Write away week in Italy

imageIt’s almost impossible to imagine a more beautiful setting in which to let the creative juices flow. Picture the rolling hills of Umbria, with its medieval villages perched high and scattered about strategically for extra impact and you have the ideal landscape to capture the imagination.image

Arte Umbria is a retreat for artists for most of the season and it’s easy to see why people would come here to capture the stunning scenery. Once a year it’s booked for Sue Moorcrofts writing course and I have to admit; the scenery is a bit of a distraction! I had to keep reminding myself that I was here to learn and not admire my surroundings.image

But seriously, it was an extremely well run course, expertly led by Sue, who was on her fourth consecutive year there, and I learned so much. Both from Sue and my peers (some of which were already published authors) and I took away with me a wealth of tips and inside information (nod nod, wink, wink) from the writing world and came back home bursting with a new enthusiasm, confidence and determination.

The lovely Lorenzo looking very serious!

The lovely Lorenzo looking very serious!

It wasn’t all work and no play though; oh no, there was plenty of time to play and also a couple of trips were thrown in for good measure. So we didn’t get cabin fever, we were first let out on a trip to the local vineyard complete with a tour by the lovely Lorenzo (who got us all in a bit of a dither!) image

Then there was the day out to Orvietto on the train and the funicular up to the top where the most stunning Duomo outside of Florence stood in all it’s glory. We mooched about the shops, had a gelato and a coffee and found a delicious place to have lunch. image

Monday morning found us back in the jeep, down the bumpy track to our next destination La Scarzuola. A Fransiscan convent built in 1218 by St Francis of Assisi at the front; and at the back an entirely different world.  Tomazzo Buzzi’s “ideal city” which was quite surreal. image

After lunch on our terrace back at the ranch (or, rather, Hunting Lodge) it was back to workshopping and free writing time, followed by a dip in the alluring pool, which lay in the grounds of Arte Umbria and was just waiting to be taken advantage of! image

Even the pool had a view to die for and once I’d worked out how I could keep my iPad out of the sun in order to do some free writing down there; that’s where I made myself comfortable. It was a little distracting though, especially as Fleur the Spaniel wanted to have water splashed on her all the time! image

Meals were served al fresco and were absolutely delicious, made for us daily by the Leiths trained chef Mags from England. We really were spoiled every day by her culinary skills and I came home half a stone heavier and I know I’m not the only one! Our hosts Sara and David Moody joined us at mealtimes  and attended our every need. image

They chauffeured us around and David even let some us watch his “Game of Thrones” box set in the evenings.  I had never seen it before and wanted to know what all the fuss was about and I was joined by avid followers of the show who were happy to educate me regarding the plot. image

All too soon it was time to go home but I left with a set of new friends; all with the same passion in life and I’m certain that we will stay in touch and cheer each other on when we have a success and commiserate when we get the inevitable rejection from time to time.

 

 

 

 

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Happy New Year?

OK, it’s exactly a month since New Years Day but I’ve been hibernating since December which was full to the brim with meals out, grand kids birthdays, concerts, pantos and back to back college assignments.

So in January, all that I had to look forward to was the dreaded Self Assessment form which was waiting to be dealt with. Last year I did it early because I was going to be away in sunnier climes having far more fun with my trip to Cuba to look forward to.

Having a Mojito by the pool in Santiago de Cuba

Having a Mojito by the pool in Santiago de Cuba

 

This year, however started with the shocking death of David Bowie (though sad, I’m not sure if it warranted 24hr coverage on TV and radio.) Swiftly followed by Alan Rickman two days later. I couldn’t believe it; the fact that they were both 69 and died of Cancer was even more startling because they had both kept it under wraps. image I was more upset by Alan Rickmans death because he was my favourite baddie in  films like Die Hard, Robin Hood Prince of thieves and many more. I also loved him in Truly, Madly, Deeply which I had to watch on YouTube because my old video was in the depths of the loft. Although dated, it was pure Rickman magic; the man was a genius and I’m very sad that he won’t be making any more films.           image

No sooner had we come to terms with the  death of these two legends, when less than a week later Glenn Frey passed away also, making it a hat trick. I really couldn’t believe it and he was just two years younger than the other two but he didn’t die of cancer. His music will live on, like David Bowie’s and though not an icon, he founded one of the most famous bands of all time (the Eagles, just in case you don’t know) and wrote some of the most memorable songs of the seventies and eighties. Although 67, I’m sure he still would have been playing into his seventies like the Stones and the Who. A sad loss for music.

The late, great Glenn Frey.

The late, great Glenn Frey.

On a lighter note, heaven must be interesting with all the celebs that have joined the big band in the sky. Let’s hope we don’t lose any more for a while.

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Paris in mourning

imageToday French citizens stood side by side to mourn the 130 dead from the horrific attacks on Paris two weeks ago, on Friday the 13th November. Who would have thought that this memorial would be necessary a few short weeks ago? image

The world is still reeling from the attacks that took place in the centre of a city, so vibrant and innocently unaware of what was about to take place. Who could have foreseen the carnage that was planned on an ordinary Friday night, the beginning of the weekend for most Parisiennes and the devastation it would cause? image

image

It was one of those occasions when you will always remember where you were when you heard the terrible news. Me, I had just been to a Christmas party plan event in Woking and came back to watch Children in need on the TV. I was alone because my partner was on nightshift and was enjoying the sketches on the BBC program. I did my donation online, then as I was pottering about on my iPad, as I usually do in the evening, I saw a post on Facebook. Something about an atrocity that had happened. I immediately turned the TV over to Sky news, to be met with a scene that was still unfolding. This was about 10.30 UK time, so an hour later in Paris. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, even though the same scenes were being played over and over. At that time, there were reports of people being held hostage in a club. They said there were over a hundred in there. I don’t know why but I thought that they were just being held hostage and that nothing else would happen. There would be a stand off and the police or special forces would flush them out like they often do.

What happened next really shocked me, as the rest of the world. In front of my eyes, special forces were scaling the walls of the building, amid the deafening sound of gunfire. I couldn’t bear to think that inside that building people were actually being gunned down mercilessly. But they were. I watched until 1am but had to go to bed, otherwise I would have been up all night. It was the first thing on my mind when I woke and I really hoped it wasn’t true. But I turned on the TV again and in the cold light of day, it all became appallingly true.

The club Bataclan was where the most people died -89 young people. There were also attacks on the Stade de France, where Francois Hollande was attending a friendly football match. Luckily the terrorists didn’t gain entry but instead, two of them blew themselves up with subside belts. Also, there were attacks on diners in popular areas with Parisiennes, who were also gunned down with precision according to witnesses. This was no random attack; it was well planned. And who claimed responsibility next day? Why ISIS,  of course. Mr Hollande immediately declared war and in retaliation sent his planes over to Syria to bomb ISIS headquarters. I’m not sure if this was a good idea or not, but I can understand his reasons. image

The whole world wanting to show its support, did in ways unprecedented before. The Sydney opera house displayed it’s famous sails in the tricolour of France, swiftly followed by other worldwide monuments. On Facebook on the Saturday, an app appeared where you could change your profile photo to the tricolour as well. The world grieved alongside France, appalled at what had happen, secretly worried that it could happen in their own back yard. image

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Write Away weekend

imageNext weekend I will be treating myself to one of my favourite guilty pleasures; my third Write Away weekend ran by Ruth Brandt, tutor extraordinaire. The venue is a De Vere hotel – Gorse Hill, just the other side of Woking to where I live. I chose the residential option, as opposed to the non residential one because, well – I like to get away to immerse myself in all things writing. I come out of the closet, so to speak, as a writer because there are also other closet-writers there and we can join in solidarity! Feeling safe in the knowledge that I will be accepted as a writer (as opposed to an author because I haven’t had anything published yet) without the odd looks that non writers give you when you tell what you do in your spare time. Coupled with the fact that I would be in no fit state to drive home because a small group of us just don’t know when to stop enjoying ourselves!

Last year, as I got to the “class”, I recognised a few familiar faces from the year before, so knew that this was going to be a great weekend, for although they are good fun; they are also very good writers.

Don’t get me wrong; we are there to work and to learn but we also have a jolly good laugh.

I started writing with Ruth, first on a Saturday workshop in June 2011  and afterwards, I joined one of her evening courses in January 2012 and completed five terms. I have done the odd workshop, when I have time but Write Away is my favourite. Most of us on the weekend courses are students of Ruth’s and many of us have become good friends. I call us her “disciples!” I have “gone it alone” to work on an online novel writing course that I am doing through Writing Magazine, but I do miss class sometimes.

The lovely Ruth Brandt

The lovely Ruth Brandt

Ruth has had many successes with her writing, being shortlisted in many literary competitions, and published in magazines such as Mslexia, Litro, Ireland’s own, Candis, and Yours, as well as short story’s Published in Anthologies. She also writes plays and poetry, and is studying for her MFA in Creative writing at Kingston University, as well as being the Writer in residence at Polesden Lacey. What more can you want from a tutor with that pedigree?  And she is a very nice person as well, who joins in with her “disciples” at the end of a hard days writing. image

The weekend is well structured. We arrive to class on the Friday evening, after checking in, then we introduce ourselves and write our name on a folded over  piece of paper, so nobody can forget our names (this part always amuses me!) Ruth will go over the structure of the weekend, like what subjects we are going to learn about,  and then asks if we have any requests for areas we want to cover. We will do a couple of exercises where we will read our work to rest of the group ( I always cringe at this bit because I don’t write very well on the hop, I like time to think about it,) and then it’s time for dinner and drinks and a catch up with old friends. Those who feel virtuous will retire to their rooms and work on their WIP (work in progress) and the rest of us will stay in the bar till the early hours putting the world to rights!

Next day, we breakfast, and at ten on the dot, sit at our desks ready for the expert tuition of our leader and prepare for a hard days graft. This is the longest day; it is full on, even though we stop for tea and biscuits mid morning and afternoon, plus a delicious lunch midday, make no mistake- we are there to write our hearts out! And to workshop, even though I still get over anxious and forget to breathe when I am reading my beloved piece of work out! I nearly got used to not being nervous by the fifth term of evening class, but now I am out of practice and back to square one. There’s something very intimidating about bearing your soul and inner thoughts to a group of people; even though I know most of them. But we all have to do it and I really enjoy listening to other people’s stories, even though I always think they are better than my own. We wannabe writers are an insecure bunch! (Well, I am)

There are one to ones with Ruth, where she critiques a piece of work that you have chosen to share with her. I’m hoping to write a new short story for her, like I did last year; it all adds towards the “portfolio.” The part I really like though, is that you can have some free writing time to yourself, without any interruptions. This especially useful when if, like me, you are at the beck and call of family,  when you are around, and it doesn’t matter how thou dost protest; saying you are too busy for them because you are writing, doesn’t cut it.

I did take myself off to Wales last year on my own “writing weekend” (Am I there yet? Blog on WordPress) but it wasn’t quite the same. What would really float my boat and be the ultimate in indulgence is to have a whole week away in a beautiful place like Italy. There is such a retreat run by Sue Moorcroft called Arte Umbria. Set in the rolling hills of Umbria, in a rustic dwelling, surrounded by peace and tranquility, I can’t think of a more heavenly setting. Add delicious food, superb wine and the expert tuition of Sue Moorcroft, what more could you want?

 And the lovely Sue Moorcroft with a selection of her novels

And the lovely Sue Moorcroft with a selection of her novels

Sue has written several novels and frequently writes for women’s magazines (which is a difficult market to get into.) I have read and enjoyed two of her books so far and have attended a Short Story workshop that she ran at Guildford Book Festival last year which was excellent. She has her own Team Sue Moorcroft page on Facebook, which I am proud to belong to and has helped me with useful information regarding writing and some technical info on how to get post this blog on the Facebook page. Considering I am only a wannabe, I am very grateful for her time and help. I know we all have to start somewhere, but nonetheless.

Arte Umbria

Arte Umbria

So this time next week I will be at Gorse Hill, with my phone off and for that time I will come out of the closet and be the writer I wannabe!

 

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September in Brittany

imageSeptember is the favoured time for me and the other half to go on holiday. The kids have gone back to school and the weather is still warm enough to risk venturing to north west France and we were, indeed, very lucky with the weather – it was beautiful.

We took the overnight  ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, which takes eleven hours but the sea was like a mill pond and we had a cabin which although small, was perfectly comfortable. We arrived in St Malo at 8.30, in time for breakfast, taken outside in the sunshine in a typical French cafe. Then knowing that we had all day to explore the town, we took our time and found the Fort National, originally constructed by an engineer called Vauban in 1689 to keep the English and other marauders at bay! image

St Malo itself, is a very well preserved medieval walled town with ramparts that you can walk all the way around. We took a leisurely stroll around the whole city wall,  after an early lunch of crepes and Breton cider which to my amazement was served in cups from a jar! I later found out this is a tradition of Brittany. imageOur campsite was a forty minute drive from the port (because I knew the other half didn’t want to drive much on holiday) which would have taken less, if we hadn’t missed a turning. But all in all, the transfer was quite easy. imageWe were taken to our holiday home by a young Scots guy on his bicycle, who once we got to our Row, he forgot what number we were and had to go back to the office while we waited. We were happy once we got into our new home; especially when we found out that it had two bathrooms, so one each – pure heaven! The campsite itself was set in huge grounds with a Chateau, (Des Ormes) complete with its own helicopter and golf course. There was also a hotel, which we had a very nice meal in one night, as a treat. There were various eateries and a bar, which we frequented because it had free wifi (not being able to live without social media for a whole week!) which provided “live” entertainment (basically the staff) and live footy, whether you liked it or not. The best night for me down the bar, was the karaoke night; not that I embarrassed myself by participating  on the stage, but I did enjoy a good singalong from the comfort of my seat. Des Ormes also boasted an inside swimming pool and an outside pool with a wave machine, which I actually was able to use due to the lovely warm, sunny afternoons.

Pool area at Des Ormes

Pool area at Des Ormes.                                                                           

The main reason I wanted to visit Brittany though, was to go to Le Mont de St Michel. Since I first visited Normandy, 25 years ago, I have wanted to make the trip. And I was not disappointed. A new causeway has been built recently and strange shaped shuttle buses ferry passengers from the main car park across the vast expanse of sand to the mount. I was surprised that people actually live there; I thought it was just a tourist attraction, but no, there’s a whole community of restaurants, shops and homes.

The odd shaped shuttle buses at Mont St Michel

The odd shaped shuttle buses at Mont St Michel.                                                        

The view from the top of the Abbey, which you pay a small fee for, was stunning – just miles and miles of sand.

Le Mont de St Michel with its mikes and miles of sand

Le Mont de St Michel with its mikes and miles of sand.                                             

Another place we visited was the capital of Brittany, Rennes. It’s best known for its medieval architecture and we spent the whole day exploring the sights with a free map that we got from the tourist office. This is when I think my other half should have been a tour guide because he comes into his own and marches me around, not missing a single landmark! I got a bit narked when I got hungry, then he had to feed and water me before I would carry on!

The Medieval architecture of Rennes

The Medieval architecture of Rennes.                                                            

Some more random sights around Rennes

Jan in Rue Le Bastard!, a random astronaut and more buildings

Jan in Rue Le Bastard!, a random astronaut and more buildings.                                    

It wasn’t long before I missed the sea. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel I’m on holiday without the sea? So it was my turn to pick a place to visit the next day. As I knew there was a Saturday market on in Dol de Bretagne (and I do love a French market) we went there in the morning. I was a little upset to see live chickens and other birds in cramped cages for sale. Also rabbits and guinea pigs were available to buy in the market. I didn’t take photos, as I didn’t agree with the practice.

The Saturday market at Dol de Bretagne

The Saturday market at Dol de Bretagne.                                                         

After a very heavy lunch in a kebab, come Indian restaurant, we headed north towards Dinard and finally, the seaside! Dinard has a casino and also hosts a film festival every year, as well as having a rather large harbour. It was lovely to sit in a little promenade bar and sip wine, whilst watching children play in the sand and the locals playing boules.

The lovely beach at Dinard

The lovely beach at Dinard.                                                                      

On the last day, the weather was due to turn; in fact Saturday was also meant to rain but somehow, we escaped it. Jan wanted to visit a working windmill (or Moulin) that we had passed on the way back from Mont St Michel, and a chateau he had found on Google, that was meant to be the largest in Europe. Considering he didn’t want to drive much, he was really getting into it!

A working windmill (moulin) with the Mont St Michel in the background

A working windmill (moulin) with the Mont St Michel in the background.                            

I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting the tour was from the resident Miller. image

Last but not least, we visited the Chateau de Fougeres, where I sampled another Breton delicacy of Gallettes and Breton cider, in a cup again. We spent a few hours here and I have to admit, I was hoping it would be one of those grand chateaux that is home to the filthy rich. Instead it was a proper castle, although in good condition, wasn’t my cup of tea but I humoured him indoors, after all, it was his holiday too!

Château Fougeres

Château Fougeres.                                                                                

All good things must come to an end and the next day we made our way towards St Malo for the ferry home on the Brittany ferries ship Bretagne. The return journey was far from smooth and I was glad that we had booked some reclining seats. I was so glad I had a new book to start, so had a good excuse to stay seated, for when I did try to walk about, it was like walking on a waltzer! I don’t get sea sick, luckily,  but when I visited the ladies , there was a poor girl who was suffering badly from the Mal de Mer. I offered her some Kwells but she was too far gone!

The rocky ride home!

The rocky ride home!

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Time: my guilty pleasure 


I don’t know about you but for me, there never seem to be enough hours in the day, or week, to do the things I want/need to do. This could be because I take on too many commitments, or it could be due to poor time management on my part. I could be paranoid and worrying for nothing. Either way, I always feel guilty about the way I spent my time or waste it. I never used to be like this, so it could be symptom of growing older.

Here I am, on a Sunday morning, rising before eight, just so I can have time to write this blog. And I am doing it because it’s the only time I have and I feel guilty for not writing anything for three weeks as I have taken on the commitment. Crazy hey? I have been racking my brains about something interesting to write about and originally was going to rant about the lousy weather we have been experiencing this month of August, supposedly the height of summer. I even found an appropriate picture for the post, see below:


But then I felt guilty about that as well, in comparison to the awful news recently about the hundreds of migrants losing their lives in such tragic circumstances; it pared into significance. So I put my thinking cap on again and came up with with other things I felt guilty about. They culminated in the way I spend my time, my most valuable commodity.

The words above are from a post on Facebook yesterday and they really struck a cord in me. They are supposed to have been from the lips of Mother Theresa; I don’t know if that is true but they are very wise words. For if our time is valuable to us, then who we spend it with is important and we should choose wisely. This also applies to our hobbies and interests. My hobby/interest is writing but sometimes I struggle to find the opportunity  in the little spare time I have, to actually do any. I love my family but usually they take priority over my hobby.

I feel guilty about the time I had last week to do some writing for my novel writing course; I was just too tired and not in the mood. The other half was on night shift and usually that is the perfect time for me to write; when I can completely focus without any distraction, or guilt that I am ignoring him. And what did I do? I relaxed and watched TV. If he’s home and I have to go in the other room for peace, I feel guilty about that too.

Even worse than that, I ignored a phone call from my mum when I was sitting right next to the phone and listened to her leave a message for me. This probably sounds worse than it is because if you knew my mother, she expects me to stay on the phone for two hours talking about herself. She loves talking for the sake of it and I just wanted to relax after a hard days work. But I did feel guilty. I chose to spend my time the way I wanted to and prioritised. That’s what it is all down to really. If you are time poor; you have to prioritise, that’s the answer.

So here I am prioritising my time: not staying in bed to catch up with some sleep but doing the things I want to do. So the rest of the day I can do the things I need to do, like spending time with family which is important. I’m not the only person who has this problem; it’s a product of the world we live in now; we want it all. We just have to find the time to have it all. And if we waste this precious commodity that is time, then we only have ourselves to blame.

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My life as a Baby Boomer

imageI recently found out that I was born in the generation that is known as the “Baby Boomers.” This surprised me because I didn’t think I was old enough! Especially after watching the T.V series on BBC called “Boomers” last year, which portrayed three couples in their retirement and the antics they got up to. In the  first episode they were attending a friends funeral which was very amusing, even though you wouldn’t expect to find anything funny about going to a funeral.

So I did a bit of research into what constitutes being a Baby Boomer. I suppose the name gives a clue to the fact that there was a significant rise in births at some time in the past. To be precise, those  born after the Second World War or between 1946 and 1964, myself being born in 1960, fit the criteria. I logged onto Wikipedia (what would we do without them?!) and found out that Baby Boomers were split into two “cohorts.” Then I had to translate the term cohort for the purpose of explaining my findings. Cohort means “a group of subjects who have shared a particular event together during a particular time span.” The first cohort, or cohort 1 were born between 1946-1955 and cohort 2 between 1956-1964. At last, now I understand why I thought Baby Boomers were older than me because I fell into the second group! image

I won’t bore you with the figures but after further investigation, it appears the first group at least, are very affluent compared with their parents and are enjoying this wealth traveling all over the world, whilst still holding onto the lions share of the country’s assets. Those who had a good education, career and were sensible with their money surely? I’m sure there are plenty living on the breadline, on a paltry State Pension, so maybe they are talking about the majority?

Apparently  our generation have never had it so good.  We were the first generation to grow up with T.V (who would have thought that wasn’t a given?) compared with what this generation have today. But we’re not talking about them for once. I cast my memory back to life in the sixties (because obviously I can’t go back further than that) and I do remember quite a few things. The first memory was of where we lived in 1965. It was a prefab, a post war invention to help ease the housing crisis, in Balham, London. It was small but an improvement on living with relatives for the first five years of my life. The church school playground backed onto our garden but was hidden by a high brick wall. I remember going to Sunday school in the church of the school. I can smell the classrooms as I write this but it’s hard to describe; it’s a kind of food smell but I can’t distinguish it. image

I remember wearing a Liberty bodice (God knows why I had to wear one of those, I’ve never heard of them since!) I wore the most awful black tie up shoes that looked like boys shoes. I remember we had bottles of milk, a third of a pint if I remember right and I hated it. I can’t drink milk on its own to this day, I know I’m ungrateful because kids don’t get it anymore thanks to Maggie Thatcher “milk snatcher.” My mum also used to make me and my brother have a teaspoon of cod liver oil and malt extract, oh the good old days! Rose hip syrup was another healthy addition to our diet and I remember her getting it from the baby clinic. When I watch  “Call the Midwife” it makes me realise how authentic the makers of the programme have got it. image

We had a radio (as well as a TV) and I do remember the Beatles,  Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, The Seekers, Val Doonican, Cilla Black, Sandy Shaw and many others playing in the background . On the TV we had Pinky and Perky, Bill and Ben Flowerpot men, Thunderbirds, Stingray, Crackerjack and Top of the pops amongst others and only three channels. Food wasnt very exciting as I recall and we never went out for a meal like we do now. The closest we got was a bag of crisps with a lemonade on the way back from our aunties at the Toby Jug on the A3 at Tolworth!

Holidays were a simple affair as well. It would be a caravan at Bognor, Hayling Island or my favourite, Cornwall. We stayed at the Lizard Point one year, near a farm and I remember my dad getting some fresh milk from the local farm and it was still warm from the cow – yuk! We had a Cresta car to take us on these luxurious holidays and we never had seat belts and worse still, my dad used to smoke in the car. I’m so glad things have improved nowadays, when people look back on the old days it’s generally thought they were better. Maybe in some ways but we are definitely more safety conscious now compared with then. image

So to round up, being associated with a group of people born in a certain era of history doesn’t really make any difference to my life in general. I wonder what they will call the generation born since the turn of the Century? The technology generation? Those who can’t remember life without mobile phones, social media, Playstations, X Boxes and the like? A life fixed to one screen or another, instead of playing outside in the fresh air? Time will tell.

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