Cornish Writing Challenge: Meet runner-up Liz Carr

The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Liz Carr, and read her submission, A Mere Mortal.

Liz Carr_Bandwagon

Liz Carr has been a writer and editor in higher education, for charities, and commercial organisations since 1990. She has also taught online writing to university staff who are non-professional writers, and been a non-fiction ghost-writer.

In 2012, one of her poems, On Debut, was shortlisted for the Australia Cricket Poetry Prize and published in the anthology. She has also organised and taken part in writers’ retreats in Cornwall for Fictionfire.

She can mostly be found on the A30 travelling between her home near Heathrow airport where she lives with her husband, and St Ives, where she keeps watch over two small cottages.

What inspired you to start writing?

I started writing when I was very young, inspired by the Bronte sisters and the tiny books they produced as children. I used to make my own. As a kid, books were my bribe. I had books instead of fireworks, books after doctors’ appointments, book tokens for presents and, of course, the weekly trip to the library. I’d stagger out with the maximum number allowed and I’d always finish them before they were due back.

I started getting serious about my creative writing about six years ago, then realised how little I knew. It’s definitely a lifelong quest.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be surprised when it gets ‘…difficult, difficult, lemon difficult’ (with thanks to In the Loop). I thought creative writing would be easy. I’d written material for years – for other people – so I presumed it would be the same thing but I’d just be making it up.

You are making it up, but it’s extraordinarily hard to match the brilliance and insight that’s in your head with the terrible, clichéd nonsense that ends up on the page. I’ve also realised that all writers experience this gap. Simon Mawer responded to me in a tweet, saying ‘hard writing makes easy reading.’ This is the best advice I’ve had, and it’s what I’d pass on.

Tell us more about A Mere Mortal. Where did the inspiration come from?

A Mere Mortal is loosely based on the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor. I had an idea of switching the sexes so that it’s a woman who comes to Cornwall to escape and finds Llyr, king of the sea. I imagined her life in an isolated cottage perched on the edge of the fictional hamlet, Pool Cove, which exists as the picture in the competition. Music and dance also inspire me, so they had to be included.

What is your connection to Cornwall?

Cornwall has been pulse throughout my life. We used to go to Newquay for holidays as my father was a keen surfer. About twenty years ago, I started coming to St Ives to stay with my dearest friend. Three years ago, my husband and I bought a tiny cottage in Lelant, and its next door neighbour the following year. I manage the rentals and get down there whenever I can. I find that little piece of Cornwall uplifting and it fuels my creativity.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a novel, set in 1975 Lancashire and Barbados. Racism, the desire for fame at any price, and organised crime all feature as themes. I’m plodding towards the end of the second draft! I’ve also got several ideas for shorter pieces lurking just below the surface and I expect them to make an appearance very soon.

What are you currently reading?

Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch and No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary. They’re crime/psychological thrillers and both authors are part of the Killer Women group, which promotes women’s crime fiction. I’m also reading Into the Woods by John Yorke, a great book about why stories work and how we structure them.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Exploring new places – for some reason I’m drawn to islands; cooking and music. I’m also a great cricket fan, so in the summer the radio is switched between BBC R3 and Test Match Special.

Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?

Ooh… always jam. It’s the Cornish way. But I’m non-traditional about the flavour. I prefer raspberry!

You can find Liz on Twitter: @elbowframe15. Read on for Liz’s excellent submission, A Mere Mortal.

 

 

It was the music that started it. That and the dancing.

She had left her old life in London behind. Intrusive and relentless. She needed a rest. To stop once and for all the exhaustion that started early in the morning, plagued every movement and never left her alone. Her new life was in Cornwall, with its clear light and healing sea.

The cottage sat between the tidepool and the Atlantic, on a long spit of rock that had managed to green itself, at least part way round the house. Solid square granite. It had two faces: during the day she used the rooms that faced the world; at night she looked seawards to the ocean which soughed and whispered to her.

Pool Cove formed an enclosed harbour, reminding her of the hurricane holes of the Caribbean. It folded around itself, protecting residents and boats from whatever was out there. The old wooden jetty stretched across the far end, doubling as a makeshift marina. Fishermen’s sheds crowded along its length. Nothing picturesque here. Modest dwellings clustered on the opposite side of the cove, but in her cottage, she was apart from them. From everyone.

She did mix. On her terms. There was a part-time seasonal job, selling locally-made arts and crafts to bemused tourists who had wandered into the hamlet by accident. Her music played in the shop and every day she selected composers who fitted her mood. Anyone from Bach to Britten, Mozart to Mahler; all found their way onto her playlists.

At home though, she favoured the quiet hypnotism of Gymnopédie No 1 by Erik Satie, which she played all the time. She kicked off her shoes and danced to the simple piano lines, enjoying the sensation of cool stone flags on bare feet.

Every evening she danced and rediscovered a love that had lain dormant for many years. She left the curtains open. There was no one to see her. Nothing but the occasional cry of a herring gull and waves, washing onto the pebbles below.

As the new moon started its rise, she caught a flicker of something out of the corner of her eye. The bottom edge of the window was illuminated for the briefest moment. She checked. There was nothing. And yet she knew it was something. Or someone.

‘You imagined it, Mattie,’ said Jane, the shop’s owner, the next day.

‘Perhaps it was a boat.’ She was now feeling a bit foolish.

‘Well – serves you right for not closing the curtains. I wouldn’t want to be in that cottage on my tod with everything in full view.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Nothing. Don’t look so worried. I’m just saying I wouldn’t like to be on my own stuck out there,’ Jane smiled. ‘I like being surrounded by people, is all.’

‘Well I’m enjoying being antisocial at the moment.’ She went back to sorting the cards.

The next evening, the Satie was on again. She wondered whether her visitor would reappear. It didn’t bother her – she was intrigued. There was a small sound outside, almost like the sea sighing. Maybe it was the sea. She turned the door knob as quietly as possible, inching the door open just enough to get one eye’s view.

Picked out against the quarter light and fuzzy-felt moon was a man standing with his back to the door. There was a luminous quality about him that made her blink.

‘May I help you?’ She stood square in the doorway.

‘I really hope so,’ he said as he turned around.

She had never seen anyone so beautiful. Pale turquoise eyes, shoulder length gold and silver hair. His clothes were strange: a loose tunic over a full-length garment that shimmered as he moved.

‘I have heard that lovely music for many evenings now and I have watched you dancing. I wanted to meet you,’ he said simply.

A breath caught in her throat. She swallowed it down. ‘Well. Hello then. I’m Mathilda Trewella’.

‘Good evening Mathilda Trewella. I’m Llyr.’ He inclined his head.

‘Mattie for short. Your name — is it Welsh?’ she said, immediately regretting giving voice to the naïve thought.

‘Actually, it is old Cornish.’ His smile reached inside her, filling her with warmth and fluidity like a hot summer sun on cold winter bones.

‘Would you like to come in?’ She stepped aside.

‘No. I am sorry I cannot. Maybe another time. For now it is enough that we have spoken.’ Llyr turned away and before she could say anything more, he had crossed the small patch of grass and disappeared into the thick darkness.

All next day she wondered about Llyr. Who was he? What was his interest in her? She asked around, but no one knew him, unusual for such a tight-knit Cornish village.

It was stuffy in the shop. Her clothes stuck to her and there was a damp patch in the middle of her back. The London headache came back. For once the afternoon dragged and she was desperate to get outside and away from the rhythmic clanking that accompanied moored fishing boats. She needed to cool down. A swim would help.

The sea calmed her. There was a freedom being in the water, weightless and floating on her back, watching birds wheeling and moving through the sky. She began to feel drowsy, rocked by the regular movement, when the surface of the of the water broke in a spray of sparkling drops. Llyr was there, beside her.

They swam together, floating when she grew tired, talking all the time, then moving together in a watery dance. A pair of sea creatures, gleaming and sleek. She barely registered the change from day to night. When she shivered slightly, Llyr wrapped himself round her until she felt warm again.

‘Mattie, come with me and see where I live,’ he whispered. As he held her, he dived. She started to panic, struggling to hold her breath. Being underwater scared her.

He whispered again. ‘Just calm yourself… everything will be all right. Trust me.’ How could that be?

Water rushed at her, sounds became muffled and she heard her own heartbeat. Seconds later they were in an underwater cave, carpeted in soft sand, fronded by ferns and kelp. She could breathe. Pulling away from Llyr, she turned to look at him properly. Was she was dreaming? He had a man’s body but a gleaming fish tail.

‘Welcome to my world – the world under the sea.’

Somewhere far off, she could hear ambient music. It was the Satie, but as she’d never heard it before, played on unknown stringed instruments.

‘Mattie Trewella, dance with me.’ Llyr swooped and dived, turned and danced. Graceful and beautiful in his element, gold and silver hair flying behind him. ‘Stay with me here,’ he cried as his tail flicked and flashed around her. ‘Stay and be my muse. We can make such music together.’

‘I can’t.’ She was laughing and crying at once, confused but exhilarated. ‘I want to, but how can I? I’m a mere mortal.’

Llyr paused beside her, stroking her forehead, while his other hand stroked her back. She let herself relax against his mesmerising hands. Her eyes started to close. She began to feel sleepy. So sleepy.

Something was shining through her closed eyes. The sun. She was sprawled in bed, tangled in the sheet. She put a hand up to her hair. It was damp and sea-salty. It really had happened.

No one believed her of course. Not even Jane, who embraced the alternative and the mystical.

‘You’d probably overdone the sun and had a crazy dream,’ she said.

But Mattie knew it was real – that Llyr was real.

They have been together for three moons now. He has been to her cottage since the first time, but not for long and only on the flood tide. The effort is too much for him. On the ebb tide, they go swimming, down into his world, his world of sea colours and unknowable music. His lovely world of tranquillity. She lives for those times.

When they are apart, he still speaks to her. If the sea is stormy, she knows Llyr is making music which is deep and low. If the sea is kind, his music is light and high. They say the fishermen know Llyr’s music.

Mattie has made a decision. Tonight she is going to stay with him. For ever. Down there is where she belongs.

the end

Cornish Writing Challenge: Meet runner-up Terry Newman

The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Terry Newman, and read his submission, Time.

tel for CWA

Terry (aka Dr Tel) Newman is a former research scientist who came into his second career via comedy writing for the BBC and C4, working with some of the UK’s top comedy talent. This soon developed into a fully-fledged occupation and he’s now hung up his microscope for good. Since waving goodbye to the lab he’s written and edited extensively, drama and comedy, for film, stage, television, radio and New Media throughout the world, as well as lecturing in scriptwriting at the university of Brighton. He is much in demand as a script doctor, specialising in structure and dialogue. ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’, his first novel, a comedy detective fantasy, is published by Harper Collins.

What inspired you to start writing?

Are you sure you really want to know? You really, really want to know? It’s a long story! OK, on your head be it.

I have always made up stories, even before I could write them down, I ran them through in my head. Short ‘imagination films’ featuring many of my favourite TV, film, and comic book characters. With this start I consequently did well at ‘English’ at school (despite a cavalier approach to spelling), and when careers talk time came around the career’s master pointed me towards drama college or film school, where I could indulge this passion and possibly become a dissolute waster along the way.

‘No’, I said. ‘I’m going to be a scientist and save the world.’ I mean, I could always write great stories in my spare time, couldn’t I?

I began writing my first full story, a comedy detective fantasy: ‘A DEAD ELF’, featuring dwarf detective Nicely Strongoak, while still a biologist, as some light relief from the chore of PhD writing. It was seeing a sign for an ‘Elf Service Station’ that got the imagination firing on all cylinders.

The first incarnation was as a radio series. The BBC producer who read the script was very nice about it, but pointed out that the BBC had something similar in the mix and why didn’t I turn it into a novel? Unfortunately I had that PhD to finish and then papers to write and a chap called Terry Pratchett came along and basically did pretty much exactly what I wanted to do with fantasy. So, I put ‘A DEAD ELF’ away in the computer’s bottom drawer, but Nicely wouldn’t go away – in fact a second story gradually emerged, but this time there was lot more detective and less satirical fantasy.

When (still an electron microscopist) I began writing comedy for a friend’s stage show I had a vague idea that this might be way to find an agent who could help me with a publisher for ‘A DEAD ELF’, which was now beginning to look much more like a novel. However, a few months later I was surprised to find myself sneaking out of the lab to work at Broadcasting House writing for two of the BBC’s topical radio shows: ‘Week Ending’ and ‘The News Huddlines’.

I ended up with some dozen commissions in total and jokes and sketches on TV’s ‘Rory Bremner’ show. What had begun as a way of finding a publisher was now the main preoccupation. Good job too, as to my surprise the worlds of comedy writing and book publishing have very little in common and so ‘A DEAD ELF’ had yet to see the light of day. Next, I next tried my hand at playwriting, got my first commission and had 3 shows on at the Edinburgh Fringe in the same year. One went on to be performed in New York. One thing I was sure about, this was now a lot more fun than science.

I started writing film scripts as well and began helping other people with their work and even started teaching scriptwriting. I went properly freelance and closed the lab door for good. And then, strangely, I became university lecturer again – this time in ‘writing’, not cell biology!

Still none of it had helped me find a home for ‘A DEAD ELF’! So when, working now full time as a writer and script doctor, I saw a post about Harper Voyager’s Digital First Initiative I emailed them ‘A DEAD ELF’ and basically forgot I had done so. After all, I was writing my first musical now!

Some time later I decided to self-publish ‘A DEAD ELF’. Two weeks after I had accomplished this, Harper Voyager contacted me to say that they wanted to publish my book. I unself-published ‘A DEAD ELF’.

My book was e-published by HV, with minimal publicity, as ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’. A title I hated. The book didn’t shake the foundations of the publishing world – but some months later (after the paperback was published as a POD) somebody at Harper Collins USA saw something in my book and it was mentioned on a promotional ‘Bookperk’ email to Harper Collins readers. Within 2 weeks ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’ was a Kindle #1 Bestseller in the Epic Fantasy genre – it was outselling Tolkien and Martin! I got a banner from Amazon to this effect as well.

However, with no follow-up publicity the sales couldn’t keep going at that rate, but I was now inspired to finish Nicely’s next adventure confident that this would sell even better. My editor was looking forward to reading the book so I dropped everything else and got the manuscript off to her.

I waited, and I waited. I sent off emails. I started book 3 still waiting. Eventually I heard my editor was off sick. I carried on waiting. I contacted senior people and was told that it would be read. About a year after submission, pretty much out of the blue, I received an email from a p.a. to say that ‘because of lack of capacity’ Harper Voyager would not be able to do book 2 justice and so were not going to publish it.

And that’s after a relatively successful first book!

So here I am (A Kindle #1 Best-selling Author) still trying to find a permanent home for Nicely – and I still don’t have an agent to help. Apparently they don’t like unspecialised writers who write in different media.

I said it was a long story.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

Publishing is a badly run business with no rhyme or reason and to try to sort out any logic will only give you a headache and an irritable bowel.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Advice from me you want? How about stay in science?

Seriously, aspiring ones – don’t write unless you have to! Unless it’s such a part of your being that you have an uncontrollable need to tell stories. If so then nothing I say will dissuade you, but at least make sure you enjoy the trip!

If you want to write something, do it! Don’t listen to anybody who says differently. I’ve had award-winning plays, worked with comedy heroes, been involved in an award-winning feature film, had my own comedy series on TV, written animated cartoons, seen a director ruin my (co-created) musical, appeared in a major documentary, and had a #1 Kindle Epic Fantasy Bestseller. They can’t take that away from me.

Tell us more about Time. Where did the inspiration come from?

The inspiration for ‘Time’ was of course the photograph of the Cornish cliff-top walk. I was immediately taken back to an incident that happened to me while walking along a similar cliff. I wanted to relate the story, but even more than that I wanted to create an atmosphere – the atmosphere of ‘unreality’ that now hangs over this episode from my past – dreamlike and unforgettable. Also, after writing so much that might be described as genre I wanted to try something a little more mainstream and serious. I think I am getting there.

What is your connection to Cornwall?

Cornwall was first and foremost all about childhood holidays! Getting in the car in the dark at some unearthly hour to try to make it past the bottlenecks that always existed on the West Country roads in those days. We never did of course, because everybody started that early! But then we would be through the last queue and get our first glimpse of a sea that was so much better than the North Sea that provided another holiday dip (if we were lucky) in my Uncle’s caravan. After that Cornwall was the ideal place for a teenager’s first solo holiday and certain coming of age events that were the basis for ‘Time’.

What’s next for you?

Next for me: Two more Detective Strongoak books that need a home and a very different children’s fantasy, with animation potential, that requires a publisher as well. Then there is a co-written book connected to a SF musical written with a talented composer in Canada to get staged and published and another great musical, very much UK-based, that I am just tweaking the lyrics. I have started a new series of fantasy books and completed a major film that I must get around to pitching as well. Hopefully the film that I wrote with a lovely Jamaican client will be in production soon and the animated feature for a chap in Australia should be well along. So, busy, busy – but it should be easier! And look out for me in the MATTHEWS documentary feature film if it comes your way; 15 seconds of fame.

What are you currently reading?

I am just back from holiday in Corfu where I read the very enjoyable VE Schwab ‘Shades of Magic’ trilogy and have now just started ‘Research’ by Phillip Kerr. I am a huge fan of his Bernie Gunther books, which feature a German detective in and around the time of WWII. So fantasy and detectives – oh dear, I do read and write other things you know.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am very lucky to live in a village in the High Weald in East Sussex so we have some great countryside (and beer) around here, so the walking is marvellous. Sadly we are Dalmatian-less at the moment (love those spotty dogs), but I borrow a friend’s dog. As a writing fiend I tend to find if I am not writing books, then it’s scripts, or lyrics for songs that may or may not get written, or might perhaps one day come out as poetry. I sometimes still do dream of science though.

Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?

Oh Lord, I’m in trouble here – but sorry, it is cream first for me. Actually who cares, as long as I get a warm scone. Very important, the warm scone.

You can buy Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf from Amazon UK, Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. For more information on this series, visit the website here. You can find Terry on Twitter: @adeadelf

 

Read on for Terry’s excellent submission, Time.

I walked along the cliff top looking down at the surfers, sunbathers and swimmers. The afternoon sun was dipping too and the sea beginning to turn that sparkling mixture of colours that an aunt of mine had once described as ‘opalescent’. A good word that, I put it away for later when I might need it.

It was all unbelievably lovely. It felt as if I had entered somebody else’s dream – not one of my own dreams – I didn’t have dreams this good. Not then.

They were sitting on the rough grass by the side of the path, taking in the view. I had seen her around the town earlier in the week. You couldn’t miss her. With her flowing skirts, silk scarves and straight blonde hair, she looked like a British version of the Fleetwood Mac singer, Stevie Nicks. I didn’t like Fleetwood Mac much. Stevie Nicks was another matter. Women like her were still relatively uncommon in Cornwall then. You didn’t miss women like that.

She smiled at me as I approached. I smiled back.

I didn’t recognise him. I guessed he was a couple of years older than I was though, but I was vaguely pleased to see his hair wasn’t as long. He had some cool beads around his neck that I rather envied. We nodded to each other as young men used to do when they recognised somebody from the same tribe – the tribe that was still then called without baggage, ‘hippy’.

‘You look stoned,’ she said.

‘No’, I had to admit. ‘I’m just … taking it all in. It’s really something here.’

‘High on life,’ she said. ‘That’s cool.’

‘Join us, man,’ said Beads.

‘Yes, I think I will.’

I sat down on the grass and the three of us continued to look across the water. They had some cider. Everybody had some cider then. We passed it around. After a while Beads rolled a joint. I had 20 Benson and Hedges and he pulled a couple of cigarettes apart to make the joint. Beads had papers that had been soaked in cannabis tincture – a trick I’d not come across before, though I didn’t mention it. The effect was mellow.

‘This is mellow,’ said Stevie.

‘Really mellow,’ said Beads.

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘really mellow.’

We passed the joint backwards and forwards. I tasted her lipstick on the roach.

‘You have really nice hair,’ Stevie said to me. ‘I wish my hair was that thick.’

‘Hey!’ I replied. ‘Your hair is really cool. It’s rock star hair.’ This seemed to please her and Beads rolled another joint.

The holidaymakers were going home now; buckets and spades all packed up, children collected and dinners to be made or bought from the chip shops. I passed the B&H around and we finished the cider, just taking it all in and feeling mellow. The afternoon stretched on and on. The sun didn’t want to go home either.

We talked about music and the relative merits of our favourite bands. Beads and Stevie liked some American bands, ‘The Grateful Dead’ and ‘Poco’ that I didn’t know that well. They were well impressed by my knowledge of prog rock bands on the Charisma label and liked the sound of Island’s ‘Dr Strangely Strange’. We all agreed that David Bowie was a genius, although Stevie admitted to a weakness for Marc Bolan as well.

She asked if I was wearing make-up. Only mascara I replied, that and a little eye shadow.

‘Far out,’ said Beads.

Stevie’s favourite book was ‘Fear of Flying’, which she had just finished. Beads liked ‘Naked Lunch’. I said I preferred ‘Tropic of Capricorn’, although I hadn’t read it. I answered truthfully, when it was my turn, and said I loved the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and fully intended to write books like that one day.

Later we walked down to the river estuary, avoiding the town and walking through the campsite. The tide was out now and small pools of water had been left behind, deep enough to swim in. The waves could still be heard breaking on the nearby beach, but they were just part of the backdrop. In one of the pools a group of eight women were swimming naked, their clothes piled neatly on the nearby grass. They called out, in strong, slightly drunken, Northern accents, for us to join them.

The full moon had risen by then and was reflected in the tidal pools. The swimming girls looked like something from one of those painters whose names I could never remember. I half expected to see mermaid tails.

Beads and I looked at each, shrugged, and took off our flared loons and tie-dyed T-shirts, before dropping our department store pants and walking in. It was as warm as a bath.

Stevie sat for a minute or two and then said it ‘wasn’t her scene’ and walked on down towards the sea. Beads jumped out and ran after her while trying to get into his pants and jeans.

Two girls, one blond with a feather cut and one brunette with a bun, were singing David Bowie songs. Water droplets ran off their tanned arms and shoulders, falling like opalescent tears into the pool. I swam over and joined them and we sung ‘Time’ together, under the full moon, in the warm salty water, with the smell of the dunes and some residual ‘Coppertone’ suntan lotion.

Time was ‘waiting in the wings’, but he wasn’t centre stage then. Time had stopped. In moments like that time has to stop, because moments like that are eternal. Time knows better than to interrupt when moments like that are being created. Time has better timing.

The blonde with the feather cut, whose name was Sally, said: ‘Your mascara is running.’

‘That’ll teach me for not getting a water-proof one!’ I replied, laughing.

Sally was from Lincoln, sharing a caravan with her friends. She was an apprentice hairdresser and her friends mostly worked in High Street shops. She hadn’t read ‘Naked Lunch’ or ‘Fear of Flying’ and her favourite music, apart from David Bowie, was ska.

Sally and I went out for about a year, but long distance relationships don’t work well at that age. She cut my hair once – not very well. However, every summer Sally will be swimming in that pool, under the moonlight, singing David Bowie songs – as will I.

Time, his script may be ‘you and me, boys’, but he’s only the director. He doesn’t write the words. We do that.

the end

Cornish Writing Challenge: Meet runner-up Julia Macfarlane

The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Julia Macfarlane, and read her submission, Cornwall For A Change.

Julia

After a varied career, encompassing time as a tax inspector, a French-German translator, and management positions in various universities, Julia packed in work at way too young an age, to ensure the husband didn’t have too easy a retirement. In a bid to escape his task-list, he has since written four novels and Julia has talked about finishing one. In the meantime, she runs Bognor Regis Write Club and has produced their first anthology, a ghost tour of Chichester and a collection of her own short stories.

What inspired you to start writing?

I always believed I would be a writer, since I was a little kid. As an adult, I’ve had phases of writing or not writing, dependent on how much of my life was being eaten up by my job. Now I’m retired (early), I’m having a writing phase again.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

I wish I’d started trying to find a publisher earlier, although perhaps I would have given up writing in despair if I had. It’s so easy to self-publish now, but doing your own marketing is such a chore!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Just do it. Write every day, but also read critically other people’s stuff. How did they write that to get that emotional effect? Also, take advantage of free online courses on writing techniques. There are a lot of companies out there making money from our desire to be a better writer, but there is still plenty of free stuff, too.

Tell us more about Cornwall For A Change. Where did the inspiration come from?

Oh dear. I had just been on a holiday to Amsterdam with my sister and mother. We had a conversation about where to go next year and why. I like writing about the humorous dynamics of family relationships and the undertones.

What is your connection to Cornwall?

My husband’s family live there, and we used to have annual holidays to Wadebridge with the kids until his mum died. Lovely memories and lovely places.

What’s next for you? 

I need to better promote the 2 books I’ve produced this year, and need to get the next Bognor Regis Write Club Anthology ready for October, and WRITE MY NOVEL!!  My husband has produced 4 while I’ve messed about with short stories and other distractions.

What are you currently reading?

Just finished rereading Nicholas Nickelby – I’m a big Dickens fan. I set myself the challenge of reading everything Thomas Hardy wrote in chronological order. Took me 2 years. Now I’m doing the same with Dickens, but I read modern stuff in between to cleanse the palate. Absolutely love the cynical style of Lionel Shriver, and give away copies of her The Post Birthday World to anyone who I think will appreciate a well-crafted story with characters that step off the page. I also think Kate Atkinson is a master of the craft.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I bought a cockapoo puppy in January. Lulu is the light of my life. My husband is totally smitten with her as well. We are members of the Bognor Regis Ramblers, the Chichester Natural History Society, and we are learning Spanish because our son lives in Madrid.We spoil our 2 granddaughters who live nearby with our daughter and husband as often as possible. Oh, and we socialise A LOT.

Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?

Jam and then a big blob of Cornish clotted cream. Yum! If you don’t need a napkin for your hands and face afterwards, you didn’t do it properly.

JuliaLuluBluebells

Read on for Julia’s wonderful submission, Cornwall For A Change.

“We thought Cornwall this year, mum?”

Rita lowered her magnifying glass to the Express crossword page and peered at her daughters.

“Cornwall?”

“Yes, you know, Bodmin, Truro, Newquay, Torquay..”

“I think Torquay is in Devon,” Jane interrupted.

“Whatever. So, what do you think, Mum?”

“Why Cornwall all of a sudden?” Rita’s tone was peevish.

Marilyn forced her voice to remain calm. “For a change. For somewhere new.”

“Why change this year?”

“Mum,” it was Jane’s turn to encourage a positive response from their mother. “It’s your eightieth. We wanted to make the annual holiday this year a bit more special.”

“Just going away is special enough for me. Isn’t Cornwall a long way away?”

“It’s about five hours in the car, Mum, but we’ll break it up with a couple of stops.”

“You’ll need more than a couple with my bladder.”

“We can take as many as you want or need. So what do you think?”

“I think it’s a lot of fuss when you’ve had as many birthdays as I’ve had.”

Marilyn’s turn again: “Eighty is special, mum, and you’ve said you don’t want a party. So we thought Cornwall would be a treat for you. You can visit all the places you visited with Dad when you were on your honeymoon.”

“I can’t remember them after all this time. I remember it rained!”

“Well, it might not rain this time. What did you do last time?”

“Let me see – we went to the zoo at Newquay, on a boat trip to see the puffins, and we had fish and chips on the seafront. “

“There you go, then! We could do all those things again.”

“I don’t like boats; don’t even like the sea that much.”

“Ok, what would you like to do?”

“Why can’t we do what we always do?”

“But Mum, we’ve been to Buxton every year since Dad – passed away. Are you not ready for a change?”

“I thought you girls liked Buxton?”

“It would be nice to have a change,” admitted Jane.

“Well, it’s up to you two. You’re the ones who have to take me.” Rita sighed and opened up her paper. The two middle-aged daughters exchanged glances.

“If we go to Buxton, would you like to do anything special there?”

“I do like the well dressing competition.” Her face brightened at the thought. The daughters sighed in unison, memories of their mother disparaging each and every well dressing design as not being as good as last year’s, the one around the corner, when she was a girl, as good as her WI group could have managed, and so on and so on. “And can we stay at that nice farmhouse outside town again? I do like to see her little hens pecking around; and she always gives you fresh milk for your room. Not like that long-life muck we got in Alnwick that time. Wasn’t that the last time we had a change?” Change was uttered like other people might utter murder or catastrophe.

“The farmhouse.” Jane looked at Marilyn who cocked an eyebrow in challenging response. “The farmhouse is a long way out of the town, Mum. It means one of us has to drive back after dinner each evening.”

“It doesn’t do either of you any harm to go without a half bottle of wine of an evening now and again.” Marilyn opened her mouth to protest but her mother was already moving on. “In my day, nice women didn’t drink in public, didn’t go into bars on their own,” she cocked an admonishing eye at her eldest daughter, Jane, “and they certainly didn’t go gallivanting off with a new husband every decade, just for the hell of it.”

Jane slammed down the brochure of Cornwall that was meant to be the next stage of their holiday offer. Marilyn placed a restraining hand on her arm.

“Right, mum, Buxton it is. Don’t you agree, Jane?”

“Oh, yes, Buxton is fine. I’ll ring Mrs Davies for our usual rooms.” Sarcasm dripped from each syllable. She pivoted, to start her flounce from the room.

“Lovely, I’m always telling Mary what great girls I have,” smiled her mother, magnanimous in victory. “Cornwall, indeed!”

the end

A week’s writing retreat + a signed novel by Jane Johnson

A great cause, with a great prize.

Authors for Grenfell Tower: An Online Auction

hopway cottage mouseholejane johnsonITEM: A week’s writing retreat and a signed novel by Jane Johnson.

DETAILS: The winner will receive a signed copy of my novel COURT OF LIONS and a week’s accommodation for two people in our writing retreat in Mousehole, Cornwall (date to be determined according to availability). Value, depending on time of the year, between £450 and £900.

BIO:Poet Dylan Thomas called Mousehole ‘the loveliest village in England’, and he’s not wrong. Historic, picturesque, uniquely Cornish, Mousehole is a traditional fishing village that combines wonderful views with great hospitality, marvellous restaurants and cafes, two safe, sandy beaches and a climate all its own. The cottage is less than 50 yards from one of the best traditional pubs in Cornwall: the Ship Inn. Hopway Cottage Mousehole

WHO CAN BID: Worldwide, but travel costs are the responsibility of the winner. Reserve price on this item is £150.

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The Bandwagon: Silenced

Last year, I had a falling out with some family members, over what was really a misunderstanding. But, old feelings came to the top, and it boiled over. A few sharp words were exchanged, then we were all blocked. I wrote a blog post about it, and that was that.

Or so I thought.

Today, someone from their side messaged me. I’ve read your blog post, they said, almost four months after it had been published. They proceeded to tell me how I was wrong, how nasty I was, twisted, bitter, because I responded to a family member bringing up the abuse I suffered as a child, and insinuating that I’d made it all up. How I put a negative slant on everything. How it was my fault that we were abused. That my blog is bullshit, and so is my feminism.

I was told not to “air my dirty laundry” in public. I was told not to write about this attack. I was told that legal advice would be sought if I mentioned this in a public forum. I was being threatened, bullied, into keeping my mouth shut. I was being silenced.

I have removed the initial blog post, despite knowing that nobody was named in it, knowing it was vague enough that nobody who was not personally aware of the situation could have guessed who it was about. I was contacted, completely out of the blue, and attacked. It’s been hinted at that my blog is being watched. So watch this.

People need to know that they are not alone. I write about these things because we need to read about them, we need to know that it happens to others, that we are supported. I often receive messages from people, thanking me for being honest, for telling my story. I write about what has happened to me. I do not write about the people who did these things to me. I write because it is cathartic, healing. I do not write for revenge. If you don’t like what I write, don’t read it. If someone recognises themselves in a vague description, then they are welcome to bring it up with me. If I overstep a line, I expect to be informed, and will remedy it immediately. But I do not expect to be attacked by multiple people – some I do not even know – and I do not expect to be shut down for speaking out. Women are silenced far too often. We cannot, and should not, stand for it. We are allowed to tell our stories. We are allowed to speak out. We should not have to suffer in silence. This attack is just another example of a man attempting to silence a woman, thinking that he has the right to attack someone he doesn’t know, and it will not work.

I want to make it clear: I will never be silent. I will never publicly “out” anyone, but my blog is my platform to tell my story. You cannot threaten or bully me into silence. I have not, will not, defame anyone, I will not besmirch anyone’s good name. I will tell the truth, my truth, and I will not be silenced. 

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Cornish Reading Challenge 2017

It’s back! You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? We may have missed St Piran’s Day, but the Cornish Reading Challenge will still be running in 2017 – from May 13th until May 27th.

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As usual, we’ll have a host of incredible authors involved. We’ll have guest posts, book reviews, giveaways, recommendations, and many more exciting things!

On May 17th & 18th, we’ll be focusing on the West Country as a whole. This will include writers who live in the West Country, and any work set there – including my own short story collection, Weltanschauung. Grave Oversight and Only If are set in Plymouth, and I’m super excited to be getting involved as an author this year, as well as a blogger.

The Cornish Reading Challenge brings writers, readers, and bloggers together to celebrate a love of Cornwall and Cornish literature. We talk about what inspires us to write, the Cornish books that suck us in and transport us to one of the most beautiful places in England. We’ll be talking about writing in Cornwall, writing about Cornwall, and supporting Cornish authors.

Keep your eyes peeled for further information in the coming months. Get ready for two weeks of celebrating all things Cornish!

If you want to get involved, pop me an email at thebandwagonreviews@gmail.com, or tweet me, @VikkiPatis, using #CornishReadingChallenge.

Feminist February: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

As part of Feminist February, I’m reading some selected texts that focus on feminism, whether that’s an obvious feminist text, or fiction depicting women as we are. You can read all about my selections here.

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I downloaded a copy of We Should All Be Feminists by  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and devoured it within half an hour. It’s a short book, with an introduction explaining how it was adapted from a TEDx talk Adichie gave.

A personal and powerful essay from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the bestselling author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, based on her 2013 TEDx Talk of the same name.

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. With humour and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalise women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences – in the U.S., in her native Nigeria – offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike. Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a best-selling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today – and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.

Earlier that evening, my partner and I had been discussing those social experiments that involve a man living as a woman for a period of time, and vice versa, to see how one another’s experiences might differ based on their gender. I said that you would have to “pass”, i.e. you would have to really look like a woman if you were going to experience life as a woman. I’m sure many people have thought about what life might be like if they were the opposite gender, but I’ve never truly wanted to be a man. Sure, it might make peeing a bit easier, and women are oppressed in ways that men aren’t, but I still love being a woman. I feel my womanhood strongly. I feel a kinship to other women, that sisterhood that many feminists talk about. Despite the problems we face, I don’t want to run away from my gender, I want to embrace it, fiercely, and fight for my rights, passionately. I am a woman, I love (almost) everything about being a woman.

Adichie defines a woman as someone who can bear children, which is a problematic definition at best. Not all women can have (or want to have) children, and not all those who are able to have children are women. This cisgender definition rubs me up the wrong way, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to think Adichie will have learned better since then, because, as feminists, we are constantly learning, and doing our best to, well, do better.

Adichie also mentions being “girly”. That word always makes me cringe. As a young child, I was called a “tomboy”, because I wore tracksuit bottoms and trainers, and liked to climb trees and go out on my bike. But I still wore dresses on occasion, and, as a teenager, I’d regularly change my style to suit my mood. I wasn’t a tomboy, nor was I girly – I was simply a child. And now I’m an adult, I can’t say I’m much different. I prefer to wear men’s shirts and leggings, but I also own skirts and ballet pumps. I always wear make-up, and I have long hair, and I get my nails and eyebrows done. But that doesn’t mean I can’t roll my sleeves up and clean the bathroom (fibromyalgia permitting, of course), or break the glass ceiling. I have a degree, I have a good job, I’m a published author. And I also wear mascara and lipstick, and enjoy having my hair done.

I know a woman who is super healthy. She’s a personal trainer, and she spends a lot of time and energy on being fit, so she doesn’t, in her words, have the inclination to be “girly”. She still wears make-up (albeit minimal), and she’s great at doing hair, a talent I envy. But she still wouldn’t describe herself as “girly”. So it makes me wonder, what do we mean by the term “girly”? Why are men shamed when they spend time on personal grooming? Why is it “girly” to wear lipstick, or heels, or dresses? Am I only half “girly” because, although I wear make-up and get my nails done, I’m crap at hair and can’t walk in heels? Terms like “girly” only serve to remind us that anything remotely feminine is bad. The aim of wearing make-up, for some, is to look as if we haven’t made much of an effort. We, like in the movies, woke up looking fresh, with defined brows and sky-high lashes and rosebud lips.

A colleague told me a few weeks ago that, upon first meeting me, she never would have guessed that I was a feminist. Why not? I asked. But she couldn’t answer. Perhaps she had the idea that all feminists are ugly, bra-burning, hairy-legged man-haters (though I am hairy-legged). So, in essence, I do agree with feminists like Adichie trying to smash this idea. But I do detest the term “girly”. There’s no right way to be a feminist (in this respect), just like there’s no right way to be a woman. Love make-up? Great! Prefer to go bare-faced? Fine! Have short hair? Nice! Have long hair? Awesome! These things are superficial, and yet, women are constantly judged on how we look. You may be the smartest person in your class, you might be super ambitious and want to rise to the top of your profession, but you will still be judged on your looks. And this is something that needs to change.

In all, We Should All Be Feminists is a great read. It reaffirms a lot of things that I already knew to be true, and have spoken about before, but it was also interesting to read Adichie’s version of feminism, and how her background influences the way she views the world, and how she plans on smashing the patriarchy in her own way. Smash on, Adichie, in your heels and dress and lipgloss. Smash on.

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