Creative Writing

Nanowrimo 2015

A very late starter, but at long last, after several years of just thinking about it, I have signed up for the Nanowrimo marathon. I only began three days ago in the midst of a whirlwind created by my daughter as she moved out of the family home, taking her beloved dog with her. The past couple of days have found us up to our eyes in boxes and suitcases as she gradually sifts through her stuff deciding what is essential and what can wait — a total disruption in other words. My writing so far reflects the current state of affairs, but my hope is that within a few more days, the dust will settle and I will be able to get something done. No time for planning my plot or doing in depth research into locations or characters — so I am just regarding this time as a test of stamina and staying power.

Fingers crossed!

Quick Change

Quick Change: Tiny Tales of Transformation
Debbie Young
Contemporary short stories
17 June, 2014

'Quick Change' was my first encounter with Debbie Young and her short stories. Yet again, as seems to be happening quite often in the recent past -- my decision to read this particular book was based on two factors: her name had cropped up on Social Media circles; I like short stories.

I was not disappointed -- a mixed bunch of brief insights into the human condition, in particular the British human condition, told between moments of sensitivity, irreverence and a pinch of wicked humour -- she held my attention from beginning to end -- an end which came around far too quickly I'm sad to say.

My only complaint, if one has to be found -- is that I would have liked each of the tales to last a little longer.

The Stranger in my Life

The Stranger in my Life
Janet Holt & Helen Parker
Biography, Creative non-fiction
1 January, 2014

I was first made aware of Janet Holt's book, 'The Stranger in my Life' when I read 'Take Three Birds', a sort of autobiographical travelogue co-written by Jill Pennington, Tottie Limejuice and Janet Holt. Both Jill and Tottie made various mentions of the difficult times Janet had been through in her past, and also that she had written a book to tell her personal story.

My curiosity was piqued, and as soon as I completed 'Take Three Birds' I delved straight into Janet's story.

All through the book I had to remind myself that I was reading a true story -- Helen Parker, who wrote the story for Janet, is what I would describe as a skilled creative writer of non-fiction. In spite of the book using considerable use of backtracking in order to put events into perspective, at no point did I feel confused by the frequent shift in time. Perhaps it was her use of first person point of view which rendered the whole more credible in spite of the seemingly far-fetched subject matter.

In substance, Janet Holt loses all recollection of a few days of her life during March 1976. The story tells of her quest to resolve the puzzle which has haunted her for some 34 years, during which time she suffered terrible nightmares and frequest bouts of anxiety. Nonetheless, she manages to successfully run a farm and hold down rewarding employment and a long-standing relationship for much of that time.

Thanks to the concern of a close friend, in 2010 she seeks out medical care to find the root of her anxiety problems. The sessions with the psychologist lead to a series of revelations which deeply affect her and present her with a new set of problems to resolve.

I found the writing very convincing and at no time did I question that I was in Janet's head as she lived through each phase of her traumatic story. Top marks to Helen Parker for her role in the creation of the finished work, and to Janet who opened up her amazing story to the general public.

NB. Don't do as I did -- I Googled Janet to understand her story more fully, and ended up 'spoiling' the end for myself!

Take Three Birds

Take Three Birds
Jill Pennington, Tottie Limejuice, Janet Holt
Autobiographical travelogue
15 December, 2014

My only reason for having chosen to read this book was the fact that I recognised two of the authors names from writing groups on the social media. By the end of the read I was pleased to have given the book a chance.

In hindsight, the book description is accurate, but for some reason I had expected to be presented with a story of sorts, rather than what is basically a diary of events garnished with each writer's background story and their impressions of one another. Frequent use is made of the inclusion of what appear to be complete transcripts of social media messages and emails.

The tale hops from one head to another as each writer in turn picks up the threads of the story from a personal viewpoint -- the preparation, the journey, the hospitality, the food, home ground and finally conclusions drawn and consideration of future plans. We gain insight into the strengths, weaknesses and foibles of each of them and by the end of the book have a fairly good idea of how each of them ticks. I, for one, certainly felt as if I had made three new friends as I recognised character traits similar to my own in each of them.

I want to justify my middle-of-the-road rating by saying that much as I enjoyed the book, it does not offer any mind-blowing concepts or psychological thrills. It certainly held my attention from beginning to end as a light and humorous read, even though I kept waiting for the 'book-planning' discussions that were hinted at, but never evolved, possibly due to the excess of wine consumed. Full marks to Tottie for her editing -- to Jill for her overblown enthusiasm and girly giggles -- and to Janet for having taken the bull by the horns and acted on instinct.

The Venice Experiment

The Venice Experiment -- a year of trial and error living abroad
Barry Frangipane & Ben Robbins
256 pages

An amusing series of brief anecdotes recounting the author's personal experiences during his experimental year in Venice. Having lived in Venice for some 40 years myself, I recognise many of the situations he describes and can feel his bewilderment when faced with some of the typical Venetian behavioural oddities. On a few occasions, I did feel that perhaps he himself had fallen victim to some of them when he made sweeping generalisations about the 'status quo'.Just one example which struck me in particular was the affirmation that Venetians don't own ovens! The truth is that Venetians who rent out apartments to foreign visitors, rarely include an oven as an essential electrical appliance because of the added expense, both as furnishing and as an included utilities cost. My Venetian husband was adamant -- 'how do you think we all cook our lasagne?'

On the whole I would recommend the book to aficionados of Venice who are interested in learning more about what it means to live the life of a 'Venetian' from a non-Venetian point of view. An easy read covering a wide variety of Venetian traditions, events and daily routines, especially useful to those who are able to carry out their own 'Venice Experiment' enjoying an extended stay in the city.

Reflections on Venice Writing Retreat, 2015

Eating 'al fresco' at the Venice Writing Retreat 2015 Photograph by Angelica Hopes

Eating ‘al fresco’ at the Venice Writing Retreat 2015
Photograph by Angelica Hopes

It’s not over really — still things buzzing around my head and odds and ends of loose strings to tie up before I can say that the Venice Writing Retreat 2015 — also referred to as the Venice Editing Masterclass (I like the ring of that) — can truly be considered packed up and put away.

As I am still uncertain when that end will be, let me see if I can go back far enough to remember the beginning. I risk being accused of giving you too much ‘background’, but for me this all started years ago, so bear with me.

My parents recognised me as a ‘leader’ when I was only knee high to a grasshopper, though some might have been a bit more pragmatic in their assessment of my skills — I think the term they used was ‘bossy boots’. Leaving aside gratuitous interpretations of my powers of ‘leadership’, it so happens that much of my useful employment and social interaction over the years, has entailed the organisation in one way or another of groups of individuals of varying ages, herding them in both my private and professional lives according to a set of rules, often devised by myself. Well someone has to do it don’t they?

The list of examples of aforesaid situations and large group events is endless (and insignificant to the extreme) and includes large scale kids’ parties with entertainment; coach-loads of opera devotees; wine tasting; darts’ tournaments and beer slurping; puppet making workshop; English lessons; candlelit dinner parties for large groups of anything-but-romantic tourists; a World Cup fanatic ruckus (also present, some of the opera devotees); guided visits to renowned landmarks scattered around Europe; guided visits to totally unknown landmarks in the same geographical areas including a never-to-be-forgotten visit to a pig farm in the Italian Alps, and to a bakery owned by the same people. I hope I am getting my point across — the fact that I was obviously destined to organise things?

It’s still a bit fuzzy in my mind as to how and why the seed of the writing retreat idea blossomed to such proportions. It could be that after I had successfully completed a couple of formal creative writing courses, I was feeling totally bereft at the lack of opportunities to hone my writing skills with like-minded wannabe writers — or at least — wannabe writers in the English language. Could just be I had been looking in the wrong places, but the fact of the matter is that I began to mess with the notion of holding some sort of writing event on my own doorstep. It only took a few ‘likes’ and a little research on Facebook (yes — I know — it’s so embarrassing), to ‘meet’ up with Roz Morris who already regularly tutors writing workshops for ‘The Guardian’ newspaper. She and my published-writer-brother, Henry Hyde were ‘linked’ up virtually both through their personal pages and also through the common interest they hold in ALLi, The Alliance of Independent Authors.

In fairness, Roz Morris was one of several authors who had caught my attention and who had accepted to take part in my event, should it ever actually happen. But it soon became clear that I would need to launch the first edition of the Venice Writing Retreat using a special set of rules — an experimental set of rules created ad hoc for my ‘first time’, for my ‘beta’ event. Roz was allowing me to use her as a guinea pig though perhaps her connections with Henry gave her greater confidence in the potential success of the event. Her risk was limited — controlled. Regardless of the outcome she would be assured her return flight to Venice, her accommodation, her food and fees. But I was not in a position to promise her a full classroom. Being the professional that she is, she accepted those terms and went about preparing her detailed notes and presentation with which she would teach her class, regardless of how many students it might have contained at the final count.

Setting up venues and equipment — a tailored web site and outside catering were child’s play for me. I had found myself in a similar situation on many occasions for both work and social events. A good number of years as a European travel guide with one of the toughest companies in the business, had taught me certain organisational skills the hard way. In more recent years, extensive experience with the joint management of a non-profit outfit responsible for laying on large-scale entertainment had provided me with unexpected strengths in other aspects of people handling.

But in spite of a somewhat exaggerated confidence in my ability to handle anything that came my way, I was suddenly faced with my ‘bête noire’ — my major stumbling block — marketing. It has never been my forte — I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, but if I have to sell myself, I just fall apart. My confidence slips away from me and I become apologetic about my very existence. My thoughts become addled and I forget all the sensible selling ploys that I had planned so very carefully. I cringe and back down and desperately hope that my social skills will be enough to get me through.

So from my point of view, using a mish mash of methods ranging from personal contact to Facebook ads; locally distributed flyers and the backing of a number of warm-hearted champions of my cause — to have managed to get any participants at all, was a major success. To the small group of participants I am totally grateful because, for whatever reasons, they trusted that the event would happen, and that it would happen in one of the most desirable locations in Europe. They were collaborative and understanding and went out of their way to ensure that the workshop was a success. They were attentive and sensitive students, hanging on to Roz Morris’s every word. They were quick to offer a hand when the time came to move tables, serve lunch and clear up. They endured the unusual heat and humidity and then threw themselves headlong into the fascination of the city, making sure they would take home a wide range of memories from our few days together.

And yes — there will be a second edition because it would be so sad not to repeat the wonderful experience all over again — the camaraderie and sense of belonging, and finally understanding that all we wannabe writers have the same fears and literary skeletons in our cupboards.

So watch this space. I’m certain it won’t be long before I begin all over again!

For more specific information, and a more objective report of the Workshop 2015, visit

Photograph courtesy of Angelica Hopes

‘Tenth of December’ [book review]

Tenth of December Book Cover Tenth of December
George Saunders
Short story (contemporary)
Bloomsbury Publishing
3 January 2013

His writing leaves you feeling a bit like being flooded with emotions that you weren't aware you had, or had subconsciously chosen to repress. Reminds me of the free writing we did at school which has then been thoughtfully and sensitively knocked into shape to reveal an incredible insight into the workings of our minds and the frailty of human nature. His words open up sores and place us before self-criticism. No easy escape as you feel drawn to continue in spite of -- or perhaps, because of -- a tumble of intricate mental meanderings leading you to the end; an end which is never final, but just a brief breathing space for reflection in the repetitive toil of life.

My faith in the power of short stories has been restored.

Fog [haiku]

Foggy morn
shrouds sound in veil of silence
clothed in grey

Wait for me

Photograph by Janys Hyde

Wait there my boy, we must depart,
but I’ll soon be home, you’ll see.
Away he trooped with all the men
without glancing back at me.

They soon retreated from my view,
a bright patch in the distance.
How war affects the strongest man
had still not touched my conscience.

I was too young to even know
that they’d live in fields of mud,
amid the blast of massive guns
and the stench of death and blood.

But he did not keep his promise,
they say t’was not his fault.
There had been far too few of them
to make the final assault.

They finally recovered him,
when all the war was over;
a fallen hero at the end
amid red poppies and white clover.

Words & image by Janys Hyde

The Sign

High on the hill, time creeps by almost unnoticed, but for the cadence of the seasons. For the main part the idyllic isolation is undisturbed if not by the occasional strident call of a lamenting fox or the violent passage of an electric storm.

But last month changed all that.
The tall figure of an elderly man, balding head uncovered, dressed in a long black robe which flapped angrily around his legs, took to stomping back and forth across the hilltop several evenings a week. Cloaked by the mantle of darkness he closely inspected the few trees scattered along his way. Mumbling and grumbling to himself he fiddled restlessly with a rosary chattering in his right hand, stopping every now and again to launch a mild imprecation and gesticulating towards the heavens cry -‘Why don’t You do something? Give me a sign! This Mafia business has gone too far – it’s too much,’ but getting no response, he returned to his mumbling and nervous shuffling. Swish, swish, swish, chatter, swish, chatter.

As the days went by, the man concentrated his attention on one tree in particular – a gnarled and majestic oak with several low hanging branches. He circled it time and time again, kicking up clouds of dust as he went, his mumblings and imprecations alternating with greater frequency until one evening the pattern was interrupted.

He arrived carrying a length of rope and a folding stool tucked under his ample vestment. No longer mumbling, his rosary abandoned, he threw the rope over one of the lower branches of his chosen tree and tying one end securely to another branch nearby he then arranged the stool underneath. With quiet concentration he clambered up onto the stool, taking care to lift his long robe out of the way. His hands tested the strength of the noose at the loose end of the rope before slipping it over his head and tightening it snugly around his neck. Balancing himself, arms stretched out to his sides, he raised his eyes to the sky and shouted to the wind, ‘Per l’amor’ del cielo – give me a sign!’

Behind him, swaggering stealthily towards the lone tree was another figure of a man. A younger looking man wearing a dark flannel cap which almost hid his gleaming eyes and black curly hair. His teeth shone white in the darkness, his mouth set in a wide beam of indecipherable amusement. He rounded the tree and came close to look up directly into the face of the man teetering on top of the stool. Thumbs tucked into the welt pockets of his rough waistcoat he looked up to take in the scene. He began to laugh and with a single, deft movement, kicked the stool from under the robed man’s feet.


From the distance brilliant flashes were rolling in silently, tinting the night sky purple and orange, illuminating the surrounding hills and the silhouettes of the two men,. A single blinding flash followed immediately by a deafening crack, seared the oak and travelled at the speed of light down the gnarled trunk and into its immense underground network of embedded roots. They glowed eerily in the dark as the mighty force exploded into the surrounding earth.

Word count — 537
All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove