Friday, 21 June 2013

Not Made in Chelsea

Remember my mum? She was a guest blogger on my post a few months ago click here to read the post. Well, tomorrow it will be her 82nd birthday and I thought I would post these pictures of her garden as this is where the whole family shall be gathering for the traditional birthday treasure hunt! 

Every year, the family are given a list of around twenty items which have been hidden in the garden and everyone has to find them. There are no exceptions - old or young, you have to join in.

It is also tradition that (close your eyes now Mum) halfway through, cheating becomes rife - with a nod in the direction of an item here and a quick swapping of the location of found items there. Of course, this is frowned upon by the Clarke side of the family until with defeat in sight, fair play flies to the wind!

I went to the Chelsea Flower show a few weeks back and I have to say that there wasn't a garden there to match my mum's and she does it ALL herself!

What is lovely, is the creation of so many different 'spaces' - a walled garden, a wooded area, a formal lawn, rockeries and different seating areas.

Of course, the grandchildren love the treasure hunt and the excitement of wandering around all the little paths and secret places.

They love the garden ornaments and statues - around every corner there is something new to see. The fox cubs love them too and Mum will often find them moved around!
All these pictures of Mum's garden, bring me nicely to Patsy Collins' new book 'Up the Garden Path' published by Alfie Dog. It's a collection of her garden related short stories. I haven't read it yet but I have downloaded it and am sure it will be an excellent read.

I shall leave you now as after the treasure hunt, I shall be off to sunny Greece. Even though I won't be here, please still comment as my Mum reads my blog!

Monday, 17 June 2013

A School of Thought - Read My Story in Woman's Weekly Fiction Special

What with all the excitement over the Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop, it seems a good time to tell you about the inspiration behind my story 'A School of Thought' which is published in this month's Woman's Weekly Fiction Special.

The story is about a teacher who is annoyed to find she has a student in her class just before the SATS exams. She has forgotten that a long time ago, when she was a student teacher, she was given a hard time by the class teacher. It takes her mother to remind her. At first sight, it might seem to have the dreaded Well Worn Theme but there is a twist at the end of the story. I won't spoil it by telling you what it is in case you want to read it.

Most of you will know that before I became a magazine writer, I was a teacher - first a general class teacher in state schools and then an English teacher in a small private primary school. (It was when this school closed during the recession two years that I decided to try my hand at writing).

When I was a student teacher, I loved my first placement. I had sweet seven year olds and the teacher was warm and welcoming. In the second school however, things could not have been more different. The class teacher made it clear that she didn't want me there and the class of twelve year olds, who were in the last term before they went to secondary school, weren't bothered about working - it was a nightmare.

The part in the story where the teacher shares a joke with one of the pupils at the student's expense is true as is when the main character hears her own student crying in the toilets at break time - the rest is fiction.

When, in time, I had a student in my own class, I remembered my experience and made sure that I was friendly and supportive.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Boys and Their Toys

When I met my husband (the creator of Wendy's Story Timeline) six year ago he was a boy but now he is a man. No, don't worry, I'm not the next Mrs Robinson it's just that apparently men do not grow up until they are 43 and he was 42 when I met him. It seems they take longer to mature - like a good wine.

This isn't all bad, though - 40 per cent of people say they think immaturity is important in keeping relationships fun and fresh and 33 per cent say it helps them bond with kids.

We all know that boys love their toys - writer Douglas Mcpherson included - he has a fascination with juggling.

Most of you will know Douglas from his brilliant articles in Writer's Forum. He also writes fiction for women's magazines under the name Julia Douglas.

Now what you may not know about Douglas is that, like most boys, he loves the circus... he really does - so much so, that he has written a book about it called Circus Mania and he also has a blog of the same name.

Douglas is so excited about the fact that Saturday is World Juggling Day that he has sent this message for me to share with all my readers:

Saturday June 15 is World Juggling Day, the perfect day to have a go, as juggling is apparently great for improving creativity by uniting the left and right sides of the brain. It also burns 280 calories an hour.

I'll be blogging 15 Facts about Juggling on my Circus Mania blog on Wed 13 and on the Saturday I'll be posting How To Juggle in 5 Easy Steps.

I am one of those people who has tried juggling with three oranges without much success. Likewise I have tried to juggle various elements of my life at one time or another with luckily rather more success.

On Monday I shall be sharing with you the inspiration behind my latest story in this month's Woman's Weekly fiction special but in the meantime I shall be popping over to Douglas's blog to see if I can improve my circus skills - why don't you join me?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Woman's Weekly Writing Workshop Part 2 or Did Wendy Ever Get Her Coffee?

Here is part two of our day at The Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop.

As you will have noticed from part one in my Friday post, it is a little tongue in cheek so I shall direct you to my companion for the day, Tracy Fells', blog for the more serious stuff - she'll be posting later.

So the revolving doors have spat us out into what can only be described as 'The Land of the Young and Beautiful' - the Blue Fin Building. We are asked to join some others who are waiting and told we will be taken upstairs soon but my bladder is telling me something different (who can blame me - after the morning I've had). We find the toilets and then emerge back into reception to find that they have gone without us.

We look at each other - should we wait? Should we search the hundreds of rooms in the hope that we might eventually find Gaynor? We decide to wait... and wait... Eventually a sweet girl arrives (surely she can't be more that fourteen) and tells us we will wait for a few others to arrive before going up. We wait... and then wait some more. I am suffering from lack of caffeine and the shock of the gun shot (I'm sorry, Tracy but I'm sticking to my theory). Time is also going by and we picture Gaynor giving the introductory talk without us. We start to get twitchy. At last we are escorted upstairs and into the conference room.

Twenty five pairs of eyes stare at us and Gaynor stops mid-sentence - she is charming and welcomes us but we can't help but feel like school children who have arrived after the bell.

'Do take a seat, ladies.'

I look at Tracy then at the full table. Tracy manages to find a place at the table and I find myself a corner. It is a very nice corner, actually. Gaynor's talk is interesting but I am more worried about my stomach. I didn't have much breakfast and I can feel it is about to rumble. I am also worried about my see-through t-shirt and the prospect of going into post traumatic shock due to the sniper (see part one).

During the talk, I notice across the table a striking looking lady with red brown hair and glasses, beside her sits a confident looking woman with beautiful blonde highlights. Ah, faces I recognise. It's Patsy Collins and Cara Cooper - it will be nice to have a chat with someone I know. After learning everything we will ever need to know to sell thousands of stories to the magazine, we have a coffee break. Now's my chance.

'Hi, Patsy. Hi Cara. Really nice to see you here!'

I watch them desperately scan my chest for the sticker that will identify me (and which I am not wearing because I was late). I am unaware that the security tag with my name on is turned round the wrong way. The pause lengthens and I realise that I have done that thing that people do if they meet a celebrity in the street - presume that just because you know them, they will know you.

At last I blurt out, 'Oh it's me, Wendy Clarke'. Luckily they recognise the name and we all sigh in relief. Sorry to put you through that, girls, it was great to meet you.

After saying a quick hello to Jean Bull and Helen Hunt I sit back down and turn to my neighbour.

'Hope you weren't disturbed by my stomach rumbling?'

'Not at all, Wendy.' I realise that I am sitting next to a pub landlady who has won the lottery and wants to own a sweet shop (oh no, I'm getting confused with one of our writing tasks where we had to create a fictional character based on an interview with out neighbour). It is in fact the lovely Karen (no relation) Clarke and beside her is Amanda Brittany from Writing Allsorts. I begin to feel like I am in one of those TV programmes where the compare names the famous people in the audience and I am in awe. I just hope they don't notice the see-through t-shirt.

Then the fun begins. 'You are going to write the first three lines of a story, based on a letter.'

Cue total mind blank. There is a pen and paper in front of me - they are alien - I only ever write on a computer... in my own home... with nobody around except the pets. I watch as everyone feverishly scribbles away and I chew the lid of my pen. First lines, what do I know about first lines? I've written enough of them and didn't I recently write a blog post on them?The page remains stubbornly blank.

'Three more minutes' says Gaynor.

My writing career is over. I cannot write a first word let alone a first line. As people start to read theirs out, I manage to get something down. I read it and am relieved when Gaynor smiles - maybe it wasn't so bad... or maybe she is just being kind.

The day goes by in a bit of a blur. Serial writer Susanne Ahern wows us with her knowledge of... well... serial writing and I vow to give it a go - along with writing a pocket novel, an article and a full length novel. I imagine placing said novel into the capable hands of agent Laura Lonrigg who in her talk is very candid about the state of the publishing industry - oh well, a girl can but dream!

At last it is time to leave and I have an urge to run up to Gaynor and say, 'Choose me, choose me!' Luckily for everyone I manage to suppress the urge and instead say, 'It's been lovely to meet you, Gaynor.'

And it has. Overall it has been a lovely day - despite the assassination attempt and the wardrobe malfunction. It has been a pleasure to meet other writers - there is no space to mention them all but a quick hello to Lindsay Bamfield and the lovely Ola whose sweet comments about my blog made my day. And of course, a special thanks to Tracy for putting up with me and being the co-star of my blog post.

But I have a big apology to make to all my readers... I forgot to ask Gaynor the vital question - you know the one about the Well Worn Theme. Oh well, I guess we'll never know!

My story 'A School of Thought' can be read in this month's Woman's Weekly Fiction Special - I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Wendy's Writing at the Woman's Weekly Writing Workshop

Ha! Beat that for an alliteration!

The day starts in the usual way - with a wardrobe malfunction.
'Can you see my bra through this t-shirt?' I ask my husband, having caught sight of myself in the mirror as I'm about to leave.
'Yes, I suppose I can a bit,' is his reply. 'It doesn't help that you're wearing a black bra.'
I just have time to change to a flesh coloured one. 'Better?'
'No not really.' The pink and the green ones are no better either and after my husband states that the original one was the best, I eventually leave.

It's going to be a hot day. Half way to Tracy's house a nagging doubt creeps up on me... did I or did I not put on any deodorant. The further I drive, the more convinced I am that I didn't and I need to apologise once again to Tracy for arriving at her house and blurting out, 'I need to borrow your deodorant!' 
I then tell her about my visit to her neighbours house (well how was I to know which side of the twitten Tracy's house was on).

We get into Tracy's car to drive to the station. My little black handbag nestles against Tracy's rucksack.
'What have you got in there, Tracy?' I ask thinking I must have forgotten something very essential such as a sleeping bag and some Kendal mint cake.
'Oh, just some essentials. I like to be prepared.' I never do find out what's inside.

The train journey is non-eventful and we step out of London Bridge station and peruse the map. We look at each other.
'Any idea which way?' I ask.
'Not really, no.'
'Ok, well I'm pretty hopeless at directions but I have a good feeling that it's this way,' I say pointing left down the street. We wonder why the road names don't match up. 'Maybe I ought to use my I-phone. Yes... yes, we are definitely in the right street. Look this little blue dot shows us where we are.'
It's a while before I notice that the little blue dot is moving the opposite way down the street to the way we should be going. Time is getting on as we retrace our steps.

Out of the blue, as we are walking down Southwalk Street, towards the Woman's Weekly building, there is a commotion. From the building next to us there is the sound of a sharp explosion and then debris rains down on us from above, smashing into pieces around us.
We jump a mile in the air.
'Oh my God, we've been shot!'
'No I don't think we have, Wendy. I think someone just threw something out of the window.' Tracy is the voice of reason but I'm not taking any chances with a potential mad gunman on the lose and hurry off down the street.

We eventually reach The Blue Finn Building where the workshop is to be held. It's quite amazing to look at - rather like an ice mountain. I look at Tracy's rucksack and realise it doesn't look out of place.

It's ten past ten as we walk through the revolving doors - a bit late but still in time for coffee and boy do I need it!

Read Monday's blog for the next instalment of Wendy's Writing at the Woman's Weekly Writing Workshop.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Towns and Gowns - Read My Story in The People's Friend

Here is another in my series of 'Inspiration Behind the Stories'. Today I am going to tell you about my story 'Town and Gown' which is published in The People's Friend this week.

Two years ago, after I had been made redundant, I started an online writing course. One of my assignments was to use as the story setting a place we knew well. There was no doubt in my mind as to where this would be as my daughter had, the previous September, started a degree course at Cambridge University. You can imagine how proud I was, especially as I had brought her up on my own from the age of two and the school she had attended was just the local comprehensive, not an elite independent school.

I can still remember the first time we visited Cambridge to choose a college. The sun was shining (as it always seemed to on subsequent visits) and the colleges were all stunning - I was only sad that we couldn't visit them all. There was so little to choose between the ones we visited that in the end my daughter stated she would choose Gonville and Caius as it had the best 'Harry Potter' hall!

I remember standing on a bridge watching the students punting on the river and thinking it would be the most magical place to study.

My story combines my love of Cambridge with my other love - dancing. In this tale, June finds an old dance hall ticket in the pocket of her deceased husband's pocket as she sorts out his clothes for the charity shop. She reminisces about her life as a young woman in Cambridge and the love of ballroom dancing which brought her and her husband together so many years ago. When the young assistant at the charity shop where she works tells her that she has been accepted at Cambridge University (against all odds) and has nobody to visit the colleges with (her father says she should get a 'proper job'), June is quick to offer herself as a companion and so begins a trip down memory lane.

I loved writing the story and it was after this assignment that my tutor and author of the fantastic travelogue 'The Blonde Bengali Wife', Anne Hamilton suggested I try writing for magazines. I hope that she will be proud to learn that this story has now been published!

Thank you to Anne for your confidence in my ability and to the lovely editors at The People's Friend for liking it enough to publish it.

In my next post I shall tell you all about my trip to London for the Woman's Weekly Workshop - just as well I'm going as I just had another story rejected by them!