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Friday, 18 July 2014


Photography by Robin Banneville
My light-hearted look at summer continues with a poem by William Baron, a Lancashire printer/poet, also known as Bill o'Jacks.  Written in 1911,
 A Wail of the Heat Wave
 still has
resonance today.

The usual thing it used to be
Our summers to decry,
Because they were too wet, you see,—
We longed to have them dry.
But now for months, from morn till night,
We've basked in Sol's bright rays ;
Yet few you'll find who show delight,
Or speak in terms of praise
Of these aggravating, irritating,
Half-cremating, wrath-creating,
Mercury-raising, semi-blazing, scorching summer days.

One feels much like a jelly-fish,
Or limpet washed ashore ;
If this is getting what we wish,
We'll crave for it no more.
Each man you meet reviles the heat
In none-too-classic phrase ;
To be polite, one cannot write
Exactly what he says
Of these hot, oppressive, fierce, aggressive,
Sweat-producing, fat-reducing,
Liquid-yearning, throttle-burning, parching summer days.

O, for a trip to either pole,
With Peary, or with Scott!
Where icebergs rear their white forms tall,
And heat waves trouble not.
A month or so 'mid Arctic snow
Our drooping hearts would raise ;
And soften down the angry frown
Which everyone displays
These roasting, boiling, toasting, broiling,
Record-breaking, sweltering, baking,
Ultra-torrid, beastly horrid, melting summer days.
Guernsey 2014 


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Fancy a Cupertino?

'The girls have had lots of gin at the nursery party,' my daughter texted me the other day, leaving me a tad dubious about modern parenting skills.  Until she explained that the word she had actually used was not gin but 'fun.' The spell-check, the bane of our electronic age,  was up to its tricks again.

So if you've  ever had a Cupertino, or felt  scared of  sitting on public transport with nothing to read, you might need a copy of  Authorisms, a new book by Paul Dickson which takes a fascinating look at the origins some of our strangest words.

American lexicographer Dickson explores how writers from Shakespeare to Steinbeck have enriched our language with neologisms - those sayings that nearly but not quite got into the English language. Like alogotransiphobia (that's the one about reading on public transport - but then we all knew that, didn't we?)

When my children were small they made up their own words like binkaber for vinegar, gi-normous for huge while  firmly believing that clean clothes should be hung on the ' washing lion.' One even thought broccoli florets were sparrows,  but that's a story for another time.

Funniest of all was the child who sang 'Jesus wants a little wee' at the top of her voice when 'Jesus little ones are we,' would have been more appropriate at this particular Sunday school concert.

Hands up if you've spelt or said a word incorrectly for years before finding out the error of your ways? Or made up your own word and been firmly convinced it deserves a place in the Oxford English Dictionary?  Somehow our sins never seem so bad when they are out in the open.

In case you're still wondering about that Cupertino.  You won't find one in a French cafĂ© (Cuppa tea - no?) Or even in an Italian one, come to that.  A Cupertino is what happens when  a computer's auto-correct turns your word in to something that doesn't make sense.

 Finally I must just add that some of the braziest crooks (sorry, craziest books) I've ever read contain unintentional misuse of words. So over to you. With apologies to Mrs Malaprop. And a certain former American president, of course.

Authorisms - the blurb:

'William Shakespeare's written vocabulary consisted of 17,245 words, including hundreds that were coined or popularized by him. Some of the words never went further than their appearance in his plays, but others like bedazzled, hurry, critical, and anchovy are essential parts of our standard vocabulary today.

 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Sir Walter Scott ranks second to Shakespeare in first uses of words and giving a new and distinct meaning to already existing words (Free Lances for freelancers). John Milton minted such terms as earthshaking, lovelorn, by hook or crook, and all Hell broke loose, and was responsible for introducing some 630 words.

....Paul Dickson deftly sorts through neologisms by Chaucer (a ha), Jane Austen (base ball), Louisa May Alcott (co-ed), Mark Twain (hard-boiled), Kurt Vonnegut (granfalloon), John le Carrè (mole), William Gibson (cyberspace), and many others. Presenting stories behind each word and phrase, Dickson enriches our appreciation of the English language in a book as entertaining as it is enlightening.'

Authorisms by Paul Dickson is available from Bloomsbury USA. (RRP £14.99)

Media of Authorisms


Sunday, 29 June 2014

What does the future hold?

Chloe Pallister's photo.

It's time for a new-look blog...
Please  watch out for the changes and let me know what  you think!


Monday, 23 June 2014

Anyone for tennis - 1960s-style?

Tennis Champ chooses female trainer screamed a headline in the popular press this week and for a minute I thought I'd come across a 1960s newspaper. It seems Andy Murray's appointment of  the very capable Amelie Mauresmo has sent the clock flying back fifty years.

 The sixties was a time when magazines waxed lyrical about female airline pilots, women surgeons and solicitors as if  sexism  was finally going to be a thing of the past. Anything was  possible, they said  - even a female prime minister. 

Back in the sixties girls leaving school  were  being told to work as secretaries  or school teachers (my careers advisor  had apoplexy when I said I wanted to be a journalist) and university was still for the intellectually elite.  Babies were still more important than  degrees  and looking after the 'man in your life'  still championed by the middle classes.

But back to the tennis.  According to former ping-pong champion Matthew Syed writing in today's Times, 'the really bizarre thing has been the response of those who supported (Mauresmo's) appointment. Did they recognise her personal qualities, her knowledge of the game, her professionalism, her understanding of tactics, the sort of attributes that people cite when a man has been appointed to a high-profile coaching role?  Not a bit of it.' One commentator, he adds, even talked about Murray benefiting from a bit of 'mothering.'

Meanwhile, in the same piece, Jo Bostock of the Women's Sport Trust says coverage of the appointment made her want to 'throw a shoe at the wall.'  She adds 'It drives me crazy when I hear that women coaches care and nurture and help people though the tough times. The women coaches I know are hugely diverse, just like the male ones.'

Well said, but it still begs the question: why are women defending themselves in the first place? Why are we even talking about it? It doesn't stop there. The newspaper has photos of football manager Helena Costa, Syed's former coach Jackie Bellinger and basketball coach Nancy Lieberman with Antonio Daniels of the Texas Legends.

Sure that this must be a late April Fool's joke I flick through the main paper to see if I can find some more up-to-date news.

'Eat up your GM crops They're good for you.' says one headline. 'Divorce to be offered over the counter, says another.

Oh good, we're not in a time warp after all. It's just that time of the year when journalists say 'What on earth can we say about Wimbledon that we haven't said  hundreds of times before?'

Anyone for tennis?


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Stop the Bus - The Driver Wants to Get Off...

A Guernsey bus travels along the Esplanade

'Which way do we go now?' The voice echoed along the length of the bus. 

Everyone looked round.  Could it be one of the passengers? No, it was the bus driver, a capable-looking woman in her mid thirties, who had managed to get lost.  

Whenever I visit  Guernsey, the tiny Channel Island where I was born, I love to relive my childhood by riding on public transport -  retro green buses which have stayed much the same since the sixties.

So there we were, on a warm May day,  motoring  through the narrow winding roads  when we heard the plaintive voice from the front. 'Sorry everyone, but  I've only lived here four weeks.'

'It's left,' piped up the man in front of me. 'And I should know - I've lived here all my life.' Other directions soon followed thick and fast.  As we approached the junction, the driver radioed for help. 'I'm lost on Route 42.'

 Complicated instructions from  Head Office soon echoed across the airwaves.

'Don't listen to that - go left,' said the man in front of me again. 'You'll never get back on  the  route.'

We turned left but  minutes later the bus got stuck on a steep bend.  The traffic stopped and we all held our breath through a mesmerising 16-point manoeuvre.

When the hapless driver made it back to town,  we all gave a round of applause.

 I remember once when I was a child, the regular  bus driver pulled up at a remote stop on the far side of the island and sounded the horn. Out of a cottage door  came an elderly lady who made her way slowly down the pathway with the aid of a walking stick, while the rest of the passengers patiently looked on.

'Thanks for waiting. Bill,' the only lady said,  as she settled down into her favourite seat.  'I'm running a bit late today.'

It could only happen in Guernsey.

Photograph courtesy of Visit Guernsey


Thursday, 5 June 2014


Seventy years ago, they were preparing for the most dangerous mission of their lives.
Today, more than 650 British veterans revisited the beaches and towns they liberated on D-Day to meet the French civilians they helped to free from the Nazis.
And the day was an emotional affair for most - with former servicemen pictured weeping, beaming and embracing each other as they relived their heroic actions in Normandy in 1944.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bigoted? Baby I don't Care....

Dear Traffic Warden

My wife has gone into labour and I am unable to move my vehicle at the moment, but will move it ASAP.

I appreciate your understanding of the situation.

Many thanks

What kind of holiday photos do writers and authors take?  Those with a story behind them, like the one above from a car spotted in a short-term parking space in the picturesque island of Guernsey.

Obviously scribbled hastily,  the note looked genuine to me. But was it? Did the driver get a parking ticket? And if so, was he too busy being a proud father to worry?

Whenever I travel I  like to look for out of the ordinary scenes that might one day inspire me to write.

Like this one, below.

I wonder why the owners chose the name? No doubt it has some historical significance but, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, a bigot is 'a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others...'

Well, it certainly  makes a change from Rose Cottage.


To me, what really separates Guernsey from any other holiday destination is this simple message posted outside a memorial to Queen Victoria, who visited the island in August 1846.  The key to Victoria Tower may be collected from Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery during normal opening hours. Can you imagine  anyone in this country calling in  at a provincial museum to 'borrow the key to the Tower?' 

Victoria Tower, Guernsey 
Which brings me back to where I began. If you are looking for something to write about, just take a look around, especially when you're away from home. You'd be amazed at what you can find (yes, even on the car park.) At least they didn't have parking wardens when this car ( an MG TB?) was made. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Good News for Bad Bishop!

Take two authors, two different genres,  one publishing company and a Spring afternoon in York. The result? My meeting with fellow Safkhet author Irene Soldatos, whose novel Bad Bishop is part of the Safkhet Fantasy imprint.

  I've never been quite sure what to expect from a fantasy novel. Yet, at 600- plus words Bad Bishop is beautifully crafted and shows an imagination and depth of knowledge that is a huge credit to the author. Irene was born in Greece and for many years lived between there and England, becoming comfortably bi-lingual as she progressed. She reads  very widely, both fiction and non-fiction, science as well as history. But she hasn’t been able to avoid the family history bug. There are three professional full-time historians in her family, so it isn’t surprising that she’s a bit of a history buff herself.
 This has led to two published works to date: a speculative fantasy comic novella, Innocent in the Afterlife, and a full-length historical fantasy novel, Bad Bishop. In the works, and in a completely different field, is a commissioned performance piece.

Bad Bishop
In a world where history is a memory, the greatest danger comes from what has been forgotten...
Thanks for joining me on my blog today, Irene. How long have you been writing?

Oh, very long. Bits and bobs since I was a teenager, but I never managed to actually finish anything. I only started writing more seriously while I was writing up my PhD, and that as an effort to keep sane! It took a long time, but I managed to finish that. It would be unrecognisable now, but it was a very early version of what later became Bad Bishop.

What made you choose the genre?

I don’t know how other authors work, but I don’t “choose genres”. I decide what story I want to write and what I want that story to say, and write it. This story turned out to be a historical fantasy because I wanted to talk about history, about the enormous differences, cultural, social, ideological, technological differences between the people of one historical period and those of another, but also the very many similarities. What I wanted was to bring together and juxtapose people from different historical periods and explore what would happen in this case. Of course, in order to do this, a fantastical or sci-fi element was necessary. It would have been possible, I suppose, to use some sort of time travel to achieve this, but I didn’t like that idea, because it would mean that the people using it would have missed the slow process of history, and how cultural, ideological, and scientific changes happen over time. In short, they would have missed all the interesting bits.

How much research did you have to do before starting the novel?

I don’t even have words to explain how much research was necessary. Not only before starting, but during the entire writing process. And this was because I don’t focus on a single historical period in a single place, as most historical novels do, but I have characters from deep antiquity to the middle ages, and places all over Europe and the Middle East to deal with. It was impossible to know in advance all the things that I would need to know, in order to write. In fact, I was double-checking bits of research up until a week before a handed in the final draft to the publisher. The main reason it took so many years to write was the research involved. It’s the details, the small details that make things feel real, and in a book that combines fantasy with reality it is even more important to pepper the story with details and to get all those details right, because it is these that anchor the readers in reality and help them suspend disbelief and accept the fantastical elements as just as real as everything else.

So how long did it take you to write?

On and off, 8 years. I suppose the focused bit of writing and researching of the story in this form was 6 years.

At 600 pages it’s a very ambitious project – did you ever consider writing Bad Bishop as two connecting novels?

Yes. Repeatedly, when I realised how long it would turn out. I even had editors and beta readers try to work out after the fact how it might be possible to split into two. But unfortunately it wouldn’t work. It’s all one story. One unit. And it’s best read in one go without long gaps in between. It’s not an easy read. It does require the reader to keep in mind quite a bit of information in order to follow what’s going on. But I’m very happy to say that those who have read it thus far have all said it was worth the effort in the end! :-)

Can you give us a brief idea of the plot?

Well, I have mentioned the important bits above. But in terms of plot, it’s a political murder mystery set in the 12th century. Only the people involved, though very much people in every sense, are not ordinary human beings.

What are you writing now?

I’m writing a sequel for Bad Bishop, and also a comic fantasy short story. I’ve finished a commissioned performance piece, and there may, possibly, be a play in the works for the future.

Irene SoldatosThanks for joining me, Irene. I've learned a lot!


Sunday, 18 May 2014

It's not a crime to laugh - if you're Lynda La Plante!

Photo courtesy of the Guernsey Literary Festival
Jenny Kendall-Tobias interviews Lynda La Plante
Lynda La Plante made me laugh this week - even though she's been dubbed The Queen of Crime. Lynda was one of the star speakers at the Guernsey Literary Festival 2014 and for a lady with a dark agenda she proved both light hearted and full of sparkle.
The hugely successful writer has mixed with police, forensic scientists and criminals to make her novels and tv scripts authentic and the one thing that comes over from her writing is  a healthy attitude to humour. Like the day she was seated next to a psychiatrist at a posh New York dinner party.  Her head started to whir, she said, at the thought of him  helping with her research, so she asked if she could pay him a visit.  Immediately she could see him thinking: oh no - here's another nutter....
Lynda's advice to aspiring writers crosses all genres and is probably the wisest I have heard. New writers, she said, make the mistake of going back to read what they have written.  They think about it, they question it ,and they stop too much to think.  The answer is to always 'keep writing, see where it takes you and never look back.'   She also recommended 'writing in layers' so that, even the author ' never quite knows what is going to come next.'
As someone who admits that she has no structure to her writing day, Lynda is clearly very organised managing at times to work up to 13 hours a day.  Her success she puts down to starting life as an actress which meant auditioning in front of the great Brian Rix and starring in BBC's cult classic  Rentaghost.  Linda made her writing breakthrough with the incredibly successful television series The Widows. She also has fond memories of working with Helen Mirren who became synonymous with the small screen's Prime Suspect.
Every one of Lynda's novels has become an international best seller -  from Blind Fury and Backlash to The Talisman,  Wrongful Death and Bloodline, the seventh in the popular  Anna Travis series. But despite her success in acting and writing I still think she would have made a brilliant stand-up comic.