This started life as a pub report, but these things have a will of their own and I let it take me where it wanted to go. Let's start with the Fisherman’s Friends of Port Isaac. After all it’s where this little journey began. They are a group of singers, musicians and songwriters. They sing what I will call songs of the sea. They belt out shanties about hauling tight on the sheets and voyages round Cape Horn, bound for South Australia. They will give you a right good shantying and even some jolly rogering is on offer if you are to believe the banter that issues from beneath the large moustache of John Cleave (which you shouldn’t). Incidentally, he writes children’s books. The band comprises writers, fishermen, marine engineers, shopkeepers and a young filmmaker; they are talented musicians, all. As I said they sing songs of the sea and not everything they do is a rollicking sea shanty. They write some gentle stuff, mournful even. Earlier this year I saw them at the Minack Theatre, which is an open air theatre in the deep south west of Cornwall (Go there! Your life is incomplete until you do). As they sang of the last great whale, searching the oceans for its long gone mother, the moon rose over a perfectly still Atlantic Ocean and even someone like me could believe that night that god was in his heaven and all might be well in the world, if only…
Anyways, moving right along. Despite being quite successful, international awards and stuff, doing Glastonbury and serenading HMTQ from a Thames barge in torrential rain, at heart they are still a bunch of lads from North Cornwall. During the summer on Friday evenings, weather and tide permitting, they just turn out in Port Isaac and perform on the slipway. They will pass round a bucket or two in support of local good causes, but otherwise it’s free and they draw a good crowd. They’ll sing until it gets dark, it rains or they have had enough beer. It makes a perfect day to have an afternoon there, a good dinner and a couple of pints in The Mote and then just step out to listen. If you are energetic you can take a day, walk the coast path to Port Quin and back, then crawl into the pub to recover in time for the show.
One of the more haunting songs they sing, written by a band member, is of the last widow in Port Quin. Port Quin is a tiny place about four miles along the coastal path (or nine by road). Whereas Port Isaac is a thriving town, blessed by the music, by being the place where Doc Martin is filmed and by having been a busy fishing village in the days when there were fish to catch, Port Quin is just about five National Trust holiday cottages, a café cut into the side of a 1950’s Citroen van and the only tap providing drinking water to the public for miles. That last is a saviour because the coast path from Port Isaac to Port Quin is a killer.
Port Quin is possibly unknown to you but, as with Port Isaac, you may yet have seen it. Those of you given to spending your evenings with Ross and Demelza certainly have. It forms one of the locations in which the current Poldark TV series is filmed. But unlike Port Isaac nothing remains for such good fortune to return to prosperity.
The story goes that one Sunday evening the entire Port Quin fishing fleet set sail as a massive shoal of the silver darlings had been sighted. They were caught in a sudden, dreadful storm and were lost. All the men, drowned in one night. The village was left with nothing but widows and orphans. Those who could, left; those who couldn’t remained and the village died. I thought this was recorded history, but they didn’t do recorded history so much back then and it turns out that it is folklore. A legend passed down over time. There is written somewhere a conversation with the last widow, at the time a very old lady – hence the song I suppose.
But is it true? The entrance to Port Quin is narrow and probably impossible to enter in a storm. Such a disaster could happen. The weather can change in the blink of an eye on that coast. A local writer who has worked much harder than me has established that it must have happened sometime around 1612, from known facts about the weather recorded in bigger places and that it had to be before Methodism took hold, because they sailed on Sunday. If you walk away from the front and notice the steep sides to the roadside hedgerow and if you get a stick and poke it through the thick brambles, then you may find yourself looking into walled spaces here and there, a stone mantle may be discerned and, with a torch you might make out something a bit like a doorway and lintel. These are long abandoned cottages made of local stone. Why are they all abandoned that way? It isn’t so in other places; although this is not the only tale of a village that has died.
In summer it’s a cheerful enough spot with the Citroen café doing good business, the little car park is full of kayakers most (not all) ignoring the harbourmaster’s hopeful little honesty box which asks for a modest launch fee. But in autumn or winter it’s a desolate, sad place and that's when I can believe the tale. Because life would be on the edge in a place like this. Other places nearby thrived. Port Isaac with its wide entrance, and Padstow on the sheltered Camel river estuary were fishing until tourism saved them after the fish were gone. But a blow such as that storm would break a little place like Port Quin and push it beyond the point of recovery. So, as I last sat there in the rain and the wind, I chose to believe that the story is true and that there was a last widow of Port Quin who lived in one of those overgrown cottages, still mourning her lost husband.
If you get the chance go and see Port Quin, have a poke through the brambles and enjoy some coffee and cake from the Citroen van. But do it on a Friday in summer, then take yourself off to Port Isaac for dinner and a right good shantying to cheer you back up.
Well, look at you! All dressed up and nowhere to go, like
HAHA!! Remember when you had them?
YES YOU DID ! Twice, When we went to Lyme Regis. I had the beef
because I thought the crab would disagree with me.
Remember now? You said. "It wouldn't bloody dare?"
AH ! You remember now ! What on earth did you think I was
Anyway, where are you going? Somewhere nice?
Oh, really? I didn't know she'd gone. Slightly over dressed
then, Your choice I suppose. Not my place to comment. When did
she cross over?
Funny expression that, isn't it?
Sounds like they were going over the road and got knocked down, HAHAHA!
Oh! Was she? Well, how was I to know that?
You always manage to make me sound heartless.
At least the eulogys won't drag on. I remember her from
Are you going to pop back later? Go on, Just to let me comfort you.
Of course I mean it, that's what friends are for at times like
Are they having a traditional funeral buffet?
Aww, lovely, Could you fill this box for me?
That'll save me worrying about what to do for tea.
Ooh, I love a good buffet. I'm really looking forward to it now.
See you later, then.
I had the day to myself today, with nothing to do, no one coming to stay, no packing for trips elsewhere, no pressing jobs, school work, important meetings or exciting trips to London, just a few hours in between dropping the kids off and picking them up to sit down and take a breath.
There’s not been much room for taking a breath in the last twelve months. A lot of stress, worry and grief, coming from all sides, and all at once. In June, when I was right in the middle of dealing with the worst of everything that had happened so far, we were faced with the sudden and devastating loss of my lovely father-in-law. I still struggle to find the words to explain how his death has affected us all. I miss him hugely, and that doesn’t say enough, nor does it account for how much harder it is for my husband, his brother and their mum. You just have to get on with it and support each other and at some point, somewhere along the line, acceptance creeps in and settles down to stay. I don’t think any of us are there yet.
That’s a bit of a depressing start to a blog that’s actually about something amazing and brilliant and very, very happy, but it’s an important part of it because in the last three weeks and four days (only three weeks and four days! I have to keep checking, whilst pinching myself), I’ve been struck by how you can be in the midst of the crappiest of all crappy times and then something comes along at the complete opposite end of your emotional scale and you realise just how complex human emotions can be because you are simultaneously grieving and celebrating and, not discounting the odd mood swing, it kind of works.
I think most of you know why I’m celebrating but just in case you don’t, and I promise I’ll only shout this once: I HAVE AN AGENT!!!
I’m still not entirely sure how I’ve arrived at this point in the middle of the worst year for some time, but I know that two things have made this year a lot easier: the support of fantastic friends and losing myself in writing, and I had lots of writing to concentrate on.
At York last year, I came away with an agent interested in my full MS and another agent contacted me afterwards to say she’d heard about my first chapter (no idea how she heard about it) and would love to read it, and on reading it, she also asked for the full MS. The problem was that I was only at an early stage of rewriting, but in some ways it was perfect timing because that rewrite became my distraction all year from all the stuff going on around me.
I finished the first rewrite back in February, sent it to Debi for feedback, got the feedback, tons of work to do, especially with the too-easily-resolved ending, worked some more on it, including adding in a whole new voice, got really close to finishing in June but life took over and actually finished it in July, sent it back to Debi, some more tweaks and minor edits and then properly and completely finished about two weeks before the York festival. (In amongst all this, I had three emails, spread out over the year, from the second agent asking how it was going. Each one caused a mini-meltdown as I swung from excitement that she was that interested to fear that I was not working fast enough and would miss the opportunity.) I took a long and painful week (felt like it was a month) to write a synopsis, which ended up four pages long and Debi magically reduced to one.
And there I was, three weeks and four days ago, the Sunday before the York festival, with a finished MS and a synopsis and two agents interested in reading. I knew one agent was going to York and one wasn’t, and I was booked to see two more agents for 1:1s, and I’d not long read Whisks’ account of her success and the whole idea of taking that leap was at the forefront of my mind. So I sent two emails: I’m finished, are you still interested in reading? I should say at this stage that these two agents were at the very top of the list of agents I really, really wanted to work with so I was pretty certain I was shooting too high. I expected that I might get a response sometime during the week and I could always catch the agent that was going to York when I saw her, to let her know I was finished, just in case she’d not seen my email, and I could chase up the other agent after a week or so if she didn’t reply. Within half an hour, both replied with a request to send the MS. I most certainly did not expect that!
So I sent it to both of them, both acknowledged and the second agent said, ‘Nudge me in three weeks if I don’t respond by then.’ Again, I assumed that I would wait several weeks and then receive a rejection along the lines of ‘You write well but....’ By bedtime on Sunday, the first agent had emailed back to say she’d read the first six chapters, was ‘gripped’ and ‘impressed’, but needed to go to bed so she would continue in the morning. She then emailed me the next evening (lovely comments), and the day after that (Is York this weekend?), and the day after that (can we have a chat?) We spoke on Thursday morning, she said a lot more very lovely things, and then she offered me representation. The temptation to shout YES!YES!YES! was very strong (TOP AGENT!!), but we both knew there was another agent reading and that I was going to York at the weekend (and she wasn’t) so I asked if I could give her an answer after the weekend. Yes, I could hardly believe I’d actually had the presence of mind or the guts to make that request. I began to feel a little overwhelmed.
I had my 1:1s at York on the Friday afternoon. Both agents asked to see the full MS. I told them both about the offer and the other agent reading and one said she would read it on the train on the way home. By this stage, ‘overwhelmed’ was an understatement and I was starting to realise that I might actually have to make a choice. I then met up with the other (second) agent and we had a lovely chat during which she stepped aside, telling me she didn’t want to go head-to-head with the first agent who she thought would be perfect for me and my book. Simultaneous disappointment (top agent) and relief (so is the other one, how would I have chosen?) and all the overwhelming emotions spilled over and Squidge ended up mopping me up outside, shortly followed by Nikki when it turned out I’d not quite finished.
Much of the rest of the York weekend passed me by in a blur of conflicting emotions, struggling to keep the panic attacks at arm’s length. I got home on Sunday evening, utterly exhausted, but immediately flung back into the reality of bedtimes and school runs and earning a living. During the week, I told myself I wouldn’t make a decision yet (though I think I did, really). I emailed the first agent and arranged to meet her in London the following week. The two 1:1 agents contacted me at various points during that week and the next, letting me know their reading progress and then letting me know their thoughts. By the time I went to London last Thursday, one agent had offered representation and the other agent had stepped aside saying she felt the agent I was going to meet would be a ‘perfect agent’ for my book. I knew by this stage what my decision was; I’d had a gut feeling for some time and nothing had come along to change it.
I went to London, the agent took me out for lunch and on about the fifth or sixth time that she said, ‘If we work together...’, I decided it was silly to keep pretending that I’d not made my mind up, so I told her I would love to work with her. And so I have an agent. And her name is Jo Unwin. And I’m very, very, very chuffed.
But that’s not the end of the blog, because I also mentioned fantastic friends earlier and there is no way at all that I could have got to this point, particularly this year, by myself. Yes, it’s my writing and my book and my ideas and so on but there is a long, long list of people who have helped in big and small ways to make sure I ended up here. My husband, Martin, has always given me space and time to write and encouragement to continue – if he hadn’t said, ‘Go on, then,’ when I first had the inkling that I wanted to write something, maybe I wouldn’t be writing now, and despite everything life has thrown at him this year, he has remained a steady and constant source of encouragement. My friends who live nearby have, many, many times, looked after the children for hours, mornings, afternoons, overnights and sorted school drop-offs and pick-ups when parenting logistics got tricky, not always for writing-related stuff, but it all made fitting writing in a lot easier – favours I am still repaying! Other friends and family have cheered me on and asked how it’s going and never, ever made me feel like I was doing something silly and insignificant. And then there’s all my friends here on the Cloud – so many of you that I’m afraid to start naming in case I miss someone one, but you know who you are – you have all cheered me on, mopped me up, given me confidence, consoled me through failures and so much more, both online and in real life. You are such an incredibly generous bunch of people. A particular shout-out to Alan and his comps because they have pushed me to try out different styles and genres and I’ve written some stuff for those comps that I didn’t even know I had in me and that has had a huge influence on how I wrote this novel. And Rachael who two years ago (and she probably doesn’t know this) had a conversation with me at York about my plot and my characters and made a couple of insightful observations that made the whole idea click into place and take off, and has since cheered me on and boosted my confidence on many occasions. And, of course, John, who has been my trusted beta-reader for, I think, five years?! It is hard to trust others to read writing that is still raw and in progress but John’s always made that easy for me with a perfect balance of lovely comments, smiley faces and helpful suggestions, but more than that, he gets me and my characters and what I’m trying to do and he is not just a lovely, human being and a talented writer, but also a wonderful friend through the tough times.
And finally, Debi, who gets a paragraph all to herself, because she’s Debi. How many times have I thanked my lucky stars that I married into technology? When Debi asked for help with her website in return for an MS critique, I am not ashamed to say that I went straight to Martin’s office and got down on my knees and begged. To be fair, it didn’t take much begging because it’s Martin and he’s another incredibly generous person. Several years on, when required, I take the kids out so Martin can get peace and quiet to do Debi’s techy stuff when she needs it, and Debi mentors me when I need it. I have definitely got the best end of this deal! Not only is Debi, as you all know, an exceptional Editrix, she is also one of the most generous people I know, a wonderful friend, always there when you need her and nothing is ever too much trouble. She also knows when to comfort and when to kick up the backside (which is good for someone like me, nicknamed ‘Piglet’ by my English teacher for my default reaction of panic to anything new or challenging, as in Piglet from Winnie the Pooh). When I asked Jo Unwin, and this was a potential deal-breaker for me, if I could continue to work with Debi, she didn’t hesitate in agreeing, and she went further, asking me to thank Debi for sending me with such a highly polished MS. I feel incredibly privileged to count Debi as both my friend and mentor and I know I am the writer I am because I have been mentored so well.
So here I am, with an agent, slightly bemused but very happy. I’m savvy enough to know this is only another hurdle and there’s plenty more to come, and pitfalls to fall into too. But I’ll save worrying about all that for another day. Today, I’m taking a breath and celebrating because I HAVE AN AGENT!! (Ooops, sorry, that one just slipped out.)
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please to put a penny in Ath’s retirement hat!
Over the years the Wordcloud has been home for many groups of writers and one of these is the Random Writers a bunch of authors drawn together by a penchant for the supernatural and speculative. Well, blow me down if they haven’t gone and produced an Anthology of their very fine short stories.
I am extremely proud to tell you about Stalking Leviathan - A Bestiary of Tales.
It feels odd to have something out there in a book. Actually, it feels even odder saying that to an audience of writers. A little piece of yourself is loose in the world and by sheer chance it happens to be one of those pieces that you feel uncertain about. Is it any good? Will it make it? Was I right on that day when I hated it – or the day that I loved it? The thing is, it doesn’t matter. I know I’m in very good company because there are eleven other stories to read. And they are all fabulous.
I love short stories. The conventional wisdom in the publishing world a few years ago was that their day was done – except maybe in magazines or other outlets away from the mainstream of books. For many reasons they are enjoying a revival and it’s obvious why. They are the tapas of literature. At best they have the exquisite composition of the finest meal and are just as satisfying. If one is not to your taste, then move to the next – it may surprise and thrill you. Seriously, there truly are some superb offerings to be found in Stalking Leviathan.
The anthology of twelve stories was compiled and edited by Daedalus, Jillybean and Woolleybeans. They also contributed stories. I should also put my hands together for Squidge who slaved away on the thankless task of proofreading. In fact, I feel pretty lazy to have just scribbled a tale. Oh, I can’t leave out a mention for the Wordcloud’s very own Mana. Wow! Mana produced a fabulous cover for us (look up there) and contributed a cracking story.
Anyway, enough! Here’s a link to the kindle edition which you can get now. Paperback will be available very soon – we’ll keep you updated.
And here's a link to kindle AND paperback.
If you like the anthology, do spend a couple of minutes to leave a review, that kind of thing is lifeblood for a book!
She first appeared in a dream. I have seen her many times before. This time, to see her in the flesh excites me with renewed trust. Her head adorns a gold aureole which glints amongst the stars with a desire - a desire to reach across the seven seas and enlighten the globe.
She towers over me, her raised arm high above swirling mist. A lofted hand reveals a flicker of flame, a beacon perhaps, to light the way. Succulent lips pout and speak a silent message from, Emma’s thoughts. Soon, a gentle breeze erupts and wafts the swirl into a gossamer cloak. All is then revealed enrobed in green, her majestic form in all its glory beckons, for what, we have yet to discover.
When I awake and look around me, hope turns to dismay. The world is hungry - the weak - the poor - the sick - are still dying. Freedom has all but disappeared, can she inspire once more. I think not. The chains around her feet hold her fast to the ground.
Wait - they are broken, have faith. We forget the words on the tabula Ansata - all men are created equal.
July IV, MDCCLXXVI
La Liberté éclairant le monde
Hello, can I sneak back onto wonderful Cloud and wish all my friends a Happy Sunday. Big hug from me. You would be surprised how often I think of you.
Its that time again. Book club. I don't know if anyone remembers my nervousness at satrting a book club? Well, I did and I think it has been a great success. I met a wonderful group of people. At first we met in the evenings but now lunchtimes. Some solid friendships were made too.
There have been changes and sad events and we are a smaller group than started but all very happy. On occasions for a few months I was too poorly to meet up and the group met at other homes.
We seem to be choosing two or three books a month as all are keen readers but it is my turn this month to present some sparkling choices. So, I turn to you to ask your advice. Also we are talking and not so much discussing the books in depth as I have not been able to put the effort in. So this week I want to be prepared. :)
To give you some ideas of the kind of books - although I think the are such a variety - we are quite open but I admit to not enjoying some and I hate not getting value.
We have read,
Anna and The Swallow Man - Enjoyed it.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - Loved it.
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O Brian - Not so much
The Buried Giant - Kazuo IshiGuro - lots of it but didn't read the end but had a nightmare about it?
Any Human Heart - William Boyd - I didn't enjoy this.
The Snow flower and The Secret Fan - Lisa See - Ok
All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr (My favourite)
H Is for Hawk - Helen MacDonald
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul - Deborah Rodriguez.
This is just a taste - but I feel we've had too many war stories.
Popular among us are detective stories and we have recently read the follow up to the Dragon Tattoo series by Steig Larsson.
Authors also read this year by me :
Fredrick Nath - 4 of his books
Jody Klaire - 3 so far
Sophie Jonas Hill
What a lot of reading. Love it.
So, thank you. I look forward to your replies.
100 years ago tonight marked the turning point in the war against the 'Zeppelin Menace' when two of the giant airships were brought down by the home defence services. People in Essex woke to find two vast metal skeletons lying across the flat East Anglian landscape.
I have a family connection to this, as well as my general interest in aviation history, as a relative was there, and acquired a small part of one of the great craft that remains in the family to this day.
(I have removed all the blogs on the (...) word as it might cause offense. But I rather like the idea of writing a banned book. I will have to write it in secret! There are readers for this sort of book, but an extremely competitive one! I have not read one of his books for some time and only thought of him yesterday. Jasper Ffforde - my favourite fantasy writer.)
Perhaps writers want a different sort of validation? I wrote a biography of a grandfather who is validated because he is known for a famous piece of music. But, in an odd way, he spent most of the latter part of life in a search; this had been a search in which the infinite and God are entwined.
BBC’s Radio 4 are broadcasting a programme called ‘The History of the Infinite’. It is a fifteen minute weekly talk, hosted by Adrian Moore, the Oxford professor of philosophy. Would my grandfather have been validated if he had been included in this programme? But he could only be validated by a few books that had been self-published during the second world war.
I wrote a long piece on this yesterday but I am just posting a precis of the ending because it is about self-publishing and I had been following Emma’s recent posting,
This is new stuff. I had not known about Baird’s television transmission from the Crystal Palace in the 1930’s. I think there was an article in a newspaper a few years back, (This is only ‘evidence suggests’) It is difficult to find out much as Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire. One of the composer’s daughters had a similar conflagration. She burnt everything about him in a huge bonfire. But one can find the odd piece and build up a jigsaw puzzle.
My father recalled visiting the Crystal Palace in the twenties, where his father practiced his profession. It seems a bandstand - designed like a small amphitheatre - had been built in the Palace grounds, but it was demolished in the 1960’s .
Crystal Palace is the site of a T.V transmission mast. (Crystal Palace is a hill to the South of London. ) But it was also the site of a television transmitter in the nineteen thirties. Baird had his transmitter in the Exhibition Hall. All this apparatus perished in the blaze in 1937. It is recalled that Arnold Safroni taught band-players in the Palace and it is quite possible that he had seen Baird’s transmitter.
During the blitz he re-wrote an earlier novel and introduced a television thought screen into the plot. Mad monks could read a human brain by looking at this screen. Leads attached from a human head, via a dead skull, are linked to this contraption. (In my opinion the novel belongs to the ‘Gothic’ genre,. The television thought -screen, whose location is in a subterranean cloister, recalls Frankenstein’s laboratory.) Did the thought screen recall Baird’s transmitter?
Using the dead skull,thoughts could explore the universe searching for God. The skull was found in the rubble of Gethsemane, (Blitz searchlights might have been influence) This must be one of the first novels to use a TV in this way,and predates ‘Dead Lazarus’ - a play by Dennis Potter and George Orwell. (1984 published in 1950.)
Of course, the novel is unreadable and was self-published - or rather self-printed. The poet was not one to do things by halves and set up his own press.
A final travel book was published after the poet’s death - by ‘The Fortune Press‘ This press was made famous though Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis. The author felt he was a posthumous writer writing a posthumous book. But the self had died quite a few years earlier and only the id remained. One wonders if the poet did meet his super-ego?
I cannot advise attempting this sort of biography. Ten rounds with Cassius Clay might have been preferable. I would like to attempt this again with a great, great grandfather, but it the problems would be even worse. (Arab problems)