed me my homework book. She confessed that up until that day she had suspected my mum or someone older had been helping me with my English homework. She then said I was very lucky to be able to read so quickly and that it usually takes years of practice to be able to do it. She said she would give me extra help with my writing, if I wanted, because she said she thought I had a talent for it. Then she did something teachers today would probably get suspended for – she gave me a hug!

‘Sorry for upsetting you,’ she said. ‘I think we have probably got off on the wrong foot, haven’t we?’

After breaktime all my friends crowded round. ‘She’s such a cow,’ everyone was saying. ‘Fancy keeping you in just for that!’

I was quite a hero – but I never let on what had really happened. I got ‘kept-in’ at break quite often, when she would look at extra-curricular essays I had written, comment on them and mark them for me. I did have many more run-ins with Mary Kelly, though, one of which involved skiving off Assembly and hiding in the loos with my mates, but whenever she told me off she would always give me a little wink and a secret smile. Oh – and lifts home from school when it was raining.

I never let on, though. Everyone hated her, so I had to pretend to hate her, too!

Wednesday, 24th October

Wednesday, 24th October

Keyword for the Day: Old School

The cover is silky smooth beneath my fingers. The sight of my name as an author gives me a thrill, akin to that of a small child about to to on holiday, or running down the stairs on Christmas morning to find a huge sack-load of presents. My heart is thumping in my throat at the culmination of thousands of hours of night-time writing, endless rewriting and editing. I open up the cover and test the thickness of the loose pages – brand new beneath my fingers. I suddenly feel very scared – as if I am about to run naked down the A14. Every single word is so precious to me, and now they are about to be committed to history forever, a permanent marker across my life, like a grading on a exam paper.

Yep – that was me yesterday. I just didn’t have the time to write in my diary just how I felt when the proof of the paperback arrived. I didn’t want to put it down. I even took it to the Planning Policy meeting with me!

Anyway, enough of book talk.

On my drive to work at least four days in the week, I pass by my old secondary school, which is incrementally disappearing into a huge pile of rubble that looks like the Twin Towers after 9/11.  I have been wondering for days how they will shift all the debris. A road sign appeared today: Road Closed for 3 days 29th October. It conjured up images in my imagination that are not pretty!  There is only one arterial road to the massive Ise/Lodge estate, and guess where the school is located? Yes, on Deeble Road, right at the top of one of the busiest junctions in the town.

I posted on FB that I was sad to see the old school go, because I loved Henry Gotch school and have some very happy memories of the good times I shared with with classmates in 1A, 2A, 3A and 4AD before I left at fifteen to start a two-year course of ‘O’ Levels with Secretarial Studies at Kettering Technical College.

At my junior school, Park Road School in Kettering, I suffered terribly because we had moved to the very remote Lodge Farm Estate at the beginning of my final year. We were still in Kettering, but on the very outskirts of the town and a long way from my school. At the age of ten, I had never before experienced bullying, but the few girls I had thought were my friends turned against me when we moved and made my final year at junior school absolute hell, which was made worse by the gasps of adult shock and recriminations that I hadn’t made it through the eleven-plus. I was very miserable and unhappy when I was ten.  It was no wonder I didn’t want to go to any of the secondary schools the bullies were attending. I wanted to go to Henry Gotch, despite its terrible reputation as the worst school in the town. Luckily, my parents let me have my own way and I was the only child from my junior school to go there!

I wasn’t so brave come the first day, though. I was absolutely terrified because I didn’t know anyone. I needn’t have worried. At the end of the first week I had made loads of new friends and the days of junior school bullying were just a distant nasty memory.

So it was quite a shock to me to find that one of my closest friends in 3A and 4AD was still suffering the after-effects of the bullying she had suffered in 1B= and 2B=. Each year two pupils moved up to the ‘A’ stream and two from the ‘A’ stream were put down to the ‘B’ stream. There was a ‘C’ stream, but I didn’t know anyone from that class. We did have some limited contact with the ‘B’ stream but not much. My English teacher, Mary Kelly, once told me as an adult that they tried to keep the ‘A’ stream isolated from the rest of the school, because we followed the same syllabus as the High School and Grammar Schools. Unlike the other secondary schools in the town, where you were pretty much assigned to the scrapheap after failing your eleven-plus, at Henry Gotch they were very proactive with their ‘A’ stream and had high hopes for us. It wasn’t until I was an adult I realised that was probably pretty much why lots of my classmates at Henry Gotch had achieved more as adults than many of our counterparts who went to the High School and Grammar School. I am now actually glad I failed my eleven-plus and not just scraped through. I know I wouldn’t have survived at the all-girls High School. In my final year, Henry Gotch became a ‘Comprehensive’ and the politically incorrect streaming was abolished – but we still weren’t allowed to take ‘O’ levels unless our parents paid for them.

I remember hugging my friend Karen Slough, who got moved down from 2A at the end of the school year. I used to sit with Karen and she was inconsolable and in floods of tears at having to leave our lovely class. I had tried to tell her that the end-of-year exams were important, but she had got in with the wrong crowd out of school and hadn’t done a single minute of revision. Actually, Karen is another tragic story altogether. She died when we were in our twenties, but I won’t go into all that today.

Eileen, who moved up in Karen’s place, was very nervous on her first day in the A Stream Our form tutor in the third year was the music teacher, Harry Briggs, AKA ‘Baldy’. Someone had told us girls in 3A she had been bullied in her old class, so we all made a point of making a fuss of her and tried to make her welcome. I can remember her lovely smile and bubbly personality (and also how clever she was and how hard she worked!) and from that day we have been friends, not seeing as much of each other as adults as we would like, because life and working full-time gets in the way, but I have no doubt that all us Henry Gotch girls will reconnect where we left off all those years ago when we retire.

I can remember there was lots of teasing and laughter in our class, but it was laughing ‘with’, rather than ‘at’. When I posted on my FB page today that I was sad the old school was being knocked down, Eileen commented that she still suffers from the after effects of the bullying she endured at school and it still affects her confidence 40 years later. Not only that, but my own daughter, Emily, commiserated with Eileen (who incidentally is Emily’s Godmother) because she feels the same. Emily went to Henry Gotch too.

At the time, Emily suffered mostly in silence. I knew there were pupils at Henry Gotch who were nasty about her Coeliac Disease and terrible acne, and some of the girls were very bitchy, but she did have some good friends there – one of whom was her eventual husband. Did I do enough? Did I fail her because I didn’t intervene when I should have done? Should I have let her transfer to Latimer School when she had pestered me instead of telling her to just get on with it and ignore the bullies?

Probably because I had been encased in the ‘A’ Stream bubble at Henry Gotch, I think I might have been blinkered to what was going on outside the bubble. I hadn’t realised just how badly affected by bullying Eileen had been at the time. I hope I didn’t add to her pain unwittingly by an insensitive comment or laughing at something that caused her discomfort. Next time I see her I am going to ask her.

I am also going to apologise to Emily for not being sympathetic enough when she was bullied as a teenager. I should have at least have gone into the school and talked to someone.

But the comment that shocked me most today was my son-in-law’s comment on my FB post that I was sad to see the old school being knocked down. He simply said: ”No, I enjoyed signing the demolition notice’.

Who would have thought that it would be an ex-pupil who got to sign such a notice – and one who had hated the school, too! How satisfying would that be?

Tuesday, 23rd October

Tuesday, 23rd October

Keyword for the Day: Excited!!

Today was an exciting day because the unbound proof of The White Cuckoo was delivered. I did just try to post a picture, but it’s very late and the computer is having none of it.  I still have to do a final check and goodness knows when I shall find time to do that.

It’s only a short post tonight, I’m afraid.  I have had a very busy day at work, culminating in Planning Policy Committee tonight. I didn’t get home until 9.20. I was so tired in the meeting I don’t know how I stayed awake. in fact, one of the councillors said to me afterwards ‘Anne you look very tired.’. Was it that obvious!  The thing is I have been going to bed at around 9 pm every day to give myself the fuel to get up at 3-4 am and write. Half way through the meeting it was my usual bedtime.  It would be much better if Committee Administrators could do meetings as part of their working week.  I could have gone home and had a nap in the afternoon if that was the case. Instead, we have to struggle through 12-13 hour days when we have a meeting, which is almost two days’ work in one.