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Friday, 7 December 2012

Why do I write romance?



I wrote this rant as a performance piece, so it's not really supposed to be read, but I think that not so many of you will get to see me perform it, compared to the number of you who can read it, so I thought, what the hell, you'll have to imagine me. It's quite easy really. You raise your volume and lock eyes with your pretend audience. 

I've only ever performed this once, at the Guild Hall earlier this year. It was in its raw state of the elusive first draft, that even Stephen King says that we share with no-one. However, I only had two first drafts with me, so having no choice, I went ahead and it went down so well that I decided that this first draft actually was my final edit. So here it is, not tweaked, nor revised, and please bear in mind that my leading men are my imaginary characters. 

Hope you enjoy it.

Why do I write romance - A rant.


Because

There is no romance in my life.

I’ve been saying it out loud for years, but he can’t seem to hear me, so I thought 
maybe I’m not speaking loud enough, 
maybe I’m not making myself clear, 
maybe I’m only dreaming I’m saying it, 
so
I thought the best thing to do was to bring it here and say it out  loud to see if you can hear me.

THERE IS NO ROMANCE IN MY LIFE.

NONE.

Can you hear me?

There are no flowers, no hearts, no chocolates, no gifts.

Actually, that’s a lie, there was a memorable gift for my last birthday – a fly-swatter. Yes, you hear me correctly, a fly-swatter. Not an all-singing all-dancing electronic thingy – not a real instrument of torture and death – just a flexible tennis racket style one that works perfectly well, entertaining me – my sitting room is like a graveyard in the summer mornings – but, 
the point is, 
it’s not very romantic, is it?

So as I say,

THERE IS NO ROMANCE IN MY LIFE.

NONE.

Did you hear me?

Yes?

Good, then I shall continue dreaming, writing romance and having affairs left, right and centre with my leading men.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Fever Pitch



And no, not as in the film/book by Nick Hornby, but as in pitching your novel to a panel of agents at the Festival of Romance. Sunday morning 10-11.30am. Your opportunity to be given feedback on your synopsis and opening 500 words. A most special treat, enabling budding authors a little insight into the world of publishing and an almighty helping hand on your way up the long and lonely ladder that is writing at the novel length.

So, we’ve arrived on Friday, sorted ourselves into our rooms, slapped on our glad rags and danced the night away at the awards ball. Our table has been dubbed the ‘naughty table’, the title being carried on from last year and we most certainly were the loudest table when our gorgeous friend Celia Joy Anderson received the New Talent Award earning herself a contract and a launch date of the 1st August 2013 for her novel.

Then Saturday buzzes by in a haze of workshops, readings, rockstar parties and the unforgettable Romaniacs’ Quiz. All of these activities and more building up to the Pitch Your Novel to the Agents Panel on Sunday morning 10-11.30am. I’m about bursting at the seams with excitement when the incredibly hard working organiser of the Festival of Romance, Kate Allan, informs me that I can have a spot in the pitching. An early night is required, but impossible to get, and a last run through of the synopsis and first two pages before dropping into a sleep that would compare well with a short course of death. No sleepwalking this time. (That’s another story for another day!)

Sunday is finally here. My alarm wakes me in plenty of time to shower and eat a leisurely breakfast, having first checked out that everything is gluten free. Now, if you are intolerant of a food type you will know that on a day like today the last thing that you need is that food. But somehow I manage to consume some gluten, maybe from the hash browns or a crumb of bread that’s dropped into the beans. Something, somehow got into my food and I knew, before I even finished my breakfast.

Out of kindness to you, my readers and to save face for myself, I shall spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the bathroom and three immodiums later, and feeling much the worse for wear, I arrived at the Pitch Your Novel to the Agents Panel at 11.10am in time to hear the opening 500 words and synopsis from Laura E James.  Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what little I heard and it is definitely a novel I shall buy, but the most important part of this exercise was the agents’ feedback.  It was thorough, direct, questioning and invaluable.

And thanks to probably only the tiniest speck of gluten, I missed my chance. Winding myself up to a fever pitch all weekend ready for the Sunday morning panel, you’d have thought I’d be devastated, and I was, but somehow, because the weekend was so glorious, I brushed it off. Me, the ruminator, brushed it off.  I don’t know when it happened, but sometime over the weekend, and most likely to do with my group of friends on the ‘naughty table’, I accepted that there are some things that I cannot change, and turning the clock back and not eating whatever it was, is not possible. 

Looking forward and staying positive is all I can do. And for us on the ‘naughty table’, it is what we do and that is why, even now, I feel no sense of loss or missed opportunity and for that I have to say Thank You to my lovely friends Laura E James, Debbie White, Celia Joy Anderson, Caroline Bell Foster, Gilli Allan and Liz Crump for your positivity. Thankfully, it is contagious.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Death of a Sisterhood






The beer garden, attentive, heeds the warning.
Armageddon is planned.
She
ignores the threat of battle for
She
has no quarrel. 
Regret dismissing it
She
will for a time.
For time in the garden was leisurely spent
with wines and beers
that smouldering summer
She
wants to forget.

The kitchen, always welcomes, but not so today.
Forced calm greets
Her
then verbal rage detonates
discharging
Her
through the door. 
A torrent of mindless abuse
lands squarely on its mark.
Fast, cold hands and
stern words force
Her
back inside
hailing more heat,
a tirade designed to fell.        
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
The table, deserted, perceives innocence
spotting the set up
that others will spurn.
She
the vulnerable
marvels as war is waged.
Ambushed,
bile rises,
no vocal defence
against the low brow
with more reckless
stories trespassing all truths.

The sitting room, shaded, feeling the pain
allows kindly
benefit of a settee.
It desires
Her
Sparkle
Her
chatter but
She,
confused by combat
is muted
as betrayal runs away with
Her
voice.

Suffocating. Overwhelmed.
She
freezes. 
She
waits.

The wood burner cries out to offer some warmth.
It sees
Her
shrink, cease
unable to defend
Herself
as the lopsided
fight is lost.
The shallow, surveying the ruins
though pleased,
lays waste one more hour
and muffles a sorry.
It vanishes
and soon, so does
She.

Her bedroom instinctively throws Her a lifeline.
Nil by mouth,
choking on sadness.
Her
clash now concluded.
Serenity tends to
Her
broken wing,
a patient nurse
now Armageddon
is done.

Sleep comes
sunrise liberates.
The pains
of yesterday’s chains
gone,
gone for good,
along with those that once shackled
Her.


This poem is linked to Small Town Stew With Molehill Dumplings (see 21st Oct post). Different day, same sh*t. This was the day that I decided enough was enough with these so-called friends, so I ended it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Small Town Stew with Molehill Dumplings



So here we go...the first piece of my writing to be published way back in 2008 was this poem written about a nasty experience with people that I thought were my friends. I am sure from the number of reactions that I get to it every time I perform it, that I am not the only one to have suffered in this way. Please feel free to comment below. I would love to hear your opinions.


I can tell you of an everyday stew,
Available in a village near you,
It can be feast upon, a dish for two,
But beware, it may be one that you’ll roux!

Preparation time is less than a week,
And of the stew, your small town, it will reek,
So switch on your oven; give it a tweak,
Ensuring maximum temper is reached.

Ingredients required are found with ease,
A good handful of pies; mixed porkies please,
Some tongues wagging to accompany these,
And a population happy to tease.

A camel’s broken spine, a shredded straw stack,
Plenty of alcohol to keep those tongues slack,
Some food colourings we’ll add, just for the crack,
And whole spices for stabbing that beast in the back.

A mirepoix of great lies flavours the stew,
With a good wooden spoon to stir them all through,
And one TRUTH that will just be kept in the queue,
For garnish, so IT’ll be no use to you.

Now the method for cooking Small Town Stew is this,
Remove all the happiness and most of the bliss,
And, of course, while you’re at it, you may as well kiss
Goodbye to the TRUTH for you know IT won’t be missed.

Beware Molehill Dumplings evolve into Mountains
With the number of stirs they get, so keep counting,
And too many cooks…well, there’s bound to be shouting,
So keep that broth hot, no one wants a TRUTH fountain.

Season the finished stew when ready for service,
Be sure to feed only to those who deserve it,
Because you know that the TRUTH, I shall preserve it
As your stew continues to do its disservice.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Insulting Delia's Carrot Cake



Saying and doing the wrong thing should be a full time profession for me. You see the problem is, I don't wait until my brain assimilates the information it receives before I respond to the stimulus.
Today I made some carrot cake with mascarpone cheese topping, Luke's favourite from Delia’s cookbook. We pop over to his old grey haired mother, Janet’s, for a cuppa. Sounds easy, but the most important part of a visit with mum-in-law is to have a plan - a plan that enables you to walk out the door at the end of the evening without getting sloshed. Tea is not really her favourite tipple. So I have formulated a plan. From here on in we shall call it Plan A.
As usual, we time it badly and arrive just as her 'dinner-for-one' is rotating in the microwave. The stench of preservatives and cheap meat assault my nose as I walk into the flat. Luke always insists it’s accidental when we arrive around her meal time, but it’s the same every time. If only she would have a routine like the rest of the western world this would not happen. Accidental...hmmm, I'm not convinced. Confused...yes, definitely.
Janet, his mother (the only Rottweiler I know without any teeth) comes out of the kitchen and grabs hold of Son Number One for the usual bone breaking hug. I cannot believe that they have the same DNA. He’s gentle, charming, attractive and she’s, well, she’s just not. Luke raises his eyebrows and grimaces at me.
Janet releases him and forces a half smile in my direction. Yes, you'd think she doesn’t like me, but he swears blind that, compared to his two ex-wives (the ones that she got rid of), she adores me. I’m not so sure. Somehow she always manages to ‘accidentally’ insult me. Okay, not always, but twice before, and in my world once is an accident, twice is habit forming.
I hold up my perfect cake and say, “I've brought some carrot cake.”
“Oh, how lovely,” says Janet. “Will you put it in the kitchen for me and I'll have it later.”
Now this is not part of Plan A. I know that the first thing she will do is pour a large glass of strong white wine each and insist that I drink  at the same rate as her. I’ve got no chance of keeping up. She's been chain-drinking for a thousand years so is well-practised in appearing sober while being absolutely trolleyed.
I, however, fall over when the vapours hit my nose. I've always been a lightweight and finicky about ‘all things in moderation’. Janet's idea of a well-balanced diet is the opposite of mine. Now don’t get me wrong, she ensures that she gets enough fruit in her diet, but it is achieved by taking the path of least resistance. She only likes grapes (the fruit of least resistance) and as she doesn’t have many teeth left in her mouth, she cannot chew them or be bothered to mess on with the seeds, so she just drinks them in the wine. She drinks Gin and Tonics too as part of her staple diet. She adds stacks of lemon slices to the G&Ts to ensure that they become a ‘superfood’. Thankfully, she does not like to share those. As you can see, she does take her diet and the principle of least effort very seriously.
So here goes. I have to rescue Plan A, mostly because I don't have a Plan B, so I hit her with this little beauty.
“Oh Janet, it's actually for all of us now, with a cup of tea, if that's ok?”
There you go, Plan A back in action. You see in my world, you drink tea with cake thus delaying the alcohol intake. I don’t expect to get away with it for the full evening, but at least I can delay the inevitable and get some fat into my system first. I know, a woman desiring full-fat food in our society is unheard of, but I want it to absorb some of the alcohol – hence the carrot cake, towering with full fat mascarpone cheese. Sorted. This could work.
“Don’t bother with the tea, Clare. You cut us all a slice and bring it through. I'll pour the wine.”
Oh, no. Half my plan fails. But 50% is 50% - a better result than zero. Maybe I won't stumble quite so early this evening.
As the microwave pings Luke clocks that yes, we've done it again – disturbed her meal time. Now she won’t eat. It will be liquid diets all round, except luckily for my cunning plan with the cake. Cake is a solid, not a liquid, so at least I get to eat something for a change. Marvellous.
Sorry, I know I appear to be digressing, but trust me the insult is on the way. I'm just setting the scene for you. You'll enjoy it far more that way.
“Mum” Luke says, “why don't you eat your dinner first? We don't mind. We'll pop out for a cig.” Luke, ever thoughtful, kind and yet so stupid. His arrival times are not what they ought to be at all, like the airport check-in mess – us in Rome – our luggage in Madrid - yes, you can see it, can’t you?
“No, no dear. It's okay. I ate yesterday.” The pat response from Janet when alcohol is thrown into the mix. Her calorie intake would have me flat-lining. Without the false calories that she gets from wine, I reckon she'd disappear. Now there's a thought. Stop it, Clare, stop it.
I walk through to the kitchen and scramble around for clean cutlery (Challenge Number One) and clean plates (Challenge Number Two) and the elusive cake slicer (The Ultimate Challenge). Gipping on the smell of the ready-meal, I cut three healthy portions of cake - alcohol soaking portions - fingers crossed and all.
I place one each in front of mother and son, then, sit on my usual seat. It’s the one where they both have a perfect view of me at the point at which I happen to do or say the wrong thing, and I know it’s going to happen. It always does.
I take a large forkful of cake. Yes, a forkful. This is not the nineteen forties. Who in their right mind chooses a fork rather than a spoon to eat cake? Makes no sense to me. The taste of my cake makes me moan and I do believe I may be glazing over. I can cook, not just reheat a ready meal like someone who happens to be so close, I could poke her with a cake fork.
I swallow my first mouthful of ecstasy with a grin, then return my plate to the occasional table and that's when I spot the wine. I’m not grinning now.
Red.
A glass of red.
Oh no, she's upped the ante. It will be a nice strong one to ensure I measure my length across the rug when I trip later as the wine hits my brain like a cricket bat hitting the red ball. She may as well give me it intravenously, pop me in a coffin and hammer in the final nail. That should save me looking like I've been ‘dug-up’ when I arrive at work tomorrow, or rather, don’t arrive tomorrow. Oh, and the glasses – I’m sure they’ve grown since last week. Has she been standing them in fertilizer every night?
I pick up my cake and continue to eat it. I’m going to need another slice, and quick. More fat please. Luke looks over, winks at me, then starts eating his too, but Janet doesn't bother with hers. Just a big lug on her wine, straight down her throat, a smacking of her lips and half a glass is gone. The race is on.
“Have some wine Clare, its lovely. It's fifteen per cent you know.”
Yep, I'm in trouble now, but as the ‘ever obedient daughter-in-law number three’, I pick up my wine and have a good swig on it myself.
Instant.
Wow, this is strong.
And Janet chooses now to pull out the big guns.
Pointing at her slice of my gorgeous carrot cake, moist, well-risen and begging to be eaten, she says, “This looks awful, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it.”
What?
Rottweiler.
Now she’s not just insulting me here, she’s insulting Saint Delia. Janet is moving beyond me into forbidden territory. Three strikes. That’s it. She’s out.
And besides, it does not look that bad. Delia herself would be proud to present it at any Women's Institute Carrot Cake Competition. And more to the point, mine looks just like the one in Delia’s photo.
No wonder his ex-wives hate her. I am sick of putting up with these insults. So I'm thinking, right, enough. She is not going to do this to me again, not even in her own home, sitting there all prim and proper and looking like a sweet old lady, whose mouth would not melt butter. Her mouth’s a Gatling gun. Two hundred and seventy vicious words a second, all aimed directly at my ego. And what a shot she is. Mind you, not that she could miss with that number of armour piercing bullets flying in my direction. Where my cooking is concerned I have no shield, so she didn't need to use those, not really.
So I say it. I blurt it out, full volume, without any further thought.
“WHAT?”
Yes, that’s it. Just one word. Fast. Cutting. Straight to the point.
I look at the pair of them sitting in front of me. Luke must be able to see the hurt in my eyes and instead of ‘telling his mother off’ (not really his job, I know, but roles do need reversing sometimes) he bursts out laughing. He does that whole shoulder shaking, hearty, from his stomach laugh that makes his face red and pours water from his eyes.
What?
Then she joins in too. They are a mirror image. Two synchronised pairs of shoulders rising and falling, catching each other’s eyes and intensifying the giggle-loop that they are caught in. What is going on? This is not funny. Maybe they do have the same DNA after all.
I try it again, only this time it is directed at Luke.
“WHAT?”
My vocabulary is shrinking. With so many words in the English language, why do I repeat the same one. Rubbish, Clare, think. Find more words, but do not, and I mean do not, use the ones that are running through your head right now. They will shut the pair of them up, but your decree nisi will be on the doorstep first post tomorrow.
I am so confused. He loves me. She can hate me if she wants, but he's supposed to love me, so why this awful behaviour? He promised to love me until death do us part – or at this rate, until I murder him. Hang on, isn’t that the same thing?
My eyes start to sting. Oh no. Don’t cry in front of her. Do not cry in front of the Rottweiler.
Luke spots my tears and swallows his laughter. She stands no chance for at least another half hour – there's alcohol for you. So Luke, finally to my rescue says,
“Clare, you plank, she means it looks awful that she's not eating it with us now, but she's sure she'll enjoy it later. You know, after we've gone and she's had her micro meal, she'll eat it then, and she'll enjoy it too.”
And then that is it. I lose it too. Three red faced shoulder shaking people sitting in an elderly woman's sheltered flat start having a ball together for the very first time.