Oct 19th

Uncle Harold's Last Flight

By RichardB

One night during World War II my father abruptly started awake for no apparent reason, and remained sleepless for the rest of the night. This was most unusual for him, as he hardly ever woke in the night, and if he did he always went straight back to sleep again. Not long afterwards came the news that his brother, who'd joined the RAF soon after leaving school in the 1930s, had been killed in a plane crash. Reckoning back, my father realised that his mysterious awakening must have come at the instant of his brother's death.


I only heard this story from my mother after he'd died. He'd  never breathed a word of it to me or my brother, and no wonder. He was an out-and-out pragmatist. If it was something that he couldn't see, touch, satisfy himself it was real, he had no time for it. Anything with a whiff of the airy-fairy or paranormal would be dismissed with a contemptuous snort. He'd have had a hard job explaining that one away to two curious sons.


That wasn't all about my uncle's death he kept quiet about. Habitually reticent about family matters, he never talked about it much, and I learned more from his mother, who lived with us when I was a child. She told me that Uncle Harold was the pilot of a Lockheed Hudson that had crashed into a mountain while its crew were struggling to nurse it home with battle damage, but exactly where and when she didn't say.


For many years my uncle's death remained a vaguely mysterious snippet of family history that I never thought about much. Then, in early 2003, I got an e-mail from my brother, who married an American girl and lives in Milwaukee. He'd been googling our excessively rare surname, and had found a page posted by Richard Allenby, one of those folks whose particular brand of nerdiness is poking about at aircraft crash sites and investigating their history. I was unaware that such people existed, but the page was compelling. It was about a site near Captain Cook's Monument on the North York Moors, where a Hudson from 220 Squadron, Coastal Command, based at Thornaby, Teesside, had crashed in the early hours of 11 February 1940. Among the crew was listed Sergeant Harold Bleksley. At last, some concrete information about my uncle's death.


Further down the page it mentioned that one Dr Ian Pearce, a member of the archaeological society in the nearby village of Great Ayton, was writing a book about the crash, and that the group were planning the erection of a memorial plaque at the site, so I wrote to him offering to supply what information I could give him about my uncle. The arrival of my letter, I was told, caused a furore at the Pearce breakfast table, as the proofs had just gone off to the printers with very little in them about Harold Bleksley. Google had quickly led Dr Pearce to my best-known relative, Peter Bleksley (retired undercover cop, non-fiction crime writer, authenticity consultant on TV crime dramas, and later star of the reality TV show Hunted), who positively hogs any results page for our name, but neither he nor his father knew anything, so it was a case of 'Hold the front page!' Ian Pearce's reply to my offer might be summarised as 'Yes! Yes!! Please!'


There followed an intense bout of correspondence. Though my father was long dead, and my mother hadn't met him until after my uncle's death, Dr Pearce was delighted with what she could tell me to pass on to him, and quickly revised his book to include it, together with a couple of photos I sent him. In return he told me about the crash in more detail than Richard Allenby's webpage.


Shortly after four o'clock on that freezing cold morning of February 1940 three Lockheed Hudsons of 220 Squadron took off from RAF Thornaby to carry out a reconnaissance over the North Sea and to attack any German shipping they might find in the Heligoland Bight. The lead plane, piloted by Flying Officer Tommy Parker and crewed by Sergeant Harold Bleksley (second pilot / navigator), Corporal Norman Drury (wireless operator) and Leading Aircraftsman Atholl Barker (air-gunner), was in difficulties straight away, unable to gain enough height even to turn safely back to the airfield. It flew at not much more than rooftop height over Great Ayton, waking several villagers, and then Parker fought to lift his plane over the height of Easeby Moor, a hill on the edge of the North York Moors overlooking the village. He didn't quite make it.


The plane struck just below the summit, demolishing a stretch of dry-stone wall, and slid along the ground to come to rest in a belt of young larch trees on the top of the hill, about three hundred yards north-west of Captain Cook's Monument. Barker, who was riding in the back of the plane and hadn't yet climbed into his gun turret, was thrown out, injured but alive, when the impact ripped out the belly of the plane. The other three were killed instantly.


Sadly, LAC Barker's miraculous escape was only a reprieve. Rising later to the rank of Flying Officer, he transferred to Bomber Command in 1943, not a good move at that time if you wanted a long life. In November of that year he was killed with the entire crew when their Lancaster was shot down during a raid on Berlin.


The crash at Easeby Moor was eventually attributed to icing on the wings destroying lift. This is a bit historic, as apparently it may have been the first time this was identified as the cause of a crash.


This was all very interesting, but it didn't square with what my grandmother had told me. Easeby Moor is not a mountain. Harold Bleksley was not flying the plane but navigating it. Far from struggling home with a shot-up plane, they had only taken off minutes before. 


But, as I found out after her death, she had a habit of being economical with the truth: she used to say that my grandfather, a printer-compositor, had lost jobs due to ill-health, whereas the truth was that he was a stroppy bugger who got himself into trouble by standing up against injustice in the work place. Go figure why she'd want to fudge that: if I were his widow I'd have been proud of it, though I suppose losing a job in the Great Depression can't have been much fun.


No wonder she was vague about the details. She didn't know them, because her story was a fabrication. While the crash was in no way the crew's fault, it wasn't quite so heroic as struggling bravely to nurse the plane home with battle damage.


Why my father, who must have known this, didn't see fit to enlighten me, I can only guess. Though his relationship with his mother wasn't of the best (Harold had been the apple of her eye), he probably felt it would be wrong to show her up to his children as a liar. And most of the story came as news even to my mother. 


Be that as it may, in due course I was invited to attend the dedication ceremony at the memorial later in the year. It was a moving and enlightening occasion for me. I didn't go down on hands and knees and poke about in the grass for fragments of alloy and perspex like Richard Allenby, but I saw for myself the marks of the crash still visible on the landscape: the gap the plane made in the belt of trees, two depressions in the ground where the heavy engines came to rest, and the crater nearby where the RAF exploded the bombs the plane had been carrying.


I also got to meet my famous relative, though his television stardom was still in the future then. Since I always assume that anybody bearing my surname is related to me, however distantly, I'd been wondering who he was ever since I'd done a double-take on seeing the name Bleksley on a book in Waterstone's a few years earlier. It turned out that he was the grandson of one of my grandfather's younger brothers, so Peter's father was my father's cousin and Peter is my second cousin.


On the same day, I blew my own chance of television stardom. There was a crew at the ceremony from Tyne Tees shooting for the local news, but when they shoved a microphone in my face I got all tongue-tied and made a total hash of the interview. I don't even know if the item was even screened, as I was driving home at the time it would have been transmitted, but if it was they would surely have cut my bit, which was a shambles.


I acquired three copies of Ian Pearce's book for myself, my mother and my brother, and was delighted to find in it confirmation of a story my father had once told me about his brother – as a moral tale, the moral being that you never know what you can do until you really try.


It seems that Harold was pretty hopeless at maths when he was at school, but once in the RAF and having set his heart on becoming a navigator he buckled down to mastering the complex maths involved, and became not only a competent navigator but, according to my father, a very good one. As was proved when the squadron was given the task of searching for a British submarine in the North Sea. Disabled in enemy waters, it had to keep radio silence, and so locating it presented the complex problem of computing its probable drift from its last known position, taking into account tides and currents in the area. The school maths dunce's navigation led his plane to the submarine.


And now here it was in the back of Ian Pearce's book, in an appendix of Norman Drury's letters home. 'Since Monday we have been congratulated twice by high Admiralty officials for protecting a crippled submarine.' Although I had no reason to doubt my father, it was very satisfying to have the story confirmed by a voice from the past.


Another letter mentions a set-to with a Messerschmitt Me110 in which my uncle ('our navigator') got his pencil shot out of his hand, though he and the rest of the crew were all unscathed. They even shot the German plane down. It's a pity their luck didn't hold a fortnight or so later.


It's another pity that it took nearly half-a-century since I first heard about my uncle for all this to come to light, but better late than never.


Richard Allenby's crash site page is here, though naturally it's been updated (some of that down to me) since I first saw it.

And an informative précis of Ian Pearce's book is online here.

Oct 16th

A Load Of Old Tut!

By Dolly

Used in speech. Also: waffle, dross, tosh, flannel, shite, drivel, tarradiddle, folderol, twaddle, load of old book, bullshit, nonsense, etc.


Every ten days or so, myself, Tony, a lead guitarist friend of mine, and also a songwriter, visit Shug, another friend, who plays acoustic bass, and has a kitchen that's ideal for acoustic music. We spend the evening playing covers and originals, and sometimes record the sessions.

Besides the music we drink tea, eat cake, waffle, and generally talk a load of old tut! Over the years we've become really good at it. In fact, Tony, courtesy of the Open University and his local college, has B A in it, is thinking of trying for his Masters next year, and might be even good enough at it to become a politician!

Shug is also pretty good at spouting drivel, though not in Tony's class. As for myself, I am now fully recovered from a setback I had some time ago, when I found myself talking sense! A first I didn't notice, then became aware that I was saying odd sentences that made sense! On top of this I noticed that I wasn't swearing as much, and as time went on I wasn't swearing at all! It came as a shock. I was devastated. It was a worrying time, and I began to fear that I might become a social outcast. Curtains would twitch as I walked down the street, and people would nudge each other and say:

'That's him',


'Him, over there. He's the one who's talks sense all the time!'

'Oh, dear, do you think we should cross over? It might be catching, you know, contagious or something.'

'Yeah. Best be on the safe side, eh?'

Then I remembered, some years ago, a friend of mine suffered the same way. I sought his advice, and ended up standing on the steps of a large town house. In front of me was a red pained door with a cast iron knocker. To the right, was a polished brass plaque, which bore the inscription: Archibald Arnold. Consultant for Odd, Strange and Obscure Afflictions. Also Good With Spots And Boils.

After a thorough examination, he diagnosed that I was run down, this, coupled with the physiology of my body, resulted in me talking sense.

He prescribed a course of fresh fruit and vegetables, one meat and potato pie a week (gravy optional), one butter pie a week, (again, gravy optional,) two cakes, a course of vitamin B, three Uncle Joe's mint balls a day, and a bucket of water outside the bedroom, for a period of five weeks.

I queried the bucket of water. He said he didn't why it worked, it just did, a bit like turning your computer off and on again. He was also specific in telling me to empty and re-fill it every morning, and to not take anymore that three Uncle Joe's Mint Balls a day, as overdosing on mint balls could set me back a week.

On top of this, I was told to listen to as many radio DJ'S as possible, and as many politicians as I could. This would aid my recovery into talking shite again, as radio DJ'S and politicians are held in high esteem when it comes to talking bollocks!

Fortunately, I was aided in this by the recent election and party political conferences of all three parties, which was brimming over with plenty of tosh.

I slowly began to improve. My use of expletives was returning. Full recovery was confirmed when I heard Boris Johnson's speech at the Conservative Party Conference. Oh what a load of old tut that was! Perfect!


I was cured! I could now take my place in society again, and waffle a load of shite as good as anyone, and to fit any social occasion, perhaps not on the par of the gold standard set by my friend Tony, who could reach the realm of complete and utter balderdash, but good enough!

Oct 16th

Am I entering a blind alley?

By mike


       I posted a blog which is a sort of CV.    I wanted to indicate my credentials as a writer of literary biographies,   I have evidence which suggests I am  a competent writer too - but not of books that get published! 

 I think I have come across an issue that is central to someone’s writing and some of you might have had experiences of this..

     I have a query about blindness and memory but it is more specific.  it is about memory and degenerative blindness.   Has anybody experience of this with an aged relative or even written about it?  The false memory syndrome might come into play too but dementia would not be issue in this case.  Memory and dementia is often discussed now.  I am looking into an Orientalist and the possibility that he came to live more in his past than the present,   But It is how he remembered the past that is the issue,

      The writer suffered from opthalmia.  The trigger for this material is Napoleon and his invasion of Egypt. Soldiers returned to Europe suffering from Opthalmia and it was thought, at the time. to be due to the action of the sun on sand and dust.  One form of Opthalmia was called the Egyptian disease.         

      The  journalist became increasingly blind.  Today we use the term partially sighted,  but by the time he ran the political department of the  “Daily Telegraph’ it seems his blindness was total.  Dementia is not an issue as he wrote well into his old age. Two memories in Victorian autobiographies confirm this and, also, conform his love and interest in Egypt and its people.   Three of his sons, also journalists, most likely helped with his writing.

     How does blindness affect memory?   There are some articles on this on the internet, and the suggestion is that memory increases as blindness approaches.  I listen to Radio 3 as a background and, over the past week, there have been programmes on the musical pieces people recall  from their youth,  It is a bit Proost.

      The journalist’s memories  of Egypt are recorded in three books.  The first book is a journal,  This is a  primary source document written in 1832.  The second book was published in 1844. The same journals are expanded and, I think, secondary sources are added.  It is now a history book and evidence suggests it came close to consideration as a classic of travel writing.  The nature of the memories changes too,

     But there is a later book of memories published in 1853 and one can assume that, by then, blindness might have  become severe.   This is where I come in.  This book is dedicated to his only daughter, Helen.   She had been the wife  of a great-grandfather.  She died a few years after their marriage in 1856.  She  left two boys,  I am descended from his second marriage - to his housekeeper.  But I am genetically descended from the journalist -  though my English grandmother who was one of his grand-daughters.

        It is conceivable that the author recalled Egypt to his daughter who wrote the memories down.   The journalist can now be a dramatic character with an audience - his  daughter! 

      Have I gone down a blind alley?   This interpretation does rather open the material up,

      I am afraid word cloud has been responsible for this,  I was looking for descriptions of camel rides and came across a ride on a donkey.  This memory had not been included in the journal and reads more as a scene from a picaresque novel by Dickens.  It is in the history book..  

     I am not sure what has come into play here?  Dickens came to dominate the era,  Was it essential to write comedy?  Has the false memory syndrome kicked in?  

         Has anybody come across the relationship between memory and blindness?    The journalist does rather suggest that memory increases, which supports the essays on the internet.  But  memories  of youth might increase with age too.   I have already covered part of this subject though researching  a grandfather’s life where memories change with age and become jumbled up - the ‘lost atlantis of the mind.’  But this is a different theme.

    Egypt is seen the prism of the enlightenment and also the romantic movement.    This is the PC issue,  There is another ghost here - W.Said,. But the the journalist  came close to writing a classic of travel because he wrote about ordinary Egyptians,  The  journals are boring because ancient monuments are recorded is some detail, but this was the interest at the time. 


Oct 15th

Self-publishing Services - the best and the worst

By Tony

The Alliance of Independant Authors (ALLi) have produced a potentially very useful listing of dozens of companies that offer help to self-publishing authors. They rate them in four categories, two good and two 'watch out for the rip-offs.'

If you're thinking of using a particular company you could do worse than check them out on Alli's list first. You'll find it here:


(Just in case anyone doesn't know, if you select the above URL and right-click you can then left-click on the 'Go to...' option in the pop-up box.)

Oct 15th

Chapel-en-le-Frith: Devotion to Duty

By RichardB

The Regulation of Railways Act 1889, passed in the wake of the appalling accident at Armagh earlier that year, laid down that every passenger train must have fail-safe brakes under the driver's control throughout the train, but it made no mention of goods trains. For nearly a hundred years afterwards, right up to the end of the steam age and for some years beyond, the freight traffic on Britain's railways was operated in a manner so antiquated as to evoke wonder and disbelief elsewhere, with trains of short, unbraked four-wheeled wagons trundling across the landscape at speeds seldom exceeding 20mph.


There were some wagons fitted with passenger train style power brakes, and trains made up wholly or partly of such wagons were known as 'fitted freights', though even they were limited to about 40mph by the instability of the wagons, with their short wheelbases. But they were a small minority. Most British freight wagons could only be braked by dropping a long lever on the side of the wagon, which engaged with a ratchet to hold it down. To keep the pressure on and to make sure that the lever didn't vibrate out of the ratchet it had to be secured by a pin pushed through a hole in the frame. This operation was called 'pinning down the brakes', and it could only be done from the lineside, wagon by wagon, while the train was at a standstill.


Although goods trains may not have had the glamour of the express passenger trains, running a train of unbraked wagons over an undulating road was, if anything, an even more highly skilled operation. The engine would be alternately straining to lift the train uphill and holding it back on the downhills. There was plenty of slack in the primitive chain couplings (hence the name 'loose-coupled' for such trains), and on the downgrades all the couplings would slacken as the wagons pushed against each other. If you put on the power too quickly at the bottom of the hill, the sudden tightening of the chains could break a coupling and divide the train. Before commencing a steep descent the train would have to stop for some of the wagon brakes (how many was down to the driver's judgement) to be pinned down, otherwise the weight of the train might overcome the engine's steam brakes and a runaway would result.


That there were very few serious accidents arising from the running of loose-coupled goods trains is a tribute to the skill and diligence of Britain's railwaymen. But in one incident near the end of the steam age the actions of one engineman rose above and beyond skill and diligence into true heroism.


On the morning of 9 February 1957 a heavy freight locomotive in the charge of Driver Axon and Fireman Follows arrives at the engine shed at Buxton, near the edge of Derbyshire's Peak District, after working a goods train from Stockport. A wisp of steam, first noticed when Axon put on the brakes to slow the train on the downhill stretch into Buxton, is blowing from the joint between the steam pipe and the driver's brake valve mounted on the back of the firebox, so Axon makes out a repair card. Soon a fitter arrives and tightens the nut securing the joint a quarter turn, and the leak stops.


At 11.05 Axon and Follows depart from the goods yard at Buxton with a train of 33 loaded wagons behind their engine. The first two miles out of Buxton are steeply uphill, so another engine is shoving ('banking', as it is called) the train from behind. When the train reaches the summit at Bibbington's Sidings it will stop to pin the brakes down, for the descent on the other side is even steeper.


In the past hour or so that Axon and Follows have spent making up their train in the yard the steam brake has given no trouble, but they have not been out on the main line more than a few minutes before steam begins to blow again from that pipe joint. They wrap a couple of rags round the joint and tie them tight, but the leak quickly gets worse. There is a passing loop, starting at Bibbington's Sidings and running alongside the main line for about half a mile to the next signal box at Dove Holes, and Axon decides to stop in the loop and ask for assistance.


But as they are passing the distant signal for the loop line points there is an almighty bang and a cloud of steam fills the cab. The joint has given way and the pipe has blown completely away from the brake valve, shooting out a lethal jet of scalding steam at boiler pressure. But that's only the start of it. The real emergency facing the crew is that the locomotive now has no brakes, leaving the train with only the handbrakes on the tender and guard's van. And over the summit, less than half a mile away, a steep downgrade awaits them.


Axon and Follows screw down the tender handbrake. They try to close the regulator valve to shut off steam, but the handle is close to the broken pipe and they can't reach it without being scalded. They try protecting themselves with their overcoats and make attempt after attempt to push that handle, but it's no use. It doesn't help that the regulator on this engine is unusually stiff. Eventually they get it nearly closed by poking at it with a fire-iron, but all their efforts have little effect on their speed, because the banking engine is still shoving them from behind. Driver Robinson at the back of the train has no way of knowing of the emergency at the other end, for that jet of steam is also preventing Axon and Follows from reaching the whistle. As is usual with banking engines, his engine is not coupled to the train, so even if he did know he couldn't help with his own engine's brakes.


By now the lead engine has nearly reached the summit, and Axon tells Follows to jump off and try to pin down some wagon brakes. He manages to drop six or seven brake levers, but the train is going at about 15mph and that is too fast for him to be able to pin them down. The brakes have no effect. Follows runs to the back of the train and shouts at Guard Ball to screw his handbrake down as hard as he can. By now the banking engine has dropped off the back of the train and stopped, but Axon's engine has passed the summit and the train is beginning to gather speed.


Driver Axon has stayed on the engine. He could have jumped off along with Follows while the train was still moving slowly up the hill, but it goes against the grain to abandon his train, leaving it to cause goodness knows what havoc further down the line. If he stays with it, and if he's lucky, there's just a chance he may eventually be able to regain control of it.


The points are set for the loop, because the plan is to hold Axon's train there while a passenger train goes past. Signalman Bowyers at Bibbington's Sidings sees it pass his signal box and enter the loop at about 25mph. Although it is going a bit faster than usual and the cab is full of steam, he isn't unduly alarmed, because goods trains often don't stop to pin down their brakes until they are in the loop. He doesn't realise that he has a runaway on his hands.


By the time Signalman Fox in the signal box at Dove Holes Station, at the other end of the loop, sees the train heading straight towards him there's no doubt of what's happening. It's moving much too fast to stop before it reaches the end of the loop and the short trap siding beyond, and the driver is leaning out of the cab frantically waving at him to throw the points and let the train back out onto the main line.


Fox knows he shouldn't do this. Only a few minutes ago he let another goods train out of the loop, and he hasn't yet received 'Train out of section' for it from the next signal box at Chapel-en-le-Frith Station. But if he throws the points there's a chance, a slender chance but a chance nonetheless, that Driver Axon can slow his train before it catches up with the other one, whereas if he doesn't it's a dead certainty that the train will pile catastrophically into the wall at the end of the station platform, right below his signal box. He has only seconds to make up his mind.


Inevitable disaster versus a slim chance of avoiding it. Fox throws the points.


As the train lurches out of the loop and onto the main line to hurtle on down towards Chapel-en-le-Frith, Fox phones Signalman Howe there to warn him what has happened. When Howe receives the call the other goods train is passing through the station at a modest 15mph, and there is a two-coach diesel railcar unit standing at the platform on the opposite line. At once he alerts the station staff, who set about evacuating the passenger train. Its guard and driver, who have by now seen Axon's train speeding down the bank towards them in a cloud of steam, gesticulate and shout at the driver of the goods train, urging him to get a move on. He hasn't time to respond before the runaway hits the back of his train, right opposite Howe's signal box, at about 55mph.


The crash demolished the signal box, throwing Signalman Howe out onto the sidings below, and created a mound of wreckage that took three days to clear; but thanks to the prompt action of the station staff there were only two fatalities. They were the guard of the overtaken goods train, and Driver John Axon. Guard Ball, who also stuck to his post in his van holding the brake on, was shaken but escaped serious injury.


Exceptionally, the enquiry found no fault with the actions of any of the railwaymen involved, not even with the fitter who tightened the nut. It was routine for nuts on locomotives to work loose due to vibration, and normal practice to stop leaks in steam pipe joints by tightening them. He couldn't have known that there were defects in the joint, dating right back to its original manufacture, that were actually exacerbated by tightening the nut and led to the fracture, because those defects were inside, hidden by the nut, and could only have been discovered by stripping the joint down. The fitter said that he would have stripped it down had he known that a similar leak had been reported and the nut tightened only the day before, but Driver Axon was unaware of this and so couldn't have told him. It was sheer bad luck.


For his courage and devotion to duty by staying with his train, John Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross. In 1981 a locomotive was named after him: the name Driver John Axon, GC has been passed down and is currently carried by a Class 156 diesel multiple unit. But John Axon's renown doesn't stop there. His name became famous among many people who had no interest in railways, in an unexpected way.


Someone at the BBC thought that Axon's heroism would make a good subject for a radio programme, and folk singer Ewan MacColl (father of Kirsty) and his partner Peggy Seeger (sister of Pete) were commissioned to make it. With producer Charles Parker they came up with a programme, The Ballad of John Axon, that 60 years on is still held in awe in radio circles for its innovative use of the medium. It combined studio narration and song with real-life recordings of Axon's widow and colleagues (this was the revolutionary bit) to produce an original mix of music, drama and documentary that celebrated not only John Axon's heroism but the day-to-day life of Britain's railwaymen. It is still available on CD, and it spawned a series, known as the Radio Ballads, similarly depicting other aspects of British working life, such as fishing, coal mining and road building.


Eight were made altogether, but they were costly to produce and the BBC pulled the plug in 1964. Other programmes in the same format have been made since, but the originals are still the most famous, and some of MacColl's songs from them have become folk classics.

Oct 12th

can you do anything else?

By mike



       This is really a postscript to Richards’ blog.  Some people write because they cannot do anything else.  I cannot recall which writer said this?  I think my writing experiences are quite common and similar to other world clouders.   I am of the same generation as Ishiguru and William Boyd but I have never had anything published,  I think I had as much chance of publication than most people because I write from my imagination and don’t adhere to any genre.  

     About thirty years ago, there was a competition which offered readers’ reports on novels, books for children -  and stories.  The reports were on any entry submitted.  I posted manuscripts  off for two  of the categories.   I had  sent off a teenage novel.  This received  an excellent reader’s report which was very complimentary about my writing style  and how suitable the style was for a teenage audience,  I came across this report recently. when clearing stuff out.  I did not win the  competition,  but I had forgotten that  the reader sent me the address of, presumably, a friend of hers in publishing.  I sent the novel off but this  reader  had the opposite viewpoint!   I also have a rejection slip from ‘Faber and Fabers’.  This was about the  same time.   This letter was handwritten and the reader said that my writing is of a publishing  standard.  This was for non-fiction. But if you are not a professional biographer,  it is unlikely there will be market for your book.

    It  has occurred to me that the reader  of the teenage novel, would not have given me the address of her colleague,if she thought the novel unpublishable. I remember I started a new novel but I kept the day job - no choice at the time - and carried on researching non-fiction.  This is on a literary background going back two hundred years.  But writing became a hobby.

          It is, perhaps. a lack of confidence,  but I work over my sentences.  I recall the reader said that my prose scans and this may be the reason.    I go to play ‘Upwards’ on Sunday.  This is with someone who is nearly 90.  ‘Upwards’ is a version of ‘Scrabble’  My competitor complains that I cannot spell.  My grammar is inaccurate andI do not pronounce words correctly.  But my writing style has often received compliments.   I had no wish to be a celeb but  iI would have liked to join the chattering classes.

          A good writing style seems to be important - at least it was.  My model is ‘the cat sat on the mat‘   

          I recently wrote a play which I sent of for a competition and things have probably not progressed much further than thirty years ago, I did not win.  But I seldom send material out and the play only has a context for that particular theatrical space and the competition.,  The judges, asked for a play  lasting forty five minutes and I submitted a play lasting exactly  forty five minutes,  A large clock on the wall ticks the  forty five minutes backwards - so the play ends where it began.. I am extremely pedantic and, as the play is about nothing, I could probably extend the drama to one of Wagnerian proportions.  

       I read Squidge’s blog and wrote the first line of a children’s novel:

       ‘Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and some are born with wooden ladle but, on the occasion of her birth, Svetlana was born with nothing more than an unpronounceable name”

     I don’t know where the idea would go and I am not intending to pursue it but it would be about the English class system and and a girl who does not fit because she is from a different country.  I  recently saw a young Russian pianist and Svetlana  would be plain - but really beautiful - and can only express her feelings though classical music.  She is at a school where she is ridiculed because all the girls like pop-music   I know nothing whatever about teenagers and family life and the book would be total fiction.

     I am at a loose end - project wise - but read though one of a grandfather’s travel books because he had warned people not to read it if they wanted a laugh. He is right, it is a bit mirth free and atrociously written.  It is not really a  travel book and seems to be about a half caste - we have to say dual heritage now - who falls for a Mohammedan who seduces her,  drugs her, and makes her dance in an underground cavern for the amusement of his friends.  Tragedy follows on tragedy much to the sorrow of the local beachcombers living in a shipwreck who frequent the local grog shanty. ( One of the author’s heroines was called Zetta Grogetta).  The book set in Tai-o-hae in the Marquesan Islands.

    This grandfather had been a street busker and his family recall him producing his violin and performing for the bailiffs when they came round.  He used to dip pieces of bread into gravy and say to his children, ‘Look at the meat, look at the meat‘   The book was probably  just scrawled out to try and pay the rent.  But I don’t know?  It seems more constructed than seems apparent.  It would work at half the length - and half the adjectives.  Every sunset is purple.

    I’m off to see a film called ‘Gifted’ which is the sliver screen offer. I am going to see ‘The Battleship Ptomkin’.in the evening.   A live orchestra   is playing the score, and Vladimir Ashkenazy is conducting.  It cost me £12 for the seat so he better be good, 

    I should really write a best seller as I am a theatre junkie and the habit needs feeding. I wrote this a few days ago and re-wrote the  sentences constantly. Or I constantly  re-wrote the sentences - or!!!

    I think my writing style might be close to Richard’s and the children’s novel would be  in the style of Bren or Secretspi.’


Oct 9th

No motivation!

By Squidge

 I have a BIG problem in my editing at the moment... 

No, I'm not talking about MY motivation for actually writing.

It's my MC. She has no motivation. Eeeek! So it feels like I've got to find out what the heck it is before I can really finish this blasted novel by writing something in.

I've blogged about it on The Scribbles, but I'd be interested to know if any cloudies have had the same problem before - and how did you crack putting motivation in, in retrospect?

Ta, Squidge 


Oct 9th

Reality Check

By RichardB

Five years ago (My God, is it really that long?), I wrote a blog called Climbing Mountains about the successive hurdles you have to get yourself over on the way to producing a publishable novel. The last hurdle I mentioned was trying to get published. At the time I was only a few weeks into the first draft of what became the first novel I'm prepared to own up to, and that was as far as I could see at the time. Now that my second is going out on submission I think it's time for another reality check.


Apologies to those old hands who know all this already. Different apologies to any whose dreams I may be about to shatter, but the further along your writing road you are before you learn all this the more acute your disillusionment is going to be, so the sooner you learn what you're up against the better. I'm not advising you to give up: just to go in with your eyes open. And take it one step at a time.


Am I understood? Okay. Take a deep breath. Here we go.


So you've got yourself over all those writing hurdles, and worked hard to hone your craft. You've finished that first draft. You've edited it and rewritten it, again and again. You've polished it to within an inch of its life. You're as satisfied as you can be that your plot and characters are compelling, and that your prose sparkles and sings. Congratulations: this is where the agony really begins.


Because unless you're content to sing to an empty room, you want readers. You want your book to be published. And that involves a whole new set of hurdles to be overcome. The good news is that it's only the first one that's down to you. The bad news is that the first one is the biggest.


It's pretty well known, but worth saying again: an established agent will receive over a thousand unsolicited manuscripts every year. And out of all those hopeful writers she will offer representation to perhaps one or two. That's a hit rate of 0.1 to 0.2 per cent.


That's not quite as bad as it looks, because at least three-quarters of those manuscripts will be, as the Crabbit Old Bat, Nicola Morgan, once pithily put it, 'pure shite'. And yours will be better than that, because you've put all that work into honing your craft, haven't you? You'd better have, because even if your writing is in that top quarter your chances are still less than one per cent, and those statistics mean that agents are going to seize any excuse to reject your book. Not because their life's mission is to trample on the dreams of aspiring writers, or because they are keepers of the gates of an exclusive club, but because they simply don't have the time to give careful consideration to every manuscript. Finding new writers is only a small part of their job. By far the greater part of their time is spent looking after their existing clients.


So you try your damnedest not to give them that chance. You put at least as much sweat into your covering letter and synopsis as you did into your manuscript. You do your research, identifying which agents might like your book. You check up on their websites, taking careful note of anything they say and especially the submission guidelines, which you follow to the letter. Only then do you send off your submissions.


And then you enter the living hell that is Waiting For An Answer. You'll be lucky to hear anything in less than about six weeks. And you'll be even luckier if they're not all rejections. Less than one per cent, remember. And also remember that it's not enough to have written a compelling, beautifully written book. It has to be a book that the trade perceives a chance of selling in the current market. Agents and publishers are not in it for the love of supporting struggling writers. Well, that may be part of their motivation, but they also have to make a living. All the agents you have submitted to will be sharply aware of this. If they weren't, they wouldn't still be in business. Or soon won't be.


But suppose you strike gold. You get a reply saying that Agent X would like you to send her the full manuscript. Yay! Break out the champers, or whatever else you like to celebrate with. You deserve it, because you've got yourself over that first hurdle, and not many do. But hang on: you haven't made it yet.


Because it's only the first hurdle. I recently read on here (Sorry, but I can't remember who posted it) of an agent being asked how many of her full manuscript requests resulted in an offer of representation from her, and the reply was one in every three or four. The odds have shortened drastically, but they're still against you. Knowing that, of course, isn't going to stop you feeling full of joy and sending off a reply with the full manuscript before the virtual dust has even settled in your in-box. And then you're back in hell, waiting again. It's been known to take months.


Now let's suppose that your wait ends the best way, with Agent X telling you that she LOVES your manuscript and inviting you up to London (very, very few agents are based anywhere else) for a meeting. You've probably never been so excited. You go up, you have lunch together, you talk and talk about the one thing you love talking about most in the world: your book. To someone who's actually interested. And at the end of it all she offers you representation. You're over the moon. You have an agent. You've made it.


Er, sorry. Not quite.


The first thing that will happen is that your lovely new agent will make some suggestions about how your book can be made better. This usually are suggestions, not demands, and can be open to (quite possibly interesting) discussion, but agents and writers have been known to part company when the irresistible agent meets the immovable writer on such an issue. Hopefully that won't happen, so off you go on another rewrite. Or several.


Then hell starts up all over again because, no matter how much Agent X loves your book, she's got to find a publisher's editor who feels the same way. And even though she has nous, knowledge of the trade, and contacts that you haven't, there is no guarantee that she will succeed.


And even if she does, can you rest on your laurels? Not on your nelly, mate. The editor will also have ideas for improvements. And it's not a good idea to dismiss this input from the editor (or the agent) lightly. These people are not arrogant know-it-alls out to prove that they're superior beings to you. They are professionals with far more knowledge than you have about what makes people buy books and keep reading them. What they are actually doing is, as Emma Darwin puts it, trying to help you write the book you thought you'd already written. It may just happen that the book they think you've written isn't the same book that you thought you'd written. Then you are going to have problems.


But that doesn't happen often, so let's suppose you've finished yet another round of rewrites and your book's all ready to go. Now there's yet another hurdle. That editor has to sell your book at the publisher's acquisitions meeting, to people who are business people, not (at least not necessarily) book lovers, and who almost certainly haven't even read it. They're not interested in your singing prose, your fascinating characters, or your nail-biting plot. They're interested in only one thing: will it sell?


Well, miracles can happen. Now you're offered a publishing deal. Phew. Big, big celebrations. You're a published author.


Not just yet. All these processes take time (at least a year for the final stage between that offer of a contract and actual publication), and by the time your dream comes true and you're holding your published book in your hands you'll be lucky if you have any nails left. But it's all been worth it. Maybe you'll even see your book in Waterstone's window. You've really made it now.


Or have you? There are hundreds of novels published every year. What's to say that yours is going to be one of the few that really sell? Despite their expertise and assessment of the market, those publishers have taken a gamble on you, and they may have got it wrong. When you've finished admiring that window display in Waterstone's, walk into the nearest branch of The Works, and look at those tables piled high with discounted books. Why do you think they are there?


And even if your book isn't one of the many that sink without trace, there's no guarantee that your next book will be accepted. Yes, you've got a much better chance than someone with an unsolicited manuscript in the slush pile, but you can't count on it. The writer of the most successful novel (that I've heard of) ever to come out of the Word Cloud couldn't get her second book published. Unless you become one of the stellar few, there is never going to be a time when you can sit back, relax, and say 'I've made it.' 


Which brings us (finally!) to the last point. Remember that the James Pattersons and J K Rowlings of this world are only a tiny percentage of published authors. The vast majority of authors, even established ones, don't earn enough out of writing alone to make a good living. You might be able to give up the day job, but you'd better have something else up your sleeve.


So is there no crumb of comfort anywhere? Well, yes, there is. With all those factors in play, all those hurdles to be got over, failure to get published doesn't necessarily mean you have to flay yourself and convince yourself that your writing is rubbish. There are all sorts of other reasons (including bad luck) why you haven't made it.


Footnote: yes, I know. I haven't said anything about self-publishing. This blog is long enough as it is, and self-publishing presents a whole different set of challenges. And if you do decide to go down that route, bear in mind that, done properly, it will entail you laying out substantial sums of money (on professional editing, proof reading and cover design, for starters) that you are most unlikely ever to recoup. Not hundreds but thousands upon thousands of self-published novels come out every year, the vast majority of them are downright awful, and the brutal truth is that very few of them attain even three-figure sales. 

Oct 8th

Random Musings - Fair Fight

By Jaxx

 Hi all,

If this would be better in a forum post or group, let me know and I will move the question there.

I have two sentient, human(oid) races in my story. (Some of you may remember reading a bit of it.) One has war tech equivalent to late Roman or dark ages, although I could move this up to early medieval if necessary. The other is more primitive technologically, but the individuals are more robust and animal-like.

When they meet, one race would quickly conquer the other, all things being equal. To prevent this, I need to balance the stronger creatures with the tech of the physically weaker race.

I opted for the stronger race to be fewer in number and for their society to have no mass-population infrastructure, and for the weaker race to have crossbows and ballista. I know the Romans had such war machines, but I am now wondering if that's a step too far, and that horse- or longbows or other regular weapons would do.

Whaddya think? If you were a Roman being attacked by a lion who is as smart as you are, how far in advance would your tech need to be to put up a decent fight?

Oct 5th

humour is like poetry;it cannot be defined

By mike


     It did interest me  that  the word ‘humorist’ has been mentioned and a group formed.  The word did  not seem to be in common use, and I came to the conclusion that it referred to the comedy of the Edwardian era.  I had researched the life of someone who called himself a humorist.  I think it means someone one writes  with a  particular ‘humor’ or state of mind.      

    In my opinion the mood of a humorist is benign,

    The O.E.D defines a humorist as: ‘a person who is subject to fancies, obsessions, or quirks of thought, or behavior, a whimsical person‘   This definition is then compared with the word ‘humor’ which is defined as: ‘ a  particular disposition, inclination, or liking, esp. one having no apparent ground or reason; a fancy, a whim. Also occasionally as a mass noun. Now arch. and rare’

     The first source for the word ‘humorist’ that can be understood by mere mortals is in 1712 .    J. Addison Spectator No. 477:   “I am looked upon as an Humorist in Gardening. I have several Acres about my House, which I call my Garden, and which a Skilful Gardener would not know what to call.”

     (Addison belongs to a school of writing called Augustan - a period active during the reign of Queen Anne.  I doubt if Addison or Steele would have caused the inhabitants of the local coffee house to roll in the aisles , but a gentleman - or aristocrat  - might have the ‘Spectator’ delivered in the morning, along with  his copy of the’Times’ )

    I could not find the reference in the books  of the person I researched, but came across some paragraphs in the introduction to one of his travel books, and I have typed them out.  Comedy is linked to poetry.   He writes:  “Humor is like poetry, It cannot be defined.’


 “Much of my apparently strained philosophical reflections may appear like strange digressions and slightly unbalanced rhapsodies.  My excuse for this is, that I am endowed with a strange mixture of misanthropy and misplaced humour.  Humour is like poetry; it cannot be defined.  The humour I possess is something of an unrecognisable quality, and I have often spent sleepless nights laughing convulsively over my own jokes!    Often I have sat in some South Sea grog shanty telling my most exquisite joke.only to look up to see all the rough men burst into tears!  On one occasion I told what I thought to be the most pathetic incident I know - lo!- men smacked me on the back and were seized with paroxysms of ecstatic laughter!

    When I dwelt for a brief period in England I listened to many thousands of British jokes, but cannot recall that I laughed more than twice.  This fact convinces me that I am incorrigibly dull and devoid of mirth. So, whoever takes up my book with the idea of gathering laughter will lay it down disappointed.  I feel that it is better to make this confession at the outset.’’


    I had picked up one of a grandfather’s books which happened to be on my parents’ bookshelves.   The book was totally weird but I persevered and it made me laugh. I have no idea why?   I notice this grandfather uses the word ‘mirth’ and this word is not used today either.   He is one of those authors whose writing became very dated and belongs to a previous epoch, but then he travels forwards and lands up in the following epoch, which does suggest a cyclical nature to generational change.

    I had asked myself if I could get close to a great, great grandfather, who would have been my grandfather’s great uncle.  He is from the Regency/early Victorian period and the language he used was  a barrier.  He wrote travel books too,    It was only when I got to grips with the comedy in the writing that any communication across the generations became possible.


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