Thursday 19 January 2012

Off to write in Ireland

I am away for a couple of weeks, so here are some #StoryGym prompts for those who would like to use them:

Barnaby and the unicorn

Crazy like Nellie last Wednesday

Who says the world isn't flat? Grandad knows it is, because...

What was behind the door

The coward the mistress the spider plant

I wandered lonely as a daffodil

The death of Denzil Murgatroyd

Saturday 14 January 2012


OK, I was an odd child. I can remember, when I was just six years old, (we’d moved house, so I can pinpoint my age) lying in bed each morning before I got up and running through the words I knew - in case I forgot them. A task that never finished, of course - but a daily ritual all the same. I’d start by listing the things in each room in the house - and for some reason always got sidetracked by the word ‘table’, repeating the syllables over and over...Tay b’lll Tai bul Ta b’l, until they meant nothing at all. Then, I’d wonder about why sounds meant things... I was frequently late for breakfast... This is a TAY BULL.
Try it - say them, these syllables, say them over and over again. Tay Bull. Tay Bull - soon, the sounds become just themselves in the mouth of an animal who knows nothing but the sound made in that instant.

How on earth did these two sounds come to mean what we had breakfast on? Who decided? Who first stood by a plank in a cave (this is how the child’s thought process went, thanks to some rudimentary history of man...) put some meat or bread down on said plank and announced ‘TAY BULL’? This is a PLANK? Nope, it's the first TAY BULL
OK, I am not six now, but ten times that, and it still intrigues me. Look, forget the fact that we know the word comes from Latin, or whatever - someone was still the first person to link sounds to the thing we use to place stuff so it is not on the floor, a flat surface, plank for playing on, worksurface, eating surface. Ta Bu Lla. Tar Bull Uh.
This is a TA BULL LAH
How the hell did Tar Bull Uh mean that plank they were throwing stones on? And why did the other person nod sagely and say “Yup. Sure is...hey, Barnie, look at this Tar Bull Uh - one day Flintstone Chippendale next cave up will be making those and selling them for a mint...’’

The nerd in me likes looking that sort of stuff up and the etymological dictionary says this of my humble but puzzling word...
TABLE late 12c., "board, slab, plate," from O.Fr. table "board, plank, writing table, picture" (11c.), and late O.E. tabele, from W.Gmc. *tabal (cf. O.H.G. zabel, Ger. Tafel), both from L. tabula "a board, plank, table," originally "small flat slab or piece" usually for inscriptions or for games, of uncertain origin, related to Umbrian tafle "on the board." The sense of "piece of furniture with the flat top and legs" first recorded c.1300 (the usual Latin word for this was mensa; O.E. writers used bord). The meaning "arrangement of numbers or other figures for convenience" is recorded from late 14c. (e.g. table of contents, mid-15c.). Figurative phrase turn the tables (1630s) is from backgammon (in O.E. and M.E. the game was called tables). Table talk is attested from 1560s, translating L. colloquia mensalis. To table-hop is first recorded 1956. The adj. phrase under-the-table "hidden from view" is recorded from 1949; under the table "passed out from excess drinking" is recorded from 1921. Table tennis is recorded from 1887.
table (v.) 

But it doesn’t help, does it? I am still intrigued... and still run words through my head, and my mouth, until they mean nothing but their sounds. If you can do this with Tay Bull, oh lordie, how much faith do you have to have in other people, hoping that these sounds mean the same in their heads as they do in yours...This is a TAY BULL. It was once, etymologically speaking, a PLANK. Indeed, it was...or several...and before that it was a TREE... tuh REE... tuh REE
It’s too big to understand, this meaning stuff.
In conclusion:-
TAY BULL by Flintstone Chippendale.

Friday 13 January 2012

Publishers Weekly pre-pub review

"The tenderness and generosity of this debut novel is strengthened by the precision and sharpness of its language."
"...this compassionate and sage depiction of a rural community gives the ... warmly fashioned characters the power of healing and forgiveness. "

A kind pre-publication review for 'The Coward's Tale' in the USA. Here, in Publishers Weekly.

Sunday 1 January 2012


On the basis that we must keep growing, not repeating the same old same old - for that way there be dragons - here is a list of things I did in 2011 that I’d never done before.

1. February. Became a grandmother. My granddaughter Millie was born on 19th February. Refusing to be called either Grannie, Grandma, Nan or Nanna, I am ‘Thingy’, pending Millie choosing what noise is appropriate.

2.March. Spent two weeks in Aldeburgh, on a reading retreat.

3. April. Spent a few days with a military historian, following in the footsteps of The Swansea Pals.

4. May. Read at The Brighton Festival Fringe

5. May. I lost my father, so for the first time I have no living parent, and it is an odd feeling. But it is life. Much missed.

6. May/June Ran a workshop for the first time at Anam Cara, my own brilliant writing retreat. (No, not mine, but where I go, myself...) The place is good, and calm, and creative. And healing.

7. August. Went on a play writing course

8. September. Ran a weekend writing retreat for women writers at the gorgeous Tilton House. First time I’d spent that amount of time with women, since my school days. Loved it. A fab group of 11 writers, we had a ball, thanks to the organisation of New Writing South.

9. October. Visited Sicily. Stayed in Palermo for a long weekend with great friends, and loved it. The rush of the mad traffic, the seedy city streets where a bombed out church from 1944 will still be teetering over a newer building, the trip to the much quieter beautiful Monreale with its stunning mosaics.

10. October. Short Story Commission - I’d not done one before. This came from the British Council - who commissioned a story exploring the achievements of women, for a EUNIC project run from Athens. Stories from many EU countries will be translated into Greek and published alongside the originals in an anthology to be launched in Athens on International Women’s Day. That’ll be a first - never been to the Greek mainland, and am looking forward greatly.

11. November. Had my first novel published, by Bloomsbury. A gorgeous hardback with foil-blocked jacket created by Holly MacDonald, reminiscent of the woodcuts of Eric Ravilious.

12. November. Taught flash fiction workshops, but, for the first time, shared with with Tania Hershman - something we'd been promising we'd do for ages. Had a great time at the Bridport Open Book Festival.

13. December. First ever reviews of my writing in the broadsheets, most notably in The Financial Times (where it was A N Wilson’s novel of the year) , The Guardian (where it was also a Guardian Reader’s best novel of the year), The Independent , There was also an interview by The Telegraph, another first!

14. On national radio for the first time - BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. A short story was commissioned, recorded by a gorgeous Welsh voice - and there was studio discussion.

It was a fine year, despite the sadnesses. All is OK. So - Happy New Year! Here is to an excellent 2012. May the year to come bring you good health, good friends, good times. Here's a daffodil outside my front door. 1st January. I wonder if it will bloom, or if the frost will get him?