Is modestly proud an oxymoron?

Of course it’s an oxymoron.

“A figure of speech in which incongruous or seemingly contradictory terms appear side by side.”


Yes, I know it’s not a figure of speech but it made me laugh.


Today, I’m modestly proud and I don’t care if it’s an oxymoron. What’s more, modestly proud exactly describes how I feel. Because I’m British and we British aren’t ALLOWED to be blatantly proud. However, I’m NOT blatantly proud anyway. As I said, I’m MODESTLY proud.

You see, I’m in print!

I’m only a modestly proud oxymoron because I’m in an anthology with 44 other writers, so I’m a mere forty-fifth as proud of myself as I expect I would be if the book was just my work. Or is it forty-fourth? Mathematics was never my forte.

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Cover image by the brilliant Catriona Millar

I would be dishonest to say that there wasn’t even the slightest tingle of (modest) pride when I turned to Pages 58 – 61 to see MY NAME IN PRINT, my story and my poem PUBLISHED. (I’m such a child!)

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(Oh, by the way, I’m sure the  preceding 57  pages and the 44 pages after that are EXTREMELY good and well-written etc. but…)

Copies available all over Eastbourne, as part of the Arts Festival 2014. Proceeds go to local charities.


The book is an anthology of work produced at our creative writing workshops – Bourne to Write – with Eastbourne featured, whether as a location or a barely perceptible nod.

Apparently, BBC Radio Sussex is interested…

That’s a definite possibility and I’m terribly pleased.

(Today, the oxymoron rules!)

Top tips for writers

Oh, there are so many tips for writers, aren’t there?


Most useful are those from writers themselves. There was a great article in The Guardian a while back.

Who can beat Neil Gaiman?

I expect it’s Philip Pullman, who said that his main rule is to say no to things like compiling top tips for writers, which tempt him away from his proper work. Touché

The first in Neil Gaiman’s  list:

1. Write

Closely followed by the second:

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

See. Can’t beat it! Pragmatic. Terse.

Richard Ford’s is close to genius:

1. Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.

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Peter thinks me being a SUCCESSFUL writer who earns LOTS Of MONEY is a good idea. But that’s not the same thing.

Anne Enright:

1. The first twelve years are the worst.

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However, of all the top tips for writers I’ve come across, Roddy Doyle’s really hits home:

1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

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DAMN! Is that where I’ve been going wrong all these years?

Fast work if you can get it

” Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast,” said Shakespeare, indubitably talking about me and the perils of fast work.

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Fast work (at least, trying to work TOO fast) probably doesn’t pay in the field of copywriting or proofreading. Accuracy is key. That’s not to say I work SLOWLY – it’s a balance between speed and efficiency, that’s all.

With creative writing? Another matter entirely.

Creative writing class on Monday. I’ve already blogged about speed writing assignments which somehow force my brain…no, ALLOW my brain… to pour forth some completely uninhibited stuff that sometimes seems to work.

The same applies to homework.

It’s 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon. I haven’t done my homework.

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I have lots of work-work to do between now and leaving for the class at 7 p.m. Fast work it’ll have to be!

I don’t like going to classes without having done my homework. First, I’m a goody-two-shoes teacher’s pet. Second, it’s a waste of an opportunity of having my work heard and assessed by other people.

Okay then, I’ll DO it. Quickly. Poems are quick. The subject? ‘The birthday present.’ NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! More slushy sentimentalism opportunities. (Remember, I DON’T DO NICE.)

Subvert, Caroline. Subvert. You have ten minutes.

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My title -‘The greatest gift of all’ – a gushing load of…gush…from Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. Find it on YouTube if you want gush.


The greatest gift of all

The only noise is a soft…blip…blip… and the incessant gargling of in-out breathing through a tube.
White ceiling tiles, like slices of bread waiting to be sandwiches, form his sky.
He calls out to let them know he’s awake, but he can’t hear himself, his tongue a big, sticky glob.
She squeezes his hand. Tells him she loves him, through a veil of tears.
But he doesn’t know who she is.
Still, love can never be bad, wherever it finds you.
In to his line of vision, candles splutter on a cake he’ll never eat.
“Happy birthday, darling,” she says.
Why, is this the day he’ll be born again?
That would be happy.
The sound of the switch is soft.
His sky turns to thunder black
And lightning forks electricity through his chest.
His last thought. Thank you.
She clicks life into the switch again, blows out the candles.
Both they and he beyond reignition.

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Fast work if you can get it …and you can get it if you try.

Or don’t try?

(The poem was chosen to feature on the website.)

The game of work-life balance

Work-life balance a game? No, it’s deadly serious.

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Really it is. Really, it has become so. It’s something which exercises so many of us. It’s also, certainly in the case of people like me, who work from home as freelancers, OUR responsibility.

In reality, we only have ourselves to thank, (see, I avoided the word ‘blame’) if we get it wrong.

Different, for sure, for people who have, as my husband delights in asserting, REAL jobs. By this he means out of the home, in a place of work  where there is a boss telling you what to do and when and how much and how high. Work-life balance is not so much in your own hands.

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(This could, in fact, be me talking to myself – see yesterday’s blog!)

In some countries, the government is taking on the situation. New labour laws in France protect workers from responding to emails after 6 pm. A trial in Sweden reduces working hours to just 30 hours a week –  6 hours per day for the same pay – on the basis that after 6 hours, people are too tired to be as productive. 

That’s taking work-life balance seriously, with legislation.

But it CAN be a game too. A real game. Real in the sense of virtual.

In my research, I came across THIS:

It’s a game. A game without exploding zombies and high-speed car chases and deadly weapons.

Players ‘ control a novelist struggling to balance the demands of work and family life.’ Apparently, many people have been inspired to look at their personal work-life balance and it’s changed their lives – for the better, that is.



Maybe worth a look? Here.

A comment underneath made me laugh.  Hollowly.

“Oh, the irony. While engaging in some world class procrastination, I discover this; a game in which I can be a virtual procrastinator.”

Another thing to add to the infinite list of Things To Do which makes every day seem too short, before I even begin to think about balancing work and life?

I’ll keep it in reserve…


Writing regrets? I’ve had a few…

but then again, too few to mention.

Well, this is going to be a short post then!


No regrets?

Just call me Edith Piaf.

I don’t believe myself. I must be in denial. SURELY I must have some regrets about my writing, hidden somewhere in my psyche?

By M F Hussain

By M F Hussain


I’m struggling to think of any. Just the general purpose regrets, I suppose, that I haven’t been able to attract an agent or a publisher for my creative writing for children.

(Except for myself!)

Then, there are the regrets attached to my naïvety, being taken in by less than scrupulous film-makers, for whom I’ve written and then…nothing. Having said that, I still have the work. The experience hasn’t been wasted.

“Regrets… Regrets are bootless. A vain trick of the mind. An impotent raging against what cannot be changed anyway. A distraction from the moment,” says wise Andrew Ashling.

The best I can think of is expressed in a broader context by Ted Hughes, in his letters.

“And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”


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How can I regret a single moment of doing something I love so much?


Misquotes perpetuated by the internet

This blog was going to be all about April but then I got side-tracked, dear readers. Onto the subject of misquotes perpetuated by the internet.

(I can hear the chorus of  ‘Surely not, Caroline?’ all the way from, oh, the end of my study. Surely not that I got side-tracked, not surely there are no misquotes on the internet.)

Misquotes on the internet. So easily done. So pernicious.


For those without a magnifying glass – “The trouble with quotes on the internet is that you can never know if they’re genuine,” said Abraham Lincoln.

Anyway – I was looking for quotations concerning April.

“April is the cruellest month.” Yes, T.S. Eliot, with your glass half empty. On the other hand, “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything,” said Shakespeare, with his glass half full.

So far, so good.

Then I came across this, attributed to Edna St. Vincent Millay. “April comes like an idiot, babbling and stewing flowers.” Strange, I thought. Babbling I can get, but STEWING flowers? Why would April be stewing flowers?

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Mmmmm, flower stew. Nom nom nom.

“Perhaps it’s a mistake?” my super-fast brain calculated.

I researched.

No, it CAN’T be a mistake, because it appears in that form on:

  • thinkexist
  • darienlibrary
  • quotesdaddy
  • quotecosmos
  • classiclit
  • quotestree
  • hypequote

Even in a book available on Amazon – Jabbers: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases.

It’s also been used as the title for countless blogs and images…

Where does it come from, anyway? (None of the above cited the source.)

It wasn’t that easy to find (it being incorrect and all!)


TO what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.


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I expect Edna St. Vincent Millay is revolving in her grave. Or chuckling.

The joy of misquotes!

And every time I put ‘misquotes’ into Google,  it asks ‘Are you sure you don’t mean mosquitoes?’ Ironic, eh?

Creative writing – I don’t do nice.


I don’t mind BEING nice. It’s WRITING nice that I struggle with.

That word has a very bad name, for a start.

In the thirteenth century, nice meant ‘foolish, stupid.’ Its meaning changed gradually through the ages to’ fussy, fastidious,’ then ‘precise, careful,’ to ‘agreeable, delightful’ and ‘kind, thoughtful,’ which is where we’re left today. It has wishy-washy connotations. states, “If any criticism is valid, it might be that the word is used too often and has become a cliché lacking the qualities of precision and intensity that are embodied in many of its synonyms.”

At school, we were castigated if we used it as an adjective. In shops and fast food outlets, if one more assistant smarms, ‘Have a nice day!’ in a mock American accent I swear I’ll… (Not that it’s not pleasant to be given good wishes, just that it has become a meaningless mantra.)


Last night, at my creative writing class, our 15 minute task was to focus on creating location, from a (real) place, named on a slip of paper and handed out randomly.

I was given ‘Bay of Rainbows.’ My stomach clenched with distaste. My neighbour had ‘Marsh of Sleep.’ She wouldn’t swap with me. I tried.

This is the sort of image which came into my head:



I had to write the antidote. It took ten minutes. Here it is (apologies, to James Joyce, John Lennon and whoever wrote the mobile phone ad.) Apologies all round, really.


Red. Blood red. Gash of wounds. Broken heart, drip-drip-dripping. Scarlet vermillion post-box slash.

Orange. The future’s bright. Tangerine, Clementine, Seville. Vitamin-rich Sunny Delight.

Yellow. Yellow-matter custard. Bananas and jaundice. Smiley faces, lemon sunshine. Pus.

Green. Snot-green sea. The envious grass. Jade and emerald, beloved Emerald Isle.

Blue. Sea, sky, early morning blues singing Blue Moon, royal, prussian, azure and ultramarine.

Indigo. Night, studded with stars. Purple of death, of mourning, a regal cloak.

Violet. Violent violet. Flame of gas, shrinking violet.

Bay of Rainbows.

Bay of hounds.


She hides.


By Jaime Best

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(Need to combine the two images…)

Told you I don’t write nice.

P.S. Bay of Rainbows is on the moon.

My self-publishing journey – Part 5

Yesterday, I took another self-publishing leap.

The leap of faith.


By Cherie Roe Dirksen


After endless read-throughs and tinkering with words here and there, and more read-throughs and hair-tearing and heart-rending…oh, and some more tinkering with words here and there…and some more hair-tearing…

I finally told myself…


By Tyler Adam




Send it off

To the publishers

For type-setting.


I did.


If only the self-publishing package I sent had been as attractive.

It was just an e-mail with an attachment.

Which seems hardly adequate.

For such a momentous


(Momentous for me, at any rate)

Culmination of months of work

Over at least three years (my mind’s a blur now)

One press of a send button


My self-publishing dream has

Taken flight


Creativity – software and apps for writers

Writing apps? Dedicated writing software? Some people swear by them, some people treat them with utter contempt. I’m somewhere in the middle, I suppose.

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Yesterday, I was listening to Open Book, on Radio 4, where authors Stella Duffy and Julian Gough discussed whether the new apps for writers can really get the creative juices flowing, while A L Kennedy bravely road-tested a few of the most popular.

As a screenplay writer, I’ve been a long time fan of Final Draft – especially since yesterday when I discovered it has a profanity report facility to log the number of swear words you use!  Here’s an example – not mine, I hasten to add:


Made me laugh!

I reckon I use about 10% of all the fine facilities the software has to offer. It’s a time thing, I tell myself. But does Final Draft  get the creative juices flowing?

Not at all.

What it does do is allow you to concentrate on the creative side of writing a screenplay without having to think about formatting it correctly. That happens automatically. Not having to worry about the technicalities really helps me not to get stuck. (And yes, I know there are other bits of kit like this, but Final Draft is the only one I can talk about through experience. )

The writers on Open Book both raved enthusiastically about Scrivener, advertised as a manuscript and script-writing tool. Techie Tim has also been badgering me about this. It’s the same old story for me – I get confronted by the thought of having to devote a lot of time to learning new technology and navigating my way through a whole different program. I can appreciate that, in the long run, it would probably be super-duper but, just at the moment…

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I’m an old-fashioned girl…

What about apps for writers?

The trending one of the moment is called Write or Die 2, created by someone called Dr. Wicked. Of course it is.

This app “aims to eliminate writer’s block by providing consequences for procrastination and, new to this version, rewards for accomplishment…Instead of just writing to avoid annoying sounds and alarm warning colours you can now customise your stimulus. If you like to see a cute puppy after you’ve reached a certain number of words, you can. If you’d like to write in fear of a jiggling spider, you can do that too.”


Fun, yes! I imagine so. Helpful? Maybe. Julian Gough described how it made him churn out material with less inhibition, sometimes a surprise even to himself, which he could then edit. Stella Duffy said it was great when she was stuck, as a way of getting started.

Maybe I’ll try it.

In the meantime, here’s a clip of AL Kennedy, doing just that!

On the other hand…apps for writers? Maybe not.

Writing: An act of courage?

And the full quote: “If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as  an act of courage.” Cynthia Ozick


But wait a minute. That’s not courage, is it?

  1. the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.

I just feel embarrassed about the idea that to write you need courage. You need courage in Syria, in Ukraine, if you’re fighting a destructive illness, if you’re being tortured or persecuted. But to write?

I’m ashamed.

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But you should have seen me yesterday, before I started working on the theatre piece I’d neglected for so long.

There was fear. First of all, fear that I’d lost the document file when I’d changed over computers. (I hadn’t!) Fear that what I’d already written was no good. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to think what to write next. Fear of letting people down. Fear of looking like a complete idiot.

Fear…my writing companion.

Here’s what Steven Pressfield asserts in his book  The War of Art – (Break through your blocks and win your inner creative battles).”Resistance is fear. But resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.”

Good old shame!

If I had to say what writing is, I would have to define it essentially as  an act of shame.

And maybe a little bit of courage too?

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By the way, once I’d battled with my demons, I liked what I’d written, I could see where to go next, I was inspired.

When will I ever learn? When will I evvvverrrr learn? (Preferably sung by Pete Seeger).