Archive | May 2022

Fashion in books

When I was thinking about this blog, I wondered whether I should call it, ‘under the covers’ as it is about books. But then I realised that that sounded salacious so I had to change my mind. I tried ‘Judging a book by its cover’ but that didn’t work either because although this is about books, it is about the changing taste in books, which is very marked now, and not actually about the books themselves. The thing is, the public taste in books changes constantly and so do the names of the genre they represent. Which become more and more wild and unlikely, the more difficult our surrounding conditions grow. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen a change in public taste. Some of the most beautiful and totally incredible musicals were produced for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers during the second world war and quite right too. People used to say ‘they lift you out of things, them two.’ And that was exactly what they did.

Now we seem to be running to even further extremes of fantasy and untamed imagination. Yesterday I found a self-published book being pre-praised by its writer as belonging to the ‘fantasy-magical-realism’ genre. When I’d stopped laughing, I tried to find out what it was, but failed totally. Presumably the writers of the new genre knows all about it. But I’m in the dark, as I am when I consider most of the other genres on offer, space-travel, time-travel, various impossible detectives, passionate romances between rich men and poor girls. There’s wish fulfilment if you ever saw it! And so many police dramas all following the same pattern.

But I can’t truthfully say I didn’t see this coming. It crashed in on my own writing world when a new passion for what was then called ‘chick-lit’ began. It started when Helen Fielding produced a novel called ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary,’ about a thirty year old, who was obsessed with how many cigarettes she’d smoked, how fat she was, whether her bum looked big in particular clothing and such other earth-shattering matters. It was an immediate best-seller but I have to admit, it bored me to tears. I saw Bridget Jones as a case of delayed adolescence, which ought to have been medically treated, not used as a source of humour. But it was what my then publisher wanted me to write because it was so popular and when I told her I couldn’t possibly do it, after quite a lot of amiable and sympathetic conversation, I lost my position in her ‘house’.

Now I look at the constant flow of books based entirely on imagination, detective novels, murder mysteries, crime, eighteenth century romance and WW2 stories illustrated by quite impossibly clean and beautiful present day models, like the one on the cover of ‘War Baby’, dressed in various approximations to war uniform and gazing coyly out at us from the covers. I’m afraid that when I look at them, my mind is full of what the war was really like – constantly filthy dirty, constantly stinking and a lot of the time, for many of us, terrifying. It’s such a deep chasm I know I couldn’t even begin to make in-roads into it.

Because the truth is, I can only write stories about people I can believe in, living lives I can also believe in or have lived myself, in places that I’ve either lived in or worked in or researched very thoroughly in the course of at least a year. It is very, very important for me to be accurate. I might take years to achieve accuracy but it has to be done. So if I stand back and look at me and my novels standing her among todays novels, I know I am sticking out like a sore thumb.

What next? I wonder.

This entry was posted on May 25, 2022. 3 Comments

The impact of a slogan

Or to put it another way by which I was equally tempted ‘The power of words’. There’s quite a story behind this but it intrigued me and so I’m hoping it might intrigue you.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Many of you will know that a couple of months ago I was taken into hospital really quite seriously ill, with various complicated elderly diseases, one of which had led to what the nurses and doctors delicately call ‘confusion’. In my case it was lunacy. I was convinced that the nurses were out to murder me and I was scared rigid. Not exactly the best chapter of my life. Had it not been for my daughter Mary I don’t know what would have become of me. But she fought my corner, got me the medical attention I needed. Sat with me for hours even though I didn’t know who she was – which I also did when my youngest daughter arrived to visit – and generally carried me through.

When I was home and we began to talk, I tried to question from my very limited knowledge, something odd that had come into the conversation. On two occasions the paramedics and nurses dealing with my daughter talked about ‘my advanced care planning and resuscitation wishes’, which sounded distinctly odd to me, particularly as two of them talked to her about it and they both used the same analogy. If I were to have a heart attack and they had to crack my ribs to get in to help me it would cause me immense pain and could be the end of it, had I been there and heard what they were saying, which I did not, and had my wits about me, which I certainly did not at that moment, I could have pointed out that there would be absolutely no need at all should I have a heart attack for anyone to break my ribs. I’ve had a heart attack and had it cured by the insertion of six stents into my arteries which was done via an artery in my elbow and another in my groin, I was never at any point in any danger or discomfort. So my mind leapt on a pace, now that it was healthy and working. What had made both those men use such an analogy? I gathered such papers as I could find and did a spot of homework.

And lo and behold on my discharge summary, in which all ten of my frailties were listed, I found the same ominous phrase word for word, under ‘Request for GP’, I’m quoting it verbatim. ‘We have started talking to her about ADVANCED CARE PLANNING AND RESUSCITATION WISHES.’ (News to me but than I was so far into lunacy I wouldn’t have heard them if they did.) It goes on, ‘she may wish to continue this conversation with you.’ Well, well, well, so they certainly want me to hear it. I wonder why? More ominously I’m wondering what they want me to sign my name to. The more I looked at the words, the more they looked like a slogan to me. ‘Advanced care planning and resuscitation wishes,’ sound more ominous every time I read them. It might be perfectly harmless and the analogy might mean very little, but that’s not the way it feels. So I thought I would put it up here and ask if there are any others out there reading this blog, who have come upon it, in a course of treatment and what they thought of it.

I also wonder, being very quizzy now that I’m getting better, where the original instructions came from. Some NHS centre? Doesn’t sound like it.

The Government? Hmmmm.

In the course of my ridiculously long life I’ve seen fascism come to power in three European countries and the leaders all worked with slogans. In Hitler’s case it was an unforgettable one and here it is:

‘Ein Volk, en reich, ein führer’ (One People, One Country, One Leader.) It makes me shiver just to remember it.

But their lead has been followed, we are flooded with slogans from every Party, it didn’t take us five minutes to collect this set and there are plenty more out there.

Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential. Britain Deserves Better – Conservative Party 2019 Slogan

Change Politics for Good – The Brexit Party 2019 Slogan

Or on a more hopeful note. For the Many, not the Few – Labour Party 2017 Slogan

This entry was posted on May 18, 2022. 7 Comments

This is a P.S. to yesterday’s blog

I have just sent a question to the Charities Commission, which I would like you to see. Time is getting on and I am now seriously concerned that Mr Squatter Heath may soon move in to our Blake’s Cottage if we’re not very careful.

This may seem peculiar but there is a real and pressing reason for my query. Is there a code that the Charity follows that would ensure that none of the Trustees are behaving in an illegal or unethical manner – like squatting in an empty property and having to be removed by bailiffs.

I sent this question to the Charities Commission, in the hope that as well as looking into the monetary affairs of the trustees, they are also concerned with their public and moral behaviour. It is being ‘considered’ at the moment and I can’t truthfully say that I have much hope of a helpful answer, because as far as I’ve been able to make out the CC are concerned simply with money and don’t seem to bother much about the morals of their trustees.

But I could be proved wrong, fingers crossed. Meantime anyone in the village or elsewhere – particularly those that are members of the Felpham Village Conservation Society to see what they can find out, there are many avenues and if we all start exploring them, we might come up with something. But time is against us because Mr Squatter Heath will be out on his ear escorted by bailiffs by the 31st of this month.

If it were possible for me to come and speak to you I would do it like a shot, but I know it would be turned down because I’m political. However political or not, I have a phone number and various websites where you would be welcome at any time. This is too big and public an issue to be ignored and if there are any trustees present or former of the BCT and the Blake Society who would like to tell me what they know they too would be very welcome indeed. I’m 91 and aware that I need all the help I can get.

Watch this space.

Attention all Blake Cottage lovers – something untoward is on its way.

Photo credit – Richard Gittins / Champion News

I heard a bit of news this week that made me a) sit up and take notice and b) start making plans for this blog at once.

If you read my blog Daily Mail blows the gaff on Tim Heath you will see all the details. But for the moment, let me tell you the story briefly in case you haven’t heard it.

That house belonged to Tim Heath’s parents and he has lived in it since he was ten, first as the pampered son of the owners, then when his mother and surviving parent died in 2015, as an unstoppable squatter. It didn’t seem to any of us that his brothers would ever be able to get him out.

But yesterday I heard the good news that after seven squatting years, he is to be evicted by bailiffs on May the 31st. This begs all manner of prickly questions, that all the people who have been involved with Blake’s Cottage both local and national will have to face and face pretty quickly.

If he is out on his ear with no job, no house and as far as I know, no money – although that is questionable even though I’m doing my best to answer some of the questions – he will need somewhere to live and someone fool enough to support him. Which given the fact that he has quite recently appointed two new tame trustees of the Blake Cottage Trust (BCT) could turn out to be very interesting indeed.

Photo credit – Richard Gittins / Champion News

Now I am doing what I can to find out who could be contacted about it, in the national and local newspapers. If any of you out there know, please get in touch as soon as you can.

He has the keys to the Cottage, don’t forget, and if he squats there, nobody will EVER take it over to repair it. I am sitting here wondering if any of the original BCT trustees have the power to change the locks, before he moves in.

I will make this business my first priority all day and thereafter until I make progress and I will report back to you whenever I have something useful to say. Please report to me in the same way. A long time ago, I wrote in my booklet that the only people who would be able to take the Cottage over and repair it and open it for the nation, the way we all wanted when we were raising money for it, is the National Trust and it would have to be a gift to them, not a sale, because the property is much too far into decay to be saleable.

Perhaps I should have called this ‘crossroads’, because that’s where we are.

More in my next.

This entry was posted on May 12, 2022. 1 Comment

A real family tree.

This beautiful lilac is growing in the garden belonging to my granddaughter/amanuensis, who sent it to me because she knew I would love it, as I do! But as it is a plant with quite an extraordinary family pedigree, I thought I would share both.

This beautiful plant came from a cutting taken from the garden of Lottie’s mother, my daughter Caroline, her plant grew from a cutting which came from my garden here in Aldwick, and that plant had grown from a cutting taken originally from a lilac tree growing in my childhood home in Longley Road in Tooting and transplanted to my first family home in Streatham.

This perfumed beauty is very much a family tree.

This entry was posted on May 4, 2022. 2 Comments

Do you need money to be able to write?

This very perceptive question was asked by somebody on Twitter and although I tried to answer it there and then, the answer got snarled up and I had to stop. So here it is. It’s an honest answer but I think it needs giving.

Yes, you do need money. Most of you will have rent or mortgages to pay, mouths to feed including your own, probably clothes to buy for growing children. The bills are endless. And although I would love to be able to say that from the word go you will earn sufficient money to cover them all, I have to tell you that this is very seldom the case.

According to official figures there are 62,000 writers in the UK, of whom 40,000 are self employed, so I can quite see why the question was asked. But in order to live well and comfortably you need to sell well and the sales figures are far less encouraging. In the UK, the top 10% of writers earn about 70% of the total monies earned by the trade.

You have to sell at least 5,000 copies in one week, or even better 10,000, to be recognised as a bestseller. An ‘established bestseller’ is recognised when he or she passes the million mark for sales. This is a big, powerful business and the people who get these astronomical sales are rare and the people who put them there are powerful. They are well known literary agents and the large publishing houses which are the only ones that can command sufficient funds for all the heavy bills they will have to pay to get their chosen author in the shops and on the list.

I’m sorry to say all this, but it is true. I’ve lived it, so I know.

If this were not such a touchy subject, I could tell you a ridiculous but true fairy story about how my first bestseller came to be. But now is not the time or the place for it.

However I can say trust me, I know what I’m talking about, because I’ve been in the business for such a long time, Lottie and I have just added it all up and it’s 42 years. I had my first bestseller published in 1985 and passed the million mark in sales with my eleventh. That sounds like bragging but it is straight fact.

I wish all writers could do equally well but it’s a tough world and the statistics are against us.

This entry was posted on May 4, 2022. 1 Comment