Latest Blog Posts — Page 2

Read my spooky school run Halloween story, Swing Me, in Storgy Magazine

Photo of an adult hand holding a child's hand

I’ve just had another short story published in Storgy Magazine as a Finalist in their Halloween Short Story competition! They described it as ‘beautifully eerie’ – it’s a ghost story, with a twist. I love ghost stories and have read many over the years, my top favourites of all time are probably the Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Rocking-Horse Winner by D. H. Lawrence – but there are so many writers whose ghost stories I love it’s hard to list them all.

Anyway, please check out Swing Me on Storgy and if you follow them on Twitter they will link to a horror or ghost story a day by each competition finalist until Halloween, when they will also announce the winner.

Joining a Reading Round group

While I’ve been busy writing (nearly up to 15,000 words on the novel, which I am very pleased about) I’ve also been joining various writers’ groups. Two of us are writers who met on Nick Quentin Woolf’s writing retreat and another one from playwright Judith Johnson’s excellent creative writing group at the Idea Store Bow. We meet up informally in East London to critique each others’ work.

I’m happy to say that this has been a very supportive and fun experience, we’re even planning our next meeting in the pub which is bound to make things go with a swing. The format is that we read each others’ work before each session and then take turns giving our opinions, notes on text and character development and anything else that occurs to us.

One thing I’ve missed, though, is being in a book group. I was in a fantastic one a couple of years ago, but it died away as these things so often do, and I hadn’t found a substitute. Recently Judith Johnson emailed me to say she had started a Reading Round group (supported by the Royal Literary Fund) in Whitechapel Idea Store. I joined it after her creative writing group finished and we’ve just started meeting on Mondays.

The concept of a Reading Round group is that a professional writer leads the group reading in the session (usually short fiction or poetry in our group) and it is explored and analysed in quite a focused way, similar to practical criticism. I have to say that it has been very helpful to my own writing to do this close reading in a group again, and it’s a great opportunity if you are either a passionate reader, or a writer.

Find out more about Reading Round Groups

 

Brick Lane Tales, an anthology of short stories about London’s East End, is coming out on November 30th

Book cover Brick Lane Tales


I’m very happy to announce that Brick Lane Tales, an anthology I have a short story in, will be published on November 30th this year. The short stories were chosen as part of a competition, and each one had to mention the Bow Bells and explore certain themes. My theme was ‘wealth and poverty’ and I wrote about a City trader.

I’m interested in the way London has always attracted people to trade and still does today, and how the flow of money alters the evolution and physical fabric of the city. As someone who grew up on Brick Lane, I’ve seen a lot of change first-hand.

Here is what Brick Lane Publishing say about the book:

“A mysterious man destroys a stranger with one whispered sentence; a lonely
little girl pines for her absent mother; a drug-addled rogue trader dodges
trouble; a hopeful, young Bangladeshi struggles in vain to fit into a vast and foreign city; and can a person be famous and not know it?

These are just some of the remarkable tales of everyday Londoners as they
fumble with their flawed lives. Each story in this collection is the result
of Brick Lane Publishing’s short-story competition, and explores the East
End’s rich diversity.”

A writers’ retreat

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend six days in Bordeaux in La Tuilerie at a writers’ retreat run by N Quentin Woolf. I booked this retreat on impulse several months ago. I’d attended one of the writers groups he runs briefly so I knew they usually had a relaxed atmosphere, and I decided what I needed was a short period away from everything in order to focus on writing a larger-scale project than I’ve attempted so far – ie a novel.

Our little group of writers (there is no collective noun – why not? Perhaps it should be a wrangle of writers? ) included a crime novelist, two short story writers and a non fiction writer as well as myself. We all had different life experiences, ages and day jobs but were united by a common sense of purpose, as well as (we discovered) a taste for country walks, lazing around the pool, drinking Bordeaux and playing very competitive games of Star Wars Monopoly.

Alison, who runs La Tuilerie, is a fantastic host. We ate some spectacular meals around the huge round table made from a giant wine barrel, including
cucumber soup and a lasagne I shall dream about. There are some very friendly dogs living in la Tuilerie and we saw deer, horses and rabbits in the area as well as a wild Dratini which I caught in my very first Pokemon Go excursion.

IMG_0562We had a workshop on story structure, some detailed group critique sessions, which were very helpful and informative for me and detailed individual critiques from Nick on whatever we were working on, which gave me some strong steers on how to improve the  quality of my work. I think  most new writers are afraid of exposing their work to criticism, but the scalpel was handled very delicately and I hardly felt a thing 🙂

We also enjoyed some interesting debates, ranging from who should be the next Bond to whether violence is an inescapable part of human nature, or not. At such a sad time for the world, when we seem to read more and more distressing stories in the news, one little bit of hope I took away (as well as my two completed first draft chapters) is that trying to create art, whatever it may be, is something that unites people rather than divides them.

 

 

 

 

Depart in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

I am a Friend of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as we live close to it – it’s a very beautiful old cemetery which is now a woodland park in East London. This year, as part of the Lift Festival, Depart, a circus and dance show was put on in the graveyard, a performance based around the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus.

In the myth, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to rescue his love Eurydice and bring her back to life, he was granted his wish on condition that he did not look back. Sadly, he looks back just before she reached freedom, and lost her forever.

Classical hell doesn’t share all the tropes of Christian hell – there are fewer torments of the damned and demons, it’s more about a sadness and a yearning to return to the world. In response to this idea the performers were often still or moving slowly, particularly the trapeze artists who hung in the trees making quite leisurely, graceful movements or the mime artist who stood welcoming us to the Underworld at the start of the performance. Eurydice (I believe it was her) also made some appearances, standing as still as a statue in a blue dress as we filed past her.

The music  complemented the performances: I particularly  loved the choir who wore dark veils and black clothes (extremely simple and very effective) and sang beautifully in a mixture of English and (I think) Latin at one point. One standout performance was two men who performed an act which is called Chinese Pole: they sometimes appeared to be flying on or around it as they plunged down and climbed up.

Another was a performance by a man and a woman who lifted each other and climbed around on a tree stump: they conveyed weightiness and sorrow in their very skilful performance, managing to move gracefully and slowly despite the mud and the rain (it was a very wet day and some of the performances had to be modified because of this).

And finally, simple projections which created flowers blooming on graves were extremely moving and beautiful – one of the standout moments visually from my point of view.

What the whole evening brought home to me was how much more natural and compelling performance art (in particular) is if you are outside. There were clearly huge technical challenges for the performers, not least because of the terrible weather, but the show was heightened and made more profound by being set free and allowing the audience to move around in order to experience it more fully. I hope very much Lift will be back next year with something else to inspire and move everyone watching.

Fear of failing

It’s been a little while since I left full-time employment to focus on my creative writing for a while and I’ve made a few discoveries. The first was that it’s remarkably easy to find other things to do when you are trying to write – I’ve set up this website and started fundraising for Macmillan for example.

However, I have managed to write five short stories and one poem so far since I took the plunge. That’s about 10,000 words, or so. It’s not a huge amount as it breaks down to about 3000 words a month, but of course I do a lot of editing and redrafting and sometimes life gets in the way. I’m planning to increase the amount I write each month and have downloaded Scrivener and signed up for a one-week writer’s retreat next month to work towards this.

I’ve also discovered that rejection still hurts, damn it all, even if you are old, wise and know that it is statistically extremely likely and ABSOLUTELY not personal. So far, I’ve been entering short story competitions because it gives me a deadline to work towards (this is by far the best way of motivating myself that I’ve found). I’ve had two fail to get anywhere so far.

Disconsolately Googling something like ‘discouraging entering writing competitions’ I came across this excellent blog post by Rachael Dunlop from a couple of years ago which had a bracing effect and persuaded me to keep going. As she says, it’s a numbers game.

So I’ve decided to continue to enter competitions, trying to choose them as carefully as I can but to start sending short stories to magazines as well, to give myself better odds of publication. I should end up with at least ten complete short stories, by the end of the six to nine month period I’ve promised myself for writing, even if none are published during that time it will be more than I’ve ever achieved before in terms of writing fiction.

I’ve also decided to become more organised since I realised I was already losing track of where and when I had submitted work, and came across another excellent blog by Jo Bell talking about this very problem, this time for poets but it’s applicable to any writer who is submitting work.

To get more feedback on my writing and learn from others who are on the same journey. I’ve joined a writing group in East London where we’re currently reading each other’s stories and novel extracts (it’s my turn this weekend) and I have also started an Open University course for creative writing which gave me the helpful suggestion to take a writing notebook everywhere I went.

I’m using Notes for this on my iPhone as I am the kind of person that clutches a phone everywhere she goes, not a notebook. Already, I’ve found this works as a way to collect and remember random ideas and scenes some of which might spark something off later.

I’ve just finished reading Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy and Meg, one of the two main protagonists, keeps a notebook describing encounters she’s had – or just little scenes she’s glimpsed – in London. The cumulative effect of these throughout the novel builds up into a portrait of the city and its people. I suspect these vignettes of London life probably began as a writer’s notebook, although I could certainly be wrong. I’ve never had the patience to keep a diary but a notebook seems manageable.

So in conclusion, keep writing, keep sending things off (because why not?) and be organised about it, use a notebook and join a writers’ group are the things I’ve learned so far. And try not to be afraid!

Photo credit Morguefile http://morguefile.com/creative/kakisky

This blog is in the Top 20 Green Bloggers list from Greenmatch!

The other day I had a notification from Facebook to say that this blog had been added to a list of Top 20 Green Bloggers by the green energy quote comparison site, Greenmatch. It’s great for this blog to have this recognition, as I’ve been writing about sustainability, green design and technology  for a long time, and I was delighted to find the blog listed alongside so many others I respect. It’s also made me think again about whether or not I should shut down the blog now that Mimimyne, my online store for children and families, has ceased trading.

I closed down the store as now I am working in digital marketing (currently for the amazing charity Teacher Support Network) I don’t have the time necessary to run an online business.

But I think readers of this blog are still interested in knowing more about green technology, design and initiatives to help improve life on our planet generally, and I know I am still interested in writing about them! So I’ve decided to relaunch this blog, with a fresh new look, in 2015. I’ll be writing about things that interest me, anything from apps to recipes, with a particular interest in sustainability. I’m interested in ways to make greener lifestyles easier and more accessible for everyone.

Top 100

Goodbye from Mimimyne

Dear customers and blog readers

It is with some sadness that I am writing this blog to say goodbye to my loyal customers and visitors over the years and announce that I am closing Mimimyne. It’s been a huge adventure and I have made many new friends, learned new skills and been lucky enough to work with some brilliant and creative designers over the years. 

However more recently I have moved from working as an entrepreneur to becoming a full time digital marketer working with first of all an environmental charity (Blue Ventures) and now an educational charity (Teacher Support Network). It’s been an exciting, fulfilling and time-consuming period, and I’ve had to make the decision – reluctantly – to downscale my home business and focus on my career working for charities. 

This blog may rise again as a personal project – this time dedicated less to ecommerce and more to my personal interests, loves and hates, so watch this space! 

 

A review of family games at the Playstation Playfest

I was recently invited to come along to the Playstation Playfest and asked to bring my family along to try out some of Playstations new games. Now, although I adore computers and spend a frighteningly large amount of my time with them, I was never really a serious gamer. However, my two sons aged 11 and 9 definitely count as serious gamers so with their help I felt I’d have a good opportunity to check out Playstation’s latest offerings and see how well they worked for families. The event itself, held at Sony’s headquarters in London, was extremely well organised and very well designed, with exciting interactive areas (you could try out Dance Star or record your own game voiceover, for example), comfy bean bags, a real chance to get hands on with the games and plenty of snacks and coffee for kids and grown ups. Playstation’s staff were on hand to give us help and advice although frankly all I had to do was unleash the kids and they were happily occupied for the next two hours.

My eldest son made a beeline for Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus which he said was an excellent game and very exciting. He was immersed in that for at least twenty minutes and I had to drag him away. We then went to try out Wonderbook: Walking with Dinosaurs which was one of my favourites. It takes full advantage of 3D technology so that the ‘book’, which you interact with using a pointer, can display all kinds of exciting 3D scenes on the screen. My kids were able to answer an interactive dinosaur quiz and then view a fight between two dinosaurs, check out a dinosaurs bones and help rescue a baby dinosaur that was stuck in a mud slide. The children playing also appear on the screen in many scenes so they really feel they are part of the adventure. This is a lot more educational than many games I’ve seen and has the potential to really involve and interest kids. My only worry would be whether it would stand up to being played over and over again: I suppose this would depend on the amount of content and storylines they manage to shoehorn into the game. We also enjoyed Wonderbook: Book of Spells which helps you to make magic spells and potions. The Wonderbook games took real advantage of the ‘wow’ factor of modern technology and all the children I saw playing them seemed thoroughly engrossed.

We tried out recording our own voice overs for adverts and a scene from the Invizimals. Typically again my kids were not as excited by this as I was – they’ve all grown up with Garageband and don’t see why it is amazing being able to edit a sound track in ten minutes. When I trained at BBC Radio we were still taught how to edit tapes using a scalpel and sticky tape, so for me it’s still astonishing that you can have SADiE in your living room. But I digress.

My younger son tried out a game called ‘Tearaway’ for the Playstation Vita (their handheld console) which he says was ‘epic’. Finally we all went to look at the PS4 which had its own room. The children settled down on a giant, hand shaped sofa in front of the screen. The screen showed the children, the sofa and the room. Using a controller, the kids could then make various items such as lots of little robots and a floating droid appear on the screen in the virtual room and interact with them. I found the whole experience slightly baffling but I can see that it could work very well in some games. Here’s a video which will probably give you a clearer picture of the PS4 Playroom.

All in all this was a very enjoyable day and showed me that a lot of the PS4 games can be played in family groups (rather than by Junior on his or her own parked in front of a PC) and can even incorporate some educational material. It’s pretty amazing to be able to construct a 3D dinosaur out of bones and watch it come to life and walk off the page, as happened in Wonderbook: Walking with Dinosaurs. I still wish I’d got my boys to come with me to play Dance Star, but apart from that they tried out nearly everything in the room and the Wonderbook was their top favourite and mine.

How green is Sony? I didn’t ask specific questions about energy efficiency for the consoles on show at this event but generally Sony ranks 8th in Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics and Greenpeace note that their energy efficiency is generally good. This is a respectable score although not outstanding. One environmental plus is that the Playstation 4 will definitely accept used games: as should all consoles, surely?

A review of Acer Laptops and Netbooks for children and students

As many of you may already know, Acer was one of the official sponsors for our amazing 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. They also provided all of the low energy PCs used by LOCOG (the London Organising Committee for the Olympics and Paralympic Games) – 13000 apparently! So when Acer invited myself and several other bloggers and journalists to review their line-up of laptops and tablets over lunch (at the beautiful Spencer House) I said yes. I’m interested in green technology and as a family we get through a lot of laptops. I was particularly interested in their cheaper laptops and netbooks, which I feel are ideal gifts for children and students.

The last laptop we bought ourselves (for my younger son who is now eight) was an Acer as we thought it represented good value for money and it has coped well so far with the usual challenges you would associate with an eight year old owner, such as being sat upon or dropped on the floor, as well as long sessions playing Minecraft…

Their new low-cost range of laptops included the rather attractive 15.6 EasyNote TV Laptop. It costs £399 which is probably more than most people would spend on a laptop for a younger child. However, for a child like my ten-year old, who wants to programme when he grows up and has completed a week of hacking with Young Rewired State, I would definitely consider this for a Christmas present. The graphics seemed clear and crisp and it also felt quite light so would not present too much of a challenge for a child to carry around. My eight year old’s laptop doesn’t bother him in terms of size.

Another feature is that the laptop has built-in social networking ‘one touch’ keys, only to be used when your child is the right age of course! It includes a full version of Adobe Photoshop Elements as well which is great for editing photos and has a battery life of 5 hours. The screen is HD which will be a plus for kids who are gaming or watching movies. It comes in three colours, Ebony Black, Moonstone White and Garnet Red.

Full Specs (from Acer Brochure):
Multimedia capability
15.6-inch HD screen for stunning visuals
Seamless social networking experience – one touch button
Full version of Adobe® Photoshop® Elements pre-loaded

I also looked at the Packard Bell Dot S Netbooks which go from £229 upwards. Like the EasyNote, these have built-in social networking ‘hot keys’. It has a wall mount adaptor instead of the usual AC Adaptor which again means less to carry around and is only 10.1 inches in size so is easy to fit in a bag. Portability is a selling point and Acer suggest it would be great on holiday for example, to upload photos (via Bluetooth or Wifi), edit and then publish them to Facebook or Twitter. You could also record video or make video calls, as it features a webcam. The netbook features a new HDMI® port to connect it to the big screen as well as a third generation Intel® Atom™ processor that decodes motion videos much faster while offering increased power-saving features. It comes in White, Black and Purple.

Full Specs (from Acer brochure)
Packard Bell Dot S netbooks (from £229, depending on spec)
Small and conovenient with an attractive colour palette
Easy-to-use keyboard with one-click hot keys
Social Networking at a touch
HDMI® port and new Intel® Atom™ processor

Full Disclosure: I was invited to review these laptops at an event for tech bloggers sponsored by Acer.