To describe last month as a ‘busy’ one is putting it mildly. A new book launch at the start of #Indie Author Week UK, a magazine anniversary feature, swapping interviews with fellow author Jude Lennon, research work and remote meetings – well all I can say is ‘phew’!
Now it is time to pause and take stock, as well as getting the Motor Home back on the road after lockdown. Like many we’ll be ‘staycationing’ this summer, so won’t be travelling far, but any change of scene after recent months will be welcome. Open road here we come!
Not usually a fan of looking back, writing a feature as part of the 50th anniversary of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), did get me thinking about my first job in journalism. At the time, way back in the 1980s, I could have gone quite another route.
Straight after graduating, there was the prospect of a research grant for a university post-graduate degree in social history. It would have meant a move to another part of the UK but I then decided that academia wasn’t for me. I’d always wanted to be a journalist and had even completed an accredited distance learning course in my spare time.
Spotting an advertisement for a trainee reporter in then weekly national ‘Social Work Today’ magazine, I winged off my application. With a journalism qualification already under my belt. (and some experience of working with children in care), the job seemed tailor made for me.
That still meant a tough two part interview, before being put on a three month ‘trial’. In the end I stayed there for five years, going from trainee reporter to chief reporter and feature writer.
During that time I covered everything from major child abuse stories, investigations into the social impact of mass unemployment in large parts of the UK, to high profile court cases and professional conferences. Subjects that I would then go on to cover for television documentaries and national newspapers/magazines,
Looking back over those early articles made me realise just how much things have changed – and haven’t changed – in the world of social work. By far the biggest scandal is the state of social care for vulnerable people, a can well and truly kicked down the road by successive governments. Covid-19 has laid bare the extent of this neglect and we can only hope that it will finally get the attention it so desperately needs. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
Writing the latest magazine feature also gave me the idea to link my new short stories collection, ‘Shorts and Thoughts’, to the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust charity.
Half of all book payments will go to the charity which is a small but much needed one. Sometimes those who care for others need help too and if you know anyone who likes short stories, then spread the word. I’m setting my sights high for this one as there is a charity involved.
This time around my book of choice is ‘Half A World Away’ by the talented Mike Gayle. I’ve read a number of Mike’s books over the years and this one deals with the themes of adoption, reunion and loss – subjects I’ve also covered in my own novella series.
Brilliantly written, poignant yet still uplifting, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Written from the point of view of the two main characters, the subject is dealt with sensitively and the story has you gripped from the outset. Yet another great offering from one of our best contemporary writers.
Finally, here’s to a more chill-out few weeks and MoHo adventures. Enjoy the summer everyone – after lockdown we’ll never take those small everyday freedoms for granted again.
You are best known for your children’s books but you have also written a short story collection ‘A Slice of Lennon’. How hard was it making the transition from children’s writing to creating stories for adults?
My writing group ‘The Revolting Peasants’ gave me an additional challenge one month – I couldn’t write for children. Since then I have rarely written for children as part of my writing group but I did end up with a collection of short stories, many of which made it into the book.
You are a bit of a social media star – tell us how you manage to balance that with your prolific writing…
Scheduling! I have a
spreadsheet (how unexciting) with my social media pages and key dates that I
want to post about. It makes it much easier to keep on top of it. Awareness
Days are my friend!
Do you have any writer ‘must-haves’ while you work – music, props etc?
I LOVE music but don’t write with it on. I am a pen and paper
girl so I can pretty much write anywhere and have done. If I’m in my office at
home a cup of Rooibos tea is essential and chocolate if possible!
A question that has to be asked – are you related to that other famous Lennon from Liverpool?
Ha, yes. My Dad’s grandfather and his grandfather were brothers. It’s not close enough for me to claim royalties!
What have been your lockdown ‘saviours ’? Ahem – the cover of ‘A Slice of Lennon’ might give a small hint about one of them…
The outdoors, my bike, laughing with my partner, reading and writing. The thought of getting away in my VW campervan Buttercup when this is over. And the odd tipple of gin – with that slice of ‘lemon’ !
Depending on whether you are an optimist or pessimist, the saying ‘May you live in interesting times’, is a blessing or a curse.
Well no-one could describe these lockdown times as anything but ‘interesting’ with commentators struggling to find distinctive ways to sum up this new world – ‘unprecedented’ has taken a pounding, as has ‘bizarre’ and ‘peculiar’. In short we are running out of words to describe this pandemic, with ‘stay safe’ being the current mantra.
How else do you sign off in the world of Covid 19?
Social media is awash with inspirational (or not!) quotations, conspiracy theories are flourishing, well known people are having words put into their mouths and then shared around as weird rants.
Meantime Gabby and her mates are putting themselves out there as the new ‘experts’ in everything from virology, public health management, to news coverage. Welcome to the ‘new normal’ – to coin another cliche.
During lockdown it is fascinating to see how we have retreated even further into our own ‘echo chambers’, sharing and agreeing with people who reflect our view of the world. This isn’t surprising – it makes us feel safe to surround ourselves with people whose views mirror our own – but it is still good to step outside your comfort zone and listen to someone with a different take on things.
That’s why travel can be so enriching but with that now out of bounds, the ‘I know better’ brigade are out there in droves doing what they do – tirading. (Ironically, some of the very same people were spreading the ‘be kind’ slogan just a few months ago).
Yet genuine day-to-day kindness survives against the odds. All over the country there have been numerous examples of people going the extra mile for neighbours, friends and family. People working away, making sure we are all cared for medically, are fed, able to get around and kept up-to-date with what is going on. Some of them losing their lives on this new battle field. The word gratitude barely does the job, yet another sign of how we are all struggling to find the right words.
Talking of gratitude…
Never in a million years did I think I’d get involved with a radio station when I moved to Cornwall back in 2012. Working in TV documentaries, current affairs and feature writing, my experience of radio was limited to the occasional interview on the back of a programme or written piece.
That is exactly how I first got introduced to Coast FM Radio, when the late Pat Quayle invited me to talk about my work. Not long afterwards, I found myself attending Board meetings, learning just how much hard work and dedication goes into running a local radio station.
In these lockdown times, the station has come into its own with presenters producing live programmes from home ‘studios’ and pre-recorded material too. Their shows keep people informed about home food deliveries, travel, health and welfare issues and much more. This alongside the usual dedications, music and occasional fun quizzes to lift the spirits.
Team Coast has certainly done it’s bit for the community down here and the level of commitment shown has been humbling. Just one small word here and again it doesn’t seem enough. Thanks.
Finally, with the Motor Home parked up for the duration – though we’ve been known to sit in there with the odd cocktail! – I’ve been reading a lockdown book courtesy of my niece Amy.
‘Crossing Places’ by Elly Griffiths features the fictional Dr Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist who combines her academic work at a local University with helping out in crime investigations. Overweight and overthinking, Ruth lives alone in a remote house on the North Norfolk coast, the ‘Saltmarsh’ providing a menacing and eerie backdrop. The book was published in 2009, so some investigative references are of their time but the main characters are believable and give some intriguing insights into this specialist field of forensics. There is a great sense of place and atmospheric story-telling – the writing is good too.
That’s it for now. Cheerio – and dare I say it? Oh go on then.
PS: Photo of Bonnie dog guarding her well gnawed chew – just because…
To say that Motor Home ownership is a steep learning curve is putting it mildly. Just when you think you are getting to grips with all things MoHo, up pops another problem to get your head around.
Still, learning new stuff is good for the brain and there is nothing like being able to set off at a whim. (Or whenever there is a break in the rainy weather, as has been the case over the past few months).
One of the biggest challenges is using the MoHo as our one and only form of transport, with no extra car or bikes. This means pitching up at sites where you can walk easily to a nearby town – or at least to a local pub or restaurant – especially when you are staying for several days.
From this point of view, membership groups like the Caravan and Motorhome Club are proving invaluable. Joining up gets you some discounts and reliable information about the proximity of sites to towns, villages or eateries.
Recently we stopped over for a couple of days in Porlock, a lovely Somerset town and found a site which is just a five minute walk from the centre. Our pitch (costing £20 per night) included an electric hook-up and although we didn’t use the shower facilities – we have our own – they were there if you wanted them.
OK, the weather was what you might call ‘mixed’, but we still managed a good walk and a few visits to pooch Bonnie’s favourite places – the local pubs! (Well lets face it, we’re not averse either).
As you’d expect, Porlock is a dog friendly town – again we are learning that it is best to seek out places where you know mutts are welcome. So far so good on that score, given that Cornwall has set the – ahem – ‘bar’ pretty damn high.
Yet another lesson learned the hard way when MoHo travelling in winter. Relentless rain makes for lashings of mud on wheels, bodywork, boots and those dog paws! A decent foot mat sorts out us humans with Bonnie dog getting used to regular paw swills – safe to say not her favourite thing. Heading out this time of year really does mean leaving the clean up until you get home.
Muddy paintwork? Just embrace it darling!
My book on the move was ‘Summer at the Cornish Cafe’ by Phillipa Ashley. It was a Christmas present from my niece and a bit of summery escapism at this time of year.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect but found it a light, feel-good read from someone who knows (and clearly loves) Cornwall. The writer lists ‘watching Poldark’ as one of her hobbies and in essence this is a modern take on Poldark – the tin mine is replaced by an eco-friendly holiday business and Ross P is called Cal Penwith. Demelza keeps her name but it is abbreviated to a more hip sounding Demi.
Cal returns from a stint in the Middle East to the neglected family holiday business left by his late father and in steps young Demi. Bright as a button and in dire need of a job, she has a dog in tow as well. Meanwhile hunk Cal is still pining for his previous girlfriend, (now engaged to someone else), and you get the drift – damn it, we even know that he looks a bit like the actor Aidan Turner.
With the first person narration coming from the two main characters, the style takes a little while to get used to but overall it is an easy read and perfect for a holiday in Cornwall or just for a bit of chill out ‘me’ time. The door is left open for the next installment and on the basis of this one, I’ll be keen to read the rest.
Talking of books, I was delighted to give a recent talk at St Just Library and to get my publications onto their shelves, nifty plastic protective covers and Cornwall County Library inner bar-code included! Never mind all those TV production credits, and the newspaper/magazine bylines – having your own books in the library is right up there.
#Motor Homes # Book review # Cornwall # St Just # Porlock
There is no getting away from it, Moho travel and relentless rain do not go together – hence the gap from my last blog post. As soon as we got a break from the rain we were off, this time staying in Cornwall with trips to the fishing villages of Polperro and Mevagissey.
As a test of winter resilience, we opted for parking without an electric hook up and just rocked up to the main car parks at both places. Not that we were slumming it with gas heating and use of our own roomy shower! Polperro was the more expensive place costing £25 for a 24 hour stay whereas Mevagissey was less than half that price.
At this time of year, both locations were quiet and we were able to choose our own spots with just a short stroll into the respective villages. Polperro is one of those scenic places loved by tourists, yet still manages to keep an authenticity despite the hordes of visitors who flock at the height of summer. Yes there are the mandatory gift shops – but not too many – and we had a great lunch at ‘The Three Pilchards’ pub where the staff were friendly both to us and our pooch Bonnie.
A doggy welcome always a bonus!
Mevagissey is a bigger and busier port, more ‘touristy’ but like Polperro still retains a strong sense of community. The main car park is a family run place and good value for an overnight Moho stay. We found a level spot (no stabilisers needed!) and can recommend the ‘Sharksfin’ restaurant for great seafood, wine and that all important dog friendliness.
My ‘on the go’ book for this trip was Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’, covering her childhood growing up in Chicago, her journey from a secure, loving but relatively poor working class-family, to studying law at the Ivy League Princeton University.
She went on to have a stellar career both as a lawyer and in the public sector, meeting her future husband, Barack, when she was assigned as his mentor at the Chicago law firm where she got her first job.
The rest is history. She became America’s First Lady after Barack won two terms as the US President and during that time Michelle made her own mark especially in the fields of childhood well-being and nutrition.
What comes over most is her honesty about her struggles adjusting to the relentless public scrutiny, especially with two young daughters, and the constant monitoring from close protection staff. She writes candidly about the attempts to retain some sort of individual and family normalacy in a situation which is far from normal.
I loved the book both for its humanity, humour and her willingness to open up about the one thing that affects many people from working-class backgrounds who smash the ‘class ceiling’ and enter the highly competitive professions.
That niggling inner voice sometimes saying ‘not enough’. In other words the imposter syndrome that many people, especially women, feel when they have stepped outside the confines of the social groups they were born into.
Michelle certainly is enough and more. It is no surprise that ‘Becoming’ has resonated with so many and that she is an inspiration to those young people who see her as a fantastic role model. It is a book that stays with you long after you have finished reading it and the writing is good too.
While on the subject of books, in the new year I will be re-launching the ‘Dilemma Novella’ series, (I haven’t done any significant marketing for a long time and it shows!), along with a new compilation of short stories. In preparation there is a batch of nifty bookmarks designed by Spencer Smart and they will come in handy as I’ve just been invited to give a talk at a local library. Some radio advertisements are planned too, with input from a clever copywriter. So watch this space.
Finally, as it is nearly Christmas, here is a festive photo to be going on with and hope 2020 proves a great year for you all.
Well then – what are the main differences between Motor Home travel in France and the UK?
First of all space and lots of it. France is a bigger country and as such the roads are less busy – you can travel miles outside the major towns and cities without seeing too many other vehicles. As it was our first MoHo trip abroad, we played safe opting for the larger and quicker toll routes but even the non-toll roads were refreshingly quiet.
On this occasion my husband Paul did the driving while I acted as a back-up to the Sat Nav (!) and ‘toll-payer in chief’ – with our vehicle being right hand drive, the ticket/pay machines were conveniently on my side. On this subject there is one useful tip we wished we’d been given.
If your vehicle is over a certain height, your toll ticket and pay request can be issued from the top of the machine supposedly to make things easier to reach. At our first toll stop we couldn’t understand why we were pressing a visible ticket dispenser button and nothing was happening. Doh – the reason was that we hadn’t cast our eyes upwards. Ah well, one of many lessons learned but just to out-fox you, not all the pay machines are the same. C’est la vie.
The French campsites are also more spacious and in most cases have better facilities on offer. Our trip was for two weeks travelling from Calais to the French South West, so we stopped at three sites on the way down – in St Valery; Fresnay-sur-Sarthe and Chateauroux – before staying with a friend at her beautiful home in Caumont. All the sites had decent shower facilities, areas for laundry and even outside the main season, you could still pre-order bread, breakfast pastries etc for next day delivery. Site prices averaged around £17 in equivalent euros and the individual pitches were mainly larger than in the UK, some with neatly hedged borders. It was like having your own private garden!
If you don’t want to stay at a main site, you can prop up for a night at one of the many road-side ‘Aires’ which often have water top-up and waste disposal, toilet areas, with some having the equivalent of motorway service eateries only better. We only stopped overnight at one Aire in Honfleur. Less private space but within walking distance of the town and run by the council. so there was a small charge of £10 (11 euros) for 24 hours. The place was packed but many of these Aire users went out to local bars and restaurants, giving a boost to the local economy.
Could we have similar arrangements in the UK? France has the clear advantage of space and a long history of Motor Home/Camper Van travel. On this side of the pond, an Aire style system would only work where the surrounding roads could cope – yet there is still plenty of scope to make things better for UK MoHo visitors and users.
We had our pet dog, Bonnie, with us and thankfully most of the local bars and eateries we visited were dog friendly, almost as much as Cornwall. The Pet Passport was straight forward, as was the compulsory visit to a French vet to get the required worming treatment and health check before heading home. (Pooch Bonnie that is – not us!).
To sum up our first trip? As the French say ‘tres bon’ and overall, it was a lot easier than we expected. Let’s just hope it stays that way, given the current ‘B’ situation – on that score, not a single French person we met even mentioned it. A refreshing reminder of life before June 2016. Remember that?
My book choice for travelling this time around was Eric Idle’s ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ which is described on the cover as a ‘sortabiography’. Whether you are a Monty Python fan or not – Eric was one of the Pythons along with John Cleese et al – the book is a roller coaster read taking us from Eric’s childhood, through to his time at Cambridge University, the birth of the Monty Python gang and the start of a stellar career spanning television, film, musicals, screenplays – the list goes on. You are never far from great tales of mischief making, fall-outs, celebrity shindigs, friendship and love. In fact the stuff of life is packed in there but with far more bells and whistles than most people will ever experience. With the song ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ played at funerals, weddings, football terraces, graduations and the like, you would expect Eric to have his own tombstone epitaph planned out to the last word. Well he has: