Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Peter Sissons

It's a well-known fact that I have a penchant for newsreaders - BBC newsreaders in particular.  So when I discovered that Peter Sissons was appearing at St Mary's Church in Loughton as part of the Essex Book Festival, I had to go.

Imagine my joy at being first in the queue and gaining a second row seat (the first row was reserved for dignitaries such as the mayor and local councillors) before my nerves kicked in.  I had been excited about this evening but to find myself nervous was a strange state of affairs.  To be honest, I wished I'd sat a few rows back as I felt slightly voyeuristic and quite uncomfortable being so close to this man I had admired from the comfort of my sitting room for so long.  If our eyes met I either looked down, uncomfortable, or sat there grinning like a fool.  I wanted to appear academically interested and nonchalant but think I managed 'odd-woman-gurning'.

It was an entertaining evening punctuated with little anecdotes about his life: student days admiring Joanna Trollope as 'the best looking blonde in Oxford', or heavier moments describing when he was hit by a machine gun bullet in Biafra.  I enjoyed hearing about his life as a child with schoolmates Jimmy Tarbuck, John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney and listened for traces of a Liverpudlian accent.

I would have liked to learn more about 'Peter Sissons the man' but much of the evening was taken describing his wranglings with the BBC.  This was clearly a very important chapter in his life and he seems to be still reeling from it.  I hope that he received some comfort from talking about his experiences....and I hope that in time he will feel able to look back with fond nostalgia rather than resentment.

I bought his book at the event and duly queued to have it signed.  I was almost last in the queue and I wracked my empty head for a witticism or cleverly constructed comment - but nothing.  I found myself, once more, grinning wildly but now hopping from foot to foot and completely tongue-tied.  Peter kindly wrote in my book 'lovely to meet you' - a true gentleman, not wishing to embarrass the imbecile in front of him.

I'd definitely go to another talk by Peter Sissons - just afraid he might run away in fright.  In preparation I think I'll practice my academically-interested-and-incredibly-learned look!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Penelope Fletcher at Writebulb

Penelope, centre, with some of the 'bulbs.
If you're a Young Adult Fantasy fan then you should know who Penelope Fletcher is.

Her debut novel, The Demon Girl, has just clocked up an impressive 75,000 downloads and her latest work, Lunar Light, came out this week.

Penelope visited Writebulb's March meeting to share her story and it's inspiring stuff!  An avid reader all her life, she started writing just a few years ago.  The Demon Girl's first draft took two years to complete and several more months to edit.

The inevitable rejections followed but they were accompanied by enough encouragement to keep her going and she soon decided to self-publish to see what readers thought.  Praise for the work spread by mouth and the positive reviews started to roll in.  Recognising that the copy needed a tighter edit, an updated version was issued and a print version is imminent.

Lunar Light is a novella for the more mature reader but it preserves her penchant for the fantasy setting.

A character-driven writer, Penelope is consumed by her stories and writes in concentrated bursts until the work is complete.  The follow-up to The Demon Girl, A Demon Day, was completed in just two weeks and will be available this Summer.

Writebulb would like to thank Penelope for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with us.

Light on, write on!

An Evening With Pete McCarthy

February 2003: “I’m so excited I feel sick – I’ve just discovered that Pete McCarthy is coming to Chelmsford to talk about his book!”

This was a note I found in a scrapbook just a couple of weeks ago and it brought back very happy memories of a wonderful evening spent in the company of an exceptional person. It’s at this point I have to put my hands up and say I wasn’t excited because Pete McCarthy was my favourite writer, in fact I hadn’t even read his book 'McCarthy’s Bar'… I was excited because my son, Angus, who was 13 at the time, absolutely loved his books and I knew he would go into hyperspace when I told him I’d got tickets. Don’t you just love giving surprises?! Yes, I can still feel that tickle of excitement in my stomach when I bought the tickets (in fact I think I may have been the first person in Essex to buy tickets!)

I know we were definitely first in the queue at the Shire Hall because Angus was adamant we had to be there at least an hour early. The hall was full and we sat in front row seats (what a surprise); there was a definite buzz of anticipation in the air as the time approched for Pete McCarthy to appear.

As I’m sitting typing this I’m smiling because it was a glorious evening; Pete was a warm and wonderfully quirky raconteur and not only did he read from his book and tell very funny stories about his life he brought an Irish fiddler along and everyone sang and laughed and joined in – the spirit of humour and love of life was so tangible you could reach out and touch it, I swear. And at the end of the evening when it was book signing time, Angus was first in the queue clutching his dog-eared, tatty version of McCarthy’s Bar and told him that he wanted to be a travel writer. Pete smiled and although I can’t remember what he said to Angus he wrote in the front cover, “to Angus in the front row”. You’d have thought Angus had been given a million pounds.

A couple of weeks later Angus wrote to him to tell him how much he loved his writing and Pete quickly replied with a wonderful handwritten letter which was full of warmth and encouragement telling him that he must keep on reading and writing. I think Angus has two letters from him as well as the treasured book.

In 2004 Pete McCarthy died after a long battle with cancer aged just 52 and I still feel my eyes prickle with tears when I think about how ill he must have been that night he entertained us. Just knowing him for one evening had a profound effect on both Angus and myself – life is about laughter and music and drawing people into its heart and he managed to convey that in an exceptional way. And if I ever do become a published writer and am asked to give a talk I’m definitely going to take leaf from his book and take an Irish fiddler with me! Thank you Pete McCarthy!

(PS: And should you be wondering why I’m writing about an Essex Book Festival event 8 years ago, it’s because the event I went to this year (and I’m not saying which one because that would not be polite) was cold, dry and I don’t want to write about it!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Face for the Radio

We had our first taste of PR on Thursday:  Writebulb was invited to attend the Essex Book Festival launch at Chelmsford Library.  Sadly only three of the founders could attend (Kate has just started a new job so couldn't take the time off work) but we still muddled through!  It was quite a nerve-wracking experience with labels stuck on us and radio producers counting us down...and lots of people looking at us as if we were celebrities!  It was a very strange experience but incredibly good fun.  The folks at Chelmsford Library and the BBC Essex team were so warm and friendly and did their best to put us at our ease.  It was great - and much more fun than the day job!

We were given a writing challenge to perform which was read out on air by the first Essex Storytelling Laureate, Mike Dodsworth ( who was fantastic.  Our writing challenge was to write a love letter to the county of Essex and we had just 40 minutes to complete it.  It is the first time that the three of us (Stu, Brigid and myself) have collaborated on anything and we all have very different styles of writing.  The piece we produced reflects these differing styles and was created with great energy and enthusiasm.  It was a huge learning curve in writing quickly and a great team effort - something that I would like to explore further within Writebulb meetings.  I think we can all learn from collaborating with other writers of differing styles.

After our 15 minutes of fame I met the lovely Joanna Trollope - gosh, what an amazing lady.  She was so kind and gracious...I am definitely in awe!  I also met Guy Saville, a new author who spent lots of time chatting with us and giving us insights into the publishing world - very scary (not Guy!)  Such a lovely man who has promised to speak at one of our meetings on the proviso that we supply him with chocolate biscuits!

And so I give you Writebulb's Love Letter to The County of Essex:

To my gorgeous county Essex,

I dreamt of you last night. As we walked together along the endless coastline, I admired your gently undulating countryside, and your outstanding areas of natural beauty.

You turned to me and said "are my curves bigger than Norfolk?" and I replied that you are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. My heart revs for you like the boy racers on Southend seafront.

We talked about Dick; both Turpin and Moby, but couldn't decide which one to dine in.

As I awoke I realised that my interest in you is not just scientific, like your salty marshes. I'd serenade you like Olly Murs, and pen the story of our love like Martina Cole. I know you like a villain.

No other county compares to you. I can lose myself in you and be everything I am, for I have seen the real you.

Do not doubt yourself. I love the way you look in your stilettos. Your costume jewellery shines in the night, like the lights of Bas Vegas.

I have been around the world and back and, truly, the only way is Essex.

Lots of love and kisses,


Friday, March 4, 2011


Pavlov’s dogs – I’m sure you’ve heard of the neurophysiologist Ivan Pavlov who rang a bell every time he fed his dogs. Soon the dogs began to salivate when they heard the bell ring even when there was no food.

Conditioning – one way or another we all experience it.

And I’ll bet you’re wondering where exactly I’m going with this…

Years and years of working in an office composing letters, reports, minutes, etc. has given my writing a certain style that is just so hard to break away from. Everything in my work life is clipped and tidy, given a professional edge. And it’s really annoying when you’re trying to get creative and let go but your conditioning won’t let you – my goodness, my subconscious tells me, eyebrows raised in professional horror, you can’t let that go out looking like that! And so I stop to tidy up my writing, to tweak and twirl it and then lo and behold what happens? Oh yes, surprise, surprise I’ve lost the plot (in more ways than one).

And so I’m going to bed now and maybe it’ll all be better in the morning…