My Scribbles

Just a warning to all who pass this way …

My scribbles in here will only occasionally be serious pieces of written work, and will for the main part, follow the trend of the generic blog, covering walks in the country, baking cakes and cleaning up after the dog. Just now and again something with a bit of meat on it will slip through.

I take part in a couple of writers’ workshops where my work is laid at the feet of the editorial gods who unceremoniously cleave my meagre offerings with the axe of critique, putting me very much in my humble literary place. One (that ‘one’ being yours truly) dreams that this flagellation will eventually produce discreet results …

‘Painting Venetian Light’

Morning gold, The Grand Canal, VeniceAll set up and almost ready to go for the watercolour workshop I am organising this coming May. Delighted to have the incredibly talented Cecil Rice along as our guest tutor. He will be joined by Sarah Sherwood who will be taking the group on a half-day sketching and snapshot walkabout in Venice, giving everyone the opportunity to warm up for the main event, and to get to know one another a bit better. Should be great fun. Still a few places left if anyone is interested. You can find all the details by following this link…

Explore Animation

Just started a fun course with FutureLearn — ‘Explore Animation’ — a free online course created by The National Film & Television School (NFTS). I calculate that there are about 1000 of us on the course — students of all ages from all over the world meeting up online for four weeks to discuss and experiment with simple animation techniques. Looks as if it’s going to be great fun, and I will probably be uploading some of my attempts in here so when that happens, feel free to take a look and keep up with my progress.

Read more about the course >>>

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

Venice hosts the 4 Maritime Republics’ Regatta

venice-wins2015There is no substitute for being in a boat for these events. I’m sorry — but that’s just the way it is. Maybe you have seen or heard about the Palio in Siena — the famous horse race run in a square in the town centre every year. There is a tremendous build up of tension and suspense before the race proper begins. More often than not they have false start after false start until at long last, the horses are teased to breaking point and the tension in the crowded square is almost tangible. It’s exactly the same with this boat race, but only if you are right up there at the starting line with them.

But let’s leave the horses, (but hang on to the tension) and get back in the boat and on track to today’s special event. I don’t intend to give you a lecture in history — suffice to say that since 1955 each year in a four year cycle, a regatta takes place to decide the modern-day supremacy between the four ancient maritime republics (that were) of Pisa, Genoa, Amalfi and Venice.

Each of the four ‘republics’ takes it in turn to host the event, and this year it was the turn of Venice. The location has changed since the last time I saw it here — and luckily the weather was glorious this year as opposed to the torrential rain for the race last time, four years ago. This year the whole caboodle was moved from the Giudecca Canal over to St.Mark’s Basin and the very wide canal leading over to the Venice Lido in front of the island of Sant’Elena. Not popular with everyone, but the new route allowed for small boats to follow the race at close quarters — so certainly a popular move with hard core ‘water borne’ fans of the event.

Thanks to a good dose of confusion, and a smidgen of misinformation, we reached the starting buoys far too early . We were told to move on by the Carabinieri, the local police and the Coast Guard, who all kept up the same gesticulating, whistling, shouting performance with every boat (and there were lots of them) that came within yelling distance. A boat isn’t like a car — you can’t slam on the brakes, and the water doesn’t help. It was churning and making it nigh on impossible to stay put — and so the Carabinieri, the local police and the Coast Guard started all over again, and we all got a cyclical earful.

Meanwhile, the four eight-oared galleons, Venice with its green livery — Pisa in red — Genoa white and Amalfi in blue — sneaked out from somewhere and began to warm up in front of Sant’Elena in the midst of the protective forces who continued their arm flailing and shouting whilst the tension built up amongst the players, all champing at the bit to get the race under way. We spectators in our light boats kept going around in circles in an effort to maintain our position, ready for the starting gun and the ensuing rush to keep pace with the galleons as they launched themselves into battle.

And at last it happened — they were off and a roar of support went up from all quarters — the police continued to shout their curt orders at all the ‘floating’ supporters until the regatta had pushed ahead of our position and we were free to race behind them ourselves. Together we created a ‘tidal’ wave of gigantic proportions and risked life and limb riding the lip of the wave in order to keep abreast of our green heroes. They heaved and pushed and pulled their oars, their galleon skimming the water in a surge towards the finishing line in front of St.Mark’s Square. And their efforts paid off — our green Venetian men won!

I can’t begin to describe the euphoric reception they were given — immediately surrounded by all the police forces — and by an ambulance to take care of one of our team who had collapsed at the end of the race (from the heat and probably too much tension and emotion) — and by some one hundred small boats which rushed in to voice their congratulations (well, their pilots did), waving the distinctive Venetian flag of San Marco (bright red and yellow) in sign of approval.

I assume there was some kind of prize giving once the team set foot on dry land, but for me, all the best had happened there on the water amidst the affection and enthusiasm of the locals. It was time to go home and leave the rest of the party to the ‘landlubbers’

Busting the Myth

I thought I would be able to concentrate sitting outside the bar, but that would perhaps have pushed my new found ‘writing freedom’ beyond the realms of reality. Kids running all over the place, slaloming between the tables with bubble blowing guns was a bit much . Whilst it was just the squeals and giggles I had to deal with, I was coping reasonably well — it was definitely the bubbles that did it, that hastened me back indoors – soapy spheres in my eyes, my mouth and floating across the page proved just too much of a distraction.

So here I am indoors again with MTV blaring out from the screen above my head – the chattering kids and their mums wandering in and out to fish around for their favourite ice-cream in the freezer just behind me, and the industrial strength dishwasher just the other side of the bar chugging, rattling and whirring away. Now I think about it – in this heat it’s probably not a brilliant idea to sit with my back to the upright freezer – a blast of cold air hits me every time the door is opened. A sure cause of backache if I’m not careful.

But let’s get back to the reasoning behind subjecting myself to all this noise and distraction.

Surely I’m not the only wannabe writer to have read book after book, ‘how-to-do-it’ manual after ‘how-to-do-it’ manual, and even spent hours absorbing advice, tutorials, courses, workshops – and why not – writing groups too? Well assuming the answer is yes, you, like me, cannot fail to have noticed that one of the first rules they all give you is to set up the ‘ideal’ writing space surrounded by the right tools, music and even lighting. Now if my memory serves me well, with very few exceptions one of the most important ingredients for this idyllic spot has to be tranquillity – peace, quiet – you know the kind of thing.

Well, quite by accident, I think I have managed to bust a myth, though I’m still going to have to keep working on it. It’s the disclaimer I found in most of those aforementioned workshops, blogs and so on that probably clinched it – the bit where they say, ‘You must do what works best for you’, which I guess amounts to the small print at the end really. The stuff they hide from you just in case you decide to think too much about the official jargon – just in case you allow yourself to consider that there might be a valid alternative to the carefully laid out ‘dogma’ that you’ve been fed in the main content. In simple terms – just in case you might think of doing it differently – and doing it differently at your own risk to boot!

I’ve tried ‘the quiet’ – difficult in my home where generally I can just about grab an hour – sometimes miraculously even two – in a span of time between when my husband goes out to work and when my daughter returns from hers. There are no corners in our tiny home to create the essential ‘space of my own’ so I just have to make do with the family dining table with all the usual disadvantages of the case. The most obvious of which is having to ‘shut down’ every meal time. Add to that the fact that our lounge and dining area are open-plan where most family activity takes place – from watching TV to discussions to playing with the dog to yoga, plus the most unlikely (and unpopular) of all – to my writing – and you have the recipe for chaos, which is hardly conducive to undisturbed and uninterrupted creativity.

I honestly tried to check off all the recommendations on the ‘how-to-get-it-all-together’ lists proffered by all those blogs and tutorials, but so far seem to have failed miserably. I’ve surprised myself at getting any writing at all done under the circumstances.

So yesterday, at about the time my daughter returned from work, just when I could suss from her expression that she was building up a mental list of what she was going to ask me to do/to cook/to read/to watch/to help with – all things which she is perfectly capable of doing alone at her age – I took myself off to my favourite bar for an after lunch coffee and stress-free five minutes alone. Noticing a local paper lying on one of the window side tables, I sat down a minute to read a front page article which had caught my attention. Just as I settled to read, my mobile rang from the depths of my shoulder bag and I had to rummage amongst the usual debris, pulling out odds and ends, left, right and centre until I found it – but too late to respond.

On top of the pile of stuff I had extracted from the bag – almost challenging me – lay ‘the notebook’ – the one that was another mandatory item (number 2 I think) on the wannabe writer’s ‘make-sure-you’ve-got-it-before-you-start’ list. Having very little inclination to go home, I rose to the bait and opened it up. I found myself a pencil and started to scribble – and I scribbled and scribbled. And somehow the aimless scribbling began to take shape. And from just beginning to take shape I started to pay more attention to the structure and the direction my scribbles were taking. And before I knew it, more than an hour had gone by when I was interrupted by yet another phone call – my daughter wanting to know where on earth I was – and I had been writing non-stop page after page of pencilled words.

Perhaps I have at last found ‘what works best for me’? No computer – no fancy pens – nothing more than a pencil and some simple lined paper? And what’s more – no silence or tranquillity but a noisy, busy bar with a constant flow of people going about their daily pleasure and business. My mind no longer rent with pangs of guilt for the pile of ironing or the dishes and a continual compromise between the exigences of daily family life and my own simple desire to be able to write without distraction.

So now — in the hope that I’ve found the right place, let’s see if I can find the right words.